Finding Philosophy’s Female Voices: Other Perspectives

By Eric Ferreri

Adela Deanova on the classroom environment

Adela Deanova studied international affairs as an undergraduate at Georgetown and would later do graduate work in information systems and philosophy of social science. But she was always drawn to the big, fundamental questions and puzzles that are so central to history of philosophy of science.

A Czech Republic native fluent in three languages, Deanova is now a doctoral student in Duke’s philosophy department. She’s had the benefit of both male and female mentors and says she has few personal concerns about being a woman in a field dominated by men.

But Deanova sees the imbalance play out in other ways. Women in philosophy can feel excluded from that community because social interaction skews so heavily to events men are interested in, she says.

And men tend to tilt the cultural balance in the classroom as well, she notes, citing introductory philosophy courses she has taught that encourage active debate and argument.

“Even if you try to foster a really collaborative environment, the class usually gets hijacked by a few vocal men,” she recalls. “You need a class environment in which women and international students feel comfortable speaking up, and that can really be a challenge depending on personalities involved. The women are, in my experience, more quiet, as are international students, and they work hard and seek out office hours. Their grades reflect this effort.”

Karen Neander on the faculty experience

Karen Neander, one of four females on Duke’s philosophy faculty, received her doctorate from La Trobe University in Australia. The philosophy faculty skewed heavily to men there as well, but she felt at home because of several female graduate students whose presence illustrated to her that she could belong in a male-dominated field.

“If everyone around me had been male, it might have been an issue,” Neander says.

Neander says philosophy’s gender inequity issue is more likely the result of a series of complex factors than any single reason.

“There’s definitely a number problem, but we’re still at the stage of trying to figure out what it means,” she says. “There are those who say it’s just because women chose not to go into philosophy, not that philosophy isn’t friendly to them. We’re still trying to figure it out.”

Srinivas Aravamudan on women in philosophy and the humanities

Early work on Project Vox was funded by Humanities Writ Large, a five-year Duke initiative underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Srinivas Aravamudan, the former Duke humanities dean, explains why the project is important to the humanities:

“Adding women not just as token representatives, but as full-fledged participants in the Western philosophical canon, will do several things at once. It will use digital technology to rectify the history of neglect while modifying the curriculum with an expansion of the canon that is open-ended and ongoing. The idea is that women are not just ‘add-ons’ but fundamental to the discipline historically, and even more so now.”

“There are sociological and institutional reasons to support this proposal given recent attention to gender bias debated among professional philosophers but the strongest reasons are intellectual and pedagogical.”

“This is one of the best opportunities for HWL to help transform a discipline through practical steps that move the issue beyond Duke to the broader world of higher education.”

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