Sunday, September 8, 2013

Women in philosophy: The Hannah Arendt edition

Recently, The Stone at The New York Times has published five female philosophers--Sally Haslanger,  Linda Martín Alcoff, Rae Langton, Louise Antony, and Peg O’Connor--on issues and conditions of being a woman in philosophy. There has been some excellent discussion over at Feminist Philosophers, see here, here, here, here, here, and here (also see this post by Samir Chopra). Also, a while back, Jennifer Saul had a piece in Salon on the topic, and she and Helen Beebee discussed this on the BBC show Women's Hour. Okay, I don't have much to add to this discussion, but I want to add some earlier comments from Hannah Arendt. These comments might not have much to do with the current conditions and issues, but I happen to be reading this as all of this was going on, and just thought it was worth sharing. This comes from the interview that was conducted by Gunter Gaus, and I am citing from Essays in Understanding: 1930-1945.

"Gaus begins the conversation by saying that Arendt is the first woman to take part in the series of interviews he is conducting; then he immediately qualifies that statement by noting that she has a 'very masculine occupation,' namely, that of a philosopher. This leads him to his first question: in spite of the recognition and respect she has received, does she perceive 'her role in the circle of philosophers' as unusual or peculiar because she is a woman?
Arendt replies: I am afraid I have to protest. I do not belong to the circle of philosophers. My profession, if one can even speak of it at all, is political theory. I neither feel like a philosopher, nor do I believe that I have been accepted in the circle of philosophers, as you so kindly suppose. But to speak of the other question that you raised in your opening remarks: you say that philosophy is generally thought to be a masculine occupation. It does not have to remain a masculine occupation! it is entirely possible that a woman will one day be a philosopher....
GAUS: I consider you to be a philosopher....
ARENDT: Well, I can't help that, but in my opinion I am not. In my opinion I have said good-bye to philosophy once and for all. As you know, I studied philosophy, but that does not mean that I stayed with it.
(pp. 1-2, emphasis added, ellipses in the original).

The whole interview is here, German with English subtitles:

So, not only does she disavow the role of philosopher (and she spends a bit of time explaining why she doesn't), but also, she argues that philosophers as such would not accept her! Moreover, that there is not yet a woman philosopher (and again, one wonders if she means that a woman philosopher accepted by men philosophers).

On this very interview, there is an interesting EGS discussion between Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, and Larry Rickels. You can find the videos here (though, NB: some of the videos seem to be missing. If someone knows of a more full version, I would love the links).

One of the more interesting times that there is this discussion of why Hannah Arendt might not feel accepted into the circle of philosophers begins at the beginning of the sixth video with Judith Butler, but that is not the first or last instance of discussion of this issue. You can see the sixth video below.