Monday, June 14, 2010

21 percent

This call for papers posted on a blog that I recently started browsing, Feminist Philosophers, notes that "a mere 21% of professional philosophers" (I assume in academia / higher ed in the United States) are women. Not sure whether or not I should be surprised. I guess I am. While it is true that gender equity certainly has not been achieved in anthropology, I think about my department, my teachers and friends in graduate school, and the scholars whose work I most admire - a strong representation of women.

That said, the number of women represented on my "Traditions" syllabi were scarce - Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Nancy Munn. I had to read Audrey Richards, Emily Martin, and Marilyn Strathern on my own time. Also, I find problematic the discourse on the so-called feminization of anthropology - the number of undergraduate majors, the number of graduate students - as it suggests something inherently wrong with there being so many women studying and practicing in the discipline. Not to mention that feminization seems to fade higher in the ranks of the professoriate.

This leads me to throw in my two cents on other posts that I read on the FP blog - see here and here - responding to this column by New York Times columnist John Tierney, which I had missed.

StraightMan, attending a 3-week seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, notes the marginal number both of women at all and of men with young children participating. (The participants include philosophers, economists, historians, and a pair of anthropologists. So, interdisciplinary crosstalk no doubt prevails...)

In fact, there was a kind of scandal with another NEH seminar that had required a female participant, a single mother, to provide evidence that she had arranged full-time child-care, lest she be dropped from the seminar. (Inside Higher Ed reported on it, here, following up on posts on Feminist Philosophers. Way to go, FP!)

Given the demands of the seminars, I cannot see any way that one could participate to one's own satisfaction without full-time child-care: It is a reason that I am here with Beanie and Bubbie, and StraightMan is there.

However. I think it highlights the ways in which opportunities for women become limited. If we "choose" to opt out, then it is because our choices already have been constrained. (I am not a philosopher, but I am certain that cannot really be called a choice then.) For example, I also had considered applying to an NEH seminar, then decided against it. I am the mother of two young children and the wife of a talented scholar about to start his sabbatical. I cannot imagine either being away from them for 3 weeks or alternatively, having them all with me at the seminar.

It also highlights the ways in which men's roles and responsibilities outside the family become emphasized. Why give up the satisfaction, the respect, and the privileges of work in favor of sharing the obligations to young children?

So, if the NEH and other institutions, including colleges and universities, truly are interested in supporting and promoting women in academia / higher ed, then they ought to make available to everyone affordable (I say free) high-quality child-care.

Universal child-care along the lines of universal health-care! Although we see in the United States how much Americans continues to abhor what might benefit them.


  1. Straight-man here to say that the 21% female figure from philosophy definitely holding up at this NEH conference, and the slight correction to the post to say that not only are there few women, to my knowledge none of them are in the throes of childcare. There are other men here with small children but they either left the family behind (thank you, sweetie!) or in one case the spouse came along two with the two kids.

  2. Touched a raw nerve here. I would love to go to an NEH seminar but that is not happening while my kids are young. 3 weeks is a long time to be away from your kids.

    Also, about the abundance of women in anthropology: it is one reason my life as a professor has been a downhill slide. I got so used to that in grad school, being surrounded by wonderful women. Then I got to small college in the boonies where I am now the only woman in my dept. You would not believe the stuff I am supposed to put up with. Grrrr.