I have been spurred to write because of a couple of previous posters who have told horror stories about what it is like to be a woman teaching philosophy. I feel sad that some of my colleagues have had such bad experiences, but I also want to let prospective professors know that not everyone has had experiences like that. So, here is what it has been like for me.
I am a white Jewish (this is noticeable from my last name) woman who has been teaching philosophy for over a decade. My student populations have been diverse ethnically, with many Asian and Latino students, many of whom are international students or who are the first generation in their families to attend a university. Politically and religiously, they are all over the map.
I have never been called a name. No one has ever commented on my clothing, positively or negatively. (I suppose I might get a rare compliment on a new shirt). No one has propositioned me or made a sexual innuendo. One time a female student “came out” to me, but in that case I was complimented that she felt comfortable doing so. I dress in a way that is noticeably female, but I avoid anything that is too tight, low-cut, or see-through. I would be uncomfortable wearing something that I would think might be distracting.
I do think that my students react differently to me as a woman, however. I think I am more likely to get grade complaints or requests to be able to turn things in late; I think students expect that I will be more lenient in those regards. And they are often unhappy to find that I am not. Surely that affects my course evaluations. Occasionally I get a student who is overly aggressive in discussion, in a way that they probably would not have been if I were a male professor, but these have been rare. I do get called Miss, Mrs., or Ms. relatively often, all of which bother me, but I suspect some of this is simple ignorance on the student’s part of what they are supposed to call their professors. And some do call me by my first name, but many of these are science majors, who generally call all of their professors by their first names. (Frankly, I’d rather be called by my first name than be called Miss, Mrs., or Ms.)
On the positive side, one of the great joys of being a woman professor is to be able to encourage my female students who show real aptitude and yet who are feeling less-than-confident about their abilities. Seeing their faces light up, and seeing them redouble their efforts, makes it very much worth it. I also make a point of telling female students who have been good class discussants that I appreciate their thoughtful comments. Of course, I do this with my male students, too, but I think I make more of a point of it with my female students. And I think many of my female students very much appreciate having a female professor who actually assigns women philosophers to read from time to time.