Follow BritHereNow on Twitter

Recent Posts

The Bertrand Russell Show

Feminist Philosophers

fragments of consciousness

Gender, Race and Philosophy: The Blog


Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

Long Words Bother Me

semantics etc. highlights

Thoughts Arguments and Rants



Monday, April 23, 2007

APA Report: the Status of Women in Philosophy

Thursday afternoon the APA Committees on the Status of Women and Inclusiveness sponsored a joint session on the central question "Why Are Women Only 21% of Philosophy". The session took place in the grand Crystal Room at the Palmer House. Given the importance of the topic I was surprised to find the room less than half full. Of course, the Crystal Room is rather large, but still. Another peculiarity: there were only 3 men in the audience, and one of them probably wouldn't have gone if I hadn't twisted his arm. One wonders whether male philosophers think female philosophers should solve this problem on their own.

As for the session, Erin McKenna chaired, and Sharon Crasnow, Elizabeth Minnich and Sally Haslanger gave excellent speeches which provoked much discussion. As Abigail Stewart was unable to attend (due to illness), Haslanger read her paper and answered several questions on her behalf.

Crasnow opened the session with a report on the raw numbers. Here are some numbers from her handout:

1) 21% of employed philosophers are women (Kathryn Norlock)

2) 18.5% of philosophy faculty at top 54 programs (Leiter Report) are women (Julie van Camp)

3) 2004 US Department of Education estimates 41% of those employed in the humanities are women.

4) National Digest of Educational Statistics (NCES) reports 39% female at postsecondary degree granting institutions.

5) Philosophy PhDs awarded: 27% (and stuck there for the last ten years or so, with a spike to 33.3% in 2004, 25.1% in 2005).

6) Survey of Degrees Awarded (SED) 2005 figures. History 41%, Astronomy and physics 26%, Economics: 30%, Political Science 39%.

The numbers speak for themselves: there are very few women in philosophy. But what is the explanation? Here are some of the possible factors mentioned by Crasnow and the audience:

A) Differential Treatment: male and female students tend to be treated differently by their (male) professors. For example, female students do not get called on in class as often as males.

B) Vicious Circle: female students lack contact with female professors. As a result, they do not feel inclined to pursue a career in philosophy.

C) Misleading Stats: Universities tend to focus on the number of women enrolled in the humanities as a whole. When the percentage of women enrolled in the humanities approaches 50, administrators tend to ignore the problem remaining in disciplines such as philosophy.

Turning to the second speech, Elizabeth Minnich reminded us that care must be taken when solving the problem of the status of women in philosophy. Even if 50% of employed philosophers were women, the problem of the status of women wouldn't necessarily disappear. For example, the problem wouldn't have been solved if there were 50% women but the 50% felt pressured to behave like men and do male-style philosophy.

Abigail Stewart was next. As she was unable to attend, Haslanger read her paper. The paper addressed the question of what can be learned from other disciplines. Haslanger (Stewart) mentioned that the performance of women tends to be under-estimated and that the performance of men tends to be over-estimated. This form of differential treatment has a lot to do with gender-schemas. Haslanger mentioned that the female schema clashes with the philosophy schema even if it doesn't clash with philosophy sub-schemas such as the ethics schema or the feminist philosophy schema. If a given discipline's schema clashes with the female schema, then the performance of females in the discipline tends to be under-estimated. The performance of women is also under-estimated when there is a lack of critical mass (i.e., less than 30% women in the discipline). The under-estimation accumulates at each level. As a result, there is a lowered career success rate. This, in turn, results in stronger gender schemas and a continued lack of critical mass.

Haslanger also mentioned that traditionally there have been three ways to deal with a schema clash: a) don't ask, don't tell (gays in the military), ignore (philosophy?), force out (philosophy?) Needless to say that none of these ways of dealing with schema clashes are tolerable.

Haslanger concluded the joint session with a paper on the representation of women in top philosophy journals. Some numbers from Haslanger's handout:

2002-2007 % female
Ethics: 19.30%
JPhil: 13.33%
Mind: 6.38%
Nous: 11.62%
Phil Review: 11.11%
PPR: 12.26%
PPA: 13.98%

Articles on feminism or race issues:
Ethics: 2.86% feminist, 2.86% race
JPhil: 0% feminist, 1.77% race
PPA: 5.13% feminist, 3.85% race

Haslanger mentioned that while more studies need to be done, it is evident that women are strongly disadvantaged (at least statistically speaking). Statistically it is much more difficult for a woman to get published in a top journal than it is for a man. The reason? Here are some suggestions from the session:

1) Nearly all of the top journals are edited by men.
2) No or few women are on the editorial boards of top journals.
3) Even journals that claim to do double-blind refereeing tend not to do tripple-blind refereeing. That is, the editors tend to know the identity of the author at some stage in the process.

The session ended with some "anecdata". Haslanger mentioned (among other things) that she had once been told that she ought to stick to history on the grounds that women ought to reproduce the ideas of men (and keep their own to themselves), that she had been told that she ought to get tested to see whether she was in fact a man (given her success), that people would laugh when she told them that she did metaphysics (would anyone ever laugh at a man?), and so on. The audience (including a female undergraduate student) had similar stories to report about the current climate in the philosophy profession.

In conclusion: the joint session made it exceedingly clear that despite efforts made (under the names of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action) to prevent all forms of discrimination against women in academia (and elsewhere), many departments continue to tolerate discriminatory practices in graduate admissions, interviewing, hiring, promotion, article acceptance and invitation.

UPDATE: Richard Zach has a new report on the status of women in philosophical logic.


Anonymous said...

Brit, can you clarify what you mean by "male-style" philosophy? I'm assuming you mean something other than avoiding the stereotypes of male-thinking (logic, analytic rigor... which don't belong to men alone, and which obviously belong in philosophy!)

In terms of "behaving like men", could you explain that further, too? Are you alluding to the "old-boy's" network of drinking & smoking and forming bonds in that way? Or something else, in terms of the way women and men act in class?

Anonymous said...

she ought to get tested to see whether she was in fact a man

Oh, and if you want to test to see if your blog "is a man", there is a Gender Genie, which analyzes your phrases, using some kind of algorithim.

I haven't got the time, but it would be interesting to stick some text snippets from various philosophers in there and see what it came out with...

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Colleen,
If I understood Minnich correctly, it's not that, say, analytic metaphysicians should stop doing analytic metaphysics but rather that those who are not already doing analytic metaphysics shouldn't be forced into becoming analytic metaphysicians in order to become qualified for a job or a PhD fellowship at a top 54 philosophy program (to mention an obvious case).

The networking phenomenon was much discussed at the session. Because of the lack of critical mass it is much harder for women to network than it is for men. Women who succeed in the discipline often succeed single-handedly without a strong network of philosophy friends who can help them get into the right places. I am quite sure Minnich would say that getting to the magical 50% wouldn't constitute progress if the progress required women to participate in the "the 'old-boy's' network of drinking & smoking and forming bonds" (as you pointed out).

A propos, Lemmings is male! And the author of the post on the status of women in philosophy is male. I guess I should get tested too.

Joe Salerno said...

Haslanger's numbers on journals are interesting. would be interesting though if the journals actually tracked gender of submitting authors, so that we could compare those numbers to the gender of the published authors.

Incidentally, Gender Genie says a sample from my latest blog post (on non-trivial counterpossibles) was written by a female, and the first quote therein by David Lewis, was likewise written by a female.

Brit Brogaard said...

Right, it would indeed be interesting if the journals could find a way to track the gender of submitting authors (without editorial access to the information). Sally did emphasize that more data are needed. I think such data would be interesting because they would show who it is that tolerate discriminatory practices (assuming such practices are the cause of the problem). If the number of submissions by women and the number of acceptances of articles written by women correspond to the number of submissions by men and the number of acceptances of articles written by men, then part of the problem may simply be that women are discouraged from submitting their papers to top journals, in which case more ought to be done to encourage women to submit their stuff (including stuff on gender and race). If the numbers don't line up, then the editorial practices of the top journals ought to be changed.

Aidan said...

The 'Gender Genie' got a good thrashing on this thread over at TAR.

Anonymous said...

"...there were only 3 men in the audience, and one of them probably wouldn't have gone if I hadn't twisted his arm." Ugh... this is pretty depressing! If the profession (especially the "powerful" parts) is so overwhemingly male, and the men don't care about the sorts of things that the panelists reported about, what hope should we have for change?

Anyway: many thanks to you for filing this report.

Brit Brogaard said...

Aidan: Thanks for the link! Sally did mention the discussion over at TAR.

Female Phil Prof: Many thanks for your comment. As some of the participants at the session pointed out, part of the solution might be to make philosophers, universities and colleges aware of the problem. Many philosophers don't even realize that there is a problem.

Robbie Williams said...

Let me echo something Brit just pointed to: it might well be that, on the male/female front, numbers of acceptances are in proportion to number of submissions at top journals (as Brian conjectured for PR over at TAR). But that doesn't mean there's no problem hereabouts. It just makes it harder to identify what exactly the problem is.

As Brit says, it might be that there's some kind of discouragement of women from submitting to top journals.

Another possible source (more complicated, this one): if one group held off from submitting their articles until they were *really good*, then you'd expect submissions from that group to be less. (You'd have hoped, though, that the proportion of acceptances would be correspondingly higher). Who knows whether anything like this is in play here. It'd be interesting to try to figure out some way to assess e.g. the impact of articles at top journals (citation indexes?) and see if one could get a grip on issues about whether women have to submit a higher quality piece to get it published.

Finally, one thing to guard against in these discussions is to measure the success of one group by the standards of a different group. An analogy. There's lots of stuff in the UK about proportions of state vs. private school entry to Oxford and Cambridge. Lots of people think it's terrible that only 50% (ish) of undergrads at Oxbridge are from state schools, whereas a much higher proportion of the total population of school leavers with top grades are from state schools. (Actually, in this case, acceptances by state/private sector are exactly in proportion to applications).

One big issue that noone mentions, in my experience, is that in state schools like the one I went to (before going on to Oxford), the implicit prestige ranking didn't have Oxbridge at the top as far as I could see. What subject you studied was the major factor: medicine being at the top, trad sciences just below, etc. Oxbridge was not really on the radar. It wasn't clear to me that this was a bad thing: in some senses, it seemed a more healthy attitude than fetishizing institutional destination as a mark of esteem.

However, the media and politicians (dominated by people from Oxbridge) always spoke as though it was just obvious that the peak of anyone's aspirations should be to get into Oxbridge. The problem might lie in those attitudes, not in a problem with Oxbridge admissions per se.

To conclude the longwinded analogy. It'd be interesting to check whether the journals identified here as the "ultra-prestigous" ones coincide with the ones that women themselves regard as the most desirable ones to be published in. Brian Weatherson had a reputational survey a while back with some data on this. Otherwise, the option is open that the problem lies our evaluation of where it's good to be published, rather than the acceptance policy.

(It wouldn't strike me as crazy at all if some group took the attitude that the typical 9 month wait for reports at some of the ultra-highly rated journals wasn't worth the candle, and that a top journal that turned around things within a month of two was overall a better thing).

Needless to say, I have no evidence about whether or how these points map onto the case at hand. But I'd like to see how such factors interact.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Depressing. Thanks for the update.

In my experience (e.g., here at UC Riverside), most philosophers feel supportive of women in philosophy and support some sort of moderate affirmative action -- but it's far from clear whether such conscious attitudes are sufficient to override the effects of discouraging or encouraging behavior based on implicit schemas and expectations about philosophers (perhaps even among female philosophers)....

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Robbie and Eric
Many thanks for these comments! Interestingly, several women in the audience didn't think the top analytic journals would be the best place for their work to appear. But, as Sally Haslanger and others pointed out, due to tenure requirements junior faculty members are often required to publish in top analytic journals. Some schools have a point system; publications are assigned different numbers depending on where they appeared. Whether or not a candidate is eligilible for tenure will depend on how many points he or she scored according to the point system. Only journals on a list of about 15 journals count. As a result, invited articles are assigned 0, articles in feminist and gender theory journals are assigned 0, and articles in less well-known specialist journals are assigned 0.

Eric: I am sure many philosophers support some sort of moderate affirmative action. But in my experience (having been on several hiring committees) the affirmative action policy which people support can be expressed as follows: 'if a man and a woman are equally qualified, we may hire the woman rather than the man'. A sharper distinction ought be drawn between equal opportunity and affirmative action. I bet very few departments support affirmative action even if they do support equal opportunity. The affirmative action policy is, in my opinion, often misconstrued, and the main reason for its existence has been forgotten (viz., that we are morally obliged to make up for past discriminatory acts).

Anonymous said...

Hi Brit

This got me to thinking about ratio's of female staff in universities in general.

We could hazard a guess and say that there will be departments that have high numbers, and that there would be departments that have even lower numbers than philosophy.

It would be interesting to see the numbers/ratio's.


Anonymous said...

Hi Waz
Yes, I think physics departments have even lower numbers. There may be other departments too. I don't have access to all the numbers. But, like you, I'd be interested in seeing them.

Anonymous said...

I can see how this would be a problem. I wonder, though, if we're looking in the right places for an explanation.

Having fewer women represented in departments and in academic publications begins with fewer women in graduate programs (or, dare I say, fewer women in succesful graduate programs). And there will be fewer women in graduate programs if there is not initial interest in the subject.

When I was an undergraduate, the number of women in my philosophy classes and seminars was in the "few to none" range (compared with psychology, my major, where over 50% of students in a given class were women). As for majors, there were perhaps a handful of women-- I'd say less than 10% of the philosophy department. Again, compare to psychology where about 65% of the majors were women. (I will note that I had some excellent woman TAs as an undergraduate).

At one point in my career I tried to delicately ask why women were not taking philosophy classes. The answer I got-- and that I did not expect-- was that there just was "no interest" in the subject! And those few who were interested often pursued other fields, using philosophy as a suppliment-- for example, government and social studies majors who'd read a little Locke for background.

I don't know what this all means (indeed, my experiences may be idiosyncratic). But if someone is to publish in a philsophy journal or get a job in a philosphy department, they would have to start by at least taking a course! I think the problem, then, has its roots at the undergraduate level.

Anonymous said...

Another peculiarity: there were only 3 men in the audience, and one of them probably wouldn't have gone if I hadn't twisted his arm. One wonders whether male philosophers think female philosophers should solve this problem on their own.

Alternative explanation: people mistakenly thought that only women were invited. Believe it or not, and if I didn’t misunderstand, this is the way it was for the session of the Society for Women in Philosophy in the recent Joint Session in Bristol. Apparently some women in philosophy do think that only women in philosophy are to care about women in philosophy!

Brit Brogaard said...

Brandon: I am sure there is already a problem at the undergraduate level. However, I don't think the lack of female phil majors fully explains the problem. It is evident that very few of the women accepted into a phd program in philosophy end up in a tenure-track job.

Anonymous: right, but one does not need an invitation to APA sessions. They are open to all APA members. And I bet nearly all APA members know that.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised at this information, sadly. I would imagine that this will slowly start to turn around, however, with all the opportunities for women now. Women networking sites, in particular, offer women the chance to join other women and share ideas.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt Gusba said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brit Brogaard said...

Would you please stop posting your advertisements on my blog. It's rude and offensive. If you continue, then I will have to introduce comment moderation. Start your own blog.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brit Brogaard said...

This is offensive. Leave me alone whoever you are. Don't comment on my blog unless you have something substantial to say.

Unknown said...

I must admit, this article is very useful for writing academic Philosophy papers in college.

Hot Cover Girls Central said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.