When I was in graduate school, there were a lot of fellow male graduate students who interacted with male faculty members at the university gym by playing handball, squash, or other sports. Back then these men all also smoked, sporting pipes or cigars—yes, classes were very “atmospheric” in that time. There was an unofficial entrée into group membership through this “jock” route that was just not open to female grad students, although we did have one member of our group who competed well, and was well-regarded, in squash. These men also regularly exchanged stories about which TA or professor was bonking which attractive undergraduate.
The pattern continued when I was a junior faculty member at a place where the men prided themselves on various athletic accomplishments—at this time it happened to be swimming and diving. Again, one female faculty member managed to “fit in” to the group by being a triathelte. I have never been into sports or athletics, and always sort of felt that males in philosophy were more or less trying to prove an already lost cause by showing how masculine they could be at sports. Now, I find myself in a department where male faculty members and graduate students bond over softball, soccer, and other sports activities, once more leaving the women out. I hate to be a wet blanket and criticize these nice forms of exercise and friendship, but when by chance or reason of taste, habit, and also particular abilities/disabilities, such activities and get-togethers serve to leave out the women grad students and faculty members, what is to be done? It just won’t do of course to organize women’s needlework groups, but the fact of the matter is, I can’t do sports for reasons of my personal physical limitations, and I actually find them distasteful. I don’t begrudge the men their fun, but it simply never seems to occur to them that their soccer and beer times together DO create a male club that excludes women. Even though I am in a position of authority, I feel once more I simply can’t cope with what I personally regard as somewhat silly and exclusionary activities. Even if a couple of women junior faculty or grad students do turn out to want to join in, why should sports activities be such a crucial means of bonding for the profession of philosophy?
Archive for the ‘Maleness of philosophy’ Category
Just saw the list of candidates my department is bringing in for an on-campus interview. All male. We’re an affirmative action employer. I am currently wondering why I’m bothering to get a degree
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?
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!
I am a female grad student in a top-15 philosophy department that offers a chilly environment for women and minorities. The faculty male-to-female ratio is worse than 80-20, there are zero people of color on the faculty, the number of female grad students who leave the program before finishing vastly outpaces the number of males who do the same. I could go on.
During this year’s week-long prospective student visit, I have decided that I will be forthcoming with female prospective students about the environment here. I have hesitated to do so in the past because I wanted encourage diversity in the incoming class. But as a woman who, as a prospective student, had the luxury of choosing between several top programs, I cannot in good faith recommend this department to others. Quite frankly, my experience here has been devastating. I wish this on no one else.
I have two small children and am pregnant with my third, and will be “on the market” for the first time this year. This means traveling to APA with my husband and two children (one is still breastfeeding), working out child care for several days of interviewing, and trying to find clothing that calls as little attention as possible to my pregnant belly.
All this is frustrating enough. But APA interviewing also means spending several nights up late, standing in uncomfortable shoes in a hotel ballroom, sipping cranberry juice while talking to tipsy prospective employers at that monstrosity we call the “smoker.” Has the injustice of this been sufficiently remarked-upon? All the literature on interviewing suggests that it is best done in a structured setting where each candidate gets an equal chance to speak and the effects of bias are kept to a minimum, so what do we think is going to happen when we conduct a second round of “informal” interviews, now late at night, over drinks, and in a dimly lit room? Those of us with small children or heavy sleep needs just need to deal with it, I guess. While I know that there are plenty of men who face these challenges as well, it is hard to imagine a better piece of evidence of the maleness of our profession.
But hey, look at the bright side: the only other time I’ve attended the smoker, I was hit on. This time around, my pregnant figure is likely to keep me from being subjected to that.
As an undergraduate, I took a seminar where, in one class, the topic of moral relativism arose in discussion. There were only two women in the class. One of us (it might have been myself) used the example of female genital mutilation in some cultures, arguing that a practice as horrifying as that had to be universally wrong. The men in the room, including myself, started arguing aggressively about this point. Finally, one of the women spoke up: “Could we maybe pick a different example?” I hadn’t thought about it, but it later it occurred to me how uncomfortable I would have been in a room full of women vociferously arguing about cutting up male genitalia.
I’m the only woman in my department. We recently hired two men, one tenure track, one temporary. At a department meeting before they arrived, we discussed who would “take responsibility” for each of them — be a mentor, show the person the ropes, talk to them about their work, etc. Somebody said, “you know, like we did for persons A, B, and C when they got here.” A, B, and C are the three men who were hired at the same time as me (about 5 years ago). I tentatively asked, “Who was my mentor?” because I don’t remember anyone helping me out in that way. Everyone looked surprised as though it had never occurred to them that I should have a mentor. I do remember a discussion at the end of my first year, when my department chair said that if I wanted some mentoring I was free to contact a female professor in English. She was their department chair and “very busy”, but maybe she’d be willing to talk with me. Needless to say, I did not follow up on that half-hearted suggestion. Maybe I should have, but there would have been no overlap in our research interests. I did manage to get tenure last year, but now I’m watching a 1-year hire be wined and dined by his philosophy mentor, and it’s making me pretty angry about the disparity in treatment.
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.
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’m a ungraduate in Philosophy in HongKong. In my observation, there seems to be only 30-40% female undergraduates in my department, which totally have 30 students of each year. The amount of students in the department makes the arrangement of the tutorial classes in each courses easier. It seems not to be too less of the female here, but actually all the professors here are male, and in the way of teaching, they tend not to be communicating as much to the female students. On the otherhand the male classmates quite seemed to be treating female’s as “weak”. They have their “own issues”, they deride the girls beacuse they are majority. It makes the situation like the males are stronger than females, and sometimes when females oppose, they just soon say they are feminists. But there’s really something wrong with some of female classmates, as they really dont want to study philosophy, present a lazy and not smart way in learning, let their boyfriend writing their essays, but
it should be the problem for individuals. And I think it has the cause of the learning area, some of them had given up, thinking that is the subject male dominate. More, I see there is only one female philosopher in HongKong,teaching philosophy in University. You can’t imagine how it could be a masculine community of doing philosophy in HongKong. But still a cultural effect, that in Chinese society, even the new generation would not think female as weak, their parents generation would think that, and feel that female should not study too much, should not have a higher level in studing than male. This is a long term effect in education, which causes not many phD or mphil. coming out.
Am I the only one who finds it unbearably frustrating when male philosophers tell me how much better things are now than they used to be? I am a recent PhD and my male colleagues continue to tell me how “there are so many more women in philosophy now.”
My graduate program had an embarrassingly small number of women: two, including me.
In my first job, I was the only woman in the department.
In my second job, I was one of only two women (neither of whom were tenure-track).
Now, in my new job, I am still only one of two women.
Oh yes, so much better!
In the entire course of my undergraduate philosophy career, I received one reading assignment from my professors that was authored by a woman: Judith Jarvis Thompson’s “A Defense of Abortion.”
(I graduated last year)
As an undergrad, I double majored in philosophy and religious studies.
When I told people what I studied and what classes I took, I invariably got:
a) Philosophy? But…you’re…a girl?!?!
b) Religion? Oh, do you want to be a nun, then?
This happened a few years ago.
When I was an undergrad in philosophy I attended a liberal arts grad school fair. There happened to be a female philosopher there who was recruiting for her university. She wanted to meet with me to discuss my research interests, etc. When I told her that I was interested in contemporary analytic philosophy, she lowered her head and fell silent for a moment. When she raised her head to look at me she told me that I would “never make it”. She explained that analytic philosophy would just be too hard and cruel for someone like me (I am a woman and a minority after all). She suggested that I switch to continental and do work in philosophy of race or feminist philosophy (never mind that at the time I had no interest in working in these areas). She then proceeded to guess (incorrectly) at my ethnicity for the rest of the interview. After meeting with her, I felt smaller than a speck of dust.
However, I didn’t let her ignorant and bigoted remarks deter me from philosophy, from applying to grad school, nor from pursuing my interests in contemporary analytic philosophy. I am currently a PhD student doing work in mainstream analytic and feminist philosophy. I came to feminist philosophy out of my love for and personal commitment to feminism. Feminist philosophy is not the only option for me; rather, it is the option that is most desirable to me.
This was three years ago I took a graduate seminar in which there were six students; I was the only woman. Whenever I would ask a question or make a comment, the professor would respond with an example that made reference to women or femaleness, often in a subtly threatening way. Once, when coming up with a scenario to make some point about counterfactuals, he said, “Imagine our graduate program only without any female graduate students.” Another time, when making a point about how definitions can change over time, he brought up the point that it used to be impossible for men to rape their wives, on account of the definition of rape. Always, always he would make comments like these to me; never, never would he make comments like these to my male peers.
I think I have the confidence now to ignore this kind of thing and just get on with the philosophy. But then I was scared and insecure. I stopped speaking in that class.
I am at a Leiter top-ten institution. I mention this only in hopes that readers from my university will consider the possibility that this happened in their department. There is a strong current of “That kind of thing doesn’t happen around here” -type thinking in my department.
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.