Archive for the ‘ignoring women’ Category

I was at a bar with three colleagues, each of whom are a) male, b) my friends, and c) self-identified feminists. So there were four philosophers in a bar, at a 3:1 male-to-female ratio. The table was discussing a book that only half in attendance had actually read. Now, I was one of the two folks who had read the book. It should surprise you, then, to learn that for the life of me, I could not get a word in edgewise! 3/4 people were talking, and only 1/3 of those speaking had read the book under discussion, but every freakin’ time I tried to speak, I was summarily shut down, talked over, and/or ignored. I managed to successfully complete exactly one sentence, which was very directly dismissed by my friend. He blinked at me, then flatly ignored my comment, proceeding to respond to a prior comment from another male colleague. At that point I gave up. I was disheartened and sad to be treated this way by my friends. I picked up my phone, only to find that it was out of batteries, and tossed it back down on the table, frustratedly. One colleague took notice of my frustration and asked what was the matter, to which I responded rather directly, “Well there is nothing else for me to do at this table, and now my phone is out of batteries.” His response? “That sucks. So anyway, how was your weekend with [my partner]?” Shocked and appalled by this totally unnatural segue, I retorted, “We don’t have to stop talking about philosophy!” [implying of course: just because you’re going to include me, now.] Totally unawares, he sincerely replied, “No! I really wanted to know how your weekend was!” He didn’t even realize what he had done. I aggressively voiced that I was bored (because nobody would let me talk about the book they were already talking about, which I had actually read!) and his response was to ask about my boyfriend.

All three of these guys are my friends, they are self-identified feminists, and they take themselves to be good allies. I’ll bet if I told this story back to them in another context, all three of those guys would be appalled. But from the inside, they had no idea what they were doing. That, to me, was totally shocking. And, I might add, really painful! Because you know, you get a little hope fire going in your belly when you meet (straight, white) male allies, and you think, “Progress! Hope! A way forward! Evidence of change!” And then you have these experiences that reinforce how devastatingly insidious the norms of gender and power are. And it just feels like you’re Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down on your again.

A few years ago I [presented] my research at a conference. My talk was chaired by a semi-well known… male professor who is known to be condescending towards female academics. I had traveled a long way to attend this conference and present my research and was really looking forward to receiving questions on my paper. The chair not only cut my talk in half on the excuse that we were running late, giving me less than 15 min to present my paper, but did not allow me to answer any of the questions that the very few people were allowed to ask. Instead, every time I started answering the questions he interrupted me and insisted talking over me and claiming I did not understand the main view I was criticizing. I tried to explain to him why he had misunderstood my argument, but he spoke over me and did not allow me to address any of the criticisms, he just spoke over me until he told me my time was up. I was really disappointed to have lost the opportunity to discuss the questions, especially given that some established philosophers came to see my talk, so I approached them in the coffee break and attempted to discuss their questions. This did not last long; the chair came to join the discussion by standing between me and the professor who had asked the question. The chair turned his back at me and started talking to the professor referring to me as ‘she’ and saying how all I said was wrong. I was right there; able to hear him undermining me and absolutely excluded from the discussion. Having worked with the most established proponent of the view I discussed and published several papers on the topic, I did not feel threatened by the groundless accusations. I felt disappointed that he completely wasted my time and the resources of my institution that funded my trip by depriving me of the opportunity to discuss my research with academics who were actually interested in what I had to say.

Maybe we don’t like feeling invisible

Posted: August 6, 2013 by Jender in ignoring women

One of the reasons that’s often floated to explain why there are so few women in philosophy is “Women don’t like the combative style.”

One of the things this claim misses is that male philosophers often don’t include female philosophers in conversation from the start. My experience in graduate school was usually one of simply being ignored: a group of male students is in the lounge talking shop. I walk up and join the group. The conversation stops. Or I chime in on a point and everyone just stares at the floor. I never got to be included in the combat, even when I wanted to take part in it.

Maybe the combat isn’t what drives women away. Maybe it’s that we don’t like feeling invisible.

Who gets the questions

Posted: August 3, 2013 by Jender in ignoring women, implicit bias

Fairly recently, a colleague at a different university and I wrote a paper together and were invited to present our research at a well-funded, selective philosophy workshop on the topic. I am a theoretician, and my colleague is more of an experimentalist, and we were presenting joint work on some experiments that we had designed together but which my colleague had carried out. My colleague is very senior, extremely well known, and at one of the top 2 programs in the field. I am more junior (having then recently gotten tenure), at a top 10 program. (I was honored to be asked to co-author something, in fact. It’s great for my cv.) We both are in a branch of cognitive science, not philosophy.

At the meeting, we jointly presented our joint work with powerpoint slides my colleague had prepared: I spoke for about 20 minutes, and my co-author for about 20 minutes, and then we took questions. Here’s where we fell through the looking-glass: every one of the questions from the 10 attendees (9 men, 1 woman) was directed at me, the junior non-experimentalist. Almost every one of the questions (mostly about the experimental design, results, alternatives, etc.) would have been better asked of my co-author, and for most of them, I did indeed simply turn to my co-author and turn the floor over with no comment.

Afterwards, my co-author and I remarked on this shocking and bizarre behavior. By now I presume the reader has guessed that I am a man and my co-author a woman. QED.

Here’s the picture they paint of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy: I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi.

It’s a wonder there are any of us left.

Let me preface this by saying that I am truly grateful to all of the women and men who have made, and who continue to make, our discipline a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable discipline. I consider myself honored to know and work with some amazing, supportive, philosophers. That said, we are not there yet. Things are not changing quickly enough. We, as philosophers and as human beings, should not tolerate anything less than equity any longer.

Ever since its inception, I have found this blog therapeutic. Many of the stories here comport all too well with my own experience. There is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I have been amazed, time and again, when colleagues and friends express surprise at the stories they find here. I am amazed that they do not realize similar things are happening in such close proximity to themselves. I am amazed that some of my colleagues—some of whom have, at times, behaved horrifically themselves—fail to recognize the inequality that is right in front of them.

I note this because I have myself been discriminated against, harassed, propositioned, excluded, talked over, disparaged, and so on. Many of my own colleagues either don’t know the details, or haven’t noticed events that have taken place right in front of them. They don’t realize that what might seem like one-off bad jokes, disrespectful comments, and offers of romantic and sexual interaction are just small pieces of a much larger pattern. They don’t realize the extent to which harassment, discrimination, and even assault take place within our discipline.

We tend to think the problems are someplace else. We tend to think our friends cannot possibly be part of the problem. We cannot possibly be part of the problem. Often, we are mistaken.

Philosophers: Take notice. Listen. Act. Please. These are not just anonymous stories on a blog. These are real people. Real lives. Real suffering. Sometimes your colleagues, and sometimes your friends.

I studied [at University X] as a graduate student and returned a few years ago. My position was as a philosopher in another faculty, so I had only associate membership of the philosophy faculty. I started going to the moral philosophy seminars, held every week. To my surprise, despite being moral philosophy, there was only a minority of women in the audience, and often, few or no other women from the audience would speak. I tried to ask questions as often as I could, often being the only woman in the room to open her mouth. For months after first attending, I honestly thought there was a rule that, these seminars being intended for faculty members, as an associate member, I was only allowed in as a favour and therefore was not allowed to speak unless nobody else in the room had any more questions. It was only after some time that I noticed that anyone at all, not even just university members, was welcome to the seminars, that I realised this was just the way the chair did things – ignoring my attempts to ask a question. I tried all sorts of tricks such as wearing bright pink, sticking my hand up straight away, sitting at the front, in a pathetic attempt to get noticed. It improved a bit.
Last time I went, yet again, I was the only female audience member to speak (out of an audience of 40 – 50). I had started to take note of these things, so I noticed that the chair allowed each and every person who spoke to engage in dialogue with the speaker. But when I spoke, I had the by now half-expected reply ‘you don’t understand’. This has happened to me, and to other women I know, so often. I DID understand perfectly well, actually. But the chair then cut me off – I alone of all questioners was not allowed to explain my point further or engage in dialogue with the speaker. We were not running out of time – there was plenty of time to at least allow me to show that I was not some twit who was incapable of grasping the speaker’s paper. But no. In front of a room full of my colleagues and students, it was left that I had not really asked a question, or found a problem in the paper, or made a contribution to debate, I had simply NOT UNDERSTOOD WHAT WAS GOING ON.
I have come to the conclusion that there really is no more point in speaking at these particular seminars. The net result is that a room full of people just hear the one woman who spoke up being told that she did not understand the paper, and then being shut up. Silence would have been less damaging to my reputation, and to the reputation of women in general.