In 1969 when I was a student at UC Berkeley as a Philosophy Major my faculty adviser told me that Philosophy was no place for a woman. When he met with male students he would sometimes meet with them for an hour. I was lucky if I got 10 or 15 minutes. I had to leave college for personal reasons but I returned to school (Humboldt State University) in 1998 and in 2000 I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree. The philosophy department was so much better with women being treated better. Now I am in a Philosophy discussion group (mostly retirees like myself) and the women are equal to the men. I appreciate being able to read about the experiences of other women. Oh and men saying that women can’t handle their style of debate (aggressive, mean spirited and nasty). Well yeah, maybe these guys could learn something from women as to how to have a civil discussion.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy, in the Guardian.
I came across your site from a Twitter link [...]. I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that this conversation if finally happening. I am now a youthful 60 yr. old with an unfinished doctorate in Philosophy: unfinished because of a complicated relationship with my thesis advisor. As a Plato scholar, he loved the dialogue The Phaedrus and its theme of Eros in education. So his year long seduction of me as naive 25 yr. old virgin was, in his mind, an intellectual exercise in “expanding my horizons” and ” helping me break free of the narrow confines of my Christian upbringing”. I was so deeply flattered by the attentions of this urbane and sophisticated older man, that I ignored that inner voice of caution that kept trying to warn me of the danger ahead. At least I resisted the inevitable coupling for almost a year (how I was stoking his love of the seduction game without realizing it!). When I finally became intimate with him, having persuaded myself that he must love me to pay so much attention, I immediately discovered that I was merely a notch on his bedpost.
Even when the very messy relationship ended and I married a fellow grad student (to whom I am still happily married after 30 years), the professor contined to play manipulative games with me until I finally felt so exhausted by the struggle that I just gave up trying to,finish the thesis.
I never pursued action against the man, partly because of my shame at my own stupidity but also because in those days it was so common that such teacher/ student relationships happened and as yet sexual harrasment policies were quite new. Some of,my fellow female students who did complete their doctorates had relationships with male professors but were savvy enough to know how to use the intimacy to their advantage.
The long term outcome for me was a complete undermining of my self- confidence as an intellectual. In spite of having been awarded major graduate scholarships, I kept thinking that my advisor saw me only in sexual terms because I was not a good enough student. That undermining of my already fragile self- confidence stays with me as the sorry legacy of that complicated and confusing time. My deepest sympathies go out to this new generation of smart women having to traverse the minefield of grad school.
When I first got to my undergraduate program, I was hit on by a married grad student that I did not desire. Every time I looked up from my desk, I would find him checking me out. During office hours, he would do things like seductively invade my personal space while staring at my lips and slowly licking his own. This behavior displaced any academics altogether. At one point, when we were in a hallway together, two male grad students went by and laughed when they saw us. One said, “At it again, L?” So, his behavior was not a secret and yet he was still hired for TA work. That’s sad. But what really frightened me is the fact that L wasn’t reading my social cues very well. For instance, all gentlemen retreat when I unnecessarily weasel the words, “my toddler” and “my husband” into the conversation. L did not. In fact, his response to these cues involved a phallic demonstration that I’d never seen before featuring a blue whiteboard marker. My husband asked me to stop attending L’s discussion section and office hours, which I did. My final grade was low so I asked L for a copy of my final exam. The commentary that he gave me on the final paper had a hostile tone and it was sent with a second attachment that turned out to be a spyware program.
The following quarter, L took the same class as me and sat behind me daily to harass me, regardless of where I sat. He pointed at me and said that “that thing” smelled, was irrelevant, and didn’t belong in the field because it wasn’t White. His main focus was my sexual undesirability. To be clear, this was not hazing. It wasn’t even racism. This was obsessive retaliation for sexual rejection. Women should be able to politely decline flirtation without being harassed for three months. Things worsened as it became clear that the class professor, “Friend” and I shared an intense sexual attraction. My husband of ten years, to whom I tell everything, was not concerned. However, the attraction infuriated L and, the more I tried to hide it, the more vicious his comments in class became. He began lurking around when I’d go to Friend’s office hours. I felt physically afraid of him and had trouble sleeping. L then tried to arrange to be the one to grade me, despite not being my TA. Wisely, the gods saved L from himself and denied the bizarre grading proposal. Later, he sidled up to me as I tried to outrun him down the hall. He explained that grad school sure beats having to work in the workforce. And, I’m sure that it does. Outside of academia, sexual harassment is both illegal and illicit.
I have had my share of problems with my work not being cited, but this posting is not about that. It is about women citing others. So I have recently written a paper with ideas in it that I don’t think people have thought about very much. As a woman I feel these ideas will not be taken seriously by my colleagues, so I cite supporting sources in almost every sentence of the paper. This probably gives an appearance of defensiveness, but I feel that what I have to say in the paper will not be taken seriously otherwise. Well, the citations probably won’t change that, but I have to try.
It does feel odd to write a paper in the awareness that the bar for me to prove my case is so much higher that I feel it is for my male colleagues. But that’s the life.
After reading the “Being a Woman in Philosophy” blog, I never thought of sharing my story until I came across the post “Harassment and How One Man Helped”. Growing up, I suffered from abuse and neglect, as well as coming from a volatile family situation. Living in constant fear, I knew that moving to a different city for college was one way of escaping my terrible home life. I genuinely thought that things would be different in college. My first semester, my RA for our dormitory was changed from a female to a male RA, who had access to all the dorms he was in charge of using an electronic key card. He let himself into my dorm room and bedroom several times while my other roommates were out. I won’t go into details. I eventually told the head office what was happening, and he was released from his job and removed from the dorms. I still saw him on campus sometimes, but he never approached me. I thought, “Ok, finally, things are going to be different. Things have changed, and that’s never going to happen again.”
My third year of undergrad, I got sick at the same time as a friend’s roommate, who I also had a class with a certain professor, Prof. B, a classics and philosophy professor. I asked her what happened about an in class quiz we both missed, and she said she visited him after class and he told her to come to his office, where he gave her a handout for an essay to write to make up for the missed quiz. I went to Prof. B after class, explained I had been sick too, and he took out a piece of paper. He wrote his cell phone number down on it, and told me to meet him in a common meeting place at five o’clock and ‘we’d go from there’. I was shocked, afraid, and horrified. His mobile number was for a different city (he commuted between the two cities for work) and I remember the disgust I felt at him. I called my best friend’s mom, which sounds weird, but we were actually really close. I never told anyone else about it at the time. She told me not to go, that something bad would happen, and to try and drop the class. I called the number, thinking maybe it wasn’t like that, but when he answered, I felt so terrible I hung up. It was too late to drop the class, and he failed me. He still works at the university, in the Philosophy department. I found out everyone knew he has a thing for breasts, and one of my friends actually wore low cut shirts to class intentionally to get higher grades. She still doesn’t know about what happened, and she’s one of my best friends.
In my senior year of undergrad, I had a male philosophy professor, Prof. A, who, initially I thought was gay, and so I felt quite comfortable around him because he wasn’t interested in me as a woman. I later found out that he was in fact straight, which then made me more stand-off-ish. I thought, though, that if we had been so comfortable around each other and he hadn’t hit on me, then he wouldn’t hit on me in the future. I felt proud of myself, for having the respect of a man and it not being about my body or any possible gratification he might receive. Then, I found out commuted from the same town that Prof. B did, and I felt like I had been betrayed. I began to dislike him, to not talk to him as much, and I think I damage our relationship. Throughout the rest of the semester, he never once hit on me, and in fact, he never touched me. I don’t know if he knows I was afraid of him, or if he just really felt like maintaining his professional attitude, but I stopped grouping him (mentally) with Prof. B and began to look at him as Prof. A again. And it made the biggest impact on me in my entire life. It made me want to do philosophy at the graduate level, it made me feel more comfortable in the department, and it made me feel like other men might be able to look at me as a philosopher instead of a just a woman in the future. I have never told him exactly what he’s done for me and why I respect him so much. I’ve never told him how he’s changed my life. At the end of the semester, right before graduation, I went to my academic advisor and told him about my harassment by Prof. B. He was shocked and surprised, and when he asked me why I never told anyone sooner, or told the Chair, I replied, “Because I didn’t think the Chair would do anything about it.” To this day, I’m still on good terms with the chair, but I’ve never brought it up, and I don’t know if he knows.
I try to tell Prof. A about how much I appreciate his communication and his contributions, but I’m ashamed I can’t tell him the truth about why he changed my life. He restored my faith in some male philosophy professors, he gave me confidence, and he saw me as someone, not an object or a body. I know I’ll never be strong enough to tell him the truth, to tell him how he emotionally negated a lot of the negativity I associated with male philosophers, and men in general. I’m still afraid of most men, and still very leery of being alone in a male professors office, but now, I have the confidence to participate in academia in a room full of men, where as before, I couldn’t have set foot in that room. I wish I could tell him what happened, but I can’t. I just silently thank him everyday.
This is in response to the call for stories of sexism being taken seriously. I’ve posted about this story here before so I won’t get into the details of the harassment. I will say that it was so extreme, I thought everybody must a) know about it, and so b) not care, given that it had been going on for so long. After a year and a half of kind of unbelievable harassment, which you’re fairly confident your colleagues are more or less indifferent to, you’re pretty despondent. But, about midway through my second year, my MA advisor, we’ll call him A, asked me to stay a minute after one of our meetings. A told me that another professor with whom I was close had relayed to him some concerns about my wellbeing, and did I want to talk to him? I was really surprised when he asked about it, to be honest. But I was close enough with A, and I knew that he definitely wasn’t close with my harasser, so I explained what had happened and how things were now. A was aghast when I gave him the details, and promptly thereafter things started to get fairly serious. I forwarded a swath of emails to A and to the dean, and over the next couple of weeks A accompanied me to a handful of meetings with the dean, in which we discussed my options. I was withdrawn from all of my classes with my harasser and he was basically given a university wide restraining order. In the aftermath I worried about what the Ws would look like on my transcripts (I was applying to PhD programs at the time) and about what my harasser might say to people about me. As for him, I don’t think the issue followed him around professionally in any way, or in any way affected his standing in the dept. I think the seriousness with which the matter was treated was a mater of protecting me from any more harm, and not directed at preventing this person from perpetrating these abuses again. It did come to my attention, in talks with A and the dean throughout this process, that my harasser was not a first time offender. So on the one hand, I think my department really let me down. On the other hand, I think A really stepped up and stood by me. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.
This is not about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy. I suspect it is about what it’s like to be a human in philosophy. I am a successful philosopher in well-respected department, with a Full Professorship. It’s not a Leiterific department but a small liberal arts college, which sends many students to Leiterific departments. I am a woman. My work is read and I have a prominent standing in the disciplines in which I work. In other words, relative to most people in philosophy, I am privileged. I have power, power that has come at a cost, which is what I’d like to speak to. I’d like to speak to those costs because they diminish all of us, and all of us have pay some of these same prices. Lastly, I am in a field relatively cut off from social justice concerns – basically, analytic philosophy of mind, language, metaphysics and the history of those fields.
I am successful, but in order to become successful, I have paid a price. The first choice was giving up my creative life. Doing what I love has changed the way my mind works. My ability to be creative has been severely diminished. I had been a published poet. This sacrifice cut right to my identity and ability. I can’t do what poets do anymore. I would make the same choice today, but it remains painful that I left that part of me behind.
Second, I have had to shut down emotionally in order to do the thing that I love. Philosophy, especially teaching philosophy seriously, requires a rigor and an unrelenting precision that makes it difficult to maintain healthy human relationships. If I have to choose between doing what I love at the most successful level possible and having healthier relationships, I am ashamed to say that I have chosen and will choose philosophy – the thing that I love. This has made me a diminished friend, a diminished partner and a diminished colleague. I would still choose being a more successful philosopher over these things, both because I love philosophy, selfishly, more than just about anything, but also because I will constantly feel as though I have not gotten the recognition I deserve. I feel this despite the tremendous recognition and support and attention that my philosophical colleagues, male and female, give me pretty much constantly.
So what about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy? It’s about being among my people – people with whom I feel more comfortable than I feel with anyone else. People who get me. Poeople I love. People who love with the same fervor the same thing I love. People who have sacrificed things that people shouldn’t have to sacrifice to do what we do. We are in a discipline whose practices diminish all of us. The way we behave towards each other makes me ashamed. We are better than this.
Yes, this affects those of us who love philosophy and who are not traditionally members of the tribe more than others. Yes, so many people with a lot of clout and power do so much to mentor and support those of us who are new to the tribe. But at some point we need to realize collectively that we are stuck in a damaging social practice, one that is especially silly given that we’re all pretty much a bunch of geeks. And, yes, this is a thoroughgoingly feminist message.
I took a couple classes with this professor freshman year, and he was always very supportive of my work, always willing to give me some extra time, both in terms of academic discussion and in terms of not being particular about deadlines (2/3 of which I missed). I wasn’t sure of majoring in philosophy, but he pretty much sweet talked me into it halfway through the second semester, whilst also offering to be my major adviser. I really liked the subject, so I accepted on a whim, and once he signed my declaration, it’s not that he changed, but he became slightly different.
He started to single me out, to hold me back after class and longer during office hours, to employ schoolboy horseplay techniques, and so on. He was a lot older, with family, and I was young and nubile. So rather than getting freaked out, I just took it as the natural order of things that he should act with me as any man would act with a young woman. I wasn’t going to marry him, but neither was male attention ever repulsive to me. And I didn’t have a sordid affair, I was not scarred for life – in fact, he helped me get into a top grad program, connected me with some excellent people in the field (including his own advisor) and wined and dined me more than would be considered decent by your average feminist, but certainly less than philosophy professors engage their male students. Not to mention, he ignited my curiosity for the field, without which I probably would have become an engineer or investment banker.
So my question is, what’s wrong with being hit on?
I was talking to a fellow graduate student in our department recently about music. He mentioned the name of his favorite band. I looked them up later and here are some of their song titles: “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s C***”, “F***ed with a Knife,” “Stripped, Raped, Strangled,” “Addicted to Vaginal Skin,” and “She Was Asking for It” to name a few. It’s great to know my colleagues enjoy such pro-woman entertainment.
I’m a first year graduate student, at an excellent program for my area of interest. I’m wondering if I should switch programs, or switch areas of study, given certain climate concerns. This bothers me enough as is, but what I find most frustrating is just how much time I’ve spent thinking and worrying about this, when my male colleagues don’t. I’ve got just as much coursework as they do– and twice the sh*t to deal with.
Last week was International Womens Week, during which Inga Muscio was speaking on her books, with the marketing for it focusing on “cunt’ and trying to reclaim the word. After having the space and marketing done well in advance, the event was cancelled the day of for offensive language.
Our administration lets these kinds of things happen all the time, and some of the happenings are ridiculous. While they technically could cite te policy they did to shut it down, it makes no sense to actually do. By silencing those who speak against it, injustice cannot be challenged, which is scary to think about in a setting where such censorship actually inhibits the very goals they exist to achieve (advancement of knowledge).
How can we as a society grow when are not allowed to face the challenges needed for growth?
One of the talks I went to at the Central involved objects of thought, as opposed to things with real being. The example that was given was a woman who imagined a peeping tom outside her house. A number of specific details of the peeping tom were given — the days he visited, the length of his visits, and the like. It was astonishing that someone could think was appropriate for an academic context. The first question referred to the distinction, but instead gave the example of a child’s imaginary friend. One can only hope the presenter caught on, and the example will be changed before publication.
I turned in my final copy of my dissertation two weeks ago. I had a bad dissertation experience in a department that went through diversity training some years back after complaints from (the few) female graduate students. I was originally scheduled to defend seven months ago, but my defense was canceled the night before my defense because 1)two members of my committee did not read my dissertation until the day before my original defense date, 2)these same two members had issues with four of the five original chapters, 3)one of the two went out of the country for the month after my original defense date.
I spent the summer revising to meet the demands of the one committee member who did not leave the country. This involved doubling one of the chapters that involved a lot of formal work. At the end of the summer, the member who went out of the country still had not read the complete dissertation, but insisted on my adding an additional chapter. This same member still hadn’t read the entire dissertation right up until two weeks before my defense.
After my defense my director apologized for the delay, and another member emailed an apology. Over the summer the member of my committee who is outside of my department emailed me twice to remind me that his role on my committee was to act on behalf of the Graduate College to ensure fairness.
I was offered a teaching fellowship last year, but lost it because I was not allowed to defend before the beginning of the fall semester. I am on the market again, and the prospects for my specialization are not good this year. The advice that my placement director gave me is not to lose hope because there are many success stories from our department. All of these stories are about male graduate students. He had no success stories for former female graduate students.
I can’t help but think that all of this happened to me because I am female with a specialization dominated by males.
I’ve thought for awhile about posting, about how to describe what it feels like to be a woman grad student in my department. There is splintering among the students in my department. I have seen and witnessed much of the usual sexist bull shit in my department: boundary violations, denigration of feminist philosophy, backhanded compliments, objectification of female faculty, male domination of discussion in a few classes, and rape jokes made in communal spaces.
Some of the splintering is the result of sexism; much of it is subtler and more complex: interpersonal differences, romantic mishaps, mistakes in responding to people, misunderstandings. But I guess instead of focusing on placing blame on the people who I see as some of the more aggressive and dysfunctional instigators–though I think there is a time and place for blame–I wanted to write about some of the effects of this splintering that I think are really sad.
I have seen men in our department, both faculty and students, drive wedges between women in our department, either by putting women in the middle of issues they shouldn’t be in the middle of, by unfairly defaming the character of women in our department, by misrepresenting disagreements, excluding people, etc. I have seen women faculty avoid women grad students while explaining the reasons for their avoidance to other grad students instead of the students themselves.
The sad part is that the tendency has been to blame the women for being in the middle, to accept the negative characterizations of women uncritically, and to create rifts between women in our department that are sometimes spoken about and sometimes not. I have seen a lack of accountability for men’s actions in our department. I have seen this lack of accountability, the various kinds of splintering, and exhaustion from unhealthy departmental dynamics cause some women to withdraw from social events in the department, myself included.* And as a result, I have missed opportunities to get to know newer faculty and students, many of whom are probably wonderful, bright, feminist women and men with whom solid, healthy, and positive communities and friendships might be built.
*I will say that I have not noticed men withdraw from social events for the reasons but I may have a limited perspective.
About a year ago, I was one the job market. As is customary in such cases, I asked my department chair, who was my direct boss, whether he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation. He said, I’ll be happy to send one, but only if you write it for me. I don’t have time for such things, and you know yourself better anyway.
Now, I am a shy person not prone to self-promotion, and I find it already hard to write a simple cover letter to illustrate my qualities, but it’s even worse to write one’s own letter of recommendation. I also hated the dishonesty of the whole thing – it really defeats the purpose of providing the potential employer with contextual information. Nevertheless, after nights of struggling I had what I believed was a good letter of recommendation. I sent it to him, and he sent it on to the SC. He also sent me an e-mail with small changes he made to the letter – improvements, he called them. To my horror, his so-called improvements made me look a lot worse. One of the most damaging additions was that the department was financially struggling, and so they had to let some people go. As I was on a temp, non-renewable position, this was an outright lie, since the termination of my contract had nothing to do with the financial problems of the department, but everything with the type of contract I was on. But it made it look like I wasn’t as good a philosopher as the other members of the department. He had sent out this letter to all the jobs I applied for, and I didn’t get a single interview that season. Unsurprisingly, I finally started getting invitations for interviews once I decided to no longer ask him as a reference.
My husband and I are both young philosophers who have been on the job market. This is tough. This year, I received a job offer several months before he did. By the time his came in, I had already signed a contract and we were preparing to move. My job is close to family and friends, in a part of the country we both love. His job is on the other side of the country where we know no one and don’t feel like we fit in.
Even though I had already signed a contract while he was still waiting for the official offer to arrive by mail, and even though we were already half-moved to the location of my job, countless relatives and family friends asked me why I didn’t just quit my position and move with him. Wouldn’t it be nicer, after all, to be together? Not a single person asked him why he didn’t just turn down the offer and continue with our current plan.
Fortunately, not a single philosopher has asked me this. Everyone in the philosophic community understands my decisions. But this experience was a reminder of the different expectations the world at large holds for the careers of men and women.
I walked out from a panel for the first time. By and large, my experience in philosophy as a woman has been relatively decent. I have at times been told I am not “like other women philosophers,” ostensibly as a compliment. Sadly, I suspect they are cluing into the obnoxious and aggressive part of my philosophical behavior that I myself am not particularly fond of. Anyway, today I witnessed the most egregious programming sexism I’ve ever seen. It’s the anniversary of the publication of Thomson’s “Defense of Abortion.” So X hosted a special panel, and it was only once it started that I realized I was confronted with four old men–three on the panel, and one doing an extended introduction. About abortion, no less. I really was so disgusted that I had to leave. I can’t believe I didn’t notice until I got there.
I suspect that there were at least 10 women in the room (like myself) who have taught that article many, many times and could have tagged in with an few hours of notice. We would not be eminences, though.
And by the way, I’m glad this site is here.
When I got accepted into a philosophy graduate program, a guy in my undergrad class (whose male buddies had tried for the same spot and been refused) said, upon hearing the news, “no offense, but I know people who deserve that spot way more than you. They are much more passionate about philosophy than you are.” We had only ever had one philosophy class together – during which he would be reading a book while the lecture was going on, and after break he wouldn’t come back, while I went to every single class and was a pretty active participant, offering (what I thought to be at least) relevant critiques of the arguments being discussed. But what do I know? Obviously he’s in an epistemically privileged position, being a man and all.
Also, in an unrelated note, the shortening of ‘twin earth water’ to ‘twatter’ just irks me.
In my last year as an undergrad in philosophy I was in 2 classes with this guy, let’s call him Tom, and we would talk occasionally in an amicable way, though we didn’t hang out outside of class. Well, some of the material from the two classes crossed over, and one time another student made a (false) remark about motivational internalism, and me and Tom just looked at each other like, ‘oh no he didn’t', and Tom whispers to me something like ‘shut your mouth, don’t say anything.’ (I am normally fairly outspoken in class) Then, when the guy was done, Tom raised his hand and proceeded to correct the student on this point. I was a little surprised, but this was nothing compared to what happened a week or so later.
In our morning class together, Tom comes over to chat about a short paper/presentation that we both had due later that day (individually, on different, though related, topics). He told me what he had written in his paper, but that he was going to work on it some more before class that afternoon, because he wasn’t really happy with it. Then asked me what I had written on. I had prepared well and had a kick-ass (if I do say so myself) presentation planned. I was proud of it so I told him what I was going to argue in moderate detail. Bad move.
That afternoon, I ask him just as class is starting, ‘so, how did your paper go?’ He says ‘oh, I completely re-wrote it.’ So, I ask him what he wrote, and he says, no joke ‘oh, just basically along the lines of what you said’. I had a moment of shock, and then class started. Luckily, I was presenting before him, so I didn’t have to worry about him stealing my presentation also, but when he got up to present after, he says – again, I’m not joking – “well, I’m just going to go over the expository part of my paper (explaining the arguments made in the reading) because M stole all my arguments.” He said this in a good natured way, as if it were a joke, but I almost stood up right there and then to call him out. I considered going to talk with the teacher, but decided against it because I didn’t want to come across as whiny, and because it didn’t seem worth it. I seethed with the injustice of it all for weeks, though I didn’t say anything to Tom.
I’m not sure if any of this would have happened had I been a guy, but it was a learning experience – never share your ideas before the paper’s due, and don’t let a guy intimidate you into not speaking when you have something to say!