Archive for the ‘Good news’ Category

How to help

Posted: September 25, 2012 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

As a grad student I was taking the required philosophy of language course. At some point during the course I asked my professor about feminist epistemology. He laughed, out loud and said that women’s brains worked just like men’s. Because it was an honest question, I took his answer at face value.

Fast-forward several years — I was working on my metaphysics/epsitemology area paper. The thesis was flawed, but I was having a hard time seeing it and this same professor was giving shallow comments and telling me to work on it more. A (new) feminist philosopher who had been hired since I left the area pointed out the flaw in her first set of comments. I promptly ditched the paper all together and asked her if she’d work on a feminist epistemology paper with me. She did, I wrote it and I got it passed in a matter of weeks (the M & E paper I ditched had been going around for a couple of YEARS), It was no coincidence that the rest of the M & E committee read it while the phil language guy was out of town…

Moral of the story, if you’re a woman in a position to help another woman by giving her your full professional attention, do so. I would never have completed by dissertation without her help.

On being a feminist man in philosophy

Posted: September 24, 2012 by Jender in Good news

Hi, I’m a male undergraduate philosophy major, just getting started. I’m a returning student who spent the years between high school and university focused on political activism, much of it around feminist issues. I’m not always perfect but I strive to be conscious.

Anyway, I thought by picking philosophy as a major, I’d be getting away from ‘bro culture,’ especially once I got to grad school and left behind the frat boy marketing majors taking lower-division philosophy courses for their required humanities credits. It’s disheartening to read this blog and see how naive I was being. I’m glad I found it though, as it’s making me feel determined to stay on point about being a feminist ally as I move on in the field. Thank you for helping all of these people share their stories. I’m subscribing to the blog, so that I have a constant reminder of the standards I want to live up to.

Reflections on recent experience

Posted: June 8, 2012 by Jender in Good news, implicit bias

I’m a mid-career female philosopher, fairly well-known in my sub-discipline. I’d like to share a couple of reflections on recent conference experiences.

1. When I meet people for the first time, quite often they confuse me with other mid-career female philosophers in my sub-discipline: they think we’ve met before, or that I wrote that nice paper on X. (Sometimes I like the thought of that amalgamated super-woman who has written so many nice papers!) Tips for interlocutors: when corrected, a good response is to apologise, to say how great that other female philosopher is, and then to ask me about my work. A bad response is to insist that I am confused about whether we’ve met before, or whether I wrote that paper.

2. More and more I find there’s an open sense of solidarity between women (of whatever career stage) at conferences. I really like the social aspect of this and also the sense that we can talk about gender issues in the profession for a while, alongside conversation about philosophy, or gossip, or life in general, without feeling that there is any conflict between these different concerns. I think the profile of this blog, and its siblings, has really helped with that. So thanks!

I am writing this to tell any potentially discouraged readers to hang in there. I have experienced sexual harassment, dismissiveness, discrimination on the job, and other offensive behavior throughout my time as a grad student and professor in philosophy. Yet I love doing philosophy and teaching so much that none of this can dissuade me from my purpose. I feel lucky to have this rare opportunity to be a philosopher, and nobody’s sexist crap is going to stop me. Don’t let it stop you either if you love philosophy.

As an undergrad philosophy major, I cannot count the number of times I made a point that was dismissed or ignored by the professor, only to have a male student make the same point and receive praise. All of my male undergraduate professors actively discouraged me from applying to grad school on the grounds that my abilities were not up to par. Nevertheless, I was accepted by four top-20 programs.

My grad school mentors were wonderful, supportive, and egalitarian. Unfortunately, from other faculty I witnessed several instances of both physical and verbal sexual harassment of female grad students. For three years, I was the only romantically unattached, heterosexual female grad student in my program. I was pestered and harassed almost daily by the male students, including everything from offensive sexual comments made in the middle of class to relentless efforts to hook up. The specific physical attributes of female students who took philosophy grad courses were enthusiastically discussed in our dept. lounge. Every time the department sought student input into a hiring process, my preference for a candidate was attributed by the other students, in front of the faculty, to my supposed romantic attraction to him. I was frequently quizzed by fellow students about which faculty member(s) or student(s) I would be willing to have sex with, hypothetically, despite my refusal to respond.

When I began attending conferences and APA events, my trusted mentors had to tell me which male professors I should avoid being alone with. Sometimes they accompanied me to parties so that I wouldn’t be harassed. While this may seem like a negative story about the prevalance of sexism, it’s just as much a positive account of the other guys who had my back and wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. Eventually I received many interviews and a few job offers, and all of my success on the job market was directly attributed by my fellow male students to the fact that I am female.

Once I became a professor, I learned what it is like to work closely with men who cannot seem to visually acknowledge your head up there above the breasts. I learned to deal with male students who tried to intimidate me about grades or come on to me. (Specifically, I learned to keep my office door open, and to inform someone else as soon as a student started behaving strangely toward me.) I do not work in feminist philosophy myself, and apparently that has encouraged several male professors to share with me their view that feminist philosophy is junk and not really philosophy. For a while another single female worked in my department. Some male professors hoped that I might be able to report on her sex life, about which they knew nothing but suspected everything. I have had to listen, in the department office, to my colleagues’ descriptions of escapades at strip clubs.

Though all of the aforementioned events were annoying, they did not intimidate me. The sexism that nearly shook my resolve came later, in the form of having my research devalued because I was female, being judged according to different standards from men in pre-tenure reviews, being pressured to take on more teaching and advising duties than others, and eventually being treated unfairly with respect to family/medical leave. Luckily, my resolve is fairly stout. In the hiring process, I have seen numerous female candidates ignored either because their cvs mention the word feminism, or because they are perceived to do “soft” work in ethics. In awarding scholarship funds to our own students, my colleagues consistently downplay females who have stronger records on paper in favor of males with whom they are friendly. My teaching evaluations are good, but male faculty have often commented (in direct contradiction to the facts) that this is probably because I am not a rigorous teacher or strict grader. I am treated like a secretary whenever menial tasks like note-taking must be done, and one of my colleagues (who happened to vote unsuccessfully against tenuring me) told me in all sincerity that I would make a good secretary.

I’m now past worrying about what my colleagues say to or about me. However, I want to create a terrific climate for our students, insofar as it is in my power. I have had to choose my battles for the sake of preserving both job and sanity, but in the long run I’m winning the war. To all the women and men who want to change things: don’t lose heart!

During my first two years as a graduate student I was the only female PhD student in a department with a single female on the tenure track (who also happened to be on maternity/sabbatical for two semesters during my first two years). In my second year a male student arrived who demonstrated a lot of negative and demeaning attitudes toward women, often objectifying them by relating information about the identity of their porn star twin. Perhaps the incident that made me most uncomfortable during this time occurred when he walked into a room full of our fellow graduate students (all male), and me, and loudly asked, “So, who’s ready for the gang bang?”

Not wanting to make any waves, I took to rolling my eyes and avoiding engagements (both social and professional) where he would be present. However, toward the end of that year I discovered that our incoming class of graduate students would include a few women. While I had put up with his behaviour to that point, I felt it would be irresponsible to knowingly allow other women to enter this environment without at least trying to protect them.

I worked up a little courage (the real kind, not the whiskey-induced kind ;)), and approached the chair of our department with a request that none of the new women be placed into an office that would be shared with this particular graduate student. I explained the situation in a rather vague manner, not wanting to get anyone in trouble, but still wanting to get my point across. When he pressed me for details I shared the “gang bang” incident with him, hoping that combined with my general description of his attitude would be enough.

In response the chair asked if there was anyone else in the department who could provide more details. Fortunately, a few of my fellow graduate students had assured me that they would back me up if I needed it.

I suspect the chair’s motivation came from some sort of desire to provide protection against baseless accusations. However, I do wonder what would have happened if I didn’t have these friends in the department. Would my set of stories have been enough to warrant any intervention? Further, what would his attitude be if I came to him with another concern, about another individual in the department? I clearly do not have much in the way of power here.

In the end, after a male colleague of mine went to him and insisted, the chair not only protected our new women’s office space, but he pulled this graduate student aside for a little chat. He framed the discussion in terms of “professional behaviour in a professional setting”, and while he did not name any names, it is difficult to believe it wasn’t abundantly clear that I (the only female graduate student around) was the complainant.

Regardless, that graduate student’s behaviour underwent a transformation, and he has since managed to constrain his baser instinct most of the time.

So far, really good

Posted: October 19, 2011 by jennysaul in Good news

I started the PhD program this fall in one of the departments that was put in the “needs improvement” category in the Pluralist’s Guide Climate section this summer. I just wanted to report that so far my experience has been incredibly positive. The grad students treat each other as equals and don’t compete with one another or vie for attention; the faculty is both supportive and respectful. I’ve sort of been around the philosophy block a bit, so I am aware that this isn’t always (isn’t usually?) true. One thing that has struck me in seminars is how careful the faculty are–in every case I’ve seen–to make sure that the discussion doesn’t get dominated by particular people. The older grad students especially seem to have this ingrained in them, so I suspect it is systematic. They are always careful not to interrupt each other, to make sure there wasn’t someone else waiting to speak, even to point out someone who might have been missed. I’ve also never once witnessed a
woman’s contribution to a discussion be dismissed, either by a faculty member or a grad student, or be reappropriated by a male student, as is often discussed here. Often, you’ll hear ‘I want to try a different way to make X’s point’, or ‘I think you might have misunderstood X’s point; I think she was trying to say…’. This kind of behavior cuts across genders in both directions.

Additionally, for the first time ever, I’ve gone more than a week or so without ever hearing an inappropriate comment, a sexist joke. No male faculty have flirted with me, or even been anything but extremely professional (yet friendly) to me. No one has suggested that I’m only here because I’m a woman; no one has suggested that I don’t deserve to be here. No one has suggested this about the other women in my class either. No one has suggested that I shouldn’t do work in the (traditionally very male dominated) areas I am interested in. In short, I have had zero experiences of the kind that suggest that my department needs to get a better climate. Its climate is great, for both women and men. And I don’t think that it is the case that I’ve been sheltered from the badness or that I simply have yet to witness it; the general unity of the grad student body, and the obvious respect that the faculty has for the grad students, makes itself known on a daily basis.

A senior male faculty member in my department goes out of his way to ask follow up questions in colloquium when myself or another female M&E graduate student speaks up. He and another junior male faculty member often make a point of socializing with the female graduate students in a way that explicitly demonstrates how very much a part of the department, and in particular, the M&E cohort, we are. The department isn’t perfect — but the overtness of those relationships between female graduate students and male M&E faculty makes the department feel overwhelmingly safe, regardless of the few ill-behaved philosophers. They ask us what we think, they back us up when we speak up, and they identify with us as philosophers, in both formal and informal settings. It’s awesome.

Cross-posted here.

Why stay?

Posted: June 16, 2011 by Jender in Good news

Reasons to stay in philosophy, in spite of it all, here.

Ideal reactions to pregnancy!

Posted: June 11, 2011 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

I am a PhD candidate in philosophy and I just told my supervisors that I am pregnant. I was a little bit nervous because of the horror stories I’ve heard about the bad reactions academic advisors can have to the news. I was afraid they would think I wasn’t taking my dissertation seriously or that I would be leaving the program all together. However, both of my advisors are women with children of their own and their reactions were ideal. They congratulated me and gave me good advice on maternity leave before promptly returning to the subject of my dissertation. They correctly view my pregnancy as an exciting aspect of my personal life that does not change my ability to do philosophy at all.

“The tide is turning”

Posted: December 11, 2010 by Jender in Good news

I am currently a senior undergraduate philosophy major at a small liberal arts college in the American south, and I wanted to report having had an overwhelmingly positive experience at my school with our philosophy faculty and students. My mentors, male and female, have been consistently supportive and encouraging in my intellectual and human development, and I am grateful to them for treating me with utmost respect and kindness. I have not experienced sexual harassment or intimidation, and I have not been treated ‘less than’ for being a female philosophy student. I realize this is rare and that at some point in my future education I will encounter these issues in a more first-hand way, but for the meanwhile in my formative years I am pleased to report that there ARE legitimately non-sexist departments/professors who are professional, empathetic, and fair. I am very active on campus and in the department with projects (liberal political campaigns, feminist issues, and educational reform) that one might expect Southerners to bristle at– but my cohort and faculty are progressive and give me the best opportunities to succeed. So, to all other female philosophy undergrads: take heart and be strong! The tide is turning.

People who helped

Posted: December 11, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

I’ve submitted and seen posted a couple of negative stories (please don’t identify which ones; too much identifying information); I feel like I must also submit (and hope to see posted) a positive one.

Some of my biggest cheerleaders in my philosophical career have been male philosophers. The best mentor I have had was a male philosopher, a junior professor at my Leiter-recognized MA institution in the early 2000s. Though what he told me about the discipline was often stark and depressing (I recall him specifically telling me about the dismal situation for women, among other things), he took me seriously enough to be real and honest with me, and encouraged me to consider the pros of doing this kind of work for a living alongside the cons. I feel that, although much of my experience as a woman has been difficult, I am better off for having been prepared — as opposed to other women who I have known who were unpleasantly surprised to discover the attitudes of their male colleagues. The knowledge of what I was going in for, I think, also helped strengthen my resolve to succeed. In general, he gave me good, sound advice without being paternalistic, and much of my current success is
due in large part to that advice. He also showed me that some men were aware of the discriminatory treatment, and I like to think his mentoring was the partially consequence of his acknowledgment of sex discrimination and an effort to correct for it. He clearly also thought I was capable, and although I am no longer at that institution, his praise and recognition of my ability still helps me get through hard days.

Two male grad students, met at different schools under different circumstances, constantly remind me both that I am capable, intelligent, and talented, and have been good friends and a source of comfort whenever I run up against sexism. Aside from the general goodness of having supportive friends, I find it helps me immensely to be in the company of male philosophers who recognize sexism at work, and who will not belittle or downplay when I feel I have been the victim of it. It is nice to have a reminder, I think, of the promise of change, and that women philosophers have allies among the men.


Posted: December 4, 2010 by Jender in Good news, low numbers of women

I felt pretty well-supported as a female grad student in the 90s, and in my first department as a faculty member in the late 90s and early 00s. This gave me the (clearly false, given this blog!) impression that sexism was not much of an issue in philosophy. In my current department, it seems as though there is a much different climate for women: more hostile, less supportive, more likely to see the research of women as being less weighty (assuming it is mentioned at all). Nothing as blatant as some of the experiences reported here, though. So, maybe it’s my imagination. But what is not my imagination is how few women are in our philosophy classes, as compared to my previous university, or how rarely women have the top GPAs in the major. Hmm.

On being treated well

Posted: December 2, 2010 by Jender in Good news

Although implicit sexism is a problem, it bothers me when people share stories to the effect of “people treated me harshly because I was a woman,” as has sometimes happened here. Such things surely happen, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell when instances of harsh treatment are due to one’s sex or simply to “common discourtesy.” (Sometimes, of course, it is easy to tell.)

I’d like to share about my (fairly recent) first experience as a female graduate student giving comments on a paper by a tenured male philosopher at a professional conference. It was my first semester in graduate school. I was 22.

And I was treated with a great deal of respect. The presenter’s responses to my comments were thoughtful, and he acknowledged that some of the issues I’d raised were real problems for his paper. Before the session, the presenter introduced himself to me and suggested we go on a first-name basis, which lessened the power differential. It occurs to me that perhaps he made that suggestion in order to keep me from embarrassing myself by too-formally addressing him as “Dr. X,” as I had written in the comments I’d sent him.

In a later session, I asked a good question in Q&A. (Someone called it “the question that needed to be asked.”) After that, I attended the presentation of the chair of that earlier session, and raised my hand in Q&A. When the presenter called on me, the male graduate student sitting behind me assumed the presenter had meant to call on him, and so started speaking. But the presenter said, “No. I was calling on…” and referred to me by my name, which he had learned without introduction.

I don’t suppose the treatment I received was anything other than common courtesy (that is, I don’t have any reason to think it was a response to my sex), but that’s the point, isn’t it? Since I was unknown, I was treated in accordance with what merit I was able to demonstrate at the time. I continue to find this experience deeply encouraging.

Philosophy in high school (secondary school)

Posted: November 21, 2010 by Jender in Good news

My department hosted a group of 40+ high school philosophy students yesterday (the high school is a public high school in a lower-middle class part of town). They were attending a couple of introductory classes and checking out the university. I would say that more than half the kids were girls, and all the ones who asked questions were girls. And they asked smart questions. It was great in oh so many ways.

As a side note: The department is developing a strategy to work more closely with high schools who are teaching philosophy, or have philosophy clubs. Interestingly, it is the grad students who are the force behind this.

Stuff to try at home

Posted: November 21, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

Our Leiter top-10 Department recently held a meeting open to all graduate students to discuss the issue of gender and philosophy. This resulted in several initiatives, some small (such as adding a link to the LGBT lecture series to our “related lectures” listings), some larger (described below).

The graduate students have organized a series of monthly meetings, open to both men and women (undergraduates, graduates, and faculty), where “we will discuss current research on or related to the topic of women in philosophy. The general aim of these meetings will be to provide a forum where we all can (1) better familiarize ourselves with issues pertaining to women in philosophy, (2) learn about and discuss what others have had to say about these issues, and (3) present and discuss our own views on these issues.”

In addition, an invitation was sent to all women undergraduates that read as follows:

“* What are the unique difficulties women in philosophy/academia face?
* How do these challenges present themselves in the lives of an undergraduate?
* How do these challenges change or stay the same when women go to graduate schools and enter academia as a profession?
* How are female graduate students now encountering and navigating through these obstacles?

Are these questions you’ve wondered yourself? Come discuss and offer your thoughts with the Women in Philosophy Group, composed of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in philosophy. We’ll be having a co-ed meeting every month beginning in January, where we will discuss current research on, or related to, the topic of women in philosophy.

This semester, there’s going to be a meeting reserved to female undergrads who are interested in meeting with female graduate students. Meet fellow undergraduates and current philosophy graduates at an informal pizza meet-and-greet! [time, place] Bring questions, concerns, thoughts, and an empty stomach.”

Do try this at home.

Something to try at home

Posted: November 16, 2010 by Jender in Do try this at home!, Good news

My department is having a meeting in a couple weeks to discuss women – and other minorities – in philosophy in the wake of your blog. A good percentage of the department – more of the female members, but by no means only – have said they are coming. We tend to have – by all accounts – a far better than average community here, with few incidents of the sort described in the many depressing posts, and a good percentage of people who habitually speak up when things do happen. But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to strategize, educate, and organize around the profession as a whole. Our students need to think about what they might face on the market and in jobs. The rest of us need to think about how best to contribute to changing the profession. So we’ll have an open, moderated, discussion.
Do try it at home.

I hope this submission is one of a chorus of male philosophers seeking to distance ourselves from the author of the—frankly—insane post (“What we’re up against: One man’s view of women who do feminist philosophy”). The views in that post are completely ridiculous. I hesitate to even engage with the views expressed there, for fear of giving them more credibility than they deserve. I do not have, by the way, any particular exposure to feminist philosophy, but I do identify as a male feminist, and try to work towards raising awareness of the issues facing women in philosophy. And on that note, please keep the “do try this at home” posts coming!

I am a male philosopher, and I have a very different perception of feminist philosophers and their reputation than the earlier commenter. I think feminist philosophers have done absolutely central, transformative work in areas like political philosophy and philosophy of science. Feminist philosophers are some of the best around, able to root out bad assumptions that we’ve overlooked for years. The ridiculous stereotypes you see in that earlier post (and in occasional conversation with anti-feminist philosophers) show that feminist philosophy continues to be needed.

While I wouldn’t presume to know what most other male philosophers think, my general impression from people I’ve actually talked to is one of respect for feminist philosophers. When you hear the negative stereotypes (over dinner-party conversation, say), the most frequent reaction I’ve seen (at least, amongst younger philosophers) is shock and dismay.

I am a current male undergraduate student in philosophy. I am friends with two other students who are female. What surprises me is that, despite the fact that they will argue with me exhaustively on any subject, and that they are in my opinion are clearer and quicker thinkers than myself, both of them will consistently devalue their abilities, and assume that I know more, or have some secret knock-down attack on their arguments that I am holding in reserve to be polite. Both have, at different times, said things along these lines, despite both consistently getting higher marks than myself.

I assumed that this was just anxiety or modesty on their part, but the more female students I come into contact with the more common it seems. In my other area of study, molecular biology, I have not noticed this. After reading some of the entries on this blog, I started paying attention to the (mostly male) faculty members that I come into contact with, and I’ve noticed that they will consistently ignore questions or arguments from female students, and instead respond almost exclusively to male students. There is nothing overtly sexist about this, but this continual, subtle exclusion is having a clear negative effect on the morale of female students in the course. I have tried to talk about this with some faculty members, and mostly they won’t even admit that they are doing it.

I’m not in a position of power, but if I ever am, I hope I will recall my friends and not exclude female students like this.

Yay, we’re doing some good here!

Posted: November 6, 2010 by Jender in Good news

This is not a story, although maybe it is about how useful this blog is! After I submitted my story, I realized how relieved I felt to have an outlet to share the violation I felt. Thank you for having this blog!!! It is reminder that we are not alone!