Every student at Fordham, my undergraduate school, had to take at least two full years of philosophy, so philosophy was one of the largest departments on campus, with at least 20 full-timers. When I started in philosophy in 1966, there were no women on the regular philosophy faculty (there was a single female TA who later dropped out of the philosophy graduate program). With the rise of feminism, the increased numbers of college-educated women, and affirmative action, all this changed. Women have earned about 25% of the doctorates in philosophy in the last twenty or so years; nowadays a large all-male department would be unthinkable.
The vast majority of women philosophers are very sympathetic to the goals of feminism. Many of us (the older ones) were told as undergraduates that we wouldnt or couldnt make it in philosophy because women didnt think logically enough (I was told this). Before affirmative action, we were systematically discriminated against in the awarding of fellowships and academic prizes, and in admission to graduate schools. For example, at Fordham in 1970 (the year I graduated), a senior man who wanted to attend graduate school was automatically nominated for a Woodrow Wilson fellowship if he had a GPA of 3.7 or higher; for women, the cut-off was 3.9. The rationale given for this policy was that the fellowship would be "wasted" on a woman, since we "were just going to have babies anyway".
Women are well-represented and active on the contemporary philosophical scene. There are still comparatively few women logicians, but there are prominent women in most other fields of philosophy, especially ethics, philosophy of science, feminist theory, and epistemology. It is a false stereotype that all women philosophers specialize in feminist theory. Most contemporary women philosophers have a standard area of specialization: metaphysics, epistemology, ancient philosophy, philosophy of science, etc. Only a small number have concentrated primarily on feminist theory (Simone de Beauvoir, Shulamith Firestone, Sheila Rowbowtham, Juliet Mitchell, and the French poststructuralists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous, among others). Some of these women have done indispensable work in laying the philosophical foundations for feminism, e.g., de Beauvoir; the significance of the work of Irigaray and Cixous is in dispute. Camille Paglia may deserve a place in this group as a critic of contemporary American feminism; Paglia is not an academic philosopher, but her work, like Freuds, may have great importance for philosophy. (She, at least, thinks so.)
Feminist concerns inform the writings of most women philosophers, whether or not they are explicitly writing about feminism. For example, as I will discuss below, Genevieve Lloyds study of the early rationalists reveals their latent bias in favor of attitudes that we usually consider masculine. Sandra Harding and Helen Longino do philosophy of science from a critical perspective that takes feminism for granted. The same goes for the work of Mary Daly and others in philosophy of religion.
But women have not played a major role in the development of Western or non-Western philosophy. Before this century, there have been no important women philosophers none. On the subject of women, most philosophers have been simply silent. At best, a few have allowed women exactly the same rights and duties as men (Plato, J. S. Mill). At worst, a few have been virulently misogynistic (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche).
Some influential philosophers (such as Aristotle) have at least treated the issue of womens abilities seriously, going so far as to give arguments in support of the view that women were physically, intellectually, and morally inferior to men. Aristotles view happened to coincide nicely with the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, and the Christian tradition of woman as "the weaker vessel", so that throughout the Middle Ages, the views of Church and academy went hand in hand.
Women fared no better in non-Western systems. We have seen the Hindu view. Confucius said, "Women and servants are the most difficult to deal with. If you are familiar with them, they cease to be humble. If you keep a distance from them, they resent it." (Cited in Chan, 47) This is the only reference to women I have found in the Analects! Chan comments, "From Confucius down, Confucianists have always considered women inferior." (ibid) Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha, permanently abandoned his wife and five-year-old child when he went to seek enlightenment; and this action is never criticized, or even questioned, in any of the literature I have seen. Indeed, Gautama is praised: he "accepted his mission without regard for personal cost" and thereby "won the hearts" of India. I doubt that a woman could have won Indias heart by abandoning her child. Some role model! Taoism and the ancient Egyptian religions are less sexist, preserving the ancient metaphor of two principles of being, male and female.