Archive for the ‘Failed efforts to not be sexist’ Category

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be a graduate student or a female faculty member to have negative experiences. You also don’t have to attend an elite institution, either. As a female undergraduate in a small department, I’ve experienced problems as well.

One night a large group of philosophers (all male, of course- except for me) went out for food and drinks. These are people that are aware of the problems for women in philosophy, and have claimed to support feminist concerns. A few of them have actually read this blog in some depth. And yet, after a few drinks, one of the guys claimed that rape is a biological urge, so a rapist shouldn’t be hated or held accountable for his actions. A couple of other people chimed into the discussion, and so it went. I was so uncomfortable at that point that I didn’t speak for the rest of the night.

Another incident happened when I was in a philosophy class giving a presentation on abortion. We were discussing whether or not it was OK to have an abortion in cases of rape, and one student made the comment that if a woman dresses like a “slut” then it would be “her fault” and she is “asking for it”. It was obvious that the class was just as shocked as I was. Of course, he was completely destroyed for that remark by me and others. But nevertheless, it was said, and it stuck with me.

It’s a shame that I still have more stories like this.

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.

In my graduate department this year, only one of the 6-or-so graduate student job seekers is a woman. Each year, my department arranges practice job talks for all of the year’s job seekers.

The woman’s job talk was the only one in which the Q&A period devolved into a philosophical jousting match between two senior male philosophers. She was asked a difficult question, and paused to think about how to answer. Maybe taking this as a sign of weakness or something, one of the male philosophers defended her position, and another philosopher who disagreed began to engage directly with him. And they went back and forth like this, completely excluding the speaker.

I was appalled at how her Q&A was hijacked, and the moderator only encouraged the hijacking by occasionally jumping into the back-and-forth himself with his own commentary. All told, 10-15 minutes of the 30-minute Q&A period consisted of this back-and-forth, and did not include the speaker at all.

Male philosophers should really check their paternalistic (though possibly well-intentioned) tendencies to jump into the Q&A and ‘help’ female graduate students who may simply be pausing to think carefully about a question posed.

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.

I am a grad student in a department with a heavy focus on critical theory. Interestingly enough-and perhaps as a result of the strong focus on gender studies in our department-the male faculty members are fairly respectful when dealing with female students and colleagues. The real issues have emerged between the female faculty and female students. Despite attempts at forming a women’s caucus, and despite the fact that our centre is headed by two very distinguished women, the female faculty consistently treat their female students in a patronizing and disinterested manner, while choosing “golden boys” among the other students. Their behavior ranges from condescendingly refusing to acknowledge the arguments and questions of female students in seminars, to discouraging their projects altogether. I have a theory that their own experiences as women in philosophy forced them to be so competitive and hostile; as “exception women” they are more comfortable taking on their male colleagues and feel threatened or insecure about working with other females. Ladies–it’s hard enough being women in philosophy, so let’s not make it any worse for each other.

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.

[From a male philosopher]

I work at one of the largest philosophy institutes in Germany. At the moment i am writing this, 100% of the employees of our male professors are male, while the only two (2!) women employed are employees of female professors.

This does not count non-scientfic personel like secretaries and people employed from third-party funding.

Keeping in mind that our professors all think of themselves as very liberal and non-sexist, while more than 50% of our graduates are female, the only explanation for this is that the women all chose not to pursue a career in philosophy, right?!

Please tell me I’m not sexist

Posted: September 15, 2010 by Jender in Failed efforts to not be sexist

I went to graduate school in the 1990s during a period when a female student had lodged a complaint of sex discrimination against the department.  As it was a large department, most of us scarcely knew the student with the complaint, but the experience of every woman in the department took the following pattern. We were eagerly asked for at least one of two things by assorted male faculty and grad students in the department: agreement that the complaint was baseless for reasons X, Y and Z, and/or agreement that the man asking for the agreement was not at all, himself, sexist.

Words cannot express the wearisomeness of being asked to assure male interlocutors that it isn’t at all sexist of them to pressure me to agree that another woman’s complaint is baseless.