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The Issue With the Lack of Women in Philosophy

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pace chapter.

I want to address issues I’ve noticed while minoring in Philosophy at Pace University. Having been enrolled in three Philosophy classes while at Pace, one fatal flaw I have found impossible to ignore is the scarcity of female philosophers deemed worthy to teach in lectures. Coinciding with this, whether by coincidence or not, the three courses I’ve taken are taught by men. I can’t help but notice the impressively unjust way that the female perspective was, and is currently, being scrubbed from society and history.​

It is hard to argue with the fact that the most well acclaimed historical philosophers, being (but not limited to) Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are men; in fact, many of us wouldn’t know Ancient Greece produced female philosophers as well. In Plato’s symposium, philosopher Diotima of Mantinea is mentioned due to her ideas on love and nature. Diotima explains that love is a spirit, and debates Plato’s explanation of love being a god. This differentiation of perspective is exactly what is missing from these Philosophy classes. The danger of continuing the standard of only teaching the works of male philosophers sets students up to prioritize the patriarchal standard and the male perspective. ​

I don’t love using “the patriarchy.” I realize it’s the correct term, but it feels distant. It separates us as a society from accountability with phrases like “it’s not my fault, that’s just the patriarchy” however, in this case, I will. Plato, Hippocrates, and Aristotle created the foundations of philosophy; with this information, other philosophers expanded these ideas and enforced the sexist ideas of Ancient Greece. While their work isn’t directly sexist, they relate ambiguous topics such as “divine good” to women being inferior and imperfect or neglecting to mention them at all. ​Had women been a part of building the structures of ethics and knowledge, government and morality could have been seen through a more empathetic lens. Women’s emotions may be prosecuted by men deeming them as too sensitive to make accomplishments similar to theirs but, in actuality, their sensitivity to their emotions and the people around them is often used as a defense. It leads me to wonder if society could be better through this light. I don’t mean to imply men are devoid of emotion and empathy. However, past ideals are rooted in misogyny and disregard what we now know to be toxic masculinity.  

The female gaze has recently been recognized in the media: from female artists such as Taylor Swift, Mitski, and Lana Del Ray, who write about women’s perspectives on life and relationships, to Tik Tok trends on what women prefer and how they see themselves. This brings up a thought-provoking question: how much can we say we know about Philosophy if we ignore the thoughts and questions presented by women through the ages. How much are we missing by neglecting the female perspective on philosophical stances like “what does it mean to exist?” People who can give birth understand this statement more than any cisgender male could. Women philosophers express the female perspective, but also often express a side not shown by men. Women are stereotyped to lead by emotion, but maybe that’s what is missing from these male philosophers. Logic and reason can be expanded and related to human emotion.  

In a cisgender male-prioritized world, often women’s voices are muted. Hackett Publishing, a popular name in philosophy books, continues to sell a “Modern Philosophy” book that includes leading thinkers of the time – but doesn’t include any women. ​Descartes, a well-known philosopher, and one of my personal favorites had gotten many ideas regarding the soul from Bohemian Princess Elizabeth, yet she was not given any credit. I’m not going to sit here and complain about history forgetting women (although I could), I’m more upset about the women history has remembered, and schools neglect to teach.  

With philosophy, the topics of women’s rights are often addressed by the women who face inequality because of it. How can you take the questions “are people naturally good or bad” and “what even is goodness” without considering the perception of women?  

Modernly, women philosophers address topics related to what we consider to be social issues. Specifically, black women philosophers have a deeper perspective on humans related to power, diversity, and cultural senses of self than any white philosopher can truly understand and explain. The New York Times produced an article titled “The Pain and Promise of Black Women in Philosophy.” I found that title to be beautiful, the pain and promise, as in the future of diversity apparent in philosophy, and a change in how we know to understand things.  

I can’t help but think about all the argumentative dialogues philosophers write in response to others. How different would our views and outlooks be if women were showcased in philosophy equally to men? I don’t want my education based on these terms. I’m sick of talking about men and the male perception. Philosophy is the love of knowledge, which is not exclusive to gender.  

they/she pace university class of ‘24 political science major lana del ray stan forever <3 I’m interested in writing about the female perspective, bringing light to issues around pace and in general, and talking about good music like Taylor Swift and Phobe Bridgers.