I’ve talked about Sally Haslanger’s “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)” before – last October – but I’m off to DC tomorrow for the Women in Secularism conference so I feel like talking about it again.
In graduate school I was told by one of my teachers that he had “never seen a first rate woman [in] philosophy and never expected to because women were incapable of having seminal ideas.” I was the butt of jokes when I received a distinction on my prelims, since it seemed funny to everyone to suggest I should get a blood test to determine if I was really a woman. In a seminar in philosophical logic, I was asked to give a presentation on a historical figure when none of the other (male) students were, later to learn that this was because the professor assumed I’d be writing a thesis on the history of philosophy.
In other words…women can’t think.
I suspect this is one reason male atheists kept ignoring female atheists for so long (and some would like to go on ignoring us now). There’s an implicit stereotype that women can’t think, and organized argumentative atheism depends on thinking, so organized argumentative atheism had better keep women out or else it will fill up with stupid women talking about shoes. It will become Real Housewives of Atheism, and who the fuck wants to watch that?
My point here is that I don’t think we need to scratch our heads and wonder what on earth is going on that keeps women out of philosophy. In my experience it is very hard to find a place in philosophy that isn’t actively hostile towards women and minorities, or at least assumes that a successful philosopher should look and act like a (traditional, white) man.
Same again, with atheism replacing philosophy. There’s an implicit assumption that a prominent atheist should look and act like a (traditional, white) man. A woman atheist? Doesn’t compute. Makes the stuffing come out.
Problems arise when schemas clash. Valian uses the example of women in the military (Valian 1998, 122-3). The schema for women has us assume that women are life-giving and nurturing. The schema for the military, of course, has us assume that troops are life-taking and aggressive. In such cases, it is difficult to accept anything that seems to be an instance of both schemas. The deeper the schemas, the more difficult it is to tolerate a conflicting case.
Same again, with atheism replacing the military. Women are nurturing; men are aggressive. It takes aggression to face down god and god’s enforcers.
So, what to do? Persist. Show up. Keep talking. Perform the battle against god with words, which is the only way god can be fought. Be there. Push. Lean. Lean more heavily. Persist.