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.
Several things I heard from senior male professors during my degrees that made me seriously doubt I have any hope in the profession.
After expressing fascination with a course a new (female) member of staff was offering, on feminist philosophy of science, my advisor tells me not to waste time on ‘rubbish philosophy’ and do ‘serious subjects’. He also condescendingly described the really established female professor offering this subject as not ‘too poor given the pointless field in which she works’. I took the subject anyway and to this day consider it one of the most rewarding experiences. Going against the advice of my advisor, however, was not to my benefit.
I was told that I have to watch out not to get pregnant because that would be the end of my career.
I was told I cannot expect to peruse an academic career if I am in a serious relationship and that if one wants to succeed in academia one needs to forget about their personal life (this came from an academic who, of course, was married with children).
I was told that publishing in the most prestigious journals in my field before I even submit my thesis is not an accomplishment and I should not feel confident that I will make it in the profession, that one needs to ‘do a lot more to prove themselves’. My male colleagues who did not have such accomplishments were told they are great and will surely have a career (and they now do).
One of my referees describes me in his reference letter as ‘hardworking’, ‘reliable’, ‘organised’, ‘diligent’ and a ‘great tutor’, despite the fact I overachieved during my degree and outperformed most of my colleagues in the department in terms of research output. I never received the same support and recognition as the male students and was never made to think I have a future in academia.
I’m worried that negative stories drive women away from a field that badly needs them – and I don’t think that negative stories cover the whole spectrum of women’s experience in philosophy.
For my own part, I’m finishing my doctoral degree at a school that is decent but not extraordinary by any means. Throughout my educational career, I’ve always been respectfully treated by my professors and peers. I have had my ideas taken seriously in class and outside of class, been invited to participate in both student-led and faculty-led reading groups and present at conferences. I was not the only woman in my incoming class, but was often the only woman in classes. When this happened, I often did not notice this fact until well into the semester – whether other women were taking a class with me did not play a large role in how much the class material interested me or how I was treated as a student. For the most part, I enjoyed my classes, and when I didn’t, it was for reasons unrelated to being a woman (e.g. the professor was boring, the content was uninteresting to me, etc).
During the course of my studies, I got engaged and later married – there were no comments made by my peers or professors except congratulations. Since then, I have continued to be encouraged to publish, apply for tenure-track positions, and participate in conferences.
The only time I was treated inappropriately, it was by an elderly visiting lecturer who decided to be “flirtatious.” The professor who was hosting him was horribly embarrassed by his behavior, tried to extricate me from the situation (though of course, being the rather clueless person that I was, I thought that would be more awkward and I stuck around longer than necessary), and apologized profusely for it afterwards. I found my professor’s response and willingness to make amends for the situation laudable but unnecessary for me (the visiting professor had merely made an inappropriate comment).
Ultimately, philosophy is like any other profession: there are some jerks, and these people could make your life horrible if you end up working with them. The majority of people in the profession, though, are excellent, thoughtful, respectful people who make good friends and colleagues. And I’m pretty sure this goes for both women and men.
I am currently working on my Masters in philosophy. I feel as though numerous of the previously shared stories are much more fruitful(and unfortunately more negative) than mine will ever be. However, being apart of the minority that we are…I felt an almost need to contribute to this blog regardless of how unmoving my message will be. In one of my classes this semester, I am the only female. In my other class there is only one other female. I have never been this out numbered before, definitely feels kind of strange. Thankfully, the male students are all very friendly and talkative. It is still just bizarre (for lack of a better word)…I find myself actually being so thankful to have a female professor for once… when all ten or so of my previous philosophy professors have always been male. I think my two biggest pet peeves at this point are as notably as follows: (1) seeing male posters everywhere on our department floor (zero women) and (2) having every single damn book, article, paper, scrap of writing we have yo read say “his” “him” “man”…never once referring to a female perspective. I realize a lot of these references were written some time ago, when women were mere objects, but come on – we are in the year 2014. Do you think we could either use less sexist/more modern references sometimes or alter them by now? It is just moderately annoying. Other than that – no complaints. I am most grateful, and most happy to be in my philosophy program…and I can only hope hat more girls and women get into it in the future…if not, I suppose I will stand proudly as a minority in this regard for eternity. – Cheers!
As one of only 3 Assoc. or Full at my institutions, I was asked to serve on a hiring committee. We found 3 top, top female candidates– this is the first for any previous hiring committee on which I served. The first turned us down, as did the second to take positions at top, top universities. Perhaps this is a first good sign for women in philosophy, not only that the top three were women, but that they had choices and multiple offers.
After this, it was announced we would move to the third candidate, also a woman, and her name released to the department. Two of the men in the department ( I was the only woman at the time) decided to google her and found she had written a an article on abortion in additional to other publications in high ranking journals –all published in top journals, much higher-ranked journals than any of the men’s publications. They objected to the arguments, found them distasteful, then recruited a 3rd man to the cause, thought it would cause an unnecessary controversy on campus. Most of the dissenting arguments to the hire were based on complete ignorance of philosophical arguments about abortion, and from those not in fields in any way connected to applied ethics. The majority of department was still in favor of hiring her. A meeting was called. In initial discussion, the question of our department’s commitment to academic freedom was raised, and points raised about the high rankings of the journal publications. To the question of academic freedom, the main dissenting voice to hire said openly, “let her practice her academic freedom somewhere else.”
Despite knowing that the majority was in favor of this the candidate, the department chair refused to bring the question to a vote and moved the question to which other candidate were next in line to be interviewed (all men) in the interest of “departmental harmony”.
Yet it has created more disharmony – the trust among the department members is gone. Further, this placing of the happiness of one gender at the academic and employment rights has been repeated: At the request of ass’t male professors, I was told by the chair that I “had” to do major work for the department during the summer holiday. It was a major department project, all of the men claimed “I have plans, sorry, catch me in the fall.” I was told the project was due before the fall. I too had plans, but that didn’t matter. My equal rights to time to do my own research, to have personal time, was set aside. Bullying followed when I later objected to this: “you don’t care about the students or the department, you are so selfish.” I was aghast, and still am, even not straight out of grad school, that such ad hominem abusives were thrown at me for trying to protect my equal right to have a holiday. Followed by, “it was the only way for the department to get the work done and to have harmony, which is only disrupted because you can’t accept that you needed to do work.” This was on top of teaching a triple overload the previous semester and a double overload the previous semester. (and still getting an article out, thank you.) Harmony, interpreted as the happiness of the males) is priority, even when it comes at the employment rights, the careers and the academic freedom of women in the profession. I refuse to do any departmental service this semester, and will do so the next. And just like the men, I won’t do it openly, just a “huh? didn’t see that email”