Bringing Philosophical Women out of the Shadows

March 28, 2012

Philosophy is, and has always been, a male-dominated field. It has been estimated that women represent only about 21 percent of professional philosophers. Another study reports that of the nearly 300 articles that three top-tier philosophy journals published between 2002 and 2007, only 2.36 percent of the entries were related to feminism. During the same time frame, three other top-tier journals published no articles with feminist content, and only 12 percent of the articles in the same journals were authored by women. Thanks to these reports, as well as anecdotes that are regularly shared in places like What Is It like to Be a Woman in Philosophy — a new blog that was founded by a woman professor — an increasing number of women are trying to change the state of our profession on several fronts.

I am a member of a group of women philosophers that was formed almost three years ago by a prominent woman philosopher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Women in Philosophy Task Force seeks to improve the progress of women in the profession. Some of the projects that we are working on include data collection on women in philosophy, researching issues related to anonymity and implicit bias in journal publishing, and mentoring junior women faculty members.

I am also involved in the Mentoring Project for Pre-tenure Women Faculty in Philosophy and currently serve as a mentor for five women. The project is based on a model used in economics, another field in which women are underrepresented and in which mentoring junior faculty played a significant role for women in getting through the ranks of their professions.

In our project, 45 junior women faculty were selected and paired with a mentor in the same specialization based on their current paper in progress for publication. At a mentoring workshop, each of the nine mentors met with her mentees for hourlong discussions on each mentee’s paper. The goal was to provide critical commentary to help the mentee prepare her paper for publication. In addition, we held advisory panels for the entire group on topics like balancing work and life issues and strategies for publishing. I spoke about getting tenure, a topic on which I have published. Like the other mentors, I will continue to work with my mentees until they have achieved tenure. Both the critical feedback and the networks formed at the workshop should help to raise the percentage of women in philosophy.

I believe that women’s success in philosophy will be improved if more philosophers who work in the mainstream field — but not in feminism — are exposed to feminist ideas. I aim to bridge this gap in much of my work, including my monograph, The Moral Skeptic, which I completed with the help of a 2005–06 AAUW American Fellowship. My most recent book, Out from the Shadows: Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy, an anthology co-edited with Norco College professor Sharon Crasnow, showcases the contributions that analytical feminism has made, and continues to make, to mainstream philosophy. The book covers most areas of philosophy, and its contributors — both senior and junior women professors — collectively argue that by not embracing social progress and making philosophy come to life by showing its relevance to our lives, philosophy risks its own demise.

The title of the book was inspired by a kind of architectural feature called stacked setbacks, which are used in skyscrapers to allow in more light at the street level. While a skyscraper that is flat in its facade represents the progress that is made in traditional analytical philosophy — with its rigorous argumentation, critical assessment, analysis of terms, and attention to detail — a skyscraper with stacked setbacks represents social progress in bringing traditional philosophy “out from the shadows.”

This blog was written by 2005–06 AAUW American Fellow Anita Superson.

By:   |   March 28, 2012

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