What you should say to your seatmate: Are women discriminated against in the world of academic philosophy?
If so, they shouldn’t be. Yesterday, we started reading the links Katy Waldman provided on the subject.
For Waldman’s piece at Slate, click here. For ourselves, we were stopped dead in our tracks by the way her first link began.
The piece was written by Sally Haslanger, a philosophy professor at MIT and, we’ll assume, a darn good one. Below, you see the way her piece began.
What follows has nothing to do with women’s issues. Times are hard all over:
HASLANGER (9/2/13): Many of us have had the experience of sitting on an airplane and being asked by the person in the next seat, “What do you do?”Haslanger doesn’t know what to say when people ask her what she does. It seems she wants to answer their question by saying, “I’m a philosopher.”
It is a moment of uncertainty: what to say? There are risks if you reply, “I’m a philosopher,” for you may then have the neighbor expounding “their philosophy” at length, or recounting how awful their experience was when taking Philosophy 101. (“We read some crazy article about being kidnapped and hooked up to a famous violinist to keep him alive!”) One time, a male friend of mine got the enthusiastic response, “Oh, you’re a philosopher? Tell me some of your sayings!” However, when I’ve tried the “I’m a philosopher” reply, it has prompted laughter. Once when I queried why the laughter, the response was, “I think of philosophers as old men with beards, and you’re definitely not that! You’re too young and attractive to be a philosopher.” I’m sure he intended this as a compliment. But I stopped giving the answer “I’m a philosopher.”
Is Haslanger “a philosopher?” You can answer that question as you like. On balance, we’d be inclined to say the answer is almost certainly no.
(Do physics professors answer that question by saying, “I’m a physicist?” We don’t know!)
Out of the goodness of our hearts, we’re going to teach the professors how to talk! The next time someone asks Haslanger what she does, she could say something like this:
I’m a college professor.
I’m a college instructor.
She could even say, “I’m a teacher” or “I teach philosophy in college.” What would be awful in that?
Down through the years, we’ve often wondered where the philosophy professors are as our culture’s access to logical thought is blasted to smithereens. It turns out they’ve been writhing in pain on jets, not knowing how people talk.
Haslanger keeps talking: As she continues, Haslanger says this:
HASLANGER (continuing directly): Although most philosophers these days are not old men with beards, most professional philosophers are men; in fact, white men. It is a surprise to almost everyone that the percentage of women earning philosophy doctorates is less than in most of the physical sciences (see chart). As recently as 2010, philosophy had a lower percentage of women doctorates than math, chemistry and economics. Note, however, that of these fields, philosophy has made the most progress on this count in the past five years.Most “professional philosophers” are men? Did you know that such people existed? Where are they? What do they do?
In closing, it's our turn to writhe in pain. According to the identity line at the Times blog where this piece appeared, Haslanger “was awarded the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the year in 2010.”
As it turns out, it looks like Haslanger is “a philosopher” after all! Where has she been down through the years as our access to logical thought has been stripped away, in large part by the “journalists” right there at the New York Times? Putting it another way:
When will the national's philosophers give their seatmates a little help?