October 26, 2007

Women Underrepresented in Anthologies

On the general subject of women's underrepresentation in philosophy and what can be done about it, I just went through four anthologies that I've used for teaching epistemology or philosophy of language — I won't name names, since everyone can count for themselves. Each of these anthologies contains over 40 articles, most of them from the 20th century (and often from the latter half of the 20th century). They contain an average of one paper each by women.

It seems to me that if we're worried that women are leaving philosophy as undergrads, it would be nice to avoid all-male reading lists. And one way to avoid all-male reading lists would be to get more articles by women into the anthologies that we use to teach survey courses. And I wouldn't be surprised if more of this could be done without sacrificing quality -- once when I was preparing a mid-level course on metaethical topics, I realized that I was drawing up an all-male reading list, so I thought a little about how I could change it, and I wound up adding one of the most interesting articles we read. Anyway, it's something to think about.

I hasten to add that I don't think that there's any conscious bias going on in the editing of these anthologies. (I was trying not to be biased in drawing up my reading list, and I had to consciously think about gender imbalance before I added a single article by a woman.) But it might be a good idea to try to do something about it even if it's not a product of conscious bias.

UPDATE: I think I miscounted and that there were actually five articles by women across the four editions I was looking at. In any case, I've just checked the contents for the latest edition of Kim and Sosa and nine out of 60 articles are by women, which is clearly a vast improvement, even if the low percentage indicates that the profession still has a long way to go.

Posted by Matt Weiner at October 26, 2007 07:27 AM

Ever since reading it, I don't know why most epistemology anthologies don't have Zagzebski's article on the ubiquity of Gettier cases.

Well, I'm sure that copyright restrictions have something to do with it, but still.

Posted by: Kenny Easwaran at October 26, 2007 03:35 PM

I've had a weird experience in my intro level courses. In my contemporary moral problems courses the students seem to get the sexes of the authors wrong. James Rachels is more often than you'd expect a 'her'. Philippa Foot is more often than you'd expect a 'him'. Frances Kamm is also a 'him'. In my introduction to philosophy, Rene Descartes is also a 'her'. She's no slouch! I imagine that some of my students were surprised to discover (um, 'discover') that so much of what we do is a response to a woman who wrote in the 17th century.

Posted by: Clayton at October 27, 2007 08:47 AM

Kenny, I was glad to see that (as per the update) that that article of Zagzebski's is in the new Sosa and Kim. (As well as her article on intellectual virtue, which was one of the ones in my initial survey).

Clayton, something very similar inspired this post.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 29, 2007 03:38 PM

Re Clayton's post, I recall that an enrichment teacher Matt had in about the fifth grade was doing a unit on "poetesses" and included, I think, Vachel Lindsay and Joyce Kilmer. ("Joyce" is one of those names that has shifted gender.) Not that one wants to be called a poetess. Or, I suppose, a philosophatrix.

Posted by: Matt's mom at October 29, 2007 04:54 PM

Matt's mom,

I kind of want to be a philosophatrix for Halloween.

Might we appeal to the primary/secondary gender distinction?

Posted by: Clayton at October 29, 2007 08:41 PM

Clayton, a drag Quine?
Matt et al: I believe there is a classic paper in psychology showing that the same paper was evaluated more favorably if the author's name was male than if female, and consequently psych papers are printed with initials rather than with full given (not to say Christian) names. A desultory search didn't turn up the paper.

Posted by: Matt's mom at October 30, 2007 03:40 PM

Many fields use initials only in author lists, at least in math and the sciences. I oppose this practice because many people's default image of a professor, especially a scientist, is male, and disguising identity with initials encourages this to continue among practioners, outsiders, and students, because it doesn't provide counterexamples.

You can't hide from sexism (or other bigotries); people will find ways of discriminating anyway (They may accept your papers, but they can always reject your grants and job applications). You have to put your presence in people's faces and make them realize they're going to have to live with it. That's my theory anyway.

Posted by: Ben at October 31, 2007 09:41 PM
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