Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Do You Do?

In comments here, Philosophical Boyfriend mentions some concerns his girlfriend, Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend, had about discussions of sexism in philosophy. He writes:

First, she felt that any discussion of sexist incidents in philosophy should focus on _solutions_, not simply on endless, depressing reports of problems. For instance, there was the story of the woman who, after presenting a paper, had a male audience member apologize to her for asking such difficult questions and then _kiss her ear_(!!). If that sort of thing is going on, then (my girlfriend said) what is most important is for people to sort out good methods for _dealing with_ that sort of thing. What should one do if that happens? What sorts of ways of acting and presenting would make it least likely for that to happen? How should other people present react? Discussions of these things would be extremely useful; but she finds them almost nowhere. And that, she said, seems really defeatist: it's as though people are saying 'hey, this crap happens, so I guess it's better to leave the profession', which of course plays into the hands of the truly sexist.

Second, she really wanted to see more dialogue between those who believe that there are problems facing women and those who don't. Part of the reason was that she wanted to know whether all the negativity she was feeling was really justified; but much of her motivation was so that strategies could be developed for dealing with doubters if there are good grounds for despair in the present climate. She felt that a closer engagement with these doubters would have the dual function of helping to persuade them of the extent of the problem and of removing their ability to feel their views are being censored or attacked merely in the name of political correctness.

And third, as I mentioned before, she thought a positive way to move forward would be to break the association in people's minds between philosophers who are feminists, women philosophers, and people doing so-called 'feminist philosophy'.


I pointed out that the What It's Like blog has a sister blog about What We're Doing About It, which has been far less successful. They've had a much harder time getting people post constructive strategies for dealing with the kind of shit on display in the what it's like blog.

I also mentioned that I suspect that these difficulties are, at least in part, a result of the fact that the kinds of sexism that seem to be most commonly experienced nowadays is subtle rather than overt, and this makes it especially difficult to combat. People do a bunch of little things that serve to belittle and exclude, where the individual impact of each thing is potentially minuscule, but where the overall impact of them, taken as a whole, can be very significant.

I also admitted that I don't have what I would regard as a concrete helpful suggestion.

CrabbyAbby posted a helpful list:

Philosophical boyfriend (and affiliated philosopher) -- I think there has been some really fantastic things spring out of the discussions of the sexism that is rampant in our discipline. A few things off the top of my head include:

(a) the proposal that philosophers known to be sexist be shunned from participating in conferences. (An Inside Higher Ed article here)

(b) an on-going campaign on the Feminist Philosophers blog to call out conferences and anthologies that under-represent women in the discipline. This is, I take it, meant not only to show how women are under-represented but is also meant to be an act of social shaming for those organizing those conferences and anthologies. (Here's one such blog entry)

(c) A discussion, again on Feminist Philosophers, about how to make conferences parent-friendly. (Here's one such blog entry about it)

(d) A new mentoring program in place for untenured women in philosophy.

And I think there is also a renewed awareness that we need to come up with other solutions to the sexism. While I'm a young philosopher, it seems like the discipline is, more than ever, recognizing that there is a problem and thinking, collectively, about how to respond. Which is itself an important development. (Actually, I worry that I'm being overly optimistic about this.)

But all of this needs to happen alongside the accounts that we see on 'What it's Like' and other such blogs. We can't stop telling our stories of sexism and being open to hearing the stories of others. Why? Well, (1) because there are still people who doubt that the discipline is sexist at all; (2) because those sorts of stories offer a level of solidarity and support to other women (and men) in the discipline; (3) because they can be cathartic for those who submit stories, as an important way to work through traumatic events is discussing it with others; (4) because the accounts also help us think about new ways to combat the sexism in our discipline. Indeed, it is also useful so that those who think about going into philosophy have a clear idea of the state of the discipline.


What would you add, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

68 comments:

emily said...

I agree with Crabby Abby that while we need to focus on constructive solutions to these problems, we should not stop bringing up and demonstrating the problems that do exist. Sexism is still denied and ignored in so many circles, and people need to be aware that it exists and is detrimental not only to women in philosophy but to philosophy itself.

Also, in reference to PBG, I don't think that the only solution to the given example of the commenter kissing a woman's ear is to teach her how to react. We also need to teach people in general not to act that way. Knowing how to rebuke such sexist statements is super important, but won't solve the problem on its own.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting and important conversation,and I understand the desire for concrete solutions and strategies for dealing with sexism, but I'm not sure I agree with the presumption that there is some strict distinction between pointing out and describing instances of sexism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination (characterised vairously as "negative," "pessimistic," "complaining" etc.), and "doing something about it" which is suppossedly something more positive, optimistic and constructive.

I would simply point out (or reemphasis, since it seems some commentators have made similiar observations)that in an environment in which one of the main obstacles to equality is the widely held view that sexism is largely negligible today, that continued attempts to combat it amount to "reverse discrimination" and give women an unfair advantage, etc., documenting the myriad ways in which sexism is still rampant in the discipline and in society generally IS "doing something about it."

An very similar argument can be made in regards to race and racism. One of the most troublesome forms that racism takes today is the view that racism is no longer prevalent, and so attempts to evoke it as an explanatory factor amount to playing "the race card" and essentially making excuses for what are suppossed rather to be personal and/or moral failings.

Of course, these are ridiculous claims which have always been a part of racist discourse, such that a big part of the Civil Rights movement (a pretty good example, I think, of "doing something about it") was simply making visible to white Americans the extent to which the lives of black Americans were subject to unjust harms of discrimination, violence, and etc.

So, I'm not sure the distinction between things like the "what its like" blog and efforts to "do something about it" are very helpful. I'd say that the blog is a good example of doing something about sexism in philosophy.

Duck said...

I generally agree w/ 9:51, but if people have constructive solutions too then great.

W/r/t PBG's third point, I think that every time someone tells a story that goes "I do Kant, but they thought that since I'm a woman I could teach feminist philosophy", that does serve to break the links she mentions. So yay stories.

Also, kiss her ear??! Eww.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks for posting this, Mr. Zero.

To begin with, I'd like to clarify my position in the face of what Emily says: in figuring out what to do to combat sexism, I'm including _all_ people involved. The person who allegedly kissed the woman on the ear, and the other people present (if there were any), obviously have more need to modify their behavior than the woman who was kissed! I intend the question of what to do as inclusive of that. I also intend it to be inclusive of how we (who would never have dreamed of giving the kiss) could influence the academic environment in such a way that the kiss would have seemed like a bad option for the kisser.

As I said before, I think Mr. Zero is correct in saying that many of the forms of sexism, racism etc. are subtle; and I also think that the best response to them will often be subtle. Quite often, as I'm sure I will go on to argue in this thread, those who work toward change apply sledgehammers to jobs that require something much more delicate, with the result that failure is almost inevitable.

Here's an example of what I mean by subtle problems needing subtle solutions: there was a commenter in a previous thread who told a heart-breaking story about what led up to her decision to leave philosophy following her decline in health, etc. Before she reached a crisis, she felt she endured unfair treatment at the hands of her professors: creepy people wanted to talk with her merely because she was a beautiful woman, and all the other (male) professors kept their distance from her because they didn't want to be _seen_ to be flirting with/attracted to her. Hence, she never got the fair shake or the inclusion that all male students could take for granted. Such subtle things, even if unintended, can have a huge effect.

So, what is the best way of dealing with it? Well, as Emily says, most of the solution must lie with the professors: the student can't fix the problem on her own.

And yet, most of the professors who treated the student in that way were probably oblivious to what was going on. Even the ones the student identified as 'creepy' might not have realized or admitted to themselves the real reason why they were spending more time with her. And surely, it would not have crossed the minds of most (if any) of the non-creepy ones that this was going on or that it was creating an unequal situation.

So, here is the sort of thing that it would be useful to make a point of general understanding among professors. If professors can come to realize the effects such things can have, and are given a simple way to stop it, then I think we can expect results.

So, what should be done? In this case, it is quite simple... (continued)

Philosophical boyfriend said...

(Continuing)

First, professors should follow a policy of extending themselves to students equally. If Professor X is asked by Student Y to go for a drink, or to call him/her on the phone at home, or to advise him/her on a personal issue, then Professor X needs to ask him/herself: 'Would I do this with/for all my other students, from those that I like best to those I like least?' And then, the professor needs to act consistently. Yes, that will mean that some professors will need to have lunch with horribly boring and unintelligent students with bad attitudes. But that's what fairness entails, unless the professor chooses never to have lunch with students.

Being self-conscious about one's contact with students in this way will probably bring to the forefront of the professor's mind some important things that might not have been noticed. For instance: in the midsts of having a drink or a phone call with a very boring student on as personal a topic as the professor formerly discussed with an attractive student, the professor might ask him/herself: 'Why on earth am I doing this? I've got better things to do with my time...'. Then, remembering that this was to make things fair after the drink with the attractive grad student, the professor might ask him/herself what it was about the attractive graduate student that made having a drink with him/her seem so important. Perhaps, if the 'creepy' professors mentioned by the commenter had had to think this through, they would have realized something important about their behavior.

Second, it needs to be reinforced to these professors that, despite their formidable learning, they are as subject as the rest of us are to cognitive illusions that stop people from seeing the way their own habits are affecting others and what motivates them when they make choices on the fly. This is why professors who decide to work out the appropriate level of contact, the appropriate way of acting, etc. with their students on the basis of what 'feels' right to them make these subtle errors of judgment without noticing it. And that's why they need to second-guess themselves by thinking about the matter objectively and often. We can all have an effect on that by making it a topic of discussion.

I think these subtle sorts of things will make a big difference in these sorts of cases. By contrast, crude tactics like social shaming, blacklisting, screaming through a bullhorn, etc. are doomed to fail at making a positive change. Or so I will argue later on in the thread, I'm sure.

Largely for that reason, my reaction to the suggestions CrabbyAbby passed along from Feminist Philosophers is mixed, but quite negative:

1) Shunning or blacklisting "philosophers known to be sexist" - terrible idea, for reasons I'll explain in another post;

2) Calling out conferences and anthologies that don't include women -- another terrible idea (more later);

3) Making conferences parent-friendly: not as terrible an idea, but not really to the point (more later); and

4) Mentoring untenured women in philosophy: I'd have to know more about it, but it does sound helpful.

729 said...

Here's more information on the Mentoring Project:

http://www.philosophy.ku.edu/mentoring-project/

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks, 729. But it's difficult to understand from that link what sorts of things are dealt with by mentors. Suppose that I'm a mentee. What happens?

729 said...

Hi Philo. Boyfriend,

The Mentoring Project is is new--just starting up--and is a project run by Ann Cudd and Louise Antony. A mentoring initiative like this, I think, represents the strongest sort of measure to *do something* for women in the profession. The reason I think this is that strong mentoring for any early career professional is worthwhile. Mentoring provides information, advice, networking and support--but experiencing mentoring in graduate school through early career most often happens by chance. Some universities have internal mentoring programs, some people get lucky connecting to senior colleagues. Ideally, mentoring would be a norm in our profession. But it isn't. People find themselves alone, without professional support and independent advice and networks.

Anne and Louise's mentoring project is so interesting to me because it combines a "best practice" in professional development with the pressing need for supporting women in philosophy. I know one pre-tenure faculty member who will be attending and look forward to learning how it goes. I'm hoping this mentoring project can serve as a template for other mentoring projects (of all kinds) for early career philosophers.

In case this might be of interest, it is worthwhile to look into the WOGP (Workshop on Gender and Philosophy). It is in the Boston area. It is a workshop--participants read and discuss papers in the area of feminist philosophy. This is a good way to network with other scholars.

There is also SWIP (The Society for Women in Philosophy) in case this of of interest.
http://www.uh.edu/~cfreelan/SWIP/

http://web.me.com/shaslang/WOGAP/WOGAP_home.html

729 said...

PS: I just realized I didn't quite answer your question about what happens if one is mentored. I can't speak for participants in the new project, only for myself. What happened because I was mentored is that I didn't need to rely on blogs for the professional advice I needed (and needed frequently) as I progressed through tenure.(1) If weird/bad/incomprehensible stuff was going on in my department/university or with journals/publishing or service or teaching, I had someone trustworthy to talk to and ask for advice.

One thing I like about the new Mentoring Project is that it aims to provide Independent mentorship. "Independence" here is mentoring by people from outside one's home institution. It is great to have a mentor in one's department and institution, but sometimes some issues need to be aired in neutral territory. A culture of mentoring all around would be ideal, senior faculty at home and outside. 'Till that day...

(1) This is *not* to say that I have any issue with professional advice on blogs--not at all. Its good to get a variety of views on a matter. It is great that information is out there for anyone who needs it! The matter is that such advice can't truly be tailored to an individual. Only a relationship with a trustworthy mentor can provide this level of advice and support.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks, 729.

I'm all for the idea of having mentors for philosophy students and instructors. I haven't had such a person in my life, and wish I had.

What I wasn't sure about was whether this was _specifically_ aimed at particular issues facing women, and if so, what they were, etc. But I don't think it needs to include that at all as a specific component in order to be very effective. If the mentee is a woman, then she may or may not encounter problems related to sexism. If she does, then she can discuss them with her mentor; and if she doesn't, then she needn't.

So yeah, I'm sure that would be very effective, and I think it should be implemented for people of all races, sexes, etc. Thanks for the explanation.

Anonymous said...

Calling out all-male conferences is a great idea. One of the ways women are excluded in philosophy is by ignoring them, for example, by not inviting talented women to present at conferences. Calling attention to this sort of exclusion is an important way to push back against it. It needs to be professionally unacceptable to exclude women in this way.

If philosophy can become less of a boys' club it'll be a much better place for women to be. And a much better place for everyone to be.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Hi again,

Sorry for not immediately backing up my claim that the first two ideas from Feminist Philosophers, etc. are terrible. I’m writing a paper at the same time as doing this. However, now that someone has said that the second proposal is a great idea, I can’t resist any longer.

By the way, I spoke with my girlfriend last night about the third suggestion (which involves ensuring that childcare is available at all conferences and even, as one sees when one follows the link provided by CrabbyAbby, making people feel comfortable bringing young children and infants into the conference rooms themselves). My girlfriend has a somewhat stronger view on the matter than I took at first, but I’m starting to think she’s just right altogether. But her view comes from a more general (and I think correct) view she has about the right way to think about all these issues, so I’d prefer to let her comment on that one.

Anyway, to back up my claim that it’s a terrible idea to ‘call out’ the conference organizers and anthology editors:

First off, let’s be clear on the intention here: it is, as CrabbyAbby said yesterday, to “be an act of social shaming for those organizing those conferences and anthologies” (i.e. conferences with no female keynote speakers and anthologies with no papers by women).

I want to look at two things here: first, is this proposal just? And second, is it likely to bring about the desired result? I think the answer to both questions is no.

I’ll talk about fairness first. If someone is to be justly “socially shamed”, the person needs to have done something very wrong. Now, what are these conference organizers and editors doing that is so wrong? There are two possible answers to this question, depending on whether the spirit behind the proposal is weak affirmative action (i.e. women should stand at no disadvantage in being considered for the conference/anthology) or strong affirmative action (i.e. regardless of who applies and the calibre of other candidates, the organizer/editor has a positive duty to reserve at least one spot for a woman). I’ll take these possibilities in turn.

1) The weak AA reading: on this understanding of the proposal, the organizer/editor has acted very immorally in failing to give women a fair shot at competing with men. And yet, this is being proposed for any conference or anthology in which there are no women featured. So one could only assume, on this reading, that those backing the proposal think it in some way follows from the fact that there are no women featured that women did not have a fair chance to be featured. But that is such a stupid thing to think that the principle of charity seems to demand that we hear the proposal as entailing an obligation of strong AA instead. Before turning to that, though, I want to make clear just how unjust and stupid the proposal is on the weak AA reading.

To start with, let’s provisionally forget about the keynote issue and consider what it’s reasonable to assume if one finds out about a conference at which there are (say) five or six papers to be presented in plenary sessions, all by male philosophers. As anyone who has submitted proposals to conferences should be aware, submissions are almost always reviewed blindly. Hence, the fact that all six (or even twenty) of the papers turn out to be by men would give no evidence that sexism was an issue. On the contrary, it couldn’t be an issue. So on the weak AA reading, this collapses.

That’s why the only way to try to salvage that proposal (on the weak AA reading) would be to limit its scope to keynotes. Keynotes are not selected blindly, so a disproportionately high number of male keynotes in the same conference _might_ (but also might well not) be indicative of sexism in the selection process. The trouble is, of course, that there is usually only one keynote per conference. So there are no grounds for concluding anything about sexism in the selection process on that basis.

Continued in a moment...

Philosophical boyfriend said...

(Continued)

The only exception I know of is the single conference that has been ‘called out’ on the Feminist Philosophers blog (http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/10-keynotes-no-women/) : the 2011 Salzburg Conference for Young Analytic Philosophy. Feminist Philosophers has ‘called out’ this conference and its organizers on the grounds that there seem to be ten keynote philosophers, all male. How can a small conference like that have ten keynotes? Well, as one learns from reading the comments, it seems that the Austrian German term ‘plenarvortragende’ (which was translated as ‘keynote’) might in this case just indicate that the speaker will be conducting a plenary session. And it’s not at all clear that the submissions were not blind reviewed. Moreover, one of the commenters makes clear that women are even more poorly represented in academic philosophy in the German-speaking world than they are in the English-speaking world. So it is far from clear that the absence of women from the list of ten men even indicates a statistical anomaly, let alone one best explained by sexism. And yet, this is the conference Feminist Philosophers chose to shame.
Even if we assume, not uncontroversially, that the reason for the underrepresentation of women in conferences and anthologies is sometimes attributable to a sexist selection bias by the organizers/editors, it in no way follows from this that any _particular_ conference or anthology in which women are underrepresented allowed sexism to bias its choices. So it would be profoundly unjust to smear the reputation of the organizer/editor on the weak AA reading.

2) So, let’s consider the strong AA reading. On this reading, the idea is that every conference organizer/anthology editor has a strong positive obligation to include at least one woman, come what may. This gets past the ‘statistical stupidity’ objection that dooms the weak AA proposal, since it will now follow automatically from the mere fact that there are no women to the conclusion that the editor/organizer has failed to do his duty. So far so good, but...

First off, there are well-informed, thoughtful enemies of sexism who hold all three of the following views: 1) strong AA is beneficial and there is nothing immoral about implementing it, so it is good but not obligatory to implement it; 2) strong AA is unfair, and hence immoral to implement; and 3) strong AA is not only fair and beneficial, but morally obligatory. Clearly, if someone is to be shamed for _not_ following strong AA, it must be the case that 3) is correct.

But even that would not be sufficient to justify condemning and shaming the organizers/editors. They would also have to _know_ that 3) is correct. And since it’s a matter of sincere controversy among intelligent people, to say the least, it seems entirely epistemically and morally respectable to fail to believe (let alone know) that it is correct. So it is difficult to see how anyone could be in a position to be blamed and shamed on the strong AA reading, unless that person has explicitly committed him/herself to a belief in 3). But hardly anyone has, and probably none of these editors/organizers have.

It’s worth contrasting this with other things one could do that are clearly sexist and shameful. If someone writes an email in which he explicitly tells his co-editor to throw any submissions from women straight into the garbage, or if he was caught telling a woman that she will only be tenured if she sleeps with him, then it would be uncontroversial to all concerned that he had acted very badly. But again, the crime in question here (on the more viable strong AA reading) is merely that of organizing a conference, choosing the best papers in a blind review and going with them.

(Just a little more in the next post...)

Philosophical boyfriend said...

(Continued)

This brings me to my last point. Leaving aside the question whether this proposal (again, the more viable strong AA one) is just, is it even likely to be helpful?
Well, an important thing to bear in mind is that, on this suggestion, the naming and shaming is not to be done by a body with official power over the organizers/editors. Rather, it is to be done by blogs like Feminist Philosophers. So the intended aim is to bring about compliance with the strong AA outlook voluntarily. If it really is the case that organizers/editors are acting immorally by not making a point to include a woman at all times – and that is certainly controversial – then it seems clear that the best way for people with no direct institutional power over them to bring them in line with strong AA is by inviting them to hear them out sympathetically, in an attempt to align their values with those of strong AA.

But this is not what is proposed. Instead, the idea is to use a forum that the organizers might not even know or care about to shame and discredit the organizers. Now, I doubt that Albert Anglberger, Christian Feldbacher, Alexander Feldbacher, Stefan Gugerell or Hanna Lametschwandtner have heard about the Feminist Philosophers ‘shaming’ way off in Salzburg, but let’s give the proponents of this suggestion their fantasy and suppose that they’ve bumped into people at conferences who have said, “Right, I know you – you’re one of those sexist conference organizers. For shame!” or, maybe, “You know what? I was thinking of doing collaborative work with you, but now that I know you’re a sexist, forget it.” These people were probably not aware that anything they were doing was sexist or objectionable. They were just trying to organize a conference. Now, self-styled feminist philosophers are calling them sexists and shaming them. How exactly is this going to bring them on board with strong affirmative action? How is it meant to make the fortunes of any woman philosopher one iota better?

For all these reasons, I submit that the proposal is remarkably poorly thought-through. If anyone thinks it is better than terrible in spite of all I have said, I’d really like to know why.

Crabby Abby said...

One of the things I'd really like to see is a naming of *departments* that are notoriously good or bad for women. I teach at an undergraduate only institution and, while I know of a few departments that I will expressly tell my students about if they ask me for recommendations for graduate programs in philosophy, I'm in the dark about the status of most of the programs.

I know that there is a list of female-friendly departments somewhere on the internet, but a very quick google search didn't turn it up. And while I think something like that has real merit, I know that when I was applying to programs I would not have been willing to narrow my applications to such a small list of programs. I was extraordinarily concerned with getting in a program that both matched my interests and was sufficiently strong with a good placement record. So I'm not sure what I could have done with a female-friendly list. However, had I known then what I know now about at least a couple of departments, then I would not have applied to them.

But I worry that naming departments may be like naming people -- something that people aren't willing to do for fear of recrimination (either social or legal). And I do worry that if women just avoid problematic departments then those departments may not come to have vocal members from within the department that could foment change. And that would be a damned shame.

But I do know that I would have liked that information when I was applying to graduate programs. And I do know that I would like that information now, so that when my wonderful, brilliant and excited students want to apply to graduate programs I can be informed when I give my recommendations. I'm just not at all sure how I can go about getting that information in any reliable and systematic manner.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Women presenters are also going to be taken less seriously at _all_ conferences if conferences are forced to have women presenters. (Provided the conferences that are forced to do this are blind.) _I_ would probably take women presenters less seriously, knowing that some of their papers wouldn’t have made it in if they were male.

Seriously, do we really want to hear "I would have gotten into [prestigious conference] if only I had a vagina"?

Not only would we have to hear these comments, we’d have to put up with them, too, because sometimes they’d be right.

Mr. Zero said...

Women presenters are also going to be taken less seriously at _all_ conferences if conferences are forced to have women presenters. (Provided the conferences that are forced to do this are blind.)

Maybe I'm forgetting something important upthread, but it is my understanding (and if I'm wrong I hope someone will correct me) that the gendered conference campaign has focused on keynotes for precisely this reason. Because regular old participants are (ideally) blind reviewed, but keynotes are invited on the basis of prestige or whatever.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

in reference to PBG, I don't think that the only solution to the given example of the commenter kissing a woman's ear is to teach her how to react. We also need to teach people in general _not to act that way_. Knowing how to rebuke such sexist statements is super important, but won't solve the problem on its own.

Emily: I totally agree with this and never meant to imply the contrary. In fact, even if teaching women tools to deal with sexism and not let it ruin their careers has no effect on the amount of sexism in the profession, I still think it would be really useful for women themselves. (I also happen to think that it would eradicate some sexism.)

Anonymous said...

Right, Mr. Zero: the shaming campaign focuses on keynotes for that reason.

Still, what about PBG's point in that regard? Let's suppose that the organizers first decide that their keynote should be a woman, and then find the best available and willing woman in the field. A male philosopher who would have been the obvious best choice then says, "They would probably have asked me, if only I had a vagina." His claim would be correct.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Maybe I'm forgetting something important upthread, but it is my understanding (and if I'm wrong I hope someone will correct me) that the gendered conference campaign has focused on keynotes for precisely this reason. Because regular old participants are (ideally) blind reviewed, but keynotes are invited on the basis of prestige or whatever.

If that's what the proposal is, then it's probably a good one.

But I read Crabby Abby as making a more general point about conferences that could be put into practice a number of different ways.

And Anon 4:58's point was that "Calling out all-male conferences is a great idea. One of the ways women are excluded in philosophy is by ignoring them, for example, by not inviting talented women to present at conferences."

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Mr. Zero, I'm also thinking about suggestions like this:

http://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/asking-about-women-on-the-conference-line-up/

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Let's suppose that the organizers first decide that their keynote should be a woman, and then find the best available and willing woman in the field. A male philosopher who would have been the obvious best choice then says, "They would probably have asked me, if only I had a vagina." His claim would be correct.

Anon 9:45, I agree. Consciously trying to get more women keynotes is still probably a good idea, but this is not the way to go about it.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks for your comment, Mr. Zero.

In my lengthy response to the 'shame the organizers' suggestion, I pointed out that there is usually only one keynote speaker at each conference.

That being the case, the only way one could make sure to include one female keynote at the conference would be by deciding in advance to approach _only_ women as keynotes.

Are you really comfortable with the suggestion that a conference organizer who doesn't do this -- that is, an organizer who selects any male as the keynote -- should be publicly shamed?

Jamie Dreier said...

Phil Boyfriend, you wrote:

First off, let’s be clear on the intention here: it is, as CrabbyAbby said yesterday, to “be an act of social shaming for those organizing those conferences and anthologies”

It is not. CrabbyAbby is mistaken. Here is what the Feminist Philosophers actually say:

The Gendered Conference Campaign aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of all-male conferences (and volumes, and summer schools), of the harm that they do. We make no claims whatsoever about the causes of such conferences: our focus is on their existence and effects. We are therefore not in the business of blaming conference organisers, and not interested (here, anyway) in discussions of blameworthiness.

I hope other people will try harder than Phil Boyfriend to get this right. My impression is that the Campaign is having good consequences, and it would be a shame for misinformation to derail it.

Anonymous said...

PBG,
Your reading of the gendered conference campaign seems uncharitable or perhaps just uninformed. You might want to look at the many, many discussions of it at Feminist Philosophers. Some of your objections (all?) have been entertained on the blog. Since you have a rather extended argument against it, perhaps you should post it there (after reading the threads in which some of what you've raised is already entertained). I say that in particular since you've mentioned wanting to see more engagement between interested people who do not agree.

(What is a "self-styled feminist philosopher"? I get that it's pejorative, but what's the problem?)

Anonymous said...

Seriously, do we really want to hear "I would have gotten into [prestigious conference] if only I had a vagina"?

You know, guys are going to whine about this, but I don't think that matters all that much to whether the policy is good. They even might be correct in some instances, sure. But we shouldn't act like the normal thing to do when figuring out who to invite for a conference is consult the Platonic form of the ideal philosopher and invite that male person according to perfectly objective criteria, and that when we make an effort to diversify, we're lowering the standards.

Rather, it's usually, "who can we get that's good?", "who have you heard of?", "who do you think would be good to get for our keynote, anyone you've seen lately?" and that relies on people's judgments, which unfortunately include a lot of implicit bias which excludes women and minorities. It's not because anyone's being intentionally sexist or racist, but this is a pretty well documented effect.

So, yeah, someone might be brought to the attention of a keynote committee because she has a vagina. I figure that's a rough balance for all the guys who get invited because, you know, they had a beer with someone's friend once, and that friend told them they just seemed smart and should look at his new work and maybe have him out sometime. Mutatis mutandis for anthologies.

And remember, these problems compound pretty quickly; X isn't at the conference because the conference organizers forgot to see if she was available because she didn't occur to them, at the conference someone chats with his friends at the bar about putting together an anthology,and the new anthology comes out, and people read it, and think, hey, who can I invite to my conference, why not Y, he had that paper in that new anthology and it seemed pretty good.

Having organized conferences it's astonishing both how easy it is to come up with an all-male longlist, and how easy it is to come up with qualified women once someone says, hey, our list is really full of white guys, anyone else we can think of? Oh, right, Laurie Paul (e.g.) does metaphysics, too....It can be a pretty powerful blind spot.

It's an inelegant and imperfect solution, but it is countering a real bias that has nothing to do with philosophical talent. There seems to be an undercurrent here of thinking that if only we committed to objectivity and never mentioned bad things that happen or took explicit steps to address them, we'd achieve a gender balance by force of reason and subtlety and not give the sexists any ammo. This doesn't seem to be the case in any other discipline that's successfully diversified, even in the hard sciences with results that are more objective. It takes time, money, and explicit policies designed to counteract implicit (and, unfortunately explicit) biases.

Subtle solutions are good, too! But I don't think they'll be the primary solution.

Anonymous said...

So, yeah, someone might be brought to the attention of a keynote committee because she has a vagina. I figure that's a rough balance for all the guys who get invited because, you know, they had a beer with someone's friend once, and that friend told them they just seemed smart and should look at his new work and maybe have him out sometime. Mutatis mutandis for anthologies."

OKOK, so there's an implied argument here I want to examine.

First, I will assume there no ideal gender balance, but rather the just distribution of men/women in philosophy will be the product of uniformly just behaviour in the profession. In other words, that there is a gender imbalance is not necessarily evidence of injustice.

I believe the implied argument is:

1) Men (as an empirical fact) prefer to hang out and talk philosophy with other men.
2) Hanging out provides opportunities for philosophers to be included at conferences/in anthologies because
2a. Hanging out provides opportunities to
showcase philosophy chops and credentials.

2b. Hanging out invokes a sense of fraternity
which often results in professional favours (a.k.a.
old boy network).
C) Men are provided with more opportunities to be included at conferences and in anthologies, resulting in the exclusion of women.

Two questions:

Is it wrong for 1)? Ought men (or women) not to take gender into consideration when 'hanging out'? It seems that there is prima facie no reason to believe that my preference to hang out with persons of gender X is a moral matter. It doesn't seem like anyone has a right to my company.

So (controversially) assuming that there is nothing wrong with 1), it seems to me that when a disproportionate amount of men are invited to conferences/anthologies because of 2a. there is no (obvious) injustice, but when a disproportionate amount of men are invited to conferences/anthologies because of 2b., there is injustice.

Anonymous said...

I'm so used to facebook that I looked for a way to 'like' 6:19's comment. Alas, there is none.

emily said...

6:19 (in particular) and 5:36, I really agree with both of you. Men may whine about not getting a spot because they "don't have a vagina", but the fact of the matter is that when we brainstorm and list names, society has conditioned us all to (mostly) list [white] male ones first and foremost.

And Jamie, thank you so much for correcting what some people here have thought of the GCC as "shaming". I really think EE style " increasing the representation of minorities, women, etc" is a positive and worthwhile goal in academia and especially philosophy.

Anonymous said...

The focus should be on the list of invited speakers, not on keynotes. Many conferences have a number of invited speakers (and have zero "keynote" speakers). Such invitations are prestigious.

Jamie Dreier is correct: people need to try a little harder to get the details right. Anon 6:19's description of how conferences are actually organized is spot-on.

The naive view that somehow only "the best" choices for invitations somehow shine out (perhaps they have golden haloes?) and are thus selected for invited slots is exactly the issue. When all-male conferences are held, it can appear to the naive as though the speakers were only selected on the basis of their philosophical talent, whereas in reality, many factors play a role, and talent is only one (necessary) factor. This then reinforces the stereotypes already in play.

If women invited to speak in such situations gave low-quality papers, then perhaps there would be an issue to object to. But the invited women are invited because they, too, have talent, and, at least at the conferences I've been at, their papers are at least as good as the papers by the male speakers.

MIT_grad said...

I'm super confused. PBG hasn't yet been to philosophy grad school. What evidence does she have for her view that so-called rational responses to sexist behavior are viable in the current climate? Part of the feminist claim here is that women are often subject to hefty and unjust professional penalties if they do respond by calling sexists out. Another part of the claim is that women who call sexists out often can't successfully *communicate* their complaint - they are dismissed as shrill, bitchy, weak, and (yes) irrational. So there is no uptake. If PBG wanted to deny that the climate was as bad as feminists suggest, then that would be one thing. But she's not yet in grad school, so how could she be in a position to say that? And the idea that *all* environments are such that constructively confronting one's sexist interlocutor is practically rational and/or feasible is incredibly naive. Sexism and racism aren't tantamount to schoolyard name calling, where you just have to stare the meanie down. The victims of sexism and racism often have no good solutions available, because these systematic forms of prejudice render people more or less blind to the injustices in question.

Another thing: "she noted that many feminists who are also philosophers have come to conflate being a feminist and a philosopher with 'doing feminist philosophy'. Sally Haslanger is a good example of someone who makes that error. My girlfriend, who considers 'feminist philosophy' to be pseudophilosophy, resents the fact that others might come to view her as a 'feminist philosopher' just because she is a woman in philosophy."

Where to begin with this highly uncharitable claim? I don't know where the philosophical couple are getting their ideas, but I don't know anyone in feminist circles (in which I pseudophilosophize) who makes this conflation. If non or anti-feminist philosophers make this mistake, be it on their own heads. But Sally Haslanger in particular is an extremely smart and subtle thinker who's not likely to make such obvious "errors", I can assure you. Furthermore, Sally has done more to improve the situation for women in philosophy, feminist and non-feminist alike, than almost anyone in the profession. Girlfriend needs to get her facts straight. An ounce of gratitude in view of those facts wouldn't go astray either.

Finally, the distinction between identifying the problem and ameliorating it is clearly a false contrast. You can't fix what nobody will recognize or acknowledge as a problem (see above). What's it's Like is a valuable exercise in consciousness-raising. Sure, concrete measures have to follow. But they'll only take hold in light of a greater awareness of and concern with the problem. And for some, being aware of the problem *will* help them improve their behavior. Many people don't want to behave in sexist ways, but have little insight into how their behavior affects women. In these cases, getting them to examine their conduct with more care can have salutary effects.

In conclusion, it's a shame if PBG finds herself "crestfallen and depressed" by What it's Like. But the truth hurts, girlfriend! It hurts women in philosophy who deserve better, and who need for their stories to be told in order for the systemic issues to be taken with the seriousness they deserve.

Thinking Person said...

I don't know where to begin to correct everything false and unwarranted in Philosophical Boyfriend's comments. For now, I'll content myself with thanking those commenters who have suggested he read the Feminist Philosophers blog in order to know what he is talking about.

Those who lament the absence of women-friendly programs after a quick google search may not have tried the Committee on the Status of Women site, where this report has been maintained super-heroically and largely via the efforts of Christina Bellon:

http://www.apaonline.org/documents/governance/committees/GradPrograms2010.pdf

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

A few brief responses:

1) I did in fact see Haslanger give a talk in which she repeatedly said that we all need to work to better the position of women in the discipline, and therefore that we all need to push for greater exposure of and support for feminist philosophy. I also remember seeing her say this in print. Well, that argument relies on the claim that the fortunes of 'feminist philosophers' and of women in philosophy are either causally related or identical. If it's that they're identical, then she's conflating feminist philosophers with women philosophers. If they're causally related, then she's conflating philosophers who promote the status of women in philosophy with feminist philosophers.

2) To Jamie Dreier: thanks for the clarification. I stand corrected. However, the person who made the error was CrabbyAbby, who reported the intent as being that of shaming the individuals: not me. I was merely responding to her suggestion. So she is the one who should be more careful. Not sure why you said it was me.

Anyway, given what you say, it now seems that the point is to present vividly how disproportionately male the invited speakers and contributors to conferences and anthologies are. I think that's a good thing. However, it's more on the side of _presenting_ information than on the side of doing something about it. And before I get straw-manned again, let me make clear that a) I do recognize that presenting a problem and doing something about it lie on a continuum and b) I do recognize that presenting a problem is the first step _of_ doing something about it. But the fact remains that the topic of discussion is really what we can _do_ to prevent a bad climate for women, and this only takes us part-way there.

One of the central things that bothers me here, and in so many other progressive causes I want to support, is the lack of creativity in problem-solving. First, so much of the effort is on 'raising awareness', which -- though, again, necessary -- is only a preliminary step. At a certain point, most of the people who are inclined to be sympathetic to the issue are aware of it, and those who aren't can't be reached by the non-creative awareness-raising tactics chosen. The activities that go beyond awareness-raising are typically even less creatively or realistically thought-through: let's boycott this group, or march in a protest, or sign a petition, or alienate most of the fence-sitters by insisting at once on a radically unusual world that only those sharing a narrow ideology would want.

Gandhi was an amazing social revolutionary chiefly, I think, because he constantly came up with brilliant, creative, and realistic ways of making radical social changes happen. We need people like that today. My hope in promoting this discussion was to see whether we philosophers can't do something like that.

Anonymous said...

So (controversially) assuming that there is nothing wrong with 1), it seems to me that when a disproportionate amount of men are invited to conferences/anthologies because of 2a. there is no (obvious) injustice, but when a disproportionate amount of men are invited to conferences/anthologies because of 2b., there is injustice.

I'm inclined to think it's a distinction without a difference. Let me be clear that I have no problem with the informal philosophy-over-beer practice; it's one of the things that I love about this discipline. But I've seen -- and heard of -- enough situations where men ignore women at these informal events, or the women leave early because so-and-so once again got handsy or tried to kiss them, or had to get home to the kids, or simply weren't invited (not out of overt malice, necessarily) -- that I tend to think that the informal networking subtly contributes to the problem.


Note that whether X personally is moral or immoral by hanging out with other men is completely irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. This isn't about assigning blame; it's about looking at how a common, usually innocuous practice, can have undesirable effects. This discipline relies heavily on weak ties. That's okay, but it does mean that if a group is systematically disadvantaged at the game of weak ties, there's a problem, even if there's nothing itself problematic with continuing (e.g.) the colloquium discussion over beer later.

Since I wouldn't want to ban informal networking (because it's the best part of conferences), I think it's more than reasonable to try to keep in mind, when I put together a conference, that "people I know of who are impressive" might not exhaust all the available good philosophers, that "people I know of" will probably skew male, and if that requires me to act consciously to bring to mind women and minorities who have done good work who might slip by unnoticed, I think that's a good practice.

Anonymous said...

Re: "I would have got into the conference/got the position/whatever if I had only had a vagina":

The issue came up because Mr. Zero started another thread saying he would no longer tolerate people making such claims because, given that the odds go the other way, anyone making the claim is "an asshole".

The point is that, if this suggestion about invited speakers is being followed, Mr. Zero's claim is false.

Here's an example:

Smith: "Hey, Jones, we're going to need a speaker on modal biconditionals for our conference. You seem to be the go-to person in that area. Nothing's finalized yet, but the committee really wants you. Are you free on March 20th?"

Jones: "Wow! This would be a huge break from me. So good to hear that there's an interest in modal biconditionals. Sure, count me in!"

Later...

Smith: "Sorry, Jones, but we've decided to invite Brown instead. She is also doing important work that involves modal biconditionals."

Jones: "What happened? I thought most of you had already decided on me."

Smith: "Well, we did, but we're also concerned with the lack of female invited speakers at conferences generally, and all our invited speakers were male. So we made a list of female philosophers who could cover these areas. We called up Brown, and she said yes. So we don't need you for the modal biconditionals talk anymore. Nothing personal!"

Jones: "Geez: I was really counting on that talk for my CV. Funny: if only I had had a vagina, I would have been an invited speaker."

Is this outcome good, or bad? Not sure. But this much is: if decisions are being made like this, then Jones is only telling the truth, and apparently not being an 'asshole' who should have his comments disregarded. And it seems odd, at least, to promote decisions being made like this _and_ to call someone else an asshole for mentioning a specific instance of just the sort of decision one is promoting.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 11:35,

It seems to me that your comment is less about merits or demerits of the gendered conference campaign, and more about finding a counterexample to the revised comment policy. I think you'll find that the policy specifically concerns unfounded claims of the sort you mention; the scenario you invision does not seem to involve an unfounded claim. I realize I did say something about people saying stuff like "I'd have a job if I had a vagina," but I think it was fairly clear that this was meant to serve as an example, not a criterion.

This thread is not about the comment policy; it is a call for suggestions concerning how to deal with sexism. There are two other threads devoted to discussion of the comment policy.

Anonymous said...

OK, Mr. Zero. It sounds like we're clear, then: given that the practice of making the having of a vagina a necessary condition for being a certain invited speaker is being recommended (and followed in some cases), it is unfair to regard someone as an asshole for saying "If only I had a vagina, I would have been invited/been offered the position." The person might be telling the truth, and know that he is telling the truth.

Mr. Zero said...

If an unusual set of details were to obtain. But yes, it is possible.

Thinking Person said...

Boyfriend "did in fact see Haslanger give a talk in which she repeatedly said that we all need to work to better the position of women in the discipline, and therefore that we all need to push for greater exposure of and support for feminist philosophy. I also remember seeing her say this in print. Well, that argument relies on the claim that the fortunes of 'feminist philosophers' and of women in philosophy are either causally related or identical. ... If they're causally related, then she's conflating philosophers who promote the status of women in philosophy with feminist philosophers."

The consequent does not follow from the antecedent.

First, to say we need to work for superset X, which includes the subset x1, and therefore we need to work for subset x1, does not conflate the superset and the subset.

Second, this particular subset has done a fuckload of work on behalf of the superset, so much so that some philosophers who noticed the increasing cage-rattling, on the part of the subset, now take very seriously the well being of women in philosophy and explore solutions.

This would be more obvious to someone who doesn’t see feminist philosophy as “pseudophilosophy,” but perhaps Boyfriend agrees with PBG that indeed it is pseudophilosophy. If so, then like Girlfriend, he is already undermining a sizeable subset of women in philosophy.

Jamie Dreier said...

Phil BF,

However, the person who made the error was CrabbyAbby, who reported the intent as being that of shaming the individuals: not me. I was merely responding to her suggestion. Not sure why you said it was me.

You both made the mistake. "As S said, ___", is factive. You also explicitly said that the idea is from Feminist Philosophers.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thinking Person wrote: "To say we need to work for superset X, which includes the subset x1, and therefore we need to work for subset x1, does not conflate the superset and the subset."

Here, _you_ are getting mixed up in just the way we are talking about. The set of women philosophers is neither a subset nor a superset of feminist philosophers. There are many philosophers who work on feminist epistemology and the feminist philosophy of science (if that's what you mean by 'feminist philosopher'), and many philosophers who promote the sorts of things we're discussing from 'Feminist Philosophy' (if that's what you mean) who are not women. And there are many women philosophers who are not 'feminist philosophers' in either of the two senses.

Thinking Person wrote: "Second, this particular subset has done a fuckload of work on behalf of the superset, so much so that some philosophers who noticed the increasing cage-rattling, on the part of the subset, now take very seriously the well being of women in philosophy and explore solutions."

Please clarify. Are you saying that the existence of people working on feminist epistemology, feminist philosophy of science, and/or the feminist ethic of care have advanced the well being of women in philosophy? Where's the evidence for that far-from-clear assumption? Or are you simply saying that the sorts of people who write at 'Feminist Philosophers' have done that? In the latter case -- even assuming that the causal connection exists -- Haslanger is again committing a howler in saying that the way to advance the status of women in philosophy is through "doing and promoting more research in feminist philosophy" (unless, that is, by 'more research in feminist philosophy' she means 'more work devising and furthering campaigns of the sort discussed on the blog entitled 'Feminist Philosophy', which in the context it was pretty obvious she didn't mean).

Thinking person wrote: "This would be more obvious to someone who doesn’t see feminist philosophy as “pseudophilosophy,” but perhaps Boyfriend agrees with PBG that indeed it is pseudophilosophy. If so, then like Girlfriend, he is already undermining a sizeable subset of women in philosophy."

This is the same mistake as before (and the very mistake I pointed out in connection with Haslanger earlier). Those doing 'feminist philosophy' are _not_ a subset of women philosophers.

Just to be clear: I think that Sally Haslanger has done some stellar philosophical work on such issues as personal identity. I would love to see someone of her talents turn her attention to a close, attentive examination of the state of play of women in philosophy and to help us work out good ways of doing something to improve it. Unfortunately, it seems that philosophers -- both male and female -- who are normally analytically precise and brilliant in their work get really, really sloppy when talking about this stuff. I don't think it has to be that way, and am trying to find an alternative.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Jamie Dreier,

If, when you said "I hope other people will try better than Phil boyfriend to get this right" you elliptically meant "Phil boyfriend _and_ CrabAbby", then fine. I just thought I was being singled out merely because I said some critical things about the campaign, as I understood it.

Still, now that I think of it, I'm really not sure we should take at face value the claims at Feminist Philosophers about the motivation behind this campaign.

If you've read through my comments on that campaign, you'll see that (once I came to focus on the strong AA reading) I pointed out some ethical and tactical problems in implying that the organizers of the conferences and anthologies in question were doing something immoral.

When we look at the description of the campaign on Feminist Philosophers (following your link), we read the following: "All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male. This in turn to contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, which very likely leads even those genuinely committed to gender equality to evaluate women’s contributions as less good than men’s."

Now, perhaps that is true. Certainly, those behind the campaign believe it is. Now, on their assumption, the organizer of each all-male conference is causing harm to women either knowingly or unknowingly.

If they believe that certain organizers are causing harm knowingly, then their publication of the lists does seem to constitute a 'naming and shaming' sort of practice. So my comments about justice still apply.

If they believe that certain organizers are causing harm unknowingly, then it seems hurtful and practically ineffective to bring the matter to their attention through listing their conference rather than, say, talking with them about it. So all my comments still apply.

Also, if the intention of the campaign is merely to bring trends of female representation to everyone's attention, they aren't going about it in a way that seems calculated to succeed. One who had that aim in mind would simply compile information about male and female representation in _all_ anthologies and conferences, perhaps dividing them into subject categories, etc. for ease of reference. The choice not to do this, and instead to list the specific names of the conferences without women, is puzzling on their account.

So I guess what I'm saying is that my comments still seem to stand, and I'm still waiting to see what the response is to them.

Anonymous said...

>I would love to see someone of her talents turn her attention to a close, attentive examination of the state of play of women in philosophy and to help us work out good ways of doing something to improve it.

That's great, because someone of her talents is doing this! Namely, Sally Haslanger.

MIT_grad said...

PB says: "1) I did in fact see Haslanger give a talk in which she repeatedly said that we all need to work to better the position of women in the discipline, and therefore that we all need to push for greater exposure of and support for feminist philosophy. I also remember seeing her say this in print. Well, that argument relies on the claim that the fortunes of 'feminist philosophers' and of women in philosophy are either causally related or identical. If it's that they're identical, then she's conflating feminist philosophers with women philosophers. If they're causally related, then she's conflating philosophers who promote the status of women in philosophy with feminist philosophers."

That doesn't speak at all to your original - and, shall we say, bold - claim to the effect that Haslanger and her ilk routinely conflate *philosophers who happen to be feminists* (or even female philosophers) with *feminist philosophers*. I suggest you have no basis for those claims, and are pretty damn ignorant of the discussions you're weighing in on here. As for the weaker claim you substitute, there is a much more charitable (and, as it turns out, accurate) construal of Haslanger's contention. Namely, that in order to improve the position of women in the discipline, *it would be a damn fine idea* to have greater exposure of and support for feminist philosophy. This involves no conflation between *feminist philosophers* and *people who try to achieve justice for women in philosophy specifically* - as Thinking Person already pointed out. All that's being asserted is the eminently reasonable idea that feminist philosophers are, as it happens, among the most articulate, able, and dedicated proponents of the cause. If they weren't professionally marginalized - routinely dismissed as pseudophilosophers, for example - then their voices would carry a helluva lot further. So much for the "howler." Seriously, do you feel any need to understand and charitably interpret the claims you brazenly attack?

"Gandhi was an amazing social revolutionary chiefly, I think, because he constantly came up with brilliant, creative, and realistic ways of making radical social changes happen. We need people like that today. My hope in promoting this discussion was to see whether we philosophers can't do something like that."

What a colossal load of bullsh**. Feminists are not enough like Gandhi for you now? This is a new one. Feminist activists do, however, have a long history of being dismissed as too humorless, too whiny, and too defeatist. You're in good (i.e., bad) company on this score. These invariably vague complaints tend to have much less to do with the actions (not) being taken, and much more to do with the very sexist stereotypes we're trying to combat.

An epistemological pointer: don't assume nothing is being done because you don't happen to know about it - especially if you aren't in that great of a position to know. I suggest you read up on the women in philosophy taskforce before you go berating anyone else, let alone Haslanger, for not doing anything suitably constructive: http://web.mit.edu/wphtf/Welcome.html
http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/women-in-philosophy-task-force/

PBG: you got yourself a real prize there!

Thinking Person said...

Boyfriend: “Those doing 'feminist philosophy' are _not_ a subset of women philosophers.”

If feminist philosophers are not any subset of women in philosophy, then no women in philosophy are feminist philosophers.

However, some women in philosophy are feminist philosophers. I didn’t say that all feminist philosophers are women. I was talking about a subset of women in philosophy. Sheesh.

Not only are they a subset, but I’m not making a mistake when I say: if you agree with your girlfriend that feminist philosophy is pseudophilosophy, then you are undermining the efforts of some women in philosophy.

The only way I’m making a mistake is if not one feminist philosopher is a woman. But I am a feminist philosopher and a woman. Therefore, I’m not making a mistake.

Last, to answer the request to ‘please clarify,’ no, nothing in my statement that feminist philosophers have done many things for women in philosophy committed me to a statement that the existence of someone constitutes advancement of others’ well-beings. Existences can sit there without doing a thing. I was referring to the decades of efforts on the part of feminists to work in and for the profession, for feminist-motivated reasons, to make many aspects of the profession, including its organizations, journals, higher education departments, job placement services, mentoring practices, conferences and so on better for women and for everyone who wants to work in a good field.

I do personally think that every woman who hangs her ass out there on the risky edge of publication, including feminists, does something for women. That’s more indirect, but it wasn’t what I was talking about.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

I'll try to respond to the criticisms in order.

Anon 5:36:

Let me make this clear: I am not, and have no intention of criticizing the gendered conference campaign as a whole. I was only offering a brief criticism (not an “extended argument” – perhaps you are confusing me with PB?) of the suggestion that we ban or call out ‘all-male conferences’. Since I’ve been responding to the comments made on this blog, this was a perfectly legitimate criticism to make, since it was not at all clear that the suggestion was about conferences with an all-male lineup of keynotes.

Once Mr. Zero pointed out that the campaign is primarily about keynotes, I endorsed it. In fact, I think it is a great idea, provided it is not too extreme (like banning conferences with male speakers), and it is good for the same reason hiring initiatives to get more women is a good idea: when the process is not blind, such initiatives likely work to counteract persistent biases against women. Also, I should point out that I’m all for initiatives to get more women presenters at conferences, so long as they’re reasonable. For example, if professors tried to suggest to more women that they submit their papers to certain conferences, or sent them lists, or helped them to revise their papers, this would be good. Or if conference organizers were just thinking about gender disparity, this would be a good thing. If I’m putting on a conference and trying to decide whether to invite 5 or 6 speakers, (having already blind-reviewed the papers and ranked them, we can imagine) it’s probably a great idea to check to see if the top five papers were by males and the sixth by a female. In this case, it would be great to go with the six top papers rather than the five top papers.

If some of my points have already been made on other blogs, then that is interesting, and I will look at them and the responses given, but I don’t think I’m under any obligation to read every other blog on this subject before giving a criticism to the comments made here. It’s not like I said they were original.

I don’t think I’ve ever said “self-styled feminist philosopher”. Perhaps PB said this; you can ask him.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Anon 8:42:

If there are factors at play other than the quality of papers that determine whether a conference will have an all-male list of speakers or not, then I agree: the other causes should be examined, and counter-acted if possible.

But I do not think that these factors are at play in all conferences, and my criticism was only directed to the suggestion that all-male conferences [unqualified] should be ‘called out’.

I also wonder about these other factors you are thinking of. Do you think they apply to blind-reviewed conferences as well? I’m just curious, as I think you may be right, but I’d like to hear more about it.

MIT_grad:

I never claimed to have evidence that thinking about good kinds of responses to sexist behavior would actually work. I expressed my views on the matter in order to try to have a constructive debate about it, and in order to explain why I wish the “What it’s like…” blog allowed for comments. I let you guys know that I’d never been subject to any such behavior in order to allow you to listen to my views with an appropriate grain of salt. I do, however, that there seems to be a benefit to taking such a strategy in some situations. I specifically said that I was only talking about explicit sexist behaviour, and I didn’t even claim I was talking about all situations involving this sort of behaviour. To say that “the idea that *all* environments are such that constructively confronting one's sexist interlocutor is practically rational and/or feasible is incredibly na├»ve” is extremely uncharitable.

I agree with you that ‘calling out’ sexists is likely to be ineffective. But this was not at all what I was proposed. I was talking about tools to deal with some of the uncomfortable situations women get themselves in, not about finger-pointing. For example, there was a recent post on “What it’s like…” in which a woman professor described a bad experience she had with a male grad student. The student came into her office and started demanding that she defend all her philosophical views right there, kept asking her about her personal life, even though she’d told him it was private, and in the end kept her in her office for hours because he refused to leave. In the end, she said that she burst into tears, left him in her office, and went to one of her colleagues to get help.

Now I can imagine being put in a situation like this, and doing just that. I might feel helpless and attacked, and, if I’d never considered how to deal with this before, I would have no clue what to do. But I’d like to try something other than what this women did, and I’m sure she would like it too if she felt that if this ever happened again, she would know what the best response would be. One thing I though is, could she have called campus security to have the student removed after the first time she told him to leave and he refused? Was she unable too because a system hadn’t been set up? Maybe something could be set up. Or maybe there are better responses – I really don’t know. But these are the sorts of situations I’m thinking of, and these are the responses I’m thinking of. Telling other that he’s a sexist probably isn’t effective, and he may not be sexist at all but just obnoxious.

Continued in next post...

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

It is uncharitable to describe these views as thinking that sexism and racism are “tantamount to schoolyard name calling, where you just have to stare the meanie down”. (1) The situations I’m thinking of, like that of the woman who was kissed after her presentation, are obviously much worse than name-calling, and also signs of a persistent and underlying view that some have of women. (2) I don’t mean to suggest that the best response is always (that is, in the situations that lend themselves to the approach I’m proposing) to show no weakness or whatever. The particular examples I’ve discussed may seem to call for something like that, but they’re just the examples I happened to find. Other situations may call for something different. But (3) even if they don’t, I was never trying to argue that the situations like the ones I’ve described are the only form of sexism or anything. Note that in my original posts I said that I wasn’t optimistic about the more subtle forms of sexism, like exclusion. And maybe these other forms are more prevalent, too. I just want women to have some tools to work with – some way of improving their situation, even if it is only by a small amount. And these are the types of discussions I imagine women mentors would have with their mentees: “This horrible situation has happened a couple times. How would you deal with it?” “I’ve tried X, Y, and Z, but I’ve found that the best approach is W…”

You are not quoting me, but PB, when he said that I think feminist philosophy is pseudoscience. There is a tendency to overstate the positions of others. I wouldn’t have said that, myself, but something more like: I’m skeptical about the idea (program?) of feminist philosophy. I also would have pointed out that I’m not an expert on it, and I’m in the process of researching it to get a better idea of what exactly it is.

On reading the article describing feminist philosophy in the SEP, it seems to be more of a ‘philosophical program’ than anything else. Note the use of the term ‘feminist philosophies’. The article also says that “feminist philosophical scholarship … proceeds not from a unique method but from the premise that gender is an important lens for analysis.” This is puzzling to me, and it makes me suspicious. Maybe theologians do philosophy from the premise that religion is an important lens for analysis? I’m guessing something a little different is meant, but if it’s just that whatever philosophy a feminist happens to do becomes ‘feminist philosophy’, then I fail to see the difference between that and philosophy in general. Rather, I suspect that it may be a background assumption of the program that women philosophers who are conscious of gender actually do philosophy differently from white males, or non-feminists. I’m doubtful about this sort of thing. No doubt women can have important insights into any philosophical area (just like everyone else), and probably this is much more so when the philosophy is about women, but I don’t think this is all that the project of feminist philosophy is about. From the article, it also seemed that there were many different kinds of feminist philosophies. Probably, I’d find some much less problematic than others.

But though I’m skeptical about feminist philosophy, I won’t argue that feminist philosophers haven’t done some important things, made some great points, and so on. I'm still investigating it, and I don't see why this wouldn't be the case. I, myself, am not familiar with Sally Haslanger’s work (yet). Remember that PB mentioned her, not me.

Philosophy Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Ugh... I just realized that my recent comments have a fair number of typos. Sorry about that; I was writing them really quickly and obviously didn't proof-read carefully enough.

Anonymous said...

Phil's Boyfriend's Girlfriend 4:42, in short, your position is this: "I don't know shit about feminist philosophy, but it strikes me as a highly dubious sort of undertaking." Congratulations.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Anon 5:26

No, my position is, 'in short', that based on what I've read /heard about feminist philosophy, it strikes me as a dubious sort of undertaking, for the reasons I've given.

If you know so much about it, perhaps you could enlighten me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:42 here. PBG, there are many factors. Many concern perceptions of talent, a proven track record in the field or on the topic, the interest of the person's work, and so on. Other factors involve who the friends are of the organizer, who the organizer owes a favor to, etc.

But what matters here is the way the list of invitees is determined. The usual way the list of invited speakers for a conference is made involves the organizer or the organizing committee simply noting down a list of names of people that it would be nice to invite, i.e., those who initially "come to mind". This list is compiled by thinking of people who exhibit the talent, expertise, etc. listed above. But, sadly, usually not *all* those people... for whatever reason, many women who exhibit these philosophical virtues are somehow overlooked or not noticed when the list is first compiled. Why? Because our field pays more attention to men, and so male philosophers are the easiest to think of. But with only a few moments' reflection, it is easy to think of qualified women with the very same virtues as the men on the initial list. And that is what people need to do, viz. stop and think about who else should be included, and who was inadvertently overlooked.

For those who complain that merely having a vagina shouldn't be enough to get an invite: it isn't. But having a vagina, and being talented, and doing great work, and overcoming the sexism in the field, and not letting the bastards get you down, IS. Or at least it should be.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

MIT Grad,

There's no need to engage in character assassination here (e.g. sarcastically telling my girlfriend that I'm a "real prize", claiming that I'm "pretty damn ignorant", etc.). All I was doing is pointing out an issue on which many people, including Haslanger, were committing a fallacy of equivocation.

And strangely enough, in the very act of calling me out for saying that, you and Thinking Person have committed that very equivocation over and over again.

In your last post, you allege that I shifted my charge of equivocation between naming it and explaining it. I did no such thing. That should be clear to any readers, but I will demonstrate it now in order to dispel any last doubts.

Let's use F1 to stand for female philosophers.

Let's use F2 to stand for philosophers who are working to advance the status of women in professional philosophy.

Let's use F3 to stand for practicioners of 'feminist philosophy' (i.e. feminist epistemology, feminist philosophy of science, etc.)

It is possible to be any of F1, F2, or F3 with or without being any or both of the others. That is pretty obvious, so I won't explain it here. But if anyone doubts it, I'll be glad to defend the claim.

Hence, anyone who runs together two or more of F1, F2 and F3 is committing a fallacy.

Now, let’s look at what I originally said about Sally Haslanger. Quoting from your own paraphrase of me in your latest post: “Haslanger and her ilk routinely conflate *philosophers who happen to be feminists* (or even female philosophers) with *feminist philosophers*.”

So, what I originally said was that Haslanger and others routinely conflate F2 (or even F1) with F3.

Now, look at the support I gave. As you yourself quote from me in your most recent comment, I showed that an argument she presented “relies on the claim that the fortunes of 'feminist philosophers' and of women in philosophy are either causally related or identical. If it's that they're identical, then she's conflating feminist philosophers with women philosophers. If they're causally related, then she's conflating philosophers who promote the status of women in philosophy with feminist philosophers.”

So, I supported my original claim by showing that an inference Haslanger drew would only have been valid if she had assumed either that F3 = F1 or that F3 = F2.

In other words, I demonstrated _precisely_ what I originally claimed.

But you go on. You next say that there’s a more charitable construal of Haslanger: you read her as saying that in order to improve the position of F1, it would be good to support F3. But F1 is not the same as F3, and there is (as always, and in particular as in the original argument by Haslanger) no argument showing that supporting F3 would have any effect on F1. And your final comment is that this involves no conflation between F3 and F2. You’re right there: it involves a conflation (or at least an illegitimate move) between F3 and F1.

You continue: “All that's being asserted is the eminently reasonable idea that feminist philosophers are, as it happens, among the most articulate, able, and dedicated proponents of the cause. If they weren't professionally marginalized - routinely dismissed as pseudophilosophers, for example - then their voices would carry a helluva lot further. So much for the "howler."”

In other words, you’re saying that all that’s being asserted is the “eminently reasonable idea” that F3 are among the best proponents of ‘the cause’. What cause? Promoting the interests of F3? Not relevant. Promoting the interests of F1? Not unless one either confuses F1 with F3 yet again, or unless one has some evidence tying the interests of F1 with those of F3 in the right causal sort of way.

They teach logic at MIT. I’m sure you learned plenty. Why don’t you calm down and reason this stuff through instead of firing off more vitriol?

Mr. Zero said...

Let's take it a little easier, folks.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

I've decided not to participate in this discussion any longer.

Perhaps it didn't start out very auspiciously: I made the mistake of trying to outline someone else's views, and think I made some mistakes and overstatements in doing so. My apologies for that.

But still, I thought that the main point should have been clear. I was interested in thinking through new, creative, and sometimes subtle ways of making professional philosophy more hospitable for women.

In doing that, I did say what I thought wasn't working with some of the typical solutions proposed by other concerned individuals and groups. But my aim in doing that, as I said, was to show the need for something else.

What I tried most of all to do was to present, in depth, what I saw as a new sort of solution to a particular problem: a solution that might have a real chance of working, and that sought to give people who could unwittingly marginalize women an opportunity to change and police their own behaviour rather than be shamed or blacklisted. You'll find it at the start of this thread. My girlfriend also proposed what I think is a great solution to a particular problem. I was hoping we would get to discuss those new solutions, and that others would join in.

But nobody has said a thing about those solutions. Instead, individuals who don't even seem to know the context or aim of the discussion have come out of the woodwork to defend the status quo of activist methods, furious at any slight against the received pantheon of feminist philosophical heros and blogs.

I must say, I expected much better. This is depressing. Thank you very much for making a good try with it, Mr. Zero. It seems this is not an idea whose time has yet come.

I won't respond to any more posts on this thread.

MIT_grad said...

Bingo - you got it! My point on SH's behalf was that F3 (feminist philosophers) have consistently been, as it happens, the best proponents of F1 (women in philosophy). I made that quite clear. This explicitly empirical claim was not supposed to be analytic. It does indeed require evidence. Evidence which exists in abundance. Evidence which I directed you to myself - the work being done by Sally Haslanger and Jennifer Saul, among others, which is tantamount to community organizing on behalf of women in philosophy at large.

"They teach logic at MIT. I’m sure you learned plenty. Why don’t you calm down and reason this stuff through instead of firing off more vitriol?"

Dude, this is exactly the sort of sexist sh** women in philosophy are tired of having to put up with. I think your arguments and attitude suck, so the problem must be with my logical acumen, emotional vicissitudes, or ability to reason. No, no, and no. Not hardly!

I'm being sarcastic precisely because I think your attitude as well as your arguments suck, and it's time you got called out as someone who, on this topic, is not worth the time. You simply don't know what you're talking about, and neither does your girlfriend. In itself, that's fine - where you invest your intellectual energies is no concern of mine. But why should we, as feminist philosophers, have to justify ourselves to people with so little knowledge of the discipline or associated activist undertakings, but who nonetheless bristle with suspicion that feminist philosophers are crap philosophers and/or are up to no good? Answer: we shouldn't have to. It's an arrogant and disrespectful request. Enlighten *yourself*, get your facts straight, and then we can have a reasonable discussion.

Incidentally, here's where you might make a start: http://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/

Anonymous said...

MIT_grad: "PBG: you got yourself a real prize there!"

This is obviously being an asshole. Did you forget about your new policy, Mr. Zero?

Crabby Abby said...

Yikes. Just got back and read through the thread. My apologies -- I didn't intend to misrepresent the aims and motives of the gendered conference campaign. What I said was the result of writing rather quickly and off the top of my head to a comment that said very few people are thinking of constructive responses to the sexism in our field. I pointed to the first blog entry that I could find about the campaign and didn't go back to reread the entries that more carefully characterized its aims and motives.

So my apologies to anyone who read what I wrote about the motives of the campaign and took that to be an accurate representation of it. And many thanks to Jamie and the others for pointing out that I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you mean that empirical data might bear on a question of the facts? Surely as long as we can distinguish strong AA from weak AA and give things little premise numbers or maybe names in smallcaps, we can prove there's no sexism a priori!

"Surely it's possible that p, therefore, p" is getting old.

Elizabeth said...

First, I want to echo the appreciation for Anon @ June 24, 2011 6:19 AM -- that was the one that took on the implicit idea that, if conferences don't actively seek women speakers, they'll be neutral meritocracies -- among other comments in this thread.

Second, an observation. Boyfriend, you've spilled tons of ink here presenting yourself as the "reasonable" one as against those feminists who call on conferences to diversify. For example, you say that a reasonable first step in dealing with an all-male conference is to speak with its organizers before publicly deriding it (implicitly suggesting that the women and men involved in the Gendered Conference Campaign don't do this).

But you've resisted the urgings of Jamie Dreier and many, many others in this thread to actually learn something yourself about the campaign you're dismissing. To, perhaps -- gasp! -- engage its proponents in conversation about why they've framed the campaign the way they have, before you publicly deride it.

I agree with MIT_grad that your attitude, as it comes across in your posts here, sucks. It's arrogant. And as I've just suggested, I think it's a lot more biased and a lot less rational than it's clear you believe you are.

I'm writing this from a place of frustration myself. Although I'm not involved with the Gendered Conference Campaign, I'm an activist in other respects, and it is exhausting to receive lectures about about "creativity" in organizing from people who -- though they profess to really, truly support your goals, honestly, if only you would pursue them more intelligently -- start out assuming your campaigns are shit and don't feel they have anything to learn about why you settled on the strategic choices you did.

But my frustration aside, I hope that, perhaps later, some of what many people are saying to you will sink in. We're saying that you've assumed the feminists organizing in philosophy are uncharitable and dogmatic, but that in fact, you've behaved that way toward them. I don't see a way to say this without coming across as condescending, so: sorry, but I hope that later you'll be able to think about that and maybe learn something from it. It's important.

Former Dick said...

This is kind of to PB and PBG (kind of unfortunate as anonymous monikers go), but it's also a more general response to this thread. (It doesn't seem that mean, given the anonymity of PB and PBG.)

A little relevant background: I'm a male analytic philosopher and an activist, even a "hard core" analytic philosopher. I'm now a few years post-PhD in a TT job. I have always thought of myself as very liberal and progressive, particularly with respect to gender and feminist causes.

But here's the thing: in my youth, particularly right at the beginning of grad school, I used to be kind of a dick about it. (I'm using that gendered insult on purpose.)

One thing I would do is uncharitably assume that everybody else was on the wrong course with their activism (perhaps because I had just learned about the problem, and the problem still existed despite some people having worked on it a long time already.). But many of these problems are very hard to solve, and there are no easy or silver bullet solutions. Also, as you learn more about the problem, you come to see greater complexity regarding the possible solutions.

Another thing I would do is start out as if (or perhaps genuinely) in sympathy with my interlocutor's cause, but I would be a total jerk in how I participated in discussions. I would get all "analytic philosopher" on people, but in the bad sense, not in the good (clear argumentation) sense. I would think that I was just trying to be clear, but what I was trying to do was win an argument, rather than have a discussion. So I would uncharitably construe what people were saying; I would trot out straw men; I would whine about how people hadn't actually *responded* to my pages long argument; I would use aggressive rhetoric (calling ideas "terrible" or "ridiculous" or "stupid" and starting sentences with "Look,..."); and I would spend a lot of time numbering premises and claims while missing the most important points, or while missing what people were really getting at (even if they hadn't said *precisely* that).

Another thing I would do is act as if I knew more than I did. (The discussion of how conferences come up with their non-keynote speakers--this fantastic world of pure blind review!--was particularly glaring in this regard.) Sometimes you have to hang out in a world for a while before you know how things work, and before you know how they might be changed.

The end result of all this: I was a "good guy" or so I thought, but I found that people would tire of talking to me about these things.

I wish I could go back and be less of a dick. One thing I've realized is that most people in this philosophy world are *very* smart. Maybe in high school and college you could assume that you were right and they were wrong (you were thinking clearly and they were muddled and misguided), but you can probably stop with that implicit assumption. Or at least assume that the other person is more of a peer than (just) a person who can learn from your brilliance.

I know, I know, you'll deny that you've done anything wrong. PB will say things like "I was interested in thinking through new, creative, and sometimes subtle ways of making professional philosophy more hospitable for women." But were you really? Why did you assume that others weren't? Even when they have spent years--real years!--of their lives doing exactly that?

Just FYI, calling out someone like Sally Haslanger in this context, in the way you did, just highlights all of the obvious dickishness. I don't think anyone is into hero worship here, but she's someone who has *obviously* done a ton for women in philosophy, so even if you think another direction is the way forward, have some respect!

Mr. Zero said...

This is obviously being an asshole. Did you forget about your new policy, Mr. Zero?

I'm trying to approach the policy with as light a touch as possible. I thought that rather than start pulling comments, it would be better to step in and ask people to simmer down.

But I guess I think you're right. I shouldn't let that comment through.

emily said...

Sorry, PB, I know you won't reply but this statement

"individuals who don't even seem to know the context or aim of the discussion have come out of the woodwork to defend the status quo of activist methods, furious at any slight against the received pantheon of feminist philosophical heros and blogs"

is super-rude, and assumes that many of the commenters here don't know the context when they may or may not. It doesn't go well to make such assumptions.

Also, may I point out that statement reeks of a "tone argument". Since you PB are in fact speaking from a privileged position (as a man in philosophy), you don't have any right nor reason to tell female or women-identified commenters here to calm down, stop being "furious", or stop being so emotional. MIT_grad made a few more personal attacks, but that does not mean you can characterize all the commenters here as 'mean angry bullying feminists'.

FormerDick and Elizabeth, I see both of your comments are valuable and I hope that some of the other commenters do take them to heart.

Anonymous said...

This is a mob attack.

Looks like the party has been crashed by people who don't know what the topic of discussion is, and have only heard that someone at some time (mis?)attributed something negative about feminist philosophy to someone else as a tangential aside. And it looks like they came from here: http://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/

I for one want to see a discussion on the original suggestions by PB and PBG (scroll way, way up in the comments). That was the point of this, people. But first, this mob has to chill out or be escorted off the premises.

Anonymous said...

This is not a mob attack. Nor was it ever a party. No one has responded to PB's "solutions" because they aren't worth responding to.

PB suggests one solution, which is basically: have professors treat all their students fairly in terms if how much they extend themselves by having all professors treat their students exactly equally in terms of how they interact with them outside of class.

Here are some problems with that solution.

One, it is unenforceable. Even if it would be desirable, how do you get tenured, uninterested, possibly chauvinist professors to comply? This is kind of like Rosa Parks writing a blog post to white Southerners: "be less racist!"

Two, how do you determine who counts as a professor's student for these purposes? Just their dissertation advisees? What if they are sexist in agreeing to supervise? Do they have to take all comers? Will there be a random process? Believe me, not all professor-student pairings are created equal.

Three, biases aren't that easy to correct for simply through introspection and self-monitoring. Not that it's not worth trying, but it won't get us very far.

These are reasons to suspect that PB had thought about this issue for about as long as it took him to write his long-winded posts. One hasn't thought long about institutions or power if one's solution to a problem simply ignores issues of implementation and enforceability.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:12,

I think the idea was that many of the more subtle forms of sexual inequality are perpetuated by people who have no idea that they are doing that. Enforcement mechanisms and boycotts aren't effective there, but promoting some simple guidelines of the form PB suggested might be. That's why it's not like Rosa Parks.

As for the details of who counts as a student, etc., that's a good question. Why don't you contribute a positive suggestion of your own?

Anon 6:19 said...

Thanks, all.

Everyone needs to re-read FormerDick's comment. It's very good, and symptomatic of a certain kind of analytic philosophical response. It's also completely compatible with good intentions, but the problem is that good intentions are completely compatible with being ignorant about what's being done and what's been tried.

(It's not a bad lesson to learn early on in philosophy that if you thought of x in five minutes, probably someone else did, too, and already wrote a book on it.)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if my alternatives as a hypothetical activist are a) work to enforce a discipline-wide individually-motivated moratorium on common socialization practices that disproportionately exclude women and minorities that carefully figure out the extension of the term "students" or b) send a letter to conference organizers reminding them about implicit bias and trying to help them when they say "we tried, but we have a hard time getting women to accept our invitations -- any suggestions?" or c) get funding for an early career mentoring workshop or d) work on my university's grievance board, I'm thinking a) is probably not a priority, but not because I didn't think of it!


More seriously, I also wanted to point out I think some of the simple guidelines for individual behavior that PBR and PB&J want already exist. Look up bystander effect and bystander training -- MIT in particular has some good resources, iirc.

Been There said...

At a recent conference, I had drinks with seven grad students and one faculty member from a notable philosophy department. They were discussing the case of a member of that department who was due to retire shortly, and who was also to be given an award for decades of dedicated teaching.

However, there was a problem. Many of the students had taken seminars with the professor in question, and observed that part of his teaching practice was to get the goat of his students -- all of them -- by making jokes at their expense. It was agreed on all sides that he did this in the spirit of fun, and that his intention was to lighten the mood and spice up his seminars. However, in the course of doing this, he made some jokes to and about female students that would normally be taken as inappropriate. Young instructors today would, one hopes, not make such comments; but this professor came from an age with far less sensitivity to these things.

Now, here's an important point to note: none of the female students who were out for drinks that evening had felt put out by this. They all recognized that the professor didn't mean anything by the comments, and that it was just his sense of humor and a part of his teaching personna (though one of them said it took her a couple of classes to be sure). However, all these students remained concerned with the obvious problem that some female students might misunderstand his intentions; and at any rate, no student should have to put up with such comments.

So, what to do? Well, the suggestion that everyone came to endorse (I believe it was the male students who came up with it, or at least they were promoting it most strongly) was that they would all have to write a petition to the administration demanding that the professor not be given the teaching award. He had, after all, marred an otherwise excellent career with sexist behavior. One person present went further and suggested that steps should be taken to have him relieved of his position at once.

When they had pretty well decided on at least the petition, I asked them how they thought the professor would have reacted to the charge that he had been guilty of sexism or sexual harassment. They all agreed that he would probably have been shocked. Would he continue making those jokes if someone told him how much it bothered people, etc.? No, they admitted.

So, I suggested, why not just go to his office and explain it to him. Tell him about the fact that the eight of you discussed it at the conference because it concerned you so much. See what he says. And if he keeps it up, then maybe go the way of the petition. But odds are, he'll apologize and never do it again.

The group seemed to agree with that. I don't know what they actually did. But it sure stands out in my mind as an example of how intelligent people can get swept away by the need to pull out the big guns when a little tact would go much farther.

So please. Forget who said what to whom about this or that philosopher. Forget which side you're on. Just consider the situation and answer honestly:

1) In that particular situation, what would have made things more hospitable for women? The petition, or the talk?

2) In that particular situation, what would have made those in power more sympathetic to feminist causes? The petition, or the talk?