Archive for the ‘Do try this at home!’ Category

A change for the better

Posted: June 25, 2013 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

While it’s important to raise awareness to the difficulties faced by women and other minorities in philosophy, there is a danger of scaring people away, as this recent blog entry exemplifies.
We should not lose sight of how culture in academia (and in philosophy in particular) has already changed for the better.
To exemplify, a few days ago I got offered (but had to decline, unfortunately, for reasons not to do with the conference or its organization) an invitation to a conference, where the organizers offered to find on site child care for my infant, and to schedule my talk to accommodate the fact that I’m breastfeeding him. They went at great lengths to make sure that the fact that I have a small baby would not prevent me from speaking at the conference. I am really impressed by the organizers, and I am sorry that I had to decline the invitation.

I’ve faced two large-scale gender-related events in my time as a grad student: the first involved explicit bigotry, and the second involved sexual harassment. While they were extremely different kinds of problems, dealing with both experiences was quite similar: it was incredibly disruptive to my life and made me question whether I wanted to stay in the profession. In both cases, though, an amazing support network materialized to help me through these experiences. I had personal and robust support and mentorship from specific professors, and the overwhelming support of my department as a whole – both the faculty and the grad students.

In addressing both problems my complaints were taken seriously, I was treated with respect, and I was actively empowered in how both cases proceeded. While neither problematic behavior has been fully curtailed, I believe the philosophy department did all it could to intervene and to cordon off the impact of those behaviors. In neither case do I wish something else had been done by any of the people in my department who had power over these things.

Were these cases successful? My department did all the appropriate things, both formal and informal, to intervene. I’ve walked away with a robust understanding of university processes for dealing with these sorts of things, and I have real first-personal knowledge of the amazing support system I have. I’m still angry though – both at the professors themselves, and that I had to spend so much time and emotional energy dealing with this while my peers were developing their work and off giving conference talks. I’m not displeased that I gained this knowledge – I believe I am in a much better position now to be an advocate for myself, colleagues, or students who face similar situations – and I think this is important knowledge given the state of the profession. But it’s not knowledge that I can ever list on a CV or mention in a job interview, and it won’t help me in any official way. So, in many ways I believe these cases were successful, but it’s still a success that came with a cost.

On recognising the problems

Posted: December 13, 2012 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

I wanted to write to thank you for this website. I’m a young male philosopher, with a partner who is a woman in philosophy. Going through graduate school together, there would be times when my partner would report some of the sorts of situations that this blog has done such a good job of bringing out: remarks that made her feel undervalued or like she was not being taken seriously as a philosophical interlocutor, and occasions when her remarks and arguments would be passed over, or attributed to others. It is embarrassing to say that my natural reaction to those conversations was to find some alternative explanation that did not invoke the climate for women in philosophy. I’m not sure why I tried to do this, but I think it was a misguided attempt to ‘think the best of people’ (an instinct one can only have, when coming from a position of unrecognized privilege). Reading this blog over the last few years has helped to change my perspective on these things. Seeing her experience in the context of the pervasive patterns reported here has opened my eyes to many instances of unfairness that I used not to notice. I don’t know if the climate for women in philosophy is getting better. I hope that it is. I do know that this website has helped me to recognize the experience of my partner and, I hope, to be more supportive.

I wanted to share my experience of getting pregnant while in graduate school for philosophy. When I got pregnant, I worried that I might be taken less seriously, or seen differently by my community. Literally every professor in my department, however, reacted positively to news of the pregnancy. Young professors began sharing stories about their children with me. Older professors without children were curious and solicitous about the process. I was gifted with used baby clothes and toys. Although I continued my work steadily through the pregnancy and afterwards, I was often reminded that it would be fine if I slowed down and was several times reassured that no one would think less of me for doing so. I realize that I am lucky to be part of a supportive intellectual community. I share this story because I think it’s important for people to know that such communities do exist, and that some of the women in our discipline are having experiences like this.

How to help

Posted: September 25, 2012 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

As a grad student I was taking the required philosophy of language course. At some point during the course I asked my professor about feminist epistemology. He laughed, out loud and said that women’s brains worked just like men’s. Because it was an honest question, I took his answer at face value.

Fast-forward several years — I was working on my metaphysics/epsitemology area paper. The thesis was flawed, but I was having a hard time seeing it and this same professor was giving shallow comments and telling me to work on it more. A (new) feminist philosopher who had been hired since I left the area pointed out the flaw in her first set of comments. I promptly ditched the paper all together and asked her if she’d work on a feminist epistemology paper with me. She did, I wrote it and I got it passed in a matter of weeks (the M & E paper I ditched had been going around for a couple of YEARS), It was no coincidence that the rest of the M & E committee read it while the phil language guy was out of town…

Moral of the story, if you’re a woman in a position to help another woman by giving her your full professional attention, do so. I would never have completed by dissertation without her help.

An expression of support

Posted: August 29, 2012 by Jender in Do try this at home!

I don’t have a story to submit at the moment, but just wanted to express my sympathies for the submitter of the last story. What happened to her is horrible and I’m appalled by the behaviour of the grad students. Since there is (understandably) no possibility to comment on the stories, I wanted to contact you in case you have a way of letting her know that there are others out there who completely understand and who are on her side.

It’s so unfair that she’s even questioning herself, asking if she should be able to take these “jokes” better. Clearly, the grad students were trying to undermine her, and the pressure to take this kind of abuse in “good spirit” is so cruel and crazy-making. I know that getting angry is no solution either, since that would just further undermine her, so all I can really say is that I feel her pain. I want to encourage her to continue doing her work, and to not let the thoughts about whether they’re just trying to be funny make her doubt herself. I hope she finds some friends and allies in her department.

Cross-posted at What We’re Doing.

I recently led a class discussion group on a feminist philosophy class. I noticed at one point early on that I had ended up talking to one man in the class by looking mostly at him (when purportedly presenting to the whole class) and had apparently angled my body to be facing him. There were few men in the class, and he was on the rights whereas most women were on the left. He also had the most questions and talked the most. Anyways, I felt self conscious about this and tried to make sure I spoke to the rest of the class, and right away the women in the class started participating and engaging in discussion. All I think I did was make sure that I spoke towards the women too. I think this goes to show how very implicit things like who a speaker simply makes eye contact with or faces while speaking could influence things like whether others feels it is appropriate to talk or raise topics in class, and how this can be nevertheless be implicitly biased in even those who are very aware of the issues raised on this blog.

This blog helps me speak up

Posted: February 15, 2012 by Jender in Do try this at home!

While philosophy is no longer (technically) my department (I’m now a postgrad in classics) and I’m not a woman, I just wanted to express how very grateful I am for all that this blog does. I have seen, so many times, women casually cut out of philosophical conversations, talked over, or otherwise marginalised. I have found it very hard to stand up to people when they aren’t being explicitly or overtly sexist, but are still excluding women. It makes it slightly easier to do this, when I keep in mind all the stories I’ve read on this blog. Just wanted to say thanks, I suppose, and how humble I feel, knowing that the women who equal me in achievement are often far exceeding me in effort. Getting rid of this kind of discrimination would make philosophy a better environment for everyone, even those of us not directly impacted by it. So again, thanks. I didn’t have anything positive to contribute, but felt that (even if you get a hundred of these e-mails a day) you might like to know some of us would like to do better, and are glad when we are asked to.

A senior male faculty member in my department goes out of his way to ask follow up questions in colloquium when myself or another female M&E graduate student speaks up. He and another junior male faculty member often make a point of socializing with the female graduate students in a way that explicitly demonstrates how very much a part of the department, and in particular, the M&E cohort, we are. The department isn’t perfect — but the overtness of those relationships between female graduate students and male M&E faculty makes the department feel overwhelmingly safe, regardless of the few ill-behaved philosophers. They ask us what we think, they back us up when we speak up, and they identify with us as philosophers, in both formal and informal settings. It’s awesome.

Cross-posted here.

My children grew up on campus–from daycare to summer camps–and I actually think that university campuses can be great workplaces for parents. Mine at least is safe, green, happy and provides excellent childcare options. I liked being able to have lunch with my very young children and they’ve all spent a lot of time in the department and in my office. My colleagues have been terrific and I feel I paved the way for lots of junior colleagues with kids. But students aren’t always so understanding. My funniest comment ever on a student evaluation of my teaching was in a large class, 200 students, that met for one hour, twice a week, for 13 weeks. “Professor X cares more about her children than she does about us.” 🙂

Ideal reactions to pregnancy!

Posted: June 11, 2011 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

I am a PhD candidate in philosophy and I just told my supervisors that I am pregnant. I was a little bit nervous because of the horror stories I’ve heard about the bad reactions academic advisors can have to the news. I was afraid they would think I wasn’t taking my dissertation seriously or that I would be leaving the program all together. However, both of my advisors are women with children of their own and their reactions were ideal. They congratulated me and gave me good advice on maternity leave before promptly returning to the subject of my dissertation. They correctly view my pregnancy as an exciting aspect of my personal life that does not change my ability to do philosophy at all.

When I was an undergraduate student, my father, who is a professor (not philosophy), was accused of harassing a female colleague. He taught at a small school in the Midwest. Although, there was enough evidence to prove he did not harass his colleague, my father didn’t fight the accusations because the damage had already been done. The rumors and injury to his reputation were enough to drive our family out of town. The impact was huge. Not only did this woman’s finger pointing devastate and hurt my father and mother, but it took everything away from our family. We were forced to hear rumors about our family, sell our home at a loss, relocate, and I lost my tuition remission and had to take large sums of student loans to finish my education at the same school.

Because of what happened to my family, I am very sensitive to persons claiming harassment without evidence. The accusation alone is enough to ruin the lives of many people. Perhaps it is this sensitivity that keeps me from openly telling my own story and possibly hurting innocent people in the family of a particular professor, so I am thankful for this blog.

I am not a graduate student at a top university, and the person who affected me is hardly an influential or well-known philosopher, well, you might have heard his name. The sad thing is at the time he was just some professor flexing his power over someone like me who was forced to have him as an advisor in order to finish a simple master’s program.

I won’t go into the details of things that were said that were so painful to me and stripped me of all confidence I might have had in my abilities. I won’t describe the awkward situations he put me and other female graduate students in with his wife present or conveniently not present. I won’t tell you what this professor said to another male professor with whom I had to work that completely changed his rapport with me, because I still don’t know what was said. Rather, I want to talk about a chance I had to work with a male professor at a different school years later.

I didn’t even realize how heavy the burden of my advisor’s words was until another professor at this other school took the time to listen to my ideas and concerns about continuing on in philosophy. At one point this professor told me something that was completely opposite from what my advisor had said-essentially he said that I have a place in this field. Although I somewhat compartmentalized what my advisor had said to me at the time, I guess I never truly realized how much it had hurt every part of me until I heard another professor tell me the opposite case. I left this professor’s office and as soon as I was outside I started crying and I couldn’t stop until I reached the other side of campus.

I suppose my point is that as a professor, one may not realize how a few simple, sincere, and encouraging words might be undoing something that is really hindering a student-something you have no idea about, something the student might not be able to share. Although I think efforts must be made in both directions-we should have systems in place to help weed out the true harassers-let us not forget to keep sincerely encouraging the students, particularly the female ones, who have to deal with all of this. And though I am not saying that female students receive their self-worth and validation from their male professors, when a student has to hear that she is “less than” from a male professor, it sometimes takes hearing from another male professor that this is not the case for the damage of those words to be undone.

People who helped

Posted: December 11, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

I’ve submitted and seen posted a couple of negative stories (please don’t identify which ones; too much identifying information); I feel like I must also submit (and hope to see posted) a positive one.

Some of my biggest cheerleaders in my philosophical career have been male philosophers. The best mentor I have had was a male philosopher, a junior professor at my Leiter-recognized MA institution in the early 2000s. Though what he told me about the discipline was often stark and depressing (I recall him specifically telling me about the dismal situation for women, among other things), he took me seriously enough to be real and honest with me, and encouraged me to consider the pros of doing this kind of work for a living alongside the cons. I feel that, although much of my experience as a woman has been difficult, I am better off for having been prepared — as opposed to other women who I have known who were unpleasantly surprised to discover the attitudes of their male colleagues. The knowledge of what I was going in for, I think, also helped strengthen my resolve to succeed. In general, he gave me good, sound advice without being paternalistic, and much of my current success is
due in large part to that advice. He also showed me that some men were aware of the discriminatory treatment, and I like to think his mentoring was the partially consequence of his acknowledgment of sex discrimination and an effort to correct for it. He clearly also thought I was capable, and although I am no longer at that institution, his praise and recognition of my ability still helps me get through hard days.

Two male grad students, met at different schools under different circumstances, constantly remind me both that I am capable, intelligent, and talented, and have been good friends and a source of comfort whenever I run up against sexism. Aside from the general goodness of having supportive friends, I find it helps me immensely to be in the company of male philosophers who recognize sexism at work, and who will not belittle or downplay when I feel I have been the victim of it. It is nice to have a reminder, I think, of the promise of change, and that women philosophers have allies among the men.

Stuff to try at home

Posted: November 21, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

Our Leiter top-10 Department recently held a meeting open to all graduate students to discuss the issue of gender and philosophy. This resulted in several initiatives, some small (such as adding a link to the LGBT lecture series to our “related lectures” listings), some larger (described below).

The graduate students have organized a series of monthly meetings, open to both men and women (undergraduates, graduates, and faculty), where “we will discuss current research on or related to the topic of women in philosophy. The general aim of these meetings will be to provide a forum where we all can (1) better familiarize ourselves with issues pertaining to women in philosophy, (2) learn about and discuss what others have had to say about these issues, and (3) present and discuss our own views on these issues.”

In addition, an invitation was sent to all women undergraduates that read as follows:

“* What are the unique difficulties women in philosophy/academia face?
* How do these challenges present themselves in the lives of an undergraduate?
* How do these challenges change or stay the same when women go to graduate schools and enter academia as a profession?
* How are female graduate students now encountering and navigating through these obstacles?

Are these questions you’ve wondered yourself? Come discuss and offer your thoughts with the Women in Philosophy Group, composed of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in philosophy. We’ll be having a co-ed meeting every month beginning in January, where we will discuss current research on, or related to, the topic of women in philosophy.

This semester, there’s going to be a meeting reserved to female undergrads who are interested in meeting with female graduate students. Meet fellow undergraduates and current philosophy graduates at an informal pizza meet-and-greet! [time, place] Bring questions, concerns, thoughts, and an empty stomach.”

Do try this at home.

Unprofessional attention

Posted: November 20, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, sexual harassment

I, a woman, have had my share of unprofessional attention in philosophy (all from male professors). One male professor claimed to be “in love” with me (he was married and I later learned that he told several female students the same things he told me). I asked him not to say those things to me, ever, but he continued to profess his “love” and “desires” for months. Another professor refused to talk to me (still hasn’t, half a decade later) after he made advances and I refused. This was especially devastating for me since I had taken many classes from him and thought we had a real philosophical connection.

I will echo what others have said: this undergraduate experience was a huge handicap, especially when evaluating my own work. I never knew if the praise I was getting was deserved or was for other reasons. I also began to think that the only way for me to be a good philosopher would be to pair myself with a male professor. I knew some women graduate students who had done this and subsequently done well in the profession.

But then, I was given the best advice I’ve ever gotten (incidentally, it was from a male professor). He said, “Don’t worry about them. They’re jerks, and they’re on the way out. Don’t ever let them stand between you and what you want to do.” Since then, interestingly, I haven’t encountered any overt sexism. I attribute this partly to my new graduate program (there are many more women here than there were at my previous institution) but I wouldn’t be surprised if I am less of a target because of my new attitude. I am glad I made it through my difficult undergraduate experience so that I can enjoy philosophy the way I do now.

I am a philosopher who has worked for years in university higher administration. I’m writing now to encourage students to record and/or report incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior. (Male students can do so as well as female students, because such behavior constitutes a hostile work environment and is illegal.) Report the behavior you are concerned about to the chair, the dean, the Affirmative Action Officer, an associate or assistant dean, an ombudsperson, a Women’s Center director, a Women’s Studies professor, or directly to your university president. Anyone in a position of authority in a university who receives such notification is required to act; if not they become legally liable at a later date.

You may not need to “go public” or demand official redress; should you choose not to do so for whatever reason, it is still useful and important to report the behavior because a record will be made, and in any future case the existence of a written record documenting claims about a person’s inappropriate behavior will prove useful. Harassers are generally repeat offenders and their behavior may increase in seriousness over time. Do not tolerate behavior that is uncomfortable, demeaning, unfair, or inappropriate. At the very least keep a written record of such behavior, with specifics and dates, and show the record to someone else as you compile it. Most competent university administrators are far more aware of and concerned about stopping this sort of behavior than are most philosophy department chairs, I regret to say.

Something to try at home

Posted: November 16, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

My department is having a meeting in a couple weeks to discuss women – and other minorities – in philosophy in the wake of your blog. A good percentage of the department – more of the female members, but by no means only – have said they are coming. We tend to have – by all accounts – a far better than average community here, with few incidents of the sort described in the many depressing posts, and a good percentage of people who habitually speak up when things do happen. But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to strategize, educate, and organize around the profession as a whole. Our students need to think about what they might face on the market and in jobs. The rest of us need to think about how best to contribute to changing the profession. So we’ll have an open, moderated, discussion.
Do try it at home.

I hope this submission is one of a chorus of male philosophers seeking to distance ourselves from the author of the—frankly—insane post (“What we’re up against: One man’s view of women who do feminist philosophy”). The views in that post are completely ridiculous. I hesitate to even engage with the views expressed there, for fear of giving them more credibility than they deserve. I do not have, by the way, any particular exposure to feminist philosophy, but I do identify as a male feminist, and try to work towards raising awareness of the issues facing women in philosophy. And on that note, please keep the “do try this at home” posts coming!

Clear show of support

Posted: November 9, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!

When I moved to the school where I now teach, the department was just moving into a new building. The offices varied in size and shape with the “corner offices” (literally) being the nicest. The department had decided that the fair distribution of offices would give 2 corner offices to men and 2 corner offices to women. Given that there was only one other woman in the department, I was moved into a beautiful corner office, even though there were men with (obviously) greater seniority in the department and also greater seniority in the field. I was very moved by the gesture but was also anxious that there would be resentment on the part of some of the men who might have felt they were entitled to the big office with nice windows. Quite the contrary, however, I never heard or experienced any hostility. This was a profound statement of the department’s commitment to equality and their actions have followed suit.

I am a current male undergraduate student in philosophy. I am friends with two other students who are female. What surprises me is that, despite the fact that they will argue with me exhaustively on any subject, and that they are in my opinion are clearer and quicker thinkers than myself, both of them will consistently devalue their abilities, and assume that I know more, or have some secret knock-down attack on their arguments that I am holding in reserve to be polite. Both have, at different times, said things along these lines, despite both consistently getting higher marks than myself.

I assumed that this was just anxiety or modesty on their part, but the more female students I come into contact with the more common it seems. In my other area of study, molecular biology, I have not noticed this. After reading some of the entries on this blog, I started paying attention to the (mostly male) faculty members that I come into contact with, and I’ve noticed that they will consistently ignore questions or arguments from female students, and instead respond almost exclusively to male students. There is nothing overtly sexist about this, but this continual, subtle exclusion is having a clear negative effect on the morale of female students in the course. I have tried to talk about this with some faculty members, and mostly they won’t even admit that they are doing it.

I’m not in a position of power, but if I ever am, I hope I will recall my friends and not exclude female students like this.