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I Think, Therefore I Am … Excluded?

The He-Man-Woman-Haters club isn’t just for kids. Its grown-up adherents can be found petulantly slamming tree-house doors in the faces of adult women who want to work in business, politics, the traditionally male spheres of math and science, and anything that involves rough-and-tumble action (WWE, I’m looking at you. No, hiring bikini babes to hold signs doesn’t count as “including”).

This isn’t really news to anyone who’s perused lists of CEOs looking for a female-sounding name, or casually observed how many office assistants tend to be women.

If we look to academia, female professors still lag behind their male peers, both numbers-wise and in terms of tenure and pay, which hints at an underlying attitude we, as a society, are supposed to have moved past–that women are less intelligent than men.

Nowhere is this more blatantly obvious than in philosophy departments. According to The Philosopher’s Magazine, only 1 in 5 philosophy professors in the UK and US are female, despite roughly equal numbers of male and female undergrads studying philosophy. By way of explanation, TPM theorizes that women may find the strenuously argumentative nature of philosophy off-putting.

Whether women voluntarily opt out of pursuing careers in philosophy or are unceremoniously barred from the ivory tower, it’s safe to assume that philosophy’s reputation as an “old boys’ club” has fostered an environment that is unwelcoming to women and is contributing, either overtly or covertly, to maintaining the majority-male status quo.

So, rather than going about accusing this tradition and that individual of throwing female thinkers under the bus, how do we actually start changing the status quo?

First and most importantly, college-level philosophy courses should  be far more inclusive of pre-existing female philosophers. Throughout history, women have written and debated and postulated, but their achievements have been overshadowed by their male counterparts.

One of the best examples of this is to compare the relative fame of the names Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft. Burke and Paine, especially, are well-known for their treatises on the nature of revolution and violence, but Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Man, which cites privilege and opportunity as divisive societal elements, has been largely ignored or glossed over.

In the same vein, Greek philosopher Hypatia is not nearly as widely read as Aristotle, Hannah Arendt doesn’t quite command the name recognition that Derrida does, and virtually no one is familiar with Emily Anscombe. It’s a rather sad state of affairs when, arguably, the most famous female philosopher of the 20th-century is Ayn Rand, and her novels are her most celebrated contributions.

Second, and this applies across the board, academics-wise, publishers need to start gambling on female authors. The world of literary publishing is currently in the glass closet of sexism, openly preferring male to female authors; that the same standards extend to non-fiction makes sense. If a woman isn’t considered capable enough to write a good story, who’s going to trust her to have an enlightening outlook on such weighty matters as post-modernity and deconstructionism? And if women’s work isn’t being published, how will scholars ever move past male-centric bodies of thought, in philosophy or any other field?

Ultimately, it’s great that The Philosopher’s Magazine is addressing this question at all, because changes will have to begin within the ranks of philosophers and philosophy professors, resulting from re-considered values, not outside pressures.

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