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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Philosophy at Oxford: too many men | Comment - Oxford Student

"The Faculty of Philosophy’s recently announced measures to ‘feminise the curriculum’ have angered some quarters" continues Oxford Student

Photo: Oxford Student

Critics appear particularly taken aback by the call for a 40% target for female representation on our reading lists. The move has been dismissed as ‘virtue signalling’ (see the initial OxStu article here), a claim which suggests the department’s support for gender equality is merely superficial. However, it is an ignorant viewer who presumes that female philosophers, or writers of any subject, cannot offer us anything that has not already been uttered by a man. The exclusion of female writers from our reading lists is a consequence of prolonged and institutionalised sexism, and active effort must be taken to reverse this. Without this change, we risk sacrificing our own learning by closing our books and our minds to crucial schools of philosophical and political thought.

The target of 40% has been treated in the media as both arbitrary and excessive, but it is not radical and should not be considered so. As always, we can learn from US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who pointed out “People ask me sometimes… when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And my answer is ‘when there are nine’. People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” Give me a reading list consisting of only 40% men, and I would be shocked. Why, then, is a 40% female reading list being portrayed as dangerous? It will not damage the “traditional canon of the degree”, but will serve only to broaden the views which we are presented and arguably increase the standard of study. A recent article published on the ‘Conservative Women’ site claimed that the move “suggests that far from achieving excellence, philosophy students will be indoctrinated in what until recently had been a minority obsession – the ideology of equality.” Equality, by its very nature, will never simply benefit a minority. On the contrary, we all have something to learn from those who differ from us, be it in race, sexuality or gender.

Without proper representation, the battle for equality faces an impossible task. The impact may at first be subtle, and is often subconscious, playing largely into self-perceptions. How can a female student of philosophy such as myself suppose they can equal the academic achievements of her male counterparts when exclusively exposed to the work of men? Is it surprising that a woman might view herself as less likely to fit in or be accepted in the world of academia if we have no role models to show us the way?

We need to highlight the female potential for original, groundbreaking ideas. Without these role models, women are less likely to pursue a path in the world of academia. Indeed, women and men currently enter undergraduate philosophy courses at roughly the same rate, with about 46% students being female. This tails off as we progress, though – by PhD level, only 30% of philosophy students are women, and in terms of those with permanent jobs in the field only one-quarter are women. Countless studies have demonstrated the vital importance of role models for our own success. An American Psychological Association study found that PhD students with a supervisor of their own gender produced substantially more research than the cross-gender cases. Other studies have also pointed out that female students find role models to be of greater importance and value than males, and that the personal characteristics of a role model, such as gender, were more important to them.

Source: Oxford Student

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