Conversational regularities and their effects

Posted: March 25, 2013 by jennysaul in implicit bias

I wanted to share this story to show how the most subtle actions can communicate to women that they don’t really belong in Philosophy.

My partner (male) and I (female) are both Masters students in Philosophy with full scholarships at the same university. We often attend social gatherings together, and part of this is being introduced to new people and undergoing the social ritual of exchanging information about what we do for a living. With alarming regularity, these people turn to my partner and ask “So what is your thesis about?” … and then fail to ask me the same question.

In an even subtler form of gendered expectations, however, I find those who know better (including Philosophers) will ask both of us about our research interests, but they almost always ask my partner *first*. This is problematic in itself, but it further makes things difficult for me because our research interests are very similar (they are what brought us together) and I often end up in the position of having to say “Well, my views and interests are actually quite similar to X’s,” giving the impression that I do not have robust opinions of my own.

As a result of this, I often find myself marginalised in a conversation about my own research interests, in which most of the questions and comments are directed to my partner rather than to myself. (Sometimes because our fellow interlocutor hasn’t got around to asking me about my thesis yet, and sometimes because they have concluded that my partner knows more about the topic than I do.) In order to be an equal participant in the conversation, I am forced to jump in and answer questions which aren’t actually addressed to me. Needless to say, this is very frustrating and makes me feel as if I am not being taken seriously as a Philosopher with the same level of expertise as my partner.

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