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Women in philosophy

Women have engaged in philosophy throughout the field's history. While there were women philosophers since ancient times, and a relatively small number were accepted as philosophers during the ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary eras, particularly during the 20th and 21st century, almost no woman philosophers have entered the philosophical Western canon.

In ancient philosophy in the West, while academic philosophy was typically the domain of male philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, female philosophers such as Hipparchia of Maroneia (active ca. 325 BC), Arete of Cyrene (active 5th–4th century BC) and Aspasia of Miletus (470–400 BC) were active during this period. A notable medieval philosopher was Hypatia (5th century). Notable modern philosophers included Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850). Influential contemporary philosophers include Susanne Langer (1895–1985), Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), Mary Midgley (born 1919), Mary Warnock (born 1924), Julia Kristeva (born 1941), Patricia Churchland (born 1943) and Susan Haack (born 1945).

  • "Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or sexually directed remarks constitute sexual harassment when submission to such conduct is made a condition of academic or employment decisions, or when such conduct persists despite its rejection."
  • "Sexual harassment is a serious violation of professional ethics, and should be regarded and treated as such by members of the profession. Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited discrimination when an institution or individual employee is aware of a sexually hostile environment and condones, tolerates or allows that environment to exist. Colleges and universities should supply clear, fair institutional procedures under which charges of sexual harassment on campus can be brought, assessed, and acted on."
  • "Complaints of sexual harassment at APA-sponsored activities should be brought to the chair of the committee for the defense of professional rights of philosophers or, if they arise in the context of placement activities, to the APA ombudsperson. Complaints of sexual harassment by or against APA staff members should be brought to the chair of the board."
  • Differential treatment: male and female university students may be treated differently in the classroom.
  • Vicious circle: female students do not feel inclined to study philosophy because of a lack of contact with female philosophy professors.
  • Misleading statistics: university administrators focus on gender representation in the humanities overall, which obscures the disparity in philosophy.
  • Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) was an English social theorist and political writer, often cited as the first female sociologist. She wrote books and essays from a sociological, holistic, religious, domestic, and feminine perspective. In Society in America, she criticised the state of women's education, stating that the "intellect of women is confined by an unjustifiable restriction" of access to education; she urged women to become well-educated and free.
  • Harriet Taylor Mill (1807–1858) was a philosopher and women's rights advocate. In John Stuart Mill's autobiography, he claimed she was the joint author of most of the books and articles published under his name. He stated that "when two persons have their thoughts and speculations completely in common it is of little consequence, in respect of the question of originality, which of them holds the pen." Together, they wrote "Early Essays on Marriage and Divorce", published in 1832. The debate about the nature and extent of her collaboration is ongoing.
  • Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was an American journalist, critic, philosopher and women's rights advocate. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. She was an advocate of women's rights and, in particular, women's education and the right to employment. Many other advocates for women's rights and feminism, including Susan B. Anthony, cite Fuller as a source of inspiration.
  • Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825–1921) was the first woman to be ordained as a mainstream Protestant minister in the United States. She was a well-versed public speaker on controversial issues such as abolition of slavery and she sought to expand women's rights. In 1873 Blackwell founded the Association for the Advancement of Women.
  • Victoria, Lady Welby (1837–1912) was a self-educated English philosopher of language. She was published articles in the leading English language academic journals of the day, Mind and The Monist. She published her first philosophical book, What Is Meaning? Studies in the Development of Significance in 1903, following it with Significs and Language: The Articulate Form of Our Expressive and Interpretive Resources in 1911. Welby's concern with the problem of meaning included (perhaps especially) the everyday use of language, and she coined the word significs for her approach. Welby's theories on signification anticipated contemporary semantics, semiotics, and semiology.
  • Bertha von Suttner (1843–1914) was a Czech-Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Suttner's pacifism was influenced by the writings of Immanuel Kant, Henry Thomas Buckle, Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin and Leo Tolstoy (Tolstoy praised Die Waffen nieder!).
  • Helene von Druskowitz (1856–1918) was an Austrian philosopher, writer and music critic. She was the second woman to obtain a Doctorate in Philosophy, which she obtained in Zürich. She usually published under a male alias because of the predominant sexism of the era.
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) was an American feminist, sociologist, novelist, writer and social reformer. Her short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" became a bestseller. The story is about a woman who suffers from mental illness after three months of being closeted in a room by her husband. She argued that the domestic environment oppressed women through the patriarchal beliefs upheld by society. Gilman argued that women's contributions to civilization, throughout history, have been halted because of an androcentric culture. She argued that women were the underdeveloped half of humanity. She believed economic independence would bring freedom and equality for women.
  • Alanen, Lilli, and Witt, Charlotte, eds., 2004. Feminist Reflections on the History of Philosophy, Dordrecht/Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  • Alcoff, Linda Martin. Singing in the Fire: Stories of Women in Philosophy by Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003.
  • Antony, Louise. “Different Voices or Perfect Storm: Why Are There So Few Women in Philosophy?” in the Journal of Social Philosophy.
  • Arisaka, Yoki. “Asian Women: Invisibility, Locations, and Claims to Philosophy” in Women of Color in Philosophy.
  • Deutscher, Penelope, 1997. Yielding Gender: Feminism, Deconstruction and the History of Philosophy, London and New York: Routledge.
  • Haslanger, Sally. “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)” in Hypatia (Spring 2008)
  • Haslanger, Sally (2011). "Are We Breaking the Ivory Ceiling?". Philosophical Studies. 156 (1): 33–63. 
  • Hollinger, David. The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II
  • Kourany, Janet A. “How Do Women Fare in Philosophy Journals? An Introduction,” APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy 10, no. 1 (Fall 2010): 5.
  • Lloyd, Genevieve (ed.), 2002. Feminism and History of Philosophy (Oxford Readings in Feminism), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Okin, Susan Moller, 1979. Women in Western Political Thought, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • O'Neill, Eileen, 1998. “Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and Their Fate in History,” in Janet Kourany (ed.), Philosophy in a Feminist Voice: Critiques and Reconstructions, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Paxton, Molly; Figdor, Carrie Figdor, and Valerie Tiberius. “Quantifying the Gender Gap: An Empirical Study of the Underrepresentation of Women in Philosophy”, part of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology’s Diversity initiatives.
  • Tarver, Erin C. “The Dismissal of Feminist Philosophy and Hostility to Women in the Profession,” APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy 12, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 8.
  • Tuana, Nancy, 1992. Woman and the History of Philosophy, New York: Paragon Press.
  • Waithe, Mary Ellen (ed.), 1987–1991. A History of Women Philosophers (Volumes 1–3), Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishing.
  • Warnock, Mary (ed.), 1996. Women Philosophers, London: J.M. Dent.
  • Witt, Charlotte (2006). "Feminist Interpretations of the Philosophical Canon". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 31 (2): 537–552. doi:10.1086/491677. 


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