Don’t lose heart

Posted: June 25, 2013 by Jender in Good news

One woman’s response to the last post (since I don’t have a blog, but I do have a job in philosophy):

I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. No. Did this happen? I don’t think so, but since there were only two women in my program, perhaps the sample size is too small to be significant.

I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). Oh yes (it was the eighties). Not only that, the all-male department I joined were delightedly high-fiving each other at having found a “suitable” candidate (read: from the same grad school as two of them). However, it can be satisfying to be hired as a token and go on to teach well, publish, and get tenure; since expectations are so low, everything you do that is competent is greeted with thinly veiled astonishment, then relief, and finally just seen as normal (okay, it took years, but it did happen).

I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. No, this is not permitted: there are departmental guidelines for each rank, and only full professors are at all likely to take on extra service.

My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Okay, this is true, but it is also the case outside philosophy. Men are perceived as more authoritative and knowledgeable, at least until they open their mouths. In fact, this is one of my stock examples of the difference between appearance and reality. With a little prompting, students will happily gave examples . . . . and then we’re engaged in a good discussion of confirmation bias, stereotyping, and other epistemological puzzles. Make their prejudices work for you!

Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. Yes, well, this is a tough question to answer straightforwardly, since I have a gender-ambiguous first name; what influence that may have had is hard to detect.

But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). I have been invited, but after the first ten years or so I admitted to myself that I don’t enjoy conferences very much. Now I attend only infrequently and selectively (tenure is a beautiful thing).

My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi. No, I get my share of citations, although my field is pretty esoteric even for philosophy — in what I now recognize as a thoroughly sexist way, I was wary of ethics and aesthetics as quasi-traditional fields for women and went into an arcane backwater of metaphysics instead.

It’s a wonder there are any of us left. Is it? I like my job, my students and most of my colleagues. I probably make more money and definitely have more job security than most women my age (57). Any male-dominated field is going to pose certain challenges, and I fervently wish that this site had existed when I was a philosophy major and a grad student. But don’t lose heart. The good life and philosophy are not incompatible for women.

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