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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Feminist Philosophy and Separatism

In the comment section of this post an anonymous commenter raised the problem of separatism in feminist philosophy.

[Lemmings:] 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.

[Commenter:] 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!
I replied that one does not need an invitation to APA sessions, and that most APA members ought to know this. But the separatist attitude characteristic of many feminists is bound to spill over into feminist philosophy. Feminist philosophers has an interesting discussion of this problem. Jender admits that when someone pointed out to her that the editorial board of Hypatia consists almost exclusively of women, she was tempted to respond that this was as it should be given that the majority of feminist philosophers are women. But she quickly realized the problem with this sort of reply (just substitute 'Nous' for 'Hypotia', 'analytic' for 'feminist' and 'men' for 'women'). Furthermore, separatism may backfire when it comes to mainstreaming feminist philosophy. As Jender puts it:
People are more likely to know and respect journals they read. They are more likely to read journals in areas they work in. If men feel unwelcome in feminist philosophy, they’ll be unlikely to read feminist journals. With philosophy’s male/female ratios, how can we possibly hope to mainstream feminism and get widespread respect for feminist work if most of the profession feels sealed out of feminism
'Sealing out' men also perpetuates old stereotypes. In a couple of the departments I have been in, it is simply taken for granted that the women in the department will attend to all gender-related business. So while it is considered obvious that a significant number of men will partipate in the selection of job candidates, it is simply assumed without argument that meetings with the equal opportunity office etc. later in the process will be attended to by the women in the department. It is also very rare to see any men participate actively in institutes for women and gender studies. This is rather surprising given that the issues discussed at those places ought to be close to everyone's heart. Part of the problem, of course, is that the stereotyical feminist is a woman. Needless to say, this stereotype is very unfortunate. As a feminist just is someone who advocates the rights of women to have equal opportunities to those of men, everyone who thinks women have a right to be treated as equals ought to call themselves 'feminists' and ought to partake in activities related to feminism.


Ross Cameron said...

The commentator didn't misunderstand the situation RE the SWIP meeting at Bristol. Men were not welcome.

This is unfortunate, as having a Y chromosome is compatible with believing that those without one are just as valuable.

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Ross,
Yeah I don't know what their reasons are for excluding men. But it doesn't seem like it would serve the cause very well. There is, of course, a desperate need for places where women can speak without the presence of men with loud and dominant voices (and attitudes) but I don't know if that's what motivates the no-men rule of the SWIP meeting at Bristol.