A friend recently asked me which posts on this blog were mine. In looking for them, I came across this one, https://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/the-biggest-obstacle-is-having-some-faith-that-i-belong-here/ which I had forgotten about.
The way I had written it at the time, one might think that whatever problems I was facing were entirely in my head. Looking back, I phrased it as I did because I was afraid to say more. I didn’t have faith that I belonged in graduate school, but not because I was imagining that I didn’t nor because I was unjustifiably anxious. It was because my first day on campus the professor who I had intended to work with told me that after seeing my application, he wouldn’t be surprised if I performed so poorly that I failed out and that I didn’t have the right ‘pedigree’ for students at a program of this caliber. Waiting in the hall outside my first seminar, I overheard a group of male students in my cohort discussing that the women in our cohort might have been admitted because of affirmative action rather than merit. And this was just what happened before classes actually began.
I was worried that if I told anyone (even anonymously) why, exactly, I felt so out of place, the people who had behaved inappropriately might recognize themselves in the stories and hold it against me for sharing them here. I am still afraid of that actually, but I’m also now of the view that if speaking the truth about my own experiences costs me relationships, those aren’t relationships worth protecting.
Archive for the ‘women are tokens’ Category
I was moved to send this anecdote by seeing this on FP, on misguided diversity efforts:
About 6 or 7 years ago I was asked to serve on a thesis committee for a thesis submitted to a Swedish University. Apparently there are quotas, so some percentage of women are required for these committees. The thesis had a nontrivial overlap with my own work. Anyway, on the day, the candidate gave their presentation and then there was a break, when one of the other committee members came up to me and said “Thanks for doing this! I hope you didn’t spend time actually reading the thesis?”
Not sure what the fellow meant there…
I always enjoyed philosophy. When I decided to go into a PhD program, I don’t think I was prepared for what I experienced as a woman in the department. I was the only woman in the PhD program (albeit it was a very small department). Soon, I found myself on several committees. This was very exciting for me. Throughout my college and even high school career, I had always been a part of department, joining academic clubs, attending and/or running student conferences, etc. I learned about 2 years in that the only reason I was accepted and on the committees was because I was a woman. This was really hard to digest. I constantly questioned whether I was *good* enough to get a PhD in Philosophy. Thankfully my advisor was great and he tried to go to bat for me on several occasions. But unfortunately he was the only one. During my entire time, I had the impression that I was only a statistic for the department. This left a definite sour taste in my mouth so much so that I changed my discipline entirely to receive a masters in another area where I could work outside of the academy. Though sometimes I think what might have been had I soldiered on in Philosophy, I am much happier in my new profession where I am known for the work I do and not because I’m a statistic.
I was scheduled to be a speaker at a workshop in my area, which was canceled due to lack of funding. The conference organizer wrote this to me:
unfortunately for the only other workshop i have in mind the organizing theme is one where you won’t fit, but on the other hand for purely cynical political reasons i will need a token woman.
When I replied that I didn’t want to be his token anything and found his attitude disrespectful, he told me that the cancelled workshop
was 50% women, so if any of them were tokens they would have a hard time guessing this.
I tried one more time:
Yes, but please also don’t tell them shitty, undermining things. “I will need a token woman” is a rotten thing to say to somebody you want to come to your conferences. (Sometimes friends can say rotten things to each other as jokes, but that one definitely crossed a line.)
sorry if you found the joke offensive, but that is the effect of the “gendered conference campaign” which it seems almost everybody but me thinks is a great idea.
I’m almost certainly not organizing any more conferences, thanks for your interest in participating in my nonexistent one.
I am a graduate student at a top five Leiter department and was on the market this year (2011). I had seven interviews at the APA (three at Leiter ranked schools) and one on campus visit at a top twenty Leiter department. My husband was also on the market, he had six APA interviews. While walking with my husband from the smoker back up to our hotel room, one member of a search committee who had interviewed my husband stopped to talk to him. At some point, he turned to me and posed the question (not to me but to my husband), “is this your wife?” My husband said yes. After asking me directly what I do and where I went to school, he then asks if I am on the market. I say, “yes.” He asks how many interviews I have had, and my husband chimes in on my behalf, “well, she has more than me.” Then this male philosopher at a top thirty Leiter school smiles condescendingly at me, turns to my husband and says, “Don’t worry, it’s just because you have a Y chromosome.” I just stand there awkwardly, in disbelief, and then walk away.
I’ve faced a lot of sexism in my days in grad school, but this charming episode just about takes the cake.
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.