Archive for the ‘failure to perceive problem’ Category

Another faculty member (a male) and myself were being considered for the same administrative role in my department. My qualifications are unambiguously superior to his. When I pointed this out, one of the decision-makers said at a meeting, “Let’s not get bogged down in irrelevant discussions about who is more qualified than whom.”

I just received a truly depressing email announcing a new volume in my area. It starts off in a good way, then we get to this part (replacing names with variables):

“The contributors include luminaries such as a, b, c, d, and e. Other prominent contributors include f, g, h, i, and j.”

At first, the email made me delighted. I was delighted to see so many female contributors. But then I paused. The so-called “luminaries” were all men. The other “prominent” contributors were the rest: the women.

This was a first for me. Apparently, the editors went to a lot of trouble to find female contributors only to subtly put them down and belittle them in the end.

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.

This is not a story per se. It’s a reflection prompted by reading your wonderful blog. How I wish it had existed when I was in grad school in the late ‘70s trying to decide on a career. I was almost a woman in philosophy and before spending a few hours immersed in your blog thought I had “chosen” not to pursue my favorite subject. I see now that I was driven out.

For the first time I’ve stopped to imagine how different it would have been had I been a man with political philosophy as my favorite (and hence best) subject. I graduated summa cum laude in political science from a major state university. I completed my doctoral exams with distinction in all four of my fields, including political philosophy. Even in my chosen major field of comparative politics, I focused on philosophy of religion. I had a published work while still in grad school. And yet, no professor, no TA EVER in the eight years I spent at university suggested I might do philosophy. Would that have happened to a male? Uh, no.

The exclusion began my first day in political philosophy as an undergrad. I read through the syllabus and asked the TA whether we were really going to have a 100 per cent male viewpoint in the course and wasn’t there anyone who could represent the thinking of the other half of the human race? Nope. The great philosophers are ALL male but don’t worry their approaches are universal, or some such crap. It ended with me choosing a very difficult and non-theoretical dissertation topic involving intensive field research. Despite receiving excellent grant funding, I lost confidence and never finished. (I felt it arrogant to try to write in depth on a culture and system I’d only observed for a year.) I ended up with a decent career and a good life BUT…

The dissertation I really wanted to write was on how gender influenced moral philosophy. My thinking was that holding the primacy of compassion as a moral virtue, as Rousseau did, for example, might give women a moral edge over men and this is a possibility for which philosophers were, and perhaps still are, not yet ready. Much of the history of moral philosophy may represent efforts to assert male moral superiority. Take, for instance, Kant’s rejection of natural ethics to discover that ethics are a product of free will. “Morality requires not a natural relation of man-to-man, but a relation of man-to-duty. For an act to be called good,” he said, “it is not sufficient to do that which should be morally good that it conforms to the law; it must be done for the sake of the law.” Moral acts were those done not for natural reasons but for the sake of the law; in other words, for a reason men would be much more likely to cite than women.

It’s possible that this is not an original observation or that my understanding of Kant may be dead wrong. I don’t know because that’s not ultimately what I studied and that suited everyone just fine.

I was participating in an intensive research seminar and had a brief opportunity to meet with its accomplished, distinguished director. I was excited and nervous to discuss my project-in-progress. One of the first bits of feedback he gave me was that I would “make a good mother.” Although a significant compliment, on its face, it seemed a deeply problematic way of communicating that I shouldn’t continue on in philosophy, and it made me consider the professional costs of things I especially value about myself: empathy, kindness, intellectual humility. I said, “Thank you. I think so, too,” although I’d known for a long time that motherhood was not in my future.

Effects of jokes

Posted: April 12, 2015 by jennysaul in failure to perceive problem

I was at a professional conference concerning a specific area of philosophy when the following story took place.

At one of the sessions, two male philosophers, whom I know to be fairly respected in this area of philosophy, were about to present a paper. Just before the two started one of the speakers — the more senior — attempted a joke poking fun at his co-author. The joke said something about how we shouldn’t trust his colleague owing to his colleague’s ethnicity (he is Italian). It was clear that this was intended to be funny. Perhaps because anti-Italian racism is (supposedly) no longer a wide-spread attitude among Americans today?

I did not think this remark was funny. It conveyed to me a level of disregard for how racism operates. It also revealed to me how little weight this person must place on creating a healthy, positive climate where graduate students of all stripes are made to feel comfortable engaging in philosophy. I stated something to this effect so that my neighbors at the conference could hear. (Several of whom spoke to me afterwards expressing their agreement.)

I’m angry that this remark was made and that it was passed off by some as a humorous joke. I’m angry that at that moment, I lost all interest in reading the works authored by this person. I’m angry that all I can think about in relation to this person is this remark. Luckily this person’s work has not intersected with my interests, but who knows what sort of enrichment I am missing out on by keeping a wide berth from this person? I may one day need to take this person’s work seriously. But I simply don’t want to. And I’m not even sure I can get passed my disdain long enough to appreciate his arguments.

I am sharing this story because I think some philosophers do not fully appreciate how their behavior can negatively impact diversity in the profession. Students who are socially aware and sensitive to systems of injustice are likely to be “turned off” from working with a professional who is insensitive to how oppression functions and how their behavior perpetuates injustice.

A happy ending

Posted: February 13, 2015 by Jender in failure to perceive problem, Good news

I was helping at a two day conference that a colleague had organised. On the morning of day one, I stood behind a table, handing out conference packs. A young man came to pick up his conference pack, and when I gave it to him, he asked: “how long have you been pretty for?”
I responded: “I’m sorry, that is an inappropriate question.”
He asked: “Why?”
I explained: “Because we’re both here in a professional capacity. I am not here to be pretty. My appearance is irrelevant. Besides: it happens too often that people at conferences acknowledge my appearance or gender before they acknowledge my work. It’s just not very nice.”
He said: “Well, I’m sorry to hear it happens too often for you, but I meant it as a compliment, so I wont apologise.” And he walked away, leaving me baffled.

However, five minutes later, he returned, saying: “On second thought, I do apologise. I’m sorry, my remark was inappropriate.”
I was surprised, but glad it was resolved so I said it was ok.

The next day, during the tea break, the young man came to me and said he had been thinking about the situation. He asked me to explain further what exactly was at stake in such a situation. We had a constructive discussion. We challenged and questioned each others’ views respectfully and sincerely like one would hope a respectful conversation between two philosophers goes. At the end of the tea break, he had convinced me that his inappropriate question was genuinely not motivated by ill-will or machismo, really just a compliment, albeit clumsy. And he said I had opened his eyes to what it must be like to be a woman in academia, an issue he had never really given much thought. He even held the view that such ignorance was the responsibility of men themselves, they really ought to know better. We parted on a friendly footing.

One soul at a time.