Women in Philosophy

I guess a day spent reading Beyond Good and Evil is not the best time to post on women and philosophy. But I caught this piece —thanks Infinite Thought!—on the dearth of women in the profession. Brooke Lewis, a freelance journalist, reports two views that she links together but are wholly different claims (by the way, having married a now-free lancer extraordinaire, I’m not dumping on Lewis, since I know this is how the piece could have been edited, or is simply a quick shift from one graf to the next):

Helen Beebee, a University of Birmingham lecturer and director of the British Philosophical Association (BPA) … says her impression is that there are roughly equal numbers of men and women graduating with good bachelor degrees in philosophy and that the numbers of women start to drop off at MA level and then again at PhD level. Beebee says this tapering off of women may be at least partly caused by a culture of aggressive argument that is particular to philosophy and which begins to become more prominent at postgraduate level. “I can remember being a PhD student and giving seminar papers and just being absolutely terrified that I was going to wind up intellectually beaten to a pulp by the audience,” she says. “I can easily imagine someone thinking, ‘this is just ridiculous, why would I want to pursue a career where I open myself up to having my work publicly trashed on a regular basis?’”

Jennifer Saul, a Sheffield University lecturer and president of the UK division of the Society of Women in Philosophy (SWIP), says that relative to post-graduate students, there is a significant drop in the number of women going on to become temporary lecturer….

Lewis also notes something that we, alas, all know if we’ve spent anytime in philosophy: the numbers are bad everywhere–not just the UK. But is this true of every part of philosophy? I see far more of a percentage of women at SPEP than at the APA, and it seems to me that one should not discount that certain types of work speak to people who might want work that speaks to them, given the disadvantages they face. It’s also the case, as we all also know, that if you’re a woman phenomenologist, that means you’re pigeon-holed as a feminist philosopher, whether or not you’ve ever worked in that area or not. I can’t even begin to hypothesize on the reasons for the low numbers of female philosophers now. But it’s also clear that philosophy does much worse at this than, say, other fields in the humanities. (And I should add, of course, that there are great female professors in other fields doing philosophy, which complicates this a bit.)

Two points to add: Helen Beebee, though I’m sure you’re a wonderful director of the BPA, please think of handing over the reigns. Unless you were wildly misquoted (again—freelancers of the world unite!—you probably weren’t) you don’t know the first thing about (a) the fallacious use of anecdotal evidence, (b) the problems of shitty causal inferences that (c) reinforce naturalist assumptions dominant in the culture. And (d) please tell me that you don’t think the problem is that women can’t cut it. Because men like getting their work trashed? 

Or better: maybe if we had more women in place at various universities, you know, getting hired, as Saul suggests, we could find someone to head the BPA (male or female or non-normed gender) who can “easily imagine” ways to work for different modes of philosophizing, say, as head of something like the BPA.

Excuse my tone for this evening, but this is the kind of BS that shouldn’t stand. It’s the same excuse trotted out for why people of color don’t make it through. Now instead of asking—from what you can “easily imagine”—what a PhD student would be thinking, how about asking about a culture that needs to be changed so you can “easily imagine” this?

I was lucky: I graduated from DePaul University, and the year I came in was the year that Tina Chanter was hired there from Memphis. Now here’s what I can “easily imagine”: I took something like five courses from Chanter over a few years and, believe me, Chanter did not tread lightly on anyone and thus I could say that perhaps I could “easily imagine” “just being absolutely terrified that I was going to wind up intellectually beaten to a pulp,” to borrow from Beebee again. I could imagine what she would do with a claim like Beebee’s. (Which was good for me. I did a terrible Kristeva paper for her. She gave me great comments. Later I reworked it based on that and got a publication. And later, just to finish that story, she was a great help to me and others when I was on the job market; that is, she helped me get my job) But I also took classes with Peg Birmingham—quite a different personality from Chanter and doing different work, which means it’s not just about doing feminist philosophy—who served on my committee and has been crucial in my career. And with those two, along with so many others in the DePaul Department, we had a thriving, diverse, and, more crucially, intellectually vibrant grad community. So putting women in power—beyond whatever crying you might hear about identity politics—matters. Just look at the Collegium this year, which Peg headed up. 

Of course, we have to graduate female PhDs to get professors like Birmingham and Chanter and Goswami (thanks for serving on that Gilroy panel of mine this year!) and, what, five other professors at DePaul? If you don’t think it matters, compare this list (DePaul faculty ) with this list (alumni ) and this list (grad students ). Sure, it’s a woolly-headed Continental program. (What is woolly-headed anyway?) But then what needs to be answered is why a continental program can do this and an analytic philosophy program can’t. And yes, it’s one program. But maybe now it’s easier to imagine.

Get your Snark Here

Or there. Great news in the “outsourcing front.” Apparently, it’s not just PhD students who are ordering dissertations from writing mills in India. Now, you can order up some good “snark” as well. 

Alas, this would lead to some great snark, but my budget’s taking a hit from the conference and I’m unable to make pay on the services.

Powerpoint Philosophy

On the first night of the CRESC conference on objects here in Manchester, Chandra Mukerji gave an interesting talk on the move from personal rule to impersonal rule in the 17th century, highlighted by her own work on a canal built at the time. I won’t reply to that paper now, though I would suggest her work would have bolstered with references to similar accounts of that time period beyond Weber (Marx and Foucault’s long meditations on this period are notable, as well as all the writings of the anti-royalists of the period).  In any event what I wanted to write about quickly is Mukerji’s use of powerpoint. I’m not contesting her work, but actually the form.

It’s actually a great pedagogical example for structuralism. That is, no matter what one wants to say etc. the very structure or place in a given structure one inhabits determines one’s actions.  (Think of Lacan’s essay on Poe.)  So whereas in Lacan, you have the subject-supposed-to-know, with Powerpoint, you have the subject-who-comes-off-like-they-know-little. Points are put up on the screen that, by the very structure of how powerpoint works, end up sounding so banal that whatever critical point you want to make it lost. A few examples: Discussing the canal, I learn “water generally flows downhill,” that “forces of nature often frustrate man’s ambitions,” that the “ocean has destroyed numerous ships over the years.” By the end, you’re so frustrated by the banality of what you’re being told–which can be supplied by a promising 5 year old–that you might lose the point that this is actually an author who has just published a wonderful and tightly argued book on this topic. But powerpoint obliterates that and I have yet to see a complicated theoretical point that can make it through the powerpoint filter. It is a thought destroyer and I’ll resist using bullet points in presenting this issue. Use it for quotations and artworks. No for presenting ideas in your paper.  Though, you now know that water does tend to flow downhill.

Clovis

Clovis became for some reason a figure of mine–he was great in working on sovereignty: barbarian and Latinized, pagan and Christian…but most of all are the stories: the bashing of the head of the man who broke his vase, thus doing the same to him as he did to the vase; the use of his double-side battle-axe at a moment’s notice… and of course, his very sincere baptism. He is likely neither the first nor the last to claim God’s hand in winning a battle, and surely his example is there every Sunday during the football season when God is thanked for some victory, because, you know, He does choose sides. From Gregory of Tours (by the way, if you like Gibbons, Gregory of Tours’s Historia Francorum is …well, I don’t know what the word would be: interesting?)

The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis’s army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: “Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the 1iving God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries.” And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: “Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now.” And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.

Small side note: when Clovis first presented to his troops the idea of converting, they  are said to have literally turned their backs on him. It was only this victory–thank God–that gave him the ability to get baptized and then later baptize en masse his troops.

A Heideggerian’s Advice for Grad Students

I saw this as I was working through a portion of Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics in order to discuss his notion of violence:

Heidegger’s own story is quite different. Its backdrop, which often remains implicit, is very traditional and Aristotelian. Although in the final analysis Heidegger “undid” that tradition, he first took care to master it, and he recommended that Heideggerians do the same. “You would be well advised,” he told his students in 1952, “to put off reading Nietzsche for the time being and first study Aristotle for ten to fifteen years” — the way Heidegger himself did. 

 

Except, well, that he didn’t.