Why did it go that way?

Posted: February 24, 2015 by Jender in Uncategorized

What I am describing is something that happened about 10 years ago. I was a master student then. My department at the time was hiring, and they whittled down the shortlist to four candidates. Each candidate was to present a paper to the general public (in reality only the department members and interested students would attend). They then would make the final decision of hiring with that presentation in mind. I only attended this particular female philosopher’s presentation because I was interested in the topic, and did not attend anyone else’s.

I do not remember much about the content of the paper, but I remember *vividly* the reception of the paper. It was absolutely hostile. Right off the bat the first question was very critical, and there was no relent. There was no woman department member present, as far as I can remember.

Reviewing this incident 10 years on, with zero memory of the content of the paper, there are only two conclusions that can be drawn: 1) the paper was crap, and she deservedly got the criticisms. 2) the paper was not crap, but the implicit assumptions about women kick in. They found faults in every little details.

Scenario #2 would be a simple case of sexism, but sometimes I think it is less sinister than just some old geezers thinking “women can’t do X”. They shortlisted her. And that particular female philosopher at the time was holding down a tenure in another part of the country. So obviously they thought she could do the job. Sometimes it could be just a combination of old habits die hard and a bad case of bandwagoning. Or maybe there was just some other internal department politics that had nothing to do with gender or that particular philosopher.

I am not providing excuse for the aggressors, I am just saying the cause of that particular ill treatment may be more complicated than a simple case of sexism (if there is ever such a thing as a “simple” case). At the time, of course, I had zero intent on digging deeper…

As to scenario #1, as we all know, academic Anglo-American philosophy is extremely adversarial, it could well happen to anyone regardless of gender. That doesn’t make it ok IMO, because the person they were criticizing had one in four chance of being their colleague. It was not the best way to showcase the social dynamics of the department! The extreme adversarial nature also needs to change IMO. It just ended up like workplace bullying, and nothing more. This aspect is still stubbornly the same 10 years on.

In the end, obviously the female philosopher didn’t get the job. The funny/good thing is, she ended up doing reasonably well in terms of publications 10 years on. The one that got away may not be the one after all.

Final disclaimer: I have been drifting away from academic philosophy for the past 10 years, but now decide to finally come back. Life experiences outside academia have done nothing but improve my perspectives.

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