It’s generally thought that philosophy is a man’s game.
Without even really thinking about it, I can name at least a couple dozen male philosophers. At least a couple dozen.
Every philosophy student learns the names by heart: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Mill, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein …
They’re the pillars of philosophy.
I can name more. I bet you can, too.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the ladies.
I mean, I know there are women philosophers. I’ve read a few. Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Butler. Ayn Rand. Hannah Arendt. Helene Cixous. Christine Korsgaard. Susan Wolf.
My list pretty much dries up there.
I’ll be damned if I can name a dozen let alone a couple dozen professional lady philosophers.
And I don’t think I’ve ever identified one by just her last name.
Everybody says they’ve read Nietzsche. When was the last time you heard anyone say they just finished reading Butler?
The general assumption was (and still is) that men are better at thinking than women.
You know, thinking stuff like math, logic map reading, AND philosophy.
I write about philosophy.
I guess in the broadest sense of the word that makes me a philosopher.
However, I am of the female persuasion and I write about philosophy.
The thing is, is that I don’t really think of myself as a female philosopher. When I engage in a philosophical discussion, if the opportunity conceal my gender arises, I’ll do it. Even my Facebook profile pic is a picture of a man.
This is my current Facebook profile pic.
It’s not only a picture of a man, Don Draper; it’s a picture of a man from a decade when women were definitely treated like second class citizens.
Now, I suppose I can say my reluctance to reveal my gender has to has to do with some sort of socially-conditioned, unconscious desire to abide by the white, heterosexual, Christian male patriarchy. But to say that would be a little too obvious.
And really, I don’t think it’s that at all.
The reason why, I think, has something to do with not wanting to be just a female philosopher – that being a female philosopher means that the only philosophical writing I do is chick writing.
You see, when you tell everyone that you’re a woman and you like to write, it’s almost inevitable that someone will assume that all you write about is your kids, fashion, the men you’re dating, and your period.
Just occasionally pausing to write about the oppressive capitalist white male patriarchy or how lesbians are still under represented and maligned in society, political institutions, and in the media.
Well for starters, I don’t have kids. I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in over two years, and my current dating situation could be best described as Tatooine-esque.
The fact that I just used a Star Wars reference might be a reason why it’s so.
Or worse yet, being a chick writer or writing about chick issues immediately associates one with militant man-hating.
Philosophy professor Michael Levin wrote in his book, Feminism and Freedom, that feminism is an “antidemocratic, if not totalitarian ideology.”
Just for the record I don’t hate men.
But for the ones I do hate, my hatred is well deserved.
Wait. I got off track.
I suppose Aristotle was right.
He said that women are more quarrelsome than men.
Aristotle wrote that women favor emotion over intellect. This is the reason why, Aristotle says, women are irrational. Irrationality has no place in philosophy.
Still, feminist philosophy, or philosophy by or about women in general, bears the stigma of being not-quite-legitimate philosophy.
Feminist philosophy tends to focus on the interpersonal – how the individual, in particular, how women (as women) relate to and in society. Whereas male philosophers tend to emphasize the pursuit of knowledge and absolute, objective truth, female philosophers tend to examine the role of women and aspects of femininity in societal institutions (politics, economics, religion), and the relationships between cultural concepts such as womanhood, class, sexuality, sexual preference and identity, and race.
And then there’s this:
When you’re a feminist, people make cruel memes about you.
Unfortunately the view isn’t that much different in philosophy.
That can make a lady philosopher steer clear of writing about any issue that stinks of feminism. Even if what you’re writing is philosophical.
And it really doesn’t help much when a few of those great male minds of philosophy rattle off statements like:
It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may construe through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment. The best a woman can hope for is to become a man.
If Plato thinks I’m a soulless idiot why would I ever imagine that I could possibly have a career in philosophy?
And besides, as we all know all the important philosophers are men.
The thing is, is that I really don’t have any problem with feminists, feminism, or female philosophers. Goodness knows that there’s more to philosophy than Socrates and Kierkegaard. I think what I’m trying to avoid writing not-really-philosophy philosophy. Even though women have contributed many brilliant ideas, theories, and schools of thought to philosophy, there’s still this thing I can’t get over – the thought that my gender necessarily obligates me to write about – my gender.
Even serious women philosophers, like Ayn Rand, are depicted like this:
Or worse yet, what they write is dismissed as just chick stuff.
Man-hating chick stuff.
Listen, I know I’m being a little short-sighted on the prevalence and influence of women philosophers. I well aware of the fact that women philosophers write about more than sexuality and gender issues and that women have contributed more than their feminine charm and good looks to the body philosophic. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the Nazis. And Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy, like it or not, is still influential.
Rand’s followers have ranged from CEOs of major corporations to former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, to the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.
By the way, are you aware that Ryan now says that his rumored fondness for Rand’s philosophy is an urban myth?
Still, I went through the whole earning a philosophy degree process, and during the entire time I read only one female philosopher who didn’t write about lady stuff. AND during the entire time I was a philosophy student, there was only one class offered on feminist philosophy.
Perhaps that’s the problem, eh?
Betty Friedan wrote that she wanted women to “master the secrets of the atoms, or the stars”, and wanted women to pioneer “a new concept in government or society”.
I’m pretty sure what she wanted applies to philosophy, too.
Philosophy will continue be a man’s game so long as folks like me keep referring to themselves (myself) as “folks like me”.
I shouldn’t be so worried about being a chick writer or writing about chick stuff. Certainly philosophy has plenty to do with rational arguments and logic, but it also has to do with things like reality. And my reality is seen through my lady eyes.
Whether I like it or even want to admit it, everything I write is chick writin’.
Now I don’t feel so bad writing about my period.
You can expect that post in exactly 28 days.
Plato. Timaeus. (90e). Available at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1572
Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.