Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Women in Philosophy debate - How the Light Gets in

So last week, Bidisha published this on the Guardian's comment is free section.

There have been two responses from men involved with the How the Light Gets in Festival:

One from Julian Baggini, which claims that if you had more women on panels at the conference, you would just have more token women on the panels: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/25/women-outnumbered-by-men?showallcomments=true#comment-51

The other from Hilary Lawson, which claims that the object of the festival - to bring philosophy into the lives of everyday people - is more important than spending a bit more time encouraging women to participate: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/26/fighting-philosophy-gender-imbalance

The debates following both articles are really interesting - men expressing fear and resentment about feminists; women re-iterating the cultural conditions that work to subordinate women and exclude them. So who's right?

One of the issues that has yet to be raised was one brought up at the last SWIP (Society for Women in Philosophy) - UK conference I attended. Many women who do philosophy do it in departments other than philosophy departments. On the whole, in the UK, you will find that women make up about 10% of the philosophy departments. Why is this?

I think it's because in the UK, the philosophy that women do doesn't count as philosophy. If, for instance, Judith Butler were in this country, what analytical-based department would she be in? None. The only departments that consider continental philosophy to be philosophy are: Middlesex, Warwick, Dundee, (please do name others). Only in these would Butler's work be called philosophy. I think we'd find her, as I've found many female philosophers, in Modern Language Departments, in Art Departments, in Psychology departments.

So when the male organisers and the male advisors of this festival claim that only 20% of philosophers are women, I suspect they haven't in any way considered that what women do is often not called philosophy at all. As such, they've missed a chance to connect with the female philosophers in this country who are already bringing philosophy to the lives of everyday people in film departments, literature departments, language departments, even history and medicine-based departments. If you ask me, they've missed out on a valuable resource already doing the work that the festival aims to accomplish.

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