Archive for the ‘objectifying women’ Category

Today I (a female grad student) was discussing with my partner (a male grad student) some of the comments Ruth Chang makes about sexual harassment in her recent 3am interview. He was shocked at senior philosophers confessing to Chang that they don’t consider expressing romantic interest in a student to be particularly problematic, as he (reasonably) considers it to be wildly inappropriate. To be clear, everything he said was supportive, and he is very understanding of the issues women in philosophy face, but still two of the things he said (and especially my reactions to them) struck me as noteworthy.

1) “I can’t believe someone would really think that was okay!”
I reeled off the names of four people we know personally who we know to have expressed interest in students or junior colleagues, and in fact to have gone further than mere expressions of interest. (This includes one who person he knows harassed me as an undergraduate). He agreed that in some sense he knows that people do it, but still can’t get his head around the idea that they would think it is okay.

2) “Imagine if I was talking one-on-one with [senior member of staff] and she admitted that she was attracted to me. That would be so horrible and so inappropriate!”
This made me realise that even the most empathetic of male philosophers will have trouble fully understanding the extent of ‘what it’s like’, because I only recognised this point myself during our conversation: whenever I have ever had a meeting with a male member of staff I am on some level worried that they might express interest in me, or that I will realise that they are interested in me, or that they will think that I am interested in them. I can’t think of a single exception to this, and now I’m feeling exhausted at the prospect of a career filled with such stressful interactions.

As an undergraduate, I was introduced to the concept of Plato’s ideal realm with the form of a girlfriend. While I don’t remember all of the specifics given, I do remember my professor claiming that the ideal girlfriend “looks good in a sweater.”

Discussion Question

Posted: March 12, 2014 by Jender in objectifying women

In a required class offered during my Masters program, whose students included about six women and one man, my professor posed the following discussion topic: “If you knew that you were going to be stranded on a desert island, and you could take either Michelle Pfeiffer or the philosophical canon, which would you choose?”

I was upset by the question, and jumped in with a defiant, “I’d take Michelle Pfeiffer.” Everything became tense. My teacher was considering his next question, when the male student said, “I’d choose the philosophical canon.” The remainder of the discussion proceeded between the male student and the professor…

One of my classmates chose a particularly obnoxious faculty member to sit on her dissertation committee. I asked her what she was thinking. She told me that it was only my relationship with him that was strained. He failed her defense, and placed a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in her school mailbox with a note, “Maybe you should consider a change of career.”

She did reconfigure her committee, and pass her defense six months later…

Ok here goes. I was doing my MA at [a university in country X], and the language spoken there was not my native tongue, even if I was fluent in the language of instruction. Naturally I felt a bit isolated and insecure. But also, both the general approach to philosophy that the department was engaged in, and its pedagogical methods were new to me. I was trying to be very open to this new way of doing things philosophical, even if I did not like it very much.

Instead of teaching us for the whole term, professors required that from the 4th week of class, students– each in turn– take on the weekly 3-hour seminar, and present their work. This was all terribly tedious, as the 95% male students, as well as we 5%, were either 1) fresh from undergrad and unable to really talk intelligently about their subject, or 2) long term graduate students who knew how to talk about philosophy without actually saying anything. We all wore black clothes, smoked camel cigarettes and felt existential :)

When it was my turn to present on a philosopher that we had not covered at all in class, but who I was supposed to research all on my own and present to the class (for three hours) as expert, I felt a bit freaked out. I asked my prof. (weeks ahead) if I could meet him to get some help. He was so busy, it seemed… always traveling or something.

In the end, the only time he could meet me was in the evening… a few days before I was due to give my presentation in class (upon which my entire grade depended). So sorry, but would I mind coming around to his house? We really did need to discuss things before I presented this major philosopher’s work to the class. I had literally started from scratch in trying to read and understand his writings, had had no instruction at all on his thought, and now I was supposed to do a 3 hour seminar presentation to the 15 other slightly hostile students. And was supposed to do this in a language that was foreign to me.

All this to explain how easy it was for me to accept the prof’s invitation to come to his house three days before my presentation, in order to “discuss the work of X philosopher”. It was too cold to get my car started, and I had to take a cab to his house. When I got there 1/2 hour late, he already had a big whiskey poured for me. I had to climb over the various children’s fisher-price toys for 4 year olds, and big lego sets to enter the room. It was all so uncomfortable, and he carefully explained that he was now single.

He was drunk, though I was too naive to see this right away.He kept insisting– INSISTING that I drink more whiskey, and pouring me huge amounts. I tried to comply … but didn’t fall for the liquor or the conversation. It was all so juvenile! I was a grad. student, not some 17 year old… and he just got progressively more drunk. I was naive enough to think that we would talk about Wittgenstein, but after he flopped over me a few times, telling me that I had to have sex with him– he needed it so badly, etc.–..and then beginning to force me to lie down…. well, I made my escape. Caught a bus home. Got home really late and tired and felt filthy for having let him go as far as he had.

Well a few days later I gave my presentation to the class, with the prof watching, editing, intervening, just as a good teacher would do. I thought the grade he gave me overall for the course was fair. Later, I contacted the University and tried to register an anonymous complaint, but met too many roadblocks. I tried to spread the word among my fellow students, but most were uninterested. Finally, I just moved on.

I am a junior member of a Philosophy department. Recently at a faculty meeting we were discussing the application of a philosopher to teach at our program for a short term. The applicant crashed a party I threw a while ago, arrived somewhat drunk, and hit on me incessantly even as I tried to maintain a professional distance (and I wear a wedding ring.) I explained this, including how uncomfortable I felt. A senior male professor said, ‘I don’t understand…is this positive or negative?” That was followed by heartfelt chuckles from some of my other colleagues. Somehow I found it in me to respond to that and say that it was negative, and that I did not appreciate the remark at all, since I had already stated it had been uncomfortable. To this the response of the senior member was, “I see.” After which, a senior female member of the department went on to tell me that not everyone, e.g. not her, would find it wrong to flirt with a married woman.

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.