Archive for the ‘feminism isn’t philosophy’ Category

I am an undergraduate studying molecular biology and philosophy at an American university. I have not experienced a trace of sexism in any of the science departments on our campus. Female presence is commonplace and widely accepted. The vast majority of my professors in hard science classes are female.

My experiences in the philosophy department have been entirely different. The department is overwhelmingly male and 100% white. Many professors are derogatory towards feminist theory and feminism. I have been an active participant in an informal philosophy-oriented student group andhave made many presentations to the group on a variety of topics. When I offered to present on an area of feminist philosophy, I received no reply to my e-mail. After reminding the professor twice, I still have received no reply. Since then, I have not attended the group. The same professor has repeatedly made the sexist conjecture “Can the feminist airplane fly?” Another student was told by his advisor that feminist theory was “emotional,” and was discouraged by the professor from taking feminist theory classes because of that.

We can’t hire a feminist

Posted: October 26, 2010 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy

The year I was on the job market, I commented on an APA paper and met up with the presenter at that night’s smoker for a collegial drink. He informed me that he knew I had applied for a job at his institution, and that his department had seriously considered my application because they were under a lot of pressure from their administration to hire a woman. I asked him why they’d chosen not to interview me and he explained that they couldn’t possibly hire a feminist because theirs was a very small, friendly department where everyone got along quite well and a feminist would’ve ruined the collegiality by being angry all the time. He also explained that feminists only publish in “fake” journals like _Hypatia_ (which he mispronounced)–this despite his knowing that one of my publications was in _Hypatia_.

What honestly shocked me the most was that this person clearly thought of himself as a nice, friendly guy and had no clue how insulting he was being.

Just get over that feminist stuff

Posted: October 25, 2010 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy

When I was on the job market (in the 80s) I had to deal with a lot of comments about the supposedly non-philosophical nature of my work. “Armchair sociology” was one descriptor used for my publications in feminist philosophy. It was reported to me that a senior (male) member of the Department said of me, “She’ll be a good philosopher, once she gets over this feminist stuff.”


Posted: October 23, 2010 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy, harassment

The events happened 4 years ago. I was lured to a small city to teach in a sabbattical replacement position. The chair told me they wanted a woman philosopher to be their next permanent hire and that a position would open up soon. He told me to offer a course in feminist philosophy and emphasized that he and another colleague (a woman) were very interested in feminist philosophy. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was so happy! Both he and his colleague chatted with me a couple times on the phone and kept implying I would be seriously considered for a permanent position when one came up soon.

I arrive in the city and the chair takes me out for coffee. I note something is very wrong. He is very cool and avoids eye contact. The female colleague doesn’t return my calls and is extremely unfriendly when I meet her face to face. In the first month I am there I find out they are already in the midst of doing a search for a permanent member. I go talk to the chair about this and confront him about the misinformation he gave me over the phone. All that I remember from the unpleasant conversation are his words “No, we don’t want a feminist philosopher” spoken with a grotesque smile. What a shock! And then at the end of the meeting–seeing that I am upset–he invites me to have dinner with his wife and family soon ! I try to get support from other feminists. Unfortunately these “feminists” are friends with the chair. He complains about me spreading harrassing lies about him and so I am dragged into the human rights office. I tell my side of the story. The officer is obviously very uncomfortable and a memo is sent out about her resignation the next day. The administrative staff worker in philosophy also quits that week. Because I am a good professor I receive good student evaluations and apply for a summer position. The chair meets with the union to try to take it away from me but I have the right of first refusal. After the summer position ends I move back to the big city. I could keep fighting and stay on but it’s not worth it. Luckily I find a friend in a political science professor who drives me back.

“The Feminist”

Posted: October 22, 2010 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy

I recently made the move from undergrad to grad. I came from a philosophy department that strongly supports a nuanced understanding of feminist philosophy. Moving into graduate level education, I was flabbergasted to find a female prof that was proud to be light years behind. Feminist contributions made their way into all of one of her lectures. She started the “feminist objections” section of the lecture with “feminists are suspicious of […].” Although I associate with a variety of philosophical schools of thought, I soon became identified as “the feminist”; a brand that quickly turns valid arguments into uppity rants.

When I told a PhD colleague of mine that I was teaching an Adult Ed class on the philosophical thought of Simone de Beauvoir, he replied: ‘But isn’t she just a poor man’s Sartre? I mean, how is that philosophy? Isn’t it just feminist stuff?’

Feminism isn’t philosophy

Posted: October 17, 2010 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy

A few years ago, when I was new to my Ph.D. program, another student in my cohort started talking to me at the beginning of the year department party. I didn’t think anything of it until he started belittling my area of interest: feminism. Specifically, he told me, “feminism isn’t philosophy.” I was stunned. This was my big welcome. I just moved across the county to be told I didn’t belong and was a joke to the profession.

Thankfully, I told this story to many other (friendlier) people in my department, and it was always met with the same indignation I felt at the time, so I think it’s safe to say his is the minority opinion.

I am a male philosopher of science, currently a graduate student at a well ranked program. I have learned that one does not even need to be a woman to experience the prejudice against them in philosophy: certain topics become viewed as ‘female,’ and anyone intersted in them has to put up with a bunch of ill informed rants about how those topics ‘aren’t real philosophy.’

More specifically, I am extremely interested in the work of feminist philosophers of science, such as Helen Longino and many others. In my opinion, some of the best, most interesting, and, importantly, most politically engaged philosophy of science of the last 20 years has been done under this heading (even though feminist philosophy of science incorporates many different approaches and positions–it is as heterodox as any other area of philosophy.) My department, however, does not (for the most part) share this interest–and, indeed, a female faculty member warned me from pursuing feminist topics, as she knew my department didn’t really approve of such things. Note that their dismissal wasn’t based on fundamental philosophical disagreement, but rather was just pure uniformed prejudice–I had one professor tell me that a particular feminist philosopher was ‘not very good,’ immediately after admitting he had never read her work. It was very frustrating, and this was my first dose of reality about the academic community–people are not as interested in the pursuit of truth as they claim.

What was really frustrating was that many graduate students had already imbibed this attitude–I had many people laugh in my face when I talked about feminist epistemology: they thought such a thing was crazy at best, and more likely just another instance of special pleading. They were further surprised that a man could be a feminist. Needless to say my poor forehead suffered under the assault of so many head slapping statements.

Although I am still interested in feminist philosophy of science, I am waiting to really start working and publishing in this area until my career is somewhat more underway and established.

Departmental colleagues in my first tenure-track position included several overtly sexist men and a hostile woman. While there, my extensive research record was discounted in a number of ways. One senior male colleague even told me that feminist philosophy is not real philosophy–it’s just women’s studies; and several senior colleagues defended a low assessment of my research by pointing out that I had failed to publish in what they considered to be “top-tier journals” (journals in which I had no interest and in which my approach to philosophy did not fit). Needless to say, I applied elsewhere and was fortunate enough to land in a fully-functional, supportive, and high-quality department. In this new department, I easily obtained tenure (with a unanimous vote) and half of my departmental colleagues are women. The good news is that some departments, including mine, are actively recruiting, supporting, and advancing women philosophers. The bad news, of course, is that sexist, hostile philosophy departments still exist.

What DO you people want?

Posted: October 11, 2010 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy

The first year of my PhD, I gave a paper at my department’s graduate student colloquium on feminist philosophy and medical practices involving women’s bodies. The first question during the Q&A was from a male graduate student, who demanded, “What do you people want, anyway?” He then proceeded into a rant about a woman who had just broken up with him. I was so flustered by the “you people” jab that I only managed to mutter something about him having a good point about the need for positive policy prescriptions to accompany critical feminist analysis, but that this wasn’t the project of my paper.

He later apologized, after the formal Q&A was over. Though this did not stop him from openly asking all of the new women graduate students in the years after mine if they had boyfriends on first meeting them.