A professor of mine–who is refreshingly mindful of gender issues–brought up to me that most of the gender issues discussed within the philosophical community are issues at the graduate and professional levels. This is weird, as the first drop-off concerning women pursuing philosophy occurs at the undergraduate level. And I can assure you, that those of us women who survive the drop off, are experiencing amazing amounts of sexism from our undergraduate peers. I am at one of the top undergraduate programs for philosophy in the states, here are two of many experiences with sexism I’ve encountered: A male peer and I help opposing views on some metaphysical topic, excited to learn from each other I welcomed his criticism after I had argued my view; to my disgust he responded “I have no fucks to give about your view, can I have some?” A horny and disgusting comment which brought laughter from the rest of our peers sitting with us (all of whom are male). The comment was a joke, yes, but it would never have been said to a male peer, and I felt more than objectified. Another experience was similar; I had dabbled in feminist philosophy (a topic nobody at my school was interested in) and shared some of the questions and theories with some peers–again, they are male–rather than asking any philosophically relevant questions, one responded “We’re supposed to learn about feminist philosophy from the girl wearing red lipstick?” The most unfortunate part of all of this is these are male peers with whom I’ve spoken about sexism within academia, and many of whom claim to be on my side.
Archive for the ‘insults’ Category
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.
I am a senior female philosopher. I work in several areas, one of which is dominated by male philosophers. I was recently asked to participate as a plenary speaker at a conference in this subfield, and agreed to participate, noting that I was the only woman listed as a plenary participant (I was asked to comment on another presentation). When I got to the conference I discovered that the conference organizers were covering the expenses of the male speakers. My expenses were not covered, I paid myself. This upset me, because I felt that I was not being treated fairly in relation to the men.
I raise this issue because I think it needs to be raised in regards the Gendered Conference Campaign, which I completely support. Women not only need to be invited more often, when they are invited they should be treated the same as the men.
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!
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.
Though I have found many of my colleagues and professors over my several years in philosophy to be positive, there have been some incidents which have made feel uneasy about being a woman in a philosophy department.
The first incident arose when a fellow grad student went on a pseudo-scientific rant in front of many female grad students about how females are just wired in a way that is inferior to men, and as such would always be inferior philosophers (or mathematicians, or anything that involves complex reasoning).He also went on to claim that girls were just too emotional to be as rational thinkers as men. He was very convinced of these facts, and many students in the department were offended (both male and female). What compounded matters, was the fact that though the females in the department chose to largely ignore his baseless comments, one male student in the department decided to take on the “knight in shining armor” position and actually physically attacked the gentleman in question for his comments. While it is nice to know that even males recognize these sort of comments as offensive and baseless, the way he reacted was as though he thought that we, the passive, meek females needed some sort of valiant hero to “protect our honour” for us. This did nothing to help the cause.
The second set of incidents revolves around the idea that women cannot be both intelligent and attractive. I have had one professor, after knowing me for several years, confide in me that when I first took his class he automatically assumed that because I was “pretty” that I was also stupid, but then was eventually surprised to learn, once he placed my name and essays to my face, that I was actually not a complete idiot. He also said the he assumed most pretty students were idiots. This is related to another incident where one of my other female colleagues was made fun of by a professor for not “dressing like a philosopher,” just because she chose to dress in a “mainstream stylish” sort of way. I fail to see how either looks or attire has anything to do with “being a philosopher” or being intelligent.
Message: Now a full professor (in an enlightened department of three women and one man), who teaches feminist philosophy, I’ve been sitting on this one since it happened: In 2000 I was interviewing for jobs for the first time. I visited the University of X for an on campus interview – met with students, taught a class and gave my talk to the dept. I was sitting at the head of the table looking out at all the men – there was one female graduate student there,that’s it. I finished my talk and the questions began. The professor who I would have been replacing raised his hand and said “So…we haven’t had a woman teach fulltime in the department for 40 years, why should we hire one now?” Absolute silence, no one said a word. Rather than saying something clever like, “you clearly shouldn’t as you are not ready” and leaving the interview, I stammered something about perhaps this would help their enrollment,as I would have liked to have had a female role model when I was an undergrad. To this he replied “Well, if we want to recruit more female students why shouldn’t we just hire some hot, young guy?” I was totally flummoxed by this point and just trying not to a)yell or b) cry as I knew either of these actions would reinforce his ideas about women – and I was quite convinced this was the action he was trying to provoke. Again, NO ONE at the table said a word. Needless to say, I did not get the job, and to add insult to injury, they made that distinguished professor drive me back to my hotel where he told me “you did okay, kiddo”. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if the guy they hired was young and hot.
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.
I am about to start my PhD at an excellent Leiter ranked program. I have a BA and and MA from excellent schools. I have worked closely with ground breaking philosophers in my field. I have published, I have an excellent teaching resume, phenomenal letters of recommendation, and moreover I love my job. I am a good philosopher, and I am thinking about leaving philosophy.
I have been a secretary and a chauffeur. I have been disingenuously promised research assistantships and letters of recommendation, in return for dinner dates and car rides. I have been asked if I was married while my colleagues have been asked what they think. I have been told that I’m both cute and idiotic. I have passed on professional opportunities because I am a woman, and no one would believe that I deserved those opportunities — accepting would make me seem like a slut, since men make it on merit, and women make it in bed. So, ironically, I have been praised as professional for having passed on professional opportunities. I have been the lone woman presenting at the conference, and I have been the woman called a bitch for declining sexual relations with one of the institutions of hosts. I think I have just about covered the gamut of truly egregiously atrocious sexist behaviour. So I just have this one question that I think I need answered: Is the choice between doing philosophy, and living under these conditions, or saving yourself, and leaving the discipline?
This is an open call for reasons to stay.
Because this blog does not allow comments, I’m cross-posting to Feminist Philosophers, where you can reply.
I am a female graduate student at a Leiter ranked philosophy program in the United States. I recently received comments on a rough draft of a course paper from one of my male, graduate student colleagues (we had to exchange rough drafts as part of the course requirements). The comments were supposed to be two pages, double spaced. I got six pages, single space (that’s 3500 words, including NINE footnotes) of the most utterly patronizing feedback I’ve ever received. Two pages of the comments were suggested rewrites for particular sentences (only one of which was ‘not essential’). The coup de gras was the following comment, which appeared after the student suggested that I cut out half of my argument: “It will enable you to go into the type of detail about this issue that makes for good philosophy papers.” (And, for the record, the student suggested that I cut the very part of my argument that the professor encouraged me to include).
When I was in graduate school one semester we noticed some odd classes taught by an unfamiliar prof, so we asked who this new person was. After doing a little investigating, the two professors we asked determined that he was a prof from another department who had been accused, and was found guilty by the university, of sexual harassing a student. Apparently one of the terms of his punishment was that he couldn’t teach in his home department for some set period of time while the victim was finishing her degree. So upper administration shipped him off to Philosophy and our (male) Chair accepted him knowing his history and allowed him to teach. Needless to say, all the female grads students were very unhappy to know we were in a department that would willingly accept a known harasser.
I should add that the professors who did the investigating were not happy he was allowed to teach in Philosophy and were very annoyed that as senior-level members of the department they didn’t know what was going on until they started to ask questions. Of course, there may have been pressure from upper administration to accept him, but there’s a huge difference between accepting it under pressure (and letting people know what’s going on) and willing accepting it.
But, to add a little more context, this was also a department where male grad students casually slammed the female faculty as “psychotic feminists” or “of riding their husband’s coattails” in front of everyone and blasted their fellow female grad students who received more APA interviews than them as “just getting Affirmative Action interviews, but there won’t be an offer because she’s not good enough”. And the real kicker, this happed in a department that was typically classified as feminist-friendly. Sigh.
Rather than share a specific story, I just wanted to say *ditto* regarding many of the anecdotes that have already been posted. I am a female professor. Over the course of my graduate education and the years I have been employed as a faculty member, I have experienced the following at least once (though in most cases, quite more than once): students behaving especially confrontational in a way that they do not with my male colleagues; referees addressing me as “he/him” in their comments on my journal submissions; male faculty making salacious comments to me; being ignored/dismissed at conferences and in other professional contexts; general behavior/comments that suggest to me that I am not respected as my male colleagues are by administrators, philosophers, graduate students, secretaries, students; being on the short end of unequal distribution of department resources. I also sometimes get the sense that when I invite a male to discuss philosophy that either they or their partner assume that I am taking more than a professional or collegial interest. This can be an obstacle to networking. I have, on account of these experiences, considered leaving the field.
I am happy to respond to this request for more on what’s its like to teach philosophy as a woman. I am a tenured professor at the metropolitan center campus of a very large urban junior college. I’m a “woman of color” in my late-twenties, and have been teaching here full-time for some years.
The issues I face as a teacher are not just from my students, but from my older colleagues, and have to do with age, race, and culture as much as they do with gender.
Let’s start with my students. Almost all of my students are minorities, predominantly Black American, Hispanic American, and Hispanic or Carribean immigrants. They are evenly split among men and women. About half of them are either immigrants or first generation Americans. Most of them come from impoverished backgrounds. Many of them are multilingual. (These are not my impressions — they are the statistical facts about my institution. What follows is my observation.)The student population is highly conservative, almost of all of them accepting “traditional” misogynistic values regarding family, the role of women, and sexuality/sexual preference.
I have to fight very hard to be taken seriously, particularly since I am a young woman of color teaching a required subject that is not viewed as important by most of my students, and directly challenges most of the conventionally held beliefs of the student demographic. My male colleagues (regardless of age) and older/white female colleagues, on the other had, are treated with due deference and respect. Male students, in particular, treat me badly, (but so do female studnets) assuming that I am dumb or ditsy. I am also, like the previous author on this subject, routinely called “Miss” rather than the college-wide standard “Professor” or “Ms.”, which I request as an alternate. The male students assume it is acceptable to call me by my first name, use obscene language in my presence, interrupt me when I am talking, argue with me about grades, make sexual implications. On the worst occasions, they talk to me as though I am a somoene they are hitting on with cheesy lines in a bar or
club. Most of my male students are clearly not used to being told they are wrong or out of line by women. I have been called, by students, “a bitch” “an ice queen” “soulless” “uncaring” “unemotional” “flaky” “dumb” and a whole host of other things, directly to my face by male students. This is depsite the fact that, on the whole, my teaching is evaluated positively by 80-90% of my students on end of the semester course surveys. When I teach issues relating to sex or sexuality, like reproductive rights, pornography, sexual harassment/discrimination, etc. male students feel it is appropriate to belittle or undermine the problems (my male colleagues who teach the subject do not seem to have the same problem).
This is not helped by my older, white female colleagues, who make a constant commentary on my clothing and styling choices (all of which are more conservative than I’d really prefer and very professional). I have been told by them that I look like “I am going on a date”, “I am appearing on MTV”, “I am going out for cocktails” and “I am out to catch a man”. I have been asked “if male students actually pay attention to what I am saying” in class rather than how I look. I have been told, upon getting a new haircut, that it was a good idea because “it makes me look more sexual, which will make students pay attention”. Comments are also frequently made about any weight that I gain or lose, and about how nice my skin, hair, nails, etc. look as gauges of my health.
But not all is bad. Here are some of the good things. When I get great, successful, amazing students, they appreciate how hard I work and I get an amazing sense of accomplishment. What I do is essentially social justice work, serving an oppressed and disadvantaged population who has been deprived of the many educational privileges I received as a member of the middle class. Many of my female students have told me that I am a role model of independence for them, and that my example helps them solidify their ambitions to achieve professional success and break the financial barriers that leave them dependent on men — their fathers or husbands. When I talk about my background — I, too, came from a highly conservative immigrant family — many women come and speak to me after about how I achieved my freedom and independence, and how I overcame the obstacles in my way. I know that I change the minds of at least some of my students about gender roles and misogyny, and that’s enough. Some
of my male students come to respect me and change their attitude and behavior towards women; I have witnessed it first hand. And if I can help some people challenge misogyny in their own lives, then I think my struggle is worth it — and I will continue to try.