Insinuations

Posted: March 2, 2016 by jennysaul in assumptions about women, sexual innuendos, Uncategorized

A few years ago, I was working with one of my professors to prepare a co-authored paper for publication. This professor was keen on having our meetings over lunch. I didn’t really approve, and I tried several times to convince the professor to have our meetings over coffee, without much success. I was told, however, that there’s nothing wrong with this, unless it turns out that there is. So, I continued to go to lunch with this professor and we talked about the paper, but I always felt uncomfortable (we probably went about 10 times in total).

This story, however, is not about the professor — nothing untoward happened. It’s about one of my fellow students, at the time. One day, this student found himself in the same venue as the professor and me, during lunchtime. We said ‘hello’ and then processed with business as usual. My fellow student was otherwise engaged, so he didn’t sit with us.

Later in the day, when people were gathering for a talk, and while only students were in the room, this fellow student asks me, loud and clear:

X, does your husband know you’re meeting with professor Y over lunch?

I started saying that I resent the implication, although not the one he’s clearly making. And that I won’t dignify such a question with an answer. To which, my fellow student said something to the effect that he made a joke and that I don’t have a sense of humor.

No one else said anything, although other students were holding their breaths to see if this will become a quarrel.

I left the table, went back to a corner and tried hard to focus on the talk.

Thoughts from an Assault Survivor in Philosophy

Posted: February 28, 2016 by Jender in Uncategorized

Cross-posted from Feminist Philosophers.

Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.

But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.

Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.

For the survivors:

The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.

It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, https://rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.

For the speculators:

Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.

So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.

It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

The importance of small things

Posted: February 22, 2016 by Jender in Uncategorized

As an undergrad in a program where there is a lot of interaction with grad students, I have a number of frustrations with the attitude of the male grad students. At this point it is just another thing keeping me from finishing my degree and moving on in the field. I find that I don’t stand up for myself and if I keep finding excuses for other people then I wont be able to hold my own convictions or justify my own ideas.

In the past I, along with many of my other woman colleagues had problems with a particular male grad student. He is incredibly lecherous. But smart enough not to get into any trouble. While he is not “dangerous” it is very disrespectful and discouraging if you find that the people that you should in a sense look up to as mentors as well as fellow students are interested in you in so far as you are a potential sexual conquest.

I was actually able to call this person out for “booty calling me” by telling him that he is everything that is wrong with philosophy and he did eventually apologize. Although he had the gall to suggest that his behavior had nothing to do with the fact that I am no longer involved in the philosophy department.

But is still sucks that he thought that it was appropriate to treat me like that. Especially because he does consider himself a feminist and he is given a lot of intellectual credit for that title by faculty and students alike.

I also had problems with another male grad student who as a self proclaimed feminist would sarcastically interrupt me and show physical signs of annoyance whenever I had anything to say which was counter to any of his claims. Many of which as more than subtly misogynist.

I feel like I finally have “rational grounds” to complain about him because he accidentally messaged me to ” shut the fuck up”.
This was a response to some comments that I made to something that he posted on facebook. All the while publicly continuing the conversation suggesting that I had nothing to add. Clearly,  pretending to listen and take into account people who disagree with you confirms your status as a progressive or a radical. The level of hypocrite that one has to be to silence their opponent so that they can publicly look justified in a view boggles my mind.

At first glance, when I am being hard on myself, these sound like small personal issues. The fact that the examples that I gave took place via text and on facebook makes them easy to dismiss as personal issues that have nothing to do with philosophy.

It is also easy to argue that I was somehow soliciting that treatment. Why do those men have my cell phone number and why are they connected to me on facebook? Because these are men I should be able to trust and respect as allies. It is also difficult to do philosophy if you can’t participate freely in social life.

It it is also difficult because these men claim to be allies and are, I think, well respected by their peers as radical and progressive.

I have more stories about these individuals. (There are actually a ton of inside jokes among me and many of my friends about the first grad student I described and the
things that he thought it was appropriate to say and do. Humor works great up to a point in order to cope. But I don’t have the energy to find humor in this kind of thing anymore.

I also know that there are other people that women close to me had problems with. But I can’t speak for them.

This does not feel entirely coherent. There are lots of small things that feel easy to put up with. It is scary to realize that those are the things keeping you from where you want to be and keeping everyone else where they feel entitled to be.

 I am a woman who recently started a job in a department with a long history of being all more mostly male. I don’t know most of my colleagues very well yet but they seem nice and well intentioned. Still it feels strange to be the only woman at some meetings, in those contexts, my gender is something that I am aware of. Recently a man I’ve never interacted with who works in another area of campus (though has some affiliation with my department) contacted me electronically to ask me for coffee. I thought it was a collegial invitation, perhaps to welcome me or get to know the new hire but after I accepted he wrote back referring to his positive thoughts about my appearance. I told him that any coffee meeting would be just friendly and his response suggested that he didn’t really take my clarification all that seriously. Some people suggested to me that they thought he might just be very awkward or going through a tough time. But is there any excuse for this?

I am a Ph.D. student in philosophy. My research interests are in a subfield that is mostly male dominated. In the graduate seminars I am enrolled in, I am the only woman student. This week I e-mailed a classmate a paper I had found online, that look interesting and was related to my research, but that I knew was also related to his. I wrote that he hoped he would find it helpful. The next day he thanked me for the paper. I told him I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet, but would like to talk about it in the next few days.

Later that afternoon I found out he had sent out a draft of a paper he was working on that was a response to some of our other peers. All male, and all of whose research interests were less relevant than mine. I can’t help feeling hurt. Similar things (not being sent drafts of papers being circulated to other students) have happened in the past, and I was able to brush it off. But this is the first time it has been a paper that a) would not have been written (at least not as soon) if it weren’t for my input, and b) is directly related to my research. The climate in my department is quite amiable, but because we are friends I don’t want to confront him about why he didn’t think to send me a draft. I don’t want to be labeled as overly sensitive, I can’t help but feel like this is because he believes that I will not have anything relevant to say, despite the fact it is on a topic directly related to my research.

I’m scared. I’ve been told by many that one of the best things about graduate school is having peers willing to discuss topics you are interested in, and I feel like I am missing out. I am also worried that without this, I will not do as well in my studies as others.

I fear for my career if I speak up

Posted: January 29, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

After graduating from undergraduate in a very big US city, I slept with my mentor and philosophy professor. He confessed to me that he had done this to dozens of times in his years as a professor, luring girls in his undergraduate classes to bars for drinks and conversation and eventually moving the conversation to hotel rooms. (I tried to think of a more value-neutral word here than “luring,” but that truly describes it. He planned out the drinks date weeks in advance and had a hotel room booked the night of, just in case.) He openly bragged about this to me, mentioning that the youngest student he had slept with was 19, but made me swear to absolute secrecy. He also insisted that it was consensual in all cases and that he rarely did this with students who were still enrolled with him. My case was consensual but now that I’ve had successful relationships, I realize the strange and unequal power dynamic that resulted in that night happening. Tonight I told my partner of 5 years about it for the first time. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It is also hard to think about all of the girls who are still in his classes, that he still looks to prey on. I realize now that although my case felt different at the time, this professor is systematically preying on young women. I am immensely guilty and feel complicit in my silence, but am in the field of philosophy now and fear for my career if I were to speak up.

I am stuck in an awful place

Posted: January 25, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I joined my current department as a graduate student to work with a specific professor.  I was very excited.

About two years in, this same professor screamed at me twice.  The second time, he also threatened me.  Both times, he was quite loud, and I know that a number of people overheard it.

After being threatened, I went to the co-chair.  I was told that he just does that to women, and that I just shouldn’t work with him.  I was also told not to worry about him screaming at me again, since he would know that he had done wrong.  But, of course, he screamed at me twice (but only threatened me once?).  He does not scream at any of the males in the department.

Why was I not told of this when I visited the campus?  The co-chair, among others, knew I planned to work with this guy.  Why did NOT ONE PERSON give me a word of warning?

Why is a guy who regularly screams at female, and only female, students still working here?  He isn’t tenured yet.  They could fire him, right?  It’s an acknowledged pattern, but no one does anything.  Why?

And, really, what am I supposed to do now?  He was the only professor working in my area at this school.  Who do I do my dissertation work through?  And, if I don’t do it through the one scholar in that area at our school, how will that look to search committees?

I want to quit.  But I don’t want to be forced out.  I love philosophy.  I have always loved philosophy.  But I feel like I’m stuck in this awful place, where I will never, ever, ever graduate, but just keep going to school and pretending like something will happen until my funding runs out.

Oh, you mean you have arguments?

Posted: January 16, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I’m an undergraduate student in Philosophy, and reading this blog made me think about an experience I had a while ago. I was having a discussion with another undergraduate student, who is male, about a priori truths, which I said I didn’t believe in (not sure I believe that now though!) He responded quite dismissively, but the conversation moved on; later on I was talking to him again we returned to the topic and when I began giving arguments as to why I didn’t believe in them he stopped me and said that he didn’t either, but earlier didn’t think I had actual reasons which was why he responded the way that he had.

I feel that had he been talking to a male peer he wouldn’t have been as dismissive and patronising, and how deep the problem really goes.

I recently attended an interdisciplinary conference and had a quite revealing experience with a fellow male philosopher. Most of the students at the conference were computer scientists, mathematicians, or linguists. There were some philosophers, but they were in the minority of attendees.

It was break time and I was near these two male students who were introducing themselves to each other. One of them was a philosopher (P) and the other was a mathematician (M). P says to M, “so, you must be a computer scientist or a mathematician, right? Which one?” M says, “I’m a mathematician. That’s a good guess! Haha.” P tells M that he is a philosopher and that there aren’t a lot of them there. I was excited that there was another philosopher there and was excited to introduce myself to them and to the other philosopher so we could talk philosophy.

I walk up to them and say hello. P says to me, “I could probably guess what you are. You’re a linguist, right?” I said, “No, I’m actually a philosopher, just like you. Why would you assume that I’m a linguist?” He said I look like one and that philosophers are in the minority. I was baffled and walked away.

I felt sick the rest of that day. P assumed that M was a computer scientist or a mathematician, but for me, the only option was a linguist. Was it because I was a female and a minority and the male student was male and white? I’m not sure. Even if philosophers were in the minority, why couldn’t I be one of them? What does a linguist look like? Sure, a lot of linguists at this conference were female (and based on statistics, there are more women than men studying linguistics), but I didn’t think that his assumption of me was fair.

That interaction left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t let it ruin the rest of my time at the conference, but I was upset and angry that he judged me before he learned anything about me. What was more alarming  was that he made his judgment so effortlessly and with a bit of enthusiasm. Although I didn’t let that experience ruin my time at the conference, it was hard not to feel “othered” during talks where I was one of the few women and underrepresented minorities in the crowd. Also, I felt that if he saw me as a linguist, then maybe other students (male and female) saw me as a linguist, instead of as a computer scientist, mathematician, or philosopher. There’s nothing wrong with being a linguist. What is messed up is if the assumption is that one is a linguist (rather than one of the other labels above) because one is a woman, minority, or both. It was a moment that highlighted my “otherness” in academic philosophy.

Why was I interviewed: a hypothesis

Posted: December 7, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

Several years ago, I was on the job market for the very first time while still a grad student. I had a nearly non-existent publication record, I didn’t have a PhD, I had almost no teaching experience, and my school is pretty low in the rankings. I was young, I was inexperienced, and that meant I was a horrible candidate. And yet, I got a fair number of interviews. I got more first round interviews for TT positions that year than I did for several of the following years, despite more experience, better CV, etc. I view this as a puzzle.

What I also view as puzzling is the atmosphere I encountered at these interviews. They were… dismissive. Over and over, I was interrupted, belittled. I got the whole “How does your work even count as philosophy?” question at one of them. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a single second-round interview out of any of them.

Now, I’m okay with this. I was a bad candidate; I needed experience in NTT positions to be a better candidate. But I have been left with the puzzle: with the market as terrible as it is, with the field flooded with so many great applicants, why did I even get those interviews in the first place?

There are a number of potential explanations. I can’t know what the search committees were thinking. But I keep coming back to these facts: I was a woman, and I was obviously not the best candidate in their pool of applicants. I was a woman, and it would be extremely easy for them to justify not hiring me over some other candidate. I was a woman, and, as I later saw, every one of those positions went to a man.

I paid money to attend the APA that year, to make it to those interviews. I put work into preparing for them. I suppose I should be grateful that I got practice interviewing. But I am left with the suspicion that I was a prop for those search committees. Given everything I know now about how job searches are run, I can’t help but think that those search committees used me to make their searches look gender equal, knowing they wouldn’t have to work hard to justify not actually ruling me out after the first round.

Don’t erase the women in my field

Posted: December 1, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

One of my research interests is X. It happens to be a niche in which several of the seminal (sic) contributions were made by women, and women continue to contribute in decent numbers, while also being a fairly technical topic.
Recently I’ve noticed that some of the new papers I read on the topic make almost no citations to women at all. For example, in a recent paper about model organisms, A’s work isn’t cited, even though the main point was quite compatible with her distinction between models as representations and representatives. Twice I’ve seen the distinction between abstraction and idealization, which B [very famous woman] made, followed instead by a reference to C [man] 2005, which is a paper that extends B’s distinction, and appears in a volume co-edited by C and B. If C’s extension to the idea were the relevant thing, it might make sense, but these are cases where the distinction is merely noted, and the obligatory citation given (incorrectly).
One instance of hiding A, and the B omission occur in papers by the same person (which are especially lacking in references to any of the women authors who have made major contributions to the topic). This is a person whose work is interestingly related to my work, so it would be great if we could correspond or collaborate. Instead of starting that kind of productive dialogue, I’ve become convinced that he must be a clueless (or hostile?) jerk who it would be best to avoid. I’m a bit fixated on figuring out how to point out his poor research skills without making myself seem like a massive bitch (perhaps in a series of snarky footnotes?).
I’ll be damned if this niche in which women are well represented doing technical work is going to have its history erased.

It just got harder to find female participants

Posted: November 28, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I was invited to do a commentary on a paper for a high profile philosophy blog. It was on a topic that I published one paper on a few years ago, but since moved away from, so I suspected that I was the token female commentator rather than one of the first people to come to mind.
Nevertheless, I had done a lot of research on the topic before, and was happy to brush up on recent developments in order to do a decent job with the commentary. The paper was not very well written, so my main complaint was that it was difficult to tell what the main claim was (was it X or Y?), and what the motivations for that claim were (if it’s claim Y, then why are details A, B, C necessary?). I suggested a simpler logical formalism that as far as I could tell would do all the work required. I asked, genuinely hoping for clarification of points that were very confusingly elaborated in the paper, what the reasons were for needing a more complicated model, and what my simpler proposal missed. I posed my questions in technical language, and provided a clear alternative, so if he had wanted to engage with my comments, and he actually had an answer to my question, it would have been easy to reply constructively.
In retrospect I should have known that it might nevertheless be read as saying “I’m just a stupid girl and math is hard. Won’t you please explain it to me?” which is essentially how he interpreted it. The reply to my comments by the author didn’t engage with my commentary at all. In a reply that was less than half the length of his reply to any other commentary, he essentially waved his hand in the air in dismissal, and suggested that I should read his paper more carefully. Even though I knew that lack of care in reading was not the problem, I dutifully read it again, and still it was not at all clear.
I figured it would be useless to engage him any further, but for the sake of the audience’s impressions of the exchange, I decided to press the point once more in the online discussion forum, making it clear that my problem was not general lack of comprehension skills, but rather a detailed question about the content of the paper. Again he was utterly dismissive, but I hope that readers could at least see through his arrogance.
I drew two conclusions from this experience:
1) When an editor asks a token female to contribute to such a discussion, they have a responsibility to make sure that the other participants don’t act dismissively towards her, at least if they are genuinely concerned with representing diverse viewpoints. It would have been easy and entirely appropriate for the editor to tell the author that his response to my commentary was not fit to print, and to ask him to revise it.
2) Never again will I spend time that I could have been spending writing a paper of my own being a token female in such a discussion. It just got harder for well-meaning event organizers to find female participants.

The harms of accepted, wanted advances

Posted: November 23, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

Many posts on here, and in my life, as about male faculty making unwanted advances. This is disgusting,and creates an awful and violent atmosphere. There are many instances of just horrid comments made in passing. But what I want to address here is the physic and emotional harms that come from accepted wanted advances.

In my MA, I had a supervisor who was I was very excited to be working with. His own work touched on feminist thought, critical race, and politics, so I assumed he knew about the state of the discipline. He recommended this very blog to me. His own background was similar to mine, so we spent a lot of time talking about what it was like to be a first-generation college student, to be from poverty and afraid that any moment someone would take what we had found away. He was vegetarian, and I vegan, so we would talk about that, too (however, he was lying, he eat meat). I really respected him, and I had had so few mentors in my life that I wasn’t always really aware he was flirting with me or treating me differently. I thought we were both friends and academic equals. I thought he cared about my mind and ideas.

He told me I was like the first girl he ever fell in love with, totally insecure and beautiful. The kind of girl that you always feel scared to be with because she doesn’t realize how amazing she is, and one-day will and will be totally out your league. I took that as a compliment, however weird it was. The thing was, I wanted him to like me. I even wanted him to love me. The first night we had sex, I was so drunk that I hardly remember it. I remember making out with him in public, and in our small college town it was certainly not discrete. I remember saying I should go home, and him pulling my arm and wanting to go even though I thought I should say no. After that, we had a one week fling. I was cheating on my boyfriend, and him his wife. He told me many details about other students and faculty, I knew all the department business, which I ought not have known. But I felt wanted, like I was special and that nothing was going to change my place in the department, or my own life. He went away on a fellowship, and wrote me love letters, and sexy letters. He told me he loved me, and wanted me to leave my boyfriend, and he would finish the process of divorce with his wife (from whom he told me he was separated).

Then, abruptly, one day he told me it was over. Not just over, but that I shouldn’t’ contact him. I was supposed to write my thesis over that summer, so I was a little at a loss as to how to write it without him. He didn’t answer me. I moved away, telling my chair I’d work from a different city. My supervisor continued to ignore me, only occasionally asking for chapters.

We ran into each other at a conference, after all this silence, and he held my hand under the table and held a door closed and refused to let me leave a room until I agreed to kiss him. Everyone saw this, and it was all very embarrassing. He told the entire party at the after event that I was a heartbreaker, and ruining his marriage. To this day, one of the participants there still tells people I got to where I am by sleeping my way there (to be clear, I am not at a top 50 school). The day after he told me he was hopelessly in love with me, and couldn’t’ do anything. He missed me and knew we could work it out. I knew it was not the thing to want, but I felt better hearing it.

After that, he texted me and told me from now on never to email him unless it was a chapter, and only to address him as Dr., never by is name, but said he still thought we should work together. Shortly after this, his wife called and harrassed me. She told me I was a bad feminist, and that she would call every school I was applying to for PhD and tell them I was a slut who ruined her marriage. He completely ignored me for a month after that. I finally got him on his office phone. We talked and he nearly cried and begged me not to tell anyone and to stay his student. I did. I should not have. Eventually I finished, but not through his support. I spent the next year so depressed and so full of self-doubt that I had to stop working. I was bed ridden and was so completely unsure of my abilities.

I started a PhD program the next year and was unable to do the work because I had lost confidence in myself. It was only in transferring out of that program and starting again now, four years later, that I have any sense of self-worth. I still think I am a horrible philosopher and have very bad anxiety. I mistrust almost every philosophical intuition I have and am, at times, convinced that maybe I did sleep myself to where I am–no where great. I was sharp and eager, and now I am in a middle of the road school, and don’t try very hard. I refuse to have a male supervisor, which is a little hard to explain without the whole story, which I don’t want to share. I wish so much I could go back to myself four years ago, and tell myself that no matter how much I thought I wanted that attention, that it was so inappropriate of him, and would totally wreck me. I guess this is a story about what it is like to be a woman in philosophy who accepts the invitation, and one way it can go. There are sad lonely male faculty members who prey on insecure female students, maybe never with the intention of harm, but it has to stop.

Do Women and Minorities Have an Advantage on the Job Market?

This story is for everyone who thinks women and minorities have an unfair advantage on the job market in philosophy.

My old department is typical in a lot of ways: It is a well-respected, undergraduate-only program at a state university that is not the flagship; the faculty is 100% white and almost all male; and the philosophy majors look a lot like the faculty. It is similar to many philosophy departments at state universities and liberal arts colleges across the country.

Two years ago we were doing a search. Early on, a person from the EO office came to brief us on the rules. We were told, in a 60-minute presentation, about all the ways we might be biased against female and minority candidates, and many of the ways we could attempt to overcome those biases. We were also told that it was appropriate to seek to hire someone who would be a good role model for students from underrepresented groups, including women. (In fact, I had managed to convince my former colleagues to include, among the preferred criteria in the ad for the position, something about attracting female and minority students to the major.)

“But,” one of my former colleagues asked the EO officer, “isn’t it illegal to prefer a candidate on the basis of gender or race?”

The EO officer hemmed and hawed and said various things. My former colleagues proceeded to grill her, asking for definitions and principles, which were then refuted by counterexamples, leading to further attempts by the EO officer to clarify, and still more refutations and counterexamples. The EO officer kept trying to get across the message that although it is illegal to prefer a candidate merely on account of race or gender, there were nevertheless many nuanced ways the department could attempt to address its extreme lack of diversity. But my former colleagues were having none of it. Their sole takeaway from the meeting was that it is illegal to prefer a candidate based on gender or race.

After that a very curious thing happened. During search committee meetings, A would say, about every 20 minutes (or so it seemed), “It’s illegal to prefer a candidate just because she is female!” And this would be met with enthusiastic murmurs of agreement by all of my other former colleagues. Soon all of my former colleagues took up A’s call, and would repeatedly blurt out, à propos of nothing, “It’s illegal to prefer a candidate on account of race or gender!”

Meanwhile, I noticed a second, very odd phenomenon. Every time I said something positive about a female candidate (even casually, in the hallway or in someone’s office), the immediate response by my former colleagues was to make a case against that candidate. If I said of some female candidate, “I really liked x’s writing sample,” the response would be, “But there was a line in one of her letters that made me wonder if she is the strongest candidate from her department,” or “But she went to college at an Ivy League school, so she might not be the best fit for us.” Meanwhile, if I said anything positive about a male candidate, the response was always just to agree, and perhaps to add a further positive comment about that candidate. (This was such a striking and uncanny phenomenon that I went out of my way to test it, thinking that I was imagining the effect. And sure enough, it was really happening.)

I became worried that female and minority candidates were not getting a fair shake in our search process. So I began to pay closer attention to how candidates from different demographic groups were being evaluated. What I found was that writing samples by women and minorities were deemed “murky” and “unclear”, while similar writing samples by white men were judged to be “deep” or “provocative”. Similarly, white men who said something in their cover letters about being committed to increasing diversity in philosophy were given major points for that, while women and minorities who had actually done things – organized special events, created programs to improve the climate for women and minorities in their departments, etc. – were given no credit for their work along that dimension. At one point, A even said of such a white man (one who had mentioned his commitment to increasing diversity in his cover letter, but had not yet actually done anything about it), “I think he would be better on our preferred criterion [attracting female and minority students] than any of these women or minorities!”

Then something nearly inexplicable occurred. I got a call from the department chair, informing me that I was being formally accused, by B, of illegally discriminating on the basis of race or gender, and that he (Department Chair) was backing up the accusation. In accordance with the official procedure, I was to meet in the chair’s office with B and Department Chair to determine whether the matter could be resolved informally, or would instead have to proceed through the official steps that could result in my being disciplined.

My initial thought was that I was being pranked. But at the meeting with Department Chair and B, the latter claimed, in an oddly triumphant way, that I had said in a recent meeting that I thought Candidate X would be good at attracting female students because she is a woman. I replied that I distinctly remembered saying that Candidate X would be good at attracting female students because she is a woman who is a particularly charismatic teacher with a proven track record of attracting female students to the major, and who would serve as an excellent role model for women in our program. “No,” Department Chair told me, “It’s like B here claims. You said Candidate X would be good just because she is a woman.”

I had been choosing my words very carefully since the beginning of the search, given my former colleagues’ bizarre behavior, so I knew exactly what I had said in the meeting. But Department Chair told me that he was not interested in my recollection of what I had said. He made it very clear that although he was going to let me off the hook this time, any future behavior by me regarding the search that could be interpreted as discriminating against white men would be dealt with severely, as illegal discrimination on the basis of race or gender.

It seemed clear that the whole exercise had been designed to have a chilling effect on me, so as to keep me quiet during the remainder of the search. I didn’t actually believe that Department Chair would take the matter to anyone outside the department, nor did I believe that I was in any danger of being disciplined if he did. But the episode did have a chilling effect on me, insofar as it showed me how determined my former colleagues were not to hire a woman or a minority candidate.

Which, of course, we didn’t. And although my former colleagues stubbornly (and absurdly) insist that they are as pro-diversity as anyone else in philosophy, and always simply hire the best philosopher, regardless of race or gender, it’s clear in retrospect that women and minorities never had much of a chance in that search. (Or any of the many searches that took place over the 17 years I was with that department, none of which resulted in an offer being made to a woman or a person of color.) The amount of implicit bias displayed in my old department’s searches over the years was embarrassing, and the amount of explicit bias in the most recent search was shameful.

Maybe my old department is unusual in its reactionary attitudes. And my sense is that at least some philosophy departments are genuinely concerned about the discipline’s historic lack of diversity. But my fear is that among undergraduate-only philosophy departments, at state universities and liberal arts colleges, that attitude is actually quite common. In any case, because of what I have seen of searches firsthand, from the inside, you cannot convince me that women or minorities have some kind of advantage on the job market. In fact it seems obvious to me that just the opposite is still true.

I am currently the only female graduate student in philosophy at a quite well-renowned European university. A while ago a fellow student of mine (male) had an appointment with my supervisor (also male), who had read and commented on a text of his. They do not know each other, and my friend was a bit nervous about the meeting. To cheer him up, I said something like “don’t worry, XXXXX always delivers his critics in a decent way”, whereby my “friend” looked at me and said: “yeah… But you know, I think the difference here is that I’m male and you’re female. XXXXX is probably not criticising your work as hard as he would if you weren’t a girl”.

Gratuitous rape joke

Posted: October 20, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

This comic was sent to a junior faculty colleague at another institution in a message addressed to all members of the department. Here is the dialogue:

Kant: Hey, Hume.
Hume: Yes, Kant?
Kant: Do you know the difference between your mother and the categorical imperative?
Kant: I never violated the categorical imperative.
Hume: [crying]

I wonder how others might respond to the receipt of such comic by one’s senior colleague.

Such an appropriate job

Posted: October 13, 2015 by jennysaul in failure to take women seriously

Three years ago I wrote to two colleagues in the department of a university I have visited before, asking whether there was any possibility of hiring me on a one year visiting or adjunct position. I am tenured at a top university in Europe, but I wanted to take a one year leave of absence so that I could move to the area the university is in, in order to be near my mother, who was living in a nursing home nearby, was at the end of her life, and needed me very badly.

It was a desperation move, but I was desperate.

I may add that I have a very solid publication record, and I have been a plenary/keynote speaker at a number of conferences. In fact I have more invitations to lecture at top universities than I can accept.

One of the two colleagues I wrote to told me that there were no openings, but would I be interested in a lucrative position that was advertised in the help wanted section of the New York Review of Books, with the job title “administrative assistant”. The ad appeared in the NYRB for many decades, until recently, and the pay was (suspiciously) 100,000 per year.

You obviously don’t have what it takes

Posted: September 23, 2015 by jennysaul in bullying, insults

I was very interested in enrolling in a particular philosophy course but getting a spot was competitive because the class also fulfilled some requirement for the business majors. The chair of the philosophy department told me that I would be given priority because I was one among only a handful of philosophy majors. I emailed the professor that was teaching the course in advance. He said it would be great to have me and all I had to do was approach him on the first day of class.

First day of class. I introduce myself to him (as instructed) and remind him of the email. He says nothing, emotes nothing, and just takes a long look at me (up and down). His face had absolutely no expression but his voice was loud and cold. He ordered me to follow him outside. I did. (At the time, I remember thinking that he was making a bit of a scene. I was perfectly aware that the class was watching this little drama but I didn’t care. I just thought he was another eccentric professor.)

As soon as we get outside, he tells me that there is no way I can take his course and that it is very clear to him that I don’t have what it takes to do well in philosophy. He believed these things only on the basis of looking at me.

I left his class and never looked back. I told the chair of the philosophy department and she couldn’t believe it. And by that, I mean-she literally did not believe it. She dismissed the incident as my own confused interpretation of his “wonderful personality”.

This is not a story per se. It’s a reflection prompted by reading your wonderful blog. How I wish it had existed when I was in grad school in the late ‘70s trying to decide on a career. I was almost a woman in philosophy and before spending a few hours immersed in your blog thought I had “chosen” not to pursue my favorite subject. I see now that I was driven out.

For the first time I’ve stopped to imagine how different it would have been had I been a man with political philosophy as my favorite (and hence best) subject. I graduated summa cum laude in political science from a major state university. I completed my doctoral exams with distinction in all four of my fields, including political philosophy. Even in my chosen major field of comparative politics, I focused on philosophy of religion. I had a published work while still in grad school. And yet, no professor, no TA EVER in the eight years I spent at university suggested I might do philosophy. Would that have happened to a male? Uh, no.

The exclusion began my first day in political philosophy as an undergrad. I read through the syllabus and asked the TA whether we were really going to have a 100 per cent male viewpoint in the course and wasn’t there anyone who could represent the thinking of the other half of the human race? Nope. The great philosophers are ALL male but don’t worry their approaches are universal, or some such crap. It ended with me choosing a very difficult and non-theoretical dissertation topic involving intensive field research. Despite receiving excellent grant funding, I lost confidence and never finished. (I felt it arrogant to try to write in depth on a culture and system I’d only observed for a year.) I ended up with a decent career and a good life BUT…

The dissertation I really wanted to write was on how gender influenced moral philosophy. My thinking was that holding the primacy of compassion as a moral virtue, as Rousseau did, for example, might give women a moral edge over men and this is a possibility for which philosophers were, and perhaps still are, not yet ready. Much of the history of moral philosophy may represent efforts to assert male moral superiority. Take, for instance, Kant’s rejection of natural ethics to discover that ethics are a product of free will. “Morality requires not a natural relation of man-to-man, but a relation of man-to-duty. For an act to be called good,” he said, “it is not sufficient to do that which should be morally good that it conforms to the law; it must be done for the sake of the law.” Moral acts were those done not for natural reasons but for the sake of the law; in other words, for a reason men would be much more likely to cite than women.

It’s possible that this is not an original observation or that my understanding of Kant may be dead wrong. I don’t know because that’s not ultimately what I studied and that suited everyone just fine.

The wrong attitude toward name choices

Posted: September 1, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I got married and adopted my husband’s last name. Since then, a half-dozen “feminist” philosophers (both men and women) have commented on my name. Not a single one of them had anything nice to say. I’ve often been made to feel that I betrayed feminism and women in philosophy by getting married to a man, and made things even worse by taking his name and living in a somewhat traditional marriage (I currently work only part-time and am the primary caregiver in our home). It’s as though they feel sorry for me, like a victim of domestic violence who returns to her attacker or something, and I hate that feeling. I wish philosophers were more open-minded towards marriage of all kinds.