Over the weekend I initiated a discussion about gender equality in our department on our philosophy club facebook page. The conversation began by pointing out the unequal ratio of men and women represented by the posters in our seminar room (10 to none). Following was an explanation of how a friend of mine volunteered her time to create a few posters of women to hang in the room. I have received some positive comments in response to the original post but to my surprise, there is one student who offered quite a lengthy negative response. I won’t include the entire transcript here, just a few notable quotes from this self-proclaimed “counter-part man philosopher.”

“you think you will “help alleviate some of the symptoms of the larger problem of underrepresentation of women in philosophy,” but as my analysis has just show: no, I don’t think you “help alleviate . . . the larger problem,” but rather: you aggravate it. You don’t make thing better, you only make it worse. So, be careful, I like to warn you, let heed over a proverb that says: “The road that leads to hell is paved with good intentions.”

“I guess your feeling of “to be the only woman in a class of 15 men” must be like that of my feeling if I were to be the only men in the class of 15 women, which I would like a lots, I like it even more if those women are young, attractive, beautiful, and charming—the qualities that I think you lack!”

“Oh, do you know why philosophy course, especially advanced seminar graduate course, is almost always has no female student like you, to a rather extreme point of the male/female ratio of 15 to 1 such as the course which you are in right now, (my name)? I may be wrong but it is my belief that female students cannot—to borrow the phrase from a movie starred by Tom Cruise— “handle the truths” of philosophy; that is to say, being able to handle the truths of philosophy is some sort of—again, to borrow a film title from Tom Cruse—“Mission Impossible” for female students to accomplish. Put it differently, female students must have the feeling that the truths of philosophy somehow and in someway just, in the words of Robert Kegan in the book with the same title—“In Over Our Heads” to grasp. The matter can be stated simply thus: philosophy is not for the “weak of mind” and “the faint of heart.”

“When whoever you are that have great, impactful, or influential ideas or thoughts; have accomplished great, important, significant, or revolutionary deeds, actions, or performance but I ignore you solely because you are a woman, then I am guilty of or violate the principle of fairness and justice. But if you have nothing significant, important, impactful, influential, or revolutionary to say, then why you want or demand me to listen to you?”

“I think the real reason why women philosophers have not been well-represented or under-represented is because their ideas, thoughts, writings, or works are not as great, causing big impacts, and influential as their counterpart men philosophers, and not because of the fact that they are women.”

“your philosophic ideas, works are plainly not as great and influential as those philosophical giants decorated and represented on the seminar walls” (These are Ghandi, MLK, and Plato?)

“I hope I make my point clear: you are not well-represented or underrepresented not because you are a woman, but because your ideas, thoughts, and intellectual works are not quite that great, important, causing big impact, or influential.”

“Does any woman philosopher who has world’s shattering, significantly important, and greatly influential ideas, thoughts, and intellectual works but get ignored and underrepresented?”

“Oop, I should have better quoted from some female philosopher (like Simone de Beauvoir) rather than from the poor male Sartre, shouldn’t I?”

Then in a private message:

Him: I have read quite a great number of great works on the subject matter of feminism, from both men and women writers, I even currently take such Philosophy and Feminism, of which for some reason you dropped out. My point is: I am not ill-informed as you think I am!

Me: Three weeks into a feminism course, you must be an expert on the female experience.

Him: No, not really, I have read lots of works on the subject matter of feminism, from both the perspectives of men writers as well as women writers.

Me: So you must understand feminism from a woman’s perspective then.

Him: I guess I do, both from my theoretical reading and from being a man who has married thrice (three times) to three women, and divorced as many times! In my life I have been living and in contact with female human being such as my mother, aunts, sisters, and female cousins and nephews, so I think I have a good grasp as to what and how those female human folks may think and value different from us men!

Sigh indeed

Posted: September 16, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

From a tenured woman philosopher:

Just met with a male MA student I’m advising so we could discuss his courses. After we’d been over what he planned to do he said, “OK. I want there to be something in this for you, too. So I’ve been reading your work on your website and I thought we could talk about where you want to go with it.” He was completely serious.

It’s hardly the first time something like this has happened, but… SIGH.

How not to be more inclusive

Posted: September 14, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I was in a meeting today where we were discussing how we can get more people involved in the postgrad community and make it more inclusive. In general, people were positive about the initiative. However, at one point the discussion turned to teaching undergrads (the other 3 in the meeting had all been teaching assistants but I have not). One of them joked about how he had a reputation for making several students in his classes cry. It is a shame that whilst many people have been taking seriously the efforts of the department to become more inclusive, jokes like these can really undermine this effort.

I am a ‘senior woman’ in metaphysics, I enjoy giving talks, and I am glad you are looking for a female speaker. However your well-meant invitation is unenticing when it dwells on the de facto agenda-setting work of my male contemporaries, expecting me to prepare a talk on that basis. (Three times this summer.) Tip: invite speakers to discuss the topic at hand, don’t frame it via that guy who recently published those articles.

(Yes, there’s a place for author-meets-critics, for festschrifts, and for invited comments, but those are not the events I’m talking about. And yes, I really think you mean well.)

I’m at the International Association for Women in Philosophy conference in Melbourne, and while chatting with a younger colleague during the coffee break I had the opportunity to tell her “It can be done. I have a permanent position in my field in a city and university I love with great colleagues, a happy marriage, and a child. It can be done.”

I’ve been reading this blog for years always with a sense of disbelief. The blog is not expressive of what it’s been like for THIS woman in philosophy, and I find it really depressing to read nothing but horror stories, as if that’s all there is to the experience of being a woman in philosophy. I think people would benefit from seeing positive examples, too.

Family-unfriendliness

Posted: June 27, 2016 by jennysaul in Bad news, Children, Uncategorized

Few years ago I was working at a university as Research Assistant in the Philosophy Department. I was there more than a year working with a senior female professor in the area of female thinker of the country. One day when my baby sitter was unwell I took my one year old daughter with me to the department as there was no one at home to take care of. Whole day I was sitting in my room working. Next day I was told that they do not need my assistance anymore.

Later I found out that one of the male faculty (he said that I shouldn’t be bringing kids to the workplace)in the department complained that he was terribly disturbed because my daughter was making noise. Actually she was sleeping half time and other half she was in the garden with some of my friends. Even the female professor I was working with made a hasty decision to remove me from job without giving me a chance to say anything.

One fine day I lost my job, after that I continued teaching philosophy and other stuff but I lost a good opportunity to work.

Well, I’d say it’s just like being a woman in general: tougher, more badass, and (*oh lord did she really say it*) better. I’ve never liked the expression “man, you need to grow a pair” (or any of its equivalents), but to highlight the message it tries to convey behind its childish facade, it does indeed take something extra – and no, not ‘a pair’ – to be a woman in philosophy.

It takes courage.

As opposed to the situation for our male counterparts, it seems to be demanded of women a primary explanation as to why we – being non-male – are even here, at the up until recently males only party known as philosophy. In other words, before we can Do, we must Defend.

This is unfair.**

Still, the lack of fairness at this “party” does not mean that we, i.e. women, can’t have one heck of a night. In fact, I argue, we are the ones who can go home and rightfully say “Not only did I work some philosophical magic today, but I also made the world a bit better.”

Because regardless how many questions, frowns or any type of belittling looks are thrown upon us, we Stay and we Do philosophy.

And this makes being a woman in philosophy tougher, more badass, and (*you bet your bum she said it*) better.

**Clarification of statement just made: to treat x with less respect than y due to a discriminatory cause is unfair, and any average philosopher will (hopefully) agree on that.