While it’s important to raise awareness to the difficulties faced by women and other minorities in philosophy, there is a danger of scaring people away, as this recent blog entry exemplifies.
We should not lose sight of how culture in academia (and in philosophy in particular) has already changed for the better.
To exemplify, a few days ago I got offered (but had to decline, unfortunately, for reasons not to do with the conference or its organization) an invitation to a conference, where the organizers offered to find on site child care for my infant, and to schedule my talk to accommodate the fact that I’m breastfeeding him. They went at great lengths to make sure that the fact that I have a small baby would not prevent me from speaking at the conference. I am really impressed by the organizers, and I am sorry that I had to decline the invitation.
Archive for the ‘Do try this at home!’ Category
I’ve faced two large-scale gender-related events in my time as a grad student: the first involved explicit bigotry, and the second involved sexual harassment. While they were extremely different kinds of problems, dealing with both experiences was quite similar: it was incredibly disruptive to my life and made me question whether I wanted to stay in the profession. In both cases, though, an amazing support network materialized to help me through these experiences. I had personal and robust support and mentorship from specific professors, and the overwhelming support of my department as a whole – both the faculty and the grad students.
In addressing both problems my complaints were taken seriously, I was treated with respect, and I was actively empowered in how both cases proceeded. While neither problematic behavior has been fully curtailed, I believe the philosophy department did all it could to intervene and to cordon off the impact of those behaviors. In neither case do I wish something else had been done by any of the people in my department who had power over these things.
Were these cases successful? My department did all the appropriate things, both formal and informal, to intervene. I’ve walked away with a robust understanding of university processes for dealing with these sorts of things, and I have real first-personal knowledge of the amazing support system I have. I’m still angry though – both at the professors themselves, and that I had to spend so much time and emotional energy dealing with this while my peers were developing their work and off giving conference talks. I’m not displeased that I gained this knowledge – I believe I am in a much better position now to be an advocate for myself, colleagues, or students who face similar situations – and I think this is important knowledge given the state of the profession. But it’s not knowledge that I can ever list on a CV or mention in a job interview, and it won’t help me in any official way. So, in many ways I believe these cases were successful, but it’s still a success that came with a cost.
I wanted to write to thank you for this website. I’m a young male philosopher, with a partner who is a woman in philosophy. Going through graduate school together, there would be times when my partner would report some of the sorts of situations that this blog has done such a good job of bringing out: remarks that made her feel undervalued or like she was not being taken seriously as a philosophical interlocutor, and occasions when her remarks and arguments would be passed over, or attributed to others. It is embarrassing to say that my natural reaction to those conversations was to find some alternative explanation that did not invoke the climate for women in philosophy. I’m not sure why I tried to do this, but I think it was a misguided attempt to ‘think the best of people’ (an instinct one can only have, when coming from a position of unrecognized privilege). Reading this blog over the last few years has helped to change my perspective on these things. Seeing her experience in the context of the pervasive patterns reported here has opened my eyes to many instances of unfairness that I used not to notice. I don’t know if the climate for women in philosophy is getting better. I hope that it is. I do know that this website has helped me to recognize the experience of my partner and, I hope, to be more supportive.
I wanted to share my experience of getting pregnant while in graduate school for philosophy. When I got pregnant, I worried that I might be taken less seriously, or seen differently by my community. Literally every professor in my department, however, reacted positively to news of the pregnancy. Young professors began sharing stories about their children with me. Older professors without children were curious and solicitous about the process. I was gifted with used baby clothes and toys. Although I continued my work steadily through the pregnancy and afterwards, I was often reminded that it would be fine if I slowed down and was several times reassured that no one would think less of me for doing so. I realize that I am lucky to be part of a supportive intellectual community. I share this story because I think it’s important for people to know that such communities do exist, and that some of the women in our discipline are having experiences like this.
As a grad student I was taking the required philosophy of language course. At some point during the course I asked my professor about feminist epistemology. He laughed, out loud and said that women’s brains worked just like men’s. Because it was an honest question, I took his answer at face value.
Fast-forward several years — I was working on my metaphysics/epsitemology area paper. The thesis was flawed, but I was having a hard time seeing it and this same professor was giving shallow comments and telling me to work on it more. A (new) feminist philosopher who had been hired since I left the area pointed out the flaw in her first set of comments. I promptly ditched the paper all together and asked her if she’d work on a feminist epistemology paper with me. She did, I wrote it and I got it passed in a matter of weeks (the M & E paper I ditched had been going around for a couple of YEARS), It was no coincidence that the rest of the M & E committee read it while the phil language guy was out of town…
Moral of the story, if you’re a woman in a position to help another woman by giving her your full professional attention, do so. I would never have completed by dissertation without her help.
I don’t have a story to submit at the moment, but just wanted to express my sympathies for the submitter of the last story. What happened to her is horrible and I’m appalled by the behaviour of the grad students. Since there is (understandably) no possibility to comment on the stories, I wanted to contact you in case you have a way of letting her know that there are others out there who completely understand and who are on her side.
It’s so unfair that she’s even questioning herself, asking if she should be able to take these “jokes” better. Clearly, the grad students were trying to undermine her, and the pressure to take this kind of abuse in “good spirit” is so cruel and crazy-making. I know that getting angry is no solution either, since that would just further undermine her, so all I can really say is that I feel her pain. I want to encourage her to continue doing her work, and to not let the thoughts about whether they’re just trying to be funny make her doubt herself. I hope she finds some friends and allies in her department.
Cross-posted at What We’re Doing.
I recently led a class discussion group on a feminist philosophy class. I noticed at one point early on that I had ended up talking to one man in the class by looking mostly at him (when purportedly presenting to the whole class) and had apparently angled my body to be facing him. There were few men in the class, and he was on the rights whereas most women were on the left. He also had the most questions and talked the most. Anyways, I felt self conscious about this and tried to make sure I spoke to the rest of the class, and right away the women in the class started participating and engaging in discussion. All I think I did was make sure that I spoke towards the women too. I think this goes to show how very implicit things like who a speaker simply makes eye contact with or faces while speaking could influence things like whether others feels it is appropriate to talk or raise topics in class, and how this can be nevertheless be implicitly biased in even those who are very aware of the issues raised on this blog.