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.
Archive for the ‘failure to take women seriously’ Category
I am a white male doctoral student in a philosophy program in North America. Once I was at a conference in my field of research in North America. I had an experience there that opened my eyes. Generally, I’m a pretty naïve person. I’ve always sympathized with the efforts in academic philosophy to broaden what is studied and considered philosophy and create a more diverse learning and research environment, but before this experience I never really understood that these efforts are responding to deep and systemic problems in the academy itself as an institution, which has been designed for particular members of a particular class, racial group, sexual orientation and gender. (Names, places, etc. have been changed).
The conference was a mix of faculty and graduate students. Most of the people were upstanding, though the conference was entirely male. One of the panels had a young professor, “Ted,” from a school in North America that caters to students from France. During the Q and A a priest in attendance, who is West African, asked a question to another member of the panel. The priest was smart and really knew his stuff. Ted wouldn’t look at him and would roll his eyes when he spoke. He didn’t do that to the white members of the audience.
I happened to sit with Ted and a few other people at dinner that night. Ted mentioned that he taught at a French school. Trying to make conversation, I said that there is a group of French students in my program. He knew one of them and asked if I knew her. I said yes and he replied, “Yeah, cute little thing.” It felt like one of those male-bonding rituals that establish the “code,” ensure solidarity, and make us “safe.” I said, “She’s a very smart student.” He looked me, “Yeah, cute little thing.” I said it again. He looked at me disdainfully and let it drop. He then proceeded to tell us how he drinks heavily, got made fun of and never had any friends in high school, and made a possibly sexual comment about children, all unsolicited.
Ted can be in academia and was able to get a number of degrees in philosophy, because there is a system that was created for him, has protected him, and continues to protect him. I never understood that before.
I do, now.
I’m a PhD student in a related field. Some time ago, I fell in love with a technical, highly male dominated subfield of philosophy. I was confident that I would make the transition into philosophy…and then I started hearing about philosophy’s “woman problem.” Then I started to experience it myself. Though I have training in certain formal methods, it was infuriating to discover that philosophers were inclined not to believe that I do in fact have this training or who just assumed that the male students were “smarter” than me, despite no evidence that this was the case. I’m sick and tired of philosophers automatically taking me less seriously than they do their male students.
My university’s philosophy department is known for having a good climate (!!), and yet it’s so much worse than my current (not philosophy) department. Meanwhile, the phil departments I’ve looked into transferring into are known for having even worse climates!
I don’t think I’ll change fields after all.
I am a middle-aged woman who regularly teaches a course in the history of modern philosophy. I use standard anthologies on the topic and present a survey from Descartes to Kant. More than once I have been “corrected” by undergraduates on my choice of materials for the course. In one case, I was told that what I was teaching was not philosophy, and in another, I was told that I had made the mistake of teaching philosophy rather than history (even though this was a designated philosophy course). I don’t mind students asking questions about why we are reading the materials I have chosen or what it means that a philosophy course has to do with history, but I remain stunned that students with little to no background in the course find it appropriate to correct the (tenured) professor on what she is teaching them.
I am an ABD grad student at a well respected school. We hosted a conference a few weeks ago, and an older man (perhaps retired?) who described himself as an “interested Independent scholar” attended. After attaching himself to the young women in attendance at every opportunity, he cornered me to tell me about his new revolutionary philosophical theory, he told me that I “have a bright future in philosophy, though it will most likely be as a full time secretary or mother, doing philosophy on the side”.
Three experiences as an invited speaker in different geographical locations.
The chair is late for my talk. I find my way to the seminar room with plenty of time but find the room locked. I find someone who has the keys and set up on time. Eventually, after 15 min delay, I start my presentation. Due to the delay I make my talk shorter to 35 min in hope to accommodate more questions. As soon as I finish the presentation the chair claims that because I started late, I only have 5 min for questions. I receive interesting questions and the audience shows enthusiasm and engagement. However, the chair decides to take over and ask a series of condescending questions that offer no constructive discussion on the content of the talk. They insist on speaking over me and eventually people start leaving the room. I try desperately to accommodate more questions from the audience, but the chair continues to dominate and patronises me on every response. By the end, he has kept me 30 min over and there is no one left in the room. I do not get thanked for my talk and there is no one to applaud. I leave the room feeling like my talk went poorly even though the audience showed nothing but appreciation and interest.
I arrive on time for my presentation, set up everything and notice that the audience is almost entirely made of mature male academics. Before I start my presentation one of them loudly refers to me as ‘young lady’ and after I start my presentation he interrupts me and asks me to speak up because my ‘voice is too weak’. The questions session is dominated by condescending and dismissive questions. No woman asks a question. After a while people start leaving the room. Eventually the chair says they are very busy with work the next day and leaves. Despite my attempts, I am never reimbursed for the trip.
Upon arrival to give an invited talk to a big class of students and members of staff I discover that the chair has not advertised the talk sufficiently in advance. 10 minutes after my talk is supposed to start I find myself alone with the chair in a big auditorium. Eventually he calls two of his friends who are members of staff and they appear. I start the presentation. I was told that many students were going to attend this seminar because they were interested in the topic and I was an expert on it, so I had prepared an hour-long detailed presentation. I give the whole presentation and after I finish the three men admit they do not know much about the topic and do not have questions. Despite of that, they start asking me some completely irrelevant questions, not about my talk, and continue to keep me there for over an hour. Eventually the two leave and I am left with the chair. Tired and desperate to get back to the hotel, which was hours away from the campus, I ask how to get back as it was late and I was not sure there are services running to the city. The chair tells me that there is only one bus and that I might have already missed it (it was already late in the evening). They then tell me they have to drive back due to busy schedule the next day and leave. Due to an incident on the road I managed to get the last bus just before it leaves, but I could have easily been stuck there with no way to get back to the city. I was, again, not thanked for my talk or the massive trip I had to make to be there.
Several things I heard from senior male professors during my degrees that made me seriously doubt I have any hope in the profession.
After expressing fascination with a course a new (female) member of staff was offering, on feminist philosophy of science, my advisor tells me not to waste time on ‘rubbish philosophy’ and do ‘serious subjects’. He also condescendingly described the really established female professor offering this subject as not ‘too poor given the pointless field in which she works’. I took the subject anyway and to this day consider it one of the most rewarding experiences. Going against the advice of my advisor, however, was not to my benefit.
I was told that I have to watch out not to get pregnant because that would be the end of my career.
I was told I cannot expect to peruse an academic career if I am in a serious relationship and that if one wants to succeed in academia one needs to forget about their personal life (this came from an academic who, of course, was married with children).
I was told that publishing in the most prestigious journals in my field before I even submit my thesis is not an accomplishment and I should not feel confident that I will make it in the profession, that one needs to ‘do a lot more to prove themselves’. My male colleagues who did not have such accomplishments were told they are great and will surely have a career (and they now do).
One of my referees describes me in his reference letter as ‘hardworking’, ‘reliable’, ‘organised’, ‘diligent’ and a ‘great tutor’, despite the fact I overachieved during my degree and outperformed most of my colleagues in the department in terms of research output. I never received the same support and recognition as the male students and was never made to think I have a future in academia.