Where are all the Women?

Last night I was in my environmental philosophy class, attempting to engage in discussion with people who are so far beyond my level of philosophical thinking (think multiple references to philosophers that would not be mentioned in an Intro to Philosophy course).  This class is made up of about 15 people, 2/3 of which are male.  About half way through the class, the professor (also male) stopped to comment:

“This has been a very male dominated discussion. Let’s pause for a moment to hear what the others have to say.”

His comment made me stop and think.  The first thought through my head was “Oh crap he’s going to call on me!” followed by momentary panic. The second, somewhat more rational, thought was taking offense at the statement – it wasn’t my gender that kept me from participating a lot, it was the level of the conversation.  As I contemplated this, my thoughts broadened to the discussion in philosophy – where were the women?

I asked my professor, and he praised the ecofeminist (among whom I count myself) for linking philosophy and feminism before going on to say we wouldn’t be reading any of them.  I bristled a bit at the idea that the women who inspired my thesis were not important enough to the environmental philosophy field to warrant discussion in this class, but it seems an accurate portrayal of the field itself.

Now, I should reiterate my disclaimer here – I am not a student of philosophy beyond introductory material and what I’ve read of ecofeminism.  My view may be entirely biased by this.

In the first book that we are reading for class, Mark Sagoff’s Price, Principle, and the Environment, the only mention of women in the book are Dolly Parton and his wife, and neither are mentioned as interacting with the environment in any way.  Any of the ecofeminists will tell you that women are some of the biggest interactors with the environment, and the problem arises when both women and nature are relegated to ‘Other’ status.  The basic premise of ecofeminism is that men have sought control over both women and nature, and in order to address environmental issues, women need to be included in the process.

The complete absence of women in the discussion of the book, even the absence of discussion of the fact that there were no women in the book, struck me as a representative of the lack of not only women’s voices, but also the voices of those who are not middle-upper class Western males.  When I pointed this out in class, I was met with silence, and a couple looks of dismissal from my male, philosophy classmates.

So my question for the room is: How can there be a discussion about environmental philosophy without taking into consideration the voices of those most affected by environmental changes, or the voices of those who seek environmental justice?

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