What makes a woman philosophize about life? Perhaps, the reminder of the scar on your mother’s lower stomach on the pain of childbirth; maybe, the nod of approval from your favorite male teacher. Possibly, the sigh of relief you let out when you realize that the man following you is only going home to his wife and kids.
Echoing the character of Belinda from the comedy-drama Fleabag, to be a woman, is to exist with pain. To be a woman is to have to take a step back every day just to look at a man leap forward, to have to think about Albert Camus deliberating between a cup of coffee and suicide while trying to scrub out period stains from your white mattress protector.
The simple reality is, and has always been, that you don’t have time to think about coffee and suicide when everything is falling down around you.
In the wake of the overturning of Roe V. Wade and newly emerged studies about the reality of the breadwinner and housewife dynamic in the Western world, womanhood still isn’t, and has never been, smooth sailing.
From Professor Piketty’s insistence on the brilliance of Chopin’s classical pieces to the contributions of Robespierre, Montesquieu, and Marx, you are forced to wonder why the state of the discipline of philosophy still remains the same – and that is, excruciatingly male.
Despite recent and slight improvements in women’s participation in philosophy during the past few decades, the discipline regarded as the foundation of all sciences still considerably lacks female voice. If women in the Western world enjoy equal legal, political, and economic rights, then why are these social spaces still defined by maleness?
Popular arguments often draw on women’s lack of a ‘philosophical personality’ and research conducted on cognitive reflection tests. The results suggest that philosophers tend to perform better on the “inclination to overcome impulsive, intuitive thought with effortful, rational reflection” than non-philosophers – and that men tend to perform better at this than women.
However, it is never that simple.
The interpretation of these cognitive reflection tests rarely takes into account why women would be more inclined to be guided by intuition rather than rationality, as LSE’s researcher Christina Easton notes. She remarks, “At its most crude, this view suggests that there are fewer female philosophers because women are less rational.”
Such conclusions fail to consider a multitude of factors such as the countless studies showing how women have been socialized into making decisions that confirm harmful stereotypes.
In fact, women have been sold the idea that being female is synonymous with irrationality since childhood, imprinted in young girls’ and boys’ minds alike across generations.
Though some of us have grown up in cultures where mothers and fathers are seemingly equal, our brothers and male classmates are still more keen to pursue disciplines such as natural sciences and philosophy.
Obtaining such a ‘philosophical personality,’ which cognitive reflection tests ‘idealize,’ is especially hard when the human mind is occupied with more immediate concerns.
When people live comfortably and without the worries of legal restrictions on their bodies and liberty, they are able to pay more attention to things that are not of immediate concern.
If you have had to live with the long-term effects of female genital mutilation, Camus’ outlook on life through nihilistic existentialism may seem rather unjust. For some, it is a privilege to even have the option to be so comfortable as to not struggle to live on, but to let go of your life willingly.
However, this is not to say that women never consider suicide. In fact, depression is much more evident amongst women than men, and suicidal thoughts are a pertinent problem amongst teenage girls.
The reason women are more suicidal than men can partly be attributed to the effect of specific forms of depression-related illness exclusive to the female body, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression, and postmenopausal depression among others.
Furthermore, mental health problems may increasingly be reinforced by having to deal with gender politics, from the crackdown on the rights of abortion to legal restrictions imposed on obtaining education.
Focusing on the politics surrounding the female body, the prevalence of female depression correlates with the prominence of women’s health issues. The list is endless — from the patriarchal culture of women’s birth control to the inequalities females experience when going for a simple doctor’s appointment to the overwhelmingly low conviction rate for rape charges. Even the happiest country in the world has one of the highest global domestic violence rates.
Nonetheless, the story does not end here. Contrary to the academic, popular, and historical discourse on philosophy, women may actually have a tendency to be more philosophical than men. They just aren’t as inclined to express these opinions as loudly as men have done and continue to do.
As the loud snap of your bra strap and your father’s pitying laugh after your mother’s comment on a political issue echo through your mind, every woman is sent on an excruciatingly long quest for self-worth and belonging.
In addition, suffering from depression also tends to make you more philosophical. The mere existence in a female body and the experience of womanhood may force you to think about why, how, and when, life developed to be like this.
As much as women would like to experience the world through a man’s eyes, they would like to experience a life where ‘the philosophy of life’ is not a continuum of the hardships of womanhood. While the Barbie movie’s monologue sounded radical to a lot of male critics, to many young women it generalized their thinking processes from when they were twelve years old.
For many women, their quest into the world of philosophy already starts from the nervous laugh, which is let out as her boy classmates make fun of the bulky outline of her padded undergarments.
It would not be sound to claim that women’s lack of presence in philosophy is due to just a simple thing such as a lack of interest or an insufficient ‘philosophical personality’. We need female voices in philosophy; not only because philosophical theory and thought have been overwhelmingly acclaimed according to the faulty testimonies of men trying to deafen us, but because it cannot continue to exist as only a half representation of humanity.