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Why are there so few women philosophers?

Why are there so few women philosophers?

Just to respond to afew of Jyl's points.

(1) We practice philosophy according to a sort of lawyers-in-courtmodel. This practice has its downside. It encourages aggression, whichoften impedes rather than promotes progress. And it leads people oftento defend views that they do not strongly believe in, and certainlywouldn't, if they reflected honestly and outside of the context ofthe good fight that they are enjoying. This also can impedeprogress.

Sometimes we'd do better to admit that none of us understands thesubject matter very well - because it is so extremely difficult, notbecause we are thick - and tried to muddle along together.

(2) The combative nature of the practice, and the aggression that thisencourages, have indeed caused very talented philosophers not to enterthe profession. Some of these are men. But I strongly suspect thatmore are women.

If that empirical suspicion of mine were correct, thenthat wouldprovide one among several good reasons for philosophers to consideradopting different and more co-operative modes of interaction.

(3) I think that women tend to favour co-operative modes ofinteraction to combative ones and that in that respect women aresuperior to men.

(4) But then this issue really is very difficult, and, hey, what do Iknow?

The more we learn about genetic determinants to human behaviour, the more, I

The more we learn about genetic determinants to human behaviour, the more, I suspect, we will learn that men and women are intrinsically different in their tendencies and capacities. Could discoveries of this sort ever justify any sort of sexism, or differential treatment of men and women, or is it incumbent upon us to treat men and women equally in a strict sense in any case?

Whether your empirical speculation is correct, it is of course not for philosophers to say. So let's focus on the question. Let's suppose it turns out that women are intrinsically more intelligent than men. Should women then be accorded special treatment as regards education?

To suppose it would be just to accord women special treatment in this situation, one must suppose that it would be just to treat me a certain way simply on the ground that I was a member of a group that, as a whole, had certain characteristics I may or may not myself share. For note that it is consistent with the supposition that women, as a group, are intrinsically more intelligent that men, as a group, that I am the most brilliant person in the world. Why I should suffer some educational disadvantage in this case is very unclear. In short: Unless the differences between the groups are so large as to be essentially exclusive, then differential treatment is unjust, because it results in differential treatment of individuals.

For this reason, I myself find the question whether there are intrinsic differences of the sort you mention of no great interest. There is really no prospect of our discovering that there are differences in intrinsic aptitude for, say, mathematics that are as great as would be required for any policy decision justifiably to take them into account.

Are the psycho-sexual aspects of ourselves fixated from a relatively early age,

Are the psycho-sexual aspects of ourselves fixated from a relatively early age, so that "turn ons" are conditioned if not unalterably then in some way that fixes in ourselves certain ideas about what it is for something to be sexual in nature? Should considerations about this act as impetus to revise any aspects of the media and popular culture, including of course, pornography, which is one of the largest domains of media-culture despite being confined to less blatant forms of presentation (than, say, advertisments for "Big Macs")? Finally, I have the idea that cyber-porn (and to a lesser extent all cyber-sex) is covertly homo-erotic when men use it to get off on "straight" screen sex. This isn't entirely true, sex is sex and breasts are breasts, but the fact that a machine which could be (not unfairly) called a "boys toy" is being used as the platform for a mathematically constructed system of media exchange (viz. the world wide web) that was developed primarily by men. Crucially, the sex scenes...

(1) Are the psycho-sexual aspects of ourselves fixated from a relatively early age, so that "turn ons" [what we find sexually arousing] are conditioned if not unalterably then in some way that fixes in ourselves certain ideas about what it is for something to be sexual [to be sexual or to be sexually arousing?] in nature?

---Some philosophers argue about this. See Ed Stein's edited book, Forms of Desire, on the "essentialism" vs. "social constuctionism" debate. The question appears to be one for psycholgical theory (see Freud, e.g.). Perhaps what philosophers have been doing is to reflect metapsychologically on the issue. Some experimental research has been done on to what extent and how certain sexual desires can be modified (e.g., in the case of pedophilia and rape). See also Sylvere Lotringer, Overexposed: a study in behavioral modification through overstimulation and habituation. (The idea being, if one gets too much of a stimulus, one gets bored of it. Married couples know this well. Works to some extent on other, nonmarital, sexual interests.)

(2) Should considerations about this act as impetus to revise any aspects of the media and popular culture, including of course, pornography, which is one of the largest domains of media-culture despite being confined to less blatant forms of presentation (than, say, advertisments for "Big Macs")?

---Again, a question dealt with by a bunch of social psychologists, e.g., Malamuth, Dinnerstein, Check, Zillman, and others, although philosophers have contributed by asking questions such as: can psychological science really answer questions about the impact of pornography (and advertising), and what are the normative implications, if any, of the (purported) harmfulness of various types of media?

(3a) Finally, I have the idea that cyber-porn (and to a lesser extent all cyber-sex) is covertly homo-erotic when men use it to get off on "straight" screen sex.

---It is probably true to some extent that some males who watch heterosexual porn are primarily interested in the workings and doings of penises. Whether that means they are covertly (or overtly) homo-erotic (homosexual? gay? bisexual? pansexual? polymorphous? etc.) depends exquisitely on how we understand the concept of "sexual orientation." Further, the unconscious is a funny thing. We also know from Kinsey and other studies that on the scale from 0 to 6 (0 = pure het), many more men are 1 and 2 than we ordinarily think. So why believe that the homoerotic component is always or mainly covert?

(3b) This isn't entirely true, sex is sex and breasts are breasts, but the fact that a machine which could be (not unfairly) called a "boys toy" is being used as the platform for a mathematically constructed system of media exchange (viz. the world wide web) that was developed primarily by men.

---So? What does this have to do with the homoeroticism, latent or patent, of cyberseuxal images and the responses of men to them? I am not seeing the connection here.

(3c) Crucially, the sex scenes themselves are heavily male edited, and in many of them there is little left of female sensuality

Grossly false; take a better, more representative look at pornography-- not just the kind you like. :)

(3d) (and, perhaps not coincidentally, a hugely disproportionate screenage of male/female genitilia as compares [compared] to sex in the flesh).

---Oh? Again you misrepresent porn. Futher, the last time I had sex (years ago, I must admit) the time- or attention- proportion of male/female genitalia was large (including oral sex, mutual masturbation, not only coitus), although not exclusive---as compared with what? Ozzie and Harriet? The perfunctory domestic kiss that Kierekegaard rightly made fun of?

(3e) Doesn't that amount to "getting off on" a male conception of sexuality (or one form of it), and if so, can that count as homoerotic?

---Nah. "Getting off on" a male conception of what sexuality is, or is like, or should be, or would be in ideal circumstances, has nothing to do with the images so constructed being homoerotic or appealing to homoeroticism. Indeed, quite the opposite, if the make makers of porn, employing a male take on sexuality, or male hopes and wishes, are heterosexual. You are reaching, stretching, for something that is just not there. Still, it is good to stretch, as long as we can put our muscles back where they belong afterwards.

Would you agree with this statement? Being gay is a choice.

Would you agree with this statement? Being gay is a choice.

There is very good evidence now that "sexual orientation" has alarge genetic component. Whether it is genetically determined (orbetter, to what extent) is not clear, but most "gay" people reporthaving known of their "orientation" at a fairly young age. So even ifthere are also strong environmental components, that certainly does notimply that one's "sexual orientation" is chosen nor, for that matter,that it could be changed. There is also very good evidence that "sexualorientation" lies on a continuum, and that "gay" and "straight" arejust the two ends of that continuum, with most people falling somewherealong it. I therefore doubt very much that people who lie at the "gay"end choose their "orientation" any more than do the people at the"straight" end. And honestly: Do those of us who are "straight" haveany sense at all that we chose so to be? If not, why should "gay" folkbe any different?

As you'll gather from the scare-quotes, I have a problem with the terminology I've been using. Let me explain why.

People who fall somewhere along the continuum sometimes do have achoice to make about whether to be involved with a person of the samesex or a person of the opposite sex. I've known several such peopleduring my life, and I've seen several of them in relationships of bothkinds. Typically, they conceive of their choice not as "With which sexperson should I be invovled?" but rather as: With which personshould I be involved? One woman I know, for example, has had severalmore or less serious relationships with men, but only one with a woman.She never thought of herself as gay or even as bisexual before meetingthis woman, but she fell deeply in love with her, and they becameseriously involved. "Sally" spent a long time coming to terms with hernewfound relationship, and she broke up with "Suzy" for a period whileshe worked out for herself whether she could live as a lesbian, sincesociety was sure to identify her that way, even if she did not identifyherself that way. Eventually, Sally returned to Suzy, not because she'ddecided to be a lesbian but, quite simply, because she loved her. Thetwo of them are now married (as they can be here in Massachusetts),have two children, and are very happy.

The simple thing people do not seem to understand is that being "gay" and "straight" isn't about SEX. The question whether someone is gay is not the question with which sorts of people he or she wishes to have SEX.The question is to whom he or she is romantically attacted, that is,attracted in the way that leads one to pursue and hope ardently for anintimate, romantic relationship with the object of one's attraction.The term "sexual orientation" is therefore deeply misleading. So-called"sexual orientation" is not about sex but about love, companionship,and whatever else it is we all seek in a life-partner. For most of us,though not for all of us, that sort of relationship finds profound andvery beautiful expression in sexual intimacy, and that is nodifferent for gay people than it is for straight people. To thinkotherwise is simply to be a bigot.

I'm sure there are somepeople—perhaps there are far too many people—for whom the very idea ofa romantic relationship revolves primarily around sex, but those aresad people, in my book. Frankly, I find the very idea that my marriageis primarily a sexual arrangement offensive. And for that reason, Ifind the term "hetero-sexual" inappropriate in the present context. I'd muchprefer to be called "hetero-amorous": I'm the sort of person who isromantically attracted to, and inclined to fall in love with, membersof the opposite sex. It shouldseem very puzzling what could be meant by "choosing to behomo-amorous". None of us chooses with whom to fall inlove, and I don't myself think it very plausible that we choose what kind of person to whom to be romantically attracted, either.

Beinghetero-sexual is different from being hetero-amorous. Niether form of"preference"—another word that is not obvious appropriate—is likely to be "either-or", but it seems likely to me that amorosity is more either-or than is sexuality: I've known several people who'd describe themselves as "bi-sexual" but who wouldn't be inclined towards a relationship with members of both sexes.

Do you think there are two distinct kinds, 'male' and 'female', in terms of

Do you think there are two distinct kinds, 'male' and 'female', in terms of gender, biological differences, or social and cultural constraints? I know this seems like a broad question but it is asked with the idea/intention of feminism behind it. If any of you have a brief (or extensive!) philosophical opinion on any issues within this query I would be very interested to know. Thank you for your time.

Most philosophers now recognize a distinction between the biological category "sex" and the social category "gender." One's sex is determined by a collection of biological factors that typically (though not always!) go together: chromosomes, anatomy, and hormones. Gender is the social role a society assigns to persons on the basis of their sex: the set of expectations about behavior and appearance deemed appropriate for someone of that sex, and a system of rewards and sanctions that enforce conformity.

The sanctions that I speak of can take many forms. There can be explicit laws or regulations specifying which roles can be performed by males and which by females, with punishments for violators. But there can also be informal or tacit conventions that are extremely effective. A man who wants to get ahead in the American business world will not wear skirts or lipstick, whereas a woman in the same milieu will do exactly that. (Check out "Dress for Success" at your local bookstore.) More seriously, women who violate social expectations about sexual behavior, for example, are often faced with loss of social standing, and may even be regarded as fit objects for violence and rape.

Because these social forces are so effective, they create real and observable differences between men and women. Consider hair removal: current American gender norms dictate that women shall have no hair on their faces, underarms, or legs. But women do have hair in these places. (Yes, Virginia, there is a bearded lady) To conform to the "hairless" norm, they spend millions of dollars shaving, bleaching, waxing, electrically zappping, and dipilatating it off. The result is a real regularity: American women are much less hairy than American men.

But here's the kicker: although conformity to gender norms often takes a great deal of deliberate effort, it's part of the norm that this effort must be invisible. So, to stick with my example, many men are CLUELESS about what women do, and have to do, to remove hair from "unwanted places." The existence of the norm, therefore, creates not only an observable regularity, but the impression that this regularity is "natural."

There's a further complication: because the impression is fostered that these engineered regularities are "natural" -- i.e., not the result of deliberate human effort -- the content of the norm itself incorporates an ideal of naturalness: the more a woman conforms to gender expectations (regardless of how much effort and frustration this actually causes her) the more "natural" a woman she is thought to be. A woman who announced that she'd like to have children, but would prefer that her husband raise them herself because she's just not that into babies and toddlers, is regarded in contemporary American society as not just unusual, but as "unwomanly." Similarly for men -- the man willing to marry such a woman had better be really into sports, or he's a social goner.

So now I can answer your question: yes, there are differences between men and women. But given the efficacy of gender norms, no one could have any basis for attributing these differences to differences in "natures" between men and women. Indeed, the whole nature/nurture controversy is vexed, and generally embodies multiple confusions -- not the least of which is the idea that a property one has "by nature" cannot be changed. The important question, and one that can be answered, is whether the nearly universal practice of slotting people into gender roles is a good one or a bad one. The jury is in on this: gender roles are in fact, and probably are necessarily, hierarchical and oppressive. They lead to unjust social divisions based on morally irrelevant biological facts, and should be abolished.

If you want to see these points developed in more detail, let me recommend The Politics of Reality by Marilyn Frye. Enjoy.

What sorts of questions are considered in the philosophy of sex? Beyond

What sorts of questions are considered in the philosophy of sex? Beyond questions of sexual ethics, it seems like most of the questions I can think of are better dealt with via anthropology or psychology.

I have but five things, now, to say in reply to this question. (1) Might you post several of the questions that you can think of that are not questions of sexual ethics and seem to you to be anthropological or psychological, not philosophical? Maybe I could show how they are, after all, philosophical, or could be approached philosophically as well as anthropologically, etc. (2) Here is a philosophical task for you: please define "sexual act" for me. I do not mean describe it ("it feels sooooo good"); I mean provide what some philosophers call an "analysis." What is it about sexual acts that make them sexual and that distinguish them from other kinds of acts? This task is not as easy as you might think (and it has practical import; recall Clinton and Lewinsky). (3) Might I suggest that the philosophy of sex deals with ontological, metaphysical, conceptual, historical/textual, and normative (ethical and nonethical) matters? If so, sexual ethics might be a rather small part of the terrain. (4) For a discussion of the various branches of the philosophy of sex, see my encyclopedia entry at http://www.iep.utm.edu/s/sexualit.htm -- however, this essay is slightly dated. For a more complete account, write to me for a pre-print of yet another essay on the subject, which won't be pubished until early 2006. (5) Even if the philosophy of sex were exhausted by ethical questions, we would not have world enough and time to explore or answer them all.

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