Nasty Little Unspoken Truths—Academic Sexism Lives

“Everyone” who does a philosophy-related blog has to talk about this topic at some point or other.  One of the better philblogs, Crooked Timber, even includes a handy-dandy breakdown chart that shows us philosophers down near the bottom, below some of the famously male-dominate STEM fields.

Significantly less than a third of doctorates earned in philosophy are earned by women.  Look around pretty much any philosophy department or conference; the male/female ratio is nothing even close to even.  Back in my time in philosophy grad school, I had perhaps one or two women, if that many, in my 15-30 person classes; in my entering class of about forty, everyone was male—but seeing as there weren’t more than two women entering the program in any given year, that wasn’t that unusual.  In the last four years, the graduate student lectures and conferences committee never had a single woman on it—but our main spring social event was always headed by one.

Oh, and let’s not even go into the justifications I heard for this state of affairs.  I eventually learned to stop asking about it just so I didn’t have to lose respect for yet another (otherwise seemingly decent) person.

Of course, as Ye Olde Humble Authorre has shown, not everyone who attends grad school in philosophy stays in academia.  Some of us go into publishing—and, well, other things, but let’s stick with publishing for the moment.  While the picture in publishing as a whole isn’t quite like the average philosophy department, although stories of “women get the cubicles, men the window offices” abound, academic publishing is a very different beast.

Have a look at the contributors to the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s blog, The Scholarly Kitchen.  There are eleven contributors, one of whom is female.  Sure, most of the journals and publications the SSP discusses are in STEM fields, which, like philosophy, are overwhelmingly male—but, if you’d like to take another look at that little chart from Crooked Timber again, not that overwhelmingly male.  Plus, while many of the contributors have backgrounds in the sciences, several of them are marketing folks, consultants of one stripe or another.  Simply saying that STEM graduate programs are sexist and imbalanced doesn’t entirely excuse publishers from their own sexism—nor do similar arguments apply to other fields, like philosophy.

Then again, it’s kind of hard to hire talented women with a strong knowledge of their field when there are only ten in a 168-person graduate program—and, if the people shaping the future of publishing inherited certain sexist prejudices and assumptions during their education, they’re going to retain them during their time as professionals.  Academic sexism has ramifications beyond the academy.  It’s quite well and good to attract women and other underrepresented groups to philosophy for the sake of the discipline—but just as important to remember that other areas, which inherit at least some of their own prejudices and problems from the academy, will benefit from changes in the discriminatory status quo.

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