Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Blog Featuring The Experiences of Women in Our Profession

It's called "What is it Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?" and it is eye-opening.

--Mr. Zero

72 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, why am I thinking of Thomas Nagel's "What it is Like to be a Bat?"

Anonymous said...

What is it like to be a beneficiary of affirmative action?

KateNorlock said...

That didn't take long. Anon3:21, your reply isn't a reason to discount the stories on the blog, and seems rather proof of why the blog is necessary.

Anonymous said...

The behavior described here and in some of the comments on bedroom interviews make me wonder why academic philosophers have a lower than average level of human decency.

Its not that hard to not be an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Wow, anon 3:21: you clicked on the link, read the descriptions of what some women in our profession have experienced, and *that* was your reaction?

Anonymous said...

I am truly horrified by many of these stories.

Reading them helps me realize how difficult we men make life for female philosophers and grad students. I certainly haven't done anything as outrageous as the actions described by the stories on the blog, but reading those stories makes me realize that I *do* say tiny little things to female philosophers, sometimes without thinking about it, that I would never say to a man. I think it's time that we realized that even the best of us often act in subtly sexist ways.

Anonymous said...

I'm a male philosopher, and I fully support this blog and hope it gets lots of publicity. Why no comments though? If this stuff isn't worth discussing, what is?

Anonymous said...

Ha, ha, ha.

Anon @3:21 is an asshole and if he has a job, it's strong evidence that we need affirmative action.

I've worked in three departments and have had two women as colleagues. Clearly, women are enjoying an unfair advantage in this business.

BunnyHugger said...

Anon 3:21: I'm afraid I can't tell you. I'm a female philosopher but the job market has been as hard on me as on anyone else.

I think all us philosophers are in this together. Things are tough for everyone, and we should respond with camaraderie, not bitterness.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent. Thank you for the link.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I do believe it is possible to oppose affirmative action and be a decent human being at the same time. Tolerance?

Anonymous said...

The problem with this website is that it presents the exception as if it were the rule. I don't feel sorry for anyone who has a hard time in grad school and then gets a good job. Isn't that what we are/were all expecting? I have heard horror stories about white male grad students being excoriated by female professors because their working class attitudes are not politically correct. I've also heard of female professors pressuring male grad students to exchange sex for grades (a phenomenon that is severely under-reported because of the widespread prejudice that men would never turn down sex). These cases are surely the exception though, not the rule. The difference is that the white male who has a hard time in grad school, unlike his female counterpart, risks becoming unemployed or under-employed at the tail end. Some of them would gladly get the requisite sex change operation that guarantees full employment...if they had the money.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kate Norlock, Anon 4:17 & 4:42, et al.,

Haven't you ever heard of trolls?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29

Mr. Zero said...

anon 1:56,

Of course it is. But it is not possible to believe that all philosophers who are female are also beneficiaries of affirmative action and still be a decent human being.

anon 5:34,

How do you know the stories are the exception and not the rule? What makes you think that female philosophers don't risk becoming un- or underemployed? I know lots of women who've spent years on the VAP trail.

has anyone else ever heard of female professors pressuring male grad students to exchange sex for grades? Because maybe I'm naive, but I never heard of anything like that.

Synonomous said...

Examples, anon 5:26?

Anonymous said...

Recent statistics show that more females have Ph.D.s than males. Of course, some disciplines such as philosophy are over-represented by males. I won't go into the reasons for this. Affirmative action is supposed to correct for this over-representation. In other disciplines such as psychology, females are over-represented. And yet males receive no preferential treatment in hiring. Why? From a luck egalitarian perspective, it really does not makes sense, unless the evidence of historical discrimination is so overwhelming to justify continued corrections. BTW, women in power do pressure men for sex, it is just that men who succumb are usually too ashamed to say anything about it. If you don't know anything about it, you probably were not good-looking enough in your twenties to become a victim.

Anonymous said...

Since I can't discuss them there, I'll do it here.

This is re: How not to welcome a new colleague.

If I, a male graduate student, witnessed a male faculty member calling a younger female faculty member "a bush," I'd be as taken aback and speechless as the poster describes herself being. I probably wouldn't dare to say anything, though I'd probably also repeat the story endlessly, horrified, to anyone who would listen. Except, of course, to the young female professor who'd been the object of the slur: I'd be too embarrassed by the situation to say anything to her.

Any comments on what would be appropriate reactions from a male graduate student witnessing shit like this?

zombie said...

I've never heard of female profs pressuring male students for sex. I know of no anecdotal cases. This, of course, is not dispositive evidence that it never happens. But so what? It would be wrong if it happened to any student, male or female. That's not in dispute, is it?

I wish I were a recipient of affirmative action. As a non-white female philosopher, I have sadly never enjoyed the obvious benefit of my white male colleagues being passed over so that I, a prima facie unqualified (because female and nonwhite) philosopher, can get a great job. But it is my dream to someday receive the bounty of affirmative action so that I can crush those poor white boys under my high heels as I claw my way to the top of the heap formed by their broken bodies. Yep, that is what it is like to be a woman philosopher.

Anonymous said...

On the exception vs. the rule:
It only takes one bad apple to mess up a dept. I had a prof in grad school (no I didn't actually, I avoided him), whose reputation was so bad that students avoided his classes (and thus his area of expertise) just on the basis of his behavior.

If you have one faculty colleague who is a sexist jerk, this can make meetings etc. very uncomfortable and produce a lot of tension, especially if the other faculty don't stand up to him.

This does not just apply to sexism, it applies to any sort of asshole-like behavior. It does not necessarily apply only to one sex.

I wonder about the experience of men in female dominated professions.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a tenured female philosopher at a research university, I very much doubt that these stories are the exception rather than the rule.

Mr. Zero said...

If you don't know anything about it [female professors pressuring male grad students to exchange sex for grades, that is], you probably were not good-looking enough in your twenties to become a victim.

That is the dumbest thing I've read in a really long time.

Anonymous said...

In my department, a sex for grades scandal broke out several years ago. It involved professors, both male and female, meeting with undergrads and grad students at parties, where the conditions for the transactions were agreed to. The scandal made teh news, but oddly enough only the male professors were punished, none of the females were. The female professors were smart enough to limit their transaction partners to male grad students, while the male professors strayed down the line and took advantage of the female undergrads. None of the male grad students were willing to complain, but a few of teh female grad students and almost all of the female undergrads did. Sexual predators are everywhere, including academe, but as a society we are more open to the idea that a male superior would harass a female inferior, rather than the gender/sex reversal. So, female superiors can choose the best looking male to take advantage of. The outcome is that they usually get away with it and no one suspects.

dh said...

I'm a tenured male philosopher, not attractive enough to be one of the victims of tenured female harassment.

I have some misgivings about the new blog. I suspect that the anonymous nature of it is going to keep the mass of stories from convincing anyone who wasn't already pretty well convinced. By contrast, the stories that I heard (some years ago) from a woman philosopher I know were utterly revelatory. When you hear someone (maybe especially someone you already have a lot of respect for) give personal testimony, it just hits you in a way that can't be matched by anonymous blog entries. For me, at least, my friend's accounts just "appeared as facts", more or less as any bit of autobiography would.

Before hearing my friend's stories, I found anonymous reports of outrageous sexism in philosophy to be quite literally unbelievable -- I was very skeptical. I'd seen nothing really outrageous, myself, and I found it very easy to write off more minor sexist assholishness as, you know, just a tasteless joke. But after I was enlightened, so to speak, the tasteless jokes no longer seemed harmless. And I'm no longer skeptical, myself, when I read anecdotes like the ones on the new blog.

I'm not claiming this is rational or epistemically warranted (I'm not an epistemologist!); rather, I'm reporting it as psychological autobiography. I really do believe that there is plenty of awful sexism in our profession, and that a huge portion of it is nearly invisible to men. I'd try to explain the invisibility, but this comment is already very long.

Anonymous said...

Affirmative action? That's may play a role in the US, but surely not in the tiny European country I live and work in (which I am not naming since I want to remain anonymous). My department is fairly big: it has 30+ tenured staff, and among them is not a single woman! There were some recent hirings, and again, no woman was picked. It is such a strange coincidence that the best candidate always turns out to be a man. And my department is not an exception. My previous department had a staff of about 10 faculty members, only one was a women, and she will be retiring soon.
There is no scarcity of qualified women where I work...Plenty of female postdocs, many of whom I saw drop out the past years because there was no position for them.
I understand that Anon3:21, because it is so difficult to find a job these days, may be under the false impression that women actually have an advantage now. The reality is, they don't, at least not where I work.

Anonymous said...

dh, I understand your misgivings. However, I can't even post stories anonymously about what I've experienced because of the chance that people would figure out who I am and who the others were. (I could post something very generic, but that is almost pointless.) Our profession is too small.

--tenured female prof

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of the new blog. Not because I don't think philosophy is a difficult place for women (men--often unknowingly and without intent of harm--end up making it so), and not because I don't believe that the stories are true, but because they fail to tease apart the extent to which the issues concern WOMEN in philosophy, and not simply what it's like to be a junior faculty member, or of any sort of minority, or introverted, or what have you.

For instance, if one of two friendly colleagues were to *jokingly* suggest that the male stayed to ask questions b/c he may have had an interest in the speaker, it would be worth a laugh. The two colleagues know that it wasn't why he stayed. But if a non-friend, or worse, a senior colleague, were to suggest this, it would be quite different.

That's what's missing in the blog: context. Many of the issues are simply those that arise for any junior faculty when interacting with senior faculty. They are not merely about women. Men have it rough in this area too--it needn't be the forced request for sex by older senior female faculty (???), just basic difficulties of dealing with the fact that philosophy is a tough place and power relationships make it tougher.

Again, I think women have it particularly tough, but a BETTER blog would be one that took the time to tease out what was distinctly female about the cases, and allow some discussion. As present it does women in the biz a disservice, as it looks more like a rant.

dh said...

tenured female prof.,

Okay, fair enough. After all, even I am feeling a lot more comfortable posting this anonymously!

I guess my point is that testimony with a face on it packs a lot more persuasive punch. That doesn't mean there's no good function served by the "What is it like...?" blog. There probably is.

Anonymous said...

awesome. it's zombie-lies time on the smoker! nothing to do between now and the jfp? why not freak out and blame women?

i know, i know, it's really hard to listen to women, much less believe what they say about their own lives, when zombie's chewing on your brains. one of the benefits of affirmative action, you know: free high heels and endless, tasty brains.

Anonymous said...

Concern about whether the entries on the blog will persuade anyone that sexism or even subtle bias is operative in the field seems to miss at least part of the point. The blog is not merely an exercise in suasion. It is not merely for those who have not experienced sexism and bias to see what "it's like." It's also for those of us who know quite a bit already about what "it's like" and offers the consolation of a sympathetic venue for sharing experiences one usually must conceal or merely live with in isolation.

With respect to this being more a matter of generic power relations, one need only take a short tour through the literature on stereotype threat to see that the effects are not generic with respect to gender, race, etc. Asymmetry in in the population conduces to asymmetry in effects, particularly where negative and pernicious stereotypes of the smaller, out-group population are invoked, deliberately or inadvertently.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:32 says of one of the stories on the blog:

If one of two friendly colleagues were to *jokingly* suggest that the male stayed to ask questions b/c he may have had an interest in the speaker, it would be worth a laugh.

No, I'm pretty sure it would still be belittling and hurtful, even if one of my good male buddies were to say such a thing to me (esp. in the middle of the department lounge). Even if he were also a junior prof. Even if he were junior and I were senior. This woman was sharing a professional success, and the remark completely undercut that success and focused attention on her as an object of sexual attraction.

Most of the stories posted so far have sufficient context, I think.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:01

Surely it would ONLY be a problem if said in the lounge (ie was public). If not, then you are claiming that among your good friends you cannot take a joke. That's the sort of PC that no-one but business managers think is called for. If you think such a comment means that you aren't as talented as you happen to be, or that your friend does not think so, then you are just being soft.

It would be--if shared between you and a friend who knows what you are capable of--a joke, and nothing more.

If taken as more, that's the sign of a complex, not a problem with your pal.

If jokes are no longer EVER appropriate, then we've taken things too far.

Anonymous said...

Reading through all the stories, I'm a little bit perturbed by a couple of them, where it seems like others are going out of their way to create a welcoming and non-sexist environment for the author, yet are still being criticized . . . for precisely that reason.

For instance, one of them ("Please tell me I'm not sexist") describes a situation where the males in the department try to get assurances from the females that they are not being sexist in navigating what is obviously a delicate situation, and the writer gives them a hard time for it. Another ("How good intentions go awry") gave me the same impression. It seems like the author's colleagues were trying very hard not to create an awkward situation with her, yet that still falls short of what she wants.

I don't quite get this. If being sexist is obviously bad, and going out of your way not to be sexist is bad too, and just upholding the status quo won't do either, then what is the recommended alternative? I'm not one of those angry males (I don't think, anyway), and in fact I'm very glad for the blog, but I am honestly curious about what the right attitude would be, in the blog author's opinion.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:01 here. Thanks for the reminder: I almost forgot that, as a feminist, I cannot take a joke.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:32, part of the context is that it affected this woman sufficiently that she felt it to be memorable. It's possible, of course, that she's just humorless and can never take a joke among friends; it seems rather more likely, however, that what her classmates thought was a funny joke came across as belittling. What reason is there to assume that the problem is with her? Why not assume rather that she is like most people and can tell a friendly joke from a belittling experience?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know the success to discrimination/poor treatment ratio. If I'm a highly productive but socially awkward male faculty member, I might get made fun of, even humiliated for my idiosyncrasies by my jealous colleagues. But if I'm a highly productive female faculty member with jealous colleagues I might wrongly attribute that rude and non-collegial behavior to unconscious or conscious sexism. As Sartre tells us, "Hell is other people." When colleagues are pissed off at each other, they'll look for the thinnest part of the skin, a critical weakness, and then strike there with impunity. A feminist's weakness will surely be her gender/sex (and lack of humor when anyone other than her partner intimates that she might be perceived as a sexual object).

Anonymous said...

@12:27

I worry that you are missing the point. The author's final concern was the weariness of "being asked to assure male interlocutors that it isn’t at all sexist of them to pressure me to agree that another woman’s complaint is baseless."

It is great if you are trying not to be sexist but its bad if you are trying to get her to agree that the other woman is the one at fault. A single man doing this might be overlooked but if every man (or a majority of the men) in the department engage in this behavior then its systemic, which is the whole point of the feminist critique. It would be a systemic attempt to use that individual as an example of/for all the members of that group.

If you were black, this would be akin to every white person you know walking up to you and asking you to reassure him or her that he or she is not, in fact, a racist.

Anonymous said...

I think that we just identified a performative contradiction in feminist claims to stereotype threat. The Empress has no clothes. Close the journal Hypatia, it is all a farce!

Anonymous said...

I recommend watching the movie: _In The Company of Men_

I show this in my philosophy and film class, and it is very hard to watch, but the discussion that follows is usually pretty good.

Anonymous said...

If I were giving a paper and an attractive woman asked me a question afterwards, and some friends joked about her having a crush, I would not mind at all

But as a man, I don't worry about being thought of in *merely* sexual terms. Context is everything.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:58 here.

I consider myself a feminist. I do all I can to treat women as I would any man, and don't care abut the difference when it comes to philosophy.

If I were to make the joke in question, it seems I'm damned either way.

If I make the joke, because you and I are pals and it's always funny to make fun of those folks who really would suggest, perhaps in seriousness, that the male question was borne out of sexual interest, and you take offense.

Or I don't (though my male pals would see the humor, as per anon 3:18) because women are the 'fairer sex' and must be treated differently and carefully, and you take offense.

What's a boy to do? I suppose the answer is to say 'great job', and say nothing more. But aren't we now admitting that you just can't take a joke?

Can we have jokes anymore--or is it all just knock knock jokes, for fear of offending? In all seriousness here, where do we draw the line?

Anonymous said...

For Anon 11:58/6:10:

Again, context--specifically, the context of friendship. "I would say that to *a* friend" doesn't necessarily mean "I would say it to *any* friend" or "I would say it to *you* if you were my friend." If Anon 11:01 were your friend, then you'd know her well enough to know what she sees as a joke and what she sees as an insult. Some people would take "Are you sure that's what he was staying for?" as a joke, and some would take it as an insult, and part of what it is to be someone's friend is to know what his or her reaction is likely to be and to adjust to that. And I think most of us do this, most of the time. I doubt that you'd say it to a friend who you know or suspect would be bothered by it. And, when it's actually your friend, you probably don't frame it in your head as, "He can't take a joke." You probably frame it as something like, "He's had to put up with a lot of crap on this issue, and that's made him uninclined to find getting even more crap on this issue particularly droll." Or something like that.

But if the person is a casual acquaintance instead of a friend, we often don't know whether they'll find a particular comment funny or insulting. For me, that means I probably won't make the amusing-but-double-edged comment to a mere acquaintance. I know some people will draw the line less cautiously than I do, and that's usually fine. The worst that happens is a minor misunderstanding.

But it isn't fine when there's a major power difference and the person on the receiving end of the "joke" doesn't have the space to say, "That's insulting; knock it off." And my worry is that, all to frequently, the person who makes the comment and then claims that the insulted person "can't take a joke" is the person with more power. If the response is to blame the other person instead of to consider the idea that the "joke" was inappropriate in the context of the relationship, then it seems like there's a level of entitlement on the part of the joke-maker that wouldn't be there if the power level were equal.

Just some thoughts....

TSS

Anonymous said...

anon 11:58: in the face of actual misogyny, of the kind described on the blog in question, and in the post in question, before you decided to take issue with a fantasy context which said post does not in fact describe, i find your concern about not being able to tell knock-knock jokes incredibly boring.

as a feminist, you may want to revisit the suggestion that women can't take jokes, are crazy or "soft." i suggest drawing the line at the distinction between listening to what women actually say, as opposed to freaking out at things that no one has actually said. or, alternatively, what anon 1:18 said.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone feel like speaking with feminists is like speaking with the PC Nazis? I do. I vote to start the masculinist school of philosophy...oh yep...that's almost the entire history of philosophy. I take that back. My bad. Really. I'm sorry. Please stop ridiculing me.

mr. male said...

Like others in this thread, I have no doubt that there's deep and widespread sexism in philosophy. But sometimes the firsthand 'reports' of such 'sexism' hardly inspire much confidence. In fact, if anything, they undermine it. Take this example from the blog:

"... Some graduate students came to me and asked me to do an independent study with them on a particular issue in the work of the figure I work on, and I agreed. Not long after the chair of the department came to me and said that I could teach the independent study, but it would have to be pass/fail rather than graded. When I asked why, the chair said that the senior male colleague didn’t want me to be allowed to teach the independent study at all and the chair had negotiated this compromise. I objected, calling attention to the fact that I was more up to date on the relevant literature than my colleague.
However, the chair strongly advised me to go along with it or there would be bad consequences, especially for my promotion. The students had to re-register for the pass/fail option."

But what, in this story, at all indicates sexism? So the senior colleague didn't want this junior faculty member to teach the independent study and encroach on his 'turf'. But why should we think (on the basis of this testimony alone) that this was at all due to the fact that she is female? I just don't see it.

Reports of 'sexism' like this suck. They make me inclined to think that many simply have 'sexist-watch' goggles on, and see everything through that (often jaded) perspective. He didn't give me that bad grade because I wrote a shitty paper, but because he's sexist. He didn't ignore my comment because it was off topic or inane, but because he's sexist. Slightly different, of course: He didn't want me to teach the course because he didn't want someone encroaching on his territory, but because he didn't want a *woman* doing so. But maybe, just maybe, you simply wrote a shitty paper, and maybe your contributions suck, and maybe your colleague is just as asshole *period*.

I don't mean to explain away all the reports; certainly not all of them can be explained away. But this may be going on more than the writers of this blog would like to admit. Just maybe.

dh said...

Let me try, Mr. Male.

I think for many of these anecdotes, there are going to be alternative explanations to sexism. And if you only think about one of them, or one at a time, the person reporting the story might seem to be too sensitive, "looking for sexism," or whatever. But to someone who has experienced not one or two, but dozens or scores over her career, the alternative explanations aren't plausible candidates. Maybe no one of the stories looks like evidence by itself; the pile of them does. And that's one reason jender started the blog.

Mr. Male's reaction does fit with my earlier comment, though. It's very easy to be skeptical about the interpretation the reporter has given to one of the anecdotes. If someone you know and respect were to tell you about a similar incident that happened to her, it would affect you very differently (I boldly conjecture, extrapolating from my own experience)...

Anonymous said...

I'm a black male. I was told that I couldn't teach a graduate course (despite requests from students) because that was under the control of a senior faculty member.

I am delighted to learn that it wasn't because the senior fac member is an ass, or that I'm black (the course was on Rawls), but because I was mistaken for a woman!

AOneFiftyEight said...

No, I'm pretty sure it would still be belittling and hurtful, even if one of my good male buddies were to say such a thing to me (esp. in the middle of the department lounge).

This is what I was thinking too. There may be times when jokes like this are ok, but the situation under consideration is not one of them.

E.g., a female prof I admire once argued that objectification isn't always wrong -- she argued it was ok, at times, for her boyfriend to regard and treat her as a clit during sex. But in other contexts it was completely inappropriate.

Zero: I know two male grad students who experienced pressure to have sex w/ female profs. It started as "harmless" flirting and then turned into something else. But, as someone else said, so what? (a) Wrong is wrong, and (b) I know many more female grad students who have had the same experience. Admittedly anecdotal evidence.

Everyone, please take a look at Deborah Rhode's work on the "no problem" problem. See e.g.

http://www.hofstra.edu/PDF/law_rhode.pdf

http://tiny.cc/pmrw4

There is a version of the "no problem" problem at work in this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Boy, this one is really bringing the dipshits out of the woodwork.

Anonymous said...

The blog is "devoted to short observations...sent in by readers, about life as a woman in philosophy."

It does not claim to be a litany of cases of proven sexual discrimination. In fact, some posts are positive experiences. Faulting it because it fails to show that each and every experience of women in philosophy is directly tied to their sex is a misguided criticism in the extreme

Anonymous said...

A valuable way to deal with the 'lack of context' of the posts might be to integrate them into our own contexts. Rather than attempting to *confirm or disconfirm* the posts with our own interpretative or analytic tools, we might look around to see if there's anything in our own departments, or our own behavior, that either is, or might be experienced as, the kinds of thinking, speaking, and acting toward others that are variously bemoaned, called out, or celebrated on the blog. I get the feeling that the posts are sufficiently representative not to need to bring their own context with them-- we're surrounded by it and continually contributing to it.

Looking for confirmation or disconfirmation is barking up the wrong tree. So is asking oneself (I'm male; you may not be) whether or not you'd feel bad if, all else being equal(?), you were a different gender, in a different situation, being treated differently than you are now. It would be more productive to take the opportunity to learn how the things we do now (all of us, male and female), and the social structures we participate in and/or benefit from, *might* be experienced by colleagues and friends and students that--at the very least-- we should have some prima facie moral responsibilities toward. And epistemic responsibilities as well (ie, not reaching to standard dismissals as soon as they speak).

I read that blog frequently now, and the last things I think are: Does this fit my experience? Can I confirm this? Does this go on here?

The first thing I think is: Holy shit, look how little I know about some really things that are very close to me-- including the ways my actions and intentions might be read by and affect others who are important to me.

Seriously-- we can likely agree that some of the (usually male, older, or simply old) professors in those anecdotes are dickheads. Do you think that they *know* that they are dickheads while they're being dickheads? No, dickhead, they don't. And that's regardless of whether they're great epistemologists or scholars of human behavior or whatever. "We are not 'knowers' when it comes to ourselves," and whatnot.

So you gotta ask-- what makes you so sure these stories are, or aren't, representative of the profession, the department, of you? What makes you think they are or aren't descriptively valid? What's informing your own evaluation that they are or aren't reducible to sexism (a hilarious idea in a society that has historically been, if not overtly and not now, a patriarchy).

That's not to say that the anecdotes are automatically trumpingly superior avenues to the truth, or that someone's pain is epistemically privileged above all else, or any such thing. I take it that the blog makes no such claims. It's just a collection of people's experiences.

But for exactly that reason, the anecdotes are less a cause for confirmation or refutation, and more a cause for some epistemic fucking modesty. Hence the name of the blog.

Anonymous said...

A valuable way to deal with the 'lack of context' of the posts might be to integrate them into our own contexts. Rather than attempting to *confirm or disconfirm* the posts with our own interpretative or analytic tools, we might look around to see if there's anything in our own departments, or our own behavior, that either is, or might be experienced as, the kinds of thinking, speaking, and acting toward others that are variously bemoaned, called out, or celebrated on the blog. I get the feeling that the posts are sufficiently representative not to need to bring their own context with them-- we're surrounded by it and continually contributing to it.

Looking for confirmation or disconfirmation is barking up the wrong tree. So is asking oneself (I'm male; you may not be) whether or not you'd feel bad if, all else being equal(?), you were a different gender, in a different situation, being treated differently than you are now. It would be more productive to take the opportunity to learn how the things we do now (all of us, male and female), and the social structures we participate in and/or benefit from, *might* be experienced by colleagues and friends and students that--at the very least-- we should have some prima facie moral responsibilities toward. And epistemic responsibilities as well (ie, not reaching to standard dismissals as soon as they speak).

I read that blog frequently now, and the last things I think are: Does this fit my experience? Can I confirm this? Does this go on here?

The first thing I think is: Holy shit, look how little I know about some really important things that are very close to me-- including the ways my actions and intentions might be read by and affect others who are important to me.

Seriously-- we can likely agree that some of the (usually male, older, or simply old) professors in those anecdotes are dickheads. Do you think that they *know* that they are dickheads while they're being dickheads? No, dickhead, they don't. And that's regardless of whether they're great epistemologists or scholars of human behavior or whatever. "We are not 'knowers' when it comes to ourselves," and whatnot.

So you gotta ask-- what makes you so sure these stories are, or aren't, representative of the profession, the department, of you? What makes you think they are or aren't descriptively valid? What's informing your own evaluation that they are or aren't reducible to sexism (a hilarious idea in a society that has historically been, if not overtly and not now, a patriarchy).

That's not to say that the anecdotes are automatically trumpingly superior avenues to the truth, or that someone's pain is epistemically privileged about all else, or any such thing. I take it that the blog makes no such claims.

But surely the anecdotes are less a cause for confirmation or refutation, and more a cause for some epistemic fucking modesty.

Incidentally, I think that's part of the thinking behind the blog's name, but it's been awhile since I've read that essay.

Anonymous said...

So many of the comments left so far have been so mind-numbingly uninformed, especially from folks who report to be tenured professors, that it might be time to shut this down.

Anonymous said...

I've already started losing respect for academics and philosophers as people, it being a rare thing to come across one that is genuinely cool. That site makes me downright disgusted and ashamed of being male. The meathead mentality doesn't seem to die with a philosophical education. This is a fucking outrage. And, incidentally, I'm a male assistant professor in a philosophy department.

Anonymous said...

Oct. 6th 7:23am asks:
Any comments on what would be appropriate reactions from a male graduate student witnessing shit like this?

I think this is a difficult and important question that deserves some discussion. I don't have a good answer, but I (along with 7:23, I assume) would really appreciate thoughtful comments on this.

Anonymous said...

People are clueless, I just witnessed a female university employee casually tell a student waiting to be interviewed, "I would hire you.. for the shoes.. and the lack of clevage" The student laughed nervously, and it was not a comment by one of her interviewers (some business hiring.. not to do with philosophy) but WTF

I don't think we should be walking on eggshells all the time wondering if we offend or not..but a little common sense helps.

Anonymous said...

APA website is down. Maybe the JFP is going up.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting a new blog called "My privileged class of inconsequential academics has it worse than your privileged class of inconsequential academics."

Anonymous said...

Well, the JFP is up. How about a new thread on reactions?

Anonymous said...

This is a little shout-out to those of you (e.g., Anons 5:26, 2:3, 6:29 and others) who want to react thoughtfully to the problems with sexism in our field.

I don't have any quick answers, but I wanted to say "Thank you."

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:21 FTW.

Elizabeth said...

What is it like to be a beneficiary of affirmative action?

I'm sure you don't know; philosophy's asshole quota has long since been filled.

Anonymous said...

While it is true that this comment thread was often irritating-- the question of why we should particularly care about women when everyone has it rough might deserve its own post. Perhaps also what I think of as the "discrimination as zero sum" mentality, where discrimination can reach equilibrium, or something, at which point no group has a right to complain, group identities dissolve in a sort of cascade, leaving only individuals... it is to laugh.

Turbine said...

Philosophy is such a weird subject. On one hand, it is one of the most intellectually stimulating and overall interesting subjects I have ever taken. Discussing, debating, and writing philosophy are all so much fun.

But on the other hand, getting a job in philosophy seems like a feat (if you don't want to be a teacher). I don't know; I started my philosophy degree but never finished it. I've been thinking about going back for awhile but I haven't decided yet.

Speaking of jobs, if anyone needs help getting a job, howtofindajobbook.com has helped me a lot this past year. Tough times guys, no lie.

Thanks for the interesting post! Look forward to more.

Anonymous said...

"the question of why we should particularly care about women when everyone has it rough might deserve its own post."

This isn't a post, but a quick answer is that there's something concrete and relatively easy we can do to cut down on sexism and nothing much we can really do about the job situation or other various ills you might have in mind when you say that it's tough all over.

I guess that's why.

Of course, you might have had in mind other forms of discrimination or something like that, in which case I agree that we should certainly think about this.

Elizabeth said...

You know, I'm still thinking about the discussion that emerged in this thread about whether it's OK to jokily remark to a female colleague and friend, among friends, that a man who talked to her about her research was really interested in something else.

I share the reaction of another female commenter that it would be demeaning and, for me, humiliating, and I want to try to explain why.

First, though, I have to say that I find odd the whole idea that this reaction on my part shows my humorlessness and is somehow an infringement on men's right to tell jokes. What we find funny is always personal and situational. Are there contexts that produce this reaction outside of jokes that call to mind, to oppressed people, their oppression?

Like, let's say my mom is seriously mentally ill and I don't appreciate friends joking about it. If you were my friend, would you think that was a frustrating limitation in my humor? Maybe, but... I kind of doubt it. So how come when oppressed people let us know that certain jokes make things hard for them, the immediate reaction is to discount them? Why couldn't the commentator who got this response think about how it shows his own calibration of how his humor might affect some of his female friends in philosophy might be off, instead of reacting in frustration to the woman who told him this?

[continued in next comment]

Elizabeth said...

[continued from previous comment]

That said, here's why this would hurt me if I were his friend. Every day that I do my intellectual work, I rely on the useful fiction that no one in that work sexualizes me. Realistically, from a position of remove, I'm sure that that's not the case, because that's just not how sex works. And from a remove, that's OK with me. (I have a sex drive and a fantasy life too!) But up close, it really isn't.

I don't think the men insisting in this thread that women lighten up and accept their sense of humor have any concept of this. When you have to genuinely wonder whether apparent interest in your ideas is really about your ideas, or instead is about you as a sexual object, it instantly removes every external basis you might have for feeling confident. You no longer have any ability to assess where your ideas stand. Every indication of intellectual worth you've received is suddenly in question. Think about that. Women have to deal with that in some way or other. I deal with it by obstinately blocking it out. The joke would hurt me because it would puncture a strategy I need in order to do my work.

By the way, to the commenter who asked about telling this joke to a male friend about a female questioner: If I overheard that I would be hurt in the same way. The person being demeaned wouldn't be your male friend; it would be the woman whose question was assumed to be unserious.

That implicit accusation -- that the person isn't an intellectual agent, just a sexual one -- just doesn't carry the same meaning when applied to a man most of the time as it does to a woman most of the time. (I imagine, though, that some men of color in philosophy might have something to say here.) Just like, return to my example, a "yo momma's crazy" joke means something different to someone whose mother is mentally ill. Why is this so obvious in so much of normal life, but so hard for some people to grasp when the issue is oppression?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elizabeth: I think that about gets it. I, too, rely on exactly the strategy you describe. (I'm the original Anonymous who said I would find it hurtful and humiliating if a friend made such a remark.)

I also continue to find it utterly bizarre how much energy some of the commentators on this thread put into trying to establish that there are *some* circumstances in which such a remark should be received only as a joke. My point was that the short sketch on the blog contained all the information necessary to determine that this was not such a circumstance.

For those who are wanting suggestions about how to respond to these kinds of situations, as witnesses rather than as direct harassees, insultees, etc.: If there is a tenured member of the faculty whose discretion you can rely on, *tell him or her*. In the "Another Bush from Yale" case, I hope that either the woman who sent in the story or some witness went to someone in the department with power and pointed out, at the very least, that this jerk was setting them up for a lawsuit. Talk about a hostile work environment!

Anonymous said...

elizabeth: that was powerful. thanks.

WomanABD said...

Elizabeth. Yes. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

elizabeth: i wanted to add that your story illustrates the conceptual problem at work here, one that often operates without our direct knowledge: the identity between "man" and "philosopher." this can take an explicit form ("female philosopher is a contradiction in terms"; "women cannot have seminal ideas") or it can take an implicit form, of the kind that you describe. this implicit identity between "man" and "philosopher" means that women philosophers must choose between being "women" (and therefore sexual objects) and "philosophers" (and therefore curious exceptions, honorary men) in a way described by de Beauvoir sixty years ago. men do not face this choice. and women are often unaware that they do, until a situation like that one goes down. which is why so many women in philosophy say that they had never truly experienced sexism until they became philosophers.

Carla Fehr said...

For those good souls who are wondering what kinds of things a bystander, even a junior or student bystander, can do when witnessing discrimination or harassment, check out Mediation@MIT. Mediation@MIT has an Active Bystanders Program with lots of concrete resources and suggestions.

Here is a link to the main page: http://web.mit.edu/bystanders/index.html

And here is a link to an interactive scenario regarding sexual harassment: http://web.mit.edu/bystanders/interactive/scenario1/index.html

Elizabeth said...

Hi all,

Thanks for the responses to my long comment (and thanks to Mr. Zero for making it its own thread!). I just wanted to reply to two comments here:

* To anon 10:09: Nice job describing this thread: "how much energy some of the commentators on this thread put into trying to establish that there are *some* circumstances in which such a remark should be received only as a joke." I think describing it that baldly makes it obvious how bizarre (and socially interesting) a reaction this is, more than my belabored analogy did.

* To anon 3:01: I really like your comment and I found it very thought-provoking. In the abstract, I hate the idea that there's some sort of opposition between being sexual and being a philosopher! In the concrete, trying to operate as a female philosophy student, I want as strong a wall as possible between me as a philosopher and me as the object of someone's sexuality. Thanks for helping me understand how both of those reactions can make sense at the same time.