Like most women in philosophy, I’ve got lots of purely negative stories about my experience of sexism in the profession. But I thought it might be helpful to relate a story which illustrates both a very common type of casual sexism I experience and (more encouragingly) the positive way some of my male colleagues recognized and responded to this sexism when they saw it. This incident happened last year.
I’d arranged to meet male colleagues A and B to talk about a paper I was writing. Halfway through our discussion, male colleague C joined us. C began a conversation with A about the central point we were discussing (so, the central point in my paper). I tried at several points to join this conversation, but each time C interrupted me. Throughout the conversation, he addressed all his questions and remarks directly to A, completely ignoring me. A then had to answer his phone, at which point C began the same process with B. Again, I was unable to join the conversation, even though it was my paper that was under discussion. This wasn’t an anomaly. I’m friends with C and we often talk socially, but C has never engaged me in a philosophical conversation and probably never will (though he talks philosophy a lot with other men).
I tend to interpret these cases, when they happen, as reflecting badly on me. I must not be an interesting philosophy if C would rather talk to other people even when he’s talking about my work, right? So on this occasion I was feeling down. But as soon as C was momentarily distracted, A and B both remarked on his obvious and unacceptable sexism. A then suggested that we reconvene at a coffee shop across the road, where we could finish our conversation without C’s interruptions. We did, and it was great – not only because of the feedback I got on my paper, but because I felt valued and supported by my male colleagues.