Archive for the ‘Good news’ Category

Don’t lose heart

Posted: June 25, 2013 by Jender in Good news

One woman’s response to the last post (since I don’t have a blog, but I do have a job in philosophy):

I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. No. Did this happen? I don’t think so, but since there were only two women in my program, perhaps the sample size is too small to be significant.

I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). Oh yes (it was the eighties). Not only that, the all-male department I joined were delightedly high-fiving each other at having found a “suitable” candidate (read: from the same grad school as two of them). However, it can be satisfying to be hired as a token and go on to teach well, publish, and get tenure; since expectations are so low, everything you do that is competent is greeted with thinly veiled astonishment, then relief, and finally just seen as normal (okay, it took years, but it did happen).

I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. No, this is not permitted: there are departmental guidelines for each rank, and only full professors are at all likely to take on extra service.

My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Okay, this is true, but it is also the case outside philosophy. Men are perceived as more authoritative and knowledgeable, at least until they open their mouths. In fact, this is one of my stock examples of the difference between appearance and reality. With a little prompting, students will happily gave examples . . . . and then we’re engaged in a good discussion of confirmation bias, stereotyping, and other epistemological puzzles. Make their prejudices work for you!

Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. Yes, well, this is a tough question to answer straightforwardly, since I have a gender-ambiguous first name; what influence that may have had is hard to detect.

But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). I have been invited, but after the first ten years or so I admitted to myself that I don’t enjoy conferences very much. Now I attend only infrequently and selectively (tenure is a beautiful thing).

My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi. No, I get my share of citations, although my field is pretty esoteric even for philosophy — in what I now recognize as a thoroughly sexist way, I was wary of ethics and aesthetics as quasi-traditional fields for women and went into an arcane backwater of metaphysics instead.

It’s a wonder there are any of us left. Is it? I like my job, my students and most of my colleagues. I probably make more money and definitely have more job security than most women my age (57). Any male-dominated field is going to pose certain challenges, and I fervently wish that this site had existed when I was a philosophy major and a grad student. But don’t lose heart. The good life and philosophy are not incompatible for women.

A different perspective on two body problems

Posted: June 23, 2013 by Jender in Good news

In contrast to what the previous poster (who talked about the two body problem) said (though I am certain that this does not conflict with what she says; I simply want to note that in my limited experience, the big picture does not look as bad as it does at her school), I noticed that in the past two years at least four women I’ve known who were on the market ended up negotiating jobs (of some sort–some not TT) for their male partners. I can only think of one case of a man I’ve known negotiating a job for his partner, and in that case, the department made it quite clear that they were genuinely equally interested in hiring her. Of course, this may just be a function of who I know, etc., but I find it heartening both as a sign that men are sometimes now willing to play second fiddle (in terms of philosophical star power) to their female partners, and as a sign that at least some departments are serious enough about hiring particular women that they will figure out how to accommodate their partners.

I’ve faced two large-scale gender-related events in my time as a grad student: the first involved explicit bigotry, and the second involved sexual harassment. While they were extremely different kinds of problems, dealing with both experiences was quite similar: it was incredibly disruptive to my life and made me question whether I wanted to stay in the profession. In both cases, though, an amazing support network materialized to help me through these experiences. I had personal and robust support and mentorship from specific professors, and the overwhelming support of my department as a whole – both the faculty and the grad students.

In addressing both problems my complaints were taken seriously, I was treated with respect, and I was actively empowered in how both cases proceeded. While neither problematic behavior has been fully curtailed, I believe the philosophy department did all it could to intervene and to cordon off the impact of those behaviors. In neither case do I wish something else had been done by any of the people in my department who had power over these things.

Were these cases successful? My department did all the appropriate things, both formal and informal, to intervene. I’ve walked away with a robust understanding of university processes for dealing with these sorts of things, and I have real first-personal knowledge of the amazing support system I have. I’m still angry though – both at the professors themselves, and that I had to spend so much time and emotional energy dealing with this while my peers were developing their work and off giving conference talks. I’m not displeased that I gained this knowledge – I believe I am in a much better position now to be an advocate for myself, colleagues, or students who face similar situations – and I think this is important knowledge given the state of the profession. But it’s not knowledge that I can ever list on a CV or mention in a job interview, and it won’t help me in any official way. So, in many ways I believe these cases were successful, but it’s still a success that came with a cost.

Another post in response to this one.

At my department, there was this senior professor who was known to prey on young female students. His behaviour was often inappropriate. Many years ago (about 15 years) before I joined this department, one graduate student complained about it and was supported by a faculty member. The complaint was heard and the inappropriate behaviour was “punished” by lowering the merit rating of this professor for the year. Once the student graduated, he asked for the penalty to be reversed and it was. When I joined that department and was told that story, I was really appalled that the university cared so little. However, there is a happy ending to this story. Last year, this professor, now retired but still present in the department, had inappropriate behaviour with one of our graduate students. She complained about it. Luckily she did to that same colleague who, years ago, had supported the former graduate student through the process. He again did the same thing and took the case to the office that now takes care of such things. The retired professor is now banned from the building where we have our offices and cannot attend philosophy events. I take this to be a positive story because it shows that things have evolved a great deal, at least at my place.

This isn’t quite the kind of story the last post is looking for–but it is a story about sexual harassment being taken seriously by individual philosophers.

One of my professors has a standing policy that he could not in good conscience recommend some one for a teaching position if they sexually harass their colleagues, or otherwise significantly contribute to creating a hostile environment. If someone would like a recommendation letter from this professor, they should expect to have a serious conversation with him about equity issues and pedagogy.

Another of my professors has a standing policy that if multiple students make it known to him that a particular student makes them uncomfortable (by, e.g., hitting on them, regularly making sexist remarks, etc.), the offending student will not be allowed to participate in activities organized by this professor (reading groups, conferences, etc.) until the offending student is able to reconcile themselves with those they have offended.

These are relatively easy steps that individuals can take to start changing the norms of our discipline–and they are steps that have meant the world to me. Knowing that these senior, well-respected, excellent philosophers take equity issues seriously, has given me a lot of hope for the future of our discipline.

I would highly recommend that others start adopting similar policies, and make it known that they are doing so.

Good news about the next generation!

Posted: June 3, 2013 by Jender in Good news

It is the end of the semester here at the large North American public university where I am an assistant professor, and I have some good news to share. We recently had our commencement ceremony and a (male) graduating senior and I were chatting about his experience as a philosophy major when he made the following comment: “In all the classes I took with you, you always included something from the feminist perspective or approach – even in your [freshman] class. I really like that approach. I really find it compelling. Once, after your philosophy of law class when we were discussing feminism, I sat in the quad and debated with my friend for like, five hours. And I said to my roommate as a freshman, when I was reading one of the articles you assigned, ‘Hey man, you’ve gotta read this. Did you realize every single philosopher we’ve studied up to now has been a white, economically privileged, able-bodied man?’ That totally blew my mind.”

Naturally, I was pleased, because I make a conscious effort to include this material, and I often get pushback in my student evaluations to the tune of “She has an agenda” or “She tries to push her views on you.” But you can’t mainstream something without surprising, and sometimes offending, a few people, can you?

After this particular interaction, I remembered that another one of my students, call him “D”, seemed to have had a full-on “conversion” over the past couple of years. He noted that before taking one of my classes two years ago, he “didn’t really think much of feminism,” and “didn’t think women really were oppressed.” By the following year, he stated that – and this is a direct quote “Catharine MacKinnon is my new hero.”

Finally, I just read a brilliant essay answer on the topic of Marilyn Frye’s classic piece “Oppression”. It was full of examples of women’s oppression, and showed an excellent sensitivity to the costs involved in resistance (including the possibility of retaliation, in the form of violence or other detrimental behavior). I was moved by the thoughtfulness of the writer. I was also sure the answer was written by a woman student.

It wasn’t.

So keep fighting the good fight. These young men are the next generation. And we can help open their eyes one person at a time.

Female junior faculty member here. I was recently harassed at a conference, for the first and hopefully the last time. The offender started out making what I thought was reasonable conversation. Then when no one else was around, he made a weird comment about my body and asked if I “work out”. I told him my physical appearance was irrelevant and changed the subject, but he didn’t take the hint. He started coming in to talks, shortly after the speaker had begun, and sitting next to me, so that it would be awkward for me to get up and move. He would try to distract me during the talk, and would also touch me on the back and shoulders. I wasn’t especially frightened, but I was annoyed–I was at the conference to pay attention to the speakers.

Another woman at the conference, who had been another of this guy’s targets, saw what was going on, and approached me during one of the coffee breaks. She asked me if this guy was touching me, explained that he had bothered her too, and encouraged me not to worry about being polite. “Just stand up and walk away when he sits next to you”, she suggested, so I started doing that. He finally got the hint and got someone to deliver an apologetic note, which I found an inadequate substitute for not bothering me in the first place.

I wish I had not waited so long to tell my friends at the conference (it probably made it more awkward for me that most of them were men). Once they heard what was going on, all of them were supportive: they believed me and agreed to keep an eye on the guy. But I particularly appreciate the woman who actively noticed what was happening and reached out to me. (She also made a bunch of smart points in the Q&A sessions, so she was just all-around winning at this conference.)