Archive for the ‘ignoring women’ Category

Not mentioning women

Posted: June 16, 2012 by Jender in ignoring women

A conference announcement on PHILOS-L looked interesting, but all the speakers listed in the announcement were male, which made me almost not bother clicking through to the conference website. I did anyway, and lo and behold, there were actually quite a few female speakers on the program. I guess none of them were important enough to bother mentioning in the announcement though.

On congratulating

Posted: May 30, 2012 by Jender in ignoring women

At one of faculty meetings at our university, congratulations were expressed to the Philosophy Dept. Head because his girlfriend had achieved her Ph.D. And when a (male) faculty member published a book, congratulations for expressed and the book put on display.

When I published a book, there was no acknowledgement whatsoever at the faculty meeting. Nada.

Assessment of participation

Posted: April 23, 2012 by Jender in ignoring women, implicit bias

When I was a first year at a good department, I made a concerted effort to participate and make at least one good comment or question in every meeting of the pro-seminar. However, at the end of the semester when we each got a report on how we did from the two (male) professors, this is what they wrote: “[Name] was sometimes a bit quiet, and we wondered whether she was a bit disengaged.” All the other people who were in that class who I told about this agree that, on the basis of my actual participation, this was unfair.

Cross-posted at What We’re Doing.

I recently led a class discussion group on a feminist philosophy class. I noticed at one point early on that I had ended up talking to one man in the class by looking mostly at him (when purportedly presenting to the whole class) and had apparently angled my body to be facing him. There were few men in the class, and he was on the rights whereas most women were on the left. He also had the most questions and talked the most. Anyways, I felt self conscious about this and tried to make sure I spoke to the rest of the class, and right away the women in the class started participating and engaging in discussion. All I think I did was make sure that I spoke towards the women too. I think this goes to show how very implicit things like who a speaker simply makes eye contact with or faces while speaking could influence things like whether others feels it is appropriate to talk or raise topics in class, and how this can be nevertheless be implicitly biased in even those who are very aware of the issues raised on this blog.

My boyfriend and I are both graduate students in philosophy, and time and again, when we meet other male grad students—at conferences or workshops or dinners, etc.—they ask him what he works on and quickly get into a conversation, and either ignore me, or dont ask me the same questions about my academic interests.

Another feature of meeting male peers is that they keep assuming I work on feminist philosophy. A few years back, I ran into a a guy who consistently engaged my boyfriend, and we got to talking. And he mentioned something about my “work in feminist philosophy.” I dont work in feminist philosophy, although I have worked on female philosophers (I cant recall if I mentioned that). But at least a handful of times, male peers assume that my focus is on feminist philosophy.

And this is frustrating for two reasons: 1) it shows they havent actually listened, if they ever asked, to what I said I worked on. And 2) it puts me in a position where I feel like the attribution of an interest in feminist philosophy is something I have to deny, or get defensive about. I am defensive because I resent their assumption that women only work on “women’s issues.” And I resent that I then have to distance myself from feminist work, which I worry makes it seem like I am putting that work down.

The worst part is that these are usually male colleagues that take themselves to inhabit progressive, even feminist perspectives. And yet their behavior everywhere suggests that if they take notice of a female philosopher at all, they assume that her only contribution will be to their (already proudly ingrained) feminist views. Ugh.

On being ignored

Posted: February 19, 2012 by Jender in ignoring women

It has been a long time since I have encountered blatant and overt sexism at a philosophy conference. So, I admit being surprised. And I admit thinking immediately, “Wait, why am I surprised?” I was having lunch at the conference hotel restaurant with three other philosophers–all men–who were attending the conference. This is really good conference that was started three years ago and all of us had attended every year since its inception. A prominent male philosopher approached the table. He jovially shook hands with all three of the men at the table, commenting on the fact that they, along with him, had become regulars at the conference. Not only did he not shake my hand, he did not even acknowledge my presence. I doubt any of the men I was sitting with noticed that he blatantly ignored me. I chose not to ask them later if they had noticed, not wanting to deal with the standard sorts of excuses they may have offered given that the attribution of sexism is always (like anything) underdetermined by the evidence. I decided to cut my emotional losses: It would have been worse to have it happen and then have witnesses deny that it happened than just to have it happen.

Quitting teaching philosophy in my department is on my mind:

Every time my male colleague laughs at me behind my back with our students.

Every time my male colleague ridicules me in front of our students.

Every time my male colleague asks our students to discuss my teaching style with him behind my back.

Every time my male colleague dismisses a point I make in a meeting without good reason, and expects that his mere dismissal of my point is sufficient for others, and myself, to accept his position.

Every time my male colleague treats me with utter contempt, then turns around and asks for my advice on student issues/publishing/the job market/life in general.

Every time my male colleagues pretend they are not on campus so they don’t have to meet with me to discuss departmental business, and sit laughing together about the fact that I am on my own in my office trying to run a meeting effectively through google chat instead of meeting with them in person.

Every time one male colleague, who claims to be a feminist, follows the lead of the other male colleague in demeaning or marginalizing me, presumably because it’s easier for him to fall in line than to challenge oppression.

A powerful, subtle way to exclude women

Posted: December 16, 2011 by Jender in ignoring women

This post really resonated with me: my male-dominated subfield is *exactly the same*. I see the same quiet resistance to engaging with the ideas of even well-known women in the field. Their views are sometimes mentioned, but are largely ignored compared to their male counterparts. Even when they are well known, few people engage with their ideas in print. Citation occurs, but only minimally. In contrast, work by men which seems about equal in quality or even inferior to the work by these women is often picked up and discussed and often engaged with in print, allowing the male author to easily “enter the field”.

It’s a powerful way to subtly exclude women. In fairness, I suspect people (both male and female) don’t even realize they are doing it.

Whose names do you hear?

Posted: December 11, 2011 by Jender in ignoring women

Something which has come up only obliquely on this blog is the issue of credibility. It seems that when male philosophers propose theories, even very implausible ones, they are given weight in the way that women doing the same simply are not. In my field for example, I have proposed something like a theory of X. Now there are male philosophers who are also working on problems related to X, whose names one hears constantly, who regularly appear on lists of plenary speakers at meeting related to X, whose names then get attached to theories, which people then write about etc. But I can only think of one woman whose ideas are discussed in the literature. And this is not a small field.

It is not that I feel neglected especially, but I cannot foresee a day when my name will be attached to a theory, or even an example, in the way that has happened with the men working in my subject. Now I cannot speak for other fields necessarily, but my sense is that this holds true for philosophy in general.

Male philosophers seem to enter “the discussion,” if not the canon; women philosophers rarely do.

Recent mention of ‘golden boys’ reminded me of an experience I had in grad school. One year, my department had an opportunity to nominate a single PhD student to contend for a substantial dissertation research grant from the University. Unbeknownst to me, my ‘golden boy’ status led to my nomination; in doing so, the department passed over another extremely well-qualified female student. But, one of the department’s few female faculty members took it upon herself to nominate the female student in addition to me.

As it turns out the selection committee got it right, and the better candidate won. When the winner was announced, a senior (male) faculty member took it upon himself to inform me of the situation. He told me that, I was the department’s “unanimous top choice”; that female faculty member X was “being insubordinate” by going “behind the department’s back”; and that the winner “wouldn’t have won had she not been a female”.

It would take far too long to list every aspect of implicit and explicit bias, subtle and blatant sexism in this brief conversation. I was simply shocked, particularly since I wouldn’t have known any different had this faculty member not pulled me aside. All I could manage to say was that I was happy my fellow student had won, and that I was convinced she really deserved it more than I did.

Looking back, I wish I had taken the opportunity to call out the sexism on this occasion (and in particular to stand up for the actions of the female faculty member). It still bothers me, and makes me question whether the other benefits I received in grad school were merited, or were merely the result of gender bias in my favor.

I am a grad student in a department with a heavy focus on critical theory. Interestingly enough-and perhaps as a result of the strong focus on gender studies in our department-the male faculty members are fairly respectful when dealing with female students and colleagues. The real issues have emerged between the female faculty and female students. Despite attempts at forming a women’s caucus, and despite the fact that our centre is headed by two very distinguished women, the female faculty consistently treat their female students in a patronizing and disinterested manner, while choosing “golden boys” among the other students. Their behavior ranges from condescendingly refusing to acknowledge the arguments and questions of female students in seminars, to discouraging their projects altogether. I have a theory that their own experiences as women in philosophy forced them to be so competitive and hostile; as “exception women” they are more comfortable taking on their male colleagues and feel threatened or insecure about working with other females. Ladies–it’s hard enough being women in philosophy, so let’s not make it any worse for each other.

Freedom. After dealing with direct sexual harassment, rumors spread by a male colleague that I slept with him to receive attention at a conference – I was in a deeply committed relationship and rather disgusted by the colleague – then having to deal with the fallout of other male figures making sexual jokes about me at the conference, listening to comments about my breasts, weight, face and ‘f@ckabilty’ accusations that I received scholarships because I am a woman – not due to any skill on my part – and the general apathy of my graduate adviser as well as the majority of my professors…. I am free. I have left my department and am changing my career (despite having to earn a new bachelors/MA in my new career).

I can study philosophy on my own, if I so choose. My new career fits well enough with the topics I was studying in philosophy. And, having worked in other places than a philosophy department, I know that I will rarely experience anything near the level of harassment and apathy that I did in my last department. In fact, the men I work with are generally extremely excited to work with a woman who is interested in the same things they are.

Call me weak, call me half-hearted, but sometimes one needs to know when to get out. Judging from the similarities between an abusive relationship and my ex-department – other things shall remain unmentioned – I know better than to think that my department will change anytime in the next 10 years.

Of all the ways in which I have experienced being marginalized, having my authority and credentials questioned, and have been harassed in various ways, perhaps the thing that plagues me most on a daily basis has to do with what _doesn’t_ happen: I’m not asked what I think when conversations about/within my specialty occur; I’m NOT invited to “social” gatherings; I’m not considered as a scholar, but as a teacher, and a “popular” one (must be because I’m young, right?); I’m not able to voice a question and have it heard without someone else repeating my question after me, to nodding heads; I’m not given recognition for my successes while others are; I’m not visible to those around me, who often engage in friendly conversation with each other. Etc.

I AM interested in philosophical conversations about my specialty; I do invite people to outings/gatherings; I am a scholar as well as a teacher; I have confidence in my questions, which are mindful and appropriate; I work my ass off; I am friendly and not creepy, and often try to pipe in to conversations when fitting.

This on-going situation makes me question my sanity, worth as a researcher, and functionality as a human being. I don’t encounter these problems with students, friends, or people in other aspects of my life, but sometimes it’s so palpable in philosophy that the air is thick with it, this “nothing.”

I’m the only woman in my department. We recently hired two men, one tenure track, one temporary. At a department meeting before they arrived, we discussed who would “take responsibility” for each of them — be a mentor, show the person the ropes, talk to them about their work, etc. Somebody said, “you know, like we did for persons A, B, and C when they got here.” A, B, and C are the three men who were hired at the same time as me (about 5 years ago). I tentatively asked, “Who was my mentor?” because I don’t remember anyone helping me out in that way. Everyone looked surprised as though it had never occurred to them that I should have a mentor. I do remember a discussion at the end of my first year, when my department chair said that if I wanted some mentoring I was free to contact a female professor in English. She was their department chair and “very busy”, but maybe she’d be willing to talk with me. Needless to say, I did not follow up on that half-hearted suggestion. Maybe I should have, but there would have been no overlap in our research interests. I did manage to get tenure last year, but now I’m watching a 1-year hire be wined and dined by his philosophy mentor, and it’s making me pretty angry about the disparity in treatment.

On philosophical skills

Posted: August 28, 2011 by Jender in ignoring women

In my first year of grad school, in the mid 90s, I was surprised to receive a grade of A- for a seminar in which all of my written work had been graded A. I went to see the professor who explained that there was a participation grade and I hadn’t spoken enough. I said that I tried all term to speak and often sat with my hand raised and couldn’t get a word in edgewise. “Getting a word in edgewise is a philosophical skill,” I was told. It’s also connected to gender, something I now know, but didn’t know then. “Calling on people whose hands are raised is also a philosophical skill,” is maybe what I should have said.

I am the only female graduate student of color at my top Leiter-ranked university. Like so many other contributors to this site, I have a whole slew of stories that I could tell about my experience as a woman in philosophy. Here’s one that happened today:

We often have many visiting scholars come through the university to present at our seminar series. Most of the people present today at the seminar were male, white, and more senior than I. There were also other faculty members visiting from other universities; again, they were all white males.

Anyway, after the official session was over, several of the audience members (myself included) lingered around to chat with the speaker to ask follow-up questions that were not addressed in the seminar. As is usual practice, I stood behind the person who was asking the current question, as to form a queue to talk to the speaker. After patiently waiting for several minutes, my turn arrived. However, as I was about to ask my question, I was interrupted by visiting professor who proceeded to completely disregard the queue and ask his question, even though it was quite apparent to all parties concerned that I was next in line. And then it turned out that he was asking the same thing that I wanted to as well!

Neither the speaker nor the other people in the queue made any acknowledgement of what had just happened. I felt frustrated and disheartened; it’s hard enough already for me to speak up, but this incident made me feel as if the fact that I’m young and female must have meant that I surely didn’t have anything interesting to say, and so it would have been okay to talk over me. I am almost certain that this would never have happened if it had been anyone else in the room.

For what it matters, the speaker was also male and white, but junior faculty.

On not thinking to speak up

Posted: July 27, 2011 by Jender in failure to act, ignoring women

While I (male) was a graduate student at a university ranked high in philosophy of physics, a female friend from the same department attended a talk on philosophy of physics with me. The talk was given by a male Post Doc in philosophy of physics at the very same university, who knew both my friend and me, and knew that she was specializing in philosophy of physics, while I was doing general philosophy of science.

After his talk, my friend and I went up to the speaker and she pointed out a technical problem with one his arguments in the talk. He brushed her off with two non-technical sentences, and then proceeded to talk to me, who had not said anything at that point, about a related technical issue. So I repeated my friends point, and he then replied to me, again in technical language. The rest of the quasi-dialogue went on like that, with my friend saying something, the speaker brushing her of in non-technical language, me repeating her point, and him replying to me.

At no time in the conversation did it occur to me that I should point out to the speaker that I was just repeating my friend’s arguments.

I had had many years of experiences with extreme sexism before I got a Ph.D in philosophy in my forties, but that doesn’t make sexism in the refined circles of academia any less humiliating and undermining.

I took philosophy courses in a master’s program at a well-respected state university. One of my master’s thesis advisors harassed me into a affair using quid pro quo pressures; I was desperately afraid this advisor would not sign my thesis if I broke off the relationship, so I waited to end it until after it was signed. I knew I should report this behavior, but others informed me it was a well-known pattern of this professor and nothing would be done. Also, I was old enough to have known better, I thought.

Later, when I was a graduate student in an Ivy League Ph.D. program in philosophy, a male professor used the following example in class to distinguish between two persons: “Smith beats his wife, while Jones doesn’t.” This was intended to be a funny example, and had apparently gotten laughs from earlier generations of students when the university was all male, but no one laughed in the late 1980s with both men and women in the class. Finally the professor noticed the glares coming from many of the students and said, “Perhaps I should have chosen a more sensitive example.” Even old dogs can learn new tricks.

In my first year in that doctoral program, I helped to organize a student colloquium series and gave the first presentation, in which I presented as my own work what was in fact my own reconstruction of an argument from one of Plato’s dialogues. A fellow graduate student, male, asked me if I had done the argument reconstructions myself, despite its being clearly presented as my own work. This was an insulting question which I believe he probably would not have asked of a male graduate student.

Also in my first year of graduate school, after a visiting speaker finished his talk, a male professor invited him and some of us graduate students to his house for refreshments. I was the only female graduate student who attended, and the only female at the gathering except for the host’s wife. I was wondering how I would fit in, when someone started the conversation with the question of which university had the best combination of football team and philosophy department. The men present began to engage in an intense and exhaustive comparison of football teams and philosophy departments, with an eye to ranking them. Not following sports and not being interested in such a ranking, I felt conspicuously female, excluded, incapable of participating, and marginalized. So I decided to talk with my host’s wife, which was much more interesting. This incident is only statistically sexist and was probably entirely unintentional; if I had been a female football fan, I could have held my own.
Still, what proportion of football fans are female? How considerate was it to choose a question that a female graduate student would be less likely, given the average relative frequency of male to female football fans, to be able to relate to?

Later that year, at the annual department party, a senior male professor cornered me and tried at length to persuade me to marry another one of the senior male professors, who was lonely and needed a wife. This conversation made me feel reduced to my reproductive and nurturing function, and quite invisible as a beginning philosopher.

Later in my time there, a fellow graduate student, a male, asked to sit in on my pre-arranged independent study with my male dissertation advisor, and I agreed. However, the advisor spoke almost exclusively to him rather than me, and I felt I had to fight to get a word in edgewise all semester. From this I learned that the practice of philosophy, as many males see it, is not about cooperating to discover the truth, but rather about competing to get the approval of the – mostly male – authority figures.

The way to get this approval was to fight, conceptually, in an agonistic way. One of my professors encouraged me to get more “ammunition” against a philosopher I was writing about. This military analogy turned me off and set me back, as I wanted to see philosophy as a cooperative enterprise in search of truth.

Another fellow graduate student (a married male) was heard in the student lounge bragging about how many female undergraduates he planned to sleep with now that he was going to be a teaching assistant.

In seminars the same thing happened to me as has happened to many other female graduate students in philosophy – my point would be ignored, but when a male made the same point, it was recognized as valuable.

At my first job, in the mid-1990s, a one-year at a midwestern state university, one of my colleagues in the Philosophy Department had a pornographic picture on his office wall. I went into his office and told him that this constituted a hostile atmosphere for his female students and advisees, not to mention his colleagues. When he told me it had “sentimental value” (!) for him, I suggested he remove it and hang it up at home. He replied that his wife wouldn’t allow it in the house. Shouldn’t that have been a clue as to its inappropriateness? Another male colleague, when told of this exchange, explained that the first colleague had actually improved over time, as he no longer displayed his collection of Playboy and Penthouse magazines on the coffee table in his office! So things must be getting better, as many on this blog have argued.

While I had been a feminist activist for many years before pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy, and I had taken many courses in feminist thought, I had not studied feminist philosophy as an AOS or AOC for my Ph.D. degree, so it did not appear on my CV. While I was searching for a tenure track job, the chair of a hiring department asked me to add “philosophy and feminism” to my CV. I found out later that the line had been given to the Philosophy Department on the condition they hire a woman who could teach in the Women’s Studies program. I reflected that I had the background and experience to teach in a Women’s Studies program, so I agreed to change my CV. That is how I was hired into my present position – the male philosophers apparently tried to hire a non-feminist female philosopher who could teach Women’s Studies from a non-feminist perspective. So they got a little surprise when I turned out to be a radical feminist!

Many of the entries on this blog refer to affirmative action, as if there is some stigma attached to being an affirmative action hire. I think women and minorities should worry about the so-called ‘unfair’ advantage given by affirmative action exactly when the white males start worrying about the unfair advantage given by white male privilege. Instead, look to your own achievements and do your best work. If the white males ever start apologizing to you about their white male privilege giving them an unfair advantage, then, and only then, should you even consider mentioning the countervailing “advantage” given to you by affirmative action. Affirmative action exists to help counteract the pervasive unconscious and conscious sexist biases which this blog documents, and we shouldn’t undermine that very important function.

Now that I have tenure and have served as chair of my department at my state university, I find I love my job as a philosophy professor. We have hired new colleagues who are feminist, or at least who try their best not to be sexist, and I have published quite a few articles, often in journals edited by women, and feel freer than ever to study and think and write about what I want to study and think and write about. I enjoy teaching and continually revamping my courses and pedagogy, only seldom receiving openly sexist treatment from students, though I can relate to many of the comments of others about expectations that, as a female, I should be more lenient and understanding. Leniency should be limited to justified circumstances, but instead of some women professors trying to be less understanding, I think some male professors should work to become more understanding! Students need and deserve understanding and respectful teachers.

Recently, I served as an outside evaluator for a nearby philosophy department which had just previously hired a fifth philosopher, their first woman, who was then serving as chair. The senior philosopher in her department would only refer to her as their “fifth man,” even though she is a woman! Some old dogs have trouble with the new tricks.

It is disheartening to think that philosophy as a discipline runs on status competition among males, but that is the picture that emerges from this blog and from a book called “The Sociology of Philosophy” by Randall Collins. Also, I recommend C.P. Snow’s old novel “Strangers and Brothers,” in which he tries to describe in detail the operations of what he calls “private power,” or power as it is used behind the scenes by men. This novel is particularly relevant as it features men jockeying for power in an academic setting.

Thanks for this blog. It has given me encouragement to once again propose that our university prohibit even consensual relations between faculty and students. Currently we prohibit sex between faculty and students during the semester when the student is in the faculty member’s class, the strongest policy we could get through the governance process. Some faculty are apparently very worried about the rights of the accused and the probabilities of false accusations. And I shall try with renewed energy to integrate my feminist values into my own work by more diligently calling sexist assumptions into question in my classes, by including more work by women and feminist philosophers, and by working to create a more egalitarian and supportive environment within the discipline of philosophy.

“When you go shopping with women..”

Posted: June 10, 2011 by Jender in ignoring women

In a talk at a recent conference, a senior male philosopher [see below] was making a point about color perception, and said that people can and do get corrected in, say, saying that something is green rather than blue. He went on: “As often happens when you go shopping with women, because of our differences in color perception.”

I wrote this quote down at the time, during the talk, when I was very sure of it. He definitely used the generic “you,” not “I.”

I’m a graduate student in philosophy. At one of the first seminars I went to, I was the only girl. I raise an objection. I’m told that I have misunderstood the point. I hadn’t – the professor in charge of the seminar pointed this out twenty minutes later once all the boys had finally got round to saying what I said initially. I try to speak again later. My point is completely ignored. Two minutes later, a male makes exactly the same point. The objection in his mouth is hailed as decisive. I worry that my being dismissed and ignored is not because of my gender but because I am foolish; I worry that I don’t love philosophy because almost every seminar I go to leaves me second guessing my own abilities. I’m jealous of the ease with which men speak, not having to worry that a single silly remark will mean they are never taken seriously again.