Given that I have only been in philosophy for around 22 months, ‘in’ in the infatuated, over-ambitious, starry-eyed MA student sense of the word; and the romantic and nauseatingly idealist 23 year-old girl-woman sense of that other word, I don’t feel particularly qualified to answer this, however I would like to try.
This is an interesting question, which forces me not only ask myself what it is like to be a woman in philosophy, but to also go on to ask ‘what is it like to be a blackwoman in philosophy?’
It’s probably no surprise that what constitutes most of the reading for my syllabus is written by dead white men. What brought me into philosophy in the first place is my adoration of Friedrich Nietzsche, John Locke, Ludwig Wittgenstein, to name a few. I can’t say that when I started out on my journey to become philosophically enlightened (I think that’s what this is, anyway) it occurred to me how small the sample size of ‘great minds’ I admired was. I have a habit of doing this in many aspects of life. Actually, much of this year has been awakening for me in terms of what it is actually like to be black and female in this world, amongst many other things which make me someone who is not a member of several dominant cultures I this part of the world.
I’m at a time in my life where I’m learning to live with myself. To recognise those things which characterise me; those things that make me Kayla, and to be comfortable with them. I’m also becoming increasingly sensitive to the place of women in current societies around the world, and conscious of the part I can play, and encourage others to play in elevating women. So, when I think about my place in all of this, I do at times wonder, given my gender and ethnic background, how far can I really go in this field of philosophy, and how widely read would I be? If I started lecturing at public events, would my gender or colour feature in people’s perceptions of me or my materials? I try not to worry about this too much for now.
I’m lucky (or naive) enough to be able to say that at this point in time, neither my gender nor ethnicity has caused my fellow students or lecturers to treat me any differently from the way I perceive them to treat the white male population on my course. I look around the average lecture theatre or seminar and see a few other coloured faces, and a few more women, and that makes me pleased.
I know that my experiences at my institution are not representative of others. The one I attend is a specialist night college, whose demographic is busy professionals who have often chosen to take up study later in , so that could have something to do with it. I know of people who have spoken as their experience being markedly different in other institutions, and others who say the same, but recognize that things may be slowly changing.
I’ve never attended a public lecture given by a women, much less a black woman, so in terms of being able to identify with the people who are in the positions that I aspire to be in, it’s hard. But I’m not sure that this worry is yet at the front of my mind.
So to answer your question, it’s not really like anything. It’s like studying the subject that has become the love of my life, being surrounded by many different souls who have enriched and continued to enrich my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and at makes me so thirsty for life my eyes often fill with tears. On my course, I have met some of the strongest, most amazing women I know. Occasionally this experience is peppered with a niggling anxiety, but only occasionally. It’s great, and I hope it continues to get better for all women. I hope that we can attract even more women to the discipline.
*post by Michaela Reid-Thomas*