Archive for the ‘failure to take women seriously’ Category

I’m becoming increasingly aware (as I move into the second half of my 50s) of what appears to be sexism or ageism, or perhaps both combined, among philosophy students, both male and female.
Here is some of the story.

Our main research-preparation Masters programme involves the student selecting an area of study to work on in detail with a tutor, two modules with two different tutors per semester. Currently all the Faculty in my department, apart from myself, are male. These male colleagues are generally overloaded with requests from the students to supervise their studies for the Masters programme, while students rarely if ever ask to work with me; and there comes a point when a preferred male colleague is so hard pressed that he tells the graduate student officer not to send any more to him. In a recent case where this happened, the graduate officer asked me whether I would take the student on, since the student wanted to work in an area in which I have up to date expertise and some research reputation to the level required. I agreed to take the student, but when the Grad Officer proposed this arrangement to the student, the student declined to do that topic and opted for a different topic that would justify him being assigned to a young and relatively inexperienced male colleague. This was a male student, one who had come from elsewhere and had never met me. Rather to the discomfort of the graduate officer, this student had apparently changed topic to avoid being assigned to me (distinguished senior professor) and to facilitate being assigned to a junior, relatively unknown though very capable, male colleague. It is hard to know what the reason for this move was, other than that working with a middle aged woman was distasteful, or that he hoped to be more lucky with getting a male supervisor for the topic if he postponed it to do in the second semester.

I think these events are becoming noticeable because I am now in a position of being very senior and (at least in theory, though not in practice) highly regarded in my field, beyond my own university and in the academic world globally, so it looks odd when a student refuses opportunities to study with me.

You begin to look for a reason. And then you begin to see a pattern.

For it is not that I have a reputation for bad teaching: on the contrary, after teaching my own Masters taught module for one of our interdisciplinary programmes, all the students on that module wanted to have me to supervise their dissertation. Yet at the same time there is a female PhD student working in my field, whose review at the end of the probationary year I served on. She had been experiencing problems with her first (male) supervisor, and rightly saw after the review that she needed to change supervisors to solve the problem, and that the advice she had received from the review panel was helpful, yet she insisted on transferring to work not with me (who has published on her chosen themes) but with the other (male) member of her review panel. Unsurprisingly this has not helped much, and she has recently been coming to me to get advice and support because her current supervisor is overworked and finds it hard to give constructive advice to his PhD students, particularly if he thinks that they are not making good progress.

Now I am marking the undergraduate dissertation of a student who took some of my UG modules before choosing his dissertation topic. The dissertation topic is in my main field of expertise, the one on which my own publications are globally recognised. After enrolling for the dissertation module, the student approached a young male colleague who works in a different area of philosophy to approve his topic and agree to supervise it. Once or twice during the preparation of the dissertation, the student consulted me for advice on matters of scholarly practice in the field (how to reference the works, what edition to use, whether some view was regarded as loony); now the dissertation is on my desk and the old question surfaces in my mind again. Why? And why are all my own publications on this field missing from his bibliography? Why are only two of the authors in his bibliography female, and those two are not philosophers but references to other aspects of context (the translator of some poetry in translation, and a historian of religion)? This is happening despite the fact that the students are taught by a woman for almost all their work on this part of philosophy during their undergraduate training, and yet immediately they want to do their research on it with a man, and to read the work of men. And yet, they do not think my teaching is bad. The student feedback is good. They enjoy and value their tutorials with me. It inspires them to want to go on and do more. That’s why they are choosing a dissertation in this field. So what is going on?

Is it that a woman teaching you in your beginner years is like a primary school teacher, who prepares you to go on to work with the more demanding stuff that men do, when you are grown up? Or is it that a middle-aged woman doesn’t provide the erotic charge that makes one-to-one work thrilling? Or is it that you know that a reference from a woman will carry no weight for your graduate school application or your research fellowship application? Or what exactly?

A highly abridged list of incidents:

I got excellent teaching evaluations from my students. But the Chair discounted the report citing the my “good looks” and NOT my “teaching” as the explanation for the high marks.

I was repeatedly denied a raise and told among other reasons that I didn’t need one because I didn’t have “a family” or “children” and that I just thought that I was “better than everyone else.”

I was initially denied an office and told that I shouldn’t have expected one because I “failed to negotiate for it” and I shouldn’t complain because I was “lucky to have a job” despite turning down several other offers. Then they tried to put my office in Women’s Studies.

I was repeatedly the subject of discussions about the fit of my clothing and general appearance. I was told that I need to “dress” like “an adult” “behave like an adult,” but probably cannot/will not until I have “real responsibilities” (i.e. children).

I arrived on campus and met with several undergraduates who report sexual harassment and discrimination by a certain professor in my department. I report the incident to the Chair with substantiating documentation and it is ignored. The offender is then given emeritus status so he can retain his office on campus to meet with students.

I was required to meet with faculty assistance center social worker and eventually ADA officer for special permissions to have my dog on campus (which was agreed to prior to accepting the position) while no male faculty member with a dog (of which there are several on our floor) was required to do so.

I go up for tenure and I am told by the Chair that my friends cannot write letters for me. When I explain that my area is very small and that my colleagues in the area of expertise are all friends, the Chair says “you know what I mean….” intimating that my relationship with these colleagues was sexual.

I come from a country that is very poorly represented in the English-speaking academic world to the extent that I myself have never met another academic doing my subject from my country of origin. I completely understand when people seem surprised I do philosophy given my nationality. However, I continue to be surprised how much my nationality gets in the way of being integrated in the profession and how much it affects where the conversations go. Once after a philosophy talk a male professor asked where I was from. After I responded he started counting how many women from my country he had slept with. He also made comments on the appearance of women from my country, which I suppose I was meant to take as a compliment. On another occasion someone introduced me by stating my name and where I come from. Not that I was a philosopher, what I worked on or any work-relevant information. The worse experience was definitely when one of my colleagues used an insulting phrase, which represented all women from my country in the most derogatory sense imaginable. After I confronted him about it he said he was unaware I came from that country. I guess the argument there was that I have no right to be offended at this insult since I did not state prior to that where I came from. This happened over and over again, I would hear this insulting phrase from other people who were unaware of my nationality. When I was a student I was being referred to as ‘the foreign girl’, as my department did not have any other international students. I was often asked why I was studying abroad, why I do not just study where I was born. On many occasions people jokingly asked if I came to their country to find someone to marry. When I started my doctoral degree I was the only woman from that geographical area in my department. One of the professors once laughed at me when I proposed to read a paper by a female philosopher who comes from a country that is also not very well represented in English-speaking academia (although much better represented than my own country). That made me realise how much my name and nationality were going to influence people’s decisions to read my work and take me as an authority on my subject. From my experience at conferences and seminar talks I can see that many people have had an overly dismissive attitude towards me. I am not sure whether simply being a junior female academic is sufficient to allow men to feel free to talk over me and patronise me, or whether it is also the fact they have never seen another person from my country in philosophy. It is probably a mixture of both. While these experiences are incredibly demoralising and have often made me think I should quit, I have also had sufficient evidence to think I should say in the profession. The most wonderful experience for me in this career was the first time I received comments from referees on the very first paper I submitted to a journal (which was blindly refereed and was the most significant journal for me to publish my work in). Until I read the reports I was not used to people giving me constructive criticism without being patronising; I was not used to someone actually showing respect for my ideas and treating me as an authority. In the years since I became a professional philosopher, I can say that the majority of times that my work is treated with respect is when my work is evaluated blindly. I am thankful that the profession endorsed this kind of evaluation for publications otherwise people like me would hardly get the chance to publish their ideas. I only wish that soon the same kind of blind process will be adopted when departments select candidates for academic positions. It is on this front that I continue to struggle.

One of my classmates chose a particularly obnoxious faculty member to sit on her dissertation committee. I asked her what she was thinking. She told me that it was only my relationship with him that was strained. He failed her defense, and placed a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in her school mailbox with a note, “Maybe you should consider a change of career.”

She did reconfigure her committee, and pass her defense six months later…

I was accepted into a Masters program that did not accept many women. Several of the faculty thought that women had no place in the discipline. I happened to be in a class of almost all women, who were selected by a dissenting group of faculty in an attempt to balance the student population.

During my first year, I was told explicitly by one of my professors that I should not be in a philosophy graduate program since, “Philosophy requires reasoning, and women are irrational.”

The incoming class that followed my group consisted of about 15 students, all but one of whom were male.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that this school did not accept my application into its doctoral program, even though two schools of higher ranking did (thank goodness!).

I remember once, as a female graduate student in philosophy, trying to raise some serious complaints about a senior male philosopher who was making the climate for me and several other junior women in the philosophy department miserable. He was utterly disrespectful of the work of women, regularly making female students cry when alone with him in his office (an achievement of which, I was told by his friends, he was rather proud). He ignored my work and belittled my ideas, and he did the same to other women in front of me. He once lost his temper and yelled at me in front of a group of other philosophers, for pressing a philosophical objection to his view which he did not know how to address. My male philosopher friends said he seemed like “an OK guy” to them although some of them had heard he was “funny about” women.

In response to my complaint, all that happened was that another senior philosopher in the department (a friend and colleague of the person I’d complained about) held a meeting with the two of us. This was terrifying for me. At the meeting, the person I had complained about told me off, saying (and I can still picture his face as he said this) “Don’t just get upset and take it out on me”.

His friend and colleague, the only other person in the room, stood by and said nothing when this remark was made.

It was agreed that I wouldn’t work with him any more, and nothing else was done. The philosopher who arranged the meeting told me explicitly that if I were to try and take things any further it would not go well for my career.

I began suffering from an ongoing panic attack disorder at this time which has had a huge impact on my life ever since and is still not entirely resolved after ten years. I very nearly quit philosophy. (I’m glad I didn’t; I’m good at it, and as soon as I was away from that environment I was very successful in the profession.)

At a careers advice meeting for aspiring academics, the senior philosopher who had organised that meeting announced to the audience that, in professional philosophy, things are no different for women than they are for men.

The man I complained about was then promoted. He currently holds a top-rank position at an elite university.

I’ve been going to philosophy conferences for 15 years now, but recently I had an odd experience at one. I slowly realised that my social status at this particular conference was basically mud. When I asked questions in a talk they were immediately laughed off as confused or ludicrous. When I made a point over lunch people ganged up to misinterpret it and contemptuously tell me how misinformed and mal-intentioned I was. It took 3 minutes of assertive clarification for people to grudgingly admit that I had a coherent question. It’s the way you might expect someone to be treated if they had committed some terrible social gaffe at the beginning of a conference – like aggressively criticising a graduate student, or saying something outright racist – but I couldn’t remember doing anything like that.

The experience of those 2-3 days really sticks out because of how unusual it was. As my career has developed I’ve found that people have gradually taken me more seriously, listened more carefully to things I have to say, and been slower to dismiss something that sounded odd or wrong without pushing me further for clarification. Not everywhere, of course – siblings, parents and taxi-drivers still treat me like I know nothing and most of what I say is insane – but in professional contexts, I’ve been benefiting from a gentle rise in social status.

Except at this one conference. And there were a few things I noticed as a result. One was that certain high status individuals – both men and women – noticed, at least at some level, what was going on with the group dynamics and intervened in either a neutral way, or in a way that was friendly towards me (“wow, people who do X sometimes get really upset when you ask them about Y, don’t they?”) and others sought me out for conversation where the subtext seemed to be “I don’t really know why all these others are acting like this, but I don’t want to be a part of that. Tell me about your work…” I was really grateful to these people, because they made me feel less like I was going insane. And it made me think: this is one of the reasons why allies are important. It made me want to be a better ally in the various situations when I’m one of the people with higher status. I want to be the one who sends the implicit message: “To hell with them. I’d like to talk to you. Tell me about your work…”

A second thing was that the memory of the experiences festered. In my hotel room at night I’d be going over them again and again in my mind trying to figure out why this was happening, and wondering whether it was just my imagination. I came up with many, many different theories. Maybe it was something to do with the way I was dressed? (I was pretty sure my skirt wasn’t see-through but perhaps when I was chairing the light was behind me?) Maybe it was that combined with generally being too confident and ‘uppity’? Maybe philosophers of X are just more conservative? Maybe it was because I forgot that person’s name when I was chairing. Maybe I accidentally offended someone on the first day? Maybe I accidentally offended someone putting together an edited volume last year? Maybe they all really, really hate something about my work. Was I being scapegoated for some criticism these people had suffered at the hands of another philosopher? Did they hate my advisor perhaps and I’m a proxy for him? Maybe one vindictive person had made up some kind of awful story about me and spread it to the others on the first day? Was I inadvertently doing something during talks that was really annoying to the people sitting behind me? and on and on. But I never figured it out, and one of the consequences of that is that I’m still interpreting and re-interpreting the events in my head, wondering whether I was just the victim of chance, or whether it was me, something about me, something I did, that caused all this. Should I be feeling ashamed? I just don’t know.

I left the Twilight Zone that was that conference and life went back to normal. I had a million other things to do, and a week later I went to a different conference, where nothing similar happened, I gave a good talk and the crack in my self-esteem was plastered over. But the whole experience – the intensifying of the being-excluded-from-the-in-group experience – really reminded me of some of the effects of having low social status, and of dealing with all those micro- (and not so micro-) aggressions. You are left with these terrible doubts: was it me? Did I bring this on myself somehow? And in the absence of a clear way to rule them out, this is exhausting and undermining. I’m fortunate; I got to walk away with nothing but a few unpleasant memories. (And a few good ones too, of the individuals who treated me with decency.) But low social-status isn’t always something society lets you leave behind.

When I was an undergraduate in philosophy, some of my friends and I started a philosophy undergraduate group. Naturally, amount the ten or so of us, there were only two women, myself included.

Most of the time, this was not a problem for me – I was used to hanging out with the boys, and I could argue just as hardheadedly as the rest of them. My male professors were probably the most supportive mentors I could have ever hoped to find; they were encouraging and always very generous with their time. For the most part, the sexism I did encounter straight on was from my male peers toward my female professors. They would challenge them to unrelated logic questions, complain that their subject matters were less worthwhile and (quite wrongly – many of them were top in their field) accuse them of being worse professors than my male professors. I contested them hotly on each point after class, knowing how badly women professors tend to do on subject evaluations, and how this hurts their chances at tenure.
Nonetheless, fearing ostracism by my peers, I never took any courses in feminist philosophy, nor actively discussed feminist issues with my peers.

I did, however, on one occasion feel personally insulted by my peers. We would host public talks, debates, or movie screenings fortnightly. One week one of my closest male friends suggested discussing autonomy and alcohol consumption. He wanted us to debate whether or not a drunk or ‘impaired’ person should be found at fault for rape, given various scenarios (a drunk victim, or ambiguous consent, for instance). My heart still races and I still get hot in the face remembering this topic being brought up. I have to admit I went a little hysterical at the suggestion – I told them I would boycott the group if they chose to discuss that subject. Having been the subject of sexual assault, (although no alcohol was involved), it seemed ridiculous to me to even ask whether someone who had willingly gotten drunk could possibly be found innocent of sexual assault due to their ‘impaired’ state. My friends laughed at me and told me to calm down, that it was a serious philosophical question.
I left the meeting in a huff, slamming the door.

Now I am in grad school, and the friend who brought the topic up claims to be a serious feminist (although he himself is not an academic). I have trouble believing him since he still doesn’t understand what was wrong the many times he has brought up the above scenario since.
Another friend who was in the group has visited me recently, and he confided to me that our mutual friends used to think that I was not very good at philosophy, and that they were surprised I did so well on my graduate school applications, despite the fact that I was always one of the most active members of the philosophy group, and despite the fact that I graduated as one of the top students in the major. Now they say that I am very good, and that they misjudged me (only a couple of them ever went on to grad school themselves).
I am still pretty sure the only reason they ever thought that I wasn’t good because they were sexists, and confused my anger at their continued offenses for philosophical incompetence. And now I feel guilty that I constantly excused them anyway. Maybe we should never have been friends. I feel I have indirectly contributed to the bad climate for women by never bringing up any of the issues as feminist issues, and by avoiding feminist subjects as philosophically illegitimate. Nonetheless, if I had not remained friends with them and cut my teeth in debates with them, I would probably only be half as good a philosopher as I am.

I am fortunate to have suffered relatively little sexism. Interestingly, however, the reason I suffered so little is because my advisor was overtly sexist.

I had my children during graduate school. Many professors questioned whether I was really going to “stay in philosophy.” One senior woman looked at me thoughtfully and said a department might be okay hiring me because I’d already had my kids and therefore (presumably) would not go having kids on their time.

My advisor, who until I’d started having children had been reasonably supportive, absolutely turned on me. He would ask sneering questions such as “When are you going to give birth to a paper?” He made it clear that he thought by having children, I’d shown I wasn’t serious.

Finally, I got sick of it, and switched advisors. My new advisor couldn’t have been more supportive. He was awesome. I know I wouldn’t have written nearly as good a dissertation as I would have otherwise, nor would I have gotten as much career help and advice.

I was employed as a feminist philosopher in a department where I was the only woman; that is to say, I was employed to teach feminist theory in philosophy. From the beginning there were questions about my competency, about the nature of my work, and with that, very little support from my male colleagues. I felt very undermined, and this did not help my profound lack of confidence. I was given no mentoring, and the one senior woman in a cognate discipline, was an anti-philosopher. She had no sympathy or understanding for what I was doing. One of my colleagues came and shouted at me in front of a grad student when I sent him an email in which I mis-spelt his name. As a result, I moved my office. No-one came to invite me back to the department; no-one tried to sort the issue out. No-one apologised. To this day the former colleague has never acknowledged his role in my moving office. I eventually returned to another office in the department but the whole event was ignored and never spoken of. When I unsuccessfully applied for a promotion at the very same time my first book with a first rate publisher was published, no-one helped me out or suggested I lodge an appeal. Yet there were clearly politics involved in my lack of success. When I was head of the department, my male colleagues basically ignored me or undermined any of my efforts to secure pedagogical changes that would benefit the discipline. I resigned in frustration and everything went back to as it was. I left suddenly, without any goodbyes after giving appropriate notice. No-one seemed to care that I left, or why. I became a philosopher because I love ideas and their exploration. That has not changed, but I feel emotionally and intellectually abused by my whole experience.

A few years ago I [presented] my research at a conference. My talk was chaired by a semi-well known… male professor who is known to be condescending towards female academics. I had traveled a long way to attend this conference and present my research and was really looking forward to receiving questions on my paper. The chair not only cut my talk in half on the excuse that we were running late, giving me less than 15 min to present my paper, but did not allow me to answer any of the questions that the very few people were allowed to ask. Instead, every time I started answering the questions he interrupted me and insisted talking over me and claiming I did not understand the main view I was criticizing. I tried to explain to him why he had misunderstood my argument, but he spoke over me and did not allow me to address any of the criticisms, he just spoke over me until he told me my time was up. I was really disappointed to have lost the opportunity to discuss the questions, especially given that some established philosophers came to see my talk, so I approached them in the coffee break and attempted to discuss their questions. This did not last long; the chair came to join the discussion by standing between me and the professor who had asked the question. The chair turned his back at me and started talking to the professor referring to me as ‘she’ and saying how all I said was wrong. I was right there; able to hear him undermining me and absolutely excluded from the discussion. Having worked with the most established proponent of the view I discussed and published several papers on the topic, I did not feel threatened by the groundless accusations. I felt disappointed that he completely wasted my time and the resources of my institution that funded my trip by depriving me of the opportunity to discuss my research with academics who were actually interested in what I had to say.

A professor of mine–who is refreshingly mindful of gender issues–brought up to me that most of the gender issues discussed within the philosophical community are issues at the graduate and professional levels. This is weird, as the first drop-off concerning women pursuing philosophy occurs at the undergraduate level. And I can assure you, that those of us women who survive the drop off, are experiencing amazing amounts of sexism from our undergraduate peers. I am at one of the top undergraduate programs for philosophy in the states, here are two of many experiences with sexism I’ve encountered: A male peer and I help opposing views on some metaphysical topic, excited to learn from each other I welcomed his criticism after I had argued my view; to my disgust he responded “I have no fucks to give about your view, can I have some?” A horny and disgusting comment which brought laughter from the rest of our peers sitting with us (all of whom are male). The comment was a joke, yes, but it would never have been said to a male peer, and I felt more than objectified. Another experience was similar; I had dabbled in feminist philosophy (a topic nobody at my school was interested in) and shared some of the questions and theories with some peers–again, they are male–rather than asking any philosophically relevant questions, one responded “We’re supposed to learn about feminist philosophy from the girl wearing red lipstick?” The most unfortunate part of all of this is these are male peers with whom I’ve spoken about sexism within academia, and many of whom claim to be on my side.

1. I got engaged, and a senior male professor jokingly tells me not to “go getting pregnant now,” thinking he’s giving me good career advice. I’m pregnant the next year and have two kids before I finish my PhD, which I do in 6 years (earning two masters degrees along the way).

2. I’m at an international conference, out to drinks with some other students. One student goes on about how women can never be good at logic. I tell him he’s just plain wrong (telling him how I tutored two male students in my logic class because they couldn’t keep up as well as I could) and that ridiculous opinions like his do keep people from pursuing his specialty, to its detriment. As great as some of us ladies are, some of us would prefer never want to have to regularly socialize with asshats like him, even if it meant not pursuing logic as a specialty.

3. Same international conference, a senior person in my field casually tells me that I must be sleeping with my advisor. When I get angry and say hell-no, he tells me I protest too much, and that it must be true. I do not tell anyone about this for 3+ years, not even my spouse, because I am so upset that anyone would have the nerve to say something like this and, worse yet, that, if this douchebag has the nerve to say it, then others must think it is also true and believe that my only worth to my advisor is in my pants and not in my work or intellectual worth.

Thanks for the vent.

Since someone posted a story here about a philosophy department in Scandinavia, here’s another. I send this story because it is important to realize that however bad things are in the U.S., in some European departments things are much worse.

Some 12 years ago I had a falling out with a philosopher in my field, on the basis of ethical issues and also what I saw as a tendency toward sexual objectification of myself and others. A typical incident: once as chairman of the dept., he walked into a class I was teaching 45 minutes late and remarked: “I am here to inspect the merchandise.” There are many other incidents of this kind I could recount. At the time he had been having an affair with a student, who since left philosophy. I decided to base myself in another department, but suffered in the years since by being tarred as difficult, not only in his department, but in others.

Since then he has become a very powerful person in philosophy in this country, in spite of a poor publication record and in spite of continuing to use the graduate students as a dating pool. (So his recent affair with yet another graduate student, this time a very, very talented woman, also ended in her leaving philosophy. ) He also has had conflicts with many other colleagues in the years since his conflict with me. But like me, they always end up leaving the department.

FInally, in his capacity as chairman, he has conducted an open war with feminist philosophy and fields related to it.

Needless to say a female professor has never *ever* been hired in that department, of whatever AOS.

Nobody can do or say anything about this person because he has the administration on his side. If there were anything like a conversation about women in philosophy in this country, maybe his behavior toward female students could be checked, and other areas of philosophy—besides those related to his—could have a chance. But that conversation has not gotten started yet. There is just no way in at the moment.

Not to focus so much on this one person, my point is that because of the general attitude that prevails here, he can pretty much do what he wants. As a person of authority he is always give the benefit of the doubt.

It’s a tragedy.

A few years ago, I left my university’s philosophy department. I had been there about 20 years, hired with tenure and assuming that I would be able to participate as an equal in its affairs. I forgot I was the only tenured woman. One of the first things my new chair told me was that he liked my skirts as short as possible. The second thing he told me was that I was making less than a man who had been hired with tenure at the same time as I had because the man had “a family to support.” Things did not improve. When the department was audited, it told the Dean that the mistakes were my fault, even though they originated before I arrived on campus. When I engaged in free-ranging departmental debate, I was told that I was overly emotional. When I was passed over as chair it was because, the out-going chair said, I made him feel stupid. When I applied for an administrative position at the university, a member of the department told the search committee I was power-hungry. I could go on (and on). I have not had these problems in my new department.

I am a biological scientist rather than a philosopher, but as someone who works in a male dominated field I thought my comments might be of interest. In the wake of [a recent high-profile] resignation I have heard comments that the graduate student in question should have confronted him personally rather than taking the matter up with the administration. These comments arise out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. I know because I was once a graduate student with just such a misunderstanding.

My first year in graduate school all the entering students were required to take an introductory class taught by the department chair. He routinely made comments belittling women and our ideas. I talked a lot in class and many of his comments were directed at me. I had dealt with this kind of jerk before and I didn’t let it bother me, especially since my fellow graduate students were supportive. However, as the semester went on my female classmates stopped speaking in class and asked me how I could put up with it. I thought that since I was older (26) and not afraid of this man, it was my responsibility to address this situation so I marched into his office and explained to him that, although I was sure it was unintentional, he was having a negative effect on the free exchange of ideas in his class. I gave clear examples. I explained my position. As I am sure all the women reading this already know, this had exactly zero effect on his behavior in class. What I didn’t understand was that a man who does not respect women is not going to change his mind because a women presents him with a strong logical argument.

The point is that a man who disrespects a woman enough to send her sexually suggestive emails is not going to listen to anything she has to say. Confronting such a man personally is not going to make him reassess his position. It will make him retaliate.

In order to solve the two-body problem, my partner and I once worked in a Scandinavian philosophy department, in a fairly small town. The day-today ‘low’ level sexism was quite appalling. In the year 2004, when I was appointed to a tenured role, I was only the second woman in the whole country to ever have held a tenured philosophy position, although no one but myself and my partner seemed to think this was a problem. Indeed, senior men in the profession used to write articles in the press about women’s biological incapacity for philosophical reasoning (too hard). Fortunately, we were lucky enough to solve the two-body problem once more with an escape to another country.

For various complicated reasons (some family-related) my partner and I chose to come back to this country for our latest sabbatical, although this time to the capital, which has a much better philosophy department (although still no women!). Although I was told I was very welcome, there was some concern expressed about the space limitations. To sweeten the deal I offered to give a guest lecture or two, and an agreement was reached, or so I thought.

When we turned up, my office space turned out to be shared with three others, located in the student activity area (ie, not with the other academics). But that is a relatively trivial matter, and not the reason for writing this story. I received an email from a young man who has recently completed his PhD who told me that he was looking forward to running a particular undergraduate course with me. ‘Running a course’? I assumed that because English was not his first language, he just had an odd way of putting things. After giving him referencing details for the two lectures I planned to give, the emailing started to get tense. When I wanted to make some slight adjustment to the scheduling of my two lectures, he responded by saying that as the course coordinator, I should be willing to be maximally flexible with my dates so as to ensure the prestigious guest lecturers that he had lined up for the course could have their preferences met.

Now, I’m no international super-star, but I am an accomplished philosopher with some kind of reputation and a respectable list of high quality publications in high quality journals. That’s really *quite* a lot more than can be said about most of the ‘prestigious guest lecturers’ (all local Scandinavians). And anyway, I thought I *was* one of the guest lecturers (even if not prestigious)!? After confronting him, it turns out that this guy had indeed been told that I was to coordinate the whole course with him, which would involve me doing a substantial amount of undergraduate teaching, administration and grading. He claims he was told about my teaching duties by the senior male philosopher with whom I had corresponded about the sabbatical visit.

Any philosopher from the U.S. or the UK who has spent any time in Scandinavia will know that they sometimes do things somewhat differently here. Certainly not all the oddities can be assumed to be sexist. But to expect someone on sabbatical who has agreed to a guest lecture or two to actually run an undergraduate course?! I don’t believe this would have happened if I was male, simply because I would have been perceived as a researcher, first and foremost, not a teacher, and, moreover, one of a standing that this department really should be quite happy to host. Needless to say, I am certainly not going to be running any bloody undergraduate courses!

These happened quite a long time ago: 1981 or 1982, but the word is that the department in question remains notoriously sexist.

1. I was at a party talking to my dissertation adviser and several other grad students in which I said “Can you imagine me taking that position?”(about having had the opposite of my well known views attributed to me) to which he replied, very unctuously, “I have imagined you in many positions over the years.” The conversation in the small circle of people came to a screeching halt, and I just walked away. I was far enough along on the diss that switching advisers at the point would have been very hard. But I did everything I could to avoid being in the same room with him from then on, leaving my work in his mailbox.

2.A senior person in the department who’d been on my MA thesis committee offered to write me a rec when I was putting together my job apps. The grad student adviser was a woman rightly famous then and now for her fierce defense of women in the profession (how I wish I could name her) read the letter in my file, and asked the writer why he’d written such a short,weak letter, especially since he’d offered to write it. His reply was seriously too weird to believe, but here it is: he said that he’d thought my work was good, but had trouble paying attention to anything but my…wrists. He said this to her! Insane! All she could do was have the letter pulled from the file.

I am a professor emerita of philosophy from a smallish university in the south. When I was preparing my tenure dossiers, my male chair, who had an (admittedly) awful mother and who treated all female faculty in his department as if they MIGHT really be his mother, did not help or encourage me in my tenure process; in fact he actively discouraged me. When I expressed some fears about submitting my dossiers, he looked at me with glee and said, “Maybe you shouldn’t come up for tenure.” Well, I did anyway and got it unanimously from my department, dean, university committee, and provost. During my years in the department he patronized and marginalized every female faculty member who joined us, going so far as to create a new master’s of philosophy that deliberately included only one course taught by the two female faculty. He and a male colleague taught 19 of the 44 courses offered in that master’s degree.

I am working in a discipline that uses philosophy. I think it is it helpful to offer vignettes from the “territories” abroad. My job is solely on research in philosophy of this discipline. I am in a research team who are all, also, similarly inclined. The other all-male (tenured) colleagues just don’t seem to get it and never challenge that my work is not chosen to read whilst theirs is (chosen by each other). One in particular thinks that laughing about my work in public is both cool, funny and scholarly. Recently it started to go beyond a joke and is – I believe – a factor in a situation where I do not feel taken seriously as a scholar in my department and have been really unhappy in some ways in higher education and thought about leaving. I asked him if he would like to go for a drink as there was something I wanted to bring up with him. My private attitude was “do this or I’m making a formal complaint”. We went for a drink. I probed him about his attitude to my work. He proceeded to explain to me that he thought I did “not deserve to be in the academy” and that my work was ridiculous. I explained to him what a cold climate is and that women get badly treated by men in philosophy and that they need to be conscious of their jokes and the drip drip detrimental effects they might have. A heated exchange ensued but for the sake of GETTING HIM TO STOP denigrating my work in public I continued with the pleasant tone. I had a clear objective. I pointed out to him that he had only read drafts of my work and had not read my book (or the second one – he has none) or any of my published/in press articles. He said that he knew enough to form his opinion. I had read one of his papers and thought it very derivative of the thought of others but it made a reasonable final point – not mind-blowing but useful. At the end of the drink event he graciously condescended to tell me that actually my work wasn’t that bad. I told him I didn’t care what he thought of my work. A few days later, we were scheduled to read a further article of his at a meeting and discuss it. So I read his paper. We discussed it. At a certain point in the meeting – a key site where he used to regularly laugh at my work in front of my colleagues – he laughed again at my work. One of the other male colleagues suggested we run a conference on sexual desire, and then moved to joke that I should do a keynote (yes, indeed but contextually there are some mitigating factors). The “drinks” colleague made a laughing comment that my work could not possibly be included as it would bring the academy and the conference down. In the paper under discussion, he had the gall to speak of the importance of iterability and the arrivant (again that paper was a highly derivative presentation of another’s thought, with no original philosophy being done). I pointed out to him after the meeting and after reading his paper that I no longer could respect the HYPOCRISY and saw now the comment that I didn’t belong in the academy in a new and more difficult light. I said I thought HIS work was bad and took his way in dealing with me and his lack of change of attitude and continued humiliating laughter about my work very seriously. He told me that if I communicated with him in such a disrespectful way again he would make a formal complaint against me! At which point I (roughly speaking) said – I have two years of history of you being sexist towards me and I’m trying to discuss it with you firstly privately to avoid trouble for you (and difficulty for me as I’m looking for a tenured job right now) and rather than listen and change, you threaten me! You escalate this and I tell you BRING IT ON! It will be a relief to take this finally to our HoD and beyond.
As a coda – we at present do not talk except for strictly professional matters and I feel much better. It is only sites like this one that have raised my awareness and confidence to tackle such things. My new book comes out with a good press at the end of the year! My career is enjoyable and thriving, although I worry that as a woman it is harder for me than a man to get a permanent post as a lecturer. It’s a shame there are young men in the strong position of a tenured post who do not examine their attitudes to female (contracted and soon to be made redundant) colleagues more closely.