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 ‘feminism isn’t philosophy’ Category
I am a bearded white male with a PhD in philosophy who stopped working in philosophy departments per se some years ago. I left in part because of what I saw as the discipline’s shoddy treatment of feminist philosophy in general and my female colleagues in particular. Since then I have become a research scientist respected in another field.
Ironically, the fact that I did graduate work in feminist epistemology as well as in analytic epistemology has proved an asset in doing science. I oftentimes acknowledge my philosophical background in my professional talks, crediting it for my theoretical range and ability to write clearly.
Recently I had a female undergraduate student come up to me after a talk I gave. She asked me for advice as to whether to go to graduate school in philosophy or in my adopted field, and told me that she had been accepted to top programs in each. However, and when I enquired as to which schools she was considering, the philosophy departments she mentioned were programs known to me as programs intolerant of pluralism.
I looked her in the eye and told her that while I believed the situation in philosophy graduate programs had gotten better over the years, I said that based on my experience she would be likely to encounter a systemic tradition of sexism within the discipline and might well even experience sexual harassment in those programs.
I could see how crushing my snap reaction was for her to hear, and it made me instantly second guess whether I had in fact told her right thing. I felt this even more acutely when, on reflection, I realized I probably would not have offered the same snap advice to a male student.
She and I did manage to have a little more hurried conversation about the relative advantages and disadvantages of a philosophic education versus a scientific one, but in the end I am afraid I may have discouraged a bright young woman from entering–and perhaps helping to change–my old profession.
I hope she has the guts to enter it anyway; frankly, all sorts of people discouraged me from entering graduate work in philosophy on practical grounds as well–though never on grounds that had to do with my being male.
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.
So I had just arrived at Congress, an annual amalgam of the annual meetings of dozens of humanities societies and associations in my country. I was set to participate in two philosophy conferences. It was quite muggy, and I had the rest of the day to myself, so I put on a sleeveless shirt (which will be slightly relevant in a moment) and went to the registration hall to get settled in. While in line, the older man behind me said “You look like a swimmer.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, so I just looked at him. “I said you look like a swimmer.” “Okay…” I replied. “It’s because of your broad shoulders,” he added. I made a face and turned away from him. He didn’t stop. “Where are you here from?” I felt really uncomfortable, but I responded. “And what are you doing there?” “Philosophy.” Turns out he is also a philosophy professor. Surprise! “What kind of philosophy do you do?” he continued. I told him that I do feminist philosophy. He replied that he didn’t know what that was, and to him, all good philosophy should “do for males and females alike.” Could I please explain to him what the point of my work was? Luckily by then I had reached the head of the line and was able to get away from him.
What a great start to the conference!
This is what the chair of a Leiter top-20 department says about feminist philosophy. When asked, “What, pray, are the RIGHT reasons to dismiss philosophy?”, he answers, “Much, though not all, postmodernism, and a good chunk (but, again, not all) of feminist philosophy.” Hopefully the portion some of us work on isn’t part of the good chunk
My college recently hosted an undergraduate conference. One of our female students gave a paper on self-objectification in Beauvoir. There was a professor from across town attending whom she had never met before. Dr. X responded to the student’s paper in the Q&A session. The gist of his response was that there is a self-identified feminist in his department and he doesn’t understand why she complains about objectification as a women’s problem because it seems that men are objectified as much as if not more than women in pornography, which he enjoys to watch and has since childhood. “Are you calling me sexist?”, he implies. No other professors from his department were present so I suppose he felt safe telling us this without consequences. The paper was not about pornography. It was about how objectification uniquely affects feminine ideas of the self, implying that he hadn’t listened to her argument. Visibly uncomfortable, the student described portrayals of women versus men in pornography (camera angles, use of force, facials, etc.) and suggested that these differences might signify differences in how we value these people. These can be seen in pretty vanilla pornography, but forced the student admit to watching pornography to a room of her professors and peers to properly respond all the same.
Watching this play out felt like watching a car crash that I was powerless to stop. To clarify, I do think philosophy needs frank conversations about sexuality that respects subjective experiences. I also get that people tend to personalize conversations about sexuality because they affect us in the most intimate parts of ourselves. But I wonder when responding to abstract arguments with your own experience stops being constructive and becomes unfair. If these experiences are brought to the table, those who bring them should reflect on gender/status differentials in that space and how they might shape the conversation they’re able to have within it. It is hard enough to call abstract ideas unethical, so framing these conversations personally makes this almost impossible.
His response also picked on a specific female faculty member who is both new to his department and extremely talented in feminist philosophy. He seemed to use this an an opportunity to vent about her in a way he would not had she been present. Responding to basic feminist arguments so incredulously makes me wonder how seriously he takes her work. This also scares me for my own future as a feminist philosopher. I will hopefully operate under the assumption that my colleagues respect me. Now I have to silently hope that they don’t publicly undermine me to strangers as well, but maybe I should be thankful to learn this lesson second-hand.
Just a reminder, there are philosophy departments out there that are a nightmare for women. No woman professors ever hired, professors (male of course) sleeping with graduate students, humiliating, sexist remarks made to women researchers on public occasions, and of course, last but not least: a war on the field of women’s studies and any and all related fields. (This means you, phenomenology.)
People crack alot of jokes about gender balance, and question whether people go too far with this kind of sensitivity. But there are alot of demoralized women out there. The women at the department I am talking about are probably too afraid to post on this blog.
When I was a tenured Associate Professor with one monograph out and another forthcoming, I was invited to speak at a university in capital city X. My female host sent out my talk title, abstract, and an invitation to attend to a list-serv for everyone interested in Philosophy-in-X. The talk was from the forthcoming book (to be published with Impeccable Credential University Press Z) on a topic in feminist philosophy, and included reference to a pop cultural example. In response to the posting, Famous Male Philosopher Y sent a message to all subscribers saying (pompously) that he thought my abstract was a joke, that such rubbish lowered the tone for all philosophers, and that he hoped no such further nonsense would be advertised. My host forwarded that message to me; I still don’t really understand why. I wondered if she too wanted me to ante up and give a “real philosophy” talk, as opposed to the bullshit I had proposed? We corresponded about what to do if Y turned up and started haranguing me. In the end, only a few people attended the talk anyway, almost all students, they were a perfectly decent audience, and I realized too late how totally throwaway Y’s posting had been. But I lost sleep over it for weeks, and seriously considered canceling the talk. (Y has been in the news a lot lately, trumpeting the cause of excellence and fairness in higher education.)
When I was on a job interview at a small college a decade and a half ago, I gave a paper on sexual harassment. Things were going well until the dinner, when one male professor who was quiet up until that time, spoke up and said, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with feminists: they need to be dominated by a man.” The other department members (all male) remained silent. I engaged this fellow for a short time, but realized quickly that his character was not one that could be changed. I didn’t get the job. I didn’t want it. I reported the incident to the APA Committee on the Status for Women, and I believe I saw the department listed on the “censured list” a few years later.
I am an female undergrad philosophy major at a highly-ranked university (who just happens to be hiring this year). Prior to the start of class one day, some students and the (male) professor were discussing which areas of specialization were needed in our department and therefore likely to get hired. One undergrad mentioned that our school has a need for someone studying feminist philosophy. The professor responded, “Yah, maybe…” Immediately, a male undergrad made the remark, “Who wants to study the philosophy of having a vagina?” Instead of correcting the rather immature young man, the professor simply responded “Well…” and turned to his computer to prepare for class.
I just want to weigh in to the discussion about the quality of feminist philosophy with a brief (and hopefully obvious) point: of course there is a lot of bad feminist philosophy going on, just as there is a lot of poor scholarship going on in just about every branch of philosophy, and every other discipline too. What is bizarre is how quick some apparently intelligent philosophers are to make the fallacy of the sweeping generalization. It reminds me of this.
I am a female philosopher, and I completed my undergraduate degree in Philosophy in Europe (in the 2000s). In the post “What we’re up against: One man’s view of women who do feminist philosophy”, a male philosopher expresses his sentiments about feminist philosophy. He is harshly criticized by some later (male) posters, one of whom calls the original post “insane”. I’d like to add my two cents. I haven’t been in contact with feminist philosophers or feminist philosophy since I’ve come to the U.S., but at my undergraduate institution, they sometimes offered undergraduate classes in philosophy or literature that were cross-listed with gender studies. I and many of my friends, after attending a few of those seminars, carefully avoided these classes after a while. Being philosophy majors, we were used to being able to have a rational discussion about pretty much anything, and we took it as a given that no claim would be accepted without good reasons. Arguing in this way in those classes was made impossible by some of the students of gender studies. They were easily upset, and rather than offering arguments for their views, they claimed that the person who was challenging their views was trying to offend them. If a professor tried to discourage them from arguing in this way, they accused the professor of being anti-feminist. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with feminist philosophy as a discipline, or that most people working in feminist philosophy are like the students I described. However, from my experiences as an undergraduate, I have gained the impression that gender studies/feminist philosophy seems to attract certain types of problematic students, who are very vocal and leave a bad impression.
It is very unfortunate, though, when a few black sheep are taken to be representative of all feminist philosophers, like in the example of the post mentioned above.
I hope this submission is one of a chorus of male philosophers seeking to distance ourselves from the author of the—frankly—insane post (“What we’re up against: One man’s view of women who do feminist philosophy”). The views in that post are completely ridiculous. I hesitate to even engage with the views expressed there, for fear of giving them more credibility than they deserve. I do not have, by the way, any particular exposure to feminist philosophy, but I do identify as a male feminist, and try to work towards raising awareness of the issues facing women in philosophy. And on that note, please keep the “do try this at home” posts coming!
I am a male philosopher, and I have a very different perception of feminist philosophers and their reputation than the earlier commenter. I think feminist philosophers have done absolutely central, transformative work in areas like political philosophy and philosophy of science. Feminist philosophers are some of the best around, able to root out bad assumptions that we’ve overlooked for years. The ridiculous stereotypes you see in that earlier post (and in occasional conversation with anti-feminist philosophers) show that feminist philosophy continues to be needed.
While I wouldn’t presume to know what most other male philosophers think, my general impression from people I’ve actually talked to is one of respect for feminist philosophers. When you hear the negative stereotypes (over dinner-party conversation, say), the most frequent reaction I’ve seen (at least, amongst younger philosophers) is shock and dismay.
I am a male philosopher and these are my impressions of women in philosophy for what they are worth. I have just as much respect for women philosophers in any area of philosophy as I have for men in an area of philosophy, except for one area: feminism. I am suspicious of feminism for several reasons. First, I think a lot of it (though not all) is very poor quality, often an embarrassment to the profession. (Most male philosophers think the same, even if they won’t admit it publicly, and so do many women philosophers who don’t work in feminism.) Second, I think feminism is too political, and philosophy should not have so much of a political agenda. I often think it is as much, if not more, political than it is philosophical. Third, not only is it political, but it is also very, very radical, often being anti-men, anti-family, even anti-children, and many feminists are lesbians as well (perhaps even by choice, because they hate men). I regard this type of feminist as a real oddity, even a total eccentric, a figure of amusement and of sociological interest, rather than someone to be taken seriously. Fourth, I have a bit of a stereotype of feminists, I guess, whenever I meet one: that they secretly hate me (or at least are very suspicious of me, and don’t really trust me or any man), and that they might be angry, disagreeable bitches, no matter how they appear on the surface. This puts me off wanting to discuss my views with them, or wanting to read them. This is a pity because I agree one hundred percent that women have to put up with a lot of terrible harassment, discrimination, and other problems detailed in earlier posts. But whenever I see a woman listing “feminism” among her interests, I become suspicious, even though I know that not all feminists fall into these categories and that the topic is worthy of discussion, and that some are doing very good work in that field.
In 2002, as an enthusiastic undergraduate, I already knew that I wanted to go on to study for a Master’s and PhD in philosophy, and that the only thing I could see myself being was an academic. But first I needed to get my degree, which meant writing an undergraduate dissertation. The department I was in at the time made it compulsory for all undergraduates to attend so-called “dissertation design” classes, where someone who knew little about our areas of interest or proposed projects would read our dissertation proposals and give us comments on how to improve them.
This was taken by an out-and-proud misogynist, who proceeded to publicly rip my proposal to pieces on the grounds that “feminist theory isn’t proper philosophy”, and that there is nothing of scholarly interest or merit to be said from a feminist perspective. He took delight in saying this loudly in front of the class of about 30 other students, laughing heartily at my silly idea that work exploring feminist issues could be both valuable and analytically rigorous, and inviting the men in the class to laugh along with him.
I also made the mistake of telling him of my future plans for graduate study, to which he replied: “Oh, don’t bother doing that. I always tell my female students – don’t you worry about getting the BA: just concentrate on getting the MRS”.
I got a first class grade for the dissertation and the degree, and now, in 2010, have just been awarded the PhD. Still no Mrs though: my partner and I are content living in sin as Dr and Dr.
Sometimes, being a woman in philosophy is glorious. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Correction: Barring my personal affectionate relationships, it IS, it just is the best thing that has ever happened to me, to be a woman in philosophy.
It has also, at times, been the worst, but I already wrote a post about the worst of times, so let me explain when it’s glorious: I still remember my first attempt at writing feminist philosophy, and it was awful, it was a lame and untutored student effort. Then, I took more graduate-level course work in feminist philosophy. I studied with an exemplar in the field. I joined SWIP and FEAST and traded papers, conference commentary, whole chapters of the dissertation (and a later book) with other women in philosophy. I have had days of sheer, unadulterated inspiration when I read feminist works and am flooded with appreciation and critical response, and those days have resulted in my best and strongest writings. Today, I can say that I am a very good philosopher. This simply would not be the case without the women in philosophy who have treated me with respect, deference and a disposition to believe that I have something to offer.
Sadly, this has been true at the same time that individual, particular men in philosophy have let me know that they are disposed to believe I have nothing to offer, that writing about women or feminism is irrelevant, that it is a sign of uncritical dogmatism or lack of rigor. It is all the more reason that it is important for women in philosophy to engage each other. You don’t need to agree with fellow women, that would be tiresome. But the readiness of women to engage with me has been transformative. Ich bin ein Philosopher!
I am an undergraduate studying molecular biology and philosophy at an American university. I have not experienced a trace of sexism in any of the science departments on our campus. Female presence is commonplace and widely accepted. The vast majority of my professors in hard science classes are female.
My experiences in the philosophy department have been entirely different. The department is overwhelmingly male and 100% white. Many professors are derogatory towards feminist theory and feminism. I have been an active participant in an informal philosophy-oriented student group andhave made many presentations to the group on a variety of topics. When I offered to present on an area of feminist philosophy, I received no reply to my e-mail. After reminding the professor twice, I still have received no reply. Since then, I have not attended the group. The same professor has repeatedly made the sexist conjecture “Can the feminist airplane fly?” Another student was told by his advisor that feminist theory was “emotional,” and was discouraged by the professor from taking feminist theory classes because of that.
The year I was on the job market, I commented on an APA paper and met up with the presenter at that night’s smoker for a collegial drink. He informed me that he knew I had applied for a job at his institution, and that his department had seriously considered my application because they were under a lot of pressure from their administration to hire a woman. I asked him why they’d chosen not to interview me and he explained that they couldn’t possibly hire a feminist because theirs was a very small, friendly department where everyone got along quite well and a feminist would’ve ruined the collegiality by being angry all the time. He also explained that feminists only publish in “fake” journals like _Hypatia_ (which he mispronounced)–this despite his knowing that one of my publications was in _Hypatia_.
What honestly shocked me the most was that this person clearly thought of himself as a nice, friendly guy and had no clue how insulting he was being.