Archive for the ‘insults’ Category

I was accepted into a Masters program that did not accept many women. Several of the faculty thought that women had no place in the discipline. I happened to be in a class of almost all women, who were selected by a dissenting group of faculty in an attempt to balance the student population.

During my first year, I was told explicitly by one of my professors that I should not be in a philosophy graduate program since, “Philosophy requires reasoning, and women are irrational.”

The incoming class that followed my group consisted of about 15 students, all but one of whom were male.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that this school did not accept my application into its doctoral program, even though two schools of higher ranking did (thank goodness!).

During my time at an MA program, a friend and fellow student went out for drinks with two other students, one of whom was X. After I asked my friend how it went, he replied: “X knows a lot about Heidegger, and a lot of racist jokes!” (A connection here? I leave that as an exercise for the reader)

While grading papers with X, he would drop ‘ironic’ ‘jokes’ like: “haha, why did we ever give women the vote?” This was in front of not only me, a male, but also a female TA and a female professor.

Maybe there was an eye-roll I missed, but neither the female TA nor the professor responded. I said nothing and wrote him off as an idiot, his philosophical talent notwithstanding. He’s now at a very well-ranked PhD program, and it’s distressing to think that he one day might work with minority and/or female students.

In retrospect, I clearly failed to meet my obligations as a bystander, and I reflect on the episode in the hope that in the future I will call out this kind of shit.

I remember once, as a female graduate student in philosophy, trying to raise some serious complaints about a senior male philosopher who was making the climate for me and several other junior women in the philosophy department miserable. He was utterly disrespectful of the work of women, regularly making female students cry when alone with him in his office (an achievement of which, I was told by his friends, he was rather proud). He ignored my work and belittled my ideas, and he did the same to other women in front of me. He once lost his temper and yelled at me in front of a group of other philosophers, for pressing a philosophical objection to his view which he did not know how to address. My male philosopher friends said he seemed like “an OK guy” to them although some of them had heard he was “funny about” women.

In response to my complaint, all that happened was that another senior philosopher in the department (a friend and colleague of the person I’d complained about) held a meeting with the two of us. This was terrifying for me. At the meeting, the person I had complained about told me off, saying (and I can still picture his face as he said this) “Don’t just get upset and take it out on me”.

His friend and colleague, the only other person in the room, stood by and said nothing when this remark was made.

It was agreed that I wouldn’t work with him any more, and nothing else was done. The philosopher who arranged the meeting told me explicitly that if I were to try and take things any further it would not go well for my career.

I began suffering from an ongoing panic attack disorder at this time which has had a huge impact on my life ever since and is still not entirely resolved after ten years. I very nearly quit philosophy. (I’m glad I didn’t; I’m good at it, and as soon as I was away from that environment I was very successful in the profession.)

At a careers advice meeting for aspiring academics, the senior philosopher who had organised that meeting announced to the audience that, in professional philosophy, things are no different for women than they are for men.

The man I complained about was then promoted. He currently holds a top-rank position at an elite university.

A professor of mine–who is refreshingly mindful of gender issues–brought up to me that most of the gender issues discussed within the philosophical community are issues at the graduate and professional levels. This is weird, as the first drop-off concerning women pursuing philosophy occurs at the undergraduate level. And I can assure you, that those of us women who survive the drop off, are experiencing amazing amounts of sexism from our undergraduate peers. I am at one of the top undergraduate programs for philosophy in the states, here are two of many experiences with sexism I’ve encountered: A male peer and I help opposing views on some metaphysical topic, excited to learn from each other I welcomed his criticism after I had argued my view; to my disgust he responded “I have no fucks to give about your view, can I have some?” A horny and disgusting comment which brought laughter from the rest of our peers sitting with us (all of whom are male). The comment was a joke, yes, but it would never have been said to a male peer, and I felt more than objectified. Another experience was similar; I had dabbled in feminist philosophy (a topic nobody at my school was interested in) and shared some of the questions and theories with some peers–again, they are male–rather than asking any philosophically relevant questions, one responded “We’re supposed to learn about feminist philosophy from the girl wearing red lipstick?” The most unfortunate part of all of this is these are male peers with whom I’ve spoken about sexism within academia, and many of whom claim to be on my side.

Since someone posted a story here about a philosophy department in Scandinavia, here’s another. I send this story because it is important to realize that however bad things are in the U.S., in some European departments things are much worse.

Some 12 years ago I had a falling out with a philosopher in my field, on the basis of ethical issues and also what I saw as a tendency toward sexual objectification of myself and others. A typical incident: once as chairman of the dept., he walked into a class I was teaching 45 minutes late and remarked: “I am here to inspect the merchandise.” There are many other incidents of this kind I could recount. At the time he had been having an affair with a student, who since left philosophy. I decided to base myself in another department, but suffered in the years since by being tarred as difficult, not only in his department, but in others.

Since then he has become a very powerful person in philosophy in this country, in spite of a poor publication record and in spite of continuing to use the graduate students as a dating pool. (So his recent affair with yet another graduate student, this time a very, very talented woman, also ended in her leaving philosophy. ) He also has had conflicts with many other colleagues in the years since his conflict with me. But like me, they always end up leaving the department.

FInally, in his capacity as chairman, he has conducted an open war with feminist philosophy and fields related to it.

Needless to say a female professor has never *ever* been hired in that department, of whatever AOS.

Nobody can do or say anything about this person because he has the administration on his side. If there were anything like a conversation about women in philosophy in this country, maybe his behavior toward female students could be checked, and other areas of philosophy—besides those related to his—could have a chance. But that conversation has not gotten started yet. There is just no way in at the moment.

Not to focus so much on this one person, my point is that because of the general attitude that prevails here, he can pretty much do what he wants. As a person of authority he is always give the benefit of the doubt.

It’s a tragedy.

I am working in a discipline that uses philosophy. I think it is it helpful to offer vignettes from the “territories” abroad. My job is solely on research in philosophy of this discipline. I am in a research team who are all, also, similarly inclined. The other all-male (tenured) colleagues just don’t seem to get it and never challenge that my work is not chosen to read whilst theirs is (chosen by each other). One in particular thinks that laughing about my work in public is both cool, funny and scholarly. Recently it started to go beyond a joke and is – I believe – a factor in a situation where I do not feel taken seriously as a scholar in my department and have been really unhappy in some ways in higher education and thought about leaving. I asked him if he would like to go for a drink as there was something I wanted to bring up with him. My private attitude was “do this or I’m making a formal complaint”. We went for a drink. I probed him about his attitude to my work. He proceeded to explain to me that he thought I did “not deserve to be in the academy” and that my work was ridiculous. I explained to him what a cold climate is and that women get badly treated by men in philosophy and that they need to be conscious of their jokes and the drip drip detrimental effects they might have. A heated exchange ensued but for the sake of GETTING HIM TO STOP denigrating my work in public I continued with the pleasant tone. I had a clear objective. I pointed out to him that he had only read drafts of my work and had not read my book (or the second one – he has none) or any of my published/in press articles. He said that he knew enough to form his opinion. I had read one of his papers and thought it very derivative of the thought of others but it made a reasonable final point – not mind-blowing but useful. At the end of the drink event he graciously condescended to tell me that actually my work wasn’t that bad. I told him I didn’t care what he thought of my work. A few days later, we were scheduled to read a further article of his at a meeting and discuss it. So I read his paper. We discussed it. At a certain point in the meeting – a key site where he used to regularly laugh at my work in front of my colleagues – he laughed again at my work. One of the other male colleagues suggested we run a conference on sexual desire, and then moved to joke that I should do a keynote (yes, indeed but contextually there are some mitigating factors). The “drinks” colleague made a laughing comment that my work could not possibly be included as it would bring the academy and the conference down. In the paper under discussion, he had the gall to speak of the importance of iterability and the arrivant (again that paper was a highly derivative presentation of another’s thought, with no original philosophy being done). I pointed out to him after the meeting and after reading his paper that I no longer could respect the HYPOCRISY and saw now the comment that I didn’t belong in the academy in a new and more difficult light. I said I thought HIS work was bad and took his way in dealing with me and his lack of change of attitude and continued humiliating laughter about my work very seriously. He told me that if I communicated with him in such a disrespectful way again he would make a formal complaint against me! At which point I (roughly speaking) said – I have two years of history of you being sexist towards me and I’m trying to discuss it with you firstly privately to avoid trouble for you (and difficulty for me as I’m looking for a tenured job right now) and rather than listen and change, you threaten me! You escalate this and I tell you BRING IT ON! It will be a relief to take this finally to our HoD and beyond.
As a coda – we at present do not talk except for strictly professional matters and I feel much better. It is only sites like this one that have raised my awareness and confidence to tackle such things. My new book comes out with a good press at the end of the year! My career is enjoyable and thriving, although I worry that as a woman it is harder for me than a man to get a permanent post as a lecturer. It’s a shame there are young men in the strong position of a tenured post who do not examine their attitudes to female (contracted and soon to be made redundant) colleagues more closely.

I was scheduled to be a speaker at a workshop in my area, which was canceled due to lack of funding. The conference organizer wrote this to me:

unfortunately for the only other workshop i have in mind the organizing theme is one where you won’t fit, but on the other hand for purely cynical political reasons i will need a token woman.

When I replied that I didn’t want to be his token anything and found his attitude disrespectful, he told me that the cancelled workshop

was 50% women, so if any of them were tokens they would have a hard time guessing this.

I tried one more time:

Yes, but please also don’t tell them shitty, undermining things. “I will need a token woman” is a rotten thing to say to somebody you want to come to your conferences. (Sometimes friends can say rotten things to each other as jokes, but that one definitely crossed a line.)

His reply?

sorry if you found the joke offensive, but that is the effect of the “gendered conference campaign” which it seems almost everybody but me thinks is a great idea.

I’m almost certainly not organizing any more conferences, thanks for your interest in participating in my nonexistent one.