July 18, 2019 | 85° F

Predicament within philosophy is gender inequality

Opinion Column: Waxing Philosophical

This past Wednesday, I attended a discussion about being a woman in philosophy, presented by the Department of Philosophy here on campus. While making my way to the fifth floor of the Gateway Transit Building, I tried to gather some sense on what exactly the problem was with gender inequality, and more importantly, how to be an ally. A short ring and a few steps later, I was seated in a room of at least 15 people, most of whom were female graduate philosophy students, others were mostly female undergraduate students and the rest were faculty. I am pleased to be part of a University where gender inequality is not entirely prevalent, but still some of the issues presented were not ones expected in the year 2015, on a modern campus, in the Northeast no less!

Some key points of induction included the problem of the loud, unruly male classmates who always raise their hand and speak over others, failure of certain faculty in multiple disciplines to accommodate women in class discussion and even worse, the failure to respect what female students have to say, sometimes even praising male students for a similar response without even acknowledging the previous.

Immediately, I figured out what the problem was, or at least what created such nonsense in academia. The courageous 19th-century suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, once wrote in a letter to Susan B. Anthony, “Woman’s degradation is in man’s idea of his sexual rights. Our religion, laws, customs, are all founded on the belief that woman was made for man.” She would go on to blend her religiosity and social activism to help ensure that the idea of equality was never forgotten. The problem, you see, are people like myself.

Being exceptionally outspoken, with a stentorian voice that could make any classroom ring with despair (usually about irrelevant topics, such a buffoon I am). I, a white, privileged male with desires to be in philosophy and the social ability to speak out, have never used my privilege for such a worthy cause. I, you see, am part of the problem — or at least I was part of the problem or so I’d like to think.

“À raconter ses maux, souvent on les soulage,” goes the old French proverb, and perhaps such is the case. Silence on any given injustice, I’ve come to find, makes one just as culpable as the scum who forward and support ideas of inequality and hatred. The real problems in philosophy are not whether justified true belief equals knowledge, nor the dichotomy of freewill and determinism. The real problems are men and the society related as such.

Now, challenge yourself to name the first female philosopher. Immediately I thought of the well-renowned Hypatia of Alexandria, alive during the fourth century CE. Stop, have you caught my mistake? How can I believe that in 3,000 years of philosophy that Hypatia was the first? Rather, she was the first recorded female philosopher, probably because it has always been men writing the accounts. In fact, the two main accounts for Hypatia come from men, the perhaps pagan or Novatian Socrates Scholasticus and the overly zealous John of Nikiu. (Did I mention that Hypatia was murdered by an angry Christian mob of men?) Could one even claim to have an unbiased perspective on Hypatia without phallic intrusion? History of course, has happened in such a way that none can reclaim the past, but only synthesize old prejudices with a modern sense of reflection to help shape the future we wish to see. I for one want a future where anyone can be in academia and consider philosophy, or any discipline for that matter, without fear of gender or race discrimination or subjection. How can one search for truth in the world when one cannot recognize truth in equality, in matters moral?

Now, an idealist I am, and so I have been told, but surely this cause is no “l’appel du vide.” In what ways can allies of gender equality further the overall aims of ensuring equality? First of all, and something I ought to consider more often, simply shut up and allow those experiencing inequality to speak, and then one ought to listen, and really listen! A problem cannot be solved if it never fully understood. Second, defend your fellow classmates and anyone for that matter, from instances of neglect and injustice. I believe the latter can go without saying, but I’ve said it regardless. Defend your principles and interests, be the change you want to see.

This article is by no means conclusive nor will it be my final attempt at a topic I care deeply about, but hopefully this will allow one to recognize a serious issue at hand. If change is progressive and equality is something worth fighting for, then we as a community ought to stand with each other and ensure the quality education and experience we all want.

Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences junior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Friday's.

Jonathan Finnerty

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