After the ‘gendered conference campaign’, now on to the ‘gendered Summerschool campaign’?

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 26, 2011

Feminist Philosophers“: has for some years been conducting a “gendered conference campaign”:, a campaign against conferences where all speakers are men. I support this campaign. A conference in which all speakers are men is undesirable in terms of its outcomes: it gives a biased representation of the field, the likelihoods are that wo/men cover different topics and/or use different methodologies, we don’t want to put off (female) grad students by giving them the implicit message that the field is not welcoming to them, and we want women scholars to be given an opportunity to present their work. A conference with only male speakers is also likely to be the result of a biased process in which the organisors have given free hand to gendered stereotypes that influence us when thinking about who the ‘interesting speakers’ in the respective fields may be; although the evidence on these kind of implicit bias processes is by now vast, I still regularly come across instances where conference organisors have not given this any thought.

Now it seems like we’ll have to extent this campaign to include Summerschools: to my surprise, I received a call for participation for “a Summerschool”: on ‘Justice: Theory and Applications’ yesterday, which includes six teachers, all male. Theories of justice belong to my own area of specialisation, and I thus can say with some confidence that there are plenty of interesting, excellent contributors out there who are female. In fact, in my Research Master Course ‘Contemporary Theories of Justice’, one student remarked that he had never had a philosophy course with so many female authors on the reading list.

Clearly there may be additional hurdles: for example, it may be the case that female scholars are more likely to refuse an invitation. Or there may be areas where it really is much more difficult, bordering at the level of the impossible, to find female teachers. But that’s definitely not the case for theories of justice.



the teeth 01.26.11 at 8:57 am

What portion of potential teachers are male? If the ratio is 2:1, you have an eight percent chance of arriving at this outcome through an unbiased selection process … if it’s 3:1, you’ve nearly 18%. Of course if it’s even, something really stinks.


Colin Reid 01.26.11 at 9:05 am

My subject (maths) seems to be male-dominated, but unevenly so. The proportion of female undergrads is a minority but a fairly large one (e.g. 37% in the UK). But after that, proportionately fewer female undegrads do doctorates, and it seems proportionately fewer of those who get doctorates go on to become lecturers. Even amongst permanent staff, the average age of women seems to be dramatically lower than that of the men. It’s hard to tell if this is because large-scale female participation is recent and has yet to filter through, or if there’s a much higher attrition rate among female faculty.

For conferences, two groups of speakers are preferred:

1. Older figures, often close to retirement, who are extremely well-connected and considered ‘authorities’ in the area. They often talk about new results but are taken as particularly authoritative when giving a survey of the field.

2. People typically in their 30s who have proved a number of impressive results in a short space of time, and are seen by group 1. to be destined for great things. They will usually talk about their latest celebrated result.

It occurs to me that both these groups may be more male-dominated than the general population of researchers (e.g. for 2., 100% of Fields Medal recipients have been male). Hmm.


Sam C 01.26.11 at 10:48 am

Ingrid, thank-you for this timely reminder (I’m putting together reading lists, and have to watch my own implicit biases). Is there any chance you could post your ‘Contemporary Theories of Justice’ syllabus?


Ingrid Robeyns 01.26.11 at 11:20 am

Sam C – I’m hesitant to post them (though will consider) but am certainly happy to mail them to you if you send me an e-mail (Robeyns -usual sign –


Brett Bellmore 01.26.11 at 11:55 am

Do they have any objection to conferences where all the speakers are women? Or are their concerns as one sided as the text of that announcement would suggest?


tomslee 01.26.11 at 1:04 pm

So, four responses, three of which take issue with the claim that all-male speaker lists are a problem? Maybe this is a good time to ask yourself how you feel about women assistant referees?


Frances Woolley 01.26.11 at 1:16 pm

I’ve worked with a couple of people who would definitely think of themselves as progressive on the gender front, it’s just whenever they think to themselves “who would be a good speaker?” “who would be a good referee?” etc the name that comes to mind is always male. And they’re not even aware of it. It can be incredibly frustrating.

But at the same time, more than once I’ve said to someone “Look, if you want to find someone to do [some consulting job] look for someone with an at-home spouse and kids.” Those people have more time available and more need for money.

Every time I *don’t* turn down a paid gig of some sort I end up cursing myself later. I could be blogging or skiing and instead, here I am…


chris 01.26.11 at 2:31 pm

Theories of justice belong to my own area of specialisation, and I thus can say with some confidence that there are plenty of interesting, excellent contributors out there who are female.

Gee, I can’t think of a single reason why women working in a predominantly male field might have a different perspective on theories of justice than men working in the same field!

(On the other hand, Colin’s category 1 is a sort of fossilized sexism that can’t really be fixed quickly: because there were large obstacles to women entering the field 40 years ago, there are few women _with 40 years of experience in the field_ now, and nothing that anybody does now can change that without waiting another 40 years. Of course, the added value of 40 years of experience as opposed to 10 or 20 may be questionable, especially in fast-moving fields, but that’s another argument.)


sf reader 01.26.11 at 2:41 pm

I was just trying to remember how many of the contributors to the recent CT symposium on Germany/EU/economic crisis where women (or appeared to be so based on name), and only recalled one . . . but there doesn’t seem to be a link to symposia, rather than book events, so cannot easily check . . .


Margaret Atherton 01.26.11 at 3:38 pm

I too support the gendered conference campaign and am happy to join the gendered summer school campaign. I also see a serious need for a gendered textbook anthology campaign–anthologizers of introductory anthologies in philosophy appear to believe that the female contribution worth introducing students is limited to one paper a piece (the same paper in each case) by Judy Thomson, Phillipa Foote and Elizabeth Anscombe. I am not of course argung that these splendid papers should be omitted, merely that they contribute to a rather restricted view of the field.


Henry 01.26.11 at 3:46 pm

bq. I was just trying to remember how many of the contributors to the recent CT symposium on Germany/EU/economic crisis where women (or appeared to be so based on name), and only recalled one . . . but there doesn’t seem to be a link to symposia, rather than book events, so cannot easily check . . .

The link will go up one of these days on the side, whenever I get time to delve again into CT’s inner workings. There were two other women who presented at the workshop that the symposium summarizes – both of them, as well as one guy, were unable to rewrite their presentations as blog posts (work overload and other reasons).


Hugh L 01.26.11 at 3:49 pm

I don’t want to comment on the particular case in hand, as I know nothing about it. But one pertinent general question might be this: if some some competition has a number of places available, and all the most suitable applicants are of one gender, how great a weight should we give to the claims of the most suitable applicants to have the place that their achievement warrants, and how great a weight should we give to the consequential effects (assuming they are negative) of having all placeholders being of one gender? That is, of course, only one dimension of the problem. There might be other dimensions too, like rectifying historical injustice, but this first question might be a good place to start. And, of course, if their is active discrimination going on, then the reasons for objecting to the case are much more obvious, coming from both efficiency and fairness.


Sebastian (2) 01.26.11 at 4:19 pm

sf reader – yes, very true – of the 8 (?) participants, Sheri Berman was the only woman. And that’s not because there wasn’t any choice: Some of the most prominent political economist writing on Germany are women (Kathy Thelen, Isabella Mares…) and there are a number of high-profile younger female academics (Helen Callaghan comes to mind, but I’m sure there are more) whose work would have fit well. So, what’s up with the “Männergesellschaft”?
That’s of course nothing against the participants – I know many of them and they are terrific scholars and very nice people, but that’s not the point.


Sebastian (2) 01.26.11 at 4:22 pm

Sorry, overlapped with Henry – 3:8 is still not great, but I guess roughly reflective of the gender distribution in political economy.


sf reader 01.26.11 at 5:23 pm


Henry –

Thank you for the response.

When I read your announcement of the symposium, my initial reaction was to scan the list of participants to see how many women were included. I noticed that this was my first reaction with some interest. On brief reflection, I realized that my reaction stemmed at least in part from higher expectations of CT (in a positive way), and a somewhat sour-tasting reflex anticipating disappointment (born not of experience of CT in particular, but of the world in general). My disappointment is now tempered by your further information.


sf reader


Henry 01.26.11 at 5:30 pm

sf reader – it is a completely fair and reasonable initial reaction, obviously. And I’m happy to have discovered the work of Helen Callaghan, which I obviously should have been familiar with heretofore, but to my shame wasn’t.


James Wimberley 01.26.11 at 6:39 pm

Perhaps a distinction can be made between subjects where gender is an important aspect of the subject under discussion and those where it isn’t. It’s desirable on general grounds to have more equal opportunities in the second case; but discussing say rape or the nude in painting without input from women scholars strikes me as simply obtuse. Social justice falls in the first group.


ptl 01.26.11 at 8:17 pm

Perhaps a distinction can be made between subjects where gender is an important aspect of the subject under discussion and those where it isn’t.

and perhaps we can consider that conferences which have mainly male speakers mayl not include/evoke gender “as an important aspect of… discussion” because, you know, men are generic.

(Sending a link to this post to SWIP/WMST-L. I’d suggest emailing all the proposed speakers to elicit their views.)

Brett Bellmore, name one such “mainstream” conference.


Hugh L 01.26.11 at 8:37 pm

I agree with James. But I also think a dilemma persists, at least in the general case.

Let’s suppose that in some arena having input from both genders leads to better results, so that simply being of an underrepresented gender makes one a better candidate for a position of advantage. Even then, it seems that there is a fairness concern that someone who would otherwise be better qualified (but for their gender) is not given the position of advantage. The dilemma is still how we weigh this fairness consideration against other considerations.
The real world problem is complicated by the fact that many women may have already suffered some form of discrimination and so the fact that they are not (if they are not, I’m not saying they are not) as qualified is something they are not reponsible for. This changes the problem: now we might think that fairness demands the individual who has been discriminated against in the past has the strongest claim to the position of advantage, but that efficiency speaks against it because the fact that they are less well-qualified implies they will be less effective at the associated job.
It seems like there might be room for interesting work on how to balance these considerations. Of course, it probably already exists and I’m just unaware of it.

Again, I’m not trying to make any assumptions about the case Ingrid describes; although it seems to me extremely likely that there would have been well-qualified female candidates in that case.


J. Bogart 01.27.11 at 12:16 am

Re 4:
You are hesitant to post a reading list? Why?


Ingrid Robeyns 01.27.11 at 6:14 am

J. Bogart, Re 20: because I have never thought about whether or not to do it, and I’d like to think about my actions before doing something I’ve not done before. AFAIKT it’s not common practice among university teachers worldwide to post their reading lists completely free for all on the web (except for a few universities who’ve turned it into a trademark), so why would I if not everybody does it? Do I have a duty?
As said, I don’t say I won’t do it, but since Sam C. probably wants to have it quickly he/she can e-mail me. But perhaps we can think/reason together about this, in another post?


Jender 01.27.11 at 7:09 am

Thanks for supporting the campaign!! We have occasionally slipped in a gendered summer school, by the way: (And even a gendered editorial board: <, and probably some anthologies. But no harm in more campaigns! You can even feel free to use our theme song:


the teeth 01.27.11 at 9:02 am

@tomslee — This response is a bit late, so you likely won’t see it, but I didn’t “take issue with the claim that all-male speaker lists are a problem”. Terrifyingly poor reading comprehension, there.


tomslee 01.27.11 at 12:30 pm

I must have misheard the intonation. Sorry.


Orsi Reich 01.27.11 at 12:39 pm

Dear All,

I am the person mostly responsible for this occurance. (It was my idea that we should have this summer school, and I am afraid my taste dominated our choice of the faculty.)

I am a female, 29, grad student/part-time lecturer, working on distributive justice.
It has never occured to me that I should choose the articles I give to my students / I want to read, or the professors whom I want to learn from on the basis of their sex.

I understand the idea of ‘positive discrimination’, but I do not think that it should occur at this level. Much before, yes, maybe. Anyhow, I would be offended if I got invitations to professional events on the basis that I am a young woman.

Could someone please explain to me where my reasoning goes wrong?



Ingrid Robeyns 01.27.11 at 1:54 pm

Dear Orsi @25: thanks for joining the discussion!
I could write the whole afternoon in response, but will try briefly, and invite others to complement/critique/etc. my first shot.
There are consequentialist reasons to make sure that a group of teachers/presenters is not existing of one sex only, including the reasons I highlighted in my post. You may be someone who doesn’t feel a difference between a male-only or a mixed group of speakers, but in the experience of many it does make a difference, in the atmosphere, the degree in which people feel they fit, the kind of conversations taking place. In the addition, it makes a difference in the assumptions that people make and the topics they focus on (if you’ve ever looked at the literature on distributive justice in relation to care issues, or family issues, you’ll see that many of the authors, and disproportionately many when compared to their share in the profession, are women. That doesn’t mean the women get the attention they deserve; in fact, I have good reasons to believe that if a men writes on these issues, he’ll get, all other things equal, more attention. This is all consistent with what we know on gender and the attribution of authority in social psychology).
There are explanations for why it can make a difference to whether the person producing the knowledge is a man or a woman, inlcuding the entire literature on standpoint epistemology. I have so far never had to explain to a woman (at least not one with a family, but also not to the vast majority without a family) why the gendered division of labour is an issue of justice – but I still come across men, including prominent, important, famous, male philosophers who don’t see what the moral issue at stake is; isn’t it all a matter of choice and bargaining? (that said, many male philosophers of course do appreciate why this is an important an crucial issue; it’s not like a deterministic relationship, but a probabilistic one).
In addition to these ‘consequentialistic’ reasons for wanting a group that represents more diversity, there are reasons of procedural fairness. You may think that you select only on quality, and that’s what we all think, or at least would like to think, of ourselves. And of course, I cannot judge for an individual case; you may represent the statistically possible but unlikely outlier who has a gender-unbiased mind that doesn’t engage in implicit bias. But the science is not on the side of those who think they can make unbiased judgements: we are all, men and women, influenced by gendered stereotypes which lead to bias in our judgements, and this bias accumulates into unfair situations. In the area of academia, it is women and minorities who are in this way disadvantaged. If you want to read just one single book on this, read Virginia Valian’s Why So Slow, MIT press. If you want to read just one short column on this, read Sally Haslanger’s piece in Hypathia, available “here”:

We’ve had earlier discussions on women in philosophy here at Crooked Timber, see e.g. “Harry’s post in 2007”:

So in sum, I don’t think we’re faced with either “choosing for quality” or “having to engage in straightforward positive discimination”; the world, and our actions, are much more complex than that, and much more muddy.

By the way, the Gendered Conference Campaign has “some very useful links too, with more explanation on explicit bias, and views by philosophers who have thought about these issues for a long time”:


Harry 01.27.11 at 3:24 pm

Ingrid’s link reminds me that my problem is that whenever pretty much anything comes up needing someone I know wil be good if he/she agrees my first thought is Sally Haslanger, which at some point might get irritating.


Orsi Reich 01.27.11 at 5:05 pm

Dear Ingrid,

I think our disagreement is much less ideological than empirical.

I have the – maybe mistaken – impression that the academia (at least in philosophy) is not anymore biased against women, at least I have never experienced that my arguments are treated to be less valuable because I am a female. Or that I could not get in to the company of professional male philosophers because I am a female.
If I had the contrary impression on how the world is, I would immediately grant your points.
The exclusion of people on the basis of irrelevant biological facts is really undesirable – I have never doubted that.

Women professionals obviously have a tougher job in making a carrier than men, that I see. But I am not quite sure that this sad fact, deriving from the undesirable power structure in families are best treated in a way that we introduce some sort of a women quota for professional events. In fact, that strikes me as a grossly inappropriate means.

One point of you I have to admit though. It is an important consideration that some female students may have a difficulty when dealing with a single-sex male faculty (even if that faculty is consisted of men who do not have any bias against women in academia). This consideration just not occured to me before, and maybe it should have.

And as I said, my empirical diagnose might be flawed, too optimistic. I beleive it is not, but that’s contestable. When thinking about potential faculty we actually had some women in the shortlist as well, but again, people’s sex did not occured as a factor when deciding whom to invite from the shortlist. And I need to state that this was because I strongly represented my old-school second-generation feminist view that sex does not matter, which, in conjunction with the optimistic diagnosis led to the decision you seen…

In sum, there was no base intention here, at most a mistake.

Best, Orsi


Orsi Reich 01.27.11 at 5:17 pm

(Just to add: we did ask one female philosopher but she could not accept our invitation for personal reasons.)


Anca Gheaus 01.27.11 at 6:00 pm

@Hugh L: you may add another dimension to the dilemma, that of trade-offs between short term and long term efficiency. Arguably, if we include today people from social groups that are (still) excluded, by doing this we encourage more people from those groups to join the filed and this is likely to lead to a richer pool of talent in the future.


Anca Gheaus 01.27.11 at 6:06 pm

@Orsi: for a lot of empirical – albeit anecdotal – data about women’s discrimination in philosophy (conscious and not, intended and unintended), here is a blog entirely dedicated to the subject:

Sorry for hectic typing resulting in the previous post.


Ingrid Robeyns 01.28.11 at 3:44 pm

The earlier mentioned book by Virigina Valian, and some of the references cited in Haslanger’s paper provide the empirical evidence, as well as the huge amount of research being done in social/cognitive psychology on implicit bias (which, by definition and in contrast to ‘explicit discrimination’ is not intentional; it’s not a matter of intentionality here; if only it were, we’d much easier get rid of it!). See for example the ‘project Implicit’ at Harvard University which studies all sorts of implicit biases:

Comments on this entry are closed.