Five more quick thoughts on Sally Haslanger’s important paper.
- It really is important to get some data on what is happening at the undergraduate level. In my experience, lower level undergraduate courses are whiter and maler than the student body, and upper level undergrad classes are demographically much more similar to the demographics of the philosophy faculty than they are to the undergraduate community as a whole. I suspect that if we fixed this problem, and had more non-(white males) majoring in philosophy and going on to grad school, a lot of other problems would look a lot more tractable. Compiling this data will cost money, but I think it is a worthwhile expense.
- I think people who have never been in such a position can very often underestimate how disconcerting it can be to be the only member of a demographically marked group. When I first moved to America I naturally gravitated to other foreigners, because I never felt comfortable being the only foreigner. This gradually passed; it is a lot easier to become one of the locals than one of the boys, especially if you speak the same language. But it’s a real issue. This is one of (many) reasons why I think demographic diversity is more important in hiring than diversity of research focus. A more diverse faculty (and graduate program) will simply do better work. (See the previous point for another reason for favouring demographic diversity.)
- The data that Haslanger presents about journal publications is, as she is careful to note, hard to make much of unless matched with data about submission rates. Quickly eyeballing some data, I’d say that the rate at which women submit to Phil Review is roughly similar to the rate that Phil Review publishes papers by women, for example. And we certainly haven’t been flooded with papers on feminism, for instance.
- Haslanger doesn’t quite say that she thinks making refereeing more anonymous will be a solution to the problem, but seems to suggest this. (If I’m misreading what Haslanger is saying, I apologise in advance.) I suspect this isn’t going to be particularly helpful, though I’m far from certain here. First, my rough sense is that non-anonymous publications (Phil Perspectives, Oxford Studies in X) have been publishing more women (though perhaps not more minorities) than the blind review journals. Second, this might be self-serving, but I suspect unconscious discrimination is more of an issue at this time than conscious discrimination. I mean, I can’t imagine thinking “I’m not going to publish this because it’s by a woman.” But I can imagine thinking “I’m not going to publish this because it doesn’t have features X, Y or Z that I regard as key virtues of a philosophy paper,” where, in practice, virtues X, Y or Z are virtues that are more commonly found in papers written by men than by women. (For a sense of what X, Y and Z might be, see the violence metaphors at the start of Haslanger’s paper.) When I’m evaluating papers as part of applications (for junior faculty positions or grad school) I can adjust for this a little. If nothing else, I can look back at my judgments, note I’ve only been promoting male files, and go looking for the good files from women I must have missed. Blind refereeing makes this impossible. In short, blind refereeing will at best lead us to a kind of equal opportunity; given the possibility/probability of unconscious biases amongst the judges, affirmative action might be the better solution.
- Obviously one of the solutions to the previous problem would be to have more women editing major journals, making hiring decisions, ranking grad school applications, running the philosophy major so as to encourage more women to be in philosophy etc. That is, remove the unconscious biases physically! But this can’t really work for an obvious reason – there aren’t enough women to do all these jobs because the profession hasn’t been doing enough work at recruiting and retaining women. In practice, a lot of the work at trying to make the profession more diverse has fallen on a few shoulders. Unless we can clone people like Sally Haslanger (and my colleague-to-be Howard McGary) who put in superhuman amounts of service to the profession, we will need to rely on institutional measures like affirmative action. Having said that, it would be good to have more women editing leading journals. One nice effect of Cornell doing reasonably well in terms of hiring women in the last couple of years is that eventually the editorship of the Review should be more balanced, and hopefully the same thing can happen at other top journals.
Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized