Archive for the ‘insults’ Category

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.

Though I have found many of my colleagues and professors over my several years in philosophy to be positive, there have been some incidents which have made feel uneasy about being a woman in a philosophy department.

The first incident arose when a fellow grad student went on a pseudo-scientific rant in front of many female grad students about how females are just wired in a way that is inferior to men, and as such would always be inferior philosophers (or mathematicians, or anything that involves complex reasoning).He also went on to claim that girls were just too emotional to be as rational thinkers as men. He was very convinced of these facts, and many students in the department were offended (both male and female). What compounded matters, was the fact that though the females in the department chose to largely ignore his baseless comments, one male student in the department decided to take on the “knight in shining armor” position and actually physically attacked the gentleman in question for his comments. While it is nice to know that even males recognize these sort of comments as offensive and baseless, the way he reacted was as though he thought that we, the passive, meek females needed some sort of valiant hero to “protect our honour” for us. This did nothing to help the cause.

The second set of incidents revolves around the idea that women cannot be both intelligent and attractive. I have had one professor, after knowing me for several years, confide in me that when I first took his class he automatically assumed that because I was “pretty” that I was also stupid, but then was eventually surprised to learn, once he placed my name and essays to my face, that I was actually not a complete idiot. He also said the he assumed most pretty students were idiots. This is related to another incident where one of my other female colleagues was made fun of by a professor for not “dressing like a philosopher,” just because she chose to dress in a “mainstream stylish” sort of way. I fail to see how either looks or attire has anything to do with “being a philosopher” or being intelligent.

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.

Message: Now a full professor (in an enlightened department of three women and one man), who teaches feminist philosophy, I’ve been sitting on this one since it happened: In 2000 I was interviewing for jobs for the first time. I visited the University of X for an on campus interview – met with students, taught a class and gave my talk to the dept. I was sitting at the head of the table looking out at all the men – there was one female graduate student there,that’s it. I finished my talk and the questions began. The professor who I would have been replacing raised his hand and said “So…we haven’t had a woman teach fulltime in the department for 40 years, why should we hire one now?” Absolute silence, no one said a word. Rather than saying something clever like, “you clearly shouldn’t as you are not ready” and leaving the interview, I stammered something about perhaps this would help their enrollment,as I would have liked to have had a female role model when I was an undergrad. To this he replied “Well, if we want to recruit more female students why shouldn’t we just hire some hot, young guy?” I was totally flummoxed by this point and just trying not to a)yell or b) cry as I knew either of these actions would reinforce his ideas about women – and I was quite convinced this was the action he was trying to provoke. Again, NO ONE at the table said a word. Needless to say, I did not get the job, and to add insult to injury, they made that distinguished professor drive me back to my hotel where he told me “you did okay, kiddo”. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if the guy they hired was young and hot.

Just a reminder, there are philosophy departments out there that are a nightmare for women. No woman professors ever hired, professors (male of course) sleeping with graduate students, humiliating, sexist remarks made to women researchers on public occasions, and of course, last but not least: a war on the field of women’s studies and any and all related fields. (This means you, phenomenology.)

People crack alot of jokes about gender balance, and question whether people go too far with this kind of sensitivity. But there are alot of demoralized women out there. The women at the department I am talking about are probably too afraid to post on this blog.

I am about to start my PhD at an excellent Leiter ranked program. I have a BA and and MA from excellent schools. I have worked closely with ground breaking philosophers in my field. I have published, I have an excellent teaching resume, phenomenal letters of recommendation, and moreover I love my job. I am a good philosopher, and I am thinking about leaving philosophy.

I have been a secretary and a chauffeur. I have been disingenuously promised research assistantships and letters of recommendation, in return for dinner dates and car rides. I have been asked if I was married while my colleagues have been asked what they think. I have been told that I’m both cute and idiotic. I have passed on professional opportunities because I am a woman, and no one would believe that I deserved those opportunities — accepting would make me seem like a slut, since men make it on merit, and women make it in bed. So, ironically, I have been praised as professional for having passed on professional opportunities. I have been the lone woman presenting at the conference, and I have been the woman called a bitch for declining sexual relations with one of the institutions of hosts. I think I have just about covered the gamut of truly egregiously atrocious sexist behaviour. So I just have this one question that I think I need answered: Is the choice between doing philosophy, and living under these conditions, or saving yourself, and leaving the discipline?

This is an open call for reasons to stay.

Because this blog does not allow comments, I’m cross-posting to Feminist Philosophers, where you can reply.

Condescending comments

Posted: June 4, 2011 by Jender in insults, women are incompetent

I am a female graduate student at a Leiter ranked philosophy program in the United States. I recently received comments on a rough draft of a course paper from one of my male, graduate student colleagues (we had to exchange rough drafts as part of the course requirements). The comments were supposed to be two pages, double spaced. I got six pages, single space (that’s 3500 words, including NINE footnotes) of the most utterly patronizing feedback I’ve ever received. Two pages of the comments were suggested rewrites for particular sentences (only one of which was ‘not essential’). The coup de gras was the following comment, which appeared after the student suggested that I cut out half of my argument: “It will enable you to go into the type of detail about this issue that makes for good philosophy papers.” (And, for the record, the student suggested that I cut the very part of my argument that the professor encouraged me to include).

When I was in graduate school one semester we noticed some odd classes taught by an unfamiliar prof, so we asked who this new person was. After doing a little investigating, the two professors we asked determined that he was a prof from another department who had been accused, and was found guilty by the university, of sexual harassing a student. Apparently one of the terms of his punishment was that he couldn’t teach in his home department for some set period of time while the victim was finishing her degree. So upper administration shipped him off to Philosophy and our (male) Chair accepted him knowing his history and allowed him to teach. Needless to say, all the female grads students were very unhappy to know we were in a department that would willingly accept a known harasser.

I should add that the professors who did the investigating were not happy he was allowed to teach in Philosophy and were very annoyed that as senior-level members of the department they didn’t know what was going on until they started to ask questions. Of course, there may have been pressure from upper administration to accept him, but there’s a huge difference between accepting it under pressure (and letting people know what’s going on) and willing accepting it.

But, to add a little more context, this was also a department where male grad students casually slammed the female faculty as “psychotic feminists” or “of riding their husband’s coattails” in front of everyone and blasted their fellow female grad students who received more APA interviews than them as “just getting Affirmative Action interviews, but there won’t be an offer because she’s not good enough”. And the real kicker, this happed in a department that was typically classified as feminist-friendly. Sigh.

Rather than share a specific story, I just wanted to say *ditto* regarding many of the anecdotes that have already been posted. I am a female professor. Over the course of my graduate education and the years I have been employed as a faculty member, I have experienced the following at least once (though in most cases, quite more than once): students behaving especially confrontational in a way that they do not with my male colleagues; referees addressing me as “he/him” in their comments on my journal submissions; male faculty making salacious comments to me; being ignored/dismissed at conferences and in other professional contexts; general behavior/comments that suggest to me that I am not respected as my male colleagues are by administrators, philosophers, graduate students, secretaries, students; being on the short end of unequal distribution of department resources. I also sometimes get the sense that when I invite a male to discuss philosophy that either they or their partner assume that I am taking more than a professional or collegial interest. This can be an obstacle to networking. I have, on account of these experiences, considered leaving the field.

I am happy to respond to this request for more on what’s its like to teach philosophy as a woman. I am a tenured professor at the metropolitan center campus of a very large urban junior college. I’m a “woman of color” in my late-twenties, and have been teaching here full-time for some years.

The issues I face as a teacher are not just from my students, but from my older colleagues, and have to do with age, race, and culture as much as they do with gender.

Let’s start with my students. Almost all of my students are minorities, predominantly Black American, Hispanic American, and Hispanic or Carribean immigrants. They are evenly split among men and women. About half of them are either immigrants or first generation Americans. Most of them come from impoverished backgrounds. Many of them are multilingual. (These are not my impressions — they are the statistical facts about my institution. What follows is my observation.)The student population is highly conservative, almost of all of them accepting “traditional” misogynistic values regarding family, the role of women, and sexuality/sexual preference.

I have to fight very hard to be taken seriously, particularly since I am a young woman of color teaching a required subject that is not viewed as important by most of my students, and directly challenges most of the conventionally held beliefs of the student demographic. My male colleagues (regardless of age) and older/white female colleagues, on the other had, are treated with due deference and respect. Male students, in particular, treat me badly, (but so do female studnets) assuming that I am dumb or ditsy. I am also, like the previous author on this subject, routinely called “Miss” rather than the college-wide standard “Professor” or “Ms.”, which I request as an alternate. The male students assume it is acceptable to call me by my first name, use obscene language in my presence, interrupt me when I am talking, argue with me about grades, make sexual implications. On the worst occasions, they talk to me as though I am a somoene they are hitting on with cheesy lines in a bar or
club. Most of my male students are clearly not used to being told they are wrong or out of line by women. I have been called, by students, “a bitch” “an ice queen” “soulless” “uncaring” “unemotional” “flaky” “dumb” and a whole host of other things, directly to my face by male students. This is depsite the fact that, on the whole, my teaching is evaluated positively by 80-90% of my students on end of the semester course surveys. When I teach issues relating to sex or sexuality, like reproductive rights, pornography, sexual harassment/discrimination, etc. male students feel it is appropriate to belittle or undermine the problems (my male colleagues who teach the subject do not seem to have the same problem).

This is not helped by my older, white female colleagues, who make a constant commentary on my clothing and styling choices (all of which are more conservative than I’d really prefer and very professional). I have been told by them that I look like “I am going on a date”, “I am appearing on MTV”, “I am going out for cocktails” and “I am out to catch a man”. I have been asked “if male students actually pay attention to what I am saying” in class rather than how I look. I have been told, upon getting a new haircut, that it was a good idea because “it makes me look more sexual, which will make students pay attention”. Comments are also frequently made about any weight that I gain or lose, and about how nice my skin, hair, nails, etc. look as gauges of my health.

But not all is bad. Here are some of the good things. When I get great, successful, amazing students, they appreciate how hard I work and I get an amazing sense of accomplishment. What I do is essentially social justice work, serving an oppressed and disadvantaged population who has been deprived of the many educational privileges I received as a member of the middle class. Many of my female students have told me that I am a role model of independence for them, and that my example helps them solidify their ambitions to achieve professional success and break the financial barriers that leave them dependent on men — their fathers or husbands. When I talk about my background — I, too, came from a highly conservative immigrant family — many women come and speak to me after about how I achieved my freedom and independence, and how I overcame the obstacles in my way. I know that I change the minds of at least some of my students about gender roles and misogyny, and that’s enough. Some
of my male students come to respect me and change their attitude and behavior towards women; I have witnessed it first hand. And if I can help some people challenge misogyny in their own lives, then I think my struggle is worth it — and I will continue to try.

Why did he have to say *that*?

Posted: November 8, 2010 by Jender in insults, trivialising women

(I am male). Recently the NYT, as part of its “Philosopher’s Stone” series published pictures of a dozen Philosophers. The photographer asked his subjects why they had spent their lives in philosophy. The answer each Philosopher provided is revealed by clicking on the picture. One of the Philosophers depicted is Slavoj Zizek (I mention names because this is publicly available knowledge). Part of his statement is: “Philosophy is for me like women: they are impossible, but it is even more difficult without them.” This hackneyed sexist trope is not only egregious, but embarrassing, as the statement is given in a context in which he is portrayed as one of a dozen representatives of the study of Philosophy. He could have said almost anything, and that is what he chose to say.

The link is here.

In 2002, as an enthusiastic undergraduate, I already knew that I wanted to go on to study for a Master’s and PhD in philosophy, and that the only thing I could see myself being was an academic. But first I needed to get my degree, which meant writing an undergraduate dissertation. The department I was in at the time made it compulsory for all undergraduates to attend so-called “dissertation design” classes, where someone who knew little about our areas of interest or proposed projects would read our dissertation proposals and give us comments on how to improve them.

This was taken by an out-and-proud misogynist, who proceeded to publicly rip my proposal to pieces on the grounds that “feminist theory isn’t proper philosophy”, and that there is nothing of scholarly interest or merit to be said from a feminist perspective. He took delight in saying this loudly in front of the class of about 30 other students, laughing heartily at my silly idea that work exploring feminist issues could be both valuable and analytically rigorous, and inviting the men in the class to laugh along with him.

I also made the mistake of telling him of my future plans for graduate study, to which he replied: “Oh, don’t bother doing that. I always tell my female students – don’t you worry about getting the BA: just concentrate on getting the MRS”.

I got a first class grade for the dissertation and the degree, and now, in 2010, have just been awarded the PhD. Still no Mrs though: my partner and I are content living in sin as Dr and Dr.

No “best student” this year?

Posted: November 3, 2010 by Jender in ignoring women, insults

My BA is from a very good department, one of the best in the US. The department office displays a placard or two listing the no. 1 graduating undergrad of that year.

I was told by one of their world-famous profs that I was no. 1 for my year. That made sense, given the grades I knew about from others. I also went off to what was then a world center for philosophy for graduate work, got some distinguished awards there, etc.

The entry in “the best graduating philosophy student” for my year is blank.

By the time I discovered this, I had had far worse experiences, and really didn’t want to know why I didn’t count.

But the women never say anything interesting

Posted: October 29, 2010 by Jender in insults

I moved out of one field of philosophy in grad school due to an overwhelming accumulation of small incidents, none of which alone would have been enough to deter me from pursuing a field I otherwise enjoyed, but the overall effect of which was to take enough of the enjoyment out of it that it was no longer worthwhile. When I tried to describe to fellow grad students why I felt ostracized or ignored because of my gender, they would ask for examples. I would provide examples, and they would proceed through each example to ‘demonstrate’ why I had actually misinterpreted or overreacted to what was actually going on.

The final straw came in a graduate seminar, when, during the course of discussion, I made what seemed to be a germane and illuminating point. No one responded to it, so I thought perhaps it was not as illuminating as I had thought. About five minutes later, still discussing the same issue, a male grad student made the same point, literally almost word for word what I had said. The professor and other grad students responded very positively, and thought it was a very illuminating point. They congratulated him on his insight into the matter. This happened multiple times during that seminar, and made me realize that regardless of how good I was at the field, it didn’t matter, as I was not going to be listened to.

The grad student who reiterated my comment almost word for word seemed to realize that he was repeating my point, and looked rather uncomfortable with the resulting attention. He did not, however, say anything like “As X already mentioned…”

In graduate school (late 80s) and first T-T job (early 90s) I certainly experienced any number of ham-fisted attempts by professors and other grad students (all male) to let me know that if I wanted to play with big boys I couldn’t go screaming “sexism” every time one of them made an untoward comment (“you need to be more submissive”) or worse (conducted the job interview on all fours on the bed in the hotel suite).

But it’s not just men with a problem. When I came up for tenure, one of my senior colleagues, female, 10 years older, refused to sign off on the tenure bid (I had been reappointed unproblematically at every level every year beforehand). In her view, the only reason the rest of my colleagues were supporting me for tenure was that “they all wanted to sleep with me” and “that she reminded them of their first wives, which is why they were ignoring her”. She admitted *in writing* that she hadn’t read any of my research, but insisted that “I had no research program” (2 books, 5 articles). She insisted that I get external reviews of my research (policy forbidden at tenure level at my school) and when it came in very positive, tried to have it removed from my file. She never once observed me teaching a class for my file in any year prior–but insisted she had to, the day after my mother died, the day before the file was due.

And maybe… [expletives deleted]

Posted: October 11, 2010 by Jender in insults

I was teaching a large introductory class, doing the problem of evil. Hoping to make the problem vivid, I took my example of an apparently gratuitous evil from my own life: a time when my daughter, then 2 yrs old, had to endure a bone biopsy of her shin, a procedure for which there was no effective local anesthetic. After I described the case, I asked the class the stock questions: how could my daughter’s suffering be justified? what greater good was served? what lesson was learned? — at which point a student called out: “Maybe God was trying to tell you that you need to decide whether you want to be a philosophy professor or a mother” Thanks…..