You obviously don’t have what it takes

Posted: September 23, 2015 by jennysaul in bullying, insults

I was very interested in enrolling in a particular philosophy course but getting a spot was competitive because the class also fulfilled some requirement for the business majors. The chair of the philosophy department told me that I would be given priority because I was one among only a handful of philosophy majors. I emailed the professor that was teaching the course in advance. He said it would be great to have me and all I had to do was approach him on the first day of class.

First day of class. I introduce myself to him (as instructed) and remind him of the email. He says nothing, emotes nothing, and just takes a long look at me (up and down). His face had absolutely no expression but his voice was loud and cold. He ordered me to follow him outside. I did. (At the time, I remember thinking that he was making a bit of a scene. I was perfectly aware that the class was watching this little drama but I didn’t care. I just thought he was another eccentric professor.)

As soon as we get outside, he tells me that there is no way I can take his course and that it is very clear to him that I don’t have what it takes to do well in philosophy. He believed these things only on the basis of looking at me.

I left his class and never looked back. I told the chair of the philosophy department and she couldn’t believe it. And by that, I mean-she literally did not believe it. She dismissed the incident as my own confused interpretation of his “wonderful personality”.

This is not a story per se. It’s a reflection prompted by reading your wonderful blog. How I wish it had existed when I was in grad school in the late ‘70s trying to decide on a career. I was almost a woman in philosophy and before spending a few hours immersed in your blog thought I had “chosen” not to pursue my favorite subject. I see now that I was driven out.

For the first time I’ve stopped to imagine how different it would have been had I been a man with political philosophy as my favorite (and hence best) subject. I graduated summa cum laude in political science from a major state university. I completed my doctoral exams with distinction in all four of my fields, including political philosophy. Even in my chosen major field of comparative politics, I focused on philosophy of religion. I had a published work while still in grad school. And yet, no professor, no TA EVER in the eight years I spent at university suggested I might do philosophy. Would that have happened to a male? Uh, no.

The exclusion began my first day in political philosophy as an undergrad. I read through the syllabus and asked the TA whether we were really going to have a 100 per cent male viewpoint in the course and wasn’t there anyone who could represent the thinking of the other half of the human race? Nope. The great philosophers are ALL male but don’t worry their approaches are universal, or some such crap. It ended with me choosing a very difficult and non-theoretical dissertation topic involving intensive field research. Despite receiving excellent grant funding, I lost confidence and never finished. (I felt it arrogant to try to write in depth on a culture and system I’d only observed for a year.) I ended up with a decent career and a good life BUT…

The dissertation I really wanted to write was on how gender influenced moral philosophy. My thinking was that holding the primacy of compassion as a moral virtue, as Rousseau did, for example, might give women a moral edge over men and this is a possibility for which philosophers were, and perhaps still are, not yet ready. Much of the history of moral philosophy may represent efforts to assert male moral superiority. Take, for instance, Kant’s rejection of natural ethics to discover that ethics are a product of free will. “Morality requires not a natural relation of man-to-man, but a relation of man-to-duty. For an act to be called good,” he said, “it is not sufficient to do that which should be morally good that it conforms to the law; it must be done for the sake of the law.” Moral acts were those done not for natural reasons but for the sake of the law; in other words, for a reason men would be much more likely to cite than women.

It’s possible that this is not an original observation or that my understanding of Kant may be dead wrong. I don’t know because that’s not ultimately what I studied and that suited everyone just fine.

The wrong attitude toward name choices

Posted: September 1, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I got married and adopted my husband’s last name. Since then, a half-dozen “feminist” philosophers (both men and women) have commented on my name. Not a single one of them had anything nice to say. I’ve often been made to feel that I betrayed feminism and women in philosophy by getting married to a man, and made things even worse by taking his name and living in a somewhat traditional marriage (I currently work only part-time and am the primary caregiver in our home). It’s as though they feel sorry for me, like a victim of domestic violence who returns to her attacker or something, and I hate that feeling. I wish philosophers were more open-minded towards marriage of all kinds.

The only other woman has been dead 125 years

Posted: August 27, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

First day of first metaphysics philosophy class..

The next semester will be me, seating round table with 16 males, exploring the relationship between fiction and philosophy, beginning with a reading of Middlemarch.

The only other woman in this class has been dead 125 years!

I recently presented a paper on a panel at a national conference. I was happy to get on the panel because it was related to a growing interdisciplinary field which I’d like to incorporate into my research. So I went with the aim of making some new connections in this field.

One of the other panelists (a male grad student) expressed interest in my paper, and offered several helpful comments during the question period. After the session, he gave me his email and asked me to contact him to discuss the paper further and to talk about co-writing a paper with him. I am not particularly interested in co-writing (especially with people I don’t know), but since I am trying to make connections in this field, I decided to contact him.

He responded by writing that of course he remembered me from the conference; how could he forget someone who was so beautiful? And also who presented an interesting paper (though this read like an afterthought). He then said that he really knew I was beautiful because he is gay and therefore could not simply be flattering me. He said he’d be too busy to discuss work until the fall but would like to skype to “get to know me better.”

I felt demeaned and objectified. Even though I know better, I started wondering what I had worn during the presentation and if I had worn something different if he would have said the same thing.

I am a female Professor of Philosophy, married with two children, in a university on the East coast.
20 years ago, I was on a tenure-track in the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. At 40, I became pregnant with our second child. The Department was having its annual end-of-the-year party. The chair, about 10 years my senior, asked me into his office before joining the party. Once behind closed doors, he began expressing doubts about my progress toward promotion. I was surprised because I had above-average publication, teaching and service qualifications–at least as measured by the standards of that university. When I kept defending my record and expressing optimism about my prospects, he blurted out, indicating my swollen belly: ‘I just don’t think THAT is a very good idea.’
I admit, I was stunned by the inappropriateness,gall and sheer arrogance of that statement. But philosophy, the art of conceptual distinction, came to my rescue. I told the ‘gentleman’: ‘This isn’t an idea at all. It is a conception.’ I left the department (with tenure) two years later.

A hellish nightmare from beginning to end

Posted: July 28, 2015 by Jender in Uncategorized

My experience at an MA program was a hellish nightmare from beginning to end.  I hesitate to say more for fear of further retaliation.  I just want to caution those of you out there who are thinking about coming forward to report sexual predators.  Expect your department to turn on you; expect your department to retaliate against you.  Expect to be bad mouthed at every PhD program to which you apply.  Expect to lose your committee.  Expect to lose your letter writers.  Expect your department to withdraw all support from you.  Expect to become persona non grata.  Expect to be de facto barred from all opportunities in your department.  Expect to be gas-lighted.  Expect people to be thrilled to watch your fall from grace.  And, then, when you succeed, against all odds, and despite the prodigious efforts of your department to the contrary, through sheer force of will and talent, expect your department to exploit your success at every opportunity.  Expect to watch as your success is used to further the career of the predator.  Expect them to ignore your pleas to stop.  Expect this.