New Enlightment Lecture - Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group

On 16th December 2013, the Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group organised the second annual New Enlightenment Lecture

Prof. Katherine Hawley (St Andrews) delivered a lecture entitled “Reckless Promises”, which was attended by around 40 people, both staff, postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows in Philosophy and beyond.

The event was preceded by a roundtable with Prof. Hawley, Prof. Jesper Kallerstrup, Prof. Emily Brady, Dr Elinor Mason, and Dr Pauline Pheminster (Chair: Dr Michela Massimi).  The roundtable too was very well attended and structured around two sets of questions, namely (1.) why there are so few women in Philosophy and whether there is something about Philosophy itself that makes it a gendered discipline; and (2.) advice for postgraduate students entering the competitive job market.

Michela Massimi opened the roundtable by giving some stats about the presence of women in the profession. According to the APA Data on Women in Philosophy report, women make up 27% of the available labour pool in Philosophy and women are now closer to 21% of professionally employed philosophers – i.e., still only one fifth of the overall philosophy staff. The BPA report in the UK identified a 46% of the undergraduate student population as consisting of women, with 31% gaining a PhD, and the stats drop to 24% for permanent staff.

Why women do not even reach the 31% (UK) of the labour pool since 31% get a PhD in Philosophy? What is it about Philosophy that makes it a gendered speciality within the Humanities (compared to other disciplines)? What are the main hurdles for reaching gender equality in the field? Implicit bias and stereotyping? Outright exclusion? Devaluation? These were the topics covered in the roundtable.

Dr Elinor Mason suggested that one good way to distinguish between a cooperative mode of communication from a combative one is offered by non-verbal action: we need “to look at body language. There is a lot of non-verbal stuff that goes on.” Professor Katherine Hawley said that there is definitely room for improvement on communication, and that philosophers need to pay attention to how they go around talking about philosophy. Prof Emily Brady added that while philosophers should always be rigorous in the way in which they approach their topic of study, they have to “develop ways in which you are more conversational with it […].”

It is however not always easy to do philosophy, especially if you are a woman. There is always the risk of discrimination, Dr Michela Massimi said, in particular there is always the possibility of devaluation, as she puts it: “devaluation is probably one of the most common forms of discrimination in Philosophy and also one of the most difficult to identify and to eradicate […] whereby we do not just exercise critical skills, but we convey implicitly, and probably unwittingly, a more general message that the other person is not intellectually credible or her/his work has no value.”