What is a philosophy bro (also known as a ‘philosobro’)? A philosophy bro is a man who thinks he knows a lot about philosophy, or perhaps even does know a lot about philosophy, and he definitely thinks he knows more than you (unless you’re Peter Singer, whom philosobros tend to admire). They are usually found in the undergraduate philosophy classroom, Monash Philosophy Society, and sometimes in Wholefoods. You might be able to spot them by keeping an eye (or ear) out for men speaking loudly, name-dropping philosophers, and using overly complicated vocabulary and philosophy jargon. In class, or group discussions, they might repeat everything you’ve just said as if it were an entirely new and original point, speak over you, not listen to you, or mansplain something to you that you definitely already know.
Philosobros prize rationality and reason, and are seemingly still influenced by the stereotype that women are irrational and emotional, which may be why they love to talk down to us, or assume we don’t know what we’re talking about. It’s not uncommon for women to not have their points taken up by philosobros until they’ve been repeated by other men. They seriously just don’t listen. On the occasion that they do listen to you, they’ll probably try pretty hard to derail the conversation. “I see your point but your argument is not clear. Where are the premises? What is your conclusion?” and “Have you got anything more than anecdotal evidence to back that up?” are common expressions you may hear philosobros spouting. Anecdotal evidence is absolutely not acceptable, and if you do have empirical evidence to back up your premises, it had better be of statistical significance, otherwise it won’t be regarded worthy of their consideration.
All of this points to philosophy’s problem with women. It’s not very well known, in fact I didn’t realise until I was in the third year of my philosophy major, that philosophy is male dominated. It’s like the STEM of Arts. The main authors in almost all subsets of philosophy are predominantly male, philosophy departments tend to average 30% female staff (it’s worse in the UK and North America), and top philosophy journals publish way more men than women. Monash has never had a female professor in philosophy, women hit the glass ceiling when they reach the level of associate professor. While many Arts disciplines were similarly male dominated a few decades ago, most of them have remedied their problems and now have a decent gender balance. Philosophy lags behind, and philosophy bros are a contributing factor.
When you’re frequently disrespected, not listened to, repeated, and spoken over, it’s pretty easy to become disenchanted with a discipline. Combine that with the combative style of argument philosophy often requires and underrepresentation of women at senior levels, and you have a pretty unwelcoming environment for women. So, philosobros, and other men studying philosophy who don’t consider themselves philosobros, here are some things to consider when you’re philosophising:
How much are you speaking? Are you taking up the whole conversation?
Are you listening carefully to what other people, especially women, are saying?
Is it your turn to speak? Have you raised your hand? Did someone else in your class raise their hand before you? Don’t depend on your tutor to moderate class discussions, we’re all adults at university, and you should really know how to respectfully engage in a discussion by now.
And, to the women interested in philosophy but deterred by those pesky philosobros, don’t let them stop you! There are loads of amazing women philosophers to look up to, and things are slowly changing in the discipline. You’re just as capable as that guy in your tute who can’t shut up about Kant or Žižek.While it’s understandable, it’s an awful shame to see brilliant women dropping out of philosophy.
Finally, it’s very important to note that philosophy has a problem with diversity generally. It’s not just women who are excluded and underrepresented, but pretty much all marginalised groups. Philosophy has a long way to go before it becomes a truly diverse discipline, and defeating the philosobros is only one step of the process.