Philosophers Got Beards, Scientists Got Crazy Hair? Thinking Feminist Across Disciplines

Here might be one thing we scientists have in common with us philosophers. As Sally Haslanger describes: people imagine philosophers as old men with beards. If you replace the beards with crazy hair a la Van de Graaff-generator, you’ve basically got a visual of how a number of people imagine scientists (basically: Einstein) (or, why not: see some gallery images from the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists, a surprising majority of whom are men). Relatedly, Haslanger notes: “As recently as 2010, philosophy had a lower percentage of women doctorates than math, chemistry and economics.” Okay, so economics is sometimes called the dismal science (don’t be mad at me; I learned this from the Economist), but chemistry and math are two bona fide science club members. In fact, Haslanger estimates that – at best – at best! – only 1/4 of philosophy faculty are women. And, not surprisingly, the majority of these women are not women of color (one estimate from a decade ago was – literally – none. That’s zero, in case you weren’t sure). Sound familiar? These numbers echo discussions around women in STEM fields.

In a related post, Linda Martín Alcoff describes how she was asked a question many feminist scientists have heard about their own disciplines: “What’s wrong with philosophy?” So, this is another way that philosophy and the sciences come together: feminists in both parts of campus (or etc.) are concerned about the disproportionate representation of men and white folks. But when we say ‘the sciences’, or STEM, which disciplines are we pointing to? Evolutionary Biology? High Energy Physics? Molecular Neuroscience? Aerospace Engineering? The diversity of sciences, and the diversity within various science disciplines, might be relevant for thinking about how a field like Philosophy – not a STEM field – might be thought of alongside STEM fields.

Feminist scientists and feminist philosophers (and feminist economists, dismal science or not!) might want to ally, organize each other, and/or share insights about their experiences. That’s not to say there aren’t special problematics to each discipline. But have the distinct problematics been overplayed in ways that have minimized the potential for large-scale group action? It’s not immediately clear whether it makes sense to line up the STEM disciplines over here, and the humanities disciplines over there due to epistemological differences, when things look eerily similar on the ground and in day-to-day issues. Should epistemology (approach to knowledge) trump day-to-day experiences? Or, is there something specific about the sciences and not philosophy, and philosophy but not science, that makes feminist questions about gender representation and disciplinary culture more easily approached in discipline-specific ways? I’m not sure. But the time is ripe for asking these questions.

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3 Responses

  1. Stacey Ritz says:

    You should submit your picture to the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.

  2. Sari van Anders says:

    I think I might be a better member of the crazy hair club than the luxuriant flowing locks club… In fact, it’s my crazy hair that makes me a scientist 🙂

  3. Stacey Ritz says:

    I guess most people probably see the STEM fields and philosophy as very disparate parts of academia, but one thing they have in common that seems relevant here is that they are perceived as disciplines in which dispassionate rationality is especially highly valued — and it’s probably not a coincidence that dispassionate rationality in this culture is associated with masculinity? Not to say that they really ARE rationally dispassionate, of course.

    You’ve also got me wondering if the distribution of women in philosophy is as asymmetric as it is in STEM fields. Like, are there more women working in bioethics than in epistemology (I bet there are)?

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