Failing to deal with the real issue

Posted: November 7, 2010 by Jender in failure to challenge sexism

A couple of years ago, I was a graduate student working for a 350+ person introductory philosophy class. The professor, though a friend , was the kind who cared little about the issue of gender in philosophy, except where he could use it to needle female students. Each semester I worked for him, there was some incident wherein I had ample reason to take issue with gendered language he utilized in his lectures. I tried to bring these to his attention, and usually was castigated for my concerns by him or by the other, male, I.A.’s.

The most egregious of these came my final semester working for him. In lecture, the professor decided that an appropriate illustration of Locke’s counterexample to the argument that freewill requires choice, was to talk at length about an incident of gang rape. The ‘choice’ in question was not even that of the (clearly female) victim. Further, the illustration was a poor, confusing example of the argument he was attempting to make clear. I decided that I could not let this go, as I often had felt I had to in order to keep my job. I went to his office to discuss the issue with him.

Though I was careful to be level, dispassionate, and to express concern for the students themselves, several of whom had found his language despicable, my supposition that violent gang rape was an inappropriate example angered him. His response was first to ask me if I had ever been raped (as if this alone might account for my disapproval), then to lose his temper, yelling at me that I was wrong and “a feminist”. The departmental administration, though aware of this on-going problem, merely moved me to another professor, failing as always did to contend with the real issue.

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