Women in Philosophy
To continue with the "topical" posts:
Some of us on occasion remark on the differences in tone of philosophical exchanges between men and those between women. I confess that I sometimes fail to see what's going on in exchanges between men, and I'm sure the reverse happens, as well. And I often find myself blaming gender for frustrations with philosophical discourse. Yet I also tend to think that gender is not what I ought to be blaming--if I ought to be blaming anything at all--, but something like cognitive styles, which vary along lines that correlate with, without being equivalent to, those of gender. Whether gender itself is a social construction or contains natural kinds is not terribly interesting to me; I would prefer to avoid positing anything external as far as possible. It may, of course, turn out that there is no other option if we want to make progress with respect to specific gender issues; but since I'm concerned with philosophy, and philosophy consists of conversation and thinking, I'm under the illusion that certain differences that fall within that domain don't need to be blamed but owned up to.
Earlier this semester, wondering if others had wondered about differences in philosophical method that tend to correllate strongly (but not exclusively) with gender lines, I found this post at Sappho's Breathing, which suggests that philosophical subfields are "gendered." Hence the title, "Real Men Do Metaphysics." It's a suggestive post, but the correlations don't match up with my experience. What might match up with my experience is a difference in method, regardless of subject matter.
What I mean by "method" must be combination of things, temperamental and cognitive. It's not clear where to draw the line between the two, or which can be rightly given "external" explanations and which cannot. For instance, women talking philosophy tend to be less careful of each other's pride; the interaction tends to be less tense, whereas men often tend towards combativeness. This difference is hard to internalize; it's difficult to think of it as anything more than "beyond one's control."
But combativeness often goes hand in hand with analytic method. Previously, I have referred to this as the "hunt-and-kill" method of philosophy and contrasted it with (what else?) the "gathering" method. Clearly, analytic thinking cannot be dispensed with in analytic philosophy. Nevertheless, I confess to having a preference for getting all the details onto the table before one starts analyzing things; and I prefer that analysis make the problem messier, not cleaner. To what extent these preferences are "gender-based" I don't know. But they are preferences that seem to be more "within one's control" than broader temperamental differences.
About the analytic approach combined with combativeness, Cleis had this to say: "I'm concerned that a primarily adversarial approach to philosophical argument alienates many smart women, who then turn their attention to other fields of study. That is philosophy's loss. I'm also concerned that philosophical talent is recognized most often when it's delivered in an aggressive package" , "The Brights and the adversary method" (no, one has nothing to do with the other).
The broad question I want to ask is, To what degree can the differences between the ways women and men approach to philosophy be ascribed to gender? Will the line be drawn at differences in aggressiveness and social hierarchy issues, or will cognitive differences also come into play? And if cognitive differences do come into play, should we think of them as gender differences? My worry regarding the last issue is that, as intellectuals with responsibilities to understand and make ourselves intelligible to others, there may be very good reasons why we shouldn't blame cognitive differences on (or for) anything.
It's possible, too, that my division of gender differences in philosophy into those that are "beyond one's control" and those that are "within one's control" is just an attempt to knock against the former with the latter, which may or may not be helpful.