Archive for the ‘Bad news’ Category

I am a female Professor of Philosophy, married with two children, in a university on the East coast.
20 years ago, I was on a tenure-track in the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. At 40, I became pregnant with our second child. The Department was having its annual end-of-the-year party. The chair, about 10 years my senior, asked me into his office before joining the party. Once behind closed doors, he began expressing doubts about my progress toward promotion. I was surprised because I had above-average publication, teaching and service qualifications–at least as measured by the standards of that university. When I kept defending my record and expressing optimism about my prospects, he blurted out, indicating my swollen belly: ‘I just don’t think THAT is a very good idea.’
I admit, I was stunned by the inappropriateness,gall and sheer arrogance of that statement. But philosophy, the art of conceptual distinction, came to my rescue. I told the ‘gentleman’: ‘This isn’t an idea at all. It is a conception.’ I left the department (with tenure) two years later.

I’m sick of feeling like an imposter in this discipline, and I’m sick of having to work twice as hard as all the guys to get even roughly comparable marks, and I’m sick of being told I should be grateful for tiny changes. So I have some questions I need answered.

Why do I have to sit in a class on [topic removed] listening to people defend a rapist? Why do middle aged, middle class, white men in philosophy think they have the epistemic authority to moralise about gendered violence? Why isn’t their attempt to justify rape acknowledged to be as threatening as it is?

How come my lecturer thinks it’s acceptable to advance the idea that there shouldn’t be protocols against faculty-student relationships when we literally *just* read a book about a professor who rapes his student? How come he thinks it’s okay to do this in a philosophy classroom, knowing full well that philosophy is the worst discipline for sexual harassment and assault of female students by male faculty?

Why do I have to feel afraid or intimidated of potential supervisors or lecturers? Why are there still so many instances of harassment and assault against women in philosophy departments and why does no one seem to care? Why do I have female classmates who start grad school with the expectation that they’ll be harassed? And why is it so heartbreaking to hear them confess that they’re worried they’re unattractive when they’re *not* hit on? How warped is that?

Why do I have to research PhD positions based on an entirely different set of criteria to men? How come I don’t get to apply to departments based on potential supervisors or ranking? How come I have to make sure I pick a department that has philosophers of my gender working in it? How come I have to make sure I pick a department where no male faculty have been investigated for sexual misconduct?

Is it any wonder that male students are getting better marks than me when I’m working a day job on top of this degree to survive? As well as the domestic and emotional labour that comes with my gender? And if my marks suffer as a result, how am I supposed to compete for funding to even make it to grad school?

Why do I have to fight so hard for every little thing, like getting rid of the title ‘Philosopher King’ for the president of the Philosophy Club? Why is it so hard for others to accept gender neutral language? If we can’t even do that, in a student club, how are we going to increase women’s representation in the discipline?

If academic philosophy is as competitive as Olympic level sports, like my supervisor says, how come men get away with performance enhancing drugs and I don’t? Why am I treated differently? Why don’t I get mentoring, and extra help, and networking opportunities?

How come when I ask for things, like tutoring assignments, or comments on my work, I get made to feel like I’m too aggressive or pushy or demanding (when I even *get* a response), but when male students do it they’re motivated go-getters?

How come when I try to talk in in class and give arguments I’m called ‘too emotional’ instead of passionate? Why do men think it’s okay to talk over me? How come I get interrupted not only by classmates but *by my own students?* How come people don’t take me seriously as a philosopher when I have good marks and extracurriculars to back me up?

If this is one of the better departments, how come I had to set up a society for women in philosophy? How come we still only have three women in the faculty? If this is a good department, what’s grad school going to look like?

But most of all, if I’m a good student, and a good tutor, and have the potential to be a good philosopher, how come I have to keep asking myself the question men never have think about; whether I should even stay in philosophy at all?

One of my classmates chose a particularly obnoxious faculty member to sit on her dissertation committee. I asked her what she was thinking. She told me that it was only my relationship with him that was strained. He failed her defense, and placed a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in her school mailbox with a note, “Maybe you should consider a change of career.”

She did reconfigure her committee, and pass her defense six months later…

There’s a seminar this afternoon in my department on the topic of child welfare. Although I am interested in this topic, and have written relevant papers, I’m not going. Why not? Because it’s in the early evening, and my own daughter is very stressed at the moment, I am a single parent, and I do not want to leave her on her own. Deepening irony is that this weekend, sick of observing the stress I’m under by trying to work in substandard conditions, cope with very difficult student welfare issues, etc, she begged me to give up my lecturing job. So, as I’m REALLY interested in child welfare, I won’t be at the seminar on it. Not that anyone there will ever know or care.

Wanting to love my university

Posted: November 11, 2013 by Jender in Bad news

I’m a graduate student in philosophy. I’ve given quite a lot of thought in the past about how my experiences as a woman in philosophy may ultimately impact my career, my work, my ability to learn—but the effects are more far-reaching than that. Recently, I went to a sporting event at my university because the visiting team is from my home state, and it’s one I grew up watching. Being at the game was an extremely odd experience. It made salient to me something that has been latent for a while: I want to love my university. I want to feel like I am part of this community. I want to be proud of where I go to school. I want to feel the urge to cheer my school on.

On the whole I’m quite proud of my undergraduate institution. Not because it’s perfect (it’s certainly not), and not because it’s an Ivy League sort of school (again, it’s not)—but because in my experience when problems arose, the university community banded together to solve them. People disagreed, sometimes sharply and painfully, but they engaged together in civil discourse. Differing ideas were taken seriously. A very strong sense of the importance of service to the community (both the university community and the surrounding city) was always present. There was a wide-spread perception that discrimination was not to be tolerated.

Every institution has its problems to be sure, but the good and the bad come in different degrees, and the balance in my experiences here is such that we are very quickly approaching the point at which it will never be possible for me to feel proud of having been a member of my current university community. It’s an odd, unpleasant, and surprisingly painful feeling.

I am a bearded white male with a PhD in philosophy who stopped working in philosophy departments per se some years ago. I left in part because of what I saw as the discipline’s shoddy treatment of feminist philosophy in general and my female colleagues in particular. Since then I have become a research scientist respected in another field.

Ironically, the fact that I did graduate work in feminist epistemology as well as in analytic epistemology has proved an asset in doing science. I oftentimes acknowledge my philosophical background in my professional talks, crediting it for my theoretical range and ability to write clearly.

Recently I had a female undergraduate student come up to me after a talk I gave. She asked me for advice as to whether to go to graduate school in philosophy or in my adopted field, and told me that she had been accepted to top programs in each. However, and when I enquired as to which schools she was considering, the philosophy departments she mentioned were programs known to me as programs intolerant of pluralism.

I looked her in the eye and told her that while I believed the situation in philosophy graduate programs had gotten better over the years, I said that based on my experience she would be likely to encounter a systemic tradition of sexism within the discipline and might well even experience sexual harassment in those programs.

I could see how crushing my snap reaction was for her to hear, and it made me instantly second guess whether I had in fact told her right thing. I felt this even more acutely when, on reflection, I realized I probably would not have offered the same snap advice to a male student.

She and I did manage to have a little more hurried conversation about the relative advantages and disadvantages of a philosophic education versus a scientific one, but in the end I am afraid I may have discouraged a bright young woman from entering–and perhaps helping to change–my old profession.

I hope she has the guts to enter it anyway; frankly, all sorts of people discouraged me from entering graduate work in philosophy on practical grounds as well–though never on grounds that had to do with my being male.

A few years ago, I left my university’s philosophy department. I had been there about 20 years, hired with tenure and assuming that I would be able to participate as an equal in its affairs. I forgot I was the only tenured woman. One of the first things my new chair told me was that he liked my skirts as short as possible. The second thing he told me was that I was making less than a man who had been hired with tenure at the same time as I had because the man had “a family to support.” Things did not improve. When the department was audited, it told the Dean that the mistakes were my fault, even though they originated before I arrived on campus. When I engaged in free-ranging departmental debate, I was told that I was overly emotional. When I was passed over as chair it was because, the out-going chair said, I made him feel stupid. When I applied for an administrative position at the university, a member of the department told the search committee I was power-hungry. I could go on (and on). I have not had these problems in my new department.