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Oxford 'feminises' philosophy

Oxford 'feminises' philosophy

by Ann Farmer | March 16, 2018

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Hypatia of Alexandria  

Oxford University plans to feminise its curriculum after requesting that 40 percent of recommended authors on philosophy reading lists be by women. Previous measures to make the curriculum more appealing for women have included lengthening maths and computer science examinations by 15 minutes and the introduction of a “take home” history finals paper to make women feel less pressure in an exam environment. This was a move that provoked allegations of sexism.

Nonetheless, further measures for increasing the appeal of philosophy to female students will include the introduction of an undergraduate paper on feminist philosophy with new academics appointed to teach it.

Professor Edward Harcourt, former chair of Oxford University’s philosophy faculty, said the new course is being introduced “partly because it’s interesting, and partly to raise the profile and status of feminist philosophy at Oxford". He hopes that it will send “the message to our female students that philosophy is for you. He is “delighted to be raising the status of feminist philosophy at Oxford by our new appointments in the area”’.

The suspicion that such measures have more to do with placating the champions of academic fads than raising educational standards is confirmed by the news that the new reading list has been spearheaded by Professor Paul Lodge, new director of undergraduate philosophy studies, formerly the faculty’s equalities and diversity officer. It comes after campaigns for courses to include more works by writers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and for more female and black writers to be added to reading lists as a means of trying to "decolonise” the curriculum".

This suggests that far from achieving excellence, philosophy students will be indoctrinated in what until recently had been a minority obsession – the ideology of equality.

Professor Harcourt said that “academic judgment” should be used to select authors for the reading lists -- but if they include only feminist authors who reach reasonable conclusions after rigorous testing of theories and without the benefit of mysterious mind-reading powers enabling them to "know" what men think, there will be precious few left on their list; even so, the sound of barrel-scraping will be deafening.

The fact that Professor Harcourt insisted the faculty had not introduced a quota as such, but was only requesting that 40 percent of recommended authors be female, suggests that the library shelves of the world are not actually groaning under the weight of brilliant works of female philosophy, unremarked simply because of the sex of the authors.

But even with 40 per cent – and women make up more than half of the population -- they will have to drop a great many male philosophers from their list; it is a moot point as to which ones will get the boot.

Philosophy is a branch of academia that used to be considered vital for building a civilised culture; it should not be a job creation programme for those who teach "equality and diversity", yet another attempt to show that few women have succeeded in a particular field because of discrimination rather than the natural outcome of choice. And when the project fails to deliver a mighty phalanx of female philosophers daunting the world with their razor-sharp intellects, perhaps they will adopt positive discrimination and drag in women off the street - in direct proportion to the national ethnic mix, naturally.

Professor Harcourt says that authors will be listed under their full names because one of the greatest philosophers of the post-war period, Elizabeth Anscombe, published as "G E M Anscombe", thus "understandably students won’t know she was female".

One would have thought anyone interested in philosophy would have been aware of this fact, but Elizabeth Anscombe was a brilliant philosopher who succeeded because she was a brilliant philosopher, not because she benefited from equality schemes.

Geniuses are not manufactured to order like robots, in strict accordance with equality and diversity. If they really want to produce good female philosophers, they should introduce them to the very best minds, not patronise them by shoehorning every female that ever wrote anything, no matter how second-rate, into the curriculum. Indeed, no misogynist could do a better job of showing that women really are inferior in this academic discipline.  

Feminists are working in a narrow field, thus it would be a mistake to stretch their philosophising to embrace the whole human race; they would argue that male philosophers did the same, but although in the context of their times they chiefly addressed men, they did not set out to marginalise women, in contrast to modern feminists like Kate Millett.

Millett’s feminism was part of a Marxist critique of Western culture that emphasised men’s oppression of women, and with their x-ray vision presumed to read male motivations, interpreting every positive move as negative. In this they were useful to the Marxist culture wars only insofar as they attacked the foundations of Western culture – marriage and the family. The only beneficiaries of this approach have been feminist jobsworths and Communism, which has escaped criticism for its deadly oppression because Western radicals were too busy attacking their own nation states – utilising the very freedom of expression that they took for granted.

Now feminists are more interested in the micro-aggression of someone wolf-whistling or paying them a compliment than the macro-aggression of totalitarian states where women are at daily risk of their lives and females are being eradicated in the womb in their millions. The world of academe is often criticised for its ivory-tower elitism, and this new initiative shows that rather than paying attention to real sexism in the real world, Oxford will be too busy changing the initials on its reading lists to hear the voices of real women crying out for justice. 

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).

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