Most of us have probably been complicit in this

Posted: December 9, 2010 by Jender in Why else....?

The first two points aren’t so positive, but the last one is.

First, though this has improved quite a bit, many people in my department have either never spoken to me at all, or spoken to me to tell me that I’m anti-feminist, either because of the area of philosophy I work on or because I’m friends with certain faculty members (who are generally incorrectly viewed as anti-feminist) in the department. My first year here almost none of the women in the department would talk to me at all. Even when I tried to explain to people that I came to philosophy through feminism, that I was committed to certain feminist principles, etc., I got written off. Without revealing too much, it was also (incorrectly) assumed by many people (and directly stated to me a few times) that I was only here because I had slept with one of the male faculty members. I think this completely off-base piece of gossip was probably a large part of the cause of the women (and some of the men) in the department treating me badly. What was especially hard about this is that I (until recently) felt like I didn’t have any other women to talk to about these issues, because for the most part they were alienating me.

Second, I’ve recently been given some opportunities/encouraged by certain philosophers to do some things that others have not been so encouraged to do. Lots of people have simply expressed happiness and congratulations and encouragement for me, but others have suggested that I have only received this attention/these opportunities either because someone in charge wanted to sleep with me, or because they simply needed more women at conference X or in special journal edition Y, etc. Needless to say, the above two issues have had a major negative impact on my confidence as a philosopher, but I’ve noticed, also, on my personality in general– I tend to be much more reserved and intimidated in all sorts of situations, not just philosophical ones.

Third, I just wanted to say that others in the profession– both in departments I am or have been affiliated with, and people that I meet professionally, both women and men– have been extremely supportive of me, and it has very clearly not had anything to do with the fact that I am a woman. Of course, when it is men, I often get the this-person-is-only-supportive-of-you-because-he-wants-to-get-in-your-pants talk from others, so the support is bittersweet in a way.

I know there have been a lot of comments in this vein on the blog, but I really hope that people realize how prevalent this is in philosophy– I’ve heard all sorts of similar things said about other young (and not-so-young) female philosophers, not just about myself, and it’s really damaging in so many different ways. I also really want to be clear that it comes from all sorts of people– feminists, anti-feminists, women, men, etc., and that most of us (myself included) have probably been complicit in this sort of behaviour without realizing it at some point.

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