Philosophy & Gender

Does philosophy have a gender?

Interestingly enough, this depends on what one believes about knowledge.  Throughout history, many in the field felt that abstract reasoning and logic had no relationship with gender.  Truths could be revealed and everyone who used the correct methods and the correct information would get correct answers.

This way of looking at it made it both better and worse for women because it meant that learning philosophy written by men would not be a waste of women’s timeee but it also meant that women’s ways of thinking and doing things were not considered to have anything of exceptional or particular philosophical value.  This meant that any female who received the training and used her mind correctly would be reliably able to do philosophy and it also meant that if she noticed any kind of ‘gender bias’ in the field she could be accused of having just imagined it or of suffering from some flaw or fault – possibly due to her gender.

Over thousands of years, women have now and then at least been able to contribute to the field, often by teaching or assisting.  In many nations there were major setbacks and lots of confusion regarding what information women had and what they (we) did with it and what men knew and how they handled that information.

In many cultures religion and philosophy were inseparable for centuries, including in Europe due to censorship and the religions of the governments in which work was done.

By the end of the 20th century, women and men worked together well enough that women came up with new books and articles outlining the most noteworthy philosophically active women of Europe and North America.  While it was intimidating that it was harder to find as many brilliant female philosophers as men it was also encouraging that there were women who managed to do something that has survived to this day.

Cultures in which the female people received better education and opportunities show the greatest rise in female activity within the field of higher quality.  In the 20th century the prominent female philosopheresses (British English / old fashioned English) were:  Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Carol Gilligan, Luce Irigaray and Ayn Rand.  The first was a Jewish woman when there was drama about that in Eruope, 2 were French and 2 were Americans.  Ayn Rand was a rich conservative who worked more outside of academia whereas Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir were the most ‘respectable within academic circles’ during their lives.

Does it matter?

Simone and Luce – French women, did at least some writing in philosophy specifically about women and gender.  They broke one of the sad molds from the male philosophers of being insulting about women at best.  Some of it was outright hostility and some of it was nothing more than male environments in which men are right to tell each other to not be women instead of men.

There were relationships between class, and civil rights conditions in time and place that had an intimate bearing on who was able to do what.  In the case of women, better conditions did tend to yield better results.  The ability to do extraordinarily well in philosophy is uncommon in both genders but to be able t learn logic as well as math is something that everyone can do with proper education – whether done privately or at a public school.

Ayn Rand’s Objectivism has virtually nothing to do with gender at all, but as a person and thinker she was of course affected by being a woman.  Much of the work done by both women and men in philosophy has no clear nor direct relationship to gender or gender issues.

For those who feel effected or like their gender is important to their thinking then some reading of philosophical works involving gender and about gender differences would probably be valuable and helpful whether a man or a woman.  For those teaching in the field one may well get both types of students and well educated is better prepared to adeptly address student questions or problems.









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