16 October 2009

Feminist Quasi-Rant With a Cheerful Postlude

It has been easy for me to forget what a male dominated academic discipline philosophy is but I can't help noticing just now. Out of all my set texts for all of my seminars, none were written or edited by a woman. Only two out of the fourteen professors in the department are women. In my philosophy of science seminar, I am the only woman. In my further logic seminar, I am one of two women. In my political philosophy seminar, I am one of three women. In my moral philosophy seminar, I am one of five women. Each of these seminars has fifteen people, so in the one with the largest number of women, we still make up only one third of the group. All of this at a university where women outnumber men when the university population is considered in its entirety (53% female, 47% male).

Added to that, there is a man in his mid-forties in philosophy of science who has gone out of his way to tell me what seminars I should be taking instead of philosophy of science and further logic. Apparently, philosophy of science is so specialised and jargon laden that it will be too hard for me to join in and it does not seem to matter how many times I explain to him that I have yet to find any jargon I am not already familiar with in the reading and that I have a prior acquaintance with several of the set texts. I am a philosopher and therefore acquainted with philosophy. Philosophy of science is a subset of philosophy and I am, therefore, sufficiently qualified to study philosophy of science. It is not as though I am trying to teach it!

During undergrad, nine of the ten people in the philosophy department in my year were women, which is unusual but is what I am used to, so all this is a bit of a shock to the system. I don't want to be unfair to my new university: the professors for philosophy of science and further logic are very clearly supportive of my being in there and two very nice PhD students (one who is in phil of sci and logic with me, the other of whom is in phil of sci and public policy) have been very encouraging and supportive, so it is not as though I am suddenly staring down the establishment all alone. Nevertheless, it has all been rather jarring.

I am having a fabulous time though, spending hours each day talking about philosophy and art and politics, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. I thought that I would enjoy being here, I just never thought that I would be quite this happy quite this soon. No objections on my part to that. I didn't think I'd make friends this easily either but lo and behold, I have a party invite for tomorrow night and a date to see the Turner Prize show at the Tate. I don't know what's happened to my life but I like it.


  1. The man in the philosophy of science seminar is clearly an idiot. I hope you get many, many opportunities to demonstrate to him your superior intellectual abilities, and your greater understanding of the material.

  2. This post has me green with envy and dewy-eyed with nostalgia. Oh to be young, free and studying in the capital! I shall try my hardest not to be jealous and instead vicariously enjoy your wonderful new life via your (regular, I hope!) blog posts.
    I'm stunned at the gender ratio you report. I've only ever encountered lady-philospophers in my time. Infact when i think back to the days when we were expected to make our uni choices, the boys overwhelmingly opted for engineering and graphic-design (it was still the 80's mind!)whereas all bar one of my female friends went to study PPE (or variant thereof) which perhaps led me to the false impression that men like making stuff and women are best at thinking about and organising it (contradicted by the fact that I'm really rather good or quite apallingly useless at both, depending on which side of the bed I got out of that morning).

  3. Lucy - thank you! I hope that your year is off to a good start, too.

    Aethelread - that is the plan and I can't wait! Let's just hope that I can actually produce the superior understanding when needed...

    Kate - I'm not used to it either! I've had to coach myself into getting comfortable at interrupting - more or less politely, of course, but if I didn't I would never get a word in. It's like a pissing contest in logic and phil of public policy sometimes. Happily, I enjoy the intellectual sparring, but it isn't what I'm used to.