Archive for the ‘objectifying women’ Category

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!

Today I (a female grad student) was discussing with my partner (a male grad student) some of the comments Ruth Chang makes about sexual harassment in her recent 3am interview. He was shocked at senior philosophers confessing to Chang that they don’t consider expressing romantic interest in a student to be particularly problematic, as he (reasonably) considers it to be wildly inappropriate. To be clear, everything he said was supportive, and he is very understanding of the issues women in philosophy face, but still two of the things he said (and especially my reactions to them) struck me as noteworthy.

1) “I can’t believe someone would really think that was okay!”
I reeled off the names of four people we know personally who we know to have expressed interest in students or junior colleagues, and in fact to have gone further than mere expressions of interest. (This includes one who person he knows harassed me as an undergraduate). He agreed that in some sense he knows that people do it, but still can’t get his head around the idea that they would think it is okay.

2) “Imagine if I was talking one-on-one with [senior member of staff] and she admitted that she was attracted to me. That would be so horrible and so inappropriate!”
This made me realise that even the most empathetic of male philosophers will have trouble fully understanding the extent of ‘what it’s like’, because I only recognised this point myself during our conversation: whenever I have ever had a meeting with a male member of staff I am on some level worried that they might express interest in me, or that I will realise that they are interested in me, or that they will think that I am interested in them. I can’t think of a single exception to this, and now I’m feeling exhausted at the prospect of a career filled with such stressful interactions.

As an undergraduate, I was introduced to the concept of Plato’s ideal realm with the form of a girlfriend. While I don’t remember all of the specifics given, I do remember my professor claiming that the ideal girlfriend “looks good in a sweater.”

Discussion Question

Posted: March 12, 2014 by Jender in objectifying women

In a required class offered during my Masters program, whose students included about six women and one man, my professor posed the following discussion topic: “If you knew that you were going to be stranded on a desert island, and you could take either Michelle Pfeiffer or the philosophical canon, which would you choose?”

I was upset by the question, and jumped in with a defiant, “I’d take Michelle Pfeiffer.” Everything became tense. My teacher was considering his next question, when the male student said, “I’d choose the philosophical canon.” The remainder of the discussion proceeded between the male student and the professor…

One of my classmates chose a particularly obnoxious faculty member to sit on her dissertation committee. I asked her what she was thinking. She told me that it was only my relationship with him that was strained. He failed her defense, and placed a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in her school mailbox with a note, “Maybe you should consider a change of career.”

She did reconfigure her committee, and pass her defense six months later…

Ok here goes. I was doing my MA at [a university in country X], and the language spoken there was not my native tongue, even if I was fluent in the language of instruction. Naturally I felt a bit isolated and insecure. But also, both the general approach to philosophy that the department was engaged in, and its pedagogical methods were new to me. I was trying to be very open to this new way of doing things philosophical, even if I did not like it very much.

Instead of teaching us for the whole term, professors required that from the 4th week of class, students– each in turn– take on the weekly 3-hour seminar, and present their work. This was all terribly tedious, as the 95% male students, as well as we 5%, were either 1) fresh from undergrad and unable to really talk intelligently about their subject, or 2) long term graduate students who knew how to talk about philosophy without actually saying anything. We all wore black clothes, smoked camel cigarettes and felt existential🙂

When it was my turn to present on a philosopher that we had not covered at all in class, but who I was supposed to research all on my own and present to the class (for three hours) as expert, I felt a bit freaked out. I asked my prof. (weeks ahead) if I could meet him to get some help. He was so busy, it seemed… always traveling or something.

In the end, the only time he could meet me was in the evening… a few days before I was due to give my presentation in class (upon which my entire grade depended). So sorry, but would I mind coming around to his house? We really did need to discuss things before I presented this major philosopher’s work to the class. I had literally started from scratch in trying to read and understand his writings, had had no instruction at all on his thought, and now I was supposed to do a 3 hour seminar presentation to the 15 other slightly hostile students. And was supposed to do this in a language that was foreign to me.

All this to explain how easy it was for me to accept the prof’s invitation to come to his house three days before my presentation, in order to “discuss the work of X philosopher”. It was too cold to get my car started, and I had to take a cab to his house. When I got there 1/2 hour late, he already had a big whiskey poured for me. I had to climb over the various children’s fisher-price toys for 4 year olds, and big lego sets to enter the room. It was all so uncomfortable, and he carefully explained that he was now single.

He was drunk, though I was too naive to see this right away.He kept insisting– INSISTING that I drink more whiskey, and pouring me huge amounts. I tried to comply … but didn’t fall for the liquor or the conversation. It was all so juvenile! I was a grad. student, not some 17 year old… and he just got progressively more drunk. I was naive enough to think that we would talk about Wittgenstein, but after he flopped over me a few times, telling me that I had to have sex with him– he needed it so badly, etc.–..and then beginning to force me to lie down…. well, I made my escape. Caught a bus home. Got home really late and tired and felt filthy for having let him go as far as he had.

Well a few days later I gave my presentation to the class, with the prof watching, editing, intervening, just as a good teacher would do. I thought the grade he gave me overall for the course was fair. Later, I contacted the University and tried to register an anonymous complaint, but met too many roadblocks. I tried to spread the word among my fellow students, but most were uninterested. Finally, I just moved on.

I am a junior member of a Philosophy department. Recently at a faculty meeting we were discussing the application of a philosopher to teach at our program for a short term. The applicant crashed a party I threw a while ago, arrived somewhat drunk, and hit on me incessantly even as I tried to maintain a professional distance (and I wear a wedding ring.) I explained this, including how uncomfortable I felt. A senior male professor said, ‘I don’t understand…is this positive or negative?” That was followed by heartfelt chuckles from some of my other colleagues. Somehow I found it in me to respond to that and say that it was negative, and that I did not appreciate the remark at all, since I had already stated it had been uncomfortable. To this the response of the senior member was, “I see.” After which, a senior female member of the department went on to tell me that not everyone, e.g. not her, would find it wrong to flirt with a married woman.