Fully prepared to cringe at what I found, I followed the link in this Tweet yesterday:
Why is philosophy so hostile to women? slate.me/1evvQfk
And what I found was pretty much what I expected to find. The XXfactor feature at Slate is fairly predictable — the pieces often seem to have been written by a college sophomore who has just discovered feminism and is filled with the zeal of a convert.
There was one part that made sense to me, though. The purpose of the piece was to speculate on why there are even fewer women teaching in the philosophy departments of American academia than in physics. (Maybe Larry Summers would like to offer a theory. Then again, maybe not, since he’s short-listed for a new job.)
Here’s the part that made sense. It’s a quote from this article by Camille Paglia:
I feel women in general are less comfortable than men in inhabiting a highly austere, cold, analytical space, such as the one which philosophy involves. Women as a whole—and there are obvious exceptions—are more drawn to practical, personal matters. It is not that they inherently lack a talent or aptitude for philosophy or higher mathematics, but rather that they are more unwilling than men to devote their lives to a frigid space from which the natural and the human have been eliminated…
That pretty much describes the difference I’ve observed in nearly six decades on the planet. Is it a perfect delineation? No. I know some women who “think like men” in this way (they tend to gravitate toward such professions as the law), and increasingly it seems I run into men who think like women.
And of course, some women become philosophers. But I think Ms. Paglia put her finger on a key reason why more women don’t choose that path.
It’s not, as Paglia notes, that women can’t master philosophy. It’s that they tend to abhor the “frigid space” of pure abstraction. Which, you know, is a point for women on my scoreboard. But then, according to my friend Claudia Brinson, who intended to be kind in calling me this, I’m a “difference feminist.”
The writer of the XXfactor piece wasn’t going for the Paglia explanation:
…(S)he also needlessly drags gender into what seems like an individual preference for pragmatism over abstract-mindedness. If women perceive philosophy as a “frigid space,” it’s probably because they are outnumbered and alienated, not because they consider theoretical musings somehow less “human.” Likewise, the male philosophers propositioning their graduate students appear perfectly comfortable wallowing in the mud of everyday life. If only they had some respect for their medieval counterparts, who chose to personify philosophy as a fair, virtuous woman…
In other words, it’s the fault of those oppressive horndogs running the philosophy departments.
I prefer the more reasonable conclusion, that they perceive philosophy as a “frigid space” not “because they are outnumbered and alienated,” but because that’s what it is — pure thought, floating weightlessly in the ether of abstraction.