Women & Philosophy

For awhile now, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why I find it so meaningful to have women for philosophy professors this semester.

On one level, the meaningfulness of this is sort of moot: of course I think that women should be included in philosophy, and my professors are women in the discipline, etc. But I don’t think this is quite it. If this were the whole story, I would be more-or-less satisfied to simply know of women in the discipline, right?

This morning, I listened to one of these professors talk about Carol Gilligan, masculine/feminine characteristics, and the way each of us has blended characteristics, to greater or lesser degree.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a different professor talk about social norms for women’s body hair. “Visual alternatives” was a recurring phrase; she and our reading suggested that we have a lack of visual alternatives when it comes to women and shaving. [Your option: shave. Hair is only allowed on your head. And there you need a lot of it, preferably.]

So: I’m smushing these two discussions together to explain why I find it so meaningful to have these women as teachers.

First: I identify with feminine characteristics, on the whole. I was a little bit surprised, earlier this semester, to read Simone De Beauvoir writing, “if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman.'” But after some thought, I realized that although I don’t think I would say this first, “woman” is nonetheless towards the top of my list of defining characteristics. (I also identify with a whole heap of masculine traits (like, hmm, maybe rational) – but I’m speaking in general terms here.)

Then, point two: these women – because they too structure their identity, at least in part, in being a woman – are sort of like “visual” alternatives. They represent and embody and act out the possibility of being philosophical and feminine both. They are role models in a rather literal sense of the term: they model for me the conjunction of the “role” philosopher and the “role” woman.

And I hadn’t realized, until now, just how much I needed these sorts of role models.

Saint Catherine’s Disputation with the Philosophers