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.
Archive for the ‘failure to take women seriously’ Category
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.
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.
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!
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.
At a department symposium I remarked R. There was an extremely short silence, and then the discussion moved on.
Later on, favored young male philosopher recommended that we return to look at my point. Afterward several attendees congratulated the yound male philosopher for his clever point, which they were all in a position to know was my point, but I had disappeared from the discourse.
As you may know, Kieran Healy has recently conducted an analysis of citation data in 4 top philosophy journals over the last 20 years. The results pertaining to gender are striking: Of the top 500+ cited items, 19 (3.6% of the total) are written by 15 women.
As has been noted, it wouldn’t be surprising if implicit bias–coupled, no doubt, with other problematic valences, along the elite/non-elite, junior/senior, and anglophone/non-anglophone dimensions, in particular–were playing a significant role in this data, especially given how failure to cite can percolate.
Without attempting to assign distributive weighting to these valences, I want to anecdotally register one batch of ways in which citation blindness has played out for me over the years. I’ll then offer a couple of positive suggestions about what women (or others subject to problematic citation blindness) can do to try to ward off or push back against this sort of thing.
1. Every year I read or get papers to referee on “Prominent Male’s approach to X” which do not cite me (much less discuss me), notwithstanding that I was the first to present and defend this approach in print and have since written several papers on the topic. The priority issues here are slightly subtle; a few people were working on this approach at around the time my paper was written. But no one could deny that I was one of the ground-floor proponents of the approach (which contribution is, thankfully, tracked in certain encyclopedia articles and surveys); nor could anyone doing due diligence on the topic miss that I am one of the primary “players” here. The editors of numerous journals certainly know this well enough!
But again, I am simply absent from many papers on this topic. This situation is improving somewhat of late, in part because I’ve been fairly active in contacting people and telling them my little story. But what a pain (for all concerned) to have to do that.
2. This citation blindness has occurred even in cases where the author is well aware that I work on the topic. Once I gave a talk where I discussed and defended the view (mentioning, as I often do in hopes of correcting the record, my initial paper). Two people who were present went on to write papers on “Prominent Male’s view” that did not cite me; one of these was my commentator. I caught one of the papers before publication and contacted the author reminding them that I was also a proponent of the view; the author was genuinely shocked that they had forgotten to cite me, and did manage to get a footnote to me in the final version, along with the usual in-text justification for focusing on Prominent Male as the prominent proponent of the view (a self-fulfilling prophecy, to be sure).
3. It has not helped matters that Prominent Male has never cited my paper in any of his work on the topic, notwithstanding that he was (of this there is no room for doubt) aware of my work.
4. Again, citation blindness percolates. Given that Prominent Male doesn’t cite me, why should anyone else? And so it continues.
5. One last peeve: of the papers I read or am sent to referee on this topic that do not cite me, a goodly proportion raise objections to the view that I have already anticipated and responded to in print.
So, what to do? Here are three suggestions off the top of my head:
1. Make crystal clear in the title of your paper what your new development (or response to objection, or whatever) is supposed to be.
2. Subscribe to the PhilPapers ‘new papers’ stream and religiously check for whether papers on your topic appropriately cite you. Many of these papers are drafts or forthcoming, in which case there will often be time for the author to cite you, or better yet, take your work into account.
3. When you get sent papers to referee on the topic which do not appropriately cite or discuss your work, do not be shy about saying that the author needs to do so.
I delivered a paper at a conference that argued that a famous historical philosopher always qualified concept X with adjective Y. In fact, I used what I had noticed to solve a long-standing problem.
At the meeting, a male philosopher mistakenly maintained he had presented the same idea about X being qualifed by Y. Guess who is generally cited as the source of this now standard point. It is not I.
In the not-so-distant past, I wrote a dissertation on a relatively “hot” topic in philosophy of X. My adviser, who was not in residence at my grad-institution the year I defended, offered only minimal support during my “dissertating” (though other (male) members of my department went *way* beyond the call of duty (e.g. reading and commenting on multiple drafts, revisions, etc.) to support me while I wrote).
A couple of years after I defended and had gotten a TT job at a SLAC, my “adviser” published a monograph on my dissertation topic, but he did not cite (or acknowledge) my work. A couple of years after that, he edited a volume on the same topic I wrote on, but did not invite me to contribute.
It is true, I am not running in R1 circles, but I have had a steady stream of (low rent) publications. I have found it very hard to keep up with Philosophy of X at my SLAC with a heavy teaching and service load. Meanwhile, as part of my review process, I am suppose to show how I have been influential in my field. Seriously? I am a woman in M&E at a SLAC in the south. Puh-leez!
It has been some time now since I finished my PhD, and I am trying to break into another area of philosophy that may be more welcoming to me.
I’m not a philosopher, but this involves an interaction with a male philosopher colleague (who was forever happening to mention that PHILOSOPHY IS LIKE MATH AND PHYSICS in the gender ratios of its faculty). He called me one day because he was supporting the postdoctoral application of someone whom I’d known in grad school. He had to write a letter justifying why she was the right candidate to select for the position, but he didn’t know her or her work well at the time.
So I said, “well, you know, her work seems trendy now, but when she started her doctoral research project it wasn’t — she was quite an outlier and picked up on something to which few people were paying scholarly attention at the time. You might want to emphasize that in your letter”.
A few months go by, the postdoc comes to our institution, does very well, gets competing TT offers halfway through her time here. Male philosopher runs into me, we are talking about the postdoc and her success, and he says to me, “You know, I saw this coming. I said in my letter of support for her that although her work now seems trendy, at the time she started her doctoral research it wasn’t, and she really picked up on something to which few people were paying scholarly attention at the time”.
Not quite a “failure to cite” story, but in the same universe.
Here’s the picture they paint of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy: I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi.
It’s a wonder there are any of us left.
We are discussing two scenarios in seminar that seem to provide a similar result, and I ask how we can claim that the results are equivalent when there was no justification in one case for a belief about certain contents. Specifically, I said “This seems odd to me. How can we say that A “knows” what P means in the exact same way that B “knows” what P means, if A has no prior knowledge and no justification but B is a native speaker of the language that P is written in?”
A classmate responded with “you didn’t mean to say “know,” but that’s okay” and made a patting gesture with his hand at the side of his desk, slightly below desk height.
The professor entered the discussion: “Actually, I think that she inadvertently made a good point even if she didn’t mean to.”
I was still sitting right there. No one answered my question, and no one explained to me how I was using the word “know” in a way that was different from the way that my classmates were using the word “know” in the same discussion, or why it was appropriate for their claim but not my question.
A few years ago, I attended a state philosophical association conference that was divided into two parallel sessions. All the talks in session A were mainstream analytic philosophy talks by men working in metaphysics and epistemology. The talks in session B were a random mix of analytic ethics, pragmatism, continental philosophy, feminist philosophy, and history of philosophy. The talks were delivered by a mix of men and women. In retrospect, it was obvious that the division was between “topics we consider to be important” and “everything else.”
I presented at session A in the afternoon, but attended session B in the morning because I was more interested in session B topics. The chair of my own talk made several sarcastic remarks to me after my paper, His remarks implied that I had skipped all the morning sessions and attended only my own talk.
At the time, I was just confused by his remarks. But I realized some time later that his reasoning almost certainly went something like this: This guy [i.e., me] wasn’t at session A in the morning. Session B is a waste of time, so surely he wasn’t there. Therefore, he skipped everything other than his own paper.
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.