Simone de Beauvoir was not taught in my two philosophy classes at James Madison University. I had two male professors who taught me the “important” philosophical thoughts- Aristotle, Plato, Kant, and the list goes on. I never questioned this in my classes, because hey, I was tired of questioning everything at every moment. Philosophy was never exactly my cup of tea, and I never wanted to think about whether or not God was real, and if I had to talk about the Allegory of the Cave one more time I thought my head might explode. Needless to say, I was very dead-set that philosophy would never be my major, minor, or anything in between. But James Madison University wants to have a dialogue about morality, about ethics. Our new president Mr. Alger wants to encourage the professors to teach us strong ethics to become a more enlightened citizen. We discussed Aristotle in (another) ethics course I am required to take yesterday. My professor showed us a talk by Harvard professor Michael Sandel about Aristotle’s belief in the “Good Life” and how we must be involved in the community to obtain this standard of living.
I started thinking to myself: How can we all become enlightened citizens living this “good life”, when all we do is learn about only half the population’s perspectives? The only woman philosopher I have ever learned about is Simone de Beauvoir, a French woman who is said to be the catalyst of second wave feminism. Her book, which she calls an essay, The Second Sex was the first introduction to the female sex as the lesser sex of the binary system. I often forget about her fantastic work, until very recently as I drove back to JMU and listened to Philosophy Talks on NPR. Their focus was her importance both as a feminist but also as a notable existential philosopher.
Although I hadn’t expected to be remotely interested in this hour long broadcast, by the time I returned to my apartment, I found myself sitting in my car while they finished discussing her opinions on radical freedom (everyone is inherently “free”) and how oppression hides your internal freedom from you so strongly that you don’t even remember that freedom is available to you. They discussed how important it is to know you have radical freedom, and that the patriarchy had succeeded to the highest extent, making many women comfortable with the idea of living an oppressed life. This amazed me, and then I got angry, but on a different scale.
Why had no one taught any of her essay in my ethics classes? Why was she and many other great female authors and philosophers erased from my classes that were supposed to be creating me into a citizen? Was I the only one to notice? James Madison University wants the students to receive a valuable education, but removing and erasing the female voice from their ethics classes is not acceptable. Now, I know this may be different in other philosophy or ethics driven classrooms, but it should be important for every professor to make a point to include an equal voice in the classroom through their teachings. Now I ask you all, how is your personal experience in ethics/morality-driven classes at JMU (or elsewhere!)? Do you think your professors could do better to make a more inclusive and equal ethical teaching? Let me know in the comments!