Women in Philosophy? Do the Math (New York Times)

MIT professor and OCW contributor Sally Haslanger recently published a column in the New York Times:

Women in Philosophy? Do the Math


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?”

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.”

‘Bad actors’ are a problem, but the deeper problem is the context that gives ‘bad actors’ power.

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. Read more.

View OCW courses contributed by Professor Haslanger:

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