Gender Balance in Intro Philosophy Reading Lists

This interesting announcement was recently posted at Feminist Philosophers.

We are seeking suggestions for papers to include in a database of women-authored papers that would be suitable for undergraduate teaching. The database is intended to facilitate the selection of texts written by women to be included in philosophy undergraduate teaching. The database will be freely accessible online, and is intended to be up and running by mid-2010. We aim for a pilot version to be ready by the end of 2009.

This project is funded by a Macquarie University Competitive Learning and Teaching Grant, awarded to a team from the Philosophy Department. We are happy to provide more information if that should be useful. Thanks in advance for your assistance,

Cynthia Townley, Albert Atkin, Mitch Parsell and Swantje Lorrimer

This sounds like a great project, and I encourage people to contribute any suggestions they have.

Quite coincidentally, I had the idea the other day of putting together a syllabus for an intro philosophy class that only featured female authors. I’ve seen several such classes with all male reading lists, but I’d never seen an all female one. I’m interested in why so many intro classes in philosophy have an uneven gender balance, and one hypothesis is that (some) women are put off by all-male reading lists.

So I went to a few prominent anthologies used in intro teaching, and thought I’d start making lists of all the papers by women I found in them. I’m really bad at telling which papers will work in intro classes, so I use those big anthologies a lot as a guide to what I can get away with teaching. But I quit fairly soon after I started down that road, because it clearly wasn’t going to help.

All the anthologies I looked at had not a single paper by a woman that wasn’t on ethics. Admittedly I only looked at a handful of readers, and if I’d kept searching I would have found one or two papers by women on areas other than ethics that had been included in the standard readers. But still, I think this is a bit terrible, especially in readers with 100 or so articles.

So instead I started thinking about what an intro ethics course with only female authors would look like. And since there are lots of readers designed just for ethics courses, I thought they would be a better place to get started. But this wasn’t much better. Most of the big ethics readers still had 75% or more male-authored articles. If I wanted to stick to articles in prominent readers, I could have scraped together a course that talked about the difference between Deontological and Virtue theoretic approaches to ethics (the consequentialist sections of readers were inevitably all-male), and then some applied sections on abortion and pornography.

Now it’s probably not true that the ideal course would have only women on the reading list, any more than the ideal course would have only men on the reading list. But I would like to see what difference it makes to enrollments to have a more gender-balanced (and more racially-balanced) reading list. And having a few more gender balanced readers wouldn’t be a terrible way to start towards that. Neither would the database that Prof Townley and her collaborators are putting together.

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