Hypatia 20.3 (2005) 149-152
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Women Philosophers, Sidelined Challenges, and Professional Philosophy
Diana Tietjens Meyers
The four papers included in this symposium were first presented together at a session sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women at the Eastern Division APA meetings in December 2003. In organizing the panel, I sought scholars who could address distinct aspects of the "problem" of women in philosophy—that is, the problem that there is a problem of women in philosophy. I invited Virginia Valian because she could document and explain some of the psychological and structural mechanisms that perpetuate gender inequity in our profession, Eileen O'Neill because she could trace the history of women's participation in and expulsion from our profession, Margaret Walker because she could analyze the current standing of women philosophers and feminist philosophy in our profession, and Charles Mills because he could specify how recent feminist philosophy complements and helps to advance diverse critiques of orthodox political philosophy.
It is safe to say that none of the participants in this session, including myself as chair, anticipated the extent to which the four papers would cohere. Yet, the disparate viewpoints of the four speakers notwithstanding, their papers exhibited remarkable thematic continuities and substantive convergences. You should not get the impression, however, that the session was an exercise in ritualized group-think, for the speakers also articulated several points of controversy. There are disagreements regarding the cause of women's underrepresentation [End Page 149] in philosophy and also regarding the nature of feminist philosophy. By way of introducing the publication of this symposium, I point up some commonalities together with some unresolved issues.
The role of cognitive distortion in the "problem" of women in philosophy is central to all four papers. Each of them brings out a different way in which cognitive distortion short circuits women philosophers' professional recognition. Valian focuses on the ways in which gender schemas skew judgments about the quality of women philosophers' publications and their value as colleagues. Moreover, she shows how accumulating small advantages or disadvantages as a result of schemas representing masculinity and femininity adds up to outstanding careers for men and mediocre careers for women. O'Neill describes similar mechanisms at work in validating both contemporary philosophers' skepticism about the importance of the work of women philosophers from the seventeenth through nineteenth century and their seemingly unshakable conviction that none of this work deserves a place in "our" canon. Curiously, many historians of philosophy advocate discarding these texts before bothering to read them or after reading them cursorily. Walker blames gendered cognitive distortions for the alienating classrooms in which female philosophy students are obliged to study, as well as for rampant misapprehensions about what feminist philosophy is, in both its aims and its methods. Not surprisingly, this malign neglect ensures that the number of women in philosophy stays "safely" low. Mills links ideal political philosophy to privileged personal experience and conceptions of personhood that correspond to this limited viewpoint. Only by forgoing ideal political philosophy and coming to grips with social identities marked by racialized, gendered, and other invidious classification schemes can philosophers position themselves to develop truly inclusive, genuinely humanistic accounts of justice. Each of these papers debunks gendered constructs that are taken for granted because they are so integral to "our" intellectual tradition, "our" interpretative templates, and "our" inferential licenses that they are virtually unassailable. Cognitive schemas without which we could not think and act immunize gender dogma against rational scrutiny.
Definitions and redefinitions of philosophy institutionalize the scandal of gendered cognitive distortion and professional obliviousness to it. O'Neill, Walker, and Mills show how normalized beliefs about and attitudes towards women shape what counts as a worthwhile philosophical problem and what counts as excellent philosophical exposition and argument. There is no room for the "woman question"—lately re-derogated as "women's issues"—in the empyrean of significant philosophical problems and respectable research programs. To use gender as a prime category of analysis is not...