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What is it like for women in philosophy, and in academia as a whole?

During Women’s History Month, the OUP Philosophy team have been focusing on and celebrating Women in Philosophy throughout history and in the present day. The majority of us can think of at least a handful of male philosophers, however it is far more difficult for people to name female philosophers even though often their influence has been just as great as their male counterparts. Women have been outnumbered, overlooked, and unrecorded in academia so it is important for us to bring to light not only female philosophers, but also what it is like for women in philosophy.

Women have persisted throughout history, and still do today, and more and more we are seeing support, optimism, and encouragement for women to step up and be heard – both in society and in academia. It may feel near impossible to have the confidence to be heard, to retain a thick skin with those talking over the top of you, and to recover the lost voices of past female philosophers but times are changing and things are improving.

Below we have a collection of quotes about what it is like for women in philosophy, now and then. We have brought together these quotes from across academia and editorial teams, and from books and journals. Let us know your experience of being a woman in philosophy, or any experiences you’ve witnessed, in the comments below.

“This is an exciting time in philosophy for many reasons, one of them being the enthusiasm around bringing women into the canon at long last. While many philosophers are passionate about their work, there is a special energy among the community that is working hard to make primary materials and scholarship on women philosophers from throughout philosophy’s history into the fold. I’m pleased that OUP supports this movement with various books and series, and look forward to seeing how things will change in the years ahead. As we’ve seen in so many other ways, representation really matters, and we’re likely to see many more brilliant women philosophers enter the field now, inspired by heretofore underappreciated figures from philosophy’s past.”
– Lucy Randall, Editor for Philosophy at Oxford University Press, New York

“There’s no doubt that women face obstacles in our participation in philosophy that men don’t face, but being a woman in philosophy nonetheless presents a golden opportunity. For being a part of the discipline allows us to think about the history of philosophy – including the extensive exclusion of women philosophers from that history – and it allows us to recover the lost voices of women philosophers. In doing so, we are able to make philosophy a more inclusive activity, one that future generations of women can see as more reflective of them and their experiences.”
– Karen Detlefsen, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Education at the University of Pennsylvania and co-editor of Women and Liberty, 1600-1800: Philosophical Essays.

“Most journals operate with a double anonymous review process. At MIND we made the decision to adopt a triple anonymous review process, and so as editors we have the pleasure of finding out who wrote papers only once we have accepted them, and we never know the identity of the authors whose papers we reject. There is no doubt that a triple anonymous review process protects against well-known biases. Not knowing an author’s institution, gender, ethnicity, or name means that the only source of our judgment is the paper submitted and the reviewers’ opinions. That has to be good.

Yet, MIND has a pretty poor record for publishing papers by women. And although it is not significantly worse than the record of its competitors, it has not got much better. Why? Because women do not submit papers to MIND. Those who do actually have a slightly higher chance of being accepted than men who submit. We would like to use this celebration of women’s history month to make two pleas. Our first plea is directed to women philosophers: please submit your papers to MIND. Our second plea is directed to supervisors and mentors of women philosophers: please encourage your women students and mentees and be on the look-out for their habits of self-exclusion, but also be on the look-out for yours of underestimation.”
– Professor AW Moore and Professor Lucy O’Brien, Editors of MIND. Full quote available on the Oxford Journals website.

“Philosophers: deadly serious, combative, nit-picking, and always talking over the top of you. But thankfully that’s just the first-year students. My philosophy colleagues—many of whom are women—have been wonderfully supportive and kind. Some of us are working together to write women back into the history of philosophy. Our research demonstrates that women have always been intensely active in the discipline. Many of these historical thinkers met their fair share of combatants, nit-pickers, and talkers-over-the-top. But others received support and encouragement toward developing their own original ideas and arguments. So much has changed, so much remains the same.”
— Jacqueline Broad, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, author of The Philosophy of Mary Astell, and co-editor of Women and Liberty, 1600-1800: Philosophical Essays.

“In this landmark anniversary year, which marks a century since the enfranchisement of women, I am particularly struck by how far women have come in the academic community. A great deal has changed even in the history of the University of Oxford since 1918; women were soon after granted the right to a full university membership, by 1978 my Alma mater had transformed from the first fledgling women’s college into a progressive and co-educational centre of academia, and in the present day women are not only well-represented at the university but actually form a majority here at Oxford University Press. Philosophy is an academic discipline which has long been dominated by men – though women philosophers have been present and active – and the greater diversity that we are seeing is very welcome. Academic philosophy may have been at one point an overwhelmingly androcentric and Western canon but I am excited by how much the discipline has grown. As female academics face up to this legacy, working to shift the focus of philosophical thought by writing women back into history, publishers play the fulfilling role of helping to make their voices all the more prominent moving forward.”
– April Peake, Assistant Commissioning Editor for Philosophy at Oxford University Press, Oxford

For more of our Women in Philosophy content, check out #WomenInPhilMonth on Twitter.

Featured image credit: The School of Athens by Raphael. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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