Archive for the ‘Why else….?’ Category

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.

Most of us have probably been complicit in this

Posted: December 9, 2010 by Jender in Why else....?

The first two points aren’t so positive, but the last one is.

First, though this has improved quite a bit, many people in my department have either never spoken to me at all, or spoken to me to tell me that I’m anti-feminist, either because of the area of philosophy I work on or because I’m friends with certain faculty members (who are generally incorrectly viewed as anti-feminist) in the department. My first year here almost none of the women in the department would talk to me at all. Even when I tried to explain to people that I came to philosophy through feminism, that I was committed to certain feminist principles, etc., I got written off. Without revealing too much, it was also (incorrectly) assumed by many people (and directly stated to me a few times) that I was only here because I had slept with one of the male faculty members. I think this completely off-base piece of gossip was probably a large part of the cause of the women (and some of the men) in the department treating me badly. What was especially hard about this is that I (until recently) felt like I didn’t have any other women to talk to about these issues, because for the most part they were alienating me.

Second, I’ve recently been given some opportunities/encouraged by certain philosophers to do some things that others have not been so encouraged to do. Lots of people have simply expressed happiness and congratulations and encouragement for me, but others have suggested that I have only received this attention/these opportunities either because someone in charge wanted to sleep with me, or because they simply needed more women at conference X or in special journal edition Y, etc. Needless to say, the above two issues have had a major negative impact on my confidence as a philosopher, but I’ve noticed, also, on my personality in general– I tend to be much more reserved and intimidated in all sorts of situations, not just philosophical ones.

Third, I just wanted to say that others in the profession– both in departments I am or have been affiliated with, and people that I meet professionally, both women and men– have been extremely supportive of me, and it has very clearly not had anything to do with the fact that I am a woman. Of course, when it is men, I often get the this-person-is-only-supportive-of-you-because-he-wants-to-get-in-your-pants talk from others, so the support is bittersweet in a way.

I know there have been a lot of comments in this vein on the blog, but I really hope that people realize how prevalent this is in philosophy– I’ve heard all sorts of similar things said about other young (and not-so-young) female philosophers, not just about myself, and it’s really damaging in so many different ways. I also really want to be clear that it comes from all sorts of people– feminists, anti-feminists, women, men, etc., and that most of us (myself included) have probably been complicit in this sort of behaviour without realizing it at some point.

How else could a woman be so successful?

Posted: November 17, 2010 by Jender in Why else....?

I spent four years as an undergraduate student and one as a graduate student taking philosophy courses in a department where I was one of very few female students (often the only one in a particular class). The department has a fairly high number of female faculty members and I always felt that all the faculty members I encountered supported and encouraged me. I took several classes from a certain (male) professor in the department who was known for being a particularly harsh grader. I put extra time and effort into his classes, sought his advice on papers and eventually learned to think and write in a way that won his approval. This experience was invaluable for me, and the hard work I put into these classes was what made me want to become a philosopher. Several times, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student male colleagues of mine suggested that the only reason I was doing well when so many others were not was that I must be sleeping with the professor. The (always male) students who said this to me felt it was perfectly acceptable to do so in front of large groups. No one ever came to my defense (or that of the professor). My eventual transfer to another department was in part motivated by a desire to escape the offensive comments of my fellow students.

I (male) publish with prof. x (female). We have also taught joint seminars, and given quite a few joint talks. On at least four occasions (including one formal solicitation to apply for a job) people have assumed we are married. (It would be remarkably easy to determine that we are not; in fact that we are both married to other people. There is no evidence beyond the joint work to suggest that we ever had any relationship beyond the professional, which indeed we have not.) None of this had sexist intent, indeed was in some ways friendly and generous (offering to create a second position). But we all need to think about the climate we create for students or junior faculty who are considering joint work if they get the idea that the default assumption among the community is that a man and a woman working together must be having sex.

In graduate school (late 80s) and first T-T job (early 90s) I certainly experienced any number of ham-fisted attempts by professors and other grad students (all male) to let me know that if I wanted to play with big boys I couldn’t go screaming “sexism” every time one of them made an untoward comment (“you need to be more submissive”) or worse (conducted the job interview on all fours on the bed in the hotel suite).

But it’s not just men with a problem. When I came up for tenure, one of my senior colleagues, female, 10 years older, refused to sign off on the tenure bid (I had been reappointed unproblematically at every level every year beforehand). In her view, the only reason the rest of my colleagues were supporting me for tenure was that “they all wanted to sleep with me” and “that she reminded them of their first wives, which is why they were ignoring her”. She admitted *in writing* that she hadn’t read any of my research, but insisted that “I had no research program” (2 books, 5 articles). She insisted that I get external reviews of my research (policy forbidden at tenure level at my school) and when it came in very positive, tried to have it removed from my file. She never once observed me teaching a class for my file in any year prior–but insisted she had to, the day after my mother died, the day before the file was due.

I’m a relatively recent entrant to the profession (Ph.D. within the last few years). I won’t waste time now on egregious behavior I’ve witnessed from men in the profession (ranging from salacious remarks to putting hands on me in an empty classroom), because it so obviously violates the norm. What bothers me more is that it is consistently intimated that young women owe the attention they receive to their attractiveness. This typically comes by way of the suggestion that were I not young and female, I would not have received the same treatment from older scholars (male, of course). I have also heard plenty of gratuitous remarks, from men and women, about the physical attributes of various women making their way in the profession: for instance, that a woman was offered her job (at a Leiter-top-10 department) because she was “pretty”. This kind of discounting of women’s contributions invites us to think that what we have to say is of less interest than how we look. The institution of anonymous review takes on tremendous importance in this context, as an antidote to that kind of doubt.

A few years ago, when I was a student, I had developed a close (completely nonsexual) relationship with a male professor, who was my mentor and advisor. We would work together on a lot of things and consequently, hang out together frequently, although never outside of school. It apparently got to a point where the other male faculty felt uneasy as if something would happen, that the department chair would intentionally go out of his way to make sure that my professor and I weren’t in close proximity of each other. Because of this, nothing ever got done and I ended up extremely distraught to a point where I was close to quitting philosophy all together.