Archive for the ‘failure to perceive problem’ Category

As one of only 3 Assoc. or Full at my institutions, I was asked to serve on a hiring committee. We found 3 top, top female candidates– this is the first for any previous hiring committee on which I served. The first turned us down, as did the second to take positions at top, top universities. Perhaps this is a first good sign for women in philosophy, not only that the top three were women, but that they had choices and multiple offers.

After this, it was announced we would move to the third candidate, also a woman, and her name released to the department. Two of the men in the department ( I was the only woman at the time) decided to google her and found she had written a an article on abortion in additional to other publications in high ranking journals –all published in top journals, much higher-ranked journals than any of the men’s publications. They objected to the arguments, found them distasteful, then recruited a 3rd man to the cause, thought it would cause an unnecessary controversy on campus. Most of the dissenting arguments to the hire were based on complete ignorance of philosophical arguments about abortion, and from those not in fields in any way connected to applied ethics. The majority of department was still in favor of hiring her. A meeting was called. In initial discussion, the question of our department’s commitment to academic freedom was raised, and points raised about the high rankings of the journal publications. To the question of academic freedom, the main dissenting voice to hire said openly, “let her practice her academic freedom somewhere else.”

Despite knowing that the majority was in favor of this the candidate, the department chair refused to bring the question to a vote and moved the question to which other candidate were next in line to be interviewed (all men) in the interest of “departmental harmony”.

Yet it has created more disharmony – the trust among the department members is gone. Further, this placing of the happiness of one gender at the academic and employment rights has been repeated: At the request of ass’t male professors, I was told by the chair that I “had” to do major work for the department during the summer holiday. It was a major department project, all of the men claimed “I have plans, sorry, catch me in the fall.” I was told the project was due before the fall. I too had plans, but that didn’t matter. My equal rights to time to do my own research, to have personal time, was set aside. Bullying followed when I later objected to this: “you don’t care about the students or the department, you are so selfish.” I was aghast, and still am, even not straight out of grad school, that such ad hominem abusives were thrown at me for trying to protect my equal right to have a holiday. Followed by, “it was the only way for the department to get the work done and to have harmony, which is only disrupted because you can’t accept that you needed to do work.” This was on top of teaching a triple overload the previous semester and a double overload the previous semester. (and still getting an article out, thank you.) Harmony, interpreted as the happiness of the males) is priority, even when it comes at the employment rights, the careers and the academic freedom of women in the profession. I refuse to do any departmental service this semester, and will do so the next. And just like the men, I won’t do it openly, just a “huh? didn’t see that email”

I have graduated from a Master in Philosophy recently and intend to go on with pursuing my philosophical ambitions. I must say I feel lucky that I haven’t experienced half the things that are reported on this blog (should it feel lucky or normal?). However, facing the perspective of going on with philosophy, I wonder if these things will repeat themselves often:

– When discussing utilitarianism, why do I have to hear my professor refer to “my beauty” as an example of a good that ought to be promoted?

– How many times must I be someone’s girlfriend in thought experiments, for the sake of argument?

I don’t think it is acceptable that my attributes (being a woman, being pretty, etc) should find themselves caught up in examples used in philosophical conversations. I experience this kind of practice very destabilising: every time, my train of thought was interrupted because of how intrusive it felt and I couldn’t continue arguing properly.

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’m sick of feeling like an imposter in this discipline, and I’m sick of having to work twice as hard as all the guys to get even roughly comparable marks, and I’m sick of being told I should be grateful for tiny changes. So I have some questions I need answered.

Why do I have to sit in a class on [topic removed] listening to people defend a rapist? Why do middle aged, middle class, white men in philosophy think they have the epistemic authority to moralise about gendered violence? Why isn’t their attempt to justify rape acknowledged to be as threatening as it is?

How come my lecturer thinks it’s acceptable to advance the idea that there shouldn’t be protocols against faculty-student relationships when we literally *just* read a book about a professor who rapes his student? How come he thinks it’s okay to do this in a philosophy classroom, knowing full well that philosophy is the worst discipline for sexual harassment and assault of female students by male faculty?

Why do I have to feel afraid or intimidated of potential supervisors or lecturers? Why are there still so many instances of harassment and assault against women in philosophy departments and why does no one seem to care? Why do I have female classmates who start grad school with the expectation that they’ll be harassed? And why is it so heartbreaking to hear them confess that they’re worried they’re unattractive when they’re *not* hit on? How warped is that?

Why do I have to research PhD positions based on an entirely different set of criteria to men? How come I don’t get to apply to departments based on potential supervisors or ranking? How come I have to make sure I pick a department that has philosophers of my gender working in it? How come I have to make sure I pick a department where no male faculty have been investigated for sexual misconduct?

Is it any wonder that male students are getting better marks than me when I’m working a day job on top of this degree to survive? As well as the domestic and emotional labour that comes with my gender? And if my marks suffer as a result, how am I supposed to compete for funding to even make it to grad school?

Why do I have to fight so hard for every little thing, like getting rid of the title ‘Philosopher King’ for the president of the Philosophy Club? Why is it so hard for others to accept gender neutral language? If we can’t even do that, in a student club, how are we going to increase women’s representation in the discipline?

If academic philosophy is as competitive as Olympic level sports, like my supervisor says, how come men get away with performance enhancing drugs and I don’t? Why am I treated differently? Why don’t I get mentoring, and extra help, and networking opportunities?

How come when I ask for things, like tutoring assignments, or comments on my work, I get made to feel like I’m too aggressive or pushy or demanding (when I even *get* a response), but when male students do it they’re motivated go-getters?

How come when I try to talk in in class and give arguments I’m called ‘too emotional’ instead of passionate? Why do men think it’s okay to talk over me? How come I get interrupted not only by classmates but *by my own students?* How come people don’t take me seriously as a philosopher when I have good marks and extracurriculars to back me up?

If this is one of the better departments, how come I had to set up a society for women in philosophy? How come we still only have three women in the faculty? If this is a good department, what’s grad school going to look like?

But most of all, if I’m a good student, and a good tutor, and have the potential to be a good philosopher, how come I have to keep asking myself the question men never have think about; whether I should even stay in philosophy at all?

I’m a postgraduate student at a UK university. A friend and I went to attend the first meeting of a newly convened Women In Philosophy society, and although no one had seemed to notice the irony that the first talk to be given was from a male lecturer, we were hopeful about the possibility for information and discussion. Before the talk began, there was a round table discussion between the undergrads, postgrads and faculty about why such a society might be needed. The topic of sexism in philosophy, and this blog specifically was raised. The male lecturer rolled his eyes, and claimed that any man in this university (or the philosophical field today) would be laughed out of the room for suggesting that women could not do philosophy as well as men could. Immediately four or five hands shot up around the room, and women shared stories of being asked why on earth they would want to study philosophy at university interviews, being told that they didn’t understand Hegel because they were female (?!), querying why feminism had been dropped from a module (the woman who taught it had gone on maternity leave), and noting the scarcity of female philosophers studied on available courses.
The male lecturer shook his head, and said that he had never witnessed any incidents of sexism at the university, and so he did not believe that it was occurring there. The discussion moved on to the idea of staff/teaching quotas, and was dominated by a male student who believed they were a terrible idea.
I went to the society again the next week, but there were fewer girls in the room. The week after, I stopped attending.

There’s a seminar this afternoon in my department on the topic of child welfare. Although I am interested in this topic, and have written relevant papers, I’m not going. Why not? Because it’s in the early evening, and my own daughter is very stressed at the moment, I am a single parent, and I do not want to leave her on her own. Deepening irony is that this weekend, sick of observing the stress I’m under by trying to work in substandard conditions, cope with very difficult student welfare issues, etc, she begged me to give up my lecturing job. So, as I’m REALLY interested in child welfare, I won’t be at the seminar on it. Not that anyone there will ever know or care.

Now that I’m a mid-career woman in philosophy, I’m facing a new problem: how to talk to my junior female colleagues about gender issues. I want to give them what I didn’t have: an older woman who can reassure them that they’re not imagining things, commiserate about disrespectful behavior from students and colleagues, and brainstorm solutions. I want to warn them about the extra service work they’ll be pressured to take on and the few colleagues from whom it’s best to keep one’s distance. But when I’ve tentatively broached these topics, my junior colleagues have reassured me that they’ve never experienced sexism in the profession, from students or colleagues, and that this department is wonderful and egalitarian. They almost seem to resent my raising gender issues, as if it’s patronizing for me to worry about them. Perhaps it is. But, having participated in hiring and personnel discussions for my junior colleagues, I know full well that they have experienced sexism. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Yet I don’t think I should tell them that. They need to find their own place in the department, form their own relationships. I certainly won’t be helping them by getting them to feel hostile or wary towards the department. And maybe I’ve been wrong about things. Maybe I interpret everything through a gender lens, and if I had just been a more optimistic and forgiving person from the beginning, my first years in the profession would have been happier and more productive. So I’ve taken to just giving generic advice that’s appropriate for all: keep writing, show your work around, don’t let service and teaching work drain you. And inside I wonder if maybe I’ve just been imagining things all along.