Archive for the ‘focus on appearance’ Category

While obtaining my BA in Philosophy, I realized immediately the vastness in the gender gap. It was madly intimidating the first few weeks when you realize that in most of the higher level philosophy classes, you are indeed the ONLY female. I quickly came in embrace my place outside of the boys club. In a positive light, it drove me to become a better writer and harder worker. I cannot tell you how may times I got the under the breath “She’s too pretty to have anything good to say” whispers. Or the slack jawed expression that I would receive when I would have to confirm time and time again to my fellow male students that YES this is my major and YES I am sure. The one that really takes the cake was a sentence from a professor that goes as follows, “It’s really not worth me explaining because you’re attractive and attractive females do not need to be overly educated to get what they want. A man will take care of you.”

So to all of my female philosophers out there, STAY, do not apologize for being yourself, we need you!

 I am a woman who recently started a job in a department with a long history of being all more mostly male. I don’t know most of my colleagues very well yet but they seem nice and well intentioned. Still it feels strange to be the only woman at some meetings, in those contexts, my gender is something that I am aware of. Recently a man I’ve never interacted with who works in another area of campus (though has some affiliation with my department) contacted me electronically to ask me for coffee. I thought it was a collegial invitation, perhaps to welcome me or get to know the new hire but after I accepted he wrote back referring to his positive thoughts about my appearance. I told him that any coffee meeting would be just friendly and his response suggested that he didn’t really take my clarification all that seriously. Some people suggested to me that they thought he might just be very awkward or going through a tough time. But is there any excuse for this?

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 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.

A sampling of “minor” incidents that occurred while completing my Ph.D. at a top 25 program:

grad students loudly discussing at a quasi-official departmental event which prominent female philosophers they would sleep with and why

a visiting faculty giving a talk on the topic of cognitive penetrability being asked by the moderator whether a particular case would count as “double penetrability .. uh oh… *planned pause for comic effect* … *uproarious laughter by everyone except for the speaker who looks annoyed*”

a faculty stopping his lecturing to turn and look at me and say (in response to my adjusting my cardigan) “Did you just flash me?” *everyone laughs expect me, I blush purple*. He continues “Because it looked like you just flashed me.” I sit in stunned and embarrassed silence and don’t attend that class again.

a very major, famous philosopher in my department being asked what he thought of a (young, pretty, femme) philosopher’s colloquium talk. Apparently her work can be summed up in a *single word*: “lightweight”

one tenured, famous professor discussing with straight male grad students which female grad students are “hot”; describes some as “dogs”

myself having to carefully plan where I am standing at a party because a *very* drunk grad student is being handsy with everyone in the room (men and women alike). this is an official department party and no faculty seem to notice or care the obvious discomfort this student is causing others. (nor do they seem concerned that the grad student is himself *this drunk* at an official function, and might himself benefit from support or help).

in response to my asking one or two clarificatory questions in a grad seminar, the instructor’s responding (with extreme annoyance): “does someone want to explain it to her?” (a male grad student later contacts me about the incident, saying he felt bad for not calling out the faculty’s bad behavior in the moment)

there being 2-3 all-male entering classes; this is not considered a problem

a faculty member chatting me up at a department event, asking me why I entered philosophy. the tone isn’t curiosity, it’s sheer bewilderment. (I cannot *imagine* him asking my male peers this, in this tone)

the general style of interactions at colloquium and seminars being combative, unprofessional, dismissive, and uncomfortable

other grad students rolling their eyes and loudly sighing at questions they perceive to be obvious or confused (and faculty failing to call out such behavior)

As an undergraduate, I was introduced to the concept of Plato’s ideal realm with the form of a girlfriend. While I don’t remember all of the specifics given, I do remember my professor claiming that the ideal girlfriend “looks good in a sweater.”

One of my classmates chose a particularly obnoxious faculty member to sit on her dissertation committee. I asked her what she was thinking. She told me that it was only my relationship with him that was strained. He failed her defense, and placed a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in her school mailbox with a note, “Maybe you should consider a change of career.”

She did reconfigure her committee, and pass her defense six months later…