Not actually so helpful

Posted: December 15, 2013 by Jender in Failed efforts to not be sexist, good intentions gone awry

In my graduate department this year, only one of the 6-or-so graduate student job seekers is a woman. Each year, my department arranges practice job talks for all of the year’s job seekers.

The woman’s job talk was the only one in which the Q&A period devolved into a philosophical jousting match between two senior male philosophers. She was asked a difficult question, and paused to think about how to answer. Maybe taking this as a sign of weakness or something, one of the male philosophers defended her position, and another philosopher who disagreed began to engage directly with him. And they went back and forth like this, completely excluding the speaker.

I was appalled at how her Q&A was hijacked, and the moderator only encouraged the hijacking by occasionally jumping into the back-and-forth himself with his own commentary. All told, 10-15 minutes of the 30-minute Q&A period consisted of this back-and-forth, and did not include the speaker at all.

Male philosophers should really check their paternalistic (though possibly well-intentioned) tendencies to jump into the Q&A and ‘help’ female graduate students who may simply be pausing to think carefully about a question posed.

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