A general form of criticism

Posted: April 21, 2011 by Jender in failure to take women seriously, trivialising women

There is one form of general criticism that I find female philosophers unproportionally often exposed to. I am a graduate student in philosophy. I try to explain by means of some examples:

1. At a public, well attended conference a very influential and respected male professor from one of the top US-universities tells the only female professional philosopher who is presenting a paper that her work is “not useful” and that “in philosophy one needs to think very hard”, suggesting that she had not been thinking hard enough. This happened during the public discussion of her contribution. This remark immediately set an end to the beforehand lively discussion of the paper.

2. In a monograph prepared for publication a male professor calls the way a female colleague sets up logical arguments “distasteful” and a “semantic pollution”. The male philosopher refused to remove these remarks when criticized for their inadequacy.

3. A female graduate student in philosophy is told by a male professor that her papers are “unreadable” and that she does not know “what philosophy is”.

4. While discussing topics related to the work on metaphysics of a female professor in the department, one of her male colleagues mentions that he thinks that metaphysics does not have a proper subject matter. Similarly, when talking about a research project about X the chief investigator of which is female, one of her male colleagues makes public that he does not understand why research on X should be interesting.

What these cases have in common is that a form of criticism is voiced which is general in a way that makes it very hard to respond. Normally, criticism both can and should be helpful. But a criticism which question the legitimacy or usefulness of one’s work, or denounces it to not be philosophical, does not ask for improvement and does not allow any answer. It does not challenge a single argument, but questions the work as a whole. I have never experienced a male philosopher to be exposed to criticism of this general sort.

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