Archive for the ‘difficulty of problems’ Category

Public VS Private

Posted: October 19, 2016 by jennysaul in difficulty of problems, double standards, Uncategorized

In general, I’m sick and tired of so-called male “allies” who say the right things in public and behave in the right way towards other men and senior women, but who disrespect women with less influence in the profession (and hence are less likely to call them out). Classic kissing up and kicking down.

I am a female student of philosophy at a German University, writing my master thesis. Over the last years I became more and more aware of male dominance in society in general and in philosophy in particular and this makes it harder for me to bear more and more meetings, seminars, talks, conferences, colloquia etc.

I try to change the situation at our Institute: I talk to my fellow students (male and female alike), organize workshops on women* in philosophy and power structures in seminars, but it won`t change anything.

Now the semester began and I hear man talking, hear man fighting, see man sitting where women should sit and talk and many even fight as well. These man are nice or ok as individuals, but unbearable in groups, because they don`t want to know. They don`t want to know about their priviliges, there status, their society-given right to be wherever they want to be and to say whatever they want to say without being questioned their right to speak at all. And therefore they don`t care.

Their only way to connect to critique of male-oriented behaviour is by re-recognizing situations, for example then they can say: But I am nervous by speaking out loud just as you are! NO! This is not the same! You do not get discriminated because of your gender!

I do love philosophy, I want to do a ph.d., but I really don`t know if I can stand these male environment for a couple of years more. It makes me angry, sad and sick of after each meeting. It preoccupies my mind, keeps me away from work, makes me questioned, if this is worth it.

And in case male readers may wonder: I am nonetheless quite good in what I am doing.

As one of only 3 Assoc. or Full at my institutions, I was asked to serve on a hiring committee. We found 3 top, top female candidates– this is the first for any previous hiring committee on which I served. The first turned us down, as did the second to take positions at top, top universities. Perhaps this is a first good sign for women in philosophy, not only that the top three were women, but that they had choices and multiple offers.

After this, it was announced we would move to the third candidate, also a woman, and her name released to the department. Two of the men in the department ( I was the only woman at the time) decided to google her and found she had written a an article on abortion in additional to other publications in high ranking journals –all published in top journals, much higher-ranked journals than any of the men’s publications. They objected to the arguments, found them distasteful, then recruited a 3rd man to the cause, thought it would cause an unnecessary controversy on campus. Most of the dissenting arguments to the hire were based on complete ignorance of philosophical arguments about abortion, and from those not in fields in any way connected to applied ethics. The majority of department was still in favor of hiring her. A meeting was called. In initial discussion, the question of our department’s commitment to academic freedom was raised, and points raised about the high rankings of the journal publications. To the question of academic freedom, the main dissenting voice to hire said openly, “let her practice her academic freedom somewhere else.”

Despite knowing that the majority was in favor of this the candidate, the department chair refused to bring the question to a vote and moved the question to which other candidate were next in line to be interviewed (all men) in the interest of “departmental harmony”.

Yet it has created more disharmony – the trust among the department members is gone. Further, this placing of the happiness of one gender at the academic and employment rights has been repeated: At the request of ass’t male professors, I was told by the chair that I “had” to do major work for the department during the summer holiday. It was a major department project, all of the men claimed “I have plans, sorry, catch me in the fall.” I was told the project was due before the fall. I too had plans, but that didn’t matter. My equal rights to time to do my own research, to have personal time, was set aside. Bullying followed when I later objected to this: “you don’t care about the students or the department, you are so selfish.” I was aghast, and still am, even not straight out of grad school, that such ad hominem abusives were thrown at me for trying to protect my equal right to have a holiday. Followed by, “it was the only way for the department to get the work done and to have harmony, which is only disrupted because you can’t accept that you needed to do work.” This was on top of teaching a triple overload the previous semester and a double overload the previous semester. (and still getting an article out, thank you.) Harmony, interpreted as the happiness of the males) is priority, even when it comes at the employment rights, the careers and the academic freedom of women in the profession. I refuse to do any departmental service this semester, and will do so the next. And just like the men, I won’t do it openly, just a “huh? didn’t see that email”

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?

After all the ups-and-downs, ins-and-outs, rough-and-tumble politics of a graduate career, as a “woman of color” (a term which I despise, but for which no adequate substitute really exist), the final nail was hammered into the coffin of my philosophical aspirations just over two years ago. My Ph.D. program expelled me, under the thin veneer of academic failure. Internal appeals failed me, and the prospect of pursuing external appeals through various deans and administrators, even should they succeed, seemed to exhausting to consider. As information about how other (white, male) graduate students were treated, it became clear to me that had I received even slightly comparable consideration and treatment, I would have been able to finish. No one will ever admit my expulsion had to do with race or gender, and indeed, there is a very good story about why I was expelled and department policies. On paper, it is all legitimate. The story completely fails to explain why white, male students were not subject to the letter of the law, and given chances I was not owed. The message was clear: THEY can fuck up frequently and continue, but YOU are always a fuck-up and we will run you out.

There was definitely a grieving process. After all, a Ph.D. in Philosophy had been my singular objective for more or less a decade – my entire adult life, at the time. I organized my life around, I made my choices to reflect it. It occupied a significant portion of my emotional life. It defined, in part, who I thought I was.

That was, as I said, about two years ago. As life moved on, my life changed form. Though employed as a philosophy professor at a community college, and, thus, technically a professional philosopher, I began to mentally disassociate myself from the profession. I no longer identify as a professional philosopher. When, in social settings, someone says, “You are a philosopher?” my joking response is to say, “Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!” and promptly change the subject. Rather than regularly checking blogs, I wandered onto them only occasionally – sometimes realizing months had passed since I’d visited them (once a daily activity) – and then only in some sort cathartic rubber-necking type moments. I signed off of email lists and gave away books (well, not all of them, but a lot of them). I stopped listening to philosophy podcasts, and gradually eliminated all but a few philosophers from my social life. The ones who are still in my life are people with whom I, as a stringent rule, never discuss the profession or philosophy at all, except as a passing remark here and there.

I became involved in legislative advocacy for higher education in my state (so I still deal with plenty of, uhm, colorful behavior). I subscribed to the local symphony. I went to hear bands and traveled to places where I wasn’t going to conferences. I made friends who are artists and real estate agents and accountants and school teachers and chefs and most definitely not philosophers.

I realized recently that I was happier than I had been in years. In fact, I was happier than I had been since I first started taking philosophy classes as an undergrad. This realization was both joyous – that I had recovered from such a brutal and unfair ending to my hopes and ambitions – and melancholy – that something, which I had loved so much and brought me so much joy when I first encountered it, had been reduced, through the racist and sexist actions of its principle advocates – to a increasingly distant memory that is better banished from my life.

I wonder how many people out there feel the same way.

As an MA student, I enrolled in a metaphysics seminar that was well outside my field. Having never done coursework in metaphysics, I had hoped that the seminar would bring me up to speed on contemporary debates in a way that a survey course could not. I’d also taken courses with the professor before and enjoyed his teaching style. Three weeks into the course, after struggling with an expansive and dense reading list, there were only seven students left in the class – and among them, I was the only woman. The material was obviously difficult for everybody, and much of the class time was spent deciphering the weekly readings.

In one class, I asked a question about the reading and the professor was particularly dismissive, essentially telling me that my comment was irrelevant to the debate we were studying. In that moment, looking around the room and again noticing that I was the only woman, I was bombarded with an internal dialogue that distracted me for the rest of the class. Was the professor being dismissive because I’m woman? Did I not understand the material in the first place because I’m a woman? If the professor wasn’t being dismissive because I’m a woman, was he being dismissive because I’m legitimately inept? Did the other students think my comment was irrelevant and stupid? Did they think I asked it because I’m a woman? Am I just imagining that he was being dismissive because I’ve been reading all of this stuff about the status of women in philosophy? Or has reading this stuff made me more prone to notice these things? Am I feeling all of this self-doubt because I’m a woman? Even if I’m intelligent enough to understand this stuff, and I’m projecting some attitude onto the professor that he doesn’t hold, does that make me crazy? Does philosophy require some kind of self-confidence that I obviously lack? Am I getting so upset about this because I’m a woman? Am I getting so upset about getting uspet about this because I’m a woman? Should I even be in this course? Should I even be in this field?

Further discussions with my classmates assured me that my question was not irrelevant, that the tone of the professor during that entire class session was particularly dismissive, and that everyone else in the class was having difficulty with the reading as well. I ended up doing well in the course, and in some ways was reassured that my stream-of-consciousness during that particular class session was ill-founded. In retrospect, the thing that now bothers me most about that experience is that I don’t think any of my male classmates has had to deal with the spiral of insecurity, rationalizing, and uncertainty that left me shell-shocked that day.

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.

Now that I’m a mid-career woman in philosophy, I’m facing a new problem: how to talk to my junior female colleagues about gender issues. I want to give them what I didn’t have: an older woman who can reassure them that they’re not imagining things, commiserate about disrespectful behavior from students and colleagues, and brainstorm solutions. I want to warn them about the extra service work they’ll be pressured to take on and the few colleagues from whom it’s best to keep one’s distance. But when I’ve tentatively broached these topics, my junior colleagues have reassured me that they’ve never experienced sexism in the profession, from students or colleagues, and that this department is wonderful and egalitarian. They almost seem to resent my raising gender issues, as if it’s patronizing for me to worry about them. Perhaps it is. But, having participated in hiring and personnel discussions for my junior colleagues, I know full well that they have experienced sexism. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Yet I don’t think I should tell them that. They need to find their own place in the department, form their own relationships. I certainly won’t be helping them by getting them to feel hostile or wary towards the department. And maybe I’ve been wrong about things. Maybe I interpret everything through a gender lens, and if I had just been a more optimistic and forgiving person from the beginning, my first years in the profession would have been happier and more productive. So I’ve taken to just giving generic advice that’s appropriate for all: keep writing, show your work around, don’t let service and teaching work drain you. And inside I wonder if maybe I’ve just been imagining things all along.

I was at a bar with three colleagues, each of whom are a) male, b) my friends, and c) self-identified feminists. So there were four philosophers in a bar, at a 3:1 male-to-female ratio. The table was discussing a book that only half in attendance had actually read. Now, I was one of the two folks who had read the book. It should surprise you, then, to learn that for the life of me, I could not get a word in edgewise! 3/4 people were talking, and only 1/3 of those speaking had read the book under discussion, but every freakin’ time I tried to speak, I was summarily shut down, talked over, and/or ignored. I managed to successfully complete exactly one sentence, which was very directly dismissed by my friend. He blinked at me, then flatly ignored my comment, proceeding to respond to a prior comment from another male colleague. At that point I gave up. I was disheartened and sad to be treated this way by my friends. I picked up my phone, only to find that it was out of batteries, and tossed it back down on the table, frustratedly. One colleague took notice of my frustration and asked what was the matter, to which I responded rather directly, “Well there is nothing else for me to do at this table, and now my phone is out of batteries.” His response? “That sucks. So anyway, how was your weekend with [my partner]?” Shocked and appalled by this totally unnatural segue, I retorted, “We don’t have to stop talking about philosophy!” [implying of course: just because you’re going to include me, now.] Totally unawares, he sincerely replied, “No! I really wanted to know how your weekend was!” He didn’t even realize what he had done. I aggressively voiced that I was bored (because nobody would let me talk about the book they were already talking about, which I had actually read!) and his response was to ask about my boyfriend.

All three of these guys are my friends, they are self-identified feminists, and they take themselves to be good allies. I’ll bet if I told this story back to them in another context, all three of those guys would be appalled. But from the inside, they had no idea what they were doing. That, to me, was totally shocking. And, I might add, really painful! Because you know, you get a little hope fire going in your belly when you meet (straight, white) male allies, and you think, “Progress! Hope! A way forward! Evidence of change!” And then you have these experiences that reinforce how devastatingly insidious the norms of gender and power are. And it just feels like you’re Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down on your again.

I am Dean of Studies of English Majors [at a major European university]. Last December, 2 students (one woman and one man) came to inform me that they were having trouble with a colleague of mine. It soon turned out that all the 3rd-year students were actually being morally and sexually harassed by the said colleague, and that they had been for the last two years. Men were ignored, women were made to feel that they were objects of pressing desires from that individual and that their grades depended on their silence and willingness to be nice.

I assured them that they had my support and that of the University and informed them that they could act so as to put a stop to that abusive behaviour.

Well… the chair of the Department did not see the situation in the same way, all the more so as he did meet the colleague who complained that his reputation was “being sullied”.
The Dean of the Faculty, (a woman), refused to see the students.

However the harasser decided to put a stop (?) to his inappropriate behaviour.

I have sadly discovered that we were quite alone in that ugly situation. Some of my female colleagues did support us, as did some administrative staff. The authorities did not want to have “problems” and ducked their heads.

Some times, I am not proud or content to be working in higher education.

I don’t want to go into too many details because I suspect the people I’m referencing read this blog. I’m a female graduate student currently, and my department is attempting to address a number of problems associated with climate. It’s just so frustrating to have faculty ask me for advice on what to do, at the expense of my own comfort in the department, and then not listen to what I say. It’s even more frustrating when they then turn around and ask me to do extra work to help them, because I’m “important” and “knowledgeable.” If I’m so knowledgeable, shouldn’t they believe me when I tell them about problems with climate? It’s disappointing to be here, especially since I know that it’s likely nothing will ever happen to make this department more welcoming to future female (and other minority) students.

I recently returned from a conference at which I encountered the most contentious member of my dissertation committee. This fellow delayed my defense by 1) not reading my dissertation until the day before my originally scheduled defense date and 2) threatening to fail me if my defense date was not pushed back. My original defense date was cancelled the night before I was supposed to defend. This caused me to be a graduate student for an additional summer term. Because he was in Europe for the summer, he did not get around to reading the chapters of my dissertation relevant to his interests until late summer. This caused me to be a graduate student for an additional fall term. He did not actually read my revisions or my other chapters until late in the fall term, at which point I finally mustered the courage to say to him, enough is enough. I was allowed to defend late in the fall term, but lost a job as a result.

I count the interaction at this last conference as a win. Yes, he did approach me in a thinly veiled contentious manner, but I managed to avoid any private interaction for the most part. It is unfortunate that I have to do this, but one of my other committee members recommended this approach to him, complete avoidance in the profession, after my defense. I will not be able to avoid him completely, but I can certainly avoid any private interaction with him.

I started studying philosophy as an undergrad almost exactly 10 years ago, and have just finished my PhD and started a TT job. In all of this time, I’ve counted myself extremely lucky to have never dealt with any of the horror stories that so many other women on this blog have had forced upon them. To the contrary, I’d had some really exceptional male mentors who have been warm, kind, open, and supportive without ever making me feel in the least uncomfortable or treating me in any even remotely inappropriate way – and this has been especially important because I’ve always struggled with self-doubt in relationship to work, and thought about quitting many, many times. My undergraduate honors thesis advisor, especially, has always been my model of an ideal teacher and mentor – that is, until today. A friend from undergrad just sent me a text message telling me that he had gossip about this professor – apparently, he had not only married an ex student of his, but was seeing a student in my class while still married to her.

And it’s the next part that I don’t really know how to put into words. I feel sick to my stomach, and I’m doubting myself in a way that I haven’t in years. Not only was he my idol and my reason for wanting to be an academic as an 18-year-old – he was also the first person to show enthusiasm for my work, and that enthusiasm and belief continued to bolster me in moments of self-doubt all of the way through my PhD. And now I’m sitting here, crying at my computer and feeling sick to my stomach because I suddenly feel like I can’t trust one of my earliest and most formative reasons for trusting myself and my work. I worry that he didn’t think that my work was good at all – that I was just another potential student to sleep with. And even worse, a part of me worries that my work (or do I really mean “I”?) wasn’t good enough for him to think that I was worth sleeping with, since he never treated me in any even remotely inappropriate way. The last part is the worst because I don’t endorse that feeling at all – there is no part of me that thinks that a professor 20 years older than you wanting to sleep with you is a compliment. I hate that I can feel so unsure of myself so long after the fact, and I hate that I can’t shut up this voice in my head that is saying odious things that I can’t endorse but can’t ignore either.

I know just how minor this in comparison to virtually every other experience reported on this blog. Part of what terrifies me, though, is that I am suddenly struck by how much I can’t begin to imagine how destabilizing and terrible those experiences must be – if something this small, this indirect, and this long ago is making me feel so out of place in philosophy, how do so many of the women who have experienced so much worse ever stay? And when so many women do experience so much worse, how are there any left at all?

Here’s the picture they paint of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy: I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi.

It’s a wonder there are any of us left.

Let me preface this by saying that I am truly grateful to all of the women and men who have made, and who continue to make, our discipline a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable discipline. I consider myself honored to know and work with some amazing, supportive, philosophers. That said, we are not there yet. Things are not changing quickly enough. We, as philosophers and as human beings, should not tolerate anything less than equity any longer.

Ever since its inception, I have found this blog therapeutic. Many of the stories here comport all too well with my own experience. There is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I have been amazed, time and again, when colleagues and friends express surprise at the stories they find here. I am amazed that they do not realize similar things are happening in such close proximity to themselves. I am amazed that some of my colleagues—some of whom have, at times, behaved horrifically themselves—fail to recognize the inequality that is right in front of them.

I note this because I have myself been discriminated against, harassed, propositioned, excluded, talked over, disparaged, and so on. Many of my own colleagues either don’t know the details, or haven’t noticed events that have taken place right in front of them. They don’t realize that what might seem like one-off bad jokes, disrespectful comments, and offers of romantic and sexual interaction are just small pieces of a much larger pattern. They don’t realize the extent to which harassment, discrimination, and even assault take place within our discipline.

We tend to think the problems are someplace else. We tend to think our friends cannot possibly be part of the problem. We cannot possibly be part of the problem. Often, we are mistaken.

Philosophers: Take notice. Listen. Act. Please. These are not just anonymous stories on a blog. These are real people. Real lives. Real suffering. Sometimes your colleagues, and sometimes your friends.

On the need for women to work together

Posted: January 12, 2013 by Jender in difficulty of problems

I’m a female grad student who organizes events in my local philosophical and surrounding community for other women, carrying on a tradition at my university that existed long before my time there. While we are not one of the worst universities, and have even for a few moments been among the best, for feminism and recognition of women’s contributions to philosophy, our numbers have recently tipped toward the usual balance and some women in our department are now feeling isolated and alone. My dilemma is that my efforts to organize events for these women and their fellow community members have been resisted by some of the very women who feel most alone. Feeling alone and overwhelmed, especially the grad students (who also are more outnumbered than the female faculty are here) tend to feel they don’t have the time or the confidence or the social skills (or something!) they need to become part of a new group, or to engage with a group of males who can be aggressive and unwelcome. And, I understand what it’s like to feel as though the best thing to do is put your head down and work as hard as you can on your philosophy to beat the bias. But, when women who are overwhelmed isolate themselves, they also isolate other women – like organizers of events meant to counter such loneliness, or like fellow female grad students who are left alone with the men because their colleagues resist joining them at department events. It takes consistent and even counter-intuitive effort to keep going to events we may not even enjoy, to respond to invitations and to make the time for others who make the time for us, but if no one does this then groups like the one I’m trying to carry forward will disappear, and future women in philosophy will have even less resources to help them get through it and make it better. It’s not enough to say it’s great that someone else is doing something to make it better.

I am married, and keep myself out of the departmental affairs. On one occasion, I did have a conversation with another male graduate student in the group office. A female graduate student was working on her computer and then burst out of the common office (to which we all had keys). Later on, I heard that she had accused me and another male colleague of not including her in on the conversation, even though she stared at her computer screen most of time. She cited your blog and thought of our conversation as just another instance of male-dominance in philosophy even when she made no attempt to be part of the conversation. At the time, she didn’t really know me, but nobody needs an invitation to talk to me. Perhaps, she does now, though I wouldn’t know it. I feel like she avoids me.

After the incident, I went home really upset and discussed this at length with my wife. My wife told me that if she truly knew me she would never have thought what she did, and she also suggested that I should avoid her, not be involved in controversy and get my funding from the department. I am still really bothered by this incident.

So, I have attempted to build bridges and she has not been receptive. I have offered blanket statements about interest in whatever work anyone might want to share. I have made subtler gestures. I have attempted to discuss what she found fascinating in a particular seminar. I have tried my best to treat her like a colleague.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are real problems in philosophy, and I have been rather oblivious to them. I don’t drink nor hang out with other grads. I have been married all throughout graduate school. I never saw a leading philosopher of said-sub-specialty as anything but a scholar. I regularly read both women and men; very often I am concerned more about the argument than I am about the author that wrote the piece. I love Nussbaum, Wolf and Korsgaard’s work in moral philosophy, and I have even tried to adapt some of the thoughts about Marilyn Friedman’s work on autonomy and community in my own work. My colleague would never know this because she would never discuss philosophy with me. Isn’t this how it is supposed to work? You read something that honestly is fascinating, and sometimes it is written by a man and other times a woman.

My colleague is forever turned off by me, this incident or both (I honestly can’t tell). In the long run, it might not matter as I am moving on, and she is remaining in the department. I just wish that in this incident the misconstrued intentions can be as harmful in nuanced ways than if there was a legitimate point made. I am always aware of the incident every time I see her. Perhaps, there were implicit body cues that did unwittingly make her uncomfortable. I did talk to a male colleague I had known for about two years prior to her entrance, and perhaps she already felt like an outsider completely moving to a new place from far away. I honestly don’t know and I wish my colleague all the best. I hope she reads this, knows how much I respect her, and I hope she recognizes that our politics are more in sync than she and her partner could ever truly know.

To the Specific Party,

Hopefully, you do read this. I do not know if ever want to talk to me. Perhaps, I too am reading way too much into this little incident. Perhaps, this is not even on your radar of concerns. I would just like to start this new year with you as the colleague I think you are, and not have any weirdness between us. I respect all the thinkers you engage with, and if you read this, again, the offer stands that I will read anything you write given my interests in your field. I am sorry for this weirdness and any part I unwittingly played in making you feel estranged; it was never my intention.

All the very best,

A colleague and potential friend

This is a copy of an email exchange with our head of school. What is shocking is that he shows NO AWARENESS AT ALL of any gender issues around academic environment or hiring – e.g. he thinks treating all cases the same is equivalent to treating equally, and blythely he claims that our policies are “robust”…The equality and diversity officer (a man) ignored the email entirely.

Dear Prof. P, (cc Dr Z, Equality and Diversity officer),

As Prof. P knows, I have announced my intention to take 2 semesters of
maternity leave from this coming September.

I heard today that the school does not approve of getting cover for
maternity leave. This seems like a really problematic policy to me. I
totally understand that we should be able to cover our regular automatic
sabbaticals without getting teaching fellows, and even that we should be
able to cover funded research leave. However, maternity leave and other
unpredictable leave seem like a different sort of case. and in the case of
maternity leave in particular, the current policy raises equality and
diversity issues.

In asking my colleagues to cover for me, the school is asking my colleagues
to do extra work – not work that can be built into our contracts, because as
I said, unlike with regular sabbaticals, and even funded research, it is not
predictable and also fairly rare given the gender balance in our department.
In fact, in my 8 years in this philosophy department I am the
only full time staff member to have taken maternity leave. So far as I know,
before that only one person ever did.

So it is totally clear to my colleagues that they are doing extra work
because of me. In fact, anecdotally, last time when I came back from
maternity leave I was made to feel like I owed everyone favours, and did a
considerable amount of extra work because of that.

But my point here is not about me or my case in particular, it is about a
general policy that seems designed to make people resent their colleagues
going on maternity leave, and make it hard for women to feel comfortable
about maternity leave.

It is also, of course, a disincentive to hiring women. Imagine that my
colleagues, mostly men, are deciding between two candidates to hire.
One is a woman of child bearing age, the other is not. The possibility of
the woman taking maternity leave has now become a serious disincentive to
hiring her – my colleagues know that they will have to pick up her work when
she has a baby.

I have spoken to our head of department in philosophy, and several
of my colleagues about this. I think my view has wide support.

Thanks for taking this into consideration.

Dr Q

Dear Dr Q,

Thank you for your email. There appears to have been some mis-understanding
here, as there is no special policy in the School regarding cover for
maternity leave.

Requests for additional teaching associated with maternity leave are taken
together with all other forms of request for teaching support in the context
of the overall subject area teaching plan and the balancing of workload.
Indeed, this is why we have such a plan. To give one indication of this: in
the coming year, even taking into account your own leave, Philosophy will
have more teaching staff available than they have in this current year. So,
far from this being an issue of lack of equality, my own view is the precise
opposite: we deal with this issue in exactly the way that we deal with all
forms of request for additional teaching support and in this respect
maternity leave is treated in exactly the same way as all other forms of
leave such as research/sabbatical leave entitlements.

So there should be no question of colleagues feeling that they are ‘doing
extra work’ or experiencing resentment – planning for covering all sorts of
staff leave is a perfectly normal part of our teaching planning processes.
(Across the School, a number of our colleagues have taken both maternity and
paternity leave.)

And just to be clear: our appointment processes are robust, and there is no
scope within them for any sort of ‘disincentive to hire women’. Indeed you
might remember that in just this last month, we appointed a woman to a
senior lectureship in Philosophy.

Best wishes

Prof. P

I (I’m male) studied philosophy as an undergraduate and graduate student at three top Canadian universities, and had nothing but positive experiences with female colleagues and professors. Feminism was an area I did much study in and I was fortunate to have (and to be able to seek out) good advisors, mentors and professors who were women. I wrote papers on non-sexist language and usage. My female teachers tended to be stricter with my work; I have a bit of a silver tongue and I found that didn’t go as far with female professors. It was a great experience that has stayed with me my whole life.

Eventually I left philosophy for law school where I was fortunate enough to land a position as a research assistant for a favorite professor (female). Well, in law we habitually refer to judges by their last name only. So naturally it was only ten weeks into law school when in the middle of a case comment, in her class, I referred to a female Court of Appeal judge throughout as “he” and “him”. Needless to say, I didn’t impress.

Seven years studying feminism and feminist philosophy, then let the guy out into the outside world for three months and he is doing dumb sexist male things. I don’t know if “we” can help it, but I sure should have known better.