Posh white boys

Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/ Raphael_School_of_Athens.jpg

Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/
Raphael_School_of_Athens.jpg

There’s a common assumption that there is a gender bias in STEM subjects in HE, but a recent study released in Science has discovered that this is not  actually the real story, and that actually philosophy is among the five subjects with the fewest women (the others are engineering, computer science, physics, and music composition.) while some STEM subjects have about 50% of PhDs being women.

This does not come as surprising news to me.  As a philosophy undergrad in the 90s it was noticeable that there were no female members of academic staff, and I am used to reading articles with titles like this: ‘Philosophy is for posh, white boys with trust funds’ – why are there so few women?  The Science researchers propose a reason:

We hypothesize that, across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success, because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent.

Maybe it is because of the emphasis on analytical thought that so many of the UK Philosophy Departments have, maybe it could learn from (whisper!) the “Continentals”, or even (shudder!) women, or maybe it is something else, but I think that it is a problem.  Jenny Saul agrees, for example arguing that women in philosophy find themselves subjects of implicit bias and stereotype threat. (This might require an institutional login.)

However, if we look at the history of Philosophy then we find that pretty much all of the canonical texts are written by men.  And that means that even those of us who are female and teach still need to use men’s voices to do so for the most part.

This tweet caught my eye earlier:

So true, and so hard to do when all that is available is written by posh white boys.

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3 Responses to Posh white boys

  1. Maha Bali says:

    All true. While doing my PhD, when I read about lack of non-white non-male philosophers in the US i made this stunning observation: every single faculty member in my univ’s philosophy dept is a foreigner. Mostly male, recently two European females. We have a big dept coz there is a requires phil course everyone takes. What does it mean that we can’t recruit or find Egyptian philosophers to teach our kids, when there are branches like Islamic philosophy in existence? I mean, about half those who teach language and writing in my uni are Egyptian; why not philosophy?
    The only female philosopher i can think of at the moment (other than u hehe) is Martha Nussbaum.

    But to backtrack a second, very few women have authored canonical non-fiction texts of any kind, pre1900 right?

    Can you think of one?

    I also know that in science, some women did lots of work but were overlooked while their male colleagues got credit (Marie Curie being an exception).

    It’s one thing for childbearing to halt or hinder a woman’s career progress, but quite another for it to be socially subtle oppression.

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