We need to address the gender disparity in philosophy

Gabriela Mata

When we think of gender disparities in academia, we are immediately drawn to male-dominated fields, such as many STEM majors, where women have been striving towards a more equal playing field. However, one of the biggest subjects with high gender disparity is one you might not expect: philosophy.

Data has revealed that the percentage of women earning their philosophy doctorates is way less than that of women earning doctorates in most physical sciences such as chemistry, economics and mathematics.

Here at UT, the gender gap is also quite noticeable. Of the 40 faculty members listed in the philosophy department, only five are female. Of the tenured or tenure-track faculty in the UT philosophy doctoral program, only 14 percent are female.

UT must improve the gender gap within its philosophy department by introducing more female philosophical literature or hiring female philosophy professors and accepting more female students.

Philosophy and government senior Haley Porterfield said she believes this disparity exists because the mainstream field of philosophy has yet to be introspective on the matter.

“Philosophy majors are really good at looking outside of themselves and picking apart why things operate and how they play out in the real world,” Porterfield said. “Yet, not one professor has dared to seriously broach the subject of why the majority of our field being men tend(s) to be an unwelcoming environment for women.”

It seems the learning environment in philosophy is toxic, lecherous and demeaning. Stories from current women in philosophy speak of men in the field stealing their ideas and depict how graduate school for philosophy follows “hallmarks of structural sexism.” This level of gender inequality is startling, and there are UT students who experience this firsthand.

One female philosophy major, who chose to remain nameless, said one of her philosophy professors addressed sexism in the classroom by jokingly asking the class if they felt he had ever been sexist.

When a student pointed out that he never chose female students to lead group discussions, save once, he dismissed the comment.  “I kept thinking of how sad that was because a girl stood up and brought up a relevant gender problem directly impacting her and other female students in her class only to be quickly dismissed by her professor,” she said.

UT and its philosophy department must address this gender disparity. The disparity in philosophy is the result of the men who perpetuate the sexism and stigma.

A straightforward solution would be for the philosophy department to make a conscious effort to study texts written by female philosophers and scholars as well as to discuss the women themselves and the contributions they’ve made. By doing so, UT would be advocating for the voices of women in history and future female philosophers.

Both male and female philosophy professors should investigate this disparity to find biases and address them. Hiring and accepting more female professors and students into the department would also go beyond improving numbers by introducing more unique voices and perspectives to the field that diversify philosophy.

It’s hard to improve something so expansive and stigmatized as a gender gap. Despite such disparity, women should not be afraid to go into the field and pursue their dreams.  

“You’re going to have to work harder to have the same amount of respect. Speak up in class, and don’t be afraid to point out sexist thought patterns that exist within the philosophical literature and that may even be lightly perpetuated by the professors themselves,” said Porterfield. “Don’t be afraid to challenge your male counterparts. Take risks and be bold in your own writing.”

Mata is a psychology sophomore from Houston.