The boys club, or: How women have been, and still are, kept out of history

As I am writing this, I have just finished my first day at a seminar abroad, and I must say, the seminar started off on a frustrating and infuriating note for me. As we were listening to the first lecture this morning, which was supposed to be about Ricoeur, the lecturer, a male Professor from France, began with a brief sort of history slash back story of philosophers and great thinkers, among which Ricoeur was one (along with Derrida, Husserl, Foucault etc.). After talking about this and that philosopher he showed us a slide of all he had touched upon with their names and pictures, dates and such, and I couldn’t help thinking: There’s something wrong with this picture.
All the faces looking back at me from the screen, were Men. My anger and frustration was instant, I felt my pulse rising as the question boiled in my head; Why is there not a single woman pictured there?

Alas, I bit my tongue and let him continue on uninterrupted. I figured, maybe he will mention more, maybe he will say something. Or, maybe I am overreacting. But no, I am not, and I hate myself for even thinking that for a second, for going there, for almost forgiving yet again the erasure of women. Fuck that.

As the day went on, my frustration grew, but as a sign from the universe, it so happened that in the last section of the day, the group discussions, I was placed in the same group as the lecturer. I kept going back and forth for most of the discussion on whether or not I should now take the opportunity to ask him what he was thinking, why he decided to ignore female philosophers completely, and at the end of the discussion I raised my hand and spoke out. I said that I noticed that there were only men included in his presentation, that he didn’t mention a single woman, that while talking about this and that collaboration or link to Ricoeur he did not make a single connection to, say, Simone de Beauvoir, who, one could say, had similar thoughts on identity as did Ricoeur. Why was she left out?

The answer I got was, what I would call: a generic-non-reply-excuse. Basically, he said that he was not that familiar with her work (! How about reading up on it then?), that women at that time were not that encouraged to take part of the discourse (! Sure, but what about those who did?), that in France, Simone de Beauvoir is not that “popular” (! Ok, but we are not IN France, and you just gave a lecture about Ricoeur and how he was not that popular in France and had to go to America..), that the university at that time was very misogynist (! Obviously, still does not explain why you insist on keeping it that way..), and then another male lecturer chimed in trying to save the situation by saying: That was still not that long ago, and surely in a hundred years it will look different and more women will be included in the seminar then. And my honest response to that is: Well. No. Actually, things will in fact NOT look different then, unless we MAKE it different. If we keep excluding women, they will never be a part of the discourse. If we keep ignoring women, overlooking them, they will remain in the periphery.

Women have been written out of history for too long, it is not always that noticeable, it is not always complete or permanent, but it has happened, and still is happening. As Rebecca Solnit writes in one of the best books I’ve read this year, or probably my entire life, Men Explain Things to Me:

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”

By say, not including female philosophers at a lecture where you mention a dozen male philosophers, you are, whether consciously or not, keeping women out of the discourse. You are showing your students that great thinkers equals men. You are holding on to the misogynist rules that have kept women on the outside for centuries. The fact that you have not read up on any female philosophers is of course also part of the problem, in fact, I can almost be certain that when your teachers presented their lectures on great philosophers, they most likely also did not mention women. And so the story goes. So it spins. Round and round. And if we keep spinning like this, we will forever be too damn dizzy to notice what is wrong with the bloody picture.

Enough is enough, is enough. It’s time to write a new history.