“That type of thing doesn’t happen around here”

Posted: November 1, 2010 by Jender in being afraid to speak, Maleness of philosophy

This was three years ago I took a graduate seminar in which there were six students; I was the only woman. Whenever I would ask a question or make a comment, the professor would respond with an example that made reference to women or femaleness, often in a subtly threatening way. Once, when coming up with a scenario to make some point about counterfactuals, he said, “Imagine our graduate program only without any female graduate students.” Another time, when making a point about how definitions can change over time, he brought up the point that it used to be impossible for men to rape their wives, on account of the definition of rape. Always, always he would make comments like these to me; never, never would he make comments like these to my male peers.

I think I have the confidence now to ignore this kind of thing and just get on with the philosophy. But then I was scared and insecure. I stopped speaking in that class.

I am at a Leiter top-ten institution. I mention this only in hopes that readers from my university will consider the possibility that this happened in their department. There is a strong current of “That kind of thing doesn’t happen around here” -type thinking in my department.

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