I am a middle-aged woman who regularly teaches a course in the history of modern philosophy. I use standard anthologies on the topic and present a survey from Descartes to Kant. More than once I have been “corrected” by undergraduates on my choice of materials for the course. In one case, I was told that what I was teaching was not philosophy, and in another, I was told that I had made the mistake of teaching philosophy rather than history (even though this was a designated philosophy course). I don’t mind students asking questions about why we are reading the materials I have chosen or what it means that a philosophy course has to do with history, but I remain stunned that students with little to no background in the course find it appropriate to correct the (tenured) professor on what she is teaching them.
I am an ABD grad student at a well respected school. We hosted a conference a few weeks ago, and an older man (perhaps retired?) who described himself as an “interested Independent scholar” attended. After attaching himself to the young women in attendance at every opportunity, he cornered me to tell me about his new revolutionary philosophical theory, he told me that I “have a bright future in philosophy, though it will most likely be as a full time secretary or mother, doing philosophy on the side”.
In my master’s program in philosophy, a male student asked our male professor why we weren’t discussing female philosophers to which he answered that women philosophers didn’t contribute enough material to warrant study. He also said that they (women philosophers) did not write metanarratives and therefore were not substantive to the philosophical debate. My face turned red and I wanted to say something but I remained silent. I told our librarian what I’d heard and she pulled up a database that featured women philosophers which inspired me. I then contacted said philosophy professor and told him of my findings. He scolded me and said I should never mention that he said there was a dearth of female philosophers. He then proceeded to treat me poorly in every class I had with him. I feared I would not graduate (although fortunately I did). If I had it to do over again, I would have created a committee of others to address the situation to avoid being persecuted.
I am currently an MA student in Philosophy at a university that has just hired their first ever female associate professor. But before I get all gooey over that fact – and the fact that she’s teaching a course next semester, where there are actually female philosophers on the reading list – I will do a reality check and sum up a very small fraction of the various experiences I have had as a philosophy student.
During a discussion with a male associated professor, I was told that feminism is fascism. Of course, this was annoying but also hilarious, as he obviously felt the need to resort to crap like that instead of engaging in a purposeful discussion, exposing his own ignorance on the subject matter.
Those were some examples from my time as a BA-student, there are many more, but it would take days to write them down and relay the contexts etc.
During my masters, I’ve been told to ”tone down the feminism” when doing mandatory evaluations of papers with other (male) students. Of course I refused – to put it politely – resulting in a hefty slurring of functionalist claims about the (binary) sexes and a pretty blatant belief in gender-stereotypes. You know the drill. I have also been lectured by male students several times on how I am not ”doing” philosophy properly. I have only just completed the first semester of my MA, but I can already see it will be a glorious couple of years. I might end up being a master of fists as well as a master of arts in philosophy.
I went to grad. school for philosophy in the 90s, as an older, returning to school woman. That was even worse. Male colleagues explicitly excluded me from study groups, claiming that I would hold them back! (They had no way to know this.) Other students refused to work or study with me. I was given the least desirable assisting assignments that conflicted with the courses I came to the school to study, and my main professor/advisor behaved inappropriately on multiple levels.
When I asked my advisor what my secondary field should be, for positioning myself on the job market, he said it didn’t matter — I wouldn’t be able to get a job, anyway. With support like that, who needs enemies?
I kept thinking if I worked harder, I could overcome all of it. Only now, many years later, do I see that there was really nothing I could have done, alone, to “out-work” the situation. It was unbearably hostile and obnoxious. Thankfully, I have been out of there for years, and don’t treat my students like this. Sadly, my career is nowhere near where I would have liked it to be.
My Junior year of undergrad I took a Feminism and Philosophy class which, for the most part, was a safe haven for me. I have to note, it was taught by a male professor. However, he also went to great lengths to cultivate a love of philosophy in the many women that were drawn to the class and allow us space to speak. On the first day he spoke about the lack of women in philosophy. There were also guys in my class, quite a few. One day, after reading a piece on oppression that spoke about micro aggressions, my class got into a discussion about catcalling and street harassment. I shared a personal experience in which a man on the street told me to smile and escalated to vulgarity and verbal violence when I rejected him. He called me slurs and threatened me with physical violence. One of the boys in my class subsequently attacked me. He told me that he did not believe me, that kind of thing didn’t happen in real life, he had never seen something like that happen so it couldn’t be real, and that it was my fault, I should have just smiled when he asked. We went back and forth for a while and he so vehemently denied my experiences that I got very upset and ended up crying in class (which was extremely embarrassing for me). My professor intervened where he could, but this guy was aggressive. After class, a bunch of my male classmates came up to me and told me he was a really nice guy just having a bad day. That isn’t as awful as many of the stories shared on this website but this guy is a fairly typical philosophy major at my school, unfortunately, and I will never forget that day.
Three experiences as an invited speaker in different geographical locations.
The chair is late for my talk. I find my way to the seminar room with plenty of time but find the room locked. I find someone who has the keys and set up on time. Eventually, after 15 min delay, I start my presentation. Due to the delay I make my talk shorter to 35 min in hope to accommodate more questions. As soon as I finish the presentation the chair claims that because I started late, I only have 5 min for questions. I receive interesting questions and the audience shows enthusiasm and engagement. However, the chair decides to take over and ask a series of condescending questions that offer no constructive discussion on the content of the talk. They insist on speaking over me and eventually people start leaving the room. I try desperately to accommodate more questions from the audience, but the chair continues to dominate and patronises me on every response. By the end, he has kept me 30 min over and there is no one left in the room. I do not get thanked for my talk and there is no one to applaud. I leave the room feeling like my talk went poorly even though the audience showed nothing but appreciation and interest.
I arrive on time for my presentation, set up everything and notice that the audience is almost entirely made of mature male academics. Before I start my presentation one of them loudly refers to me as ‘young lady’ and after I start my presentation he interrupts me and asks me to speak up because my ‘voice is too weak’. The questions session is dominated by condescending and dismissive questions. No woman asks a question. After a while people start leaving the room. Eventually the chair says they are very busy with work the next day and leaves. Despite my attempts, I am never reimbursed for the trip.
Upon arrival to give an invited talk to a big class of students and members of staff I discover that the chair has not advertised the talk sufficiently in advance. 10 minutes after my talk is supposed to start I find myself alone with the chair in a big auditorium. Eventually he calls two of his friends who are members of staff and they appear. I start the presentation. I was told that many students were going to attend this seminar because they were interested in the topic and I was an expert on it, so I had prepared an hour-long detailed presentation. I give the whole presentation and after I finish the three men admit they do not know much about the topic and do not have questions. Despite of that, they start asking me some completely irrelevant questions, not about my talk, and continue to keep me there for over an hour. Eventually the two leave and I am left with the chair. Tired and desperate to get back to the hotel, which was hours away from the campus, I ask how to get back as it was late and I was not sure there are services running to the city. The chair tells me that there is only one bus and that I might have already missed it (it was already late in the evening). They then tell me they have to drive back due to busy schedule the next day and leave. Due to an incident on the road I managed to get the last bus just before it leaves, but I could have easily been stuck there with no way to get back to the city. I was, again, not thanked for my talk or the massive trip I had to make to be there.