Why do I do this to myself?

Posted: June 14, 2012 by Jender in self-doubt, sexual harassment

I am a female graduate student who has never experienced anything negative from male (or female) professors or other students. My entire undergraduate career was spent as the only female student in my program with all male professors and never once did I get the sense that my opinion was disregarded. And now in my graduate (M.A.) program I feel the same; we have a large percentage of women and (at least to my knowledge) we are not considered to be any less philosophically minded than our male counterparts. Our female faculty, too, are well-respected in the department.

But it seems that I impose on myself the fears that I, and my opinion, will be disregarded because of my gender. I have fought for years internally and in conversation with the idea that I am a ‘feminist’ philosopher or that I am interested ethics – which, coincidentally, are both included in my list of interests.

I have wondered if my application to my graduate program was accepted over other, more qualified, male students. I am anxious to speak up in class. I avoid giving my own opinion in casual conversation with philosophers I don’t know very well because I am afraid I will sound stupid. I consciously display my engagement ring around male philosophers as a talisman to ward off sexual advances before they occur. I will probably not list “feminist philosophy” or “gender studies” or anything of the sort on my PhD applications.

But I have to ask myself, why I do this to myself if I have only experienced positives? And how do I stop the self-torment and self-imposed limitations to my philosophical ability? It’s obviously true that there is rampant sexism in philosophy and that women face much more challenges that our male counterparts, but how much do we perpetuate it ourselves?

I know that, at least for me, I feed into it much more than others do. And if this is also the case for others, it leaves me wondering if sexism can ever be fully eradicated if our own minds are the most immediate barricade to our success before we even encounter external pressures. So the question I am left with is which changes first? And how do I change one without the other changing as well?

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