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.
Archive for the ‘women are incompetent’ Category
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.
I want to contribute to this great proposal by telling you an anecdote with my PhD supervisor. I am a female philosopher, and, in my third PhD year, I got a comment from my supervisor that, at that time, I didn’t know how to interpret. We had clearly different philosophical positions, and I resisted defending his position in my thesis. In every meeting we had, I would come with ideas and arguments to defend my particular position, and he would reject them saying I did not understand the issue in the right way. Of course he knew better than me, and I would re-read the papers, re-think my arguments, and come back the following day with (or so I thought) better arguments. We never understood each other, and I came to think I was not a good philosopher. Then I got this comment from him “I am going to think women cannot write a thesis”, my answer was “why do you think so?, and he said “well, prove me I am wrong”. The challenge, then, was to write a thesis defending what he thought it was the right position. I wrote an MA thesis following his advice, and I still feel embarrassed about it, because, even though I tried to elaborate good arguments, in that work I ignored all the points that, according to my modest opinion, were on the right track, for the sake of arguing in favour of what he told me to defend. I gave up on writing a PhD thesis, on becoming a professional philosopher and work on a research career, since, if I am not a good philosopher, what am I doing? As a kind of self-challenge, I tried once last time, and started to work as an independent researcher. That happened about 4 years ago. Nowadays I consider myself a good enough philosopher, and good achievements in the last years made me trust myself again. And I came to understand better his comment. I think that my professional carreer would have not suffered in that way if I were a man.
Recently I was the official commenter on a talk by an male graduate (advanced) student at a conference. It was a good paper, and he was from a very good school. There were some problems with the paper, though. I pointed them out using the following form (though not content): NN claims that all cats have tails; however, there is a problem with this because Manx cats count as cats and they do not have tails. This bears on the issues in the following way.
The student did not see that I was giving arguments, and he treated them as simply negations of what he said; thus, “Prof. XYZ maintains that there are cats without tails, but I have argued that all cats do have tails.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to respond to his response. I asked myself what all my male acqaintances in the audience thought. Would any one of them think “but of course XYZ wouldn’t comments on a talk just by negating its claims.” After all these many years in philosophy, I doubt it.
I did explain to the graduate student that there were arguments in the comments. He may have been embarassed to discover that.
[Famous male philosopher's] review of [two famous feminist philosophers' book] appeared in [deleted] The review was astonishingly mean-spirited and uncharitable in its reading of both philosophers. It was chilling. To know that to pursue a career in philosophy was to have widely respected figures hold attitudes like this: An excerpt: “it turns out that patriarchy has not been so bad for moral philosophy, however bad it has been for female moral philosophers. From the reading of these books, I conclude that there is no untapped pool of deep moral reflection that a feminist perspective enables us to recover.” It was a very poignant lesson of the importance of having a deeply rooted self-confidence so as to be able to withstand gratuitous and very public attacks like this
This is about 20 years ago. I was a first year graduate student, taking metaphysics. A male student—let’s call him X—was taking the same class. He was very vocal, seemed to be very intelligent. The first time *I* ever spoke up, I must have asked a good question, because the professor said: “Did X put you up to that?”
The professor seemed to be sorry later.
Now, in 2010, our female graduate students report that if they have a female supervisor, their choice is challenged by male graduate students, and they are asked to explain why they would ever choose to work with a woman when they could work with a man.
When our almost exclusively male department did a search recently, we were instructed by the Dean to make an effort to hire a woman. Most of us saw the lack of women in our department as a glaring problem that needed to be fixed and so were only too happy to satisfy the Dean’s request. One senior faculty member, however, was none too pleased; he repeatedly claimed that hiring a women would drag down our department’s otherwise stellar publication record because women just don’t publish enough and would waste the tenure-line by getting pregnant.
Departmental colleagues in my first tenure-track position included several overtly sexist men and a hostile woman. While there, my extensive research record was discounted in a number of ways. One senior male colleague even told me that feminist philosophy is not real philosophy–it’s just women’s studies; and several senior colleagues defended a low assessment of my research by pointing out that I had failed to publish in what they considered to be “top-tier journals” (journals in which I had no interest and in which my approach to philosophy did not fit). Needless to say, I applied elsewhere and was fortunate enough to land in a fully-functional, supportive, and high-quality department. In this new department, I easily obtained tenure (with a unanimous vote) and half of my departmental colleagues are women. The good news is that some departments, including mine, are actively recruiting, supporting, and advancing women philosophers. The bad news, of course, is that sexist, hostile philosophy departments still exist.