Today it came out that a contemporary philosopher who holds a high repute in that he has virtually invented a new style of epistemology (or at least termed the notion) known as ‘formal epistemology’, following the likes of Carnap, creating a logically and mathematically oriented approach to philosophy; has made a rather bad boo-boo, in posting pictures of sexually provocatively dressed young women to advertise a Logic course. I’m glad that Prof. Hendricks apologised because I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to cause harm. However the context is far too sensitive to not be aware of the gendered issues around academia, education and the female representation in theoretical philosophy.
I had very strong feelings about this issue after reading so much about the negative experiences of women in philosophy through the ‘What’s it like’ blog, that one of us at Noumenal Realm thought it was relevant to include this development in a single couple of lines on Prof. Hendricks’ wikipedia page. After I came home from work I found that my comment disappeared on the basis of ‘not being based on reputable sources’, and being ‘a tempest in a teacup’. I’m an amateur wikipedia editor and I don’t know much about editing in wiki format compared to other people, but it is my personal view that this story should not be suppressed. I grant that Hendricks did apologise and that should be sourced, but I’m confused as to why this story is brushed out of wikipedia. This is an ongoing issue as wikipedia is constantly progressing, and it may turn out that I’m being a stick in the mud about including this story, of which I’m not apologetic about.
I’ve found a variety of interesting reactions to this issue over the past day:
- Indignation. This is essentially my response too. Women have a hard time in academic philosophy, and logic is an area where women have issues with visibility. It’s a no-brainer to Noumenal Realm what kind of implications having those kinds of pictures have on the self esteem of say, a woman who wants to work on say, nonmonotonic logics, and is worried about not being around other women in her research area or being taken seriously in research conferences.
- Dissolution. This response is basically a reaction that the typical prudes are being too conservative and have no sense of humour about this issue. In perhaps another context it might be funny, but male sex and masculinity has a priviledged position in academic logic.
- Diversion. Perhaps the most bizarre dispute/troll is that people disagree with the blog Feminist Philosophers’ appropriation of the girls as ‘cheerleaders’ but are actually ‘catholic schoolgirls’. Trust a philosopher to quibble on a point like that.
- Apology. Hendricks nobly took the bullet and stated that his set of photos were related to a magazine article piece he was putting out to improve the reputation of the subject, which Hendricks is very well known for doing in his native Denmark.
Maybe there will be a line over this incident and we will all be more aware for it happening. However it is my view that drawing such a line should involve ignoring what happened.