Archive for the ‘trivialising women’ Category

On introducing speakers

Posted: April 17, 2012 by Jender in double standards, trivialising women

I attended a fabulous session at the Pacific APA this week that opened with dismaying introductions. There was one primary speaker (a male) and two commentators (one male and one female). The male chair opened the session by introducing all three presenters. When introducing both men he mentioned several of their notable publications and spoke very highly of each of them. He then introduced the woman by stating her name and institutional affiliation; that was it. He did not mention any of her publications (of which she has many!), nor did he “talk her up” in the way he did the two men.

I leaned over and whispered to the female graduate student from my department who was attending the session with me that the introductions seemed sexist to me. She said that she had been thinking the same thing and was glad that I had said something. At least I was able to validate her interpretation of this event as an instance of sexism, though I failed to speak up more vocally on behalf of my accomplished female colleague.

“Worried Mum”

Posted: April 2, 2012 by Jender in assumptions about mothers, trivialising women

Careless talk costs lives – well, costs publications anyway. I had some thoughts, pretty well worked together, about a topical issue in medical ethics and shared them with a male colleague, because I thought he was more of an expert in the area and might want to publish something jointly on the topic. Not only did he publish these under his own name in a blog, but I appeared – not as fellow academic who had initially alerted him to the problem and who also happens to have published in the very area – but as ‘worried mum’ who came to him with her concerns.

I’m a first year grad student on a philosophy programme where only 4 out of the 28 first year graduates are female. I studied Physics as an undergraduate, which had a similar gender-ratio so I’m very used to male-dominated environments. I have never previously felt judged, discriminated against or intimidated based on gender.

However, in the five months I have been a grad student, I’ve become peculiarly sensitive to the reaction of my male peers, who have frequently indicated that, first and foremost, I’m a girl.

To list some of my experiences:

1. At the end of a particularly challenging class on the history of modern logic, in which I was the only woman, a male student I had never met before approached me and began to explain some of the concepts that had been touched on. I had made absolutely no indication that I needed help, and certainly looked no more puzzled than anyone else in that class.

2. At our regular socials, the conversation is generally focused on philosophy or whatever people are specifically working on. We are primarily research students, and since we rarely attend class, do not know each other well. At these events, one of my male peers only ever talks to me about his romantic or sexual experiences. He talks to everyone else about Wittgenstein.

3. A male peer, who I also count as a good friend, never engages me in any academic conversation. Whilst he asks the men for their academic opinions on a talk we all attended together, he quizes me only on my love-life and my attitude towards sex. When I initiate a philosophical discussion, he patronises me and quotes Aristotle (for example) at me, even if we are discussing a subject that I specialise in, and he does not. The same ‘friend’ regularly flatters me with ‘you’re one of the smartest girls I’ve met, and you’re hot’, and has tried to kiss me, though he has admitted that he does not harbour any romantic feelings towards me. (To give some context to the attempted kiss: he was offering me essay advice at the time. Unfortunately, it is not possible to pass of the incident as a mistake at a party.)

4. Another male peer is in two classes with me, and yet he has never acknowledged me, either in a personal or academic capacity. I struggle to get my voice heard amongst the group of very confident and articulate men. Last week, I managed to make a few original points and actually engage with the discussion. This coursemate finally noticed me, and proceeded to initiate some small talk after the class. I then received an email from him inviting me out on a date. Clearly, if I am worthy of attention at all, it is in a romantic, rather than academic setting.

I am left with the overriding impression that to them, I represent a rare opportunity for a romantic dalliance with someone who at least approaches their intellectual capacity. I’m just intelligent enough to be good company, but not quite intelligent enough to be worthy of a rigorous philosophical discussion. To them, I am not their peer, an individual with individual interests, both academically and personally, but rather a symbol: a young woman in academic philosophy.

On being part of a philosophical couple

Posted: February 11, 2012 by Jender in trivialising women

On being part of a couple: 6 years ago my husband accepted a very prestigious professorship at University X in country Y. I work in the same field but am much more junior (at the time I was 10 years out of my Ph.D.), so I did not ask for a position for myself, though I did expect to be offered a minor, temporary position. Before leaving for the new job the star philosopher who had recruited my husband met with me to discuss my options. The star philosopher suggested to me that I put together a combination of grants and working half-time in a particular segment of the commercial sector, consonant with my interests. (For the sake of anonymity let us say it is a restaurant, more or less what the level was here.) I objected to this, wanting to remain in academia. My career wasn’t going badly at all! We agree that I would apply for grants for two years, and then everyone would take stock at that point.

I did not handle the suggestion to work (even half-time) outside of academia, or the remark of one colleague, that my husband’s salary is so high, why did I even need a job?or the general atmosphere, very well. In fact I was so upset, I mentioned my situation to a few of my husband’s new colleagues (at parties, after a glass of wine). They did not feel sympathy for me—probably a natural response, when someone is indiscreet in that way.

Final result: I very soon come to be regarded as “difficult.” The grant situation doesn’t really work out, although I do end up getting funded for 1.5 years, sort of after the fact. Life in country Y becomes untenable, in spite of friendships formed with some very nice people in the end. My husband and I both return to our previous jobs. I obtain tenure. My career takes up where it left off. I publish, I receive prestigious fellowships, I receive numerous invitations to speak—though never in country Y, which has hosted so many in my field.

Moral(s) of the story: When you are exposed to sexism, don’t lose your composure. You are supposed to be quiet about it. Second moral of the story: don’t tag along when your other half gets a great job, hoping you will be offered something too. Third moral of the story: work hard and you will be able to look back on the hard times from a better position.

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.

Recent mention of ‘golden boys’ reminded me of an experience I had in grad school. One year, my department had an opportunity to nominate a single PhD student to contend for a substantial dissertation research grant from the University. Unbeknownst to me, my ‘golden boy’ status led to my nomination; in doing so, the department passed over another extremely well-qualified female student. But, one of the department’s few female faculty members took it upon herself to nominate the female student in addition to me.

As it turns out the selection committee got it right, and the better candidate won. When the winner was announced, a senior (male) faculty member took it upon himself to inform me of the situation. He told me that, I was the department’s “unanimous top choice”; that female faculty member X was “being insubordinate” by going “behind the department’s back”; and that the winner “wouldn’t have won had she not been a female”.

It would take far too long to list every aspect of implicit and explicit bias, subtle and blatant sexism in this brief conversation. I was simply shocked, particularly since I wouldn’t have known any different had this faculty member not pulled me aside. All I could manage to say was that I was happy my fellow student had won, and that I was convinced she really deserved it more than I did.

Looking back, I wish I had taken the opportunity to call out the sexism on this occasion (and in particular to stand up for the actions of the female faculty member). It still bothers me, and makes me question whether the other benefits I received in grad school were merited, or were merely the result of gender bias in my favor.

A list of worries I have for female assistant professors…

These worries, which may be a little clumsy, constitute a sort of working list that I stay more or less conscious of. I just keep seeing these issues arise, and have dealt with them first hand in my own case. In every case they echo [stories I have recently seen in discussions on the internet]

Do not coauthor, you will not get credit for your work like a male colleague would.

You are expected to be a good teacher, so the outlier comments on your student reviews will be a focus of your colleagues. They will expect you to satisfy the class entirely, since you are female.

You will not get credit for any invited publications, regardless of where they go. (This happened to me.)

Invited talks will not count.

You will be asked by your colleagues “who you know” when it comes to any invitation. Again, you will not get credit for these like your male colleagues will.

You can gauge the low expectations your colleagues have for your work by their first reaction to news of a publication- what question do they ask? If it reveals the expectation that your publication is in a lower quality venue than it in fact is, then you have an uphill battle. Your tenure packet will need to be much better than it would be if you were similar but male.

The poster sent a follow-up email noting that despite these worries she did get tenure.

Wardrobe, wardrobe, wardrobe

Posted: April 23, 2011 by Jender in trivialising women

My senior year of college I took a course with the chair of the philosophy department at my small, wealthy, southern liberal arts college. (It was the sort of place where women wore pearls to the gym). I was a brash Yankee girl who very much objected to the sorority culture and standards of southern femininity, and so dressed accordingly. He, by contrast, was a meticulously neat, old-fashioned man, who clearly wished he could drape a tablecloth over me so as to be spared the sight of my sartorial choices. Unfortunately, he couldn’t ignore me, because I sat in the front of room, spoke frequently, and was, by far, the best student there.

One day, when discussing Dewey’s Democracy and Education, I asked some question about Dewey’s methodology. The professor asked if I minded being used as an example to clarify his point. I said, no, not at all, and he proceeded to say this: “X has a lot of problems – her wardrobe, what she is going to do tonight, her wardrobe, finding a date for the spring formal, her wardrobe…..”

At the time, I was mostly furious for the way he assigned such stereotypically shallow, feminine concerns to me. My real concerns at the time were the domestic violence counseling I was doing to support myself, the international fellowships I was applying for (one of which I won), and the grad schools I was applying for (all of which accepted me). Looking back, I’m still offended by his totally unjustified assumption that I was not a serious student, but even more outraged that he thought it at all appropriate to comment on my physical appearance in front of the entire class. Fortunately, he has since retired.

There is one form of general criticism that I find female philosophers unproportionally often exposed to. I am a graduate student in philosophy. I try to explain by means of some examples:

1. At a public, well attended conference a very influential and respected male professor from one of the top US-universities tells the only female professional philosopher who is presenting a paper that her work is “not useful” and that “in philosophy one needs to think very hard”, suggesting that she had not been thinking hard enough. This happened during the public discussion of her contribution. This remark immediately set an end to the beforehand lively discussion of the paper.

2. In a monograph prepared for publication a male professor calls the way a female colleague sets up logical arguments “distasteful” and a “semantic pollution”. The male philosopher refused to remove these remarks when criticized for their inadequacy.

3. A female graduate student in philosophy is told by a male professor that her papers are “unreadable” and that she does not know “what philosophy is”.

4. While discussing topics related to the work on metaphysics of a female professor in the department, one of her male colleagues mentions that he thinks that metaphysics does not have a proper subject matter. Similarly, when talking about a research project about X the chief investigator of which is female, one of her male colleagues makes public that he does not understand why research on X should be interesting.

What these cases have in common is that a form of criticism is voiced which is general in a way that makes it very hard to respond. Normally, criticism both can and should be helpful. But a criticism which question the legitimacy or usefulness of one’s work, or denounces it to not be philosophical, does not ask for improvement and does not allow any answer. It does not challenge a single argument, but questions the work as a whole. I have never experienced a male philosopher to be exposed to criticism of this general sort.

How compliments can isolate

Posted: April 20, 2011 by Jender in trivialising women

I am a female graduate student in a fairly well ranked PhD program in the philosophy of science. My undergraduate institution had a fairly small philosophy program with an even smaller masters program. As an undergraduate, during the time I was just beginning to work seriously as a philosopher of science, I had a somewhat depressing, reoccurring interaction with an older graduate student. Given the size of the program there was a small, yet close group of undergraduates (many of whom are now in graduate programs) who would come to class early and discuss the readings or whatever topic we happened to be interested in at time. About five minutes before class began this particular graduate student would come in. Every time it was the same; he would engage intellectually with the male students (I was the only female in the group at the time) and then make some comment about my appearance. It amazed me that twice a week, for 12 weeks, he would walk into class and have a new superficial but equally insulting comment. “Nice shoes.” “You look good today.” “I really like that scarf.” Now these comments, on their own, many not cause the reader to feel as offended as I was. I did not find the content to be particularly irksome, but it was the context that made these comments hurtful. Every comment reaffirmed that he did not consider me to be a part of the philosophical community, at least not in any meaningful way. I was there, in his eyes, only as an ornament, only as an intellectual outsider (an inferior one at that). It was hurtful. But worst of all, it really did isolate me. Many of my fellow students were sympathetic, but no one could really relate. However, the one positive thing that came out of the loneliness of that situation was that it forced me to be strong and stand up for myself. I shouldn’t have had to, but the skill has proven itself useful over the years.

“You’re so sweet”

Posted: April 17, 2011 by Jender in trivialising women

As a young undergraduate philosophy student, I was excited to find out that soon I would go to my first dinner with a ‘real’ philosopher from a neighboring school, along with a few of my classmates. I was the only female there, and upon meeting me the professor remarked how sweet I was. Everyone giggled, and I found myself doing the same not wanting to ruin the pleasant atmosphere. He didn’t say anything remotely serious to me the rest of the night, while he questioned my classmates on their higher values.

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’m a female grad student in a field cognate to philosophy and have taken four graduate seminars in philosophy that overlapped with my disciplinary interests. (The philosophy department here is Leiter top 20, if it matters.) What an experience it’s been.

In each of the four classes, one of the male students asked me out. Believe me when I say that this does not happen every time I take a class in my own field.

Although I wasn’t interested in any of these men, I didn’t mind these experiences because the students in question all treated me with obvious respect, and remained interested in conversation, about philosophy and other things, after I declined. So I didn’t have the experience of some women who’ve posted here, who had to wonder whether apparent philosophical interest in them was really something different.

It was other things that made me sometimes feel unwelcome. Sometimes these were fairly subtle. One time, a male student (who I quite like) was joking around about an undergrad woman he’d met in a bar. “I don’t know,” he said, making “on the one hand, on the other hand” hand gestures. “Great rack, but likes Kierkegaard…” He wasn’t remotely talking about me, but the offhand remark made me feel judged in a way that the repeated offers of a date never had. I had a flash of feeling that for all the other students around me, this was how it felt normal to think about the women around them — does her hot body outweigh being an intellectual lightweight?

Other times, my experiences were blatant, though still (I presume from my sense of the people involved) without any ill intent. I vividly remember one time we were all sitting around talking before class started. I jumped into the conversation, and in the middle of my sentence, the man sitting right next to me jumped in over me as though I hadn’t said a word.

After class, another student — the only racial minority in the class — caught up with me and apologized on the group’s behalf. “I really hate it when they do that,” he said.

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.

I am a first year MA student in a reasonably well-respected department. I love it, so far, despite being overwhelming in the minority as a woman. However, I recently asked a fellow student about what a professors expectations were with regard to written work. I have been having a difficult time reading this professor and discerning what he thinks about my contributions to classroom discussion. I was told, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about so-and-so’s class. You’re a woman, so they want to keep you, so just write whatever you want.”

I had a rough senior year of college; my GPA suffered; I want to do really well academically, to prove that I belong in grad school. That comment did not help my confidence or give me any sort of direction for the paper.

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.

“We usually just ignore her”

Posted: October 27, 2010 by Jender in trivialising women

This happened a few years ago. At the end of a job interview at a very good research university, I said to the sole woman on the interviewing panel: “I don’t think I fully answered your question.” One of her (male) colleagues piped from across the room “don’t worry, we usually just ignore her”. Several other (male) colleagues of hers chuckled.

[Famous male philosopher’s] review of [two famous feminist philosophers’ book] appeared in [deleted] The review was astonishingly mean-spirited and uncharitable in its reading of both philosophers. It was chilling. To know that to pursue a career in philosophy was to have widely respected figures hold attitudes like this: An excerpt: “it turns out that patriarchy has not been so bad for moral philosophy, however bad it has been for female moral philosophers. From the reading of these books, I conclude that there is no untapped pool of deep moral reflection that a feminist perspective enables us to recover.” It was a very poignant lesson of the importance of having a deeply rooted self-confidence so as to be able to withstand gratuitous and very public attacks like this

This happened at the beginning of the 21st century. When I gave my very first talk at a major conference as a graduate student, my commentator ridiculed my argument and even questioned whether my paper was a philosophy paper. He did not seem to have read my paper closely and he did not give me his comments to read before he delivered them. When it was time for me to respond to his comments, he kept interrupting me. He even interrupted me when I was answering questions from the audience. I do not think this would have happened to me, were I male. The good news however is that I got an email after the talk from a senior philosopher who was in the audience: he apologized for the behavior of the commentator, said that he enjoyed my paper, and wished me best of luck in the profession. That email saved the day for me.

This is about 20 years ago. I was a first year graduate student, taking metaphysics. A male student—let’s call him X—was taking the same class. He was very vocal, seemed to be very intelligent. The first time *I* ever spoke up, I must have asked a good question, because the professor said: “Did X put you up to that?”

The professor seemed to be sorry later.