6.18.13 … Philosophy: “‘perfect storm’ of social and psychological factors that conspire to make it difficult for women to persist in the field ” …

women’s issues, philosophy, glass ceiling, 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR:

A quick count revealed about equal numbers of men and women in the audience — an unusual figure for an event in philosophy, where women make up less than 20 percent of full-time faculty.

That was precisely the topic we’d gathered to discuss: the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, where numbers mirror those for math, engineering, and the physical sciences, making philosophy an outlier within the humanities.

There’s been no shortage of speculation about why. Perhaps, to quote Hegel, women’s “minds are not adapted to the higher sciences, philosophy, or certain of the arts.” Perhaps women are turned off by philosophy’s confrontational style. Perhaps women are more inclined toward careers with practical applications.

But the most plausible hypothesis is that various forms of explicit and implicit bias operate in philosophy, as they do within and beyond other academic disciplines. Unfortunately, though, this explanation refines our question rather than answering it.

To better understand why, Adleberg, Thompson, and Nahmias collected data from over 700 male and female students on their experiences in the Introduction to Philosophy course at their university. The findings were revealing, as Adleberg explained:

We expected, of course, to find some gender differences in the survey responses. But the extent of those differences was surprising to me. Male and female students seem to have quite different experiences in introductory philosophy courses.

Overall, female students found the course less enjoyable and the material less interesting and relevant to their lives than male students. Compared to male students, they also felt that they had less in common with typical philosophy majors or with their instructors, reported feeling less able and likely to succeed in philosophy, were less comfortable participating in class discussions and were less inclined to take a second philosophy course or to major in philosophy. (Interestingly, however, they didn’t anticipate receiving lower grades.)

To borrow a metaphor from a paper by Antony herself, philosophy could involve a “perfect storm” of social and psychological factors that conspire to make it difficult for women to persist in the field. No single intervention is likely to change the climate.

Nonetheless, the findings from Adleberg, Thompson and Nahmias suggest some simple recommendations that could have important effects. With the support of the Georgia State Department of Philosophy, for example, the researchers will test out one strategy for attracting more women to the major: this fall, graduate student instructors will use course syllabi with 20 percent or more female authors, at least doubling the current proportions.

It’s not enough, but it’s a great place to start.

via The Mysterious Underrepresentation Of Women In Philosophy : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

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