Nordic country not a gender paradise after all

Posted: July 12, 2017 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I came to a nordic country to be a doctoral student last autumn. Amongst other things, I was thrilled to be moving to a country that is known for taking gender equality so seriously. The last thing, then, I expected to experience at work was sexual harassment. This is not what thought it was at first, but my supervisor (who was an amazing support) gave it this name, hence we took the situation incredibly seriously.

At first I got on very well with my project partner, a male of around my age. It was obvious we had some political and ideological differences, but it was kind of a joke between us that we would argue over such things. However, in our discussions, his arguments became gradually more offensive and personal, to the point where he would tell me that, as a matter of fact and as a result of the choices I make with my body, I am less female and hence, objectively unattractive. Despite none of these beings facts, I could not escape what he was saying. For context, we were alone on a train to a conference together in a foreign country, so i was trapped in this conversation. I fought back tears as I realised what he said was sinking in, and for a moment I began questioning my life choices.

Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident. On several occasions, both inside the office and at work-related social events, he would invariably make sexual or even rape jokes directed towards me. I stopped going to our office altogether. It was only a month or so later when my supervisor asked me if everything was okay that I let it all out.

My department were excellent at dealing with it: both kind and professional. I now have a new office at the department and I go there every day. The guy involved does not speak to me any more, and now I can get on with my work without doubting myself as a woman, sexually or otherwise. Because really, that has nothing to do with who I am as a philosopher.

On impostor syndrome

Posted: July 7, 2017 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

There is a contest in my department for graduate students where we can submit a text that we have written in one of our seminars, and a committee awards a prize for the best text among the submitted ones.

When I saw the contest, my first reflex was to think that I had nothing worth submitting, but one of my professors encouraged me to submit the paper I had written for her class.

Turns out I was awarded the prize, and yet again my first reflex was to think that I was probably the only one who submitted a text. I was then shocked at how I was constantly belittling myself and trying to minimize my own achievement instead of celebrating it.

This made me appreciate how important it is to encourage students from minority groups to submit papers, apply for grants, etc., because very often our reflex is to think we are not good enough, which I have found to be very rare in white men.

Implicit, systemic issues

Posted: July 4, 2017 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

Our department seems relatively better than other departments, but we still have several issues made worse by the fact none of these have clear-cut solutions. For instance, I have experienced explicit sexism and this is relatively easier to handle–but most of the issues my department has experienced are implicit and systemic. These experiences are usually not properly understood, and they have really affected how I feel in the department as an underrepresented and underprivileged person in philosophy. Presumably straight, white men seem to have a knack for choosing topics that are about the status of women in philosophy or oppression. It is good that they are aware of the complexities surrounding these issues, but the way these discussions are handled is inappropriate. When you have a club that stands for anything but diversity, with a very small number of people who express themselves as religious, or are women or ethnic minorities, you cannot possibly understand these issues in even an intellectual manner. Many of these people like saying they are “feminist” but their actions tell a different story. They have to wonder why women continue to leave the department, and less than 25% of most departments are women.
There are so many issues with these departments, and the only way we can solve them is by encouraging future generations. This is, however, not possible if philosophy continues to believe it is okay for men (with no fair representation of women)to discuss whether women are oppressed, and to hold discussions that further alienate and marginalize members of minorities. In essence, the sum of these experiences (this is only the tip of the iceberg) continue to further remove women from philosophy–I have seen this firsthand. Women do not feel comfortable in philosophy; my friends are switching career paths although philosophy is their #1 passion. Unfortunately, I have felt the same and it is a short matter of time before I, too, leave.

Experiences of a Master’s student

Posted: June 29, 2017 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I’m a Master’s student currently finishing a degree that contains specific philosophical subdisciplines. My experience so far is that:

a) an external speaker, when speaking about a general concept of a philosopher, used the “he” pronoun (he was speaking English, so he could’ve used the “they” pronoun instead to be inclusive);
b) a fellow sudent was asked to provide an example of empty intersection of two sets and he replied with “a clever blonde woman” (there is a single word for “blonde woman” in the language of instruction);
c) our lecturer of Philosophy of Science laughed at the idea that a man or a white person cannot fully comprehend the women’s experience or a PoC experience, without going into detail about this philosophy even though it was part of his lecture;
d) a PhD student from the department was explaining to us something about scientific conferences during a lecture and he said, “When they want to present such idea at a conference, they say, ‘Gentlemen, I have found /…/'”;
e) white men are everywhere in the curricula even though they didn’t publish a single thing during their lives, but I, as an ethnic woman, cannot expect a worldwide recognition unless I have zillions of articles in top notch journals.

When does it stop?

Posted: June 25, 2017 by jennysaul in double standards, Uncategorized

About a year after giving a talk in country X I am told by a friend I trust that one of the (junior) organizers of the conference at which I gave the talk found my talk “scandalizing.” I found that very puzzling, given that my talk was in a mainstream area and was received well at the time (if you judge by the Q/A and the subsequent feedback and the publication of a written version of the talk in a top mainstream journal). I was chocked to hear it. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t have any further details about the alleged scandal that occurred as I was giving my talk (also, he wasn’t present at the conference but heard about it only about 1 year later). I have thought about confronting the person who made the comment. I might still do that. But it did occur to me that while I have heard similar derogatory (and unsubstantiated) comments about the talks of female speakers, I have never heard these kinds of unsubstantiated claims about the talks of male philosophers. I definitely have strong feelings of indignation and sadness now. Seriously: do I still need to put up with this as a very senior professor? When does it ever stop?

Experiences being a woman in philosophy

Posted: April 7, 2017 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

(1) Frequently being sexualized, when certain men in the department either assume you are romantically interested,or that they are romantically interested and therefore you are too, or that none of these are true–and therefore you must be gay.
(2) It is assumed that you are a women, so you must be interested in feminist philosophy.
(3) Not only having to deal with the fact you are underrepresented in classes and many talks, but there are always loud males who talk over you and speak more often than the females.
When you react to sexism/harassment: Called “sensitive”

What to say to prospective students?

Posted: April 4, 2017 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

Every year prospective students ask about the climate of the department, and if there are any “problematic” professors that they should be aware of. There are. But the department itself can’t/won’t say anything about them so it falls to the graduate students to do so. This has caused a lot of tension in our department because there are a group of students who think that nothing should be said and others who think we have a moral obligation to tell the truth about it. And in the middle of all this are the student(s) who were directly affected by the professors in question. It’s an awful situation.