Alyx Sealy taking a photo

What Undergraduate Millennial Women Want

by Alyx Sealy

Whether it’s in philosophy professions, journals, or undergraduate level classrooms, the ratio of men to women is unequal in philosophy.  For example, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported in 2014 that 31% of philosophy bachelor and doctorate degree recipients, and 28% of philosophy master’s degree recipients, are women. With this being on the more generous side of statistics I’ve seen, it’s apparent that there continues to be a problem with the number of women in philosophy. As a female millennial undergraduate student with a minor in philosophy, I’m sharing a few thoughts here about what matters to students like me, and how professional philosophers might be able to encourage undergraduates to become more curious about philosophical studies.

Appreciate Historical Roles While Shedding Light on Current Lack of Representation

With a long history of women being what Simone de Beauvoir called “the second sex,” millennial women are learning about a perplexing past in which humanity has been one-sided. Although in the 21st Century women’s roles in society are changing and the gender gap is closing, walking the path of a woman is still no simple task.  It’s filled with pit stops of doubt, harassment, and condescension. Over the course of history, women have shed a thick and suffocating layer of skin that held them entrapped to societal ideas. We are now at a pivotal point where our voices are being heard more than they ever were – and we’re asking questions such as: Why do we place gender roles in the pile of normative actions? Why does the responsibility of birth control fall upon a woman? Why doesn’t our country allow for paid maternity leave? Why are we debating maternity leave when other countries have maternity and paternity leave?  Why do women get shamed for their sexual abstinence or involvement? Why is it so difficult for women to break into male dominated industries?

As Ferdinand Foch said, “the most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” and I think encouraging students to reflect on these real-world issues will fuel a passion to explore more of the big questions of humanity.  There is no better place to ask these questions than in a philosophy classroom and this is where philosophy can and should play its unequivocal part in providing the tools that millennials need to do just that.

Delve into Understanding Dominant Ideas in Society

I – and millennial women like me – want to understand why the questions such as those above had one answer in the past and have a different one now. Inevitably the answers given in the past contributed to the oppression of a whole gender. To backtrack through time and analyze the scope in which ancient philosophers viewed the world is an educational weapon for young women moving forward. Philosophy is the study of knowledge and reality – and context is vital for the answers.  Understanding how our society has been molded into its current (arguably warped) shape is essential.

The problem I’ve noticed is that millennials are so in tune with social and political rights that they tend to tiptoe around words and ideas for fear of being politically incorrect. Young women are often asked whether they label themselves as “feminist” and yet, it’s harder than ever to know what that means, since each generation seems to have formed its own meaning for the word. We constantly battle inner conflicts of relating to one another while also separating ourselves when it comes to issues of race, sexuality, and gender preference. We are standing at the precipice of a pivotal point in history when we can decide either to stand together as one or separate ourselves based on experiences or backgrounds. We’re all trying to reach a point of respect and equality, yet often we’re confused by contemporary terminology or societal expectations.

I think our interest is sparked when we’re given an opportunity to learn about historical ideas and reflect on our histories together. We crave a safe space to share and listen.  Classes like ‘Feminist Philosophy’ or ‘Philosophy of Social and Political Theory’ should provide a melting pot for millennials to engage with one another, and to create a pathway of communication like never before.  Classrooms are making progress but political correctness, trigger warnings, and fear of speaking up still gets in the way.  Talking about our views on love, relationships, morals, and politics with one another is a start.

Advertise The Necessary Skill of Arguing Productively

Philosophy not only offers awareness, but the environment to question why people act and say the things they do.  Millennial women like me want to learn how to argue productively, while inviting the birth of new notions.  Philosophy teaches us how important it is to delve deeply into the process of creating and thinking and how important it is to observe, recognize, and connect with each other’s values.

Millennials seem to pride themselves on their wit, constantly craving a conversation for debate. Educational debates are consistently encountered through the roaring halls of a college campus; so, the philosophy department should be an overwhelmingly crowded space – but often all we hear is the roaring of crickets.  Philosophy departments need to do better to advertise the skills that philosophy classes and degrees will provide.  One of the answers could be that philosophy empowers us with sharpened skills to argue productively, effectively, and persuasively – to stand up for ourselves, whether it be throughout our careers, in our relationships, or while purchasing a car.

Show Students that Change in the World Begins with Themselves

Gender equality has come a long way since the early feminists, but still today we are worried about the obstacles we hear about from other women and in the news, like lower wages, lack of protection or security during paid maternity leave, and sexual harassment.  The future evolution of our gender depends upon wisdom of modern day women. We look to our mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends for knowledge – and philosophy can and should also provide guidance in teaching us about the history of our gender roles and how it might impact our future. Without understanding and ultimately questioning societal “truths”, we won’t be able to continue our progression towards equality and value.

Philosophy can be the gateway drug to the euphoric high of living in a world of understanding if it’s advertised as such. Young women will gravitate to philosophy classrooms if they are taught how necessary and influential thinking intuitively will be to not only their future, but also to the future of humanity.

Alyx Sealy is an undergraduate student at the City College of New York and is pursuing a degree in Public Relations with a minor in Philosophy. She has completed Feminist Philosophy, Philosophy of Love and Sex, and Ethics in Philosophy. Alyx looks forward to taking Philosophy of Social and Political Theory, Philosophy of Emotion, and Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories next semester to complete her minor. Currently, she writes personal essays and op-eds for her blog.  Image: Alyx Sealy © Patrick Beverly used with permission from the author.  

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