Here is a positive story, for once. We are two female post-docs, both working in research groups in which we are the only women and in which not all of our colleagues seem to understand what it means to be a woman in academia. When one of us came to be a short term visiting scholar at the other’s institute, we shared an office. It was a real motivation booster. It made us feel less lonely. It helped us to understand some of the problems at our own institutions better by seeing how these things work in other institution. We could both expand our networks and also offer support to female PhD students. We did a peer coaching session in which we discussed one another’s work and publication strategies, which was really useful, despite the fact that we work in very different areas. There also seems to have been a positive impact on the institution at which this took place, because suddenly it was much more normal that there are women around, and because it showed everyone that people who are otherwise very different can share a feminist perspective (so it might, after all, have a point, right?).
So if you have the opportunity, visiting fellowships can be a really valuable experience and help to create female networks, in addition to having many other benefits. For department chairs who might read this: if you have few women in your department, consider inviting female visiting scholars. Of course this is more difficult if women are mothers, but you might consider either bringing your family or splitting the visiting period into several short visits, going back and forth. With a bit of creativity and flexibility on both sides, a lot is possible – and it can really make a difference!
Archive for the ‘Good news’ Category
I wanted to write to thank you for this website. I’m a young male philosopher, with a partner who is a woman in philosophy. Going through graduate school together, there would be times when my partner would report some of the sorts of situations that this blog has done such a good job of bringing out: remarks that made her feel undervalued or like she was not being taken seriously as a philosophical interlocutor, and occasions when her remarks and arguments would be passed over, or attributed to others. It is embarrassing to say that my natural reaction to those conversations was to find some alternative explanation that did not invoke the climate for women in philosophy. I’m not sure why I tried to do this, but I think it was a misguided attempt to ‘think the best of people’ (an instinct one can only have, when coming from a position of unrecognized privilege). Reading this blog over the last few years has helped to change my perspective on these things. Seeing her experience in the context of the pervasive patterns reported here has opened my eyes to many instances of unfairness that I used not to notice. I don’t know if the climate for women in philosophy is getting better. I hope that it is. I do know that this website has helped me to recognize the experience of my partner and, I hope, to be more supportive.
I am a woman in the Philosophy department and I LOVE being apart of it. Yes, I do confront my days of feeling outspoken or not up to par with my fellow classmates (who are predominantly male); however, I attribute this to my own insecurities and misunderstandings–NOT to the men in my department. If anything they have done nothing but help and encourage me with my assignments and class participation. I have even had males offer to continue a discussion after class with me so that they could hear my ideas outside of the classroom where I don’t feel as nervous speaking my ideas. I have met with many of them and so have the other women, and they are very open to understanding what we have to say. I know I’m intelligent and I know that the men in my program recognize that; therefore, they are willing to support me and hear my ideas where I feel more comfortable discussing them. My problem in the classroom is my confidence in my ideas, and working up the courage to voice them. I would attribute this problem to myself, not those in my class or the dynamic of the classroom. I feel as though everyone in my department/class is incredibly brilliant and intelligent and I want them to be intrigued by what I say, which makes me feel pressured to deliver my ideas in a thorough and appealing way. Advice to anyone struggling in class with the males: they are very open to well-intentioned brainstorming!!! If you’re repelled by the arguing, it doesn’t mean you have to join in, you can simply ask them to further explain or re-explain. Just because there’s an argument happening doesn’t mean you have to partake in it, you can merely act as an obstacle within it. A piece of advice to those in lower level classes: If you feel as though you aren’t grasping or understanding the material, I can firmly assure you that you’re wrong–anyone can understand Philosophy! I am in my final year of Philosophy, all advanced courses, and I still get that feeling..yet I have a remarkable GPA…how so? I take the time to get a good grip on material by understanding it through outside sources, and I make an effort to form academic-relationships with my classmates and professors…teamwork makes the dream work! Push yourself and you’ll discover that just because your initial feeling is negative, that doesn’t have to set the stage for the latter. I also believe that we need more encouraging posts about women in Philosophy because we need to further support women entering the field if we would like to see a change.
I wanted to share my experience of getting pregnant while in graduate school for philosophy. When I got pregnant, I worried that I might be taken less seriously, or seen differently by my community. Literally every professor in my department, however, reacted positively to news of the pregnancy. Young professors began sharing stories about their children with me. Older professors without children were curious and solicitous about the process. I was gifted with used baby clothes and toys. Although I continued my work steadily through the pregnancy and afterwards, I was often reminded that it would be fine if I slowed down and was several times reassured that no one would think less of me for doing so. I realize that I am lucky to be part of a supportive intellectual community. I share this story because I think it’s important for people to know that such communities do exist, and that some of the women in our discipline are having experiences like this.
During my first two years as a graduate student I was the only female PhD student in a department with a single female on the tenure track (who also happened to be on maternity/sabbatical for two semesters during my first two years). In my second year a male student arrived who demonstrated a lot of negative and demeaning attitudes toward women, often objectifying them by relating information about the identity of their porn star twin. Perhaps the incident that made me most uncomfortable during this time occurred when he walked into a room full of our fellow graduate students (all male), and me, and loudly asked, “So, who’s ready for the gang bang?”
Not wanting to make any waves, I took to rolling my eyes and avoiding engagements (both social and professional) where he would be present. However, toward the end of that year I discovered that our incoming class of graduate students would include a few women. While I had put up with his behaviour to that point, I felt it would be irresponsible to knowingly allow other women to enter this environment without at least trying to protect them.
I worked up a little courage (the real kind, not the whiskey-induced kind ), and approached the chair of our department with a request that none of the new women be placed into an office that would be shared with this particular graduate student. I explained the situation in a rather vague manner, not wanting to get anyone in trouble, but still wanting to get my point across. When he pressed me for details I shared the “gang bang” incident with him, hoping that combined with my general description of his attitude would be enough.
In response the chair asked if there was anyone else in the department who could provide more details. Fortunately, a few of my fellow graduate students had assured me that they would back me up if I needed it.
I suspect the chair’s motivation came from some sort of desire to provide protection against baseless accusations. However, I do wonder what would have happened if I didn’t have these friends in the department. Would my set of stories have been enough to warrant any intervention? Further, what would his attitude be if I came to him with another concern, about another individual in the department? I clearly do not have much in the way of power here.
In the end, after a male colleague of mine went to him and insisted, the chair not only protected our new women’s office space, but he pulled this graduate student aside for a little chat. He framed the discussion in terms of “professional behaviour in a professional setting”, and while he did not name any names, it is difficult to believe it wasn’t abundantly clear that I (the only female graduate student around) was the complainant.
Regardless, that graduate student’s behaviour underwent a transformation, and he has since managed to constrain his baser instinct most of the time.
I started the PhD program this fall in one of the departments that was put in the “needs improvement” category in the Pluralist’s Guide Climate section this summer. I just wanted to report that so far my experience has been incredibly positive. The grad students treat each other as equals and don’t compete with one another or vie for attention; the faculty is both supportive and respectful. I’ve sort of been around the philosophy block a bit, so I am aware that this isn’t always (isn’t usually?) true. One thing that has struck me in seminars is how careful the faculty are–in every case I’ve seen–to make sure that the discussion doesn’t get dominated by particular people. The older grad students especially seem to have this ingrained in them, so I suspect it is systematic. They are always careful not to interrupt each other, to make sure there wasn’t someone else waiting to speak, even to point out someone who might have been missed. I’ve also never once witnessed a
woman’s contribution to a discussion be dismissed, either by a faculty member or a grad student, or be reappropriated by a male student, as is often discussed here. Often, you’ll hear ‘I want to try a different way to make X’s point’, or ‘I think you might have misunderstood X’s point; I think she was trying to say…’. This kind of behavior cuts across genders in both directions.
Additionally, for the first time ever, I’ve gone more than a week or so without ever hearing an inappropriate comment, a sexist joke. No male faculty have flirted with me, or even been anything but extremely professional (yet friendly) to me. No one has suggested that I’m only here because I’m a woman; no one has suggested that I don’t deserve to be here. No one has suggested this about the other women in my class either. No one has suggested that I shouldn’t do work in the (traditionally very male dominated) areas I am interested in. In short, I have had zero experiences of the kind that suggest that my department needs to get a better climate. Its climate is great, for both women and men. And I don’t think that it is the case that I’ve been sheltered from the badness or that I simply have yet to witness it; the general unity of the grad student body, and the obvious respect that the faculty has for the grad students, makes itself known on a daily basis.
Reasons to stay in philosophy, in spite of it all, here.
I am a PhD candidate in philosophy and I just told my supervisors that I am pregnant. I was a little bit nervous because of the horror stories I’ve heard about the bad reactions academic advisors can have to the news. I was afraid they would think I wasn’t taking my dissertation seriously or that I would be leaving the program all together. However, both of my advisors are women with children of their own and their reactions were ideal. They congratulated me and gave me good advice on maternity leave before promptly returning to the subject of my dissertation. They correctly view my pregnancy as an exciting aspect of my personal life that does not change my ability to do philosophy at all.
I am currently a senior undergraduate philosophy major at a small liberal arts college in the American south, and I wanted to report having had an overwhelmingly positive experience at my school with our philosophy faculty and students. My mentors, male and female, have been consistently supportive and encouraging in my intellectual and human development, and I am grateful to them for treating me with utmost respect and kindness. I have not experienced sexual harassment or intimidation, and I have not been treated ‘less than’ for being a female philosophy student. I realize this is rare and that at some point in my future education I will encounter these issues in a more first-hand way, but for the meanwhile in my formative years I am pleased to report that there ARE legitimately non-sexist departments/professors who are professional, empathetic, and fair. I am very active on campus and in the department with projects (liberal political campaigns, feminist issues, and educational reform) that one might expect Southerners to bristle at– but my cohort and faculty are progressive and give me the best opportunities to succeed. So, to all other female philosophy undergrads: take heart and be strong! The tide is turning.
I’ve submitted and seen posted a couple of negative stories (please don’t identify which ones; too much identifying information); I feel like I must also submit (and hope to see posted) a positive one.
Some of my biggest cheerleaders in my philosophical career have been male philosophers. The best mentor I have had was a male philosopher, a junior professor at my Leiter-recognized MA institution in the early 2000s. Though what he told me about the discipline was often stark and depressing (I recall him specifically telling me about the dismal situation for women, among other things), he took me seriously enough to be real and honest with me, and encouraged me to consider the pros of doing this kind of work for a living alongside the cons. I feel that, although much of my experience as a woman has been difficult, I am better off for having been prepared — as opposed to other women who I have known who were unpleasantly surprised to discover the attitudes of their male colleagues. The knowledge of what I was going in for, I think, also helped strengthen my resolve to succeed. In general, he gave me good, sound advice without being paternalistic, and much of my current success is
due in large part to that advice. He also showed me that some men were aware of the discriminatory treatment, and I like to think his mentoring was the partially consequence of his acknowledgment of sex discrimination and an effort to correct for it. He clearly also thought I was capable, and although I am no longer at that institution, his praise and recognition of my ability still helps me get through hard days.
Two male grad students, met at different schools under different circumstances, constantly remind me both that I am capable, intelligent, and talented, and have been good friends and a source of comfort whenever I run up against sexism. Aside from the general goodness of having supportive friends, I find it helps me immensely to be in the company of male philosophers who recognize sexism at work, and who will not belittle or downplay when I feel I have been the victim of it. It is nice to have a reminder, I think, of the promise of change, and that women philosophers have allies among the men.
I felt pretty well-supported as a female grad student in the 90s, and in my first department as a faculty member in the late 90s and early 00s. This gave me the (clearly false, given this blog!) impression that sexism was not much of an issue in philosophy. In my current department, it seems as though there is a much different climate for women: more hostile, less supportive, more likely to see the research of women as being less weighty (assuming it is mentioned at all). Nothing as blatant as some of the experiences reported here, though. So, maybe it’s my imagination. But what is not my imagination is how few women are in our philosophy classes, as compared to my previous university, or how rarely women have the top GPAs in the major. Hmm.
Although implicit sexism is a problem, it bothers me when people share stories to the effect of “people treated me harshly because I was a woman,” as has sometimes happened here. Such things surely happen, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell when instances of harsh treatment are due to one’s sex or simply to “common discourtesy.” (Sometimes, of course, it is easy to tell.)
I’d like to share about my (fairly recent) first experience as a female graduate student giving comments on a paper by a tenured male philosopher at a professional conference. It was my first semester in graduate school. I was 22.
And I was treated with a great deal of respect. The presenter’s responses to my comments were thoughtful, and he acknowledged that some of the issues I’d raised were real problems for his paper. Before the session, the presenter introduced himself to me and suggested we go on a first-name basis, which lessened the power differential. It occurs to me that perhaps he made that suggestion in order to keep me from embarrassing myself by too-formally addressing him as “Dr. X,” as I had written in the comments I’d sent him.
In a later session, I asked a good question in Q&A. (Someone called it “the question that needed to be asked.”) After that, I attended the presentation of the chair of that earlier session, and raised my hand in Q&A. When the presenter called on me, the male graduate student sitting behind me assumed the presenter had meant to call on him, and so started speaking. But the presenter said, “No. I was calling on…” and referred to me by my name, which he had learned without introduction.
I don’t suppose the treatment I received was anything other than common courtesy (that is, I don’t have any reason to think it was a response to my sex), but that’s the point, isn’t it? Since I was unknown, I was treated in accordance with what merit I was able to demonstrate at the time. I continue to find this experience deeply encouraging.
My department hosted a group of 40+ high school philosophy students yesterday (the high school is a public high school in a lower-middle class part of town). They were attending a couple of introductory classes and checking out the university. I would say that more than half the kids were girls, and all the ones who asked questions were girls. And they asked smart questions. It was great in oh so many ways.
As a side note: The department is developing a strategy to work more closely with high schools who are teaching philosophy, or have philosophy clubs. Interestingly, it is the grad students who are the force behind this.
Our Leiter top-10 Department recently held a meeting open to all graduate students to discuss the issue of gender and philosophy. This resulted in several initiatives, some small (such as adding a link to the LGBT lecture series to our “related lectures” listings), some larger (described below).
The graduate students have organized a series of monthly meetings, open to both men and women (undergraduates, graduates, and faculty), where “we will discuss current research on or related to the topic of women in philosophy. The general aim of these meetings will be to provide a forum where we all can (1) better familiarize ourselves with issues pertaining to women in philosophy, (2) learn about and discuss what others have had to say about these issues, and (3) present and discuss our own views on these issues.”
In addition, an invitation was sent to all women undergraduates that read as follows:
“* What are the unique difficulties women in philosophy/academia face?
* How do these challenges present themselves in the lives of an undergraduate?
* How do these challenges change or stay the same when women go to graduate schools and enter academia as a profession?
* How are female graduate students now encountering and navigating through these obstacles?
Are these questions you’ve wondered yourself? Come discuss and offer your thoughts with the Women in Philosophy Group, composed of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in philosophy. We’ll be having a co-ed meeting every month beginning in January, where we will discuss current research on, or related to, the topic of women in philosophy.
This semester, there’s going to be a meeting reserved to female undergrads who are interested in meeting with female graduate students. Meet fellow undergraduates and current philosophy graduates at an informal pizza meet-and-greet! [time, place] Bring questions, concerns, thoughts, and an empty stomach.”
Do try this at home.
My department is having a meeting in a couple weeks to discuss women – and other minorities – in philosophy in the wake of your blog. A good percentage of the department – more of the female members, but by no means only – have said they are coming. We tend to have – by all accounts – a far better than average community here, with few incidents of the sort described in the many depressing posts, and a good percentage of people who habitually speak up when things do happen. But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to strategize, educate, and organize around the profession as a whole. Our students need to think about what they might face on the market and in jobs. The rest of us need to think about how best to contribute to changing the profession. So we’ll have an open, moderated, discussion.
Do try it at home.
I hope this submission is one of a chorus of male philosophers seeking to distance ourselves from the author of the—frankly—insane post (“What we’re up against: One man’s view of women who do feminist philosophy”). The views in that post are completely ridiculous. I hesitate to even engage with the views expressed there, for fear of giving them more credibility than they deserve. I do not have, by the way, any particular exposure to feminist philosophy, but I do identify as a male feminist, and try to work towards raising awareness of the issues facing women in philosophy. And on that note, please keep the “do try this at home” posts coming!
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 current male undergraduate student in philosophy. I am friends with two other students who are female. What surprises me is that, despite the fact that they will argue with me exhaustively on any subject, and that they are in my opinion are clearer and quicker thinkers than myself, both of them will consistently devalue their abilities, and assume that I know more, or have some secret knock-down attack on their arguments that I am holding in reserve to be polite. Both have, at different times, said things along these lines, despite both consistently getting higher marks than myself.
I assumed that this was just anxiety or modesty on their part, but the more female students I come into contact with the more common it seems. In my other area of study, molecular biology, I have not noticed this. After reading some of the entries on this blog, I started paying attention to the (mostly male) faculty members that I come into contact with, and I’ve noticed that they will consistently ignore questions or arguments from female students, and instead respond almost exclusively to male students. There is nothing overtly sexist about this, but this continual, subtle exclusion is having a clear negative effect on the morale of female students in the course. I have tried to talk about this with some faculty members, and mostly they won’t even admit that they are doing it.
I’m not in a position of power, but if I ever am, I hope I will recall my friends and not exclude female students like this.