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Gendering Philosophy Curricula

Magdalena Zolkos

Philosophy is often considered to be a discipline that is strongly attached to the idea of a ‘canon’: a selection of texts produced by philosophers throughout history, and primarily in the so-called ‘West’, which constitute the basis of tertiary teaching of the subject.

In the last decades convincing arguments have been made in response to the idea of the ‘canon’ specifically, and of the philosophical teaching more broadly, in regard to the fundamental exclusions upon which such ideas and practices are based. These key exclusion are, inter alia, gender, race and non-occidental thought.

In what follows, I will address specifically the question of gender in philosophy curricula, given this question relevance for the course. My position is that gender dimension should be introduced into teaching curricula throughout all philosophy subjects (rather than, as has been the case, be limited to topics such as ‘feminist philosophy’).

The first reason is that an inclusion of gender dimension into philosophy subjects will help the teachers communicate to the students the current relevance of philosophy. It is a common point about philosophy as a discipline that it remains disconnected from quotidian experiences of our students, and it hence constantly risks alienating especially those students, who identify with and belong to vulnerable minority groups.

In my view, philosophy is very pertinent to problems of today’s world, but in order to articulate that relevance, the curricula need to build a bridge between often abstract and highly theoretical texts and so-called ‘lived experience’ (or ‘subjective experience’) of people.

Second, while canonical approaches to philosophy have been dominated by male voices, gendering the philosophy curricula will have the benefit of bringing to the fore female thinkers, who have produced brilliant, original and sophisticated works, but have remained on the margins of philosophy because of the way the discipline has been traditionally defined. Relegating these thinkers to subjects such as ‘feminist philosophy’ is problematic because it risks marginalising and overtly categorising women’s voices (plus some of these thinkers either lived prior to the emergence of feminism or had a complicated relationship to it).

Third, the inclusion of gender dimension in philosophy curricula will highlight traditionally unrecognised aspects of canonical texts, and enable innovative ways of reading them, and hence contribute to knowledge. It is a trivial statement, which nevertheless needs to be made, that inclusion of gender dimension in curricula needs not be limited to a greater percentage of texts written by women in the curricula (though that too, of course).

Rather, the effect of mainstreaming gendered perspectives on philosophy is, in my view, both greater representation of female voices and an important resistance to the idea that ideas are somehow disconnected from our bodies and the different embodied ways of being in the world. Gendered dimension in philosophy curricula will thus connected embodied and lived subjectivity with the production of philosophical ideas.

Conclusions

In conclusion, I want to suggest that introduction of quotas on texts written by women and by non-occidental thinkers (difficult as the latter might be to sometimes define) would be a worthwhile and interesting practice in tertiary teaching. The level of discomfort that such requirement would undoubtedly cause in philosophy departments, would be itself rather telling. I strongly believe gendering philosophy curricula is indispensable for achieving the goal of teaching our students the skills of critical thinking. What would be interesting to explore in the future is how mainstreaming gender in philosophy courses would change both our students’ experiences and promote the view of philosophy’s contemporary social and political relevance.

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

August 19, 2020

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