Archive for the ‘low numbers of women’ Category

-Being the only woman in a class of 15 men

-Having to pull aside a colleague to tell him I am in class to learn and not to be sexually harassed

-Being pursued rather aggressively by a professor only to be silenced on behalf of your academic career

-Having a classmate to ask me just how gay I am on a scale of 1 to 7 after denying him an unsolicited sexual advance

Over the weekend I initiated a discussion about gender equality in our department on our philosophy club facebook page. The conversation began by pointing out the unequal ratio of men and women represented by the posters in our seminar room (10 to none). Following was an explanation of how a friend of mine volunteered her time to create a few posters of women to hang in the room. I have received some positive comments in response to the original post but to my surprise, there is one student who offered quite a lengthy negative response. I won’t include the entire transcript here, just a few notable quotes from this self-proclaimed “counter-part man philosopher.”

“you think you will “help alleviate some of the symptoms of the larger problem of underrepresentation of women in philosophy,” but as my analysis has just show: no, I don’t think you “help alleviate . . . the larger problem,” but rather: you aggravate it. You don’t make thing better, you only make it worse. So, be careful, I like to warn you, let heed over a proverb that says: “The road that leads to hell is paved with good intentions.”

“I guess your feeling of “to be the only woman in a class of 15 men” must be like that of my feeling if I were to be the only men in the class of 15 women, which I would like a lots, I like it even more if those women are young, attractive, beautiful, and charming—the qualities that I think you lack!”

“Oh, do you know why philosophy course, especially advanced seminar graduate course, is almost always has no female student like you, to a rather extreme point of the male/female ratio of 15 to 1 such as the course which you are in right now, (my name)? I may be wrong but it is my belief that female students cannot—to borrow the phrase from a movie starred by Tom Cruise— “handle the truths” of philosophy; that is to say, being able to handle the truths of philosophy is some sort of—again, to borrow a film title from Tom Cruse—“Mission Impossible” for female students to accomplish. Put it differently, female students must have the feeling that the truths of philosophy somehow and in someway just, in the words of Robert Kegan in the book with the same title—“In Over Our Heads” to grasp. The matter can be stated simply thus: philosophy is not for the “weak of mind” and “the faint of heart.”

“When whoever you are that have great, impactful, or influential ideas or thoughts; have accomplished great, important, significant, or revolutionary deeds, actions, or performance but I ignore you solely because you are a woman, then I am guilty of or violate the principle of fairness and justice. But if you have nothing significant, important, impactful, influential, or revolutionary to say, then why you want or demand me to listen to you?”

“I think the real reason why women philosophers have not been well-represented or under-represented is because their ideas, thoughts, writings, or works are not as great, causing big impacts, and influential as their counterpart men philosophers, and not because of the fact that they are women.”

“your philosophic ideas, works are plainly not as great and influential as those philosophical giants decorated and represented on the seminar walls” (These are Ghandi, MLK, and Plato?)

“I hope I make my point clear: you are not well-represented or underrepresented not because you are a woman, but because your ideas, thoughts, and intellectual works are not quite that great, important, causing big impact, or influential.”

“Does any woman philosopher who has world’s shattering, significantly important, and greatly influential ideas, thoughts, and intellectual works but get ignored and underrepresented?”

“Oop, I should have better quoted from some female philosopher (like Simone de Beauvoir) rather than from the poor male Sartre, shouldn’t I?”

Then in a private message:

Him: I have read quite a great number of great works on the subject matter of feminism, from both men and women writers, I even currently take such Philosophy and Feminism, of which for some reason you dropped out. My point is: I am not ill-informed as you think I am!

Me: Three weeks into a feminism course, you must be an expert on the female experience.

Him: No, not really, I have read lots of works on the subject matter of feminism, from both the perspectives of men writers as well as women writers.

Me: So you must understand feminism from a woman’s perspective then.

Him: I guess I do, both from my theoretical reading and from being a man who has married thrice (three times) to three women, and divorced as many times! In my life I have been living and in contact with female human being such as my mother, aunts, sisters, and female cousins and nephews, so I think I have a good grasp as to what and how those female human folks may think and value different from us men!

Well, I’d say it’s just like being a woman in general: tougher, more badass, and (*oh lord did she really say it*) better. I’ve never liked the expression “man, you need to grow a pair” (or any of its equivalents), but to highlight the message it tries to convey behind its childish facade, it does indeed take something extra – and no, not ‘a pair’ – to be a woman in philosophy.

It takes courage.

As opposed to the situation for our male counterparts, it seems to be demanded of women a primary explanation as to why we – being non-male – are even here, at the up until recently males only party known as philosophy. In other words, before we can Do, we must Defend.

This is unfair.**

Still, the lack of fairness at this “party” does not mean that we, i.e. women, can’t have one heck of a night. In fact, I argue, we are the ones who can go home and rightfully say “Not only did I work some philosophical magic today, but I also made the world a bit better.”

Because regardless how many questions, frowns or any type of belittling looks are thrown upon us, we Stay and we Do philosophy.

And this makes being a woman in philosophy tougher, more badass, and (*you bet your bum she said it*) better.

**Clarification of statement just made: to treat x with less respect than y due to a discriminatory cause is unfair, and any average philosopher will (hopefully) agree on that.

 I am a woman who recently started a job in a department with a long history of being all more mostly male. I don’t know most of my colleagues very well yet but they seem nice and well intentioned. Still it feels strange to be the only woman at some meetings, in those contexts, my gender is something that I am aware of. Recently a man I’ve never interacted with who works in another area of campus (though has some affiliation with my department) contacted me electronically to ask me for coffee. I thought it was a collegial invitation, perhaps to welcome me or get to know the new hire but after I accepted he wrote back referring to his positive thoughts about my appearance. I told him that any coffee meeting would be just friendly and his response suggested that he didn’t really take my clarification all that seriously. Some people suggested to me that they thought he might just be very awkward or going through a tough time. But is there any excuse for this?

I recently attended an interdisciplinary conference and had a quite revealing experience with a fellow male philosopher. Most of the students at the conference were computer scientists, mathematicians, or linguists. There were some philosophers, but they were in the minority of attendees.

It was break time and I was near these two male students who were introducing themselves to each other. One of them was a philosopher (P) and the other was a mathematician (M). P says to M, “so, you must be a computer scientist or a mathematician, right? Which one?” M says, “I’m a mathematician. That’s a good guess! Haha.” P tells M that he is a philosopher and that there aren’t a lot of them there. I was excited that there was another philosopher there and was excited to introduce myself to them and to the other philosopher so we could talk philosophy.

I walk up to them and say hello. P says to me, “I could probably guess what you are. You’re a linguist, right?” I said, “No, I’m actually a philosopher, just like you. Why would you assume that I’m a linguist?” He said I look like one and that philosophers are in the minority. I was baffled and walked away.

I felt sick the rest of that day. P assumed that M was a computer scientist or a mathematician, but for me, the only option was a linguist. Was it because I was a female and a minority and the male student was male and white? I’m not sure. Even if philosophers were in the minority, why couldn’t I be one of them? What does a linguist look like? Sure, a lot of linguists at this conference were female (and based on statistics, there are more women than men studying linguistics), but I didn’t think that his assumption of me was fair.

That interaction left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t let it ruin the rest of my time at the conference, but I was upset and angry that he judged me before he learned anything about me. What was more alarming  was that he made his judgment so effortlessly and with a bit of enthusiasm. Although I didn’t let that experience ruin my time at the conference, it was hard not to feel “othered” during talks where I was one of the few women and underrepresented minorities in the crowd. Also, I felt that if he saw me as a linguist, then maybe other students (male and female) saw me as a linguist, instead of as a computer scientist, mathematician, or philosopher. There’s nothing wrong with being a linguist. What is messed up is if the assumption is that one is a linguist (rather than one of the other labels above) because one is a woman, minority, or both. It was a moment that highlighted my “otherness” in academic philosophy.

This is not a story per se. It’s a reflection prompted by reading your wonderful blog. How I wish it had existed when I was in grad school in the late ‘70s trying to decide on a career. I was almost a woman in philosophy and before spending a few hours immersed in your blog thought I had “chosen” not to pursue my favorite subject. I see now that I was driven out.

For the first time I’ve stopped to imagine how different it would have been had I been a man with political philosophy as my favorite (and hence best) subject. I graduated summa cum laude in political science from a major state university. I completed my doctoral exams with distinction in all four of my fields, including political philosophy. Even in my chosen major field of comparative politics, I focused on philosophy of religion. I had a published work while still in grad school. And yet, no professor, no TA EVER in the eight years I spent at university suggested I might do philosophy. Would that have happened to a male? Uh, no.

The exclusion began my first day in political philosophy as an undergrad. I read through the syllabus and asked the TA whether we were really going to have a 100 per cent male viewpoint in the course and wasn’t there anyone who could represent the thinking of the other half of the human race? Nope. The great philosophers are ALL male but don’t worry their approaches are universal, or some such crap. It ended with me choosing a very difficult and non-theoretical dissertation topic involving intensive field research. Despite receiving excellent grant funding, I lost confidence and never finished. (I felt it arrogant to try to write in depth on a culture and system I’d only observed for a year.) I ended up with a decent career and a good life BUT…

The dissertation I really wanted to write was on how gender influenced moral philosophy. My thinking was that holding the primacy of compassion as a moral virtue, as Rousseau did, for example, might give women a moral edge over men and this is a possibility for which philosophers were, and perhaps still are, not yet ready. Much of the history of moral philosophy may represent efforts to assert male moral superiority. Take, for instance, Kant’s rejection of natural ethics to discover that ethics are a product of free will. “Morality requires not a natural relation of man-to-man, but a relation of man-to-duty. For an act to be called good,” he said, “it is not sufficient to do that which should be morally good that it conforms to the law; it must be done for the sake of the law.” Moral acts were those done not for natural reasons but for the sake of the law; in other words, for a reason men would be much more likely to cite than women.

It’s possible that this is not an original observation or that my understanding of Kant may be dead wrong. I don’t know because that’s not ultimately what I studied and that suited everyone just fine.

I’m sick of feeling like an imposter in this discipline, and I’m sick of having to work twice as hard as all the guys to get even roughly comparable marks, and I’m sick of being told I should be grateful for tiny changes. So I have some questions I need answered.

Why do I have to sit in a class on [topic removed] listening to people defend a rapist? Why do middle aged, middle class, white men in philosophy think they have the epistemic authority to moralise about gendered violence? Why isn’t their attempt to justify rape acknowledged to be as threatening as it is?

How come my lecturer thinks it’s acceptable to advance the idea that there shouldn’t be protocols against faculty-student relationships when we literally *just* read a book about a professor who rapes his student? How come he thinks it’s okay to do this in a philosophy classroom, knowing full well that philosophy is the worst discipline for sexual harassment and assault of female students by male faculty?

Why do I have to feel afraid or intimidated of potential supervisors or lecturers? Why are there still so many instances of harassment and assault against women in philosophy departments and why does no one seem to care? Why do I have female classmates who start grad school with the expectation that they’ll be harassed? And why is it so heartbreaking to hear them confess that they’re worried they’re unattractive when they’re *not* hit on? How warped is that?

Why do I have to research PhD positions based on an entirely different set of criteria to men? How come I don’t get to apply to departments based on potential supervisors or ranking? How come I have to make sure I pick a department that has philosophers of my gender working in it? How come I have to make sure I pick a department where no male faculty have been investigated for sexual misconduct?

Is it any wonder that male students are getting better marks than me when I’m working a day job on top of this degree to survive? As well as the domestic and emotional labour that comes with my gender? And if my marks suffer as a result, how am I supposed to compete for funding to even make it to grad school?

Why do I have to fight so hard for every little thing, like getting rid of the title ‘Philosopher King’ for the president of the Philosophy Club? Why is it so hard for others to accept gender neutral language? If we can’t even do that, in a student club, how are we going to increase women’s representation in the discipline?

If academic philosophy is as competitive as Olympic level sports, like my supervisor says, how come men get away with performance enhancing drugs and I don’t? Why am I treated differently? Why don’t I get mentoring, and extra help, and networking opportunities?

How come when I ask for things, like tutoring assignments, or comments on my work, I get made to feel like I’m too aggressive or pushy or demanding (when I even *get* a response), but when male students do it they’re motivated go-getters?

How come when I try to talk in in class and give arguments I’m called ‘too emotional’ instead of passionate? Why do men think it’s okay to talk over me? How come I get interrupted not only by classmates but *by my own students?* How come people don’t take me seriously as a philosopher when I have good marks and extracurriculars to back me up?

If this is one of the better departments, how come I had to set up a society for women in philosophy? How come we still only have three women in the faculty? If this is a good department, what’s grad school going to look like?

But most of all, if I’m a good student, and a good tutor, and have the potential to be a good philosopher, how come I have to keep asking myself the question men never have think about; whether I should even stay in philosophy at all?

Although I have been a long time reader of your blog, I am not a woman, nor am I a philosopher. I am, however, in a related field, and find myself interacting fairly regularly with philosophers both at academic philosophy conferences and over the internet. I would like to share with you the substance of an outrageous exchange I have borne witness to via a listserv I am subscribed to.

For those readers that don’t use them, a listserv is an email list where messages are sent to a large number of subscribers. Often, people have conversations with each other over the listserv via “reply-all” email messages (which means that everyone on the listserv ends up as a silent party to these).

Usually, my listserv has been generally apolitical and professional. However, recently a series of exchanges occurred that were very ugly indeed. The context of this exchange was that the candidates for prestigious graduate postdoctoral and graduate fellowships had been announced. Three of the fourteen positions had gone to female applicants. A female professor suggested that—given the large number of applications—female applicants were badly underrepresented in the small sample of successful applicants. Her concerns were rudely dismissed. But the manner of this dismissal is what shocked me. It revealed the side of professional philosophy that accepts casual misogyny and is dismissive of taking action against it.

In order to provide evidence of this, I’ll reproduce the important parts of this conversation here verbatim. I have removed any reference to any individual, the specific fellowship, or the specific subfield of philosophy. Remarks that I did not find offensive are not reproduced here.

Female Professor:
“Has there been a year when the majority [of the successful applicants] were women? In the case of a confidential selection process, has there been a year in which the committee doing the selecting contained a majority of women? Apparently, whenever you start and whenever you stop counting, the count looks very similar from year to year, which is in itself interesting information. Why, when women are more than half the population and quite a bit more than half the students, would anyone claim to see any bias here? What sort of point is that to make?”

Male Professor #1:
“Dear [Female Professor #1], would you please consider to accept it as a matter of fact that in the field of [philosophy subfield] there are less active women than men?! If you want a quota reflecting this fact, three out of ten speakers should be women at the most. If you don’t like the fact of there being less women than men in the field, try to encourage girls and women to occupy themselves with it. No reason to annoy everyone with your foolish bleating all the time.”

Male Professor #2:
“Perhaps, [Male Professor #1], it’s condescending remarks (and worse) like yours that suggest the climate is not very welcoming?”

Male Professor #1:
“My remark was not very polite because it’s not polite at all to constantly accuse others of working against women in [subfield] while organizing conferences etc., which is very tiring.”

Male Professor #3:
“Facts concerning distribution of gender across a population should have no bearing on facts concerning distribution of abilities in [philosophy subfield] (and thus determination of meritorious holders of academic positions in [philosophy subfield]).”

The outcry that followed basically amounted to “stop talking about this – we can discuss academic politics at our yearly meeting.” Although other posters took the idea that women face systemic discrimination, the idea of questioning the selection process for the fellowships was not discussed.

As I said before, I am not a woman, nor am I a philosopher. I am not concerned about the fellowships—I obviously have no stake in who gets them. But I know that these comments reveal a “blunt sexism” that I find unacceptably narrow-minded and dismissive. It angers me on behalf of the female philosophers I know—any of whom might find that similar sexist attitudes might cost them a chance at a fellowship someday—and I felt that I could, at least, share this outrageous episode with this blog. Academia, and particularly philosophy, should be capable of dealing with this problem than to tell a respected female academic (publically!) to “stop bleating”.

As I look back at what just happened, I’m confused. I don’t know what the “answer” is, if there is one, and I do not mean to shame anyone personally (although in this case I am tempted to think that this might be well deserved). I was just disgusted and after mulling it over, I thought I should submit it to you.

To some degree, I feel ashamed and foolish for not speaking out more than I did; I should have given a strong, all-caps retort defending the right of female philosophers to question arcane (and clearly sexist) selection policies. It all happened quickly, and I didn’t really grasp what was happening until the “bleating” comment came out (just like everyone else, I tune out boring email–like discussing selection policies–and just like everyone else I probably shouldn’t). That is a reason but not an excuse.

I hope that I can spread awareness about the unfair selection procedures for fellowships with this submission to your blog. Young academics need to be able to see what is happening behind the curtain, and in this case it reveals that sexism is surprisingly overt.

As an MA student, I enrolled in a metaphysics seminar that was well outside my field. Having never done coursework in metaphysics, I had hoped that the seminar would bring me up to speed on contemporary debates in a way that a survey course could not. I’d also taken courses with the professor before and enjoyed his teaching style. Three weeks into the course, after struggling with an expansive and dense reading list, there were only seven students left in the class – and among them, I was the only woman. The material was obviously difficult for everybody, and much of the class time was spent deciphering the weekly readings.

In one class, I asked a question about the reading and the professor was particularly dismissive, essentially telling me that my comment was irrelevant to the debate we were studying. In that moment, looking around the room and again noticing that I was the only woman, I was bombarded with an internal dialogue that distracted me for the rest of the class. Was the professor being dismissive because I’m woman? Did I not understand the material in the first place because I’m a woman? If the professor wasn’t being dismissive because I’m a woman, was he being dismissive because I’m legitimately inept? Did the other students think my comment was irrelevant and stupid? Did they think I asked it because I’m a woman? Am I just imagining that he was being dismissive because I’ve been reading all of this stuff about the status of women in philosophy? Or has reading this stuff made me more prone to notice these things? Am I feeling all of this self-doubt because I’m a woman? Even if I’m intelligent enough to understand this stuff, and I’m projecting some attitude onto the professor that he doesn’t hold, does that make me crazy? Does philosophy require some kind of self-confidence that I obviously lack? Am I getting so upset about this because I’m a woman? Am I getting so upset about getting uspet about this because I’m a woman? Should I even be in this course? Should I even be in this field?

Further discussions with my classmates assured me that my question was not irrelevant, that the tone of the professor during that entire class session was particularly dismissive, and that everyone else in the class was having difficulty with the reading as well. I ended up doing well in the course, and in some ways was reassured that my stream-of-consciousness during that particular class session was ill-founded. In retrospect, the thing that now bothers me most about that experience is that I don’t think any of my male classmates has had to deal with the spiral of insecurity, rationalizing, and uncertainty that left me shell-shocked that day.

I was employed as a feminist philosopher in a department where I was the only woman; that is to say, I was employed to teach feminist theory in philosophy. From the beginning there were questions about my competency, about the nature of my work, and with that, very little support from my male colleagues. I felt very undermined, and this did not help my profound lack of confidence. I was given no mentoring, and the one senior woman in a cognate discipline, was an anti-philosopher. She had no sympathy or understanding for what I was doing. One of my colleagues came and shouted at me in front of a grad student when I sent him an email in which I mis-spelt his name. As a result, I moved my office. No-one came to invite me back to the department; no-one tried to sort the issue out. No-one apologised. To this day the former colleague has never acknowledged his role in my moving office. I eventually returned to another office in the department but the whole event was ignored and never spoken of. When I unsuccessfully applied for a promotion at the very same time my first book with a first rate publisher was published, no-one helped me out or suggested I lodge an appeal. Yet there were clearly politics involved in my lack of success. When I was head of the department, my male colleagues basically ignored me or undermined any of my efforts to secure pedagogical changes that would benefit the discipline. I resigned in frustration and everything went back to as it was. I left suddenly, without any goodbyes after giving appropriate notice. No-one seemed to care that I left, or why. I became a philosopher because I love ideas and their exploration. That has not changed, but I feel emotionally and intellectually abused by my whole experience.

I was on the job market this year. I was told (more than once) by our placement director that if I got a job that would show that “the department should admit more female grad students.” Nothing was said of my abilities or accomplishments.

My account brings not much new to the shocking posts I read on this blog, but mainly confirms that they are part of a wider structural problem. I did half of my first degree in philosophy. Prior to commencing my studies there, a female friend and previous graduate recommended the department to me, but warned me that I need to watch out for Dr X and Dr Y as they’d come onto female students. I never experienced any form of sexual advances myself, but during my time there I learned about several sexual encounters, affairs and occasional relationships between male lecturers/ tutors and female students. Generally (perhaps not in every case) I think this is an abuse of power from the side of the lecturers who are in charge of students’ grades and future prospects.

My former philosophy department had a similar set-up as many of the departments mentioned on this blog – exclusively male leadership, and out of the whole staff team only a couple of staff members were female. I was fortunate enough to at some point be taught by an excellent female lecturer, who had left the department due to department-internal conflicts (unknown to me, but they were between her and apparently several male colleagues) and ran her courses from a different department. Courses run by that lecturer are my best memories of my time in philosophy – I suspected that she never fully received the recognition she deserves.

In my final year or so, I asked on a department-internal online forum why there was no course offered on a prominent female or non-white philosopher – indeed, these were generally found only sparsely on our reading lists. On the same forum, several male student ‘colleagues’ posted some ‘jokes’ along the lines of ‘women to the kitchen!’. Then a prominent lecturer responded to my post, saying that it ‘doesn’t matter’ whether a philosopher was male or female, white or black – all that mattered what the philosophical theories produced by them. He overlooked that his assertion was informed by a particular epistemological bias and completely unacceptable as a generalised statement. Furthermore, even in more maths-based philosophy as in the area he worked in, there is a case to be made for making sure that there is a women-friendly climate in general and women get the same recognition as men, so they feel supported to produce the best work they can. I was disappointed. As some others on here said, the most depressing thing is that these are supposedly people who are educated in equality & diversity, and highly educated in general.

As a graduate student, I changed subject and never looked back. I’m now often in strongly female-dominated working constellations – even though recently my (female, self-proclaimed feminist) supervisor told me half-jokingly, ‘Don’t get pregnant while in graduate school!’. This comes at a time when one of my colleagues is struggling with her department being unsafe for her pregnancy, and there are huge delays in making it safe despite repeated pleas from her (male) supervisor. Not that I’m planning to get pregnant anytime soon, but – ouch!

On being alone

Posted: June 4, 2012 by Jender in low numbers of women

When I started my undergrad (1990), I was drawn to philosophy and I could have chosen that discipline. There was not one other female student in any of my classes, not one female professor, not one female philosopher on the syllabus or curriculum. I was a freak alone with others that would see only my sexuality, and I believed them. Not any more.

I know what Wittgenstein meant when he said “A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.”

Thank you for creating this forum for women to write their stories. It heals my philosophical soul.

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.

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.

Philosophy, and other Humanities

Posted: May 11, 2011 by Jender in low numbers of women

I went to an event last night for a selection of full professors at my university. A woman from history remarked to me on how strange she found it being in such an overwhelmingly male environment. For me, though, it was less male than usual.

I am a (male) graduate student in a Leiter top-20 department. Recently our department’s liaison to a university committee on diversity reported in a faculty meeting on the lack of representation of minorities and women in our department. A grad student always attends faculty meetings and sends reports about the meetings to the grad students.

Maybe it is too much to ask that bold solutions to such large problems be raised at faculty meetings. But the liaison’s suggestions consisted of things like, “try to vary the names of people you use in examples you give to undergraduates, like Tran instead of Tim.” This is something faculty and graduate students should do, obviously — but what about changes that require *real commitment and time* from faculty members? For example, they could work on establishing better mentoring relationships with PhD students, and being sensitive, when mentoring their students, to the tendency of women (and possibly minorities?) to undervalue their work and make self-deprecating remarks about their abilities.

The report on the faculty meeting noted that this part of the meeting was short, and that it ended with faculty members “speculating” about the relative scarcity of female undergrads in upper-level courses. I’m glad they’re thinking about it, but I would like to see more serious thought about how to address under-representation.

Hmmm…

Posted: December 4, 2010 by Jender in Good news, low numbers of women

I felt pretty well-supported as a female grad student in the 90s, and in my first department as a faculty member in the late 90s and early 00s. This gave me the (clearly false, given this blog!) impression that sexism was not much of an issue in philosophy. In my current department, it seems as though there is a much different climate for women: more hostile, less supportive, more likely to see the research of women as being less weighty (assuming it is mentioned at all). Nothing as blatant as some of the experiences reported here, though. So, maybe it’s my imagination. But what is not my imagination is how few women are in our philosophy classes, as compared to my previous university, or how rarely women have the top GPAs in the major. Hmm.