In the comments on a recent post by Eric Schliesser, it was noted that the participants in the conference Eric was taking note of are all male. Since there are many highly qualified women who could have given talks on the topic of the conference, an opportunity was missed to include one or more women in a very visible venue.
As Margaret Atherton said in a comment on Eric’s post, it’s not that the speakers invited aren’t highly qualified. The issue is not that less-qualified males are being promoted at the expense of more-qualified females. It is, as the Gendered Conference Campaign argues, that other harms are very likely to be brought about, and benefits foregone, when those in positions of power or authority (conference organizers, speakers, commentators, chairs, and so forth) are all male.
Another very visible venue is book series that have volumes devoted to individual philosophers. How many women are so honored? [Update: Just to be very clear, in those series that include volumes other than volumes devoted to individual philosophers, I am taking into account only those volumes that are devoted to individual philosophers. The Oxford Very Short series, for example, includes volumes authored by women, but as far as I can tell, none of the volumes devoted to an individual is authored by a woman.]
In Routledge’s Arguments of the Philosophers, which began thirty years ago, all the arguers are male. Two of the authors, on the other hand, are female: Margaret Wilson (1982) and Eleonore Stump (2005).
In Routledge’s Great Philosophers series all eighteen great philosophers and all the authors writing about them are male.
The Oxford Very Short Introductions series (warning: gross misuse of Flash) includes no women among its dozen or so philosophers.
The Cambridge Companions include Arendt and Beauvoir, and there are also Companions to Feminism and to Feminist Theology.
Nor does Princeton’s Philosophy Now series include any women among its seven figures. Women appear neither as subjects nor as authors.
Continuum’s Guides for the Perplexed, a series weighted toward theology, offers plenty of help on plenty of topics, but apparently no-one is perplexed about any woman philosopher or theologian. One volume, on Deleuze, has a female author—Claire Colebrook.
Had these series included (as the Cambridge Companions do) Arendt or Beauvoir (or in the case of Philosophy Now, any of a number of prominent women working now), that would have made very firmly the point that some great philosophers are women. Had more of the top-ten names among the great philosophers been given to women authors, the very useful point would have been made that a woman has what it takes to tackle Plato or Descartes or Hegel. Almost all such opportunities were missed…
Let me forestall an objection. Series on great philosophers must take the collection of individuals so described as it is; but the condition of women in the past is such that there have been very few great women philosophers until recently; and so the paucity of women in those series is owing not to bias but to the absence of suitable subjects. I’ll grant for the moment the basis of the objection (but on women philosophers in the past see Nancy Tuana, Elisabeth Lloyd, Eileen O’Neill, and M. E. Waithe).
The reply is twofold: first, even without consulting the works just mentioned there are clearly candidates to be subjects in any such series, and of course there are many candidates to be authors. (And do we really need male author X to write his sixth introduction to great philosopher Y? One good reason to diversify choices is to introduce new faces…)
Second, the canon is not immutable. In accepting it as it has been bequeathed to us, we ratify the prejudices that helped give it the shape it has. Why not oppose them instead by engaging in a bit of creative canon formation? Every series of “greats” offers an opportunity to alter the canon. The history of mathematics is a case in point. A formerly all-male cast has been enlarged to include Emmy Noether at the highest rank, and at the next rank Sophie Germain, Maria Agnesi, and Sofia Kovalevskaya (to mention only three from before 1900). No history of mathematics now can ignore these women. That didn’t come about by chance or by inexorable progress, but by the continued efforts of mathematicians attentive to the manner in which their canon had been shaped by prejudice. We philosophers have made progress. But the data above suggest that we are still not doing very well in rethinking our canon.
Someday there will be nothing special about a conference or series in which women are on an equal footing. But that day won’t come unless people attend to their actions with gender in mind. Doing what comes naturally, in this as in other instances of entrenched inequality, won’t do.