Editor’s note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for September 2022 is Gender and campus. We invite submissions on the many layers of this theme throughout the month. If you would like to contribute, please refer to our submission guidelines and send your articles to [email protected]
The discipline of philosophy prides itself on asserting itself as a critical and discursive praxis. But are its classrooms truly free from inherent gender and heteronormative biases?
From the concentrated hegemony of male philosophers in the curriculum to the underrepresentation of other genres, philosophy and its classrooms have been a mirror image of the patriarchal and oppressive structures of their time.
Much of the mainstream philosophy prescribed in most Indian universities is still made up of thinkers who had essentialist biases against women, Indian and Western schools of thought. Among them are world and historical canons of the field like Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, etc.
“A woman is an unfinished man“, said Aristotle. These very famous revolutionary thinkers validated the patriarchal norms that distanced the philosophy from social intersectionalities. their context, the rejection of the criticisms raised against their traditional orthodoxy is commonplace in today’s classrooms.
The traditional definition of philosophy – ‘Philo‘ (meaning love) and ‘Sophia‘ (meaning wisdom), translated as love of wisdom, has historically only welcomed androcentric ideas under the guise of gender neutrality.
Maybe “wisdomonly implied majority normative beliefs that accorded with conservative principles of social hierarchical structure. Consequently, critical engagements that challenged privileged phallocracies were automatically relegated to the margins.
The issue of gender is an example that was only discussed after political feminism movements gained momentum and made room in academia during the second wave of feminism. However, the place of gender in philosophy has remained bleak and sensitivity to gender issues is very often overlooked.
Feminism and philosophy are often conceded as two irreconcilable fields, despite the growing developments and achievements in feminist philosophy. “How are the questions of feminism philosophical?”, “Why should philosophy include feminism?– similar questions are invoked against both students and professors of feminism, demonstrating the underlying impression that philosophy should be esoteric, confined to ivory towers and thick textbooks convoluted.
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Instead of conducting formal philosophical inquiries of the “the meaning and nature of genre”, “the construction of gender”, “otherness, otherness and genderetc., the typical philosophical environment has, for the most part, sought to silence such investigations by subtly dismissing them as “not philosophical enough”.
Furthermore, it suggests that feminism cannot become a subject of academic research, but rather a form of activism, a misfit in the middle of high-end intellectualism.
Miranda Fricker in her distinguished work”Epistemic injustice: power and the ethics of knowledge” (2007) invented ‘injustice of testimony‘ to denote a lack of credit given to the testimonies/claims of certain interlocutors due to certain biases and prejudices in the mind of the listener.
We are witnessing a greater acceptance of the works and theories of male thinkers under the pretext of the neutrality of values and the objectivity that philosophy has fetishized since its birth. On the other hand, when a hypothesis is problematized from the genre axis, an obvious apprehension is felt among many professors and students, leading to the text in question being categorized as “less philosophical.”
A common argument that lies implicit in such a view is that men can hoist the embodiment of logic and rationality, while women remain embodied and limited due to their gendered bodies. Not only is there a collective failure to realize human experience as gendered experience, especially in all traditional philosophical branches; symbolic conversations about gender in classrooms are most often dominated by the conventional binary, implicitly inferring, in turn, heteronormativity as well.
Thus, gender remains systematically excluded because it hinders the realization of an absolutist edifice of philosophy by emphasizing the subjective gendered experiences that accompany more the analysis of oppression from various other axes, namely the race, class, caste, etc.
Although this is common in compulsory subject courses whose curricula are always, without exception, dominated by male writers, some universities offer options for feminism through electives and certificate courses.
The lectures in these courses essentially deviate from the typical classroom model; discussions are both critical and mutual, and the subject also invites greater student participation as it involves people’s lived experiences, struggles and resistance against subjugation. However, the number of male cis-het students who enroll in feminist courses is generally negligible.
During our last post-graduation semester at the University of Delhi, when the class came across “Gender Regulationssome students insisted on reading another article that they considered more important. It was ironic how a course titled “A critical reading of Western philosophyhad predominantly male thinkers, and the one philosopher who penetrated this intellectual gender hegemony was potentially overlooked.
In a class of over a hundred students, few of us assumed so naturally that Butler was male. Additionally, there was a constant struggle for the students and professor to use their pronouns because Butler identifies as non-binary. Instead, binary gender pronouns she/she were more often used.
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In truth, these theoretical practices translate into unreported cases of sexual harassment on campus and not being addressed. Such incidents are known only through the Vine channels and often go away on their own due to a lack of safe platforms, fear of authorities, shame and guilt, among other reasons. .
Philosophy, even in its grandeur ofliberalleaves little or no room for the confrontation of sexist offenses and discrimination.
For philosophy to become truly inclusive, it must abandon the ideal of objectivity and recognize how this quest for objectivism has led to a totalitarian and oppressive genesis of socio-epistemic practices. Its architects generally belonged to the privileged cohort and remained ignorant or did not address gender-related material issues.
Simultaneously, lectures in universities must analyze the scholarship of the thinkers in a larger context, highlighting and criticizing the dogmas they endorsed. This would only be a first step towards the identification that gender issues are philosophical issues, the realization of which will also pass through pragmatic and constructive changes, critical discussions and textbooks.
Disha is a recent Philosophy graduate from the University of Delhi. She is academically inclined towards the research and study of feminist social epistemology. Her two stray cats are at the top of her list of love interests. She’s on Instagram