Archive for the ‘Maleness of academia’ Category

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.

Where are the girly-girls and why is it not ok to be one?

The majority of women I meet in Philosophy are tom-boy-ish. Many of them have short hair, wear no make-up, and dress like their male contemporaries (tramping gear or jeans and a tshirt). Of course, I don’t have a problem with women choosing this, if they are choosing it. Not all women want to wear makeup, dresses, have kids, etc etc, and I totally support a women’s right to chose what she does with her body (her clothes, her hair, her fertility). But what I do have a serious problem with however is the fact that, in my experience, women like this seem far disproportionate in philosophy. Where did all the girly-girls go, and why is not ok to be one?

I don’t know if this is due to the women in philosophy, or the men, or the institution.
-Is it that the women think that they need to be like the men in order to be accepted into this philosophy club?
-Or is that the men have driven away the more feminine philosophers (by hitting on them, harassing them for being too girly, or just not taking them seriously)?
-Or is that the institution does not make room for women? It certainly does not make room for people with families or spouses (double body problems) or caregiver commitments, given that graduates new on the job market have to apply for bunches of jobs and take whatever they can get at some horrid institution in the middle of nowhere.

Furthermore, many of my girlfriends in philosophy have changed since they went on the job market or got accepted into various prestigious grad programs. They’ve gone from having what I thought of as a modern kind of feminism (women don’t need to be like men in order to be equal to men), to changing into these tom-boy-ish women. I’m not convinced they’re doing it because that was the kind of woman they always wanted to be, rather than the woman they feel they have to be in order to succeed in philosophy.

The thing that I find the scariest is that they seem to have been brainwashed into this by their fellow women in philosophy. Friends who went to institutions where other female grad students or young female academics were tom-boy-ish, have themselves become like that. They’ve changed the way they dress. They all started a trend of dumping their boyfriends and partners in favour of their career (in most cases, it was not clear that a choice between the two needed to be made). They’ve decided to only sleep with men who agree that there will be no relationship (what if they fall in love, is that not allowed?). They talk about how their Doctoral dissertations will change the world, and hound other younger women about whether theirs will too, and how. It seems that the women are becoming just like the men that oppress them.


At a traditional college in the UK, academic staff would dine together and wear academic gowns to dinner. One nice thing about this arrangement was that you would get to speak to researchers in subjects other than your own. This also meant that, initially, I’d be dining with people to whom I’d not yet been introduced. Upon entering the dining hall, the startled and bemused reaction of the (predominantly white, over 50, and male) academics indicated that they took it to be more likely that a student had inadvertently donned a gown and stumbled into dinner than that a young woman like myself might, just might, be a member of the academic staff.
Subsequent interactions ranged from open, friendly and welcoming (thankfully!), to frosty and patronising (humpf).