“Savant’s Struggle, My Menial Comparative, and Female Philosophers”
by Margarita Cavazos
I first learned about Marilyn vos Savant in Psychology Statistics when we learned about probability. I was introduced to the Monty Hall Problem as well as the solution and the knowledge that it was solved by Savant. I did not know about the struggles she faced to defend herself until I took Logic, and we were doing one of the numbrix puzzles she made for Parade. My philosophy professor told us about the backlash she received after she wrote her solution to the Monty Hall problem because people thought her wrong and told her that she did not know what she was talking about. Savant responded by dedicating three columns to explain herself knowing she was right. She still did it even though she did not have to. Even then, she was faced with criticism that she was wrong. Yet, we know now she was right.
Last fall semester I wrote an essay for Philosophical Methods on the limitations of retributivism as a form of punishment. I used three articles. All were most commonly cited on the subject. I had fourteen extra articles as backup (I skimmed and highlighted through most just in case), and I wrote lengthy noted outlines of each argument presented by the articles I planned on referencing. I had a document full of the highlighted notes I planned on using. I even read two different Philosophy Encyclopedia entries on retributivism beforehand, so that I would understand the opposing viewpoints better and the overall picture of the topic. I knew the origin, and the overlapped relations. I had a folder full of writing tips I referred to, I had an annotated bibliography of my sources, an essay outline, a précis, I used the Toulmin method to form my argument, and I had three essay drafts before the peer review alone.
I put a lot of work into that paper. Then, I read my classmate’s response to my paper that I so diligently worked on for months as thorough as possible. I could not help but feel upset. The tone of the paper had an underlying spiteful dislike to it. Further, he said that I was “confused in what retributivism really is”. He believed I had a “superficial idea of what retributivism is”.
It really hurt me as a writer. To focus on a goal and carry it through with such dedication and precision as possible just to be told I had only superficial knowledge of what I chose to write about. To be honest, I did not know much about retributivism beforehand. Before that class, I felt I had a superficial view. I picked that topic because I thought it best to dwell in a topic within ethics I had never researched before. I know there were still improvements that needed to be made. Heck, even a few grammar and punctuation mistakes. I was okay with that because it was not the final paper I had to turn in. I took his feedback and tried to make my paper stronger through reorganization, adding, and developing the content I already included.
I understand that I myself had limitations in my argument. But, fuck if I did not have an idea of what retributivism is, where it stems from, and an understanding of how much information on the topic there was to sift through. I KANT! I KANT! I can’t wait to go back in fall with the hopes of seeing this man, and having an in-depth conversation. I firmly believed that he aligned with the views of retributivism and therefore had an underlying bias against those who argued in opposition of retributivism. This in turn bled into his peer review. What upset me more is that he did not even check on how to spell my name, and he spelled it with an s instead of the z. Personally, above all else, that irked me madly.
Everyone gets disapproval right? In Savant’s case, it carried on throughout her career, and a big part of it stems from her just being a woman. Perhaps this is a tangent 3am ranting, but my classmate made me feel like an idiot. So, in a way, I can relate to Savant in that she felt the need to respond by offering her defense (apología). I am sure others can too. When I think about the field I am in as a philosopher, it deeply saddens me that I read, all too often, I read “Man” “Him”, and “He”. In my mind I try really hard to replace it with “She” “Her”, and “Woman” now. I still catch myself reverting. It is a habit that I was raised to do, for years, and it is so hard to separate from that deeply ingrained response.
Simone De Beauvoir talks of this. She writes of the fact that most of those who have written about human nature have been men. She continues by claiming that men have taken maleness as the standard against which they judge human nature. Also, men have defined women by how they differ from this standard. Therefore, man is defined as a human being, and woman as a female. Syllogism smack across the face!
The only reason I know this is because I went into the bookstore and bought a philosophy textbook some professor was using to teach his class that I was not even in. I just needed it. It was not a want. I felt that need. It is handy. There are more women philosopher’s names in that book than I was ever taught thus far in college. Women are highly underrepresented in my field. I felt lucky enough to find an article to use in my paper on retributivism that was highly cited and was written by a woman. Amazing! Although this is a continuous frustration I most likely will be dealing with in my field, I would like to try and assure women studying philosophy or who are interested in philosophy that this is going to change. Rather, it is starting to change, but I am going to try and ensure that it continues to change. Somehow. Even if it is just by informing you of this at 3 am.
Barba non facit philosophum – “A beard does not constitute a philosopher.”
“The Time Everyone “Corrected” the World’s Smartest Woman”
“Name Five Women In Philosophy. Bet You Can’t”
“Ten great female philosophers: The thinking woman’s women”
“The Philosophy Book”