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

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.