Let me tell you what women like

Posted: May 14, 2019 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I studied philosophy in undergrad at a state school (with no grad program in philosophy). The school itself was highly diverse, and the department was more diverse than the average philosophy department. About half the faculty were women. Of the three presidents elected by the philosophy club while I was there were, none were men.

I took a required course with an elderly male tenured professor. I hated everything about it, from the structure of the course to the assigned readings to the in-class discussions. Though there were a fair number of women in the class, there were (as there always are) a few male students who dominated the discussion (often without even the courtesy of raising their hand first), ranted at length about their own thoughts and opinions without letting anyone get a word in edgewise, and quickly got the discussion off-track from the topic. The professor did nothing to shut down such deviations or to allow others equal opportunity to participate, so this constituted a large part of the time spent in class.

One class in particular, we were talking about a particular Nietzsche passage. Both the problematic male students and the professor began making some pretty sexist remarks: The one I remember, from the prof himself, is the empirical claim that “women want to feel the pain of childbirth” (IIRC, this was somehow relevant to the passage). I walked out of class without saying anything.

I approached the department chair (a woman of color) about the experience and the discomfort I felt. She was sympathetic and offered to talk to the professor or to mediate a discussion between us. I ended up going to talk to him alone in office hours. I explained why I had found the remark offensive, especially in the context of other problematic aspects of the course. He became defensive and explained that his wife had chosen not to have an epidural during childbirth, and this is why he had made this remark. He was not moved by my response that his wife, one upper-class white woman, was not necessarily representative of all women. I stuck out the class (since it was required) and got an A, but never interacted with that professor again.

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