Katy Waldman puzzles over the absence of women in philosophy, where “fewer women are earning doctorates in Plato’s (and Mary Wollstonecraft’s) discipline than in the notoriously male fields of math, economics, and chemistry”:
According to one estimate, only 21.9 percent of the tenure-track faculty in 51 philosophy graduate programs were women in 2011 (and the percentage of black woman professors was vanishingly small). Then Linda Martín Alcoff, from Hunter College, zeroed in on one explanation for the gender gap: that female would-be philosophers are deterred by the academy’s combative, “rough-and-tumble” style of debate. (She refuses to smear these women as too fragile; instead, she argues, prominent members of the community have a duty to “check in” with those who wield less power, especially after eviscerating them in discussion section.) Next, Cambridge University’s Rae Langton held the emblematic image of the philosopher up to the light. That stern, gray-bearded man—a “serious, high-minded Dumbledore”—creates a stereotype threat for any thinker who looks less white or male, she claims, meaning that women and blacks may underperform because they don’t feel like “proper” philosophers.
She points to a 2005 article by Camille Paglia, who figured contemporary women are simply uninterested in joining a dying field:
Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. The entire way we approach the world has changed. Philosophy once claimed to provide a rigorous method to search for the meaning of life, and it was a precious substitute for dogmatic religion. But in modern times, religion among the educated classes in Europe and North America has lost ground, and intellectuals are neglecting the basic human need to find answers. Philosophers are now at the margin. Philosophy has shrunk in reputation and stature – it’s an academic exercise.