Reported by Lia Smith, Class of 2026
The HRC Gender Studies Initiative‘s Gender+ series continued on Wednesday, September 13, 2023with a discussion of Gender+Mind in DKU’s Water Pavilion. This event brought philosophy professors Hwa Yeong Wang and Emily McWilliams together for a conversation on the development of philosophical thought in relation to gender.
Professor McWilliams kicked the discussion off with an introduction to the concept of epistemic injustice, and its four subtype: distributive, discriminatory, testimonial, and hermeneutic.
Distributive epidemic injustice can be found in cultural norms that prevent the education and distribution of information. For example, in some cultures, it is a cultural norm to not allow girls to go to school while on their periods, or may not be encouraged to pursue certain academic fields, such as STEM or philosophy.
Epistemic discrimination refers to the prejudice, bias and discriminatory action suffered by individuals in their position as epistemic agents. These individuals can be discriminated against not only by their gender, but also their ethnicity, race, sexuality, accent, language, etc.
Testimonial injustice can refer to an explicit or unintentional bias whereby women are not perceived as being as credible as men. For example, in the political realm it may the case that a woman’s statements may be disbelieved, but when a man says the same thing, he is believed.
Finally, there is the hermeneutic injustice, which refers to discrimination in terms of access to linguistic and conceptual resources. Language often reflects values in society, and when women are not valued or respected in the same way as men are, this can become evident in language development as well. For instance, before the 1970’s there was no concept of sexual harassment. This can be understood as an instance of hermeneutic injustics as the concepts and vocabulary in society did not meet the needs of women to express their reoccurring experiences.
Professor Wang then turned the discussion to the historical place of women philosophers in Confucian philosophy. Public perception of women philosophers and their thoughts and intelligence were largely determined by their female body. In their self-education at home, and in their social status, these women were indeed limited, yet these women philosophers advocated for equality between men and women philosophers using Confucian philosophical thought to justify their wishes. Additionally, these women philosophers were able to provide significant philosophical insight from their social perspective as women. Finally, Professor Wang disagreed with the notion that since Confucianism is a creation of patriarchal society, it cannot coexist with feminism. In her argument, all major philosophies and religions emerge from patriarchal societies and have had to engage with feminism in their own way. Confucianism in this regard is no different from any other philosophical system.