We are in a discipline whose practices diminish all of us

Posted: June 26, 2012 by Jender in Uncategorized

This is not about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy. I suspect it is about what it’s like to be a human in philosophy. I am a successful philosopher in well-respected department, with a Full Professorship. It’s not a Leiterific department but a small liberal arts college, which sends many students to Leiterific departments. I am a woman. My work is read and I have a prominent standing in the disciplines in which I work. In other words, relative to most people in philosophy, I am privileged. I have power, power that has come at a cost, which is what I’d like to speak to. I’d like to speak to those costs because they diminish all of us, and all of us have pay some of these same prices. Lastly, I am in a field relatively cut off from social justice concerns – basically, analytic philosophy of mind, language, metaphysics and the history of those fields.

I am successful, but in order to become successful, I have paid a price. The first choice was giving up my creative life. Doing what I love has changed the way my mind works. My ability to be creative has been severely diminished. I had been a published poet. This sacrifice cut right to my identity and ability. I can’t do what poets do anymore. I would make the same choice today, but it remains painful that I left that part of me behind.

Second, I have had to shut down emotionally in order to do the thing that I love. Philosophy, especially teaching philosophy seriously, requires a rigor and an unrelenting precision that makes it difficult to maintain healthy human relationships. If I have to choose between doing what I love at the most successful level possible and having healthier relationships, I am ashamed to say that I have chosen and will choose philosophy – the thing that I love. This has made me a diminished friend, a diminished partner and a diminished colleague. I would still choose being a more successful philosopher over these things, both because I love philosophy, selfishly, more than just about anything, but also because I will constantly feel as though I have not gotten the recognition I deserve. I feel this despite the tremendous recognition and support and attention that my philosophical colleagues, male and female, give me pretty much constantly.

So what about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy? It’s about being among my people – people with whom I feel more comfortable than I feel with anyone else. People who get me. Poeople I love. People who love with the same fervor the same thing I love. People who have sacrificed things that people shouldn’t have to sacrifice to do what we do. We are in a discipline whose practices diminish all of us. The way we behave towards each other makes me ashamed. We are better than this.

Yes, this affects those of us who love philosophy and who are not traditionally members of the tribe more than others. Yes, so many people with a lot of clout and power do so much to mentor and support those of us who are new to the tribe. But at some point we need to realize collectively that we are stuck in a damaging social practice, one that is especially silly given that we’re all pretty much a bunch of geeks. And, yes, this is a thoroughgoingly feminist message.

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