Sally Haslanger on Women in Philosophy

by Harry on September 6, 2007

This may come as a surprise to some readers, but all I know about nightclubs I have picked up from watching Knocked Up (thanks Rebecca) and reading Tom Slee’s excellent No-One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart (I’d go further, and claim, shocking as it may be, that no reader of CT has less direct experience of night clubs than I do). From what Slee says (and Apatow confirms) bouncers think of themselves as creating the very good to which they are controlling access. What people want is to be around a high enough proportion of good-looking/cool/well-dressed/female/young/sophisticated-seeming-but-ultimately-dull-witted people, and the club provides that good only if the bouncers admit a high enough proportion of such people.

I was reminded of this when I read this excellent paper by Sally Haslanger about the position of women in Philosophy Departments (via Leiter). I’m going to resist the temptation to summarise for two reasons: one is that all faculty members in Philosophy Departments should read the whole thing and carefully, the other is that I don’t want any misimpressions caused by my summary to influence subsequent discussion. Read it.

Why was I put in mind of the little I know about night-clubs?

Because graduate admissions committees are, in fact, the way that Tom Slee and Judd Apatow present bouncers as being, but I also suspect that they are often not fully cognisant of that fact. I suspect that many committees think of themselves as simply trying to predict the success of each individual applicant, or perhaps as trying to award places on the basis of individual merit. But in fact each admissions decision influences the ability of other students to learn. Rather uncontroversially, each student benefits (or loses) from the presence of each other student. Of course, it is incredibly hard to predict of each particular admittee what his or her effect will be on the ability of each other to learn. But dealing with large enough numbers, it doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to suspect that the situation Haslanger describes herself as being in in grad school was not optimally conducive to someone’s succeeding (I’ll add, for the non-philosophers, that Haslanger is a very well respected and unnervingly accomplished philosopher with diverse interests ranging across epistemology, history, metaphysics, moral and political philosophy, and feminism). Reversing the situation with respect to gender is not an especially good aid to imagination — I suspect, for example, that I’d have learned better myself if my own graduate experience had been dominated by women rather than by men. But if it had been dominated by Americans or Tories I might have felt more alienated, and less able to learn, than I in fact did (I went to grad school in the US, but my department had almost as many Brits as Americans during my time there. I don’t mean to be rude about Americans or Tories, here, just noting that one of the things that put me more at ease than I might have been was the presence of numerous compatriots. It is no accident that foreign students flock together, because they provide each other with support and community). Choose your own cause of alienation and do some imagining (I suspect that there are enough libertarians in the profession for them to survive philosophy grad school, and I know there are enough Christians in the right places, but I imagine true Conservatives can expect an alienating experience not conducive to learning well in many places).

It seems blindingly obvious to me (but I’m willing to stand corrected, of course) that individual women, whatever their individual merits, have a better shot at success in grad school if there is a critical mass of other women in the program. Admissions committees create that environment (or fail to create it) by their decisions about the gender balance of entering classes. Haslanger herself is deliberately cautious about making very strong recommendations, but my (possibly ill-informed, but nevertheless entirely relevant) thought that graduate admissions committees are like night-club bouncers convinces me that graduate admissions committees should work very hard indeed to achieve gender balance.

{ 4 trackbacks }

The Department of Spy Bar at Jacob Christensen
09.06.07 at 2:08 pm
Always the Last Place You Look » Letting My CamPag Candle Shine!
09.07.07 at 8:25 pm
Haslanger and Refereeing Procedures « Feminist Philosophers
09.10.07 at 8:26 am » Gender and the Culture of Academic Philosophy
09.14.07 at 12:50 am



ms 09.06.07 at 1:19 pm

As a lone woman in both my philosophy graduate class and department, I can imagine that both experiences would have contained less intensely stressful times had there been at least a few more women around. One question, though: if your conclusion is true about grad school environments, what prevents an extension of it to all environments in which women will be philosophizing?


Matt 09.06.07 at 1:24 pm

It is a very nice (and very useful) paper and also not long- one more reason to read it now. (My only very slightly critical remark would be that the situation at Penn is now much better, at least numerically but also, I think, sociologically, for women then when she was there more than 10 years ago.)

On Harry’s point, I think there is a quite unfortunate tendency in philosophy (and, I strongly suspect, in almost all fields) to want to reproduce one’s self, and this leads to part of the pathologies noted above. It’s affirming to hire people who work in the same areas and in the same ways as one does, and to admit grad students that seem like you did when you were a grad student. It’s also narrowing and unhealthy for the profession and should be guarded against much more than I think, from watching admission and hiring decisions, that it does.


chris armstrong 09.06.07 at 2:14 pm

I think one implication of this very interesting paper is is how important the ‘mainstreaming’ of feminism / gender theory is. I’ve taught feminism / gender theory at every institution I’ve worked out (which means not just optional units on ‘gender’, but working a gender perspective into (supposedly) ‘non-gender-related’ units). But as a man, I guess I’m quite unusual in this. As long as gender theory is identified as a minority pursuit, pursued by women, then this kind of disadvantage is likely to continue. ‘Gender’ is not an arcane specialism pursued by women, for women!


Grand Moff Texan 09.06.07 at 2:31 pm

I think your lede would have been easier to read if it had been written in medieval Latin by a slightly retarded pit bull.


Kelly 09.06.07 at 2:32 pm

My philosophy department, while still strongly weighted towards men, in both faculty and graduate students, does at least seem to be aware of the problem and trying to fix is (not the least of which because at least two of the female faculty members are actively trying to fix it).

My experience has actually been one that modifies Haslanger’s a bit – when students and professors have found out what I’m training in (bioethics), many get this look like they just swallowed a sourpatch kid. Instead of the automatic assumption that women are doing ethics or history of philosophy, there seems to be this attitude of “but why in the world would you want to do that” – perhaps a holdover from the time when that was the assumed path of a woman in the field.

(I actually, recently, had one professor ask me why I would want to do something so useless, that amounted to nothing more than standing around kibitizing about problems instead of doing something useful. Gee, thanks…)


James Wimberley 09.06.07 at 2:40 pm

“…women were incapable of having seminal ideas.” Seminal is a nice phallocratic word. Real fertilised seeds are not specifically male, but the Latin word “semen” identified sperm with seeds according to Aristotelian biology, in which females only provide a uterine compost bed for fathers’ seeds to sprout. (Hence no doubt a lot of the problems in early Christianity with Christology, assuming that the Virgin Mary couldn’t provide any of Jesus’ essential nature.)

This prompts another thought. Dawkins’ memes are Aristotelian sperm as well as viruses: they reproduce themselves by penetrating hosts, who produce more copies that penetrate more hosts and so on. It’s not entirely false; but ideas also spread in a “female”, receptive mode: they attract other ideas that penetrate and modify them in turn. Look at evolution by natural selection.
We need an antonym to seminal: ovaricious?


sd 09.06.07 at 2:47 pm

“It seems blindingly obvious to me (but I’m willing to stand corrected, of course) that individual women, whatever their individual merits, have a better shot at success in grad school if there is a critical mass of other women in the program…

…convinces me that graduate admissions committees should work very hard indeed to achieve gender balance.”

If anything I think the first premise would lead to different conclusions. Assume a world where the ratio of qualified and interested male applicants to female applicants is 4:1 (maybe not true in philosophy, but try engineering, economics, etc.). Assume also that the chance of any given woman making it through the program and getting a tenure track job is directly proportional to the number of other women in her program.

In this world, rather than every graduate program aiming to have 20% women, you would get a higher proportion of women making through to the end if admissions committees stopped caring about gender at all and allowed, over time, women to volunatrily cluster in a handful of programs where they could realistically be 50% of the students overall.

In a way, this issue gets at one of the core problems with promoting diversity: Do you promote diversity within institutions or between institutions? When dealing with minority populations, you often can’t do both. To use an example, womens’ colleges are 100% un-diverse with respect to gender. But higher education as a whole is more diverse given the existance of women’s colleges, which operate on a non-standard model.


sd 09.06.07 at 2:53 pm

Of course this issue also raises the question of whether there are too damn many graduate programs in philosophy. One wonders why every major research university feels the need to train PhDs in every single significant arts & sciences discipline. One would think that a handful of programs in the country, each with dozens and dozens of students, would be better.


Doug 09.06.07 at 3:06 pm

9: Who’s going to drop their program first?


John Emerson 09.06.07 at 3:11 pm

“Seminal” always reminds me of wads of Kleenex, but I guess I’m sick.

I note that being guided to ethics is regarded as insulting. History of philosophy too. Girl subjects.

I’ll refrain from further trolling. A nice Paypal tip would reinforce my motivation, of course.


Tom S. 09.06.07 at 4:52 pm

Directly in response to the assertion that graduation times for women are lower in colleges with women:

I have no proper statistical evidence, but flipping through the Survey of Earned Doctorates (2003 edition), it appears the median graduation time for men and women are the exact same, with the exception of engineering (women graduate quicker) and social sciences (women take a little longer). Women make up about 17.1% in engineering and 54.4% in social sciences.

*I KNOW* that this isn’t conclusive, but an initial overview doesn’t support this hypothesis. Moreover, it appears they graduate at the same clip.


Barry 09.06.07 at 5:34 pm

Tom S., I can flat-out guarrantee that the ‘median graduation times’ in that book are incorrect, because they aren’t infinite.

Most people don’t graduate from a Ph.D. program. In that lies much room for discrimination.


Tom S. 09.06.07 at 6:40 pm


I fully agree. This survey only measures those who complete the degree. But at the same time, we can at least begin to assert that those who get past that drop-out point (qualifiers, dissertation), women tend to graduate just as quickly.

I think we can at least do Harry the favor of negating or supporting part of his claim.


Harald Korneliussen 09.06.07 at 7:31 pm

See, this is one of the reasons I’m glad I’m an engineer and not in the “soft” sciences. It always seemed to me that admission committee members and even grading professors faced an unsolvable problem when deciding who to reward. Do you reward those who agree with you? Obviously that has problems. But how can you hope to give a fair appraisal of people you disagree with?

I have the impression (only from observing the local literature and feminism departements – take it for what it’s worth) that the way they deal with it is either by trying to compensate by giving a sort of bonus to people they disagree with, or by ditching all concern for correctness and instead reward novelty.

I never liked nightclubs, or any sort club, really, that operates on Slee’s bouncer principle. I’m a bit worried that to succeed in prestigious educational institutions, you might have to.


harry b 09.06.07 at 7:34 pm

sd — good, I thought of that. I also thought of the much more depressing inference some people less optimistic than me might make that, since a given program will find it hard to get a critical mass, they shouldn’t admit any at all. I didn’t go into the difficulty of achieving any particular critical mass given the individualised nature of the admissions decision, and the fact that all the people who turn you down do so on April 15 when the people just down your list have just accepted other places. But, fortunately, I just don’t think there is a dearth of qualified women candidates. Far from it.

ms — not sure I understand your question. I agree with Sally that much more should be done, I just think that, despite what I said in the above paragraph, achieving something close to gender balance in admissions is a relatively easy-to-achieve short-term goal with a high propsects of both short-term and long-term pay-offs.

grand moff texan — I can tell that you’re insulting me, but i can’t quite tell what you’re insulting me about. Clarify!


Rich B. 09.06.07 at 7:42 pm

There was a recent study that showed that in grade schools both sexes learned better the higher the percentage of females are in the class. So, girls did best in single-sex education, and boys did best in mixed classes with more girls than boys.

I wouldn’t be surprised in the effects carried over into PhD philosophy programs.


dsquared 09.06.07 at 8:02 pm

See, this is one of the reasons I’m glad I’m an engineer and not in the “soft” sciences.

what, because you believe that the engineering faculty treats women fairly and behaves in a welcoming manner to them? This would certainly overthrow a lot of people’s preconceptions.


novakant 09.06.07 at 10:03 pm

This would certainly overthrow a lot of people’s preconceptions.

From what I’ve heard and seen as a student, it seemed that women in male-dominated fields had a ball and were treated like royalty, simply because there were so few of them; not sure how it is in the upper echelons, though.

But the real question is: why haven’t you been to a club yet, Harry?

Should you be afraid of being rejected by bouncers, let me assure you that this is very much an outdated 80s thing. It still exists, but where it does you wouldn’t want to go anyway and probably couldn’t really afford it either. In the hipper clubs, though, bouncers mainly exists to keep out the lager louts and hen parties.


leederick 09.06.07 at 10:40 pm

I’m sure each admissions decision does influence the ability of other students to learn. But I can’t see why this should count over individual merit and potential for success.

What’s really so bad about alienation? Maybe I’m taking the lone scholar ideal too seriously, but if your odds are so marginal enough that your cohort will make the difference between success and failure you shouldn’t be doing a PhD. PhDs are supposed to be about independent research, a supervisor and a library should be all you need.


John Protevi 09.06.07 at 10:50 pm

Maybe I’m taking the lone scholar ideal too seriously, … PhDs are supposed to be about independent research, a supervisor and a library should be all you need.

1. The “lone scholar” is not an ideal, but a cliche.

2. You are taking it too seriously.


anonymous graduate student 09.06.07 at 11:34 pm

As a woman in the midst of graduate work at a top Leiter ranked philosophy program, I find being one of the only women in my program incredibly isolating and demoralizing. Though I have suffered no direct discrimination, I am constantly aware of being one of the only women in the room and the way in which expectations of my work are effected by my gender.

I doubt that the members of the mainly male faculty I interact with on a daily basis have any idea at all how deeply unhappy I am in my department, mainly as a result of being one of so few women.


engels 09.06.07 at 11:35 pm

What people want is to be around a high enough proportion of good-looking/cool/well-dressed/female/young/sophisticated-seeming-but-ultimately-dull-witted people

That’s why people go to university, but why do they go to nightclubs?


vivian 09.07.07 at 1:01 am

The one time I was (grad) student rep on the admissions committee, I learned that the faculty agreed on admitting students who were academically successful and traditional. There was only one fusty sexist (who thought being a vegetarian gave him a free pass), but the others, for various reasons, thought the point was to admit the people most likely to finish fast, publish and get tenure. Nontraditional students, people switching from law or medical school, and people who worked full time to pay for night school – all were thought too risky, too likely to need “coddling”. I tried to suggest that while admitting thirty students, one risky choice was really not much risk at all, but was outvoted.

Of course the committee prided itself on having admitted a good number of middle-to-upper class women and foreigners as well as men, with a few working-class kids passing as middle class. Lots of children-of-academics too, people who swim in the culture like berries in yogurt.

I thought, and think, the solution is mentoring, teaching people with diverse but fascinatng skills and interests. This relationship-building would help individuals whatever the aggregate numbers. But, you know, that’s so unprofessional.


sally 09.07.07 at 1:07 am

A few thoughts in response to the “lone scholar” idea. First, it may be that the stereotype of the lone scholar fits men better than women, and this is contributing to the belief that women “don’t belong” in philosophy. Second, we’re not talking just about alienation, we’re talking about actions that are actively hostile, demeaning, belittling; about misevaluation; about exclusion and denial of access to resources and opportunities. Many women would be grateful, I think, if they were provided resources, a supportive advisor, and then were left alone. Third, lone scholars may produce brilliant work, but their success–even their survival in the field–depends on it being recognized as such. Given the powerful effect of schemas in contexts where people are over-burdened, making quick evaluations, etc. it’s an open question whether a lone scholar’s brilliance will be recognized if her sex is revealed. The lone scholar idea is not only a cliche, it is a pernicious one.


Kelly 09.07.07 at 1:19 am

From what I’ve heard and seen as a student, it seemed that women in male-dominated fields had a ball and were treated like royalty, simply because there were so few of them; not sure how it is in the upper echelons, though.
Bwah. I’m not sure how it is in academia, but when I left the computer sciences to go get my “soft” degrees, I had been in the field a decade, and still faced the same discrimination and need to prove myself in my work that I had the day I started.

To this day, I have absolutely no problem of grabbing the chin of any male I’m talking to and lifting his face up to my eyes. (And yes, it really was that bad in the computer industry. I’ll spare you the numerous stories of sexual harassment that became the kind of thing you just ignored, or you’d never get any work done. And it was endemic – Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, startups – anywhere you went, female and techie was oddball enough that the men behaved badly.)


SG 09.07.07 at 1:58 am

Kelly, I did a comp sci course in first year uni as part of my science degree and was absolutely horrified by the boys therein. Back then the only place most non-ubergeek people could use a decent computer was in the comp sci labs, but the same boys who would have been grabbing you by the chin were taking up space on the computers downloading (binary!) porn. While we all sat politely in the queue waiting for a computer. One time I asked for help from the boy next to me and he told me “I can program in 7 different languages, I don’t have time to help you.”

Scumbags the lot of them. I dropped that course fast. I presume some of those boys have now carrieed their charming attitude into the upper echelons of IT management, and the thought scares me.


Harald K 09.07.07 at 6:38 am

dsquared: No, of course not, but it should matter less, since skill in hard sciences by definition is more objectively measurable.

That comp.sci attracts horribly antisocial boys is a separate problem. I think I can assure you, sg, that these boys don’t get very far with their charming attitude in business (oh yes, I do know their kind) – they might have before, but there’s a serious cost to that kind of attitude, one that nerd-worship couldn’t weigh up for forever.

(btw, my impression is that we’ve come a long way in rejecting nerd-worship in Europe, far more so than they have in California – and I work for a Linux company)


dsquared 09.07.07 at 7:08 am

From what I’ve heard and seen as a student, it seemed that women in male-dominated fields had a ball and were treated like royalty, simply because there were so few of them

heard that from women or from men?

skill in hard sciences by definition is more objectively measurable

I don’t think this is necessarily true in any case, but even if so, surely it would eb outweighed by the fact that philosophers in general work alone rather than in teams, and thus don’t have to worry about other people grabbing the credit, a phenomenon which is pretty predictably going to have implications for sexual equality.


Brucetta 09.07.07 at 8:19 am

Anonymous Graduate Student @22:
My sympathies; I know how you feel, though I have thankfully made it through the other end. (Email me at if you’d like some friendly support!).

I am glad that this paper has been written (Thanks, Sally!). There are many philosophers who are taking this seriously, but it is difficult to change the culture. From my own experience, it is often difficult to speak up about such matters, lest you be marginalised even further. Even well-meaning male academics, who are quite genuinely concerned about this problem, seem oblivious to (and hostile to observations about) the different attitudes and behaviours they exhibit towards female colleagues.


Harald Korneliussen 09.07.07 at 10:56 am

It does not seem to me that women are more vulnerable to credit-grabbing than men in the CS business, but that may of course be on account of the women who got that far being by necessity pretty hard-nosed.

In education, steps can and should be taken to prevent credit-grabbing in any case.

In research, I haven’t seen enough to judge.

Anyway, my point wasn’t that women don’t face opposition in CS, of course they do, but it seems to me they have some options for fighting back that they don’t have in a field where peer approval is alpha and omega.


Danny Yee 09.07.07 at 1:48 pm

I’ve never been into a nightclub, and I don’t think I’ve read even as much about them as you.

I have been to a disco once, but that was a disco in Ulaanbaatar


Katherine 09.07.07 at 2:04 pm

I used to go to a lot of nightclubs, and none of them had the stereotypical bouncer policy that some sources seem to think are at the door of them all. Entirely irrelevant to discussion about women in philosophy departments of course, but as an analogy it ain’t so good.


a sentient being 09.07.07 at 2:35 pm

At the risk of revisiting some ancestral hostilities, why does Haslanger bang on about ‘philosophy’ when really her evidence is about analytic philosophy departments, not continental ones — which don’t show up in the Leiter rankings very prominently. Much of what she describes relates to the hard science, hard boiled, hard nosed masculinism of analytic places that even men inclined to the more humanistic sides of philosophy suffer from.


Andromeda 09.07.07 at 2:43 pm

novakant: I was in an undergraduate program that was about 75% male (I’m female). That “treated like royalty” thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — yeah, sometimes it’s fun, but there’s a thin and ragged line between it and objectification, being commodified. I liked getting an automatic charisma and comeliness bonus in dealing with nerds. I didn’t like being competed over rather than interacted with or having the sexual frisson of scarcity get in the way of my work. Women, really, don’t necessarily want to be treated like royalty — many of us would often rather be treated like people.

Plus which there really are different experiences and issues women face in academia and in male-dominated fields, and sometimes it’s nice to be around other women to talk about that. I didn’t have as much of a problem with that as many of my peers, but I also got out of techiedom pretty early.

And then there’s an added difficulty in that most of these places would like there to be more women (the students and admins both would like it) — but there’s also a huge concern about watering down admissions standards for the sake of affirmative action. We all wanted there to be more women, but we were all adamantly opposed to lowering standards to get them, because none of us women wanted to be looked at as if we were less qualified. We didn’t want the admissions process to cast any doubt on our abilities. So women in a program that is actively working to increase the representation of women may also have to face down assumptions that they don’t deserve to be there.


leederick 09.07.07 at 11:54 pm

First, it may be that the stereotype of the lone scholar fits men better than women, and this is contributing to the belief that women “don’t belong” in philosophy.

The idea of a lone scholar isn’t only a stereotype (or a cliche), it’s also what university regulations actually say a PhD is about. If you do a PhD you have to write it yourself, put your name on it, and sign a declaration that is is your work and only your work. People who can’t do that genuinely “don’t belong” in philosophy.

Harry’s post is based on a implicit idea of graduate research is all about, which I completely disagree with. He thinks that admission committees create the very good to which they are controlling access to – a nice environment in which you’ll recieve lots of help and support toward getting a doctorate. That’s pretty much the opposite of the traditional view that the good that comes with getting a PhD is that you’ve proven you can work on your own and produce an original contribution to knowledge. You’re proved yourself capable of doing independent scholarly research, and are in a different league to people who can’t do this without other people giving them lots of pointers and emotional support.

Academica is changing, and graduate students are having to do more courses and are getting more help and support and hand-holding. I think this is destroying the good to which admission committees are controlling access, rather than creating it.


Borealis 09.08.07 at 1:01 am

I have been out of graduate school and academia for ten years now. Thank you for reminding me how worked up I used to get over the silliest of matters. You are treated more “fairly” in graduate school than you will be anywhere else in life, even if you are the most discriminated against in graduate school.

In the real world, women, fat people, short people, outgoing people, smart people, etc., are all treated differently than their opposites. Usually there are both advantages and disadvantages with each characteristic. I doubt academia would understand it, but almost all people get along just fine being treated a little differently. Their careers don’t depend on their being treated identically as their peers.

Most of the evidence cited in the article is worthy of a chuckle about later, but if they cause one to derail one’s career, then perhaps the problem is how one deals with it and not the comments themselves.


harry b 09.08.07 at 2:38 am

leederick’s conception of graduate school is very convenient for the lazy professor. I basically think that the purpose of graduate school is to educate/train people to become as good practicioners as possible of the discipline (and good teachers etc). Part of my job is teaching graduate students. I certainly needed to be taught, myself, and had the good fortune to be taught by several good philosophers who were also good teachers. I can think of two particular interactions with my own supervisor, one of which lasted half a day, and the other about 10 minutes, in each of which I made huge strides forward, my supervisor having calculated exactly what I needed. The idea that one needs an environment in which to learn is not incompatible with the idea that in some relevant sense one is the ‘sole’ or ‘independent’ author of one’s dissertation. But only a genius or a fool thinks of their own ‘sole’ authored work that they could have done it without help.


novakant 09.08.07 at 10:14 am

I agree with Harry wholeheartedly: the idea of the lone scholar is simply counterproductive.


John Protevi 09.08.07 at 2:28 pm

Shorter leederick: “I have no friends, and I don’t see why anyone else needs them either.”


John Emerson 09.08.07 at 4:02 pm

This relevant link (hat tip Pharyngula) ought to be put on the front page here. The author is a female PhD research professor in the physical sciences.

There is a certain very senior colleague of mine who is in a closely related field and who has zero research activity and zero visibility in our field and zero graduate students. He is, however, very aggressively patronizing toward me, routinely saying directly and indirectly that my research and teaching are flawed, misdirected, boring, and not rigorous……


leederick 09.08.07 at 4:40 pm

Harry, there’s something strange about the way you’ve switched from talking about peer group in the post to supervisors in comment #38.

I basically think that the purpose of graduate school is the old fashioned idea of having professors guide students in doing independent research. So I’m not going to argue with #38. But if that’s the case why judge students on how they influence the ability of other students to learn? I’ve no problem with admitting professors on that basis (and that *is* radical, professors typically get hired based upon research quality) but I can’t see why students should be judged based on the emotional needs of people who want to form a codependent relationship with their peer group. Why’s that their job, and what’s that got to do with what a PhD is about?

The important relationship is the supervisor-student one, not the peer group one. I found there was an overwhelming concern with group learning with other students and a suportive student environment when I was in grad school. Frankly, the student environment focus is what’s very convenient for the lazy professor, because that’s much easier to do than the important stuff of providing quality one-to-one contact with a supervisor.

I’m not in the least saying students should be abandoned by supervisors – I’m a traditionalist and think that’s very important. It’s the idea that the wider grad school environment is critical and that this is what people are trying to get in the club to access (your thesis above) which I’m gunning for.


John Protevi 09.08.07 at 5:22 pm

I had no idea leederick would confirm my “shorter” so quickly. Very generous of him to do so.


shannon 09.08.07 at 6:21 pm

i’m not sure if this is what sally haslanger’s point was, but here’s what i take harry’s point to be (if it’s not your point, harry, it’s at least compatible with your point): philosophy is inherently social. it’s a dialectic. even if a philosopher writes alone, the philosophy written is part of a dialectic with other philosophers. thus, doing philosophy is social. one benefits academically from being in an environment that is conducive to such dialectical exchanges. (e.g., reading groups, exchanging papers with colleagues, discussing your blossoming ideas with fellow philosophers.) if you want your graduate students to do well, then you’ll try to provide such an environment. the point is not that admissions committees ought to cater to the emotional needs of graduate students. the point is that graduate students in philosophy (and professors of philosophy!) will do better if they are in a supportive social environment. they will benefit from being able to freely and openly discuss their ideas. and, unsurprisingly, women and non-whites feel more able to freely and openly discuss ideas when there are more women and non-whites (respectively) around. so, admissions committees should try to provide a supportive social environment in which people freely and openly discuss their ideas.


lindsey 09.08.07 at 7:05 pm

I think shannon has it right. In undergraduate philo classes, the amount I took away from the class was directly related to the type of atmosphere the students created. Some courses had wonderful teachers, but the other students weren’t forthcoming with thier ideas/etc. In others, the students were open and critical and honest, and that’s when the most intellectual growth took place (for me, the other students, and probably the professor). So if women and minorities feel like they can’t freely participate, then everyone suffers. It’s not just the women/minorities who need the enviroment to be open and welcoming, but also the white/males who would otherwise not benefit from their contribution.


John Protevi 09.08.07 at 8:24 pm

shannon, lindsey, don’t you get it? leederick doesn’t need other people. if they would only leave him alone, he would think so much more clearly. what a wonderful world it would be for him if everyone would just fuck off and die already and leave him in peace with the library. oh, and his supervisor too. he can stay. until the degree, at least. then he can go. sorry, but he needs his peace and quiet so he can do his work.


lindsey 09.08.07 at 8:40 pm

oh that’s right. my bad.


John Protevi 09.08.07 at 9:14 pm

of course, if your point was about the world that socialized being inhabit, your comment was right on, lindsey.


John Protevi 09.08.07 at 9:15 pm

beings! in the plural! like human beings! who occasionally proofread.


Brucetta 09.08.07 at 10:51 pm

Shannon and Lindsey have it exactly right.
Philosophy is discursive. Almost all good research is produced through dialogue with other philosophers. A very important part of training as a professional philosopher is learning how to engage constructively in this dialogue. Would-be philosophers need to learn how to ask good questions, how to defend their ideas and how to handle discussion without being defensive or threatened. This takes practice. But it’s difficult to get that practice when you feel marginalised, and when your attempts to join discussions are ignored or shouldered out.
(I had a few very strange moments once I left graduate school: I would say something in a group discussion, and my colleagues would turn around and listen to me! It was like having loud music turned off while you’re trying to shout over it. Still doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s a wonderful improvement).


sally 09.09.07 at 3:05 am

Because I’m only able to catch up on the thread occasionally, I’m going to respond to a several posts at once:

#34: I “bang on” about analytic philosophy departments because I am an analytic philosopher and I love analytic philosophy. It is also the dominant paradigm in the US (and the UK and Australia) and is the focus of all of the top graduate schools. I myself am interested in and sympathetic to some non-analytic philosophy, but insofar as one can generalize about anglophone professional philosophy, one is generalizing about analytic philosophy. And I haven’t noticed that women are doing better in philosophy programs in Europe; rather, they are doing much worse. So it is not plausible to me that once we get away from analytic methods, everything is fine.

#35: Backlash against “assumed” lowering of standards by affirmative action is a serious problem. If the studies of evaluation bias are correct, however, then the current standards for men that enable them to fill the academic ranks are actually lowered compared to the standards women are held to. So we already have “affirmative action” for men. Although I support some affirmative action policies (for women and minorities) I worry that imposing affirmative action “from the outside,” can backfire. I’d like to see more education about evaluation bias, stereotype threat, etc. so admissions committees, referees, search committees, can be more accurate in their evaluations. A model of this has been developed at the University of Michigan through the NSF ADVANCE program.
#38: It is an illusion to think that only the over-sensitive or inexperienced (or academics) suffer from the effects of stereotype threat and solo status. In the studies I cite, the subjects are not graduate students/academics. These studies show that white men also suffer cognitive difficulties when they are “solos”. “Being treated identically as their peers” is not the issue; learning to chuckle at outrageous comments is not the solution. Social class membership makes a difference to one’s performance in relation to others whether you are male or female, White or non-White, academic or non-academic. The effects are not trivial. If we want women and minorities to gain access to contexts now dominated by white males, we have to deal with this.


harry b 09.09.07 at 2:14 pm

leederick, good, I’m glad that, contrary to your previous comment, you believe that teaching is important. But as shannon and lindsey and brucetta say, one major difference is how we conceive of philosophy as an activity (I don’t know who you are, so don’t know whether you’re a philosopher or not). I conceive of it as fundamentally cooperative. Some of the cooperation is done with dead people (with their presumed permission). I think that whether one learns to do that well depends on a host of factors including one’s social environment in grad school.

I don’t know how well I’d have learned (or thriven in my pre-tenure years) if I’d had to cope with the behavior that Sally describes, that I have heard many times from others (including some of these commenters) and occasionally observed myself. Maybe it would have been a brilliant spur to my own determination. I’m glad I haven’t had to find out, and don’t really think of that as revealing that I’m co-dependent or otherwise unusually psychologically flawed.

I said in my post that reversing the roles doesn’t aid the imagination much. But here’s an experience I have had — that of being the sole father in a group of parents of toddlers. I think the women involved actually wanted to be welcoming to a man (a friend of mine kept bringing me along). But in fact it was very uncomfortable for me (and, I think, for them). In this case, not especially important for me or them; but in the case of grad school, a good deal more so.

Not, of course, as important as eliminating poverty, or averting or stopping terrible wars, or many other great evils. And of course, if you’re in no position to improve the quality of a workplace, but are just on the receiving end of prejudice/slights/discrimination/harrassment/etc, then borealis’s attitude is probably a good one to adopt. But I’m not on the receiving end of any of that, and like most tenured academics Sally and I both have some ability to influence the quality of the environment in our own departments, and, through papers like hers and discussions like this, in others. Indifference would, again, be very convenient for us.


carole lee 09.09.07 at 7:10 pm

At the Cog Sci conference this summer, Christian Schunn presented research demonstrating that a powerful factor for continued, longer term collaboration among Cog Sci researchers turned out to be individual researchers’ feelings of being respected and treated as an equal in their collaborative relationships. If this factor/feeling plays a large part in an individual’s continued intellectual commitment to a discipline (and not just a project), then culture alone would be sufficient to drive women and minorities out of philosophy.

Christian said (in his capacity as a previous Cog Sci editor) that philosophers do not have a large presence in the Cog Sci community because they “eat their young:” philosophers’ peer-reviews of submitted paper/talk proposals are so negative that the Cog Sci editors don’t know whether to include the poorly reviewed papers or not. To me, Haslanger’s comparison between the representation of women in Cog Sci versus philosophy is interesting because, although both can be quite analytical and abstract, there is, apparently, a clear difference in culture between these disciplines.


a sentient being 09.09.07 at 10:03 pm

In response to 52:

It’s hard to know what to make of this response, Sally, except that you’re an elitist. While you’re right that the analytic depts dominate the Leiter rankings, most active philosophers in North America — if you deign to include the ones in the minor departments — are non-analytic. And perhaps even most practising philosophers are women, and they have an easier time in those downmarket departments. I don’t speak with authority on this matter. But it’s worth YOUR taking it seriously since you pretend to be speaking for philosophy as a discipline. In fact, I might be so bold as to suggest that philosophy’s recent fixation on the Leiter Report has only exacerbated the alpha-male tendency in the field, which you yourself seem have to have gotten sucked into. Put it this way: Suppose you were to find that gender relations were more equitable in lower ranked departments, would you be willing to move to one of them in a geographically hospitable location? Or, have I missed your strategy for reversing the gender bias endemic to the top ranked departments?


Allan Hazlett 09.10.07 at 6:28 pm

Although Journal of Philosophy isn’t blind refereed, the other journals mentioned in Haslanger’s table all at least claim to be. Assume they’re living up to their claims. It’s weird, then, that the percentage of women in philosophy departments (18%) is higher than the percentage of papers published by women in the journals (12%). If philosophers (i.e. journal referees, and people on hiring and admissions committees) are generally biased against women, wouldn’t the journal number be higher than the faculty number? I would have thought it would be easier to discriminate against women during the “non-blind” hiring process than it is to discriminate against women in the blind refereeing process.

We shouldn’t ignore a possible explanation of this: that affirmative action is (in one respect) working. Women are doing better in the non-blind hiring process than they are in the blind refereeing process, because there are rules in the hiring process in place to ensure fairness, and (additionally) hiring and admissions committees are interested in making their faculties more diverse. Many (I would guess most) philosophy departments are trying to diversify their faculty and student populations by actively seeking out qualified women.

That’s compatible both with the existence and non-existence of unconscious discrimination in blind refereeing (of the sort described by Brian W. at his blog). It’s compatible, as well, with the possibility (hinted at by Brian) that the percentage of papers published in philosophy by women is more or less the same as the percentage of papers submitted by women.

It seems to me that the big lesson of Haslanger’s essay is this: the problem of sexism in philosophy, whatever it is, is not best explained by discriminatory hiring and admissions practices.

One might draw a further conclusion: that what all this shows is that affirmative action has failed, in this respect: we’ve got all these rules in place to prevent discrimination, and most departments are actively trying to diversify, but our departments still aren’t diverse, especially our graduate student populations, and our journals are even less diverse, and women philosophers, with few exceptions, experience the sorts of things that Haslanger describes in the second section of her paper, on “Outright Discrimination.” We could admit every woman who applies to our graduate programs, make sure every woman with a PhD has a tenure-track job, and (I suspect) this wouldn’t do anything significant to combat the problem of diversity in philosophy if we philosophers (both men and women) are all still sexists who treat women philosophers badly. The worry: affirmative action isn’t doing anything to change us, in the ways that we need to be changed for sexism (both in philosophy and elsewhere) to go away. (Not that that tells us what would change us, but at least we’d know what doesn’t work.)


Mark van Roojen 09.11.07 at 4:56 pm

On the social vs. anti-social point. My own experience at a very good graduate department was that I learned more from the other students than from the professors — and this is no complaint about the professors. I was more willing to try out possibly dumb ideas with the other students and as a result I got more correction there than I did in interactions with faculty. The faculty at my graduate department were largely responsible for creating the environment that worked this way by treating us better than any other department at that university treated graduate students at the time. (This is not to say there were not problems on occasion but that the department did work at creating a good environment.)

Any department that does not think about the climate it is creating for its students is ignoring a factor which is highly relevant to the education its students receive.

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