On Saturday, 28th February 2015, the Society for Women in Philosophy Ireland (SWIP-I) hosted their second Mentoring Workshop in the Newman Centre, University College Dublin, on St. Stephen’s Green. This workshop was funded with generous support from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, which recognises SWIP-I as a disciplinary network doing significant work in mentoring.
The SWIP-I Mentoring Workshop had panels addressing the topics ‘philosophy and gender action’, ‘philosophy and community engagement’, and ‘philosophy and career pathways’. As part of this workshop, SWIP-I invited Dr. Ian James Kidd of Durham University to speak on the topic of ‘gender action and philosophy’, exploring both the theory and praxis behind gender activism within philosophy departments.
As an early career philosopher working in the Department of Philosophy at Durham University, a founding member of their Diversity and Inclusion Group (DDIG), and a former Equality and Inclusion Officer for the School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science at Leeds, Dr Kidd is outspoken about the cause of improving the representation of women and other under-represented groups in academic philosophy, and is an active Friend of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK.
Since the issue of gender equality in higher education settings has become particularly relevant in the context of Irish universities, Dr. Kidd’s visit to Dublin was timely. Recent figures show that while 53 per cent of undergraduates are female, only 19 per cent of professors are women. The figure is significantly worse within the discipline of philosophy, especially in Ireland, where there are only about 10 full time permanent female staff members in philosophy departments. The ‘problem of women in philosophy’, as it is known, has recently attracted a huge amount of attention globally, as the articles on this blog and elsewhere attest to.
Dr. Kidd’s presentation to the SWIP-I Mentoring Session was entitled “Philosophy, Sexism and Activism” and in this talk he tackled the question of how to approach gender activism within philosophy departments, especially in light of the recent British Philosophical Association (BPA) Report about Women in Philosophy in the UK. As part of this report, the BPA released a series of Good Practice Guidelines that departments in the UK and Ireland are encouraged to adopt in order to address the gender inequalities that continue to persist within academic philosophy. Although these guidelines sensibly outline concrete measures that philosophy departments can put into place to redress sexism and gender inequality, there is a surprising amount of resistance to this sort of basic gender activism. In his talk Dr. Kidd in part explored the reasons for this resistance, looking at the dynamics of gender activism and the question of sexism. In particular, he explored four sources of sexism and resistance to anti-sexist activism: ignorance, conservatism, implicit bias and overt sexism.
Of particular interest is the question of implicit bias, where unconscious prejudices invisibly colour one’s actions, beliefs and decisions. Implicit bias within academia is particularly dangerous, as it impairs our personal and collective capacity to recognise inequalities and injustices as one believes that one (or one’s institution or organisation) has overcome or does not hold racist, sexist, homophobic or other prejudiced views. In fact, almost all of us hold implicit biases which concretely affect the way we treat and view others.
Dr. Kidd discussed at length the ‘nice bloke trap’ that arises because of implicit biases. Kidd argued that some male academic philosophers fall into this trap when they resist gender activism because they argue that ‘things here seem fine to me’. The point that Dr Kidd made is that the ‘chilly climate’ that women and other minorities experience within the context of the male-dominated realm of academic philosophy, remains invisible or unnoticed by the white men for whom the climate is warm and inviting. Constantly struggling against the micro-aggressions of sexism means that women are disempowered and disadvantaged both personally and professionally. Overall, Dr. Kidd’s talk was very informative and inspiring, especially for the members of SWIP-I who have been tackling the issue of gender inequality within philosophy in Ireland since its inception in 2010.
For further information on implicit bias and the ‘nice boke trap’, see also this Irish Times interview with Dr. Kidd on the question of ‘Why men should care about gender inequality?’ SWIP-I will continue to hold mentoring workshops and similar events over the coming months to address gender inequality in academia, particularly in philosophy.
Luna Dolezal is co-secretary of SWIP-I. She is an Irish Research Council / Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow between the Department of Philosophy, Durham University and the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin.