Professional philosophy news

The psychological biases against women in philosophy, and what to do about it

Jennifer Saul (Sheffield) writes for the Philosopher’s Magazine. Here are the main problems:

  1. …the likelihood that women in philosophy experience an unusually high level of sexual harassment.
  2. …there are widespread unconscious biases in our culture which bring it about that the same CV is considered less strong with a typically female or black name at the top of it, and that (for example) women having trouble being taken seriously as leaders. Women are also likely to receive weaker letters of reference and, when not marked anonymously, lower marks.
  3. …it seems likely that philosophy as a field is stereotyped as male. Feminist philosophers have argued this point for decades (as in Sally Haslanger’s landmark “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy”). But it’s frankly what one would expect in a field that is nearly 80% male – it would be very surprising, given these demographics, if philosophy wasn’t associated with maleness.

Here’s what we can do about it:

  1. …move away from a widely-held picture of biases… We are all likely to hold biases of which we are unaware, and we are likely to be similarly unaware of the ways that these biases are affecting our judgements in particular cases.
  2. …anonymise whatever we can.
  3. …expose people to what are known as “counter-stereotypical exemplars”, well-known people who fail to perform to the stereotypes of their stigmatised groups.
  4. …stop talking about “who’s smart”, a widespread vice of philosophers in my experience. As Eric Schwitzgebel notes, these sweeping judgements are really very problematic: “I have been collecting anecdotal data on seeming smart. One thing I’ve noticed is what sort of person tends spontaneously to be described, in my presence, as ‘seeming smart’. A very striking pattern emerges: In every case I have noted the smart-seeming person has been a young white male…

There are many specific suggestions for how to do each of these.



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