Posts tagged ‘sexism’

February 22, 2012

Logic, huh?

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Have I ever told you about the so-called “Philosophy exception”? That’s the term that’s used for the fact that Philosophy lags super far behind all other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences when it comes to the recruitment and retention of women. (Well, Theology lags just as far behind — a function of all-male seminaries.) Seriously. Philosophy’s numbers are in the same ballpark as Mathematics’. Last time I checked, women made up something like 22% of faculty in North American Philosophy departments with grad programs.

As with many disciplines that have trouble recruiting and retaining women, Philosophy does an ok job getting women into its freshman courses, does a less good job getting them to major in the discipline as undergrads (and to graduate with that major), and basically does worse and worse at retaining women the higher up the ranks you go. If you made a bar graph with proportion of women on the x-axis, and academic rank on the y-axis (from full professor at the top to freshman undergrad on the bottom), the result would look like this:

From Yoga Paws (

See her nice wide wheelbase? That’s the proportion of women in freshman Philosophy classes. Well, actually, you’d have to extend the photo several inches to the right and show lots of empty floor beside our yogini to accurately represent the proportion of women. All that empty floor would be the men. Fortunately (at least for the purposes of our representation), there’s plenty of room for the men at the higher levels. See our yogini’s body more closely approximating to origin on the x axis as we move up the ranks? Yup. That’s Philosophy.

In her classic (2007) article, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not By Reason (Alone),” Sally Haslanger identifies the following as among the reasons that many women choose to leave Philosophy (or never to come to it to begin with):

    • outright discrimination
    • unconscious bias, schemas
    • climate, social norms

Since Haslanger published this article, there has been a flurry of important research in this area by feminist philosophers like Samantha Brennan and Jennifer Saul. (Brennan does a great job of discussing “micro-inequities,” the constant, tiny inequities with which marginalized groups must contend, and the steady erosion of one’s confidence, energy and success by these micro-inequities. I’ll write to you about that stuff another time.)

Among the challenges to recruiting and retaining women listed by Haslanger, it is perhaps most difficult to get a bead on climate. How exactly does one study something as vague as disciplinary or institutional climate? What makes a climate inhospitable? And how is it possible to adduce evidence that inhospitable climates affect how many women end up in a discipline.

Well, Vincent Hendricks, the editor-in-chief of Synthese, one of Philosophy’s most distinguished journals, has just made that task a little bit easier. Want an example of ways to cultivate a climate that’s inhospitable to women? Just check out Hendricks’s website for his latest logic course. (Update: Don’t bother clicking the link. I’m happy to report that he’s taken the site down. Screenshots linked below if you want to see what was once there.)

Yeah, that’s right. The photos on the webpage for his logic course represent him as a lone smart guy (you can tell by the glasses and vest) surrounded by sexy, pouty women in slutty schoolgirl costumes.

It was worse, actually. Before the utterly wonderful Feminist Philosophers blog broke the story and a shitload of angry people began barraging Hendricks and his colleagues with emails, this is what his course site looked like. (Mystifying, ain’t it, that he’d take some of these photos down, but leave some up? What can he possibly be thinking?)

So, yeah. Climate.

If you were a woman at Hendricks’s university contemplating which courses to take and you looked at this course page, what would you think? Would you think that your professor would regard all students in the class as equally serious? As equally capable of doing logic? As equally deserving of respect? As equally likely to become future peers? And, if you tried to imagine your fellow classmates, what would come to mind? Animal House?

And, don’t get me started on the way that the schoolgirl outfits both infantilize the women wearing them and, since they are schoolgirl outfits, cast those women as students. Sexy female students. If I were an undergraduate woman, I would go nowhere near a course taught by a man who gleefully represents himself as a solitary rational agent surrounded by sexy, childlike female students.

Did I ever tell you that a couple of years ago, I was at a party when a colleague whom I know very slightly from another discipline told me that when he teaches his large classes, he scans the room in such a way that his students will think he’s looking at all of them, but he is actually checking out the breasts of his hot female students? I was so utterly gobsmacked as to be rendered speechless. Don’t worry. Since then, I’ve worked out a script for the next such conversation I have. I used to find myself so surprised by sexism in academe that when some new sexist thing happened, I never knew what to do or say. Now, as I approach early-mid-career, I regret to say that I have a better catalogue of responses available to me. I’ve just had more practice.

The Philosophy blogosphere is beginning to respond to Hendricks’s page. Here are some posts about the whole business that are worth reading:

Your friend,

Lady Day