Archive for the ‘failure to perceive problem’ Category

Seeing the recent post about “Problems with Confucianism” reminded me of various levels of hypocrisy that I see male colleagues get away with, including a male colleague who claims to be a feminist.

Soon after meeting him, I disagreed with said male colleague on a matter within my AOS and he told me that I just think that because of my educational background.

He said something horrible to a student, and in his defense, to me, of this issue, he mentioned an incident in which he told a woman reading another work he disliked that she was “going through a phase.” He seemed surprised that she had been offended by this patronizing comment.

Same colleague has had several complaints from women in his courses, who do not feel respected, to the point that they seek help from other professors, or drop his class, or try to switch into another section, even well past mid-term or in situations when it could hurt their grade. I am leaving out several incidents that are hard to explain while keeping it anonymous, but I fear he is both classist and an in-denial misogynist.

He goes as far as to make claims about what should be taught in my AOS, which he has no experience in. My chair, who is otherwise great, seems to agree with his claims. What do I know, I am just a woman (a woman with a PhD in that AOS, who apparently knows less about what is important and relevant than a man who works in a completely unrelated area).

Okay, sexism is not new.

But here’s the rub: he discusses inclusivity frequently both publicly and in the department, and takes it upon himself to make others feel that they are not doing enough.

It makes me so angry that, frequently enough, women, people of color and others from underrepresented backgrounds are just expected to promote diversity and inclusion, without praise. But a man is praised for his awesome behaviour when he even claims to be for X, Y, or Z. Words seem to speak louder than actions and it makes me ill.

He is actively making me feel unwelcome, and undervalued, and yet he is viewed as a “good person.”

I am untenured and have no voice. He might just get his way and push me out, perhaps he can get another white male “feminist” from a privileged background to enter the department in my stead and further his “cause.”

I lose sleep over his behaviour and what it does for women at my university, what it says about philosophy, about my department. He gets kudos. I feel defeated.

I feel stuck and saddened, and yes, grateful to have a position at all, and an ability to try to counteract the damage that he inflicts. Nonetheless, the hypocrisy has wounded me deeply. My sense of powerlessness, while familiar, is even harder to express since he is viewed as “one of the good guys.”

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.