I was scheduled to be a speaker at a workshop in my area, which was canceled due to lack of funding. The conference organizer wrote this to me:
unfortunately for the only other workshop i have in mind the organizing theme is one where you won’t fit, but on the other hand for purely cynical political reasons i will need a token woman.
When I replied that I didn’t want to be his token anything and found his attitude disrespectful, he told me that the cancelled workshop
was 50% women, so if any of them were tokens they would have a hard time guessing this.
I tried one more time:
Yes, but please also don’t tell them shitty, undermining things. “I will need a token woman” is a rotten thing to say to somebody you want to come to your conferences. (Sometimes friends can say rotten things to each other as jokes, but that one definitely crossed a line.)
sorry if you found the joke offensive, but that is the effect of the “gendered conference campaign” which it seems almost everybody but me thinks is a great idea.
I’m almost certainly not organizing any more conferences, thanks for your interest in participating in my nonexistent one.
Archive for the ‘failure to take women seriously’ Category
I am a graduate student at a top university. It has taken me over a year to decide to write this. These events have not only hurt me on a deep personal level,compromised my chances in the field, and most importantly have made me question my philosophical abilities. I will recount not a single incident, but an series of incidents.
Two years ago, as a visiting perspective student I met the leading expert in my area and the most famous philosopher in the department at a welcoming party. As I approached with another male prospective student, he launched into a rant about how female philosophy students just tend to be weaker students and that he had a mind to start a tutoring team for female students in this department. When I suggested that the team should be available for anyone seeking help, either male or female, he emphatically replied that it is the female population that needs help not dropping out. When I met him in his office the next day, he continued on his point. Weeks later I was about to take another offer when the department secretary emailed me letting me know that an additional sum has been added to my package. I took this as a sign that that professor felt apologetic and really did want me to join the department and accepted their offer.
A couple of months into the semester, at a conference after party he leaned towards me and half asked, half suggested that my main adviser and letter writer at my undergraduate department (a famous philosopher) gets “chummy” with his female students. I firmly replied that has never been the case (and after 5 years at that department and many friendships with grad students, I know that that professor is a decent and good human being). He went on to insist that he is in the know and then put his arm around me. I just slid away and later told myself that the whole night was probably just a fluke and that he had too much to drink and probably doesn’t even remember it.
An uneventful year later, I was doing an independent study with him when he expressed enthusiasm about my idea and even said that it was publishable. Later, he placed himself very close to me and then touched my hand as I was handing him an article. I pretended that it didn’t happen and finished the meeting as usual. Later that day, I brought my fiance to the department party and introduced him around. He glared at me but didn’t make contact. After that evening, everything started to change. He started ignoring my hand during seminar, screaming at me in public, calling me incomprehensible to other grad students at bars and so forth. In the middle of the night on Valentine’s Day he emailed me saying that I have no future in philosophy and that “others agree” with him and so forth. I asked the chair whether there was an ongoing consensus on my philosophical potential amongst the faculty and he denied it to be the case. He then told me in reply to my complaint that he “cannot make a professor like a student” and that was that.(Incidentally, the chair was good friends with that professor and was also the one who put his hand on my lower stomach at a party and told me “don’t get knocked up” when I entered in on a conversation about preschools between him and another male grad student). Grad students started treating me differently. I remained in that seminar to stand my ground and show that I cannot be bullied. He was co-teaching this seminar with another elderly, well respected philosopher. One day this elderly gentleman asked this professor to give him a case of ‘X wants some Y’. That professor looked at me and said “He wants some young mail-order bride [from country Z]” and laughed (everyone knew, including him, that I was [from country Z]). Everyone started to laugh with him, including the elderly professor. I raised my hand and said “isn’t this example sort of inappropriate?” and the elderly professor replied through his laughing tears “oh excuse me” and continued laughing.
I am a postdoc in her early 30s. I am Italian and this happened at a conference in Italy.
After my talk, an academic in his 60s, who had previously asked me a (not particularly smart) question, approached me and said: “You don’t see often women giving talks in see-through skirts, I am impressed”.
Needless to say, my skirt wasn’t see-through, it wasn’t a mini-skirt, and I was wearing thick black tights.
I replied politely, pointing out that my skirt wasn’t see-through.
I was hired into a department in which I was the only woman, and also the only contingent full-time faculty member. Eager to prove myself (since it had been strongly suggested that my position could become permanent if I did so), I threw myself into departmental duties, in addition to research and teaching. Among other things, I cultivated a relationship with another larger department in the area, whose resources would be useful to ours. I was delighted when I learned that this department was bringing a very important, senior woman philosopher to give a talk that year, and I organized a trip to bring our students, and students from other related departments, to the lecture (which was some distance away).
On the day of the lecture and our trip, the chair (who had hitherto said nothing about my efforts, nor the unique opportunity this posed for our students to see such a prominent philosopher speak) said to me in passing, “So, you’re going to see [Senior Woman Philosopher]?” “Yes,” I replied, “it’s very exciting!” He smiled. “Yeah, a friend of mine met her once,” he said. “He says she’s a real bitch. Hahaha!” I replied that I hoped he’d told his friend he was being sexist, which only elicited more laughter.
On other occasions, my chair told a gleeful story about visiting a famous pornographer’s home, full of scantily-clad women, and made joking comments in a department meeting about the importance of secretaries having good legs.
This person, I am fairly certain, has no idea that such behaviors are alienating, or feel hostile to women. But they are, and they do. It was impossible to go to work without thinking “if this is how he thinks about other women–if this is how he thinks about Senior women in our profession–then what does he think about me?” And unfortunately, because he was chair, and I was contingent, I felt I had nowhere to turn. Making an official complaint with HR would have made daily life worse, and I feared losing my job.
Fortunately, I was able to find another position. If I had been forced to stay much longer, I believe I would have given up academic philosophy.
A word to the fortunate who make it to tenure and then wish to apply for promotion to Full Professor. Please note that it may get worse as you try to go up the ladder. I was the first woman ever tenured at my research university, a place where numerous law suits had been brought by prior women, and settled. I came in with tenure as an Associate Professor, making it clear I would not consider being recruited without it. I made myself a promise that after 10 years I would apply for promotion to Full Professor. The department had not in fact promoted anyone for over 20 years at the time. But bit by bit we began to get our younger colleagues tenured. Numerous times, however, the other male Associate Professors applied to be considered for promotion to Full Professor and were told “Not yet”. Finally a male colleague, well-qualified but happening to be an old friend of the chair, was told he could go ahead and be considered. Arguably he had the least international reputation of all the Associates. But at least he was supported. I chose the following year to go forward. I was told by the Full Professors: “You are not ready. Write more.” It was clear to me that the lady was being asked to go to the end of the line, and that there were concerns about a younger woman being promoted ahead of the others, much older and wholly male. I knew that my C.V. looked in many ways much stronger than theirs and than the male who had just been put forward with unanimous approval.
I asked my colleagues what exactly I needed to produce, as I had published more pages than any other Associate, had more of an international reputation, more fellowships, more students, and more service. I was told “a few more articles or a book”. Nonsense. So I went to the Dean. Here’s where knowing the rules and speaking out is important. He said, “You don’t have a right to go forward.” I said, “I don’t need a right. I wish to proceed and will proceed. The Faculty Handbook doesn’t give the Full Professors in my department any rights either. So I propose this. I’ll be happy to go forward with a wholly negative vote from my department, let them vote this way. I would benefit from the appraisal of outside evaluators. Let’s see what they say about my research. And by the way, here’s the rule: You can say about me whatever you want. And I in turn will talk and talk and talk to everyone I know about how my case is being handled. I can compare my own c.v. with the one that went forward the year before, and it’s easy to see I look good by comparison.” Then I wrote my Full Professor colleagues in Philosophy a letter. I suggested that all of the Associates be put forward. And I made a chart, documenting the pages published, the citations, the talks, the evidence of international reputation – of all the Associates and the Full Professors as well (the Associates were in some ways outperforming the Fulls). Of course I was furious that I had to sit there doing the work of documenting my accomplishments and theirs; work that was, after all, what my senior colleagues should have done. But, knowing about the social science on bias, I figured they couldn’t even read a C.V. The chart made my case clear, so I went forward. – Although one or two of my senior colleagues voted against me, the majority in the end did, after seeing the documentation. And the outside letters were unanimous in praising my work. So I got promoted.
I have one colleague who will no longer speak to me and the climate is much more chilly than before. But that’s okay with me. What’s Caesar’s is Caesar’s, and what’s mine is mine. It’s not a club. It’s a promotion. And I don’t think they will ever try this again, they’ve learned their lesson.
Moral of the story: know your facts, and know the rules, watch the comparatives, make a chart, and speak out, if you need to, especially to Deans and others outside the department who have to work with general rules. Don’t think that you are part of a family, and don’t worry about embarrassing anyone, especially your colleagues. And don’t be deceived into thinking you are well thought of if you are treated as if you are everyone’s favorite niece. Until you are promoted to Full Professor, the rubber hasn’t yet hit the road.
I am a senior female philosopher. I work in several areas, one of which is dominated by male philosophers. I was recently asked to participate as a plenary speaker at a conference in this subfield, and agreed to participate, noting that I was the only woman listed as a plenary participant (I was asked to comment on another presentation). When I got to the conference I discovered that the conference organizers were covering the expenses of the male speakers. My expenses were not covered, I paid myself. This upset me, because I felt that I was not being treated fairly in relation to the men.
I raise this issue because I think it needs to be raised in regards the Gendered Conference Campaign, which I completely support. Women not only need to be invited more often, when they are invited they should be treated the same as the men.
I can’t believe this just happened. Really? Yes, this did just happen. I keep on going over it over and over it as if I can’t believe what just happened! I was sitting in at an Aristotle seminar when the conversation went from Aristotle’s categories to the discussion of sex and gender. First, I should say that my professor didn’t know the difference between sex and gender and then when he asked me to explain cause he had no idea about what I was talking about HE belittled me by saying that my explanation was morally perverted and unacceptable! Then as the conversation went on he made a comment like “intersex is a malformation” he went on to say that it was “unnatural” and that he couldn’t conceive that there was anything besides a female and a male. When I pointed out that his language or choice of words was problematic, he proceeded to say that I had no argument and that I was confused because of the array of classes that they offer at the university I attend. I proceeded to cite scientific studies that showed other wise and also told him why I thought his argument was wrong but this didn’t seem to matter. But this is not it! To make matters worse, the conversation took a turn to the abortion topic! I am not going to make this story long but I will say that the conversation ended 30 minutes after class time (outside) and he said that women in a way did not have a right over their bodies when they had another “human being” in their womb! And then to make matters worse (if you can imagine that) HE the PROFESOR took his hand and patted my head (the student) and said “look at your eyes you are giving me a bad look, just think about what I said and I will think about what you said, like seriously” I am not sure how I should be feeling at this moment other than: REALLY? Did my professor just say and do that? Did this just happen?
All the following events happened to me, a woman in philosophy, with different people (some women), at different stages of my career as an undergraduate and graduate student.
I once found myself hugged by one of the professors I worked with, in his office. He wanted to be empathized with for the troubles he was having in his personal life: he said he needed “some love”. I was paralyzed by the surprise and embarrassment. Fortunately another student knocked on the (closed) door and he let me go.
Another professor frequently looked at my body when talking to me during office hours. I never knew how to deal with it, and it made me extremely uncomfortable, mostly because I suspected he was not paying attention to what I was saying.
I was at a conference with my partner, also a philosophy student. My advisor made sure to introduce my partner, who is not one of his advisees, to all the members of the admissions committee of a very good department to which my partner was applying. At the same conference there was a famous philosopher, with whom my advisor was on friendly terms. I was writing my undergraduate thesis on the work of this famous philosopher. I thought my advisor would introduce me, given how he behaved with my partner who wasn’t even his advisee, but I waited in vain. I therefore introduced myself to the famous philosopher and talked to him about my work (the famous philosopher—also, guess what, a man—did not really engage in the conversation, but answered politely to my questions with, more or less, yes or no). When I told to my advisor that I had introduced myself, he merely said “good job!” My partner was a man.
A different advisor often remarked on my outfits (in the presence of other students) and declared he was in love with me in an email. He was married and he sort of made clear it was a form of Platonic love. He did always engage me philosophically, but I refrained from seeing him as much as I would have wanted because I feared he would take it as a sign of romantic interest.
At a conference once I wore a summer dress that left my shoulders and part of my back bare. I later found out that some women graduate students and a woman faculty member berated me because of my “skimpy clothes”, through which I “debased the entire category of women”. They wondered how women could be taken seriously if they dressed like that. Admittedly, these quotes are second-hand. The faculty member works on feminist philosophy.
A male colleague once told me laughingly that a bunch of male graduate students were exchanging emails about my dissertation topic, which was so “feminine”. He did not seem to think for a moment that there was anything wrong with that behavior, or with expecting me to share his amusement.
Another male colleague, who had been hitting on me constantly and who had talked about my “boobs” in front of other male students, once asked me—again in front of other colleagues—why I presented myself like a “whore”. In the past, I had always acquiesced and tried to go along with the jokes (because they are only jokes, right, and you don’t want to come out as one of those party poopers without sense of humor). This time I coldly replied: “I don’t present myself as a whore at all, why do you see me that way?”. To my surprise, he shut up!
When I was at another department as a visiting student, one of the students there, with whom I had a fling, boasted to prospective students that among the benefits of the program there was being able to sleep with visiting students. I was right there.
I was once at a dinner with faculty members and graduate students, and during what I thought was a philosophical conversation, I made the mistake of mentioning, as a philosophical example, a detail of my personal life that routinely gives the impression to men that a woman is “easy”. After that, a faculty member started to mildly flirt with me, to my surprise and dismay. He stopped after I stopped saying hi to him in the halls, or acknowledging him in any way. For all that time, I felt guilty, as if I was the one who did something wrong.
Later on, in a seminar discussion, I made sure to make a similar point without using my personal life, but by using a sociological generalization. Still, what the men present in the seminar took home was that I was “easy”, and another faculty, during an evening out, made a joke about me that gave the impression that I had relaxed sexual morals. Other male students felt entitled to make similar jokes. I wrote an email to the professor, explaining why his joke was inappropriate. He apologized profusely. So that one went well! (It goes without saying that whether or not I am actually “easy” is irrelevant here.)
Once I was visiting my partner who was in a different PhD program. Prospective students were also visiting that department at the time and I joined them for a night out. I kept asking people about their research interests. Nobody ever asked me about mine. I was just his girlfriend, after all.
There have been many more events similar to this last one, which, more than sexual harassment in its various forms, arguably constitute the most damaging way of undermining women’s academic self-esteem: instances of subtle, widespread, and often unconscious forms of sexism. I personally experienced what so many women reported experiencing on this blog: a woman makes a point, sees it fall flat, and then hears the same point being repeated by a man and acknowledged; a woman is paralyzed by stereotype threat; a woman is rarely, if ever, asked to read or discuss a male colleague’s work; and so forth.
A final meta-reflection: it took me a long time—in fact, more than a year—to finish writing this submission. It was not because I had a hard time putting together anecdotes. (In fact, I left some out.) It was because I spent a long time worrying about being identified, and subsequently worked on making the submission as anonymous as possible.
My preoccupation with anonymity was not only due to the fear of backlashes in the professional sphere, but mainly due to the fear of disrupting some friendships that I still hold with some people mentioned in the post. After all, some of the offenders are still my friends, and this is absolutely unsurprising. Human beings are weak-willed, opaque to themselves, inconsistent, and prone to error. All human beings, men and women (and people who refuse to identify with one gender) alike! Many men who say something offensive and who slip into sexist behavior don’t mean it, don’t realize it, or can’t help it. They may regret it afterwards, but are unable to apologize. They may apologize, but then do it again.
My aim in submitting this post is, like everybody else on this blog, to share my experience as a woman in philosophy, and to highlight sins but not to point my finger against the sinners. Some sinners deserve to be pointed at, of course. Unfortunately, the worst offenders, in virtue of the gravity of their crimes, often go unreported and hence unpunished. But in my case, my main aim is to contribute to make my male and female colleagues aware of things that happen to women in philosophy, hoping that this will bring about awareness and change.
Blogs like this one should not be seen by men as a self-righteous “J’accuse” to specific (mostly male) individuals, but as an appeal to all people of good faith who want to improve the profession. As a post on the Feminist Philosophers blog recently reminded us, the status of women in the profession (and of all minorities, if I may add) is everyone’s business.
My account brings not much new to the shocking posts I read on this blog, but mainly confirms that they are part of a wider structural problem. I did half of my first degree in philosophy. Prior to commencing my studies there, a female friend and previous graduate recommended the department to me, but warned me that I need to watch out for Dr X and Dr Y as they’d come onto female students. I never experienced any form of sexual advances myself, but during my time there I learned about several sexual encounters, affairs and occasional relationships between male lecturers/ tutors and female students. Generally (perhaps not in every case) I think this is an abuse of power from the side of the lecturers who are in charge of students’ grades and future prospects.
My former philosophy department had a similar set-up as many of the departments mentioned on this blog – exclusively male leadership, and out of the whole staff team only a couple of staff members were female. I was fortunate enough to at some point be taught by an excellent female lecturer, who had left the department due to department-internal conflicts (unknown to me, but they were between her and apparently several male colleagues) and ran her courses from a different department. Courses run by that lecturer are my best memories of my time in philosophy – I suspected that she never fully received the recognition she deserves.
In my final year or so, I asked on a department-internal online forum why there was no course offered on a prominent female or non-white philosopher – indeed, these were generally found only sparsely on our reading lists. On the same forum, several male student ‘colleagues’ posted some ‘jokes’ along the lines of ‘women to the kitchen!’. Then a prominent lecturer responded to my post, saying that it ‘doesn’t matter’ whether a philosopher was male or female, white or black – all that mattered what the philosophical theories produced by them. He overlooked that his assertion was informed by a particular epistemological bias and completely unacceptable as a generalised statement. Furthermore, even in more maths-based philosophy as in the area he worked in, there is a case to be made for making sure that there is a women-friendly climate in general and women get the same recognition as men, so they feel supported to produce the best work they can. I was disappointed. As some others on here said, the most depressing thing is that these are supposedly people who are educated in equality & diversity, and highly educated in general.
As a graduate student, I changed subject and never looked back. I’m now often in strongly female-dominated working constellations – even though recently my (female, self-proclaimed feminist) supervisor told me half-jokingly, ‘Don’t get pregnant while in graduate school!’. This comes at a time when one of my colleagues is struggling with her department being unsafe for her pregnancy, and there are huge delays in making it safe despite repeated pleas from her (male) supervisor. Not that I’m planning to get pregnant anytime soon, but – ouch!
Just a few hours ago, the first plenary speaker at a philosophy of science conference was a very important female philosopher whose book is a seminal (sic) reference in the sub-field that’s the topic of the conference. In the course of the talk she mentioned that she wasn’t sure how a particular scientist from the 1800s was using the term mathematical induction, despite having spent some effort looking into it. The first “question” from the audience was some dude informing her that mathematical induction is… then he went on to give the basic definition we all learned in high school math class. I had to clap my hands over my mouth to stop from laughing out loud at the presumption. She was very gracious and said that of course she agreed that this is what mathematical induction is, but that this scientist from the 1800s seemed to be using the term differently, and what she was trying to get at was what the term meant in that historical context.
Do I need to explain why this is so shocking? That guy didn’t seem to realize.
I attended a small, all women’s liberal arts college where I was blessed to be in a philosophy department that loved our thoughts and encouraged discussion. However, one I graduated and faced “the real world”, as it were, I discovered nothing but blatant disregarded for female intelligence. Truly, just early today I was near tears after having heard another person make a dismissive comment regarding my study; finding your blog was a breath of fresh air.
I was advised to apply straight from the MA program to the PhD program after the first semester of grad school. I was accepted, and while waiting to hear back on funding, a male student made the comment that my application must not have been strong enough, because “I try to act like a man but I still think like a woman”, and asked if I knew how many women had applied because I had a higher chance of getting funding if there were less female applicants.
Another male student said I would get accepted because I’m a woman but I wouldn’t get funding because I don’t do ethics (which is the only specialization for women, apparently).
Once the line did come through and I got the funding, a female student (who works in feminist philosophy, no less)said “I’ve seen some of the incoming students and they’re amazing! You’re lucky you were already here. You’re lucky they already know you. You’re really lucky they like you. Congrats!”
So as far as my department goes according to men, everything is handed to me because of my gender, and according to women, everything is handed to me because of my charm. Man or woman, no one will accept a woman doing well in philosophy based on merit. I’ve considered looking at other programs, but I’m afraid that this is how it’s going to be no matter where I go.
I just found your site by accident and wanted to thank you for voicing, so honestly, what many of us have felt. I was a “woman in philosophy” and it was difficult. Sexism was a problem, but I hoped that this had changed (I’m 42.) I was in a Phd program beginning in ’96 and had schools in and around NYC offering me scholarships because they were desperate to appear diverse by enrolling more women. Once enrolled, I found that sexism was rampant. I was belittled by numerous professors when I spoke up, was encouraged to accept a less challenging TA position than my male counterparts, despite being a stronger candidate for the others. I spoke with one of my undergraduate professor’s and she said it was “to be expected.” I ended up leaving my program.
I’m just so sorry that this hasn’t improved. I hope it’s better than when I attended, but stay strong! It’s an important field and it needs more women. I had only 2 female philosophy professors for my entire undergraduate career. I’m proud of you (and all the younger women who are pushing the boundaries) and appreciate what you’re doing. For all of us.