Jennifer Forestal and Menaka Philips, "The Wives of Western Philosophy: Gender Politics in Intellectual Labor" (Routledge, 2020)


The Wives of Western Philosophy: Gender Politics in Intellectual Labor (Routledge, 2020) fills in a rather large hole in the understanding and the substance of the generation of knowledge. This edited volume provides an exploration of the thinking around the role of the wife, helpmeet, or intimate companion, and how political theory is created, written, and moved into the public sphere. This book also pays particular attention to what we understand to be intellectual labor, and how we have come to think about the genesis of ideas and theories as the work of a solitary individual—usually male—when others are often quite intimately involved in the generation of this labor.

The contributing authors all focus on three themes: how are intellectual work, knowledge, and theory produced or created across disciplines and topic areas—who is actually involved in this process as a contributor to the outcome; the political reality of what wives have done, are expected to do, actually do, and how we have come think about the wife as a political concept itself; the crafting of the biography or narrative of the thinker—who is included and excluded from this construction. These issues or themes are not necessarily indigenous to political theory—they come up in context of any intellectual production, in any field or discipline. But The Wives of Western Philosophy: Gender Politics in Intellectual Labor concentrates on some of the canonical thinkers and their intimate partners, and what we know but perhaps were unaware of in regard to these contributions, not merely fulfilling daily needs like cooking food, but the actual intellectual contributions by intimate partners that are threaded into the work of these theorists. All of the contributing authors pay attention to trying to understand how the intellectual communities are, in fact, the spaces and places where theorists live and engage—and that these communities contribute to the formation of ideas and knowledge. This is a different narrative than those that generally surround theorists, who are often cast as solitary thinkers, disembodied minds, alone, developing ideas and writings. Collaboration is often eschewed in these conceptions of the author, the thinker, and gendered collaboration between men and women is even more suspect as a means to generate important concepts and work.

Forestal and Philips have assembled a fascinating, interrogating group of authors and discussions in this edited volume. Authors include Arlene Saxonhouse, Sara Brill, Boris Litvin, Emily C. Nicol, Bryan A. Banks, Jennifer M. Jones, Ross Carroll, Terrell Carver, as well as contributions by the editors themselves, Jennifer Forestal and Menaka Philips. This is a very important contribution to our understanding of political philosophy and the creation of knowledge.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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