The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Women in philosophy in Britain: The good news and the bad; Feminist philosophy in Israel

NEWS
Women in philosophy in Britain
The good news and the bad

T

he Society for Women in Philosophy has
now been in existence in Britain for over a
decade. During this time a great deal has
been achieved in terms both of the increased publication
of feminist philosophy and the encouragement and
support of philosophical work of all kinds by women
within the academy. SWIP has held conferences and
workshops (small- and large-scale) every year in
different regions of Britain and also produced the
Women’s Philosophy Review (previously the SWIP
Newsletter) twice a year, which is an invaluable source
of information about recent publications and events.

Two of the key features of SWIP are that its
membership is drawn from philosophers at all stages
of their career and many do philosophical work in the
context of other disciplines (politics, education,
theology, literary studies, etc.) or outside the academy
altogether. The Review has no editorial line and
welcomes contributions from women working in any
philosophical tradition. The main purposes of SWIP
are to provide all women working in philosophy with
a forum for the discussion of their work, and to assist
the networking process between women philosophers
with shared interests. Through these means SWIP offers
help to women struggling to find a place in a maledominated profession.

In order to ascertain the current situation of women
working in philosophy in Britain, SWIP carried out a
survey of its members in 1995/6. The preliminary findings suggest that, in spite of the growing body of work
by women philosophers (including, but not exclusively, feminist philosophy), an increase in women
postgraduates and in the number of publications and
other activities in which SWIP members have been
involved over the past ten years, the position of women
in philosophy, from graduate students to academics,
remains marginal and embattled. The survey enquired
about attitudes to feminist philosophy encountered by
respondents, as well as their employment situation and

52

Ra die a I Ph if 0 sop h y 80 (N 0 v / 0 e c

1996)

career development. As with all surveys based on a
relatively small and self-selected sample (75 – half of
SWIP members), it would be wise to treat the results
with caution; nevertheless there is sufficient pattern in
the responses to give cause for concern about the
following:

1. The kinds of philosophy in which women are more
likely to specialize (feminist philosophy, but also
‘applied’, ethical and political, Continental) tend to
be looked down on within some philosophy departments as not ‘real’ philosophy.

2. If you are a woman it is easier to have a career and
pursue research interests in philosophy outside of
philosophy departments, particularly if you are
interested in feminist philosophy.

3. Philosophy departments are male-dominated, and
so are appointments and promotion interview
panels. It is easier for women to be successful where
there are women already in post and involved in
interview and selection processes.

The picture is a dispiriting one. It is worth noting,
however, that ten years ago the resistance of the philosophical academy to both women and feminist philosophy would probably not even have been noticed,
since there were fewer women on the scene and very
few researching into feminist philosophy at all. Nevertheless, it is important to ask what the reasons are for
the philosophical establishment still being, apparently,
so closed to women. This is a very difficult question
to answer, partly because it is impossible to gauge the
extent to which philosophy departments reflect patterns
common to a whole range of disciplines. It is also
important not to discount the ways in which women
are still more likely than men to have to take career
breaks or to do part-time rather than full-time work.

However, there do seem to be things that are peculiar
to philosophy departments: while part of the explanation lies with outright misogyny, it would seem that a

great deal has to do with the narrowness with which
many departments continue to define their discipline.

Until there is a more general openness as to what
counts as philosophy in the British philosophical

establishment, women will continue to be at more of a
disadvantage than male colleagues, in a situation in
which gaining a Ph.D and then a permanent job is
difficult for anyone, male or female.

Kimberly Hutchings
If you would like further details about SWIP, contact K. Hutchings, Politics Department,
University of Edinburgh, 31 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9fT.

Feminist philosophy in Israel

F

eminist philosophy in Israel hardly exists, and
those few scholars who do embrace feminist
considerations find themselves fighting for the
philosophical legitimacy and seriousness of their
theoretical and practical choices. Why is this? Clearly
it is never easy to introduce new approaches into an
old discipline. However, I want to suggest that one
particular reason for this attitude towards feminist
philosophy is connected to the position of intellectuals
in Israeli politics.

Israeli society lives with a constant feeling of risk,
with a fear for its own survival. Every event or political
decision is seen in relation to this fear – the fear of
making a fatal mistake. The recent elections in Israel
polarized the issue of the peace process into two
camps: either it is seen as the only way to a safer life
or it is seen as suicide. In this kind of political atmosphere the role of the intellectual is a very difficult one.

On the one hand, a cultural arena that does not participate in any way in political discussion loses an
important rationale for its existence and seems
insignificant. On the other hand, political participation
is all or nothing, when taking one side means losing
general legitimation and acceptance. The rules of this
manic political discourse apply to each individual
immediatel y.

For philosophers, identification with one particular
set of political players in this volatile arena would
mean the loss of what they perceive to be the uniqueness of their theoretical tool: general applicability. The
result is that much philosophical practice in Israel
relies on a gap between theoretical interests and
‘private’, non-professional, political activity. It is this
gap that protects the autonomy of philosophy within
discourse more generally. But feminism endangers this
artificial separation of politics and philosophy.

Feminist philosophy positions itself firmly in a political
and cultural present, because being a feminist philosopher means taking into account some dimensions of

‘reality’ that are neither universal nor value-free. In
Israel being a feminist philosopher also means thinking
about those features of Israeli society that make it
different from, say, Europe or America. The feminist
philosopher in Israel has to participate in Englishspeaking philosophical discourses, but has also to
remember and to remind others that there should be a
part of philosophy that is ‘made in Israel’, that is
grounded in the uniqueness of Israeli culture.

It is for this reason, I believe, that feminist philosophy has a hard time being accepted as ‘real philosophy’. It puts into question the equation that makes
philosophical practice in Israel possible: philosophy =
the unlocalized. According to this equation, the
political arguments and considerations that feminist
philosophy insists upon seem like an unhealthy mixture
of ‘private’ or particular political and cultural positions
with the ‘general’ philosophical love of universal truth.

However, the picture is not so entirely black-andwhite. There are some ‘compensation structures’ in
the Israeli scene. Some aspects of liberal feminism
can find legitimation as an extension of general
philosophy. There is feminist work in law, for
example, and groups of women in academia connected
to women’s organizations. In departments of philosophy, however, there is still precious little consideration
of feminist philosophy.

Nevertheless, there is a new generation of students
who read enough to know that this situation is absurd,
and these women are trying to create a place for
themselves in philosophy in Israel. They are creating
new theoretical positions that will no longer be simply
an application of a general philosophical theory, but
the results of a philosophical problematization that has
a place, a date, and a political effect.

Miri Rozmarin

Department of Philosophy,
University of Tel-Aviv

R a die a I P hila sop h y

8 0 (N

0

v/ 0 e c

1 9 9 6)

53

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue