I'd like to weigh in briefly on the debate about the two petitions making the rounds on gender equity in philosophy. For those of you who might not know the back story, Eric Schliesser and Mark Lance have been seeking support for a petition that, among other things, asks its signatories to refuse to accept offers to give a keynote address at any conference where all of the other keynote speakers are male. In response, Brian Leiter and others objected to this "bizarre quota", implying that it is absurd to ask people to refuse keynote offers in all such cases -- especially when only around 16% of senior philosophers are female. Consequently, a new gender-equity petition has been circulated by Jennifer Saul which drops the quota in favor of a general statement that philosophers "should take affirmative steps" in ensure fair representation of female philosophers and other underrepresented groups.
I'd like to explain why I support -- and have chosen to sign Schliesser and Lance's petition -- but not the new one. The way I see it, in general, in order to effect real social change, vague pronouncements are not enough; one must stick one's neck out and set determinate, concrete standards. Here's a simple example from ordinary life. Suppose my wife and I agree that we should spend more time together. So, we sit down and agree, "We will spend more time together." I'm sure those of you with spouses or partners know how this sort of thing usually turns out. We might spend a bit more time together for a couple of weeks -- but in no time there we are, spending time in front of the television instead of spending time together. Why? The answer is simple: without determinate, concrete standards -- as in, "We will spend two hours together every night, no television, etc" -- it's easy to conveniently forget about the agreement.
The way I see it, the same is true of social change. A petition that says, "Philosophers should take steps to ensure fair representation", sets no real standards. Anytime anyone is organizing a conference, they can -- either explicitly or implicitly -- justify an all-male lineup by saying things like, "Well, only 16% of senior figures in this field are female, so finding a female speaker was just too hard." Or, anytime anyone is mulling whether to accept a keynote at an all-male lineup, one can say, "Oh, it's understandable that they don't have a female speaker. After all, only 16% of senior figures in this field are female." This, I propose, is precisely one of the many reasons why so much gender inequity in philosophy persists. It is simply not enough to say that women and other underrepresented populations should be more fairly represented. Saying it accomplishes very little, because in practice -- for all kinds of reasons -- women continue to be underrepresented. In order to get people to actually take steps to achieve greater equity, there must be a commitment to determine, concrete actions. Schliesser and Lance's petition does just that. The new petition doesn't. Also, S&L's petition actually requires people to commit themselves to bear personal burdens for the sake of equity. The new petition does not. Justice is not cost-free. The fact that S&L's petition requires perhaps-uncomfortable sacrifices is not a reason not to favor it. It is a reason to favor it.
Anyway, these are the reasons I support S&L's petition over the new one. I am more than happy to reconsider my position in light of further discussion.