The Breakthrough Voice 10th May, 2019

Philosophy Is An Exclusive Club That States: ‘White Men Only’.

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational arguments and systematic presentation. Philosophical inquiry is a central element in the intellectual history of many civilizations. From the era of philosophical awakening, be it the ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary eras, the percentage of acknowledged women in the thinking sphere has remained low. As a matter of fact, this discrimination can be seen in all spheres – be it politics, medical and technical fields, education, etc. So, when one thinks about the reasons behind this difference, one of the reasons could be less available opportunities for women for in the learning and working sphere.

Philosophy has been ranked as among the best subjects in the world. A scholar in this subject is well versed in the study of general and fundamental concerns such as existence, knowledge, matter, values, reason, mind, and language. Even the word ‘Philosophy’ comes from the Greek words for ‘love of wisdom’ and wisdom has always been gender neutral. In the ancient philosophy of the west, academic philosophy was typically the domain of male philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.

Later, during the 1800s, some colleges began admitting women and giving rise to new generations of female academics. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Education reports that philosophy is one of the least proportionate fields in the humanities with respect to gender dynamics. Jennifer Saul, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, stated in 2015 that women are leaving the subject of philosophy after being harassed. This homogeneity exists in almost all aspects and at all levels of the discipline.

Logic is gender neutral, philosophy is logical, ergo philosophy should be gender neutral.

Susan Price argues that the philosophical canon remains dominated by white men and caters to the myth that genius is tied to gender. Be it less women students in the field of education, or less researchers, or women professors. According to Saul, “Philosophy, the oldest of the humanities, is also the malest (and the whitest)”. When we talk about subjects like gender, education, inequality and feminism, most of the time one refers to the differences women face in relation to first and third world countries.

The problems that women from first world countries face comprise unequal pay, violation of reproductive health, etc, whereas women from third world countries face issues that consist of lack of basic education, right to life and choice in marriage. Women have always been unwelcome in the workplace, subject to stereotypes based on the gendered division of work or looked down upon as individuals. To quote the German philosopher Hegel, “women’s minds are not adapted to the higher sciences, philosophy, or certain of the arts”. This quote is highly discourteous for female philosophers and students.

When we talk about philosophers from these third world countries or Indian philosophers per se, we find that the Indian school of thought is divided into two main classes: the orthodox and the unorthodox. The basic difference these two are the beliefs in god, soul and rebirth. The main orthodox schools are Nyaya, Mimamsa, Sankhaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga and Vedanta. The main heterodox schools are Buddhism, Jainism and Charvaka. Many different philosophers have critiqued their theories.

As a student of philosophy, one should question the lack of women in Indian philosophy. So many of us are opting for humanities nowadays and no doubt so many of us might have opted for philosophy in the past too. But evidently there are no signs of women thinkers, philosophers or even critics from the past that we have heard of. From generations to generations, the reality of this issue has been based on the supremacy of men over women, women not being able to voice their opinions, gender stereotypes, among others. So, do we really need a different reason for this question – why are women thinkers so less in number?

Year after year, students of philosophy are kept unaware about the contribution of female thinkers.

Logic is gender neutral, philosophy is logical, ergo philosophy should be gender neutral. It a bitter truth that whenever we start with philosophy, there are mostly white men involved in the philosophical thesis. Women have always been considered as emotional beings whereas men as rational and logical and thus the contribution of women to the subject was deliberately acknowledged as unproductive for the world. Year after year, students of philosophy are kept unaware about the contribution of female thinkers.

Undoubtedly, the reasons would possibly be not taking women’s ambitions as seriously as men’s, not believing in their work, not appreciating their writings, not letting them publish and not providing them with the required funding. As a student of philosophy, finding female writers only in feminist theories feels both empowering, with respect to the women’s movement, as well as domineering as a philosopher. All these years, our thought process has been polished with the same masculine pattern of thinking, which was leaving a serious mark in the thinking process of all it’s readers.

As a philosophy student since five years and a research aspirant, I find the gender gap very domineering. Its like climbing a big rocky mountain or a big flight of stairs, and when one reaches for the final door – the sign on that door says ‘only men allowed’. We as women having been facing this discrimination from all aspects. Yes, we as women, may enjoy or take it as a duty to be at home, or raising kids on our own, or purchasing groceries – but this decision of ours should be the same as our decision of being in the office, staying late at work, proving our hard work, etc. No one other than ourselves must be allowed to make this judgement for ourselves. Why is it that even after being so capable in our fields men think of us as lacking the insight to revolutionise philosophy? Or is it possible that men are just not yet prepared for us?

Also Read: Everyday Gender Biases In School And Life: A Personal Reflection


Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: The Daily Dot

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