By Carla Young
We’ve come a long way, baby… in philosophy that is.
As with many of the major academic disciplines, philosophy has until recently been dominated by men. Feminist philosophy aims combat this and to make its presence known.
Last weekend, feminist philosophers gathered at the University of Calgary to discuss the effect of feminism on philosophy at the 21st annual Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference.
The focus of the conference was methodology, and it opened with an interdisciplinary panel discussion entitled "Feminism, Method and Change" in which women scholars discussed the effect of feminist thinking on their research methods.
CSWIP’s first conference was a mere shadow of this year’s event with its 80 registered participants and over 20 speakers. CSWIP was started by six women in philosophy and has grown to a membership of 200.
"The first conference had no government funding, no real organization–after the talks [they] went to someone’s kitchen and cooked dinner," said CWSIP Conference Chair and Professor Ann Levey, adding that the purpose of CSWIP is to provide support.
"The aims of CSWIP are to develop community among women scholars; to provide support for this kind of conference on feminist issues; and to provide support for the development of feminist philosophy as a legitimate area of philosophy," said Levey.
According to Levey, conferences such as this are beneficial because they allow for an exchange of ideas, which is very much a part of good philosophy.
"I think philosophy has to be talked about to be done. You can’t do good philosophy if you don’t talk to other people about what you’re doing," said Levey. "A lot of women find themselves in departments where what they do isn’t taken completely seriously. I don’t mean deliberately marginalized; they just don’t find themselves among people who share their philosophical interests."
Philosophy graduate student Andrew Fenton, concurred that CSWIP gives feminist philosophers an arena for discussing their positions.
"CSWIP provides a context for discussion of feminist philosophy that doesn’t exist in more mainstream philosophy conferences," said Fenton. "Feminism fundamentally is a bucket term. It actually encapsulates a number of diverse and conflicting perspectives and what a conference like this facilitates is exposure to a number of these perspectives."
Fenton commented that despite the number of participants, it was unfortunate that more men didn’t attend the conference.
"It’s always disappointing not to see men coming to these conferences," said Fenton. "There are a number of important political, moral and epistemological issues that a number of feminists are drawing attention to. That is the big reason why it is a shame that non-feminists are not coming to these conferences."
Fenton added that by not attending these conferences, non-feminist philosophers could be sending a message that devalues feminist philosophy.
"By not attending, a lot of non-feminist philosophers give the impression that there is nothing of particular philosophical interest going on at these conferences," said Fenton, who stressed that this is not necessarily the case.
Levey said the conference was a success. She was impressed with the attendence of the open sessions, many of which were people from outside of philosophy.
"The talks were well attended, the discussions were lively and many people told me that they had a great time and they learned a lot," she said.