Let me preface this by saying that I am truly grateful to all of the women and men who have made, and who continue to make, our discipline a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable discipline. I consider myself honored to know and work with some amazing, supportive, philosophers. That said, we are not there yet. Things are not changing quickly enough. We, as philosophers and as human beings, should not tolerate anything less than equity any longer.
Ever since its inception, I have found this blog therapeutic. Many of the stories here comport all too well with my own experience. There is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I have been amazed, time and again, when colleagues and friends express surprise at the stories they find here. I am amazed that they do not realize similar things are happening in such close proximity to themselves. I am amazed that some of my colleagues—some of whom have, at times, behaved horrifically themselves—fail to recognize the inequality that is right in front of them.
I note this because I have myself been discriminated against, harassed, propositioned, excluded, talked over, disparaged, and so on. Many of my own colleagues either don’t know the details, or haven’t noticed events that have taken place right in front of them. They don’t realize that what might seem like one-off bad jokes, disrespectful comments, and offers of romantic and sexual interaction are just small pieces of a much larger pattern. They don’t realize the extent to which harassment, discrimination, and even assault take place within our discipline.
We tend to think the problems are someplace else. We tend to think our friends cannot possibly be part of the problem. We cannot possibly be part of the problem. Often, we are mistaken.
Philosophers: Take notice. Listen. Act. Please. These are not just anonymous stories on a blog. These are real people. Real lives. Real suffering. Sometimes your colleagues, and sometimes your friends.
Archive for the ‘ignoring women’ Category
I studied [at University X] as a graduate student and returned a few years ago. My position was as a philosopher in another faculty, so I had only associate membership of the philosophy faculty. I started going to the moral philosophy seminars, held every week. To my surprise, despite being moral philosophy, there was only a minority of women in the audience, and often, few or no other women from the audience would speak. I tried to ask questions as often as I could, often being the only woman in the room to open her mouth. For months after first attending, I honestly thought there was a rule that, these seminars being intended for faculty members, as an associate member, I was only allowed in as a favour and therefore was not allowed to speak unless nobody else in the room had any more questions. It was only after some time that I noticed that anyone at all, not even just university members, was welcome to the seminars, that I realised this was just the way the chair did things – ignoring my attempts to ask a question. I tried all sorts of tricks such as wearing bright pink, sticking my hand up straight away, sitting at the front, in a pathetic attempt to get noticed. It improved a bit.
Last time I went, yet again, I was the only female audience member to speak (out of an audience of 40 – 50). I had started to take note of these things, so I noticed that the chair allowed each and every person who spoke to engage in dialogue with the speaker. But when I spoke, I had the by now half-expected reply ‘you don’t understand’. This has happened to me, and to other women I know, so often. I DID understand perfectly well, actually. But the chair then cut me off – I alone of all questioners was not allowed to explain my point further or engage in dialogue with the speaker. We were not running out of time – there was plenty of time to at least allow me to show that I was not some twit who was incapable of grasping the speaker’s paper. But no. In front of a room full of my colleagues and students, it was left that I had not really asked a question, or found a problem in the paper, or made a contribution to debate, I had simply NOT UNDERSTOOD WHAT WAS GOING ON.
I have come to the conclusion that there really is no more point in speaking at these particular seminars. The net result is that a room full of people just hear the one woman who spoke up being told that she did not understand the paper, and then being shut up. Silence would have been less damaging to my reputation, and to the reputation of women in general.
I am a senior woman philosopher visiting an ivy league college this week. While spending time in some of the local cafes, I have overheard (unintentionally) a number of conversations among students about material they must be encountering in their philosophy courses.
What interests me, as someone who is aware of the stories on this blog, is that the conversations — the three that I heard — all consisted of a young man giving an extended monologue on the subject to what were clearly his peers, usually an audience of 2 or 3 mostly *silent* others, always including a woman student. Now sometimes the woman of the group would comment, but only very feebly and very briefly. In fact the women I saw seemed quite awed and intimidated by the person giving the monologue.
What I found even more interesting was the fact that the remarks of the young men on, say, Plato’s Republic, though perfectly fine, were in no way so compelling to warrant such a rapt response from the women. (Having taught this stuff too many times, I guess I am a bit jaded.)
I guess the “female descent” (a term I read on this blog) is well in place by the time these women got to university.
I wanted to pull these women aside and tell them there was so much in that little social interaction that they needed to pay attention to. Instead I hope they’ll read this post!
Yesterday I attended my first conference-planning meeting at my home institution.
When shall Z, a reknowned scholar, speak? Between 6 and 8 pm. A discussion will follow and a dinner will follow the discussion.
“Why so late?”, I asked, given that there is no way I can not be at home at 6 pm on a Tuesday night.
“So that everyone may attend”, was the general answer.
“Everyone” just means “everyone like us”, i.e., a (preferably single) man, with no family duties.
Out of the researchers in my institute, 25% alone are women. Among them, only two (me included) have children. Thus, I imagine that no one thinks he needs to worry about us.
But after years of lectures at 6 pm, or on Saturday morning, with long discussions and dinners following them, I wonder:
Is it that women with families are not enough to have their voices heard?
Or is not it the case that there are not enough women with families in the academia because there is no way for them to find a balance between the two worlds?
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.
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!
A conference announcement on PHILOS-L looked interesting, but all the speakers listed in the announcement were male, which made me almost not bother clicking through to the conference website. I did anyway, and lo and behold, there were actually quite a few female speakers on the program. I guess none of them were important enough to bother mentioning in the announcement though.
At one of faculty meetings at our university, congratulations were expressed to the Philosophy Dept. Head because his girlfriend had achieved her Ph.D. And when a (male) faculty member published a book, congratulations for expressed and the book put on display.
When I published a book, there was no acknowledgement whatsoever at the faculty meeting. Nada.
When I was a first year at a good department, I made a concerted effort to participate and make at least one good comment or question in every meeting of the pro-seminar. However, at the end of the semester when we each got a report on how we did from the two (male) professors, this is what they wrote: “[Name] was sometimes a bit quiet, and we wondered whether she was a bit disengaged.” All the other people who were in that class who I told about this agree that, on the basis of my actual participation, this was unfair.
Cross-posted at What We’re Doing.
I recently led a class discussion group on a feminist philosophy class. I noticed at one point early on that I had ended up talking to one man in the class by looking mostly at him (when purportedly presenting to the whole class) and had apparently angled my body to be facing him. There were few men in the class, and he was on the rights whereas most women were on the left. He also had the most questions and talked the most. Anyways, I felt self conscious about this and tried to make sure I spoke to the rest of the class, and right away the women in the class started participating and engaging in discussion. All I think I did was make sure that I spoke towards the women too. I think this goes to show how very implicit things like who a speaker simply makes eye contact with or faces while speaking could influence things like whether others feels it is appropriate to talk or raise topics in class, and how this can be nevertheless be implicitly biased in even those who are very aware of the issues raised on this blog.
My boyfriend and I are both graduate students in philosophy, and time and again, when we meet other male grad students—at conferences or workshops or dinners, etc.—they ask him what he works on and quickly get into a conversation, and either ignore me, or dont ask me the same questions about my academic interests.
Another feature of meeting male peers is that they keep assuming I work on feminist philosophy. A few years back, I ran into a a guy who consistently engaged my boyfriend, and we got to talking. And he mentioned something about my “work in feminist philosophy.” I dont work in feminist philosophy, although I have worked on female philosophers (I cant recall if I mentioned that). But at least a handful of times, male peers assume that my focus is on feminist philosophy.
And this is frustrating for two reasons: 1) it shows they havent actually listened, if they ever asked, to what I said I worked on. And 2) it puts me in a position where I feel like the attribution of an interest in feminist philosophy is something I have to deny, or get defensive about. I am defensive because I resent their assumption that women only work on “women’s issues.” And I resent that I then have to distance myself from feminist work, which I worry makes it seem like I am putting that work down.
The worst part is that these are usually male colleagues that take themselves to inhabit progressive, even feminist perspectives. And yet their behavior everywhere suggests that if they take notice of a female philosopher at all, they assume that her only contribution will be to their (already proudly ingrained) feminist views. Ugh.
It has been a long time since I have encountered blatant and overt sexism at a philosophy conference. So, I admit being surprised. And I admit thinking immediately, “Wait, why am I surprised?” I was having lunch at the conference hotel restaurant with three other philosophers–all men–who were attending the conference. This is really good conference that was started three years ago and all of us had attended every year since its inception. A prominent male philosopher approached the table. He jovially shook hands with all three of the men at the table, commenting on the fact that they, along with him, had become regulars at the conference. Not only did he not shake my hand, he did not even acknowledge my presence. I doubt any of the men I was sitting with noticed that he blatantly ignored me. I chose not to ask them later if they had noticed, not wanting to deal with the standard sorts of excuses they may have offered given that the attribution of sexism is always (like anything) underdetermined by the evidence. I decided to cut my emotional losses: It would have been worse to have it happen and then have witnesses deny that it happened than just to have it happen.
Quitting teaching philosophy in my department is on my mind:
Every time my male colleague laughs at me behind my back with our students.
Every time my male colleague ridicules me in front of our students.
Every time my male colleague asks our students to discuss my teaching style with him behind my back.
Every time my male colleague dismisses a point I make in a meeting without good reason, and expects that his mere dismissal of my point is sufficient for others, and myself, to accept his position.
Every time my male colleague treats me with utter contempt, then turns around and asks for my advice on student issues/publishing/the job market/life in general.
Every time my male colleagues pretend they are not on campus so they don’t have to meet with me to discuss departmental business, and sit laughing together about the fact that I am on my own in my office trying to run a meeting effectively through google chat instead of meeting with them in person.
Every time one male colleague, who claims to be a feminist, follows the lead of the other male colleague in demeaning or marginalizing me, presumably because it’s easier for him to fall in line than to challenge oppression.
This post really resonated with me: my male-dominated subfield is *exactly the same*. I see the same quiet resistance to engaging with the ideas of even well-known women in the field. Their views are sometimes mentioned, but are largely ignored compared to their male counterparts. Even when they are well known, few people engage with their ideas in print. Citation occurs, but only minimally. In contrast, work by men which seems about equal in quality or even inferior to the work by these women is often picked up and discussed and often engaged with in print, allowing the male author to easily “enter the field”.
It’s a powerful way to subtly exclude women. In fairness, I suspect people (both male and female) don’t even realize they are doing it.
Something which has come up only obliquely on this blog is the issue of credibility. It seems that when male philosophers propose theories, even very implausible ones, they are given weight in the way that women doing the same simply are not. In my field for example, I have proposed something like a theory of X. Now there are male philosophers who are also working on problems related to X, whose names one hears constantly, who regularly appear on lists of plenary speakers at meeting related to X, whose names then get attached to theories, which people then write about etc. But I can only think of one woman whose ideas are discussed in the literature. And this is not a small field.
It is not that I feel neglected especially, but I cannot foresee a day when my name will be attached to a theory, or even an example, in the way that has happened with the men working in my subject. Now I cannot speak for other fields necessarily, but my sense is that this holds true for philosophy in general.
Male philosophers seem to enter “the discussion,” if not the canon; women philosophers rarely do.
Recent mention of ‘golden boys’ reminded me of an experience I had in grad school. One year, my department had an opportunity to nominate a single PhD student to contend for a substantial dissertation research grant from the University. Unbeknownst to me, my ‘golden boy’ status led to my nomination; in doing so, the department passed over another extremely well-qualified female student. But, one of the department’s few female faculty members took it upon herself to nominate the female student in addition to me.
As it turns out the selection committee got it right, and the better candidate won. When the winner was announced, a senior (male) faculty member took it upon himself to inform me of the situation. He told me that, I was the department’s “unanimous top choice”; that female faculty member X was “being insubordinate” by going “behind the department’s back”; and that the winner “wouldn’t have won had she not been a female”.
It would take far too long to list every aspect of implicit and explicit bias, subtle and blatant sexism in this brief conversation. I was simply shocked, particularly since I wouldn’t have known any different had this faculty member not pulled me aside. All I could manage to say was that I was happy my fellow student had won, and that I was convinced she really deserved it more than I did.
Looking back, I wish I had taken the opportunity to call out the sexism on this occasion (and in particular to stand up for the actions of the female faculty member). It still bothers me, and makes me question whether the other benefits I received in grad school were merited, or were merely the result of gender bias in my favor.
I am a grad student in a department with a heavy focus on critical theory. Interestingly enough-and perhaps as a result of the strong focus on gender studies in our department-the male faculty members are fairly respectful when dealing with female students and colleagues. The real issues have emerged between the female faculty and female students. Despite attempts at forming a women’s caucus, and despite the fact that our centre is headed by two very distinguished women, the female faculty consistently treat their female students in a patronizing and disinterested manner, while choosing “golden boys” among the other students. Their behavior ranges from condescendingly refusing to acknowledge the arguments and questions of female students in seminars, to discouraging their projects altogether. I have a theory that their own experiences as women in philosophy forced them to be so competitive and hostile; as “exception women” they are more comfortable taking on their male colleagues and feel threatened or insecure about working with other females. Ladies–it’s hard enough being women in philosophy, so let’s not make it any worse for each other.