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.
Archive for the ‘Do try this at home!’ Category
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.
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.
My children grew up on campus–from daycare to summer camps–and I actually think that university campuses can be great workplaces for parents. Mine at least is safe, green, happy and provides excellent childcare options. I liked being able to have lunch with my very young children and they’ve all spent a lot of time in the department and in my office. My colleagues have been terrific and I feel I paved the way for lots of junior colleagues with kids. But students aren’t always so understanding. My funniest comment ever on a student evaluation of my teaching was in a large class, 200 students, that met for one hour, twice a week, for 13 weeks. “Professor X cares more about her children than she does about us.”
I am a PhD candidate in philosophy and I just told my supervisors that I am pregnant. I was a little bit nervous because of the horror stories I’ve heard about the bad reactions academic advisors can have to the news. I was afraid they would think I wasn’t taking my dissertation seriously or that I would be leaving the program all together. However, both of my advisors are women with children of their own and their reactions were ideal. They congratulated me and gave me good advice on maternity leave before promptly returning to the subject of my dissertation. They correctly view my pregnancy as an exciting aspect of my personal life that does not change my ability to do philosophy at all.
When I was an undergraduate student, my father, who is a professor (not philosophy), was accused of harassing a female colleague. He taught at a small school in the Midwest. Although, there was enough evidence to prove he did not harass his colleague, my father didn’t fight the accusations because the damage had already been done. The rumors and injury to his reputation were enough to drive our family out of town. The impact was huge. Not only did this woman’s finger pointing devastate and hurt my father and mother, but it took everything away from our family. We were forced to hear rumors about our family, sell our home at a loss, relocate, and I lost my tuition remission and had to take large sums of student loans to finish my education at the same school.
Because of what happened to my family, I am very sensitive to persons claiming harassment without evidence. The accusation alone is enough to ruin the lives of many people. Perhaps it is this sensitivity that keeps me from openly telling my own story and possibly hurting innocent people in the family of a particular professor, so I am thankful for this blog.
I am not a graduate student at a top university, and the person who affected me is hardly an influential or well-known philosopher, well, you might have heard his name. The sad thing is at the time he was just some professor flexing his power over someone like me who was forced to have him as an advisor in order to finish a simple master’s program.
I won’t go into the details of things that were said that were so painful to me and stripped me of all confidence I might have had in my abilities. I won’t describe the awkward situations he put me and other female graduate students in with his wife present or conveniently not present. I won’t tell you what this professor said to another male professor with whom I had to work that completely changed his rapport with me, because I still don’t know what was said. Rather, I want to talk about a chance I had to work with a male professor at a different school years later.
I didn’t even realize how heavy the burden of my advisor’s words was until another professor at this other school took the time to listen to my ideas and concerns about continuing on in philosophy. At one point this professor told me something that was completely opposite from what my advisor had said-essentially he said that I have a place in this field. Although I somewhat compartmentalized what my advisor had said to me at the time, I guess I never truly realized how much it had hurt every part of me until I heard another professor tell me the opposite case. I left this professor’s office and as soon as I was outside I started crying and I couldn’t stop until I reached the other side of campus.
I suppose my point is that as a professor, one may not realize how a few simple, sincere, and encouraging words might be undoing something that is really hindering a student-something you have no idea about, something the student might not be able to share. Although I think efforts must be made in both directions-we should have systems in place to help weed out the true harassers-let us not forget to keep sincerely encouraging the students, particularly the female ones, who have to deal with all of this. And though I am not saying that female students receive their self-worth and validation from their male professors, when a student has to hear that she is “less than” from a male professor, it sometimes takes hearing from another male professor that this is not the case for the damage of those words to be undone.
I’ve submitted and seen posted a couple of negative stories (please don’t identify which ones; too much identifying information); I feel like I must also submit (and hope to see posted) a positive one.
Some of my biggest cheerleaders in my philosophical career have been male philosophers. The best mentor I have had was a male philosopher, a junior professor at my Leiter-recognized MA institution in the early 2000s. Though what he told me about the discipline was often stark and depressing (I recall him specifically telling me about the dismal situation for women, among other things), he took me seriously enough to be real and honest with me, and encouraged me to consider the pros of doing this kind of work for a living alongside the cons. I feel that, although much of my experience as a woman has been difficult, I am better off for having been prepared — as opposed to other women who I have known who were unpleasantly surprised to discover the attitudes of their male colleagues. The knowledge of what I was going in for, I think, also helped strengthen my resolve to succeed. In general, he gave me good, sound advice without being paternalistic, and much of my current success is
due in large part to that advice. He also showed me that some men were aware of the discriminatory treatment, and I like to think his mentoring was the partially consequence of his acknowledgment of sex discrimination and an effort to correct for it. He clearly also thought I was capable, and although I am no longer at that institution, his praise and recognition of my ability still helps me get through hard days.
Two male grad students, met at different schools under different circumstances, constantly remind me both that I am capable, intelligent, and talented, and have been good friends and a source of comfort whenever I run up against sexism. Aside from the general goodness of having supportive friends, I find it helps me immensely to be in the company of male philosophers who recognize sexism at work, and who will not belittle or downplay when I feel I have been the victim of it. It is nice to have a reminder, I think, of the promise of change, and that women philosophers have allies among the men.
Our Leiter top-10 Department recently held a meeting open to all graduate students to discuss the issue of gender and philosophy. This resulted in several initiatives, some small (such as adding a link to the LGBT lecture series to our “related lectures” listings), some larger (described below).
The graduate students have organized a series of monthly meetings, open to both men and women (undergraduates, graduates, and faculty), where “we will discuss current research on or related to the topic of women in philosophy. The general aim of these meetings will be to provide a forum where we all can (1) better familiarize ourselves with issues pertaining to women in philosophy, (2) learn about and discuss what others have had to say about these issues, and (3) present and discuss our own views on these issues.”
In addition, an invitation was sent to all women undergraduates that read as follows:
“* What are the unique difficulties women in philosophy/academia face?
* How do these challenges present themselves in the lives of an undergraduate?
* How do these challenges change or stay the same when women go to graduate schools and enter academia as a profession?
* How are female graduate students now encountering and navigating through these obstacles?
Are these questions you’ve wondered yourself? Come discuss and offer your thoughts with the Women in Philosophy Group, composed of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in philosophy. We’ll be having a co-ed meeting every month beginning in January, where we will discuss current research on, or related to, the topic of women in philosophy.
This semester, there’s going to be a meeting reserved to female undergrads who are interested in meeting with female graduate students. Meet fellow undergraduates and current philosophy graduates at an informal pizza meet-and-greet! [time, place] Bring questions, concerns, thoughts, and an empty stomach.”
Do try this at home.
I, a woman, have had my share of unprofessional attention in philosophy (all from male professors). One male professor claimed to be “in love” with me (he was married and I later learned that he told several female students the same things he told me). I asked him not to say those things to me, ever, but he continued to profess his “love” and “desires” for months. Another professor refused to talk to me (still hasn’t, half a decade later) after he made advances and I refused. This was especially devastating for me since I had taken many classes from him and thought we had a real philosophical connection.
I will echo what others have said: this undergraduate experience was a huge handicap, especially when evaluating my own work. I never knew if the praise I was getting was deserved or was for other reasons. I also began to think that the only way for me to be a good philosopher would be to pair myself with a male professor. I knew some women graduate students who had done this and subsequently done well in the profession.
But then, I was given the best advice I’ve ever gotten (incidentally, it was from a male professor). He said, “Don’t worry about them. They’re jerks, and they’re on the way out. Don’t ever let them stand between you and what you want to do.” Since then, interestingly, I haven’t encountered any overt sexism. I attribute this partly to my new graduate program (there are many more women here than there were at my previous institution) but I wouldn’t be surprised if I am less of a target because of my new attitude. I am glad I made it through my difficult undergraduate experience so that I can enjoy philosophy the way I do now.
My department is having a meeting in a couple weeks to discuss women – and other minorities – in philosophy in the wake of your blog. A good percentage of the department – more of the female members, but by no means only – have said they are coming. We tend to have – by all accounts – a far better than average community here, with few incidents of the sort described in the many depressing posts, and a good percentage of people who habitually speak up when things do happen. But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to strategize, educate, and organize around the profession as a whole. Our students need to think about what they might face on the market and in jobs. The rest of us need to think about how best to contribute to changing the profession. So we’ll have an open, moderated, discussion.
Do try it at home.
I hope this submission is one of a chorus of male philosophers seeking to distance ourselves from the author of the—frankly—insane post (“What we’re up against: One man’s view of women who do feminist philosophy”). The views in that post are completely ridiculous. I hesitate to even engage with the views expressed there, for fear of giving them more credibility than they deserve. I do not have, by the way, any particular exposure to feminist philosophy, but I do identify as a male feminist, and try to work towards raising awareness of the issues facing women in philosophy. And on that note, please keep the “do try this at home” posts coming!
When I moved to the school where I now teach, the department was just moving into a new building. The offices varied in size and shape with the “corner offices” (literally) being the nicest. The department had decided that the fair distribution of offices would give 2 corner offices to men and 2 corner offices to women. Given that there was only one other woman in the department, I was moved into a beautiful corner office, even though there were men with (obviously) greater seniority in the department and also greater seniority in the field. I was very moved by the gesture but was also anxious that there would be resentment on the part of some of the men who might have felt they were entitled to the big office with nice windows. Quite the contrary, however, I never heard or experienced any hostility. This was a profound statement of the department’s commitment to equality and their actions have followed suit.
I am a current male undergraduate student in philosophy. I am friends with two other students who are female. What surprises me is that, despite the fact that they will argue with me exhaustively on any subject, and that they are in my opinion are clearer and quicker thinkers than myself, both of them will consistently devalue their abilities, and assume that I know more, or have some secret knock-down attack on their arguments that I am holding in reserve to be polite. Both have, at different times, said things along these lines, despite both consistently getting higher marks than myself.
I assumed that this was just anxiety or modesty on their part, but the more female students I come into contact with the more common it seems. In my other area of study, molecular biology, I have not noticed this. After reading some of the entries on this blog, I started paying attention to the (mostly male) faculty members that I come into contact with, and I’ve noticed that they will consistently ignore questions or arguments from female students, and instead respond almost exclusively to male students. There is nothing overtly sexist about this, but this continual, subtle exclusion is having a clear negative effect on the morale of female students in the course. I have tried to talk about this with some faculty members, and mostly they won’t even admit that they are doing it.
I’m not in a position of power, but if I ever am, I hope I will recall my friends and not exclude female students like this.
I am currently taking an undergraduate Metaphysics course with a male professor directing the class. I have been lucky to recieve an even ratio of male and female professors teaching philosophy, however, I find it almost normative that they refer to a ‘he’ when giving examples or making analogies. I’ve become so used to this that ‘he’ almost became the universal referent, until my Metaphysics prof started, and continues to, use ‘she’ whenever he gives an example, which he does frequently. Not only has this revealed my unanalyzed acceptance of ‘he’, but I’ve started to feel more like a subject capable of inquiry, whereas before, it used to involve a bit of work to put myself in the shoes of those subjects, to see myself philosophizing like ‘them’. I also doubt I am the only one in the class who feels this way. I am also more inclined to notice when ‘he’ is used casually as a universal subject; I am more forgiving when a prof balances this with the equal use of female referents. This may also explain my interests to pursue Metaphysics further at a graduate level.
I’ve read a couple of stories here about journal referees who presupposed an author was male. I’ve also gotten some of those reviews myself. But I recently got a review that bucked this trend. The referee invented a female name for me (I’ll say it was “Jane”), apologized in case “Jane” was actually a “John”, and proceeded to address all their comments to “Jane”. I liked the fact that someone assumed I was female for once, the less adversarial tone that resulted from my having a name, and the comments themselves, which were thoughtful and constructive. Kudos, anonymous referee; I wish I could buy you a beer and ask you a whole bunch of questions about philosophy!
I have plenty tales of woe, but lots of good ones, too. See here are some for the “do try this at home” category:
* I defended my dissertation when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant and no one blinked, but someone slyly said, good-naturedly, “don’t think that just because you’re about to pop that we’re going to let you off easy.”
* I went on the job market one year when I was pregnant, turned down a tenure-track offer, and went back on the market the next year with a baby in tow that I was nursing. For campus visits, I asked for breaks so that hint-hint I could pump milk, and everyone obliged and no one batted an eye.
* At dinner at the chair’s house at one campus visit, I nursed my baby at the table, and the chair said, “he’s got to eat, too.” I got an offer there, took the job, got pregnant again immediately, was given time off, and got tenure two years early (cause I am a hard worker on top of raising babies).
* Now I’m at another great institution that is terrific. Being a woman here is great. It is only the non-university folks who inquire about what my husband’s work is (thinking that this is what brought us here).
Lessons: project self-confidence even when you’re not confident, work on what you care about, and the hell with them if they can’t deal with you.
I do really good work in programs that aren’t highly ranked in some circles. And I think this (the areas I work in) has been one of the reasons I have been able to thrive as a woman philosopher. I think there just might be a connection between the areas of philosophy we work in and the attitudes towards women.
Sometimes, being a woman in philosophy is glorious. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Correction: Barring my personal affectionate relationships, it IS, it just is the best thing that has ever happened to me, to be a woman in philosophy.
It has also, at times, been the worst, but I already wrote a post about the worst of times, so let me explain when it’s glorious: I still remember my first attempt at writing feminist philosophy, and it was awful, it was a lame and untutored student effort. Then, I took more graduate-level course work in feminist philosophy. I studied with an exemplar in the field. I joined SWIP and FEAST and traded papers, conference commentary, whole chapters of the dissertation (and a later book) with other women in philosophy. I have had days of sheer, unadulterated inspiration when I read feminist works and am flooded with appreciation and critical response, and those days have resulted in my best and strongest writings. Today, I can say that I am a very good philosopher. This simply would not be the case without the women in philosophy who have treated me with respect, deference and a disposition to believe that I have something to offer.
Sadly, this has been true at the same time that individual, particular men in philosophy have let me know that they are disposed to believe I have nothing to offer, that writing about women or feminism is irrelevant, that it is a sign of uncritical dogmatism or lack of rigor. It is all the more reason that it is important for women in philosophy to engage each other. You don’t need to agree with fellow women, that would be tiresome. But the readiness of women to engage with me has been transformative. Ich bin ein Philosopher!
Graduate students at the University of Oregon had very similar stories as these, and much worse, to tell some 15 years ago. The University got nervous, hired Nancy Tuana as the department chair, and she worked with the faculty to institute feminist philosophy as a primary part of the program. We are the only program in the nation that requires all graduates students to take two courses in feminist philosophy, including men who don’t want to. Institutionalizing feminist philosophy like this was a stroke of genius, and though Tuana moved on, her legacy is appreciated enormously. We have more than 50% women grads most of the time (depending on fluctuations). I have certainly had my own experiences coming up, but I can’t say how happy I am to teach in this department, where now 4 out of 11 tenure related faculty are women, and many of the male faculty members are feminist friendly.
Dear APA, thanks for the memories…
Thanks to those who set up this blog, who edit the stories, and who contribute their stories. Although some stories are horrifying, the positive ones are heartening.
As a graduate student in the last decade, I attended the Eastern APA meeting before I went on the job market. At one of the group meetings, I ran into a senior colleague from another university. He said, “why don’t we get lunch and talk about your work.” Over lunch he told me he was divorced with adult children. I immediately pointed out that all his children were older than I was, and stated that my boyfriend and I were in the process of moving in together. Steering the conversation back to philosophical topics, I made it absolutely clear that this was a strictly professional lunch and gave him no reason to think otherwise. On the way back to the APA, he said he was going to his hotel room to show me a book on women philosophers which he thought might interest me. I accompanied him to the room, where he proceeded to wrestle me onto the bed saying “don’t worry, it’s okay, this is okay.” Thanks to my martial arts training, I fought him off and fled the room.
I reported this attempted sexual assault to the organizer of the group of which this professor and I were both members. She said she could do nothing as the group had no authority over its members. I reported it to my advisor, who retorted, “Why didn’t you call the police? Now it’s too late to do anything.” The only person who was willing to take any action was Leslie Francis, the APA Ombudsman. She sent the professor a letter warning him that a complaint had been made to the APA. Unfortunately, this did not deter him from attending my talk at the APA the following year. Although I was dismayed to see him, I managed to give the talk and even answered his questions afterward. These are the kinds of hidden obstacles that some women face on the job market.
I want to publicly thank Leslie Francis for her work as APA Ombudsman. It meant a lot to me that she was willing to help.