Wednesday, April 18, 2007

So You Better Tell Me No Lies

I'll have more substantive things to say about women and the philosophy job market when I have a bit more time, but right now I want to follow up on yesterday's post.

Philosophy is obviously a man's man's world, but the idea that departments pass over better male candidates in favor of worse female ones is a zombie lie that just won't die. Why? One of Leiter's commentors floats a good idea. There's so much grinding, soul-crushing rejection involved in the job-market that there's a real temptation to soften the blow for someone by telling him that his many, many rejections don't at all reflect on him as a philosopher. If he gets rejected in favor of a woman, then people can say the department was getting pressure from all kinds of deanery, and well, you know how these things go. . . .

This explanation has the ring of truth for me, because it's exactly what happened to me this year. For one job I didn't get, the first thing I heard through the grapevine was that the department decided to go in a different direction, had different needs, blah, blah, blah. When it turned out they hired someone who works on stuff very similar to mine, I knew that was bullshit. So then, because the department hired a woman, the story changed. All of a sudden, the department was looking for a woman, and well, you know how these things go. . . .

But that's bullshit too. I know her work. I've read one of her papers. I've read her dissertation. (Okay, I skimmed it. But still.) Her work's really good. She's a few years ahead of me, and she'd been on the market for a year or two already. She was pretty fucking obviously a better candidate than me. That's why she got hired.

And the guy who looked me in the eye and told me the zombie lie? He should know better than that. Fuck it, he does know better than that. He cares a fuck of a lot more than most about making philosophy a better place for women. But besides being on my committee, he's also my friend. He saw how beat down the endless rejections left me. He saw me working, week after week, to process the totality of my failure. So when I asked him to try to find out what I'd done wrong, what I could do better next time, the easiest thing to say was the zombie lie.

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