Sally Haslanger, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)”

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Haslanger writes in part:

There is a deep well of rage inside of me. Rage about how I as an individual have been treated in philosophy; rage about how others I know have been treated; and rage about the conditions that I’m sure affect many women and minorities in philosophy, and have caused many others to leave. Most of the time I suppress this rage and keep it sealed away. Until I came to MIT in 1998, I was in a constant dialogue with myself about whether to quit philosophy, even give up tenure, to do something else. In spite of my deep love for philosophy, it just didn’t seem worth it. And I am one of the very lucky ones. One of the ones who has been successful by the dominant standards of the profession. Whatever the numbers say about women and minorities in philosophy, numbers don’t begin to tell the story. Things may be getting better in some contexts, but they are far from acceptable.

Outright discrimination
The situation for women in philosophy has been changing over the past several decades and every woman’s experience is different. I was in graduate school at Berkeley between 1979-1985. I have held tenure-track or tenured positions in five schools. I am now a full professor. But the rank of full professors is broad and there are many women, such as my wonderful colleague Judith Thomson, who came through in an era in which the situation was very different from and, to my mind, much worse than mine. So there has been progress. However, that there are trends that have continued throughout my time in the profession, because I see evidence of them today.

Why there aren’t more women of my cohort in philosophy? Because there were very few of us and there was a lot of outright discrimination. I think a lot of philosophers aren’t aware of what women in the profession deal with, so let me give some examples. In my year at Berkeley and in the two years ahead of me and two years behind me, there was only one woman each year in a class of 8-10. The women in the two years ahead of me and the two years behind me dropped out, so I was the only woman left in five consecutive classes. In graduate school I was told by one of my teachers that he had”never seen a first rate woman philosophy and never expected to because women were incapable of having seminal ideas.”I was the butt of jokes when I received a distinction on my prelims, since it seemed funny to everyone to suggest I should get a blood test to determine if I was really a woman. In a seminar in philosophical logic, I was asked to give a presentation on a historical figure when none of the other (male) students were, later to learn that this was because the professor assumed I’d be writing a thesis on the history of philosophy. When I was at Penn as a junior faculty member and told a senior colleague that I was going to be married (to another philosopher, Stephen Yablo, then at UM), his response was,”Oh, I’m so sorry we’ll be losing you.”This was in 1989.

Haslanger has asked that her essay be circulated widely. Read it in its entirety here.

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