Boys club?

I wonder why so few women comment on this site or take part in discussions of philosophy as it relates to LDS ideas. Women continue to be in the minority in philosophy everywhere, though they are gaining numbers. But they are almost absent among LDS philosophers and philosopher-lawyers. How come?

75 comments for “Boys club?

  1. I once read a summary of the academic research on gender-based learning difference. Many of the studies were trying to confirm or refute the conventional wisdom that men are naturally better at math and spatial thinking, and that women excel with words and emotive communicating.

    In this article I learned that there was a huge gender-gap among philosophers and college philosophy majors.

    I was therefore conscious of the fact that that the next philosophy course I attended (U of Utah) had only two women a room of 40 – 50 students. When I went to Harvard, I again noticed a striking shortage of women in a mid-level course I shopped on Kantian Ethics, though the course was taught by a woman.

    I don’t remember the numbers on philosophy majors, but the gender imbalance among Mormons is presumably even more lopsided, given the church’s preference for traditional gender roles.


  2. It’s not just philosophy. In physics we worked very hard to try and get women students but they were very rare. Mathematics was a little better, but not by much. Also the ones who tended to be in the classes were only getting minors. Of course the ones who did go for majors were great. (A friend of mine went to MIT)

    I think that there is this weird “vibe” in Provo where women feel that they aren’t going to have a career, so why take a hard major? Learning for learning sake is definitely in the minority in some ways.

  3. Matt, that was hilarious! Actually, I wanted to say that my wife knows more about the Gospel than anyone I know. When I came home from work today, she told me that she had concluded her most recent quest: figuring out the significance of the phrase, “buffetings of Satan.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t like to write. So I will probably write something up on that for the blog and act like I thought of it.

  4. On the other hand I was reading an article on Foucalt which said that all the classes he taught as a grad-student were almost entirely women. Oddly, one of the major texts he used was the Marquis de Sade.

    (For those not familiar with Foucalt, to say he had a rather depraved sexual life is understated. He wrote a lot on madness and sexuality. I’ve never understood why his philosophy classes in Sweden would have been so heavily attended by women.)

  5. I just asked Melissa this question. Her answer, and take it for whatever it’s worth: Philosophy involves doubt. Women are more trusting. And if they do have questions or doubts about something, they are less interested than men are in trying to work them out on the issues’ own terms, since any answers they come up with will probably be beside the point anyway.

    Jim, I was once at your house for a discussion, and Janice came it to ask you something, and after a little bit of banter you (or she; I don’t remember) said that you guys had a long standing deal: you never try to interest her in philosophy, and she never tries to get you to do any genealogy. Am I remembering this wrong? And if I’m not, why don’t you ask Janice this question? A woman with such strong opinions about Christmas trees probably has something to say about philosophy.

  6. Well, I hate to state the obvious, but the reason women don’t participate in the discussion of LDS ideas in LDS forums (fora for the purists) is because this is a patriarchal church that excludes women from any meaningful role in leadership and brands bright, outspoken woman as “feminists.” [Note I didn’t say they are given no role in leadership, just no meaningful role.]

    Personally, I think it is related to the prevalence in the Church of what I call “closet polygs,” men who really, really think their eternal destiny is to be awarded a few dozen wives in heaven and who pine for the days when they could practice the Principle in the flesh. That latent perspective on women underlies the “women as second class citizens” message that LDS culture and a good percentage of its leaders and priesthood holders radiate, and that works against participation by women in discussion or dialogue.

  7. Well, all good points , but, I just think one reason might be that women seem to be less interested in fooling around with computers and the net than men do. Plus, and i am making a vast generalisation here(since I am still in a singles ward), women seem to be more responsible, and be more interested in taking care of the important things in life and in the home, than spend time surfing the net, and pontificating on various topics on blogs and other internet fora, like some of us brethren are wont to do.
    The other reason might be that there still are a lot of people, men and women, who are not yet familiar with the Blogosphere.
    Just my 2 cents.
    -Sid from Ann Arbor, Michigan

  8. Why do intellectual mormon guys keep marrying unintellectual women? Don’t you ever long to have interesting, challenging philosophical discussions at home with your spouse, in addition to or as opposed to with guys in the blogosphere? I went to an ivy league law school full of incredibly intelligent women, and now I work with them at a top law firm. When you’re working with these high achieving women, don’t you ever wonder why you didn’t marry one, and raise your kids with her?

    There are few professional female role models for young girls in the church. Women in the church have to make school and career compromises that intelligent, high-achieving women in mainstream society no longer have to make. The church is a tough place to be an intelligent woman for cultural as well as doctrinal reasons.

  9. I wonder to what extent, if at all, it is related to the old Jewish tradition of the Torah-reading patriarch who sits at home and ponders on the mysteries of the scriptures, while his wife handles the chores of daily life. (For a modern, feminist critique of this practice, see, e.g., the novel Bread Givers. For an interesting spin on the idea, see Judge Posner’s description of his household as being similar to that tradition — i.e., he has never used an ATM — “Posner describes their relationship as the traditional Jewish one, in which the pasty-faced scholar husband stays home and studies while the wife attends to worldly activities.”) (See (link via Bashman’s 20 questions, at )

  10. Well, well, well. I for one hope that Elliot isn’t married to a ditzy blonde trophy!

    I am female, and yes, I have commented here. And yes, I do read with interest the posts. I am not one to post a comment until I have worked at it in my mind for some time. I did post that I liked the “mormon studies”/books section and hoped it would continue.

    I have been referred to by women at church as an intellectual. I don’t find “church” to be a feminist suppression mechanism. What I find is a lack of time for many people to do anything but what is in their direct view currently. Itellectualism is a choice.

    It is unfortunate many people don’t have time for study and learning. It is the only thing they’ll take with them when they leave the planet.

    And another comment to elliot – better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, then to open yours and remove all doubt.

    It’s not a gender war! It’s a stupidity war!

  11. Note to cooper: I was really intrigued by this thought: “I am not one to post a comment until I have worked at it in my mind for some time.” Although I am a professor, I don’t have much training in educational theory; nevertheless, those who have studied such things tell me that women tend to be slower than men in offering contributions in a classroom setting. It’s not that they don’t have things to say, but that they like to work things out first, rather than “on the fly.” Generally speaking, I do not like generalizations of this sort. ;-) But my experience in the classroom has been that women will participate more if I don’t just call on the first male hand. I am not sure whether that is relevant to blog comments (maybe we should go back to older comments; would we find a bunch of women talking about last week’s topics?), but I hope that you keep reading and posting.

  12. Dave,

    I don’t think what you stated is as “obvious” as you might think. Leadership roles do not create doctrinal masters or religious philosophers. Nor, from my experience in the church a number of different states, at BYU, on my mission, etc., does there appear to be any prevalence of men longing for polygamy. As a matter of fact, I can only think of one person in my life who I have met who might meet your description. We always want to attribute the differences between men and women to external social factors (to the environment), but the reality is that men and women are different, they come with different “wiring” if you will. That is not to say that all women and all men are exactly the same, but certain observable distinct characteristics exist. I also do not believe there is any latent perspective within the church that relegates women to status as second class citizens. I would argue instead that the exact opposite is true.

  13. Sid: there are many LDS women on the internet, such as on ivillage message boards. But you’re right, I’ve noticed that they are less into pontificating about philosophy or law and more about venting, offering support, discussing problems. Here’s a recent example of a thread — where on the internet are LDS men discussing their family lives and their personal worries so nakedly??:

  14. Another serial response to the comments far:

    Matt and Clark: What you remark on is part of what prompted my comment: there are fewer women in philosophy, math, and related disciplines, regardless of whether we are talking about LDS or not. Even in an organization like the Society Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, where you’ll find more women than you will find in most philosophical organizations, women are a clear minority. (And even in that professional society, one that is far more liberal politically than most similar organizations, you’ll find that women have a more difficult time than men.)

    Melissa via Russell: Perhaps it is generally more true that women are more trusting. I don’t know. But between Janice and me, I’m the more trusting one—which is why she makes all financial decisions and why she had veto on most of the decisions about child-rearing. But, though she’s a doubter of many things and in many ways, Janice still isn’t interested in philosophy.

    Russell: Your recollection is correct. I’ve asked Janice why she doesn’t like philosophy several times and her answer is always the same, “It’s boring.” That’s pretty strong criticism coming from someone who can spend hours pouring over an 1880 census record.

    Dave: I don’t doubt that there is considerable domination of women by men in the Church and that its effects on women are unfortunate, at best. I see it all the time. But I think the explanation is too simple since it would, at best, explain only why the percentages are lower for LDS than others, not why the percentages are low inside and outside the Church. As for the “closet polygs,” what can I say? Perhaps they are out there, but if they are, they are staying sufficiently in the closet that I don’t know them. If I were going to generalize on the basis of scant evidence, I would suggest that you’ll find more of them in elders quorums than in high priest groups. Age may temper the polyg view.

    Elliot: You assume—presume—a great deal. My wife has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in psychology. One daughter-in-law has an M.A. in Renaissance English literature and the other has a Ph.D. in philosophy. My daughters both have B.A.s, one in family science and the other in philosophy. There is anything but a dearth of intellectual women at our family gatherings, and, as you can see, among them there’s no shortage of women who like philosophy, though my wife does not. I don’t know the wives of the others here, though I’ve met Melissa Fox, but I would be surprised if those blogging here married non-intellectual women.

    Kaimi: The old-Jewish-tradition thesis is an interesting one, but it is difficult for me to believe that LDS have been so influenced by a Jewish tradition. It might be nice if it were true, but . . .

    Cooper and Gordon: Like Gordon, I don’t want to claim any more expertise than the anecdotal evidence of 28 years of teaching, but it seems to be true that women in my classes are slower to make comments than men. In general (and only in general) I have to use various strategies to avoid the eager men speaking before we get a chance to hear from the women. This semester I’ve had to fight that with almost every class period, five days a week, since the smartest person in my class, by far, is a very quiet woman.

    Brent: I’m afraid I have to weigh in more on more on Dave’s side than yours here. Whether intentional or not, whether a function of the Church’s structure or not, it seems quite clear to me that women’s ideas and experiences are generally less-valued among LDS than are men’s. This shows up in many ways, some of them relatively small but nevertheless significant. For example, if a man and a woman are asked to speak in Sacrament meeting, the expectation is that the man will speak last. Recently a man and a woman were asked to speak in a ward nearby, each on the same passage of scripture. The two of them met to discuss how to do that and decided to divide the passage between them. He was more interested in the first part, so they agreed that he would speak on the first part of the passage, then she would speak on the second. The program was printed with their names in that order: him first, her second. When they were on the stand, the first counselor, conducting that day, asked them if they would mind changing the program so that the woman spoke first and the man second. Even when they explained why they were in the order they were in and that changing that order would make it difficult for the congregation to follow their talks, he insisted on changing the order. Luckily the other counselor overheard the discussion and was able to intervene so that sanity prevailed. I don’t think this is an unusual occurrence and I think it suggests that most LDS men do think of women as second-class, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. (In fact, I think the rhetoric to the contrary is often an admission that they feel that way; it wouldn’t be necessary if they didn’t.)

  15. Gordon – I think it goes along with the different wiring thing that Brent talks about. I am far more apt to comment when I am sure of my comment. I guess it’s the hunter/gatherer theory at work. I am more apt to comment when I feel the outcome will be what I expect. Maybe it’s a chicken way of doing things as guys say – I spent way more time with my brother and his friends, than with other girls – so I want to be sure I can “control” or at least be good at challenging.

    I enjoy T&S very much and will continue to read and comment where and when appropriate. Thanks!

  16. I think it’s useful to assume that sex differences (as they are often referred to in psychology and sociology) are not simply products of hard-wired, genetic differences. I think Dave has an interesting point and it is too quickly dismissed by Brent and Jim. If Dave is right and there are some Church-level effects on women’s participation in philosophy or internet weblogging (we are talking about two different things here), then we would expect to see different rates of participation in both these areas for non-church members, controlling for lots of other factors.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that other social factors affect sex differences in blogging, regardless of church membership. I’ve noticed that more men blog than women do, but this might also be due to the fact that more men get training in computers than women and more men are employed in computer-related areas than women. This in itself is not indicative of some “essential” gender difference. It could be that different opportunities are available for men and women during the post-high school experience. Or it could be that reproductive expectations significantly affect the kinds of pasttimes that many women choose. Women, after all, may have to be more careful with the hobbies they choose if they plan on having children. Given that men, on the average, do much less child-caring than women, even in families where both work, women are less likely to have extra time to pursue blogging.

    My main point is that it is not “simplistic” to say that social factors may have an effect on sex differences in behavior. Most of us immediately analyze behavior in terms of the demand-side (preferences, values, etc.) and discount the significant supply-side constraints on behavior (lack of opportunities, different resource constraints, etc.).

  17. I must say, I truly appreciate the thoughtful posts and commentary shared on this site. It is fast becoming one of my favorites. Perhaps my comments were too simplistic. I certainly would not claim that “wiring” or sex differences are the sole factors causing the gender gap referenced in Jim’s post. The structure of the church and families (i.e. men/husband to preside) does seem to place men in roles which might be deemed to put women in a second class status. However, doctrinally, men should not be deemed better than women. Jim and others raise some interesting questions.

    The difficult aspect of all of this is that the very discussion of gender differences and roles within organizations or society, for that matter, ends up seemingly relegating one of the genders to a “second class” depending upon what we are discussing. For instance, in the Church, women do not hold the priesthood, thus they do not hold priesthood keys necessary for governing or administering the gospel. Furthermore, certain of our beliefs relegate men and women to different roles. It is difficult to uphold and teach some of these principles without seeming, and I would have to say according to worldly principles, to put women in 2nd place (e.g. men are to be bread winners while women are to raise and nurture children). My wife is a very intelligent woman capable of anything in this world. But she chooses to be a homemaker. We discuss philosophical questions and the like all the time, but her interests lie elsewhere. Her needs and concerns lie elsewhere. It is difficult to wax philosphical while chasing a 3 1/2 year old around the house all day, taking care of a newborn and then helping a third grader get her homework done and practice the piano.

    To sum up, I would have to say that probably everyone has hit on one of a myriad of factors contributing to the phenomena Jim pointed out.

  18. Matt,
    Like you, my wife thinks blogging and philosophizing is a useless waste of time.
    Like you, most of my best ideas are things she says that I jolly up a bit and pass off as my own work.

    Also, closet polygs are pretty rare in these parts, or anywhere else I’ve ever been. [Ah, but they’re in the closet! Don’t you get it? See?]

    Sure, social factors may account for some of the differences. Fact is, we don’t know. And I don’t see why trying to push more of our women towards being more intellectual would necessarily be a great boon to us. Education is a good thing, true, but it doesn’t at all have the importance we like to put on it. That’s largely cultural, I suspect. The real way to know the doctrine is to do his will.

  19. Dave: I have repeatedly heard the claim that Mormon men are secretly longing for some kind of polygamy. How would one verify this kind of a claim? Those who make it generally claim as their warrant their personal experience in the Church. On the other hand, my personal experience in the Church does not lead me to the same conclusion. It would be nice to have some real data on the subject. Armaund Mauss has tried to do some sociological stuff. Mauss’s methodology, as near as I can tell, suffers from really serious problems — self-selection bias, unrepresentive samples, etc. On the other hand, he seems to be the only person who has really tried to do it. Is there anyone else out there?

    That said, I think that criticisms of the treatment of women and womens’ ideas in the Church have a great deal of force. I am curious, however, to what extent the phenomena is true across all forums. For example, I was at the MHA meeting last year and my sense was that there were a large number of presenations by women (although certainly not half). Are some disciplines — e.g. history — more congenial tha philosophy or law to women?

  20. I don’t know if I count as an intellectual Mormon man, but I am one of the bloggers on this site. I am married to a very intelligent and well educated woman. She has a bachelors from Boston University and a Masters from George Washington University. However, she studied speech therapy. The result is that she has an impressive amount of technical and medical knowledge. (What do the philosopher/lawyer types know about glossal-pherangal breathing?) On the otherhand, like Jim’s wife, she tends to find philosophy boring (and she finds philosophy more interesting than law!). She also thinks of blogging as an infectious disease. Again, the priority of clinical training…

  21. If blogging is an infectious disease, and your wife has yet to catch it, can we conclude that one Nate Oman doesn’t kiss his wife nearly enough? A pro forma peck just doesn’t count for contagion, Nate.

  22. I find this whole discussion fascinating–maybe because I’ve spent many years exploring how we construct gender to preserve the idea of difference between men and women. I just want to point out that the great philosophers we read these days were all able to philosophize because they had women who took care of their daily needs. They could spend time reading, thinking, and writing because women were spending long hours doing the work women do and caring for their children. Perhaps the reason many women (not all, by any means) are not interested in philosophy is that it seems so irrelevant to the world they live in. Philosophy and law are creations of a hyper masculine world. Bringing women into the discussion requires that we change our assumptions. For example, we might want to take into account the fact that human beings don’t arrive in this world as fully rational adult beings. When philosophy as a discipline becomes more open to the realities of the real world, women may be more interested. In the meantime, they are likely to prefer having philosophical discussions with other women rather than being a lone wolfe in a highly masculinized debate. In the meantime, perhaps you all might want to spend a little more time learning about the world that philosphy doesn’t address. Women then might want to join in the conversation.

  23. Brayden, I’m confused by your post. In my response to Brent I specifically said that I don’t think we can account for the differences between men and women by talking about “hard wire” and I gave an example of the problems women face in the Church. So, how did I dismiss Dave’s post as too simplistic. I said his explanation of the lower numbers of LDS women participating was insufficient and therefore “too simple,” but I also pointed out that there was substance to it.

  24. Max, first it is quite true that philosophers were able to do what they do because, until the last half of the 20th century, and even afterward for some, they had women (and in Greece, slaves) to take care of their daily needs. However, though I don’t know many of the great contemporary philosophers personally, I doubt that remains true. If it is no longer true, how does it bear on the question? Is the problem of women’s lack of interest in philosophy (and engineering, law, physical science, etc.) still a result of that earlier freedom bought at their expense, a kind of lag effect?

    Second it is also true that when philosophers have talked about epistemology and ethics, they have rarely spoken of anything but adult humans. It isn’t true that they have required that those adult humans be fully rational. If it were, we wouldn’t have some of the interesting discussions we have in the tradition of such things as why people sometimes choose against reason, not a small part of the history of philosophy. However, since about the middle of the 20th century, there have been any number of philosophers who haven’t talked in terms of adult humans, the existentialists for example. True, philosophers still haven’t talked about human development, about how, for example, one moves from infancy to childhood to adulthood. But so what? That just means there are things philosophers haven’t done. There are lots of things philosophers haven’t dealt with, such as economics and chemistry. It has been a long time since philosophy has meant “the knowledge of everything.” What realities of the world do you think philosophers need to be more open to?

  25. My boy, you betray your age. Take a look for example at the outstanding women writers in Mormonism: Juanita Brooks, Emma Lou Thayne, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Both Juanita and Emma Lou did all their writing way into the night. Emma Lou would stay up round the clock one night a week in order to have the luxury of writing. Her first priorities were her five daughters and her husband: cooking, cleaning, school events, errands–all the little things that make life full. Laurel’s relatively late venture into the academic life was the result of the responsibilities of motherhood. They, of course, are of another generation. Things are more equal today. Not really, not much evidence that men are picking up as much of the responsibilities of home and family as women are now devoting to employment and wage earning (check out The Second Shift).

    Ah! yes. So What? There are things philosophers haven’t dealt with. Because philosphers are predominantly men, the things they write about are from the perspective of men. Take a look at the social sciences–how much anthropology, sociology, and psychology was altered as women entered the profession. Women have had a tougher time in economics and philosophy. But never fear, the day will come when even these last bastions will fall. More and more women are “doing economics” –for example Nancy Folbre and Racheal McCleary. When women beging “doing philosophy”, it too will be transformed.

  26. I think the “transforming power” of women is a bit overblown. I’m all for as many women in as many disciplines as possible. But if a woman’s point of view “revolutionizes” a discipline that, to me, says that the discipline wasn’t very disciplined. Philosophy, given its nature, may be more open for how women’s voices will change it. However I think that overall there are quite a few women in philosophy. One of the best books I’ve read the past few years was by Sikka, a writer comparing medieval neoPlatonism and Heidegger. Kristeva, while not as well known in America, is a significant figure. There are others. Yes, there hasn’t been a top tier philosopher who is a woman. But I think that this is, in part, due to the place philosophy is at the moment and the fact women have only entered in significantly the last 50 years.

    To me the more interesting question is the role of women in the hard sciences. I’ve read the feminist critiques of “patriarchal sciences.” I find them laughable, except for perhaps the innate sexism in some terms based upon sex. But even that can be taken too far, as some of Lacan’s writings show. It seems very difficult to see how physics could be done differently by a woman than a man. Or mathematics for that matter. And there have been significant women in those fields. (My favorite being Noether who’s theorem about symmetries is very important in establishing how symmetries develop conservation laws like the conservation of energy)

    No doubt these fields could use a bit of a shakeup. Except that I find most people in the fields want women to enter in. If you are a woman it is fairly easy to find scholarships to aid you. Yet still women make up a tiny minority in all but the soft sciences. (Which some in the hard sciences disparage at times)

  27. Wow, this is turning out to be a great discussion.
    My persoanl experience at out Ward and previously at the YSA Ward – When I first converted, the women I met at the YSA Ward,most of the women who were PhD students were mostly in Sociology, History, psychology etc. Maybe one in Chemistry, and a couple in the Math Dept. But, things seem to be changing. These days, at t he YSA Ward, there are 5 or 6 women who are at the Law School, a couple of Engineering PhD students, and at the Ward I am in now, a lot of the married women are grad students in the hard sciences and engineering, and a few are either Law Students and we even have a few women who are sst US Attorneys. Things seem to have changed in the 8 years since I first joined our Church

  28. Max, perhaps I do betray my age (56), but I think mostly I betray my confusion about what you claim. You said that one reason for the predominance of men is that men had women to do their work for them, giving men the leisure time needed. I said that may once have been true but no longer seems to be. Pointing to the sacrifices that LDS women writers have had to make—sacrifices that anyone must recognize were not required of men—is a non sequitur. What has it to do with my response? I don’t think that philosophy is much a matter of leisure time anymore, so most men aren’t doing philosophy at the expense of women (not in terms of time, anyway).

    When philosophy was a matter of leisure, it required wealth and persons who would take care of one’s daily needs, namely women and slaves. It is no longer such a matter. For many of us, it is a job. For some it is a hobby. Those who do philosophy for a job are no different than anyone else. Some of us may insist that our wives take an unfair share of the burden of daily needs. Some may not, probably fewer than those who do. But whether we do or not is mostly irrelevant to our job and the participation in these discussions that is a side-benefit of that job. I don’t depend on my wife to care for my daily needs in order for me to do philosophy any more than I would depend on her for me to be a plumber. Thus, with regard to professional philosophers, your argument seems out-dated. I am sure that the increase in employment among women has not been met with an equal increase in men taking a fair share of the household chores and other matters of daily need. As a result, women continue to do most of the housework, shopping, and such. However, since that is, presumably, no more true for philosophers (or lawyers) than it is for anyone else, I don’t see how it explains the relative absence of women in philosophy or in these discussions.

    What about those men for whom philosophy is a hobby of sorts and who, as a result, do most of their posting and discussion after job time, probably most of those on this list? Perhaps they are the ones you had in mind as philosophers able to do what they do because they depend on women doing the dirty work to make their lives possible. Do they depend on their wives to provide them the leisure time required for their philosophical hobby? Perhaps, but I’m skeptical. The two or three of them I know don’t seem to do so. How would you justify your implicit claim that they do?

    Would having more women doing philosophy change philosophy? Probably. For the better? Probably. However, even if philosophy would remain exactly the same after women took it up in equal numbers with men, the absence of women in philosophy now ought to make us worry that some kind of discrimination is at work. So, like many others in my department as well as my profession, I would like to see more women in philosophy. Nevertheless, I don’t expect anything particularly revolutionary or transformational from that increased participation. Looking at my female colleagues at the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy or at the American Philosophical Association, I don’t see the kind of transformation in ideas or approaches that you envision.

    You point to the social sciences as places where the increased number of women has altered the professions, but I don’t see it. One of my best friends is a female sociologist considerably younger than I, and I have spent some time in the philosophy of psychology and, so, have come to know something about the discipline of psychology. That’s only anecdotal evidence, to be sure. I could be missing the picture entirely, but my anecdotal evidence backs up what also strikes me as a reasonable prediction: I don’t see radically new perspectives in either discipline brought about by the increased participation of women, so I don’t expect to see them in philosophy either. Why should I think otherwise?

    To repeat—and I’m not being coy—I would be interested in your suggestions as to the kinds of things that philosophy overlooks that it ought not to: what realities of the world do you think philosophers need to be more open to? Presumably these are the areas on which we would see women transforming the field.

  29. Hi,
    I’ve been reading posts here for a couple of weeks and I love this site. I found this site while looking for info on why LDS women feel they have to use the “Mothers Lounge” for breastfeeding at church…I thought maybe it was a rule or something. I still haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer on that…but I’ll save that for another time.

    I must admit that the reason I didn’t post here was because I wasn’t sure if women did post here or not…it seemed like all men, so I didn’t want to butt my, womenly, 2 cents in ;) Actually in my home if anyone is going to discuss the gospel in more depth it is apt to be me! I’m also a fairly new convert (about 3 1/2years) so therefore many of my questions are basic….not very deep, as some of yours are.

    Thanks for this wonderful website!

  30. Cassie, it seems to me that basic questions are frequently the most deep. Try “Why is the Atonment of Jesus Christ necessary?” or “Why should we keep the commandments?”

    BTW, we really, really, really want more women to post here. Please feel free…

  31. As for women transforming academic subjects once they become part of the discussion, I think law is a good example that it does happen. I am thinking of Catherine McKinnon, Robin West and other feminist legal scholars who not only transformed the debates in the legal academy, but actually transformed rape law, sexual harassment and sex discrimination law.

  32. On the otherhand, it is not clear that attempts at feminist jurisprudence outside of the scope of “women’s issues” have had much impact. Admittedly, there is a process of self-selection and the smartest feminist jurists are drawn to more obviously feminist issues. For example, feminist attacks on the various reasonable man standards in tort or contract law don’t seem to have made much headway.

  33. I’m a woman. I’m not discriminated against. When I do feel gender-discrimination, I fight back — so it’s not likely that any discrimination keeps me out of whatever it is I want in on. Philosophy can be boring — because there’s hardly ever an answer, just never-ending debate debate debate. On the other hand, who doesn’t enjoy a good debate? I’m busy. Just like you. When I’m interested enough, I find time. I’m commenting now because you’ve interested me. The question is, why have you interested me? Because you’re talking about me (women)? Perhaps. Or maybe you just seemed a little lost — all these men pontificating about women.

    In truth, I just found your site. I’ll likely comment again.

  34. Jim, I’m sorry to use such shorthand that you weren’t able to decipher my point. Let me try again. First, I need you to think in probabilities. Often when we say men do this or women do that, what we really mean is that men are “more likely to” or women are “less likely to”. The original question was why “so few women comment on this site or take part in discussions of philosophy as it relates to LDS ideas. Women continue to be in the minority in philosophy everywhere, though they are gaining numbers.” We could really phrase the question something like this: “Why are women less likely than men to comment on this site? Or why are women less likely to take part in discussion of philosophy.” Clearly not all men like philosophy and not all men like to participate in on-line discussions. However, if maybe 10 percent of men participate in on-line discussions and only 5 percent of women participate, we can say that men are twice as likely to participate in on-line discussions than women.

    Why is this important? First, I wasn’t commenting on whether you can be philosophical because your wife takes care of you. I wasn’t really talking about any one man, nor was I talking about all men. And I wasn’t talking about all women either.

    Second, what we often ascribe as differences between men and women are really a function of two things: 1) the gendering of activity, practices, and behaviors (men are more likely to . . . ../ women are more likely to), and 2) a division of labor in society. As you can see they are very much related issues. I will take the second one first (you know, the first shall be last and the last shall be first). The division of labor in society up until as recently as two decades ago was such that women’s work (domestic labor) was a constant, full-time occupation. On the other hand, men’s work (typically in the labor force) was more structured and limited to certain hours of the day. For example, in eighteenth century Ireland, men began organizing literary groups which they attended in the evening. Their wives would meet together in activities as well, but they would bring their spinning wheels and spin all night while they shared the companionship of other women.
    My examples of LDS writers was simply to point out that women of this earlier era could only enjoy the opportunities of writing and exploring the world of ideas if they were willing to take the time out of their sleep. This is a function of their own desires to care for their family, not something foisted upon them. Women and girls learn very early that their first priority is to care for others and their own desires come only after all other needs have been addressed. A friend of mine once said she finally discovered the difference between her Saturdays and her husbands Saturdays. She said he got up and thought, “What am I going to do today.” She gets up and says, “Who needs my help today.”
    As for the first issue (gendering of activity, practices, and behaviors), another post demonstrates this fairly clearly. As Cassie notes: “I must admit that the reason I didn’t post here was because I wasn’t sure if women did post here or not…it seemed like all men, so I didn’t want to butt my, womenly, 2 cents in ;) Actually in my home if anyone is going to discuss the gospel in more depth it is apt to be me! I’m also a fairly new convert (about 3 1/2years) so therefore many of my questions are basic….not very deep, as some of yours are.” While the definitions of which practices and behaviors are typically manly or womanly vary over time, we can assume that such definitions will discourage/encourage behavior accordingly. But remember, we are still talking in terms of probabilities. So, given the division of labor in society and the gendering of activities and behaviors, we can expect that men are more likely to. . . or that women are less likely to. Now, of course, we have another problem. We don’t know whether the likelihood of posting on this particular blog is a function of a) women don’t blog (I doubt this), b) women don’t engage in philosophical discussions (also doubtful), or c) women don’t engage in philosophical discussions with men on what seems to be a male dominated blog.
    One final note. Notice the several examples on this blog. My wife does this, my wife doesn’t. Isn’t it interesting that we make conclusions about what women are more likely to do based on our experience of what our wives do. Often women make the same conclusions about what men do based on what their husbands do. We generally don’t look around and calculate the probabilities. Hence we typically think about men and one kind of being and women as another—not very clear headed.
    Now, is my argument about that fact that women don’t participate in philosophy outdated? No, I don’t think so. Change does not occur over night. Change typically occurs by generations. Women first made inroads in literature and the humanities—partly because other women wanted to read about what women wrote. Women then made inroads into the social sciences. Now, I think women have had an impact in psychology: the reinterpretation of Freud (penis envy and all that). They have also offered insights into Erikson’s stages of the life cycle as based very much on the male life cycle (Gilligan—although she didn’t quit have it correct either). They have helped reframe issues of sexual abuse and the impact on individuals (both men and women). In sociology women have helped focus issues on gender, race, and class. So much so that prominent men in the field have complained it has become a mantra. Maybe it has, but even that is transformative. In anthropology, scholarship by women has emphasized that women are a driving force in the preservation of cultural traditions (guilts, and all that jazz). Levi Strauss described gift exchanges. Women scholars noted that the interpretation is something distinctively different when one remembers who (not what) is being exchanged. The conclusions of primate scholarship changed as well once women participated in the field work. They discovered that it is just as important to notice what the female apes were doing as to focus on the behavior of male apes. Radically new perspectives—maybe not. But then scholarship typically doesn’t change in radical ways, does it?
    I will leave to you the question of what kinds of things women will bring to philosophy. However, I hypothesize that because philosophy is one of the oldest disciplines (and hence more deeply engrained and framed in terms of the male experience), it will be the toughest for women to break into.
    Now, what do we do to pave the way for women to participate in this discussion? First, we invite them. Second, we encourage their participation. Third, we pave the way for them to participate. Finally, we hold other men responsible for their behaviors. Remember, since we are speaking in probabilities, we begin with the premise that not all men or all women exhibit a certain type of behavior. At the same time, we recognize that not all men behave in the same way that we do. Thus, we need to be aware of the variety of responses from men, not just our own behavior.

  35. Once again I think those defending the involvement of women sometimes fall prey to the very stereotypes they are attacking. Even if the *majority* of women fit into a certain class of behaviors, whether due to pure socialization or due to more biological issues, the fact is not all women are like that. And I’d say that those who enter more abstract academic endeavors are already on the far side of the bell curve, behaviorally speaking. (Without saying whether that’s a good thing or bad thing)

    While sometimes the point women enter a discipline is marked by change, one should also point out the obvious. Mainly that the time women were entering these fields were marked by rather large social and idealogical change. (i.e. the massive social changes in the 1960’s) To suggest that it is women who brought about the change seems to engage in more than a little bit of the “post hoc ergo procter hoc” fallacy. (Hope I remembered my latin spelling)

    In other words do the changes occur because women entered the field or did women enter the field because of the changes occuring.

    Don’t get me wrong. In the far more subjective disciplines, I think they are so controlled by perspective that women’s unique social history can offer significant changes. That may even be the case with some biological behavioralist studies. However I’ll stick by my initial claim that any discipline that can be so changed by a different perspective is almost certainly still at the stage of being a quasi-science at best.

    Philosophy is more interesting simply because I think the *opposite* of what you claim is the case. I think we are at the stage where there has been very little new or innovative for quite some time. Even a lot of the radical postmodern philosophy end up being fairly old positions cast within the language and conceptions of more modern philosophies. I may very well be wrong, but I’d be very surprised if there were much new women could add. At best they might affect the “fashion” of philosophy. (i.e. what way of speaking or perspective is popular)

    This isn’t to discount the perspective of women in philosophy. Just that I think many of those perspectives were injected into philosophy during the first half of the 20th century. Further that most of the perspectives I see feminists bringing into philosophy are themselves parasitic on positions of male philosophers who radicalized philosophy at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

  36. Just two points: You can tell who introduced changes into the disciplines by looking at who the authors of the publications are. Secondly, I must ask: When new male philosophers build upon the ideas of older male philosphers is the process parasitic? Or what would you call it?

  37. One more brief note. I agree that in the physical sciences, the science would not be altered–certainly not the methodology. Unfortunately in the social sciences, we are often blinded by our own limited experiences. That is why I would expect and want to encourage women’s participation in the social sciences and in philosophy.

  38. Of course it is parasitic. A quote from Nietzsche is perhaps apt.

    The philosopher believes that the value of his philosophy lies in the whole, in the building: posterity discovers it in the bricks with which he built and which are then often used again for better building: in the fact, that is to say, that the building can be destroyed and nonetheless possess value as material.
    — Friedrich Nietzsche

    I’d add that the issue is less who published then why the discipline was in such disarray that such a “female” perspective could radicalize it. i.e. it is an attack on the field and not the value of women.

  39. Cassie: Nate’s right, the truly deep questions are the questions that any thoughtful person can deal with, basic questions about the teachings of Christianity and of LDS Christianity, or about what it means to be human. Philosophers have spent lots of time making fine distinctions of various sorts, but you don’t have to know the distinctions to do philosophy—and sometimes you may be better off

    Michelle: Welcome to the site, though if you found a bunch of men pontificating about women, you may have been at another site. There hasn’t been much pontificating about women on this blog. Most of those I know to be men have been wondering rather than pontificating.

    Max: You don’t need to be insulting, just more clear. I’m well aware that “women do this” generally means “women are more likely to do this.” I have looked back over my posts and can’t see anything that would suggest that I thought otherwise. I didn’t take you to be saying that I could only be philosophical because my wife takes care of me. I don’t think you read the example I gave carefully, though I also probably bear some of the blame for not being more clear. Had you, you would see that I referred to my wife taking care of me only as an example, and the example I gave did not say whether she takes care of my needs or does not. It said only that whether she does or not, she doesn’t do so for me as a philosopher more than she would do for me as a plumber. The point of the example was that the explanation you give would explain women not taking part in every discipline, but the absence of participation is greater in philosophy than it is in other disciplines, so your explanation doesn’t work. You said “the great philosophers we read these days were all able to philosophize because they had women who took care of their daily needs.” My response was that even if that is true (and it is at least partially true), it isn’t clear that it explains the lack of participation in philosophy today.

    However, your second point is more to the point and quite interesting. You say, “We don’t know whether the likelihood of posting on this particular blog is a function of a) women don’t blog (I doubt this), b) women don’t engage in philosophical discussions (also doubtful), or c) women don’t engage in philosophical discussions with men on what seems to be a male dominated blog.” I agree with you that “a” and “b” are doubtful. That leaves “c,” and I think you explain “c” well by suggesting that philosophy is an already gendered activity and, so, not perceived as something women do—by men or women. I also appreciated your suggestions at the end for how to make it possible for more women to participate.

    But I have a question. I think I know how to invite women to engage in philosophy, at least I have ideas for how to do invite the women in my classes, perhaps the place I can have the most effect. I think I know how to encourage them to participate, though again, my ideas are limited to what I can do in my classes. I have a pretty good idea of what you mean by holding other men responsible for their behaviors. But I don’t know what you mean by your third point, paving the way for them to participate. Is that something different than the other three?

    Clark: post hoc ergo propter hoc — you were close.

    The quotation from Nietzsche is a very nice one. (Where did it come from? I don’t recognize it.) But isn’t it true for almost all philosophy, not just for modern philosophy? Philo and Augustine rebuild using Plato’s bricks. Aquinas rebuilds using Augustine’s and Aristotle’s bricks. But Plato and Aristotle were also using bricks they inherited. My view of the history of philosophy is heavily influenced by Heidegger (who, of course, was heavily influenced by Aristotle and Nietzsche): each “new” turn in philosophy is really only a rethinking of an original insight. Parmenides and Heraclitus may have been the only original philosophical thinkers in the Western tradition.

  40. Clark: “One of the best books I’ve read the past few years was by Sikka, a writer comparing medieval neoPlatonism and Heidegger. Kristeva, while not as well known in America, is a significant figure. There are others. Yes, there hasn’t been a top tier philosopher who is a woman. But I think that this is, in part, due to the place philosophy is at the moment and the fact women have only entered in significantly the last 50 years.”

    I don’t know what you mean by “top tier”–perhaps only Husserl, Heidegger, Russell and Wittgenstein (Adorno also?) fall into that category in the 20th century. But as for political philosophers, I think that Arendt may have been the best political thinker of the century. Incidentally, I understand she was never taken seriously as a thinker by Heidegger himself (Jim can correct me on that one). You are right though, that Kristeva is much more important than her reputation in America would imply.

  41. My intention was not to insult you, but only to clarify what I meant. Often people are not able to clearly make the distinction between individual level phenomenon and group level or institutional level processes. I was just trying to encourage an analysis beyond our own experience. As for the final suggestion. Of course, mostly we must be accountable for our own actions, but occasionally it is helpful when, as men, we are willing to take a position supportive of women in our conversations with other men. I have mostly come to this conclusion as a result of experiences with friends who are minorities. Having had several conversations with them about their experience, I was more able to monitor not only how I behaved or what I said, but to “stick up for” the minority experience. To recognize, for example, the harm in what were meant as harmless jokes. I found that when I listend with an ear for gendered comments, that much the same kind of thing was occuring.

  42. This is a fascinating discussion. I’ll add what I can from my own experiences. I was never particularly interested in philosophy because to me the Gospel has answered most of the big questions I had. I had a biased view of philosophy based on some of the dry, irrelevent samples I had to read in my college courses.

    For example, why would I be interested in Nietzsche’s Geneaology of Morality if I felt that I pretty much knew what I needed to know based on the Gospel? But I found that I could glean some kernels of philosophy from various different works and throw them into my pot of eclectic philosophy. I’m mostly interested in the practical and often philosophy seems impractical. It also doesn’t help that the writing style of many philosophers is quite dense and verbose. I prefer clarity and conciseness.

    My husband, who majored in Philosophy has exposed me to more philosophy, particularly the analytic type. Analytic philosophy seems more practical than continental and thus appeals to me more. But for a while, he insisted on reading passages from his philosophy books to me. Snoozeville! I much prefer him to instead paraphrase an idea he has read about and then have a lively discussion. on it.

    Also, as a biologist, I find I’m more interested in scientific rather than philosophic problems (although some may argue the two are intertwined). And I think many women lack the confidence to enter the “harder” fields of study. The way science is taught in high school often discourages them. In general, I think girls prefer hands on learning, often in small groups. Just sitting and listening to a teacher lecture is not an ideal way to learn for many kids, both boys and girls.

    Also, if I had children, I doubt that I would spend as much time blogging. Women in our Church really have to make some hard decisions. We have to plan our education like we’re going to get married and have a family, even if we don’t.

    The only reason why I had the opportunity to go to graduate school was because I could not have children at the time. Science is not a family-friendly career. You’re expected to spend most of your time doing research, making a name for yourself. You are branded as a lesser person somehow if church and family come first.

    My mentor actually told me I should put aside all my religious duties for now while I’m in school. Sure, I shouldn’t overcommit myself, but he was suggesting that I put everything else aside for science. I didn’t do that and he treats me as a less than ideal student.

    Also, as far as commenting, I’m a mostly a lurker. I usually only comment when I feel I have something unique to contribute. Also, it takes time for me to feel comfortable enough in a group to comment. The web is easier for me because I don’t have to worry about getting nervous, my face flushing, and stumbling over my words.

  43. The Nietzsche quote is from Hollingdale’s translation of quotes in Penguin’s _A Nietzsche Reader_. (An excellent collection of 1 – 3 paragraph selections from all of the Nietzsche corpus) The source for the quote is _Mixed Opinions and Maxims_, 201.

    Someone mentioned the reason women don’t go into the hard sciences due to intimidation. I think this is true. In one of my math classes the professors made us read every week a different paper on math education. (I think he recognized that few people actually go on to grad work in mathematics but that many may end up teaching math in one way or an other) Anyway one was a fairly substantial study of “math fear.” It suggested that it was the unconscious views towards math by elementary teachers that tended to have the greatest impact on mathematic appreciation (and intimidation) Yet this transmitted intimidation was fairly “sexist” in nature. Women teachers were far more likely to be afraid and then communicated this to women students. Male teachers didn’t. Likewise there were all sorts of subtle “put downs” by teachers towards girls rather than boys that enforced this intimidation. Its been a while, but I seem to recall the paper also saying that women teachers were actually the worst for this. Perhaps someone with a background in educational studies can say more than my somewhat distant memory.

    I think though the point is that a lot of what is manifest in college or high school gets developed very early on. I know I’m really going to discuss mathematics a lot with my kids to ensure this *doesn’t* happen. (Plus I like to think of myself as pretty even handed – my wife keeps telling me “I’m not a feminist” when I tend to break the social norms of the wasatch front regarding some of these matters of equality)

    Personally to me the issue is less women publishing in science than the fact that education is valuable in its own right. I think that as our society becomes more technical, mathematical and scientific illiteracy becomes more and more problematic. That women tend to suffer from this disproportionately to men is very alarming to me and should be correct. If only to ensure that women can be full citizens. (I should hasten to add that the problem is also for men)

  44. Someone wrote: “For example, why would I be interested in Nietzsche’s Geneaology of Morality if I felt that I pretty much knew what I needed to know based on the Gospel?”

    Just to add to this, I think philosophy is most helpful when pointing out what our hidden assumptions are. We make many of them and they remain blind spots. With respect to the gospel they entail how we read the scriptures. (Just look at how many read the scriptures as if they were written by a liberal socialist or a conservative republican)

    What philosophy can’t do, of course, is tell us what assumptions to hold. (Which doesn’t stop some philosophers from trying, I must admit) But I think that in terms of religion the non-dogmatic form of philosophy where we question all things so as to “know ourself” is extremely useful. Even in terms of practical matters.

    Beyond that though I think science is at least as important if not more important. But of course I’m biased as a physicist.

  45. Professor,

    Thank you for the welcome — basic acknowledgment does wonders for any participation, male or female. I don’t remember any specific methods for involving women you may have used, but I do remember a class with you — Keys to Scripture Study — in which I learned a lot and felt comfortable participating in discussions. About the pontificating, the discussion seemed to be pretty dogmatic, but I’ll admit that the characterization could be hasty. I look forward to future wonderings from us all.

  46. Actually I think you’re right. Arendt is important. I’m fairly ignorant of political philosophy, so I admit that blind spot. (Same with ethics). From what little I’ve read of her while studying phenomenology I’d actually put her in the second tier. But I admit I may be wrong.

    To me the first tier ones are philosophers who’ve revolutionized how philosophy at a certain time is done. In the 20th century I’d probably say Heidegger, Husserl, Wittgenstein, perhaps Quine, perhaps Russell. But the first three are all I’d say are unarguable first tier. Of course being second tier, which is where I’d put Putnam, Searle, Derrida, and many others is nothing to sneeze at!

  47. Fly killa: Ah, but you don’t know everything you need to know from the Gospel. Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals isn’t about what is right and what’s wrong. It’s far more interesting than that, and so is the Gospel. They aren’t really about the same thing, so understanding Nietzsche won’t duplicate things you’ve already learned from the Gospel.

    Philosophy seems impractical? No, philosophy IS impractical. Josef Pieper, a very good philosopher, a Thomist, who worked in the middle of the 20th century (and who had some influence on T. S. Eliot) said that the most important thing to understand about philosophy is that it is useless. Russell and I have gone around about that at length on another list, so I don’t want to start it all over again, but I think the we should recognize that philosophy is, indeed, useless. On the other hand, anything that is good in itself (rather than only good for something else) is also useless. That doesn’t mean that philosophy is good in itself. An argument that it is using only the fact that things good in themselves are useless would invalid. It just means that to say that some activity is useless is only a criticism if it OUGHT to be useful. I doubt that philosophy should.

    But I’m surprised, even shocked, to see you say that analytic philosophy is more practical than continental! Analytic philosophers are the ones who care even less than continental philosophers whether what they say has any bearing on human existence. I’m not a Sartrean by any means, but at least Sartre talked about human existence. It is hard to think of anything more useless than an analytic philosopher’s discussions of intentionality, etc. It’s even more useless than continental philosophy.

    Clark: Thanks for the citation, and I agree with you that Arendt is first-tier.

    Jeremiah: Did Heidegger recognize Arendt’s accomplishments as a philosopher. Probably not. He was a very good philosopher and a very poor human being. On the other hand, I think it would be too much to say that he didn’t take her seriously as a philosopher. He took her as seriously as he took any other of his students and more seriously than he took most.

    Michelle: Glad to hear you survived my class.

  48. Clark: For the twenieth century I think that you also have to include John Rawls and H.L.A. Hart. At least in the English speaking world, political philosophy (Rawls) and legal philosophy (Hart) were transformed by their coming and virtually all important discussions since their coming are in some way linked to their work.

    Of course, this has nothing to do with a “boys club,” but your list struck me as unduly continental, metaphysical, and epistemological.

  49. Argh. It didn’t take. Now I have write it all again! (I guess debugging the problem with this form is next )

    My rather lengthy lost post simply pointed out that philosophy isn’t that useless. A lot of analytic philosophy has direct application to computing and psychology. In my own case I’d studied a fair bit of philosophy of mind and language from the analytic tradition. I can directly lay one million dollar contract to those studies. (Unfortunately the company went bankrupt before we saw much of that money – but still…)

    Probably the only discipline more useless than philosophy is mathematics. Yet typically about 50 years after mathematicians relished in their useless new discoveries people in physics or computer science or economics find some huge application for it…

  50. Nate: well I did consider Russell and Quine on the borders. They are hardly continental! I think there’s excellent analytical philosophers but none who’ve revolutionized things as much as some of the Continental thinkers.

    But as I said, I fully admit ignorance in many aspects of philosophy. (Ethics, Law, etc) I’d say though that if even having read philosophy as much as I’ve had that my not hearing of these people suggests they didn’t revolutionize philosophy as a whole as much as Heidegger or Wittgenstein who affected every aspect of philosophy.

  51. I was just reading this post and was struck by the fact that the women (at least initially) seemed more likely to use pseudonyms (Ms Morality, Fly Killa) while the men were much more comfortable just jumping in as “Taylor” or “Clark”.

    Is that due to harrassment on the web? (I.e., a general policy of concealing female identity to prevent leering remarks). Is it because “Ms Morality” is more likely to be taken seriously than “Michelle”? Or (given the sample size) is it just coincidence?

  52. My goodness, I sure hope ms. morality isn’t more likely to be taken seriously than Michelle. Why? I didn’t really believe this thread – that women are discriminated against — but I guess I should change my mind?

    And actually, I mistakenly used ms. morality on one of the comments because it was pasted into the form automatically and I hit post before I realized it. I had thought that I’d be taken more seriously if I used Michelle.

  53. Wow. I posted at the beginning of the thread and it has definitely developed into a full blown discussion. I don’t spend a lot of time talking to other women. We all seem to talk about the same things. I find it fascinating to read and listen to men discussing just about anything but sports.

    In fact I read a post by a guy last week (in another blog) describing how a woman ran into him. It was amazing the things that ran through his mind at the time of the incident. The world underestimates you guys. When given the opportunity to expound, you can be very insightful and interesting.

    Hopefully that doesn’t sound demeaning or condescending, I mean it as a compliment.

    Back to the subject at hand. Women are making inroads everywhere. I do think the “invisible barrier” in certain disciplines are there due to lack of available information on a subject. Kindof like a small community high school keeping kids in “technical or ag sciences” because it’s all the community knows as a whole. I see that in the town I live in and we’re in SoCal for goodness sakes! It is so important for all of us to reach out to the youth we know and let them know of the endless possibilites available to them. That’s where the change will take place. Example: One of my best friends just got her doctorate in plant pathology. Not a women dominated field either. She is an anomoly in the ward! And she hasn’t been well received by the women in the ward. In fact one woman asked her to be removed as her visiting teacher because she felt intimidated by her. My friend has never been one to reign supreme. She is the most down to earth person I know.
    There’s the rub. She doesn’t fit in at church with women and she had to fight to get where she was in a male dominated field. So it is hard both ways for her.

  54. I can’t help myself. I have to chime in again on this issue.

    Michelle brings up discrimination against women. I think she claims she didn’t believe it was a problem, at least not in philosophy. Well that’s debatable, but let’s just pretend that it doesn’t. Let’s assume that in philosophy there is no direct institutional bias against women. So if discrimination isn’t a problem does that mean that the lack of women in philosophy is simply a matter of individual preference (e.g. women don’t gravitate towards fields that emphasize absract, analytical thinking.) Certainly not. There are many other institutional and social mechanisms that could explain this disparity in numbers other than direct discrimination.

    Kieran Healy, who blogs for Crooked Timber (a great place to go for thoughts on philosophy) posted about this in his own blog earlier this year. You can check it out at Kieran listed five other social or institutional mechanisms that might be at work leading to differential distributions of women throughout academia, not just within philosophy. Kieran makes some excellent points I think.

    One of the mechansims, homophily, suggests that women may simply gravitate to fields where they feel they have a better shot based on the current demographic composition of the field. In this sense, clustering of women in certain fields reproduces itself. A field, or even a subfield, dominated by many women is likely to continue to attract more women, simply because of this tendency of people to associate and form strong ties with demographic similars.

  55. Brayden: It seems that you are implicitly making some distinction between expressed preferences that may simply be different at the macro level for men and womena, and institutional mechanisms that while not out-and-out discriminating are nevertheless invidiously skewing the results (in a presumeably unjust way?)

    Here is my question: how do we differentiate between “real” prefrences and preferences that are skewed by “institutional mechanism.” In other words, what is your baseline?

  56. Nate,

    Well yes and no. It’s possible that preferences are endogenous to institutional mechanisms. If there are mechanisms that filter women away from philosophy, cognitive dissonance may subsequently shape women’s preferences so that, on the average, women are disinclined to join in philosophical discussions or major in philosophy. I guess what I’m arguing against is an “essentialist” view that would see women as being fundamentally disinclined to enter the discipline of philosophy. If the social conditions change, we might see that more women develop a preference for philosophy.

  57. Thanks for the link Brayden. Nate, I agree that distinguishing between “real” preferences and preferences reinforced by institutional processes is difficult. In order to balance the discussion, we might want to reflect on activities that men are discouraged from as well. That is, if social conditions changed, what activities would men shift into? Then again, we may not find many men aware of or wanting to consider areas of social life from which they are precluded–a function of both how masculine the public world is and homophobia. It would, however, be an interesting exercise.

  58. I suppose that I have a hard time figuring out what the normative significance of arguments about exogenous influence on preferences is. (I am a lawyer not a social scientist, so the social science really only interests me as a spring board for normative discussion — sorry to all those sociologists out there.) It seems that we can do a couple of things:

    1. Simply look at the substantive content of the preferences and make that the normative baseline. So, for example, if we observe an expressed preference by women against philosophy, and we think philosophy is a good that women should desire, we say that the preference is artificial or illegitimate.

    2. We could set up some procedural criteria. Preferences shaped by factors X, Y, and Z are legitimate while preferences shaped by factors A, B, and C are illegitimate. The problem is not only that picking good and bad factors is hard, but that I am deeply skeptical that we really have the social scientific know how to disentable the various sources that folks have for preferences.

    3. We could choose some pyschological criteria, and say that preferences that a person “really has” are legitimate while other are not. Who knows how you would figure this out.

    4. Something else??

    My point is that one needn’t subscribe to some kind of gender essentialism to think that men and women will have different expressed preferences. I think that some find this troubling, and want to be able to somehow deny the “reality” of the preferences, e.g. they are simply the result of endogenous institutional preferences. The problem is once we are leaving the simple world of threat and sanction (e.g. women dislike philosophy because they are overtly discriminated against), it seems mighty hard to sort out where preferences come from and how much legitimacy one should grant them. Thus, there is for me, a sense in which arguments about “institutional mechanisms” seem beside the point. Without some theoretical machinary to understand the import of such claims, I don’t really know what to do with them.

  59. First, men and women obviously have expressed preferences. Second, some of these expressed preferences do indeed follow from biology. The problem we need to address is that we often ascribe far more to biology than we should. As Lorber has suggested, even if we agree that women are “naturally” more nurturing, this doesn’t explain why women are more likely to be secretaries than psychologists (or in this case philosophers). Given this, I don’t really like any of the options Nate offers. In fact, we can only understand the operation of gender by examining variations across time and space. Differences across cultures indicates variation from the baseline, change over time indicates the variety of possibilities. This, of course, does not really answer Nate’s question, which assumes a positivist orientation (e.g. that we can measure differences between “real” and the “social”). I doubt this is possible. The closest we can come is analysis of the probabilities of behavior exhibited by men and women and how those probabilities are changing.

  60. Understanding the institutional mechanisms underlying preferences is also important when considering social policy. Differences in national policy have had tremondous effects on the gendered distribution of housework. Although one might assume that the divvying-up of housework is purely a matter of rational planning, there is in fact a good reason to think that national labor policy is a primary condition for the expression of these preferences. Check out my post on this subject.

    I realize this has little to do with gender and philosophy but I’m sending you to the link to make my point about policy and expressed preferences.

  61. Max: I suspect that I am not being clear. I don’t think that there are real, biologically based preferences, and artificial, institutionally based preferences. I know little of biology, but from taking with my bio-chemist friend, I am fairly convinced that it is probably not at all that useful to think in terms of “biological” causes. What I am interested in is the question of when we respect expressed preferences as an individual choice deserving of deference, and we we treat expressed preference as some manifestation of “false consciousness” tied to institutional mechanisms, socialization, and the like. My problem is that it seems that many social scientists come up with theories that purport to provide some social, institutional, etc. account of preferences, and then implicitly assume that these preferences are illegitimate and ought not to be given weight in our moral calculus. This implicit line of argument, however, assumes that there is some set of natural (biological?) preferences from which it is possible to identify deviations. Yet not account of these assumed natural preferences is offered. Without spelling out how these concepts work, it seems to me that most of the normative claims made by social scientists are theoretically vacuous.

  62. I not sure what you are referring to when you say “most of the normative claims made by social scientists are theoretically vacuous.” Can you give me an example of a “normative claim?”

  63. An implicit claim: The lack of women choosing to go into philosophy is bad because their choices are determined or influenced by intitutional mechanisms.

    May be true. May not be true. Sociology can’t answer the question for me. (Which is not to claim that sociology is not useful in answering the question. I actually think that most normative political and legal philosophy should be better informed about social science.)

  64. Nate,

    Seeing your response to Max’s post affirmed my earlier suspicion. You are absolutely correct. Sociological theories of distribution cannot tell us what we “should” do (aka identify the morally correct choice), they only tell us what elements in a causal system are related. It’s up to the individual, organization, or government to decide what is the morally correct goal or decision.

  65. First, I confess that I haven’t read all 70 some odd comments so if I repeat what someone else has said, I apologize.

    Someone made a comment that perhaps the reason is that women don’t hold “meaningful” positions in the church. I disagree with that sentiment. It depends on one’s definition of meaningful.

    I am a woman, fairly new to reading this blog. I have been blogging myself since last February and my topics range from heavy (reproductive ethics, war) to terribly light and fun (80s memories and movie reviews).

    My husband majored in Philosophy. He is quite interesting to listen to, especially when discussing the parallels between Taoism and Christianity. As for me, I have always thought a lot about the nature of things and ideas. That striving for understanding is what led me to leave my church of youth and go explore what else the world had to offer up about God. I haven’t read volumes of scholarly writings but I do ponder and pray. I think Sheri Dew is a good role model and thinker but I suspect some people here would not consider her as intellectually stimulating as I do. While some things here are over my head, I feel an obligation to comment, perhaps I can offer some levity.

    I believe we have an obligation, as believers in Christ, to read what we can about Him including what others have to say. I would first list the scriptures as the #1 thing to study followed by the texts other Christians use such the Apocrypha and texts from the Nag Hammadi Library. I would place scholarly texts after those in puruit.

    By that same token, every Christian should examine the BoM. After all, if one wants to know about Kennedy, they don’t read one bio and call themselves an expert on all things JFK.

    There are a number of women in the church who were raised to not give a hoot about even basic scripture study. This is a foreign concept to me because I can’t relate to a desire not to know more and question things. But I see it all the time in classes and RS.

    Someone said in another post and comment that their wife said something to the effect that they shouldn’t be concerned with weighty things when their home teaching wasn’t done. That is a valid point and one to consider. How much time and to what end we pursue intellectual endeavors?

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