I was listening to woman's hour again today. It was a program I'd meant to catch on the day it came out but didn't in fact listen to for a while because my computer got virused (and all...) So I listened to the podcast here. The reason I was so keen on listening to it was that they'd announced it on twitter as being about women in philosophy. As in academic women philosophers. In actual universities, teaching in actual jobs. Why there are so few of us.
So the women interviewed were saying, surprise surprise, that it's all down to cultural stereotype. Women aren't supposed to be good at abstract reasoning, and cold stuff like logic and maths. Which is sort of what Rousseau said. And Aristotle, those pillars of the sexist bastards community.
But when women do end up teaching philosophy in universities, it is sometimes said that they do a different kind of philosophy - they tend to gravitate towards more applied or practical subjects like ethics and aesthetics, whereas men do the more abstract metaphysics, philosophy of mind or language. I haven't counted. And I'm not really aware of anyone who has, so I don't know if that's true.
In order to do a proper study you'd have to know what to look at as well - what people teach? They often don't choose what they teach, or even if they do, it doesn't always match their research interests or their qualifications. You can't look at Ph.D titles either as people often change their research interest as they grow. And if you look at publications, you might get a fairly disparate view of what people have been working on because of the luck involved in getting stuff accepted (I have two articles out on the philosophy of crime fiction, which I by no means consider to be my main research interest!)
But even if this were true, it does not follow that women are naturally better suited to teach or conduct research in these areas. And yet that is often what is assumed. Women are more concerned with practical things, it is said, and less interested in the abstract. Again with Rousseau and Aristotle.
That would be bad enough, but now add to the equation that metaphysics, etc is also described as 'hard' philosophy, and sometimes - wait for it - 'meat and potato philosophy', whereas ethics, etc. gets called 'soft', or 'cream puff' philosophy - the easy, non-essential, stuff. And who do you think came up with these distinctions?
So let's do a bit of maths here: men start philosophy departments and do metaphysics, etc. A few women trickle in in the fifties and take what's left, what the men don't mind them doing. So the men call what the women do 'soft' and decide that women are naturally suited to work on these topics (those unnatural women who want to do philosophy in the first place, that is). Then these women train other women who then end up working in the same field. A myth is born.
Now when I started studying philosophy I did choose the 'hard stuff'. I enjoyed it, and was moderately successful at it. Then I got very bored with it and decided that what I really enjoyed was writing about Plato's political theory. Now that's another kettle of fish altogether as it fits neither in the 'hard' or 'soft' categories. But as the years went by, my research was influenced by writers I admired, and these were mostly women: Martha Nussbaum, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Anette Baier, and more. So now I'm doing a lot of ethics, 'soft' stuff. Also, I teach Aesthetics in my department, cause no-one else can, and because it's sort of fun. So I'm a typical woman philosopher now - the system caught me and transformed me into what I ought to be. Another way of seeing it, is that I do what I bloody well feel like doing, and fuck the lot of them. I do smogasbord philosophy. Salad bar philosophy.
I was just reading yesterday, in the New York Times, an article attempting to explain why there are less women in academic philosophy. The author, Andy Martin, was blithely arguing that philosophers, are all 'a bit autistic', and that, as Simon Baron-Cohen tells us, autism is an 'extreme male brain', successful philosophers are typically male. I rest my case.
(No I don't quite rest it, I encourage you, if you haven't yet, to go read what I think about Simon Baron Cohen's take on autism here. It isn't pretty.)
(Also, although I'd love it if my son became an academic, and I certainly don't see why autistic people shouldn't be in academia, and indeed some are, I think we all know how hard it can be for an autistic person to fight their way to the top of anything, and to end up in a profession that requires them to interact with hundreds of people every week. So please.)
(Oh, and yes, some philosophers are socially awkward. But being rude, absent-minded or self-centrered is not the same as being autistic. For fuck's sake).
Now I'm done.