What it’s like to teach philosophy as a woman

Posted: December 3, 2010 by Jender in Uncategorized

Most of the stories we’ve seen on this site are concerned with what it’s like to be a woman colleague or student in a philosophy department–that is, they’ve focused quite a bit on the challenges women face from our own co-workers, fellow students, reviewers and teachers. We haven’t, however, talked that much about what it’s like to be a woman who *teaches* philosophy, about the challenges that women face in the classroom.

In every class I have ever taught, one or two male students have been outright aggressive toward me. Sometimes this aggression is hostile–cornering me after class in an empty building to demand that I change a grade, accusing me of not knowing the subject matter, repeatedly calling me “Miss X” after I’ve pointed out that this is not my proper title–and sometimes it is pretty clearly sexual: staying after class to ask if there is *anything else* they can do to improve a grade after I’ve already made clear how the work should be revised, and even more direct statements that I’ll leave out in the interest of protecting my identity.

As I’ve progressed in my career, I think I’ve gotten better at diffusing these situations, but the fact remains that they continue to crop up again and again as things that take time and emotional energy to deal with. And given the rest of the challenges of being a woman in philosophy, that time and emotional energy is often in short supply.

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