The Excuse for the Purposeful Exclusion of Women from Philosophy, History and Science

For the past few days I’ve spent my time studying philosophy, and there’s something I just really couldn’t help but notice… Of the 428 names mentioned in the book (not all of which philosophers, often also historical figures that somehow link back to philosophy) only 12 are women. Of those 12, only two, namely Rachel Carson and Margaret Mead, get more than a mention of their name and work between brackets. This means that less than 3% of the people mentioned in the book are female, and not even 0,5% of the people thoroughly discussed are women. Confronting, huh?

Now, in the beginning of my syllabus, my professor makes a clear statement: the history of philosophy is immense, and it is impossible to cover all influential philosophers equally. Sure it is, I don’t doubt that statement for a second, but how is that even a passable excuse for the (purposeful?) exclusion of women from philosophical history? You’re not going to tell me you only found two women interesting enough to thoroughly talk about, as opposed to, say, about 380 men? Let me help you with that.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer and one of, if not the first feminist. She mostly wrote and spoke about marriage equality and the education system (and heavily criticised the latter). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) she responded to those who believed women did not need nor deserve an education. Throughout the entire work she maintains that women are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men, rather than just “ornamental” wives. If she had not died in labour at a young age (bringing no less than Mary Shelley into this world), she might have influenced history in such a way the battle for women’s rights might have happened a lot earlier. It would be another 200 years before another influential female philosopher spoke up –

Which takes me to Simone de Beauvoir. De Beauvoir is commonly known as Sartre’s lover, and hardly ever known for what she essentially was: a strong and independent woman who never let society force her to adjust to the domestic norm. Her most influential work, The Second Sex (1949), is an existential feminist work that applies Sartre’s “existence precedes essence” on womankind. “One is not born a woman, but becomes one,” is possibly one of De Beauvoir’s most famous quotes. De Beauvoir called her work The Second Sex because she believes women are defined in relation to men, with men being the default and women deviating from that. She strongly argues that for feminism to move forward, this notion must be set aside.

Now, I could easily add at least another fifty to this list. However, because I have to study I do not have the time to properly research them all now, so I’ve decided that for a few months I will discuss one seriously underestimated woman a week. I’m utterly done with people saying that “they just weren’t as important” – instead of trying to argue against that statement, I will just show you differently.

  • L. Parole


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