Sigh indeed

Posted: September 16, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

From a tenured woman philosopher:

Just met with a male MA student I’m advising so we could discuss his courses. After we’d been over what he planned to do he said, “OK. I want there to be something in this for you, too. So I’ve been reading your work on your website and I thought we could talk about where you want to go with it.” He was completely serious.

It’s hardly the first time something like this has happened, but… SIGH.

How not to be more inclusive

Posted: September 14, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I was in a meeting today where we were discussing how we can get more people involved in the postgrad community and make it more inclusive. In general, people were positive about the initiative. However, at one point the discussion turned to teaching undergrads (the other 3 in the meeting had all been teaching assistants but I have not). One of them joked about how he had a reputation for making several students in his classes cry. It is a shame that whilst many people have been taking seriously the efforts of the department to become more inclusive, jokes like these can really undermine this effort.

I am a ‘senior woman’ in metaphysics, I enjoy giving talks, and I am glad you are looking for a female speaker. However your well-meant invitation is unenticing when it dwells on the de facto agenda-setting work of my male contemporaries, expecting me to prepare a talk on that basis. (Three times this summer.) Tip: invite speakers to discuss the topic at hand, don’t frame it via that guy who recently published those articles.

(Yes, there’s a place for author-meets-critics, for festschrifts, and for invited comments, but those are not the events I’m talking about. And yes, I really think you mean well.)

I’m at the International Association for Women in Philosophy conference in Melbourne, and while chatting with a younger colleague during the coffee break I had the opportunity to tell her “It can be done. I have a permanent position in my field in a city and university I love with great colleagues, a happy marriage, and a child. It can be done.”

I’ve been reading this blog for years always with a sense of disbelief. The blog is not expressive of what it’s been like for THIS woman in philosophy, and I find it really depressing to read nothing but horror stories, as if that’s all there is to the experience of being a woman in philosophy. I think people would benefit from seeing positive examples, too.

Family-unfriendliness

Posted: June 27, 2016 by jennysaul in Bad news, Children, Uncategorized

Few years ago I was working at a university as Research Assistant in the Philosophy Department. I was there more than a year working with a senior female professor in the area of female thinker of the country. One day when my baby sitter was unwell I took my one year old daughter with me to the department as there was no one at home to take care of. Whole day I was sitting in my room working. Next day I was told that they do not need my assistance anymore.

Later I found out that one of the male faculty (he said that I shouldn’t be bringing kids to the workplace)in the department complained that he was terribly disturbed because my daughter was making noise. Actually she was sleeping half time and other half she was in the garden with some of my friends. Even the female professor I was working with made a hasty decision to remove me from job without giving me a chance to say anything.

One fine day I lost my job, after that I continued teaching philosophy and other stuff but I lost a good opportunity to work.

Well, I’d say it’s just like being a woman in general: tougher, more badass, and (*oh lord did she really say it*) better. I’ve never liked the expression “man, you need to grow a pair” (or any of its equivalents), but to highlight the message it tries to convey behind its childish facade, it does indeed take something extra – and no, not ‘a pair’ – to be a woman in philosophy.

It takes courage.

As opposed to the situation for our male counterparts, it seems to be demanded of women a primary explanation as to why we – being non-male – are even here, at the up until recently males only party known as philosophy. In other words, before we can Do, we must Defend.

This is unfair.**

Still, the lack of fairness at this “party” does not mean that we, i.e. women, can’t have one heck of a night. In fact, I argue, we are the ones who can go home and rightfully say “Not only did I work some philosophical magic today, but I also made the world a bit better.”

Because regardless how many questions, frowns or any type of belittling looks are thrown upon us, we Stay and we Do philosophy.

And this makes being a woman in philosophy tougher, more badass, and (*you bet your bum she said it*) better.

**Clarification of statement just made: to treat x with less respect than y due to a discriminatory cause is unfair, and any average philosopher will (hopefully) agree on that.

Many of my experiences with peers, mentors, and scholars in the field have been extremely positive…faculty and peers are usually highly professional and supportive. But of course, even a minority of negative experiences make a tremendous difference for women in the workplace.

Earlier in my academic path, as I moved into upper-level courses with mixed undergraduate/graduate level students, I first noticed how shocked both peers and some professors were when I contributed constructively to discussions. At first I thought it was weird…maybe flattering? I didn’t have enough experience in academia to have much to compare people’s responses to my work with. Then it slowly dawned on me (duh!) that the male undergraduates didn’t receive the same shocked “gee whiz look at the new circus act” responses when they made normal contributions in lecture. The shock at my adequate to good performance in philosophy seminars was…yep, because I was a woman. I almost blamed myself for being so naive as to not see it immediately.

My most common everyday experience was this–in working groups, at conferences, in small talk over beer…me engaging in academic discussion often results in someone yelling at me, or being extraordinarily sensitive.

One example. I went with a large group to dinner at the end of a conference. I was stuck at the end of the table with someone I hadn’t met yet, so I began making small talk with him. “Where are you from? What did you think of the conference? What program are you affiliated with?” He mentioned that he was really interested in theater and Derrida. I was glad that I had something small to connect over, said that was very interesting, and he must be familiar with Derrida’s work on Artaud. I had also recently written on the topic. His countenance changed completely. He said, “Oh. What was your thesis?” …he was insistent that I give him the exact parameters of my argument. When I obliged he kept interrupting me mid-sentence saying “no, no, no. you’re wrong”. I truly only gave him the outline of my thesis statement (which I thought was strange he wanted so specifically, as it was previously a casual conversation that neither of us were particularly invested in) I finally just stopped talking and let him “have the floor” and he began yelling (yes yelling) at me about how I clearly didn’t understand anything about deconstruction and I was wrong. wrong. wrong.

A fully grown man, whom I had just met, red in the face, yelling at me in a restaurant. This drew the attention of our dinner partners…some joined in because they were worried by the suddenly yelling man and others because they were interested in the topic. A ‘spirited’ conversation about Derrida and the nature of deconstruction ensued. However, typical of my interactions in philosophy/religion, there was a spirited edge to the exchange that made me more than uncomfortable. Namely, that same man, forty minutes later still red in the face pointing at me, discussing his intense displeasure about my only barely formulated, preliminary (pretty standard, non-controversial) thoughts on deconstruction. Multiple friend from the dinner agreed, the discussion would not have played out like that if I were a fellow man.

That’s just one anecdote. I have plenty of others, which I think demonstrates what women in academia are up against almost every time they speak or express a position. Think about this calculation for a second “I could contribute to this discussion…but what are the chances that someone will yell or get defensive at my standard contribution. Is it worth the hassle?” and the collective toll it takes over an entire career? And people wonder why women are statistically so much less likely to speak up in academic settings.

Of course, beyond the everyday grab-bag of “who is going to get offended by my very existence” there’s also blatant sexual harassment. I’ve experienced it from one faculty member during undergrad (not religion or philosophy field) with some questionable physical contact (blame it on cultural differences, sure) and an insistence that he will “buy [me] drinks anytime, once [I] graduate.” At another conference, I was low-key accosted by a senior (married) faculty member from another university. He introduced himself to me, and was very interested in speaking to me during coffee breaks. After one evening session, he asked me to go back to his hotel bar to get drinks with him. I declined. He asked variations multiple times afterward, and confronted me on his last night about “not following through” on the plans I had made with him…which, to be clear, I had never made.

This is significant, in that my academic career has barely begun. These are situations that come off as uncomfortable, somewhat funny, very damning anecdotes about the gender climate in academia in general, philosophy/religion specifically. I should have reported the “inappropriate physical contact” professor at my own university. There was enough evidence…but my reasoning at the time was that I was not particularly troubled by his behavior, so it wasn’t worth my time. But what of the women that could be troubled by his behavior? That might be truly victimized? It was a failure of thoughtfulness and solidarity on my part.

But of course, how can women win on this front? Under-report sexual harassment, and you’re complicit in the problem. Over-report and jeopardize your own career by being labeled “troublesome”…”doesn’t play well with others”