On taking grad seminars in philosophy

Posted: December 7, 2010 by Jender in ignoring women, trivialising women, whiteness of philosophy

I’m a female grad student in a field cognate to philosophy and have taken four graduate seminars in philosophy that overlapped with my disciplinary interests. (The philosophy department here is Leiter top 20, if it matters.) What an experience it’s been.

In each of the four classes, one of the male students asked me out. Believe me when I say that this does not happen every time I take a class in my own field.

Although I wasn’t interested in any of these men, I didn’t mind these experiences because the students in question all treated me with obvious respect, and remained interested in conversation, about philosophy and other things, after I declined. So I didn’t have the experience of some women who’ve posted here, who had to wonder whether apparent philosophical interest in them was really something different.

It was other things that made me sometimes feel unwelcome. Sometimes these were fairly subtle. One time, a male student (who I quite like) was joking around about an undergrad woman he’d met in a bar. “I don’t know,” he said, making “on the one hand, on the other hand” hand gestures. “Great rack, but likes Kierkegaard…” He wasn’t remotely talking about me, but the offhand remark made me feel judged in a way that the repeated offers of a date never had. I had a flash of feeling that for all the other students around me, this was how it felt normal to think about the women around them — does her hot body outweigh being an intellectual lightweight?

Other times, my experiences were blatant, though still (I presume from my sense of the people involved) without any ill intent. I vividly remember one time we were all sitting around talking before class started. I jumped into the conversation, and in the middle of my sentence, the man sitting right next to me jumped in over me as though I hadn’t said a word.

After class, another student — the only racial minority in the class — caught up with me and apologized on the group’s behalf. “I really hate it when they do that,” he said.

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