Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Perpetuating Gender Norms

Brit Brogaard, summarizing Elizabeth Minnich, writes:
[T]he problem of the status of women in philosophy... wouldn't have been solved if there were 50% women but the 50% felt pressured to behave like men and do male-style philosophy.

While I agree in part (see below), I don't like the implication that there is a particular way that "men" behave, or a peculiarly "male style" of philosophy (or anything else, for that matter). Such labels risk perpetuating existing gender norms, which impose oppressive expectations on men and women alike.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that women shouldn't be forced into becoming analytic metaphysicians, or participating in "the 'old-boy's' network of drinking & smoking and forming bonds", as a precondition for career success in philosophy. But my objection is that it's not essentially a gender issue. Nobody -- male or female -- should have to conform to a parochial mould.

The virtue of "difference feminism" is that it casts a critical eye on previously unquestioned norms, exposing their parochial nature. This is hugely valuable. But while the lens of gender may prove a useful investigative instrument in this regard, it may distort our subsequent evaluations if we're not careful. Uncritical relativism should be avoided -- for example, if logic and violence are gendered as "male", that doesn't make either illogic or violence defensible. Gender is fundamentally irrelevant; the underlying norms should be assessed on their own merits. And if found to be unreasonable, they shouldn't be imposed on anyone.

Related posts: on affirmative action in academia, the liberal case against "diversity", and indirect or "implicit" discrimination.


  1. Is that true? Farsi has a great number of feminine endings and may be characterized as slanted toward females as a language, yet Iran is a male dominated society.
    It probably depends on whether a society is matriachal, patriarchal,or androgynous.

  2. I don't necessarily like to call certain kinds of philosophy 'male-style philosophy' (Minnich didn't use this term per se). But I do agree with the speakers at the session that the female gender schema may (or does) clash with the philosophy schema. Stereotypes are hard to kill.


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