Visible Women

How Katherine Jegede is helping raise the visibility of women in philosophy

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Moya Crockett
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Stylist’s Woman of the Week is Katherine Jegede, the founder of The Thinking Woman’s Writing Award.

If you’re a woman who’s done well in a male-dominated field, there are two ways you can respond to your own success. Option A: you can work on cementing your own status, without considering how you can help other women get a seat at the table. (You might call this the Margaret Thatcher model.) Option B: you can focus on your own career, while also making an effort to support other women who want to follow in your footsteps.

Katherine Jegede is a fan of option B. Earlier this year, she achieved her dream of publishing her first book (Infinite Possibility, an exploration of the ideas of the 20th century spiritual thinker and philosopher Neville Goddard). Women have long been underrepresented in philosophy: research by Binghamton University in New York shows that just 14-16% of authors published in philosophy journals are female, and over 70% of philosophers in the UK are men. And so after Jegede’s book was published, she began pondering how she could help other women succeed in non-fiction and philosophical writing.

“I thought, OK, I want to do an award,” she says. “But it can’t just be an award about anything for anyone. It needs to feel authentic.”

And so last month, Jegede launched The Thinking Women’s Writing Award, which aims to increase the visibility of women writing non-fiction work with a philosophical or critical thinking theme. The winner of the award will receive a full manuscript assessment through The Literary Consultancy, a subscription to the fellowship scheme at prestigious philosophical organisation RSA, and the chance to meet and discuss publishing prospects with a major literary agency. 

Philosophers including Aristotle held deeply sexist beliefs about women’s intellectual ability 

Jegede attributes women’s “stark” lack of representation in philosophy to millennia of gender stereotyping that dictated that “men were the clever ones and the ones with ideas”, while women were “emotional beings” whose job it was to produce children, maintain the home and “be pretty and fragrant”.

“Philosophy was always considered part of high [intellectual] society, and women have traditionally been considered not very intelligent beings,” says Jegede. “Our ideas have not been taken seriously.”

It’s worth noting that many of history’s most famous philosophers had deeply troubling – and extremely influential – views on women. In the fourth century BC, Aristotle wrote that women lacked men’s “deliberative” capacity and were inherently inferior to men, while Confucius believed that educated women lacked virtue. During the Enlightenment period, figures including Charles Darwin clung to the belief that women lacked men’s intellectual capacity – an argument that was peddled well into the 20th century (and is still made by some unsavoury characters today).

But rather than be disheartened, Jegede thinks that women – particularly women from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds – should see their lack of representation in philosophy as a sign that they could bring fresh ideas to the table.

“What’s really good is that people [from underrepresented groups] can think about philosophy in a different way,” she says. 

Katherine Jegede says that people who call for social change, like gun reform activist Emma Gonzalez, are engaging in philosophy

Jegede emphasises that philosophy is simply a way of thinking about the world, and points to women such as gun control activist Emma Gonzalez and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza as examples of people who are calling for social change. This, she says, is a profoundly philosophical endeavour.

“If we think about philosophy as ideas that can shape the human experience in a significant way, rather than just looking at it as part of the Western canon, then we will encourage more people from a variety of backgrounds to come forth,” she says.

“I believe that there are many people from a variety of backgrounds who have wonderful ideas that can make life more meaningful, or important, or safe… But they need to feel that they are going to be heard and that their ideas are going to be taken seriously, and implemented in an intelligent and practical way.”

Before writing her book, Jegede worked as a science television presenter for the BBC and Channel 4 and for institutions including the World Health Organisation. She says her professional background gave her confidence when it came to trying to get her book published, and she hopes to instil some of that assurance in other women who might not have similar opportunities.

“I’m not diminishing my own talent. I think it’s important that if you do something, you say ‘yeah, I can do this well,’” she says. “But somebody who hasn’t had exposure to some of the experiences that I’ve had may feel that they’re not going to be able to have their voices heard.

“And so if I’m in a position to break down some of those barriers, then I’m going to use that opportunity.”

Applications for The Thinking Women’s Writing Award close at 11pm on Friday 26 October. Find out more here.

The Woman of the Week series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.

Images: Courtesy of Katherine Jegede / Getty Images