Things to sigh about

Posted: April 13, 2011 by Jender in being afraid to speak, failure to take women seriously, ignoring women, self-doubt

As I started to write this, I sighed…so of course, being a philosopher interested in relationships and emotions, I had to pause to think about what the sigh signified. I realized that it was a sigh of sadness and acceptance. Sadness that I, like so many others, have stories to report and acceptance because I think I may have finally put the frustration over my experience to rest.

I attended a top 20 (at least according to Leiter!) R1 university in California. Two experiences stick out in my mind both because of the blatant sexism and because of the awesome support of some of the male graduate students. The first was with a male junior professor who, when we met in a coffee house (his choice) for seminar, would play “pocket pool” while scoping out the undergrads. We were discussing a book by one of his advisers and when I made an accurate, though admittedly not brilliant, point the professor said I misunderstood the reading. As a first year grad student still unsure of her philosophical feet, I immediately stopped talking and made a note to myself to re-read the entire chapter. I thought little of it until the end of the seminar when a male student made the EXACT same point that I made. I was shocked when the professor not only agreed with the my point when made by a male student, but also praised him for noticing the inconsistency. Prior to my grad school experience, I was fairly good about standing up for myself and holding my ground. However, probably because of my philosophical insecurity and my shock, I did not say a word. Another male graduate student interrupted the love-fest pointedly noting that I had made the point at the beginning of the class. To which the professor responded, “oh really? I don’t remember.” When I was in a generous mood, I granted that he probably didn’t remember as he was very distracted by the female patrons of the coffee house. But somehow that didn’t make me feel better.

Same university, one year later. Senior female professor- well-known in her AOS. 1) Told me a story of her experiences with sexism when she started out and how she was discouraged from participating/speaking. Then (no more than five minutes later), told me I shouldn’t speak or ask questions after her presentation; 2) During a seminar, I responded to another graduate student who was criticizing the professor’s work and explained how her position not only did address his criticism but could be expanded to address another concern of his. The professor told me to “let X talk. We’ve already heard enough from you.” X came up to me later and thanked me for my response as he said he’d misunderstood the Professor’s position; 3) The professor routinely cut off female student’s comments but let males ramble on. In fact, during one class I actually timed female/male speaking time. Females spoke about 5% of the time when they made up 40% of the class. EVERY time a female spoke voluntarily the professor would cut her off. The male students in the class recognized this and would pointedly direct questions at me and other female students so that we could make our points and expand our positions. While the “subterfuge” was much appreciated, it was frustrating to have to rely upon it to be heard.

My takeaway? Hated my graduate philosophy experience but love both doing and teaching philosophy. I vow in my teaching to be aware of implicit gender bias and to do my best to not inflict my experience on anyone else: male, female, intersex, transgender, transsexual and/or any being occupying the in-between.

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