The consequence of all this is that now, every few months or so, the same tired debate about "why there are so few women in professional philosophy" gets trotted out, put on public display, and performed for the people again. Occasionally, someone makes a half-hearted attempt to patch up the holes in the costuming of the players, do a bit of fix-it stitch-work where the players' dressing has become frayed, repair or adorn them with slightly-different accessories, all in the attempt to appease anyone who didn't enjoy a previous iteration of the show... but, for the most part, it's all a lot of (to borrow from the Bard of Aron) once more into the breach, dear friends.
By which I mean, metaphorically speaking, it's all still for the benefit of the boys: God, Henry, England and Saint George.
For the record, I'm glad philosophers are having this conversation, and even more glad that we feel we can't not have it anymore. That's progress, to be sure. However, in my view, what has become the dominant frame in which we have that conversation needs to be dispatched with post haste. That frame seems to assume, at minimum, something like the following:
1. Professional philosophy is, if not by its nature then at least in practice, a fundamentally antagonistic, aggressive, combative discipline. (See Brian Leiter's "The Aristocracy of Sex in Philosophy.")
2. Philosophy ought not be (or ought not be only) an antagonistic, aggressive, combative discipline. Or, stated positively, Philosophy can and ought be practiced in a way that is more cooperative, caring, mutually affirming, cognizant of and attentive to the value of difference. (See Jonathan Wolff's "How can we end the male domination in Philosophy?")
3. Women would be better represented in professional Philosophy, and/or would be better at Philosophy, if the dominant professional culture of the discipline practiced Philosophy in a way more like (2) and less like (1).
There are a number of problems with this kind of frame, some of which I've articulated before on this blog and not the least of which is that it assumes a kind of gender-essentialism that really should be largely verboten for rational agents living in the 21stC who have read even the slightest bit of feminist/gender/queer theory, who also believe in science, and who are willing to make the bare-minimal concession that gender is both socially-constructed and performative. I won't rehash those issues again, because they are exactly the same issues that are rehashed in every iteration of the why-aren't-there-more-women-in-Philosophy debate now. (It's really, really so unfortunate that we can't seem to progress past Square One on that point, which requires very little more than the disassociation of "women" with "mothers/caretakers.") Rather, this time around, I'd like to point out how fundamentally racist the frame itself is, and how the imperative to respond to this frame as already-framed-in-this-way commits one to certain implicitly racist positions even as one objects to the deployment of it in re gender.
Reaching not-at-all-deeply into my Philosophers' bag-o'-tricks, here's a Thought Experiment:
Let's imagine that there were compelling (even if not also morally or politically "good") reasons to concede that the actual explanation for why there are disproportionately fewer women in professional Philosophy is because both (1) and (3) above are true. I don't think we necessarily have to concede (2) for this thought experiment, that is, one might still think that it is analytically true that the under-representation of women in Philosophy is a consequence of the unalterable or definitionally true nature of both "Philosophy" and "women" and that it shouldn't or can't be otherwise (which I suspect some philosophers really do think). At any rate, let's assume that the reason that there aren't more women in professional Philosophy is because Philosophy per se both values and rewards antagonistic/aggressive discourse and because women per se don't have a particular facility for such discourse. For the record, and this is important to note, many if not most of the so-called pro-women/feminist arguments in the current debate, as it is currently framed, effectively concede exactly these points.
So, here's the question: given these stipulations, how do we also explain (what philosopher Charles Mills would call) not only the capital-W "Whiteness" of professional Philosophy, but also the little-w "whiteness" of most professional philosophers? Why are people of color also so dramatically under-represented in professional Philosophy? Fair warning: in this Thought Experiment, you've already stipulated (1) above. You don't get to go back and change it now that you smell a rat.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, makes the case that the under-representation of people of color in professional Philosophy is a consequence of the dissonance between the "nature" of philosophical practice and the "nature" of people of color. Nobody, and I mean nobody, suggests that if professional Philosophy were practiced in a way that was less aggressive, combative or antagonistic, then people of color would be more successful at it and/or representative of it. Why not?
And here we can see why the pro-caring/pro-cooperative, anti-antagonistic/anti-aggressive "attitudinal" arguments for including women in Philosophy not only so grossly miss the mark with regard to women, but do so on the back of a set of implicit, unacknowledged, fundamentally, essentializing and essentially racist presumptions. Just in case this is not obvious, let me connect the dots: we don't stipulate the same frame when we're dicussing the under-representation of people of color in Philosophy as we do when we're discussing the under-representation of women in Philosophy because the frame itself would undermine our implicit (though unacknowledged) presumption that people of color-- at least when they do, or try to do, "philosophy"-- ARE taken already to be combative, aggressive, antagonistic. Sure, we may concede that the reason philosophers take people of color to be more combative, aggressive and antagonistic when it comes to "doing Philosophy" is a consequence of a long history of deeply sedimented disciplinary prejudices and practices, but that only makes more obvious (to me, anyway) the manner in which our concession to the given frame of talking about why-there-aren't-more-women-in-Philosophy twists us into philosophical pretzels.
I mean, really, just imagine someone publishing a piece in The Guardian, The New York Times, NPR, or even newAPPS that argued that we could amend the racial disparity in professional Philosophy by not only insisting that we should make the profession "nicer," but that we should do so because people of color are by their very nature "nicer" and therefore are incapable of effectively performing in a discipline that does not accommodate their nature. Imagine someone publishing a piece in any of those venues that argued that white people could amend the racial disparity in professional Philosophy by acting more like people of color "naturally" are.
I wish someone would, if for no other reason than because it would force us to take a longer, harder look at the (White) Man behind the curtain and why we concede, so unfortunately and unreflectively, to his claim that we should "consider ourselves lucky" even to have earned his audience.