“What does a philosopher look like?”I have asked this question to a few students, friends, and family members. The answers included "depressed", a person "whose joints don’t work" and of course, the classic "old white man with a big white beard" multiple times, along with many similar variations. However, to my surprise and displeasure, very few answered that a philosopher looked like me.I know that a 19-year old female Zumba instructor is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a philosopher. Still, since I started studying philosophy two years ago, I’ve been known to carry a philosophy book in my bag every day and I mention the discipline at least once in every conversation. Naturally, I’d expected people to associate me with philosophy by now. But even my grandmother, with whom I spend hours discussing moral dilemmas and concepts, simply answered my question by saying that a philosopher was “... someone who is profound and open-minded.” I then asked, “Anyone in particular?” She replied, “I once read a quote from Socrates and I liked it”. What about her own granddaughter talking about unconditional forgiveness?This made me realise that as much as I thought that the problem of the philosopher stereotype was slowly disappearing, there remains a lot of work to do before the image of the philosopher becomes diversified in the minds of everyone outside of academia.
"It was then that I discovered that philosophy was not just something I could admire from a distance. It was something that I could participate in and make a part of my everyday life."It’s worth mentioning that while philosophers spend a lot of their time thinking, they do not do this in a dark room by themselves (well, I mean, not all the time). The best arguments are crafted when debating amongst others. Philosophy is not about separating a clique of people from the rest of the world. The most exciting part for me is when I'm struggling to find my perspective on a topic, and then while talking about it with another person, I have a moment of realisation and I just have to write it down immediately! I suppose that you could say that philosophers are a little bit eccentric when I start to write on my notepad in the middle of chat, but this is because philosophy may be the most fun and fulfilling field of study that exists. Seeing past the narrow figures of the philosophical canon could help more people discover its beauty. I had outstanding teachers since my first year of university. Although they were brilliant and ignited the spark for my passion to develop, I never related to them as people or role models. Coming from a little town near the city of Naples, Italy, I wondered if any of my teachers came from disadvantaged areas and struggled with a sense of inadequacy when working in philosophy, a subject historically occupied by white men of privilege. This wasn’t a barrier to learning and loving philosophy, but it stopped me from being able to truly see myself as a philosopher.It wasn’t until my second year when I had a woman as my tutor whose caring manner, positivity, and enthusiasm for each class were traits I could see in myself. It was then that I finally discovered philosophy was not just something I could admire from a distance. It was something that I could participate in and make a part of my everyday life.This is why greater representation of women in philosophy is so important. Thankfully, there are wonderful initiatives like the Society of Women in Philosophy Ireland, which promotes research by women philosophers, and The Philosopher Queens campaign, whose supporters receive a book with 21 chapters each on an exceptional woman philosopher, written by a different woman philosopher.There is definitely change happening and it’s a wonderful time for philosophy and women philosophers, though most of the answers to my question have been discouraging. The image and canon of philosophy remain largely white and male. However, the words of 4th year student Darral Poole recently gave me hope. “Philosophers come in different shapes and sizes," he says, "And anyone can be a philosopher.” With more people thinking this way, the future for philosophy can a bright one.