Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What'd You Say, What'd You Say, What'd You Say?

I want to highlight one little detail in something Female Grad said in comments. She's talking about subdisciplines that are especially bad for having no women, and she says,
Some of those fields, esp. the ones with the worst ratio of males/females like phil of physics, are simply cesspools of antagonistic sexism. Not everyone in such fields is sexist, true; but you only need something like 1/3 or so of the people around to honestly not ever hear the words that come out of your mouth, good or bad, in order to find the field intolerable. This is older profs, grads, all kinds of people who of course never notice the sexism because they really were not listening to what you said in the first place, and so did not notice that you got completely ignored.

This gives me an idea for game. Let's call it Women in Philosophy Hang-Man. Say you're sitting through the questions after a talk. Then what you do is, you write down one segment of your hang-man guy every time a man interrupts a woman while she's talking. When you've made the whole noose and the whole hanging guy, you know philosophy's sometimes really shitty for women!


Anonymous said...

Or you can write down the times a woman makes a comment and gets ignored and then a man says the same thing and people jump up and down all excited about it.

Anonymous said...

that is *so* common!

Sisyphus said...

Yeah that thread with all the white male entitlement issues is really disturbing.

What Female Grad describes is often referred to as a chilling effect. Or, "why stick around in a place where no one takes you seriously or shares the same concerns and continually belittles you or your interests, when you can do tangentially-related studies in, say, a complit department?"

As for me, I love theory but it took exactly two philosopher grads who took a WS feminist epistemology course for the express purpose of explaining to "us" why feminism was illogical and therefore WS shouldn't exist for me to know that I never wanted to have anything to do with our campus philosophy department, ever.

No offense to you philosophy-types here, but that thread is not exactly counteracting my earlier impression. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:17--

But that happens to me too, and I have a beard. I always thought philosophers were just dumb.

(Quite possibly, though, what you say happens more often to women than to me. I try not to listen to what anyone's saying, so I wouldn't know.)

Anonymous said...


In all seriousness, there should be groups where women (would-be) philosophers can go and learn, in a safe, caring, affirming environment, how to carry on a shouting, interrupting philosophical argument where the loudest and most persistent person wins. Once enough women are properly trained in this art, we can decide just how important a part of philosophical debate it really is, or if it is just weird enough when all the ladies do it too that it begins to seem slightly weird and obnoxious in general.

Anonymous said...

But maybe you should have a second hangman for men being interrupted by women, and a third for men being interrupted by men, just to keep your results from being sullied.

It might be the case that some people just tend to interrupt other people, after all.

Anonymous said...

Question: when a man's comment is ignored until a woman says the same thing, do we erase part of the hanging `guy' (sic)? How about when a woman publicly interrupts a man?

Anonymous said...

You could also record how long it takes for a woman's hand to be acknowledged when she wants to ask a question, or how many men's hands get answered before hers, even when their hand went up after. This happens to me a lot, everywhere, but especially in places where I am the only female. Numbers help.

Anonymous said...

if the comment the man makes is sufficiently close, word for word, to the one that the woman made and that was ignored, anonymous 9:17, then you automatically get to fill in the whole hangman.

Of course, this sounds like it could lend itself well to a drinking game, too.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Sisyphus --

Philosophy seems to have a self-selections problem, where it draws in a lot of people who just like telling other people what to think, and why what they currently think is wrong.

NB a debate that's currently playing out in the London Review of Books where a man with no formal training in biology and who's not a specialist in phil. of biology is persisting in an argument that biological explanations are "incoherent." Maybe to him they are.

It's obnoxious, it makes philosophy worse, and it's no doubt contributed to the cultural marginalization of the discipline.

Anonymous said...

still some clueless dumbasses. anonymous 11:25 PM, you assume that when I get completely ignored, it is because I am soft-spoken and put off by confrontation. Let me assure you that quite the contrary is the case. I can always be the loudest, most aggressive, and persistent person in the room if I decide to be. I thrive on fruitful confrontation. I don't need your warm and fuzzy condescension to stand up and make a point. What you are doing is called blaming the victim. If I don't get listened to, it must be MY fault for not being loud enough. Not the fault of sexist philosophers.

And yeah, lots of people get ignored by other philosophers, including men. but you're missing the fact that it happens to women WAY MORE OFTEN, and because we are women. Even when I am the most assertive person in the room, and people are purportedly listening (they are least looking at me), this sort of individual still fails to actually listen to the content of my comments.

Evelyn Brister said...

When this experience is so ubiquitous we can all relate, is it any wonder that the percentages of women getting degrees in philosophy hasn't gone up in 2 decades?

Anonymous said...

I have seen these sorts of things happen so I do not mean to suggest they cannot be gender-oriented, but I thought I would mention that you could play similar games with grad students in general.

I can remember several times when a speaker is asked a great question by a grad student and does not take it seriously (my favorite is the "I think you mis-understand my position...let me explain some basics to you" response).

Soon afterward a prof usually asks the same basic question and the speaker takes it very seriously (sometimes even saying "I want to follow up on the question grad-X asked...").

This is something to keep in mind when on-campus for a job talk. Treat the students with respect.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps the reason you're ignored isn't because you're a woman but that you're obnoxious. Being loud tends to have the opposite effect of being tuned out...

Anonymous said...

I think one of the problems is the way *some* philosophers communicate with each other. Some philosophers tend to see discussions as a war of words. I sat in one lecture where the presenter was very clear about this. He went on about the Utilitarian jihad against the Kantians. And the Kantian retaliation. (Yes he used the word jihad and he talked about bombing each other, etc.)

I think we need a new model. Instead of a war maybe we should think of our discussions as a process of discovery, in which every voice might contribute something to getting at the truth of the matter. Perhaps if we embraced this model people wouldn't get interrupted all the time.

I try to use this discovery based approach in my writing. But what I find is that other philosophers want me to get out my weapons and stop interacting so much with interlocutors. They want me to throw some logic bombs.

I won't do it, I guess I am philosophical pacifist.

Anonymous said...

"but you're missing the fact that it happens to women WAY MORE OFTEN, and because we are women."

The "way more often claim" is empirical, and hence can be measured (pace Anon 4:56). I'm sure people have done this, though it's not my field so I haven't seen it. Anyone have references on this? (I'm not proposing it's untrue, by the way, just that I don't know that it is true.)

But the "because" claim is much harder to prove, if it's meant to give a true reason, in part because getting at people's motives, which might be subconsciously motivated, self-serving, etc. so survey-type studies might have systematic biases. And I'm a little sceptical that anecdotal reports are terribly helpful such as Female Grad's, for just the same reason (they have the same biases, albeit without the veneer of quantitative studies that aggregate such reports).

Maybe women are more accurate sources for evidence of sexist treatment, because they're the recipients of it, because they're more attuned to it, etc. But they might not be particularly good sources for the question of whether treatment of women is in their role of women, or students, or interlocutors, etc. because they are all of the above. I'm inclined to think that a lot of this is because philosophers can be assholes, pure and simple. Now I'm not a woman so my experience in such encounters is as a student and interlocutor, and a male, so I have the same problem, and consequently I don't think my judgment is better than Female Grad's or Sisyphus'. But I'm also not sure it's worse. I think men can be attuned to dynamics that women might not be, as well as vice versa. Really we need to ask Teiresias, but of course that would be rather tough to do since he's dead and fictional.

Anonymous said...

As a note to job seekers: if you give a talk and are asked a question during the session by a female graduate student, and you ignore it or answer it dismissively, to move on to the male students or the faculty, who then go on to ask the same question, people will notice. If you have a lunch with the grad students and dismiss the female students, you can bet I'm in the chair's office afterwards calmly yet firmly reporting how I don't think you're a good fit.

Something to keep in mind as you berate yourself about why you didn't get that offer because that chick did and everyone knows women aren't as good at philosophy; might be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy there.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't make us (men) subhuman to recognize that there is sexism in the field. I wish we would just remember this more often instead of always looking for something--anything--that explains why what is ostensibly sexist really isn't.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 9:23 --

Look. More and better data is always going to be a good thing. But I think you're missing the force of what Female Grad is describing. I take it her description of women getting interrupted isn't some summery of guesswork, or even a report of a causal observation. I'm guessing (based on conversations I've had about this stuff with other female philosophers) that she means her description to be a report of something that's manifestly obvious to most women in philosophy, indeed, to most women students who've ever taken even a single philosophy class.

Just to add, the real explanation is obvious to them because it's the same thing that happens at Thanksgiving dinner, when their blowhard uncles ignore or talk over their quite well-informed views about the Edwards campaign and Dave Eggers' books and Halo 2.

Now, here's here's the point I keep coming back to you. We--men--have a choice here. We can cast around looking for reasons to dismiss (or weaken, or muddy-up) women's reports of how they're treated in philosophy. Or, almost as if they're real human beings who have some understanding of the world they live in and their experience of their own lives, we can take those reports at face value, try to understand why so many smart, reasonable, subtle, and analytically accute people think philosophy's hostile to women, and then go from there. The choice is really, really simple.

Anonymous said...

I find myself deeply saddened and disturbed by the misogynist, racist bullshit that keeps appearing on these comment threads. I thought we philosophers were supposed to be educated, enlightened people. But in the previous threads, people have suggested that men are hardwired to be better at philosophy than women; that sexist attitudes that women experience are in their minds and not really happening; that sexist attitudes that women experience are their own fault for being obnoxious; that certain black philosophers do not belong in academia; that the reason why there are few asians in the NBA is analogous to the reason why there are no Yorkshire Terrier guard dogs.

Oh my god. What the fuck is wrong with you fucking people? Jesus Christ. I had no idea that things were this bad. Apparently, philosophy is chock full o' assholes. I feel shame and sadness.

PGS: I know what you're trying to accomplish by allowing these comments to go through, and I agree with it up to a point. But maybe we've passed the point where it's useful to keep putting these comments up. Maybe it's time to increase the level of moderation.

Anonymous said...

There was a thought-provoking Op-Ed column by Bob Herbert in the NY Times on Tuesday about misogyny in politics.

Anonymous said...

There's also an interesting phenomenon that I don't remember seeing anyone bring up so far. As a female graduate student, I have some lovely male colleagues who I really enjoying talking with one-on-one. But once they're in a group with other men, they start to ignore my contributions, talk over me, etc. I've speculated with other women as to what kind of dynamic is going on, but I'm not sure what's at work in this sort of situation.

Anonymous said...

"I thought we philosophers were supposed to be educated, enlightened people."

Show me the evidence of this in the current philosophy world? It seems that being a philosopher is an excuse to become an elitist knucklehead (bookish blockhead).

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Mr. Z. --

I know this is totally easy for me to say, since I'm not reading any of these comments thinking, "Everyone thinks I have fly-backs only because I'm a woman." (Because (a) I'm not a woman and (b) I don't have any fly-backs. Fuck. I digress.)

But this shit has to get out in the open, we have to see what bullshit arguments we're smacking down, and we have to get down to the business of pulling those arguments apart, piece by piece.

The more racist, sexist BS people throw up here, the less and less plausible it looks when people try to explain away experiences like Female Grad's as caused by something--anything!other than the obvious.

Anonymous said...

PGS, I think you're taking me the wrong way, or I wasn't clear, or you don't mean to refer to 9:23 but 9:22. I'm certainly not denying that there's sexism, just pointing out to job seekers that's it's usually obvious enough to the audience when you ignore or dismiss questions from women in your talk during the Q&A and that it does not reflect favorably on the speaker. (i.e., I'm agreeing with the first two comments.)

As a sidenote, I'm amused at the doublethink going on here between the people insisting that sexism isn't a problem while making sexist remarks.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 9:23 --

Oops! Sorry, my comment upthread addressed to you (9:23) was a response to Anon. 9:22. Typo!

Bobcat said...

I think I'm going to get hammered for this, but before uttering what I'm about to say, I should first say that yes, I think sexism is a problem in philosophy--I've seen occasions where an extremely well-regarded female faculty member at a Leiteriffic dept was interrupted three times in a row--in the space of a minute!--by a more senior male philosopher. I have never seen him do this to a man. (I know, I know, this is the equivalent of saying that some of my best friends are women; why, I'm even marrying one!)

That said, the demand for data that some people keep making -- well, isn't this the same as the demand for data that was made of the white males who kept on feeling that they were discriminated against in favor of women? I mean, by relying on our own individual experiences of being discriminated against, don't we run the risk of overstating problems?

Anonymous said...

Something that I think would be helpful would be for women in philosophy to offer many examples of their experiences of sexism with philosophers. This would be eye-opening, I think, for many people. For others it wouldn't because they'll resist it to the death until Haslanger can control for ALL possible variables in a proper study.

I'm a woman in philosophy and have many such anecdotes (and these are from now, in the 2000s, not 30 years ago), but putting them out their would compromise my anonymity. That's something I don't want to do right now because I'm also on an SC. I'm feeling confident that the folks we're flying out don't share some of the nastier attitudes documented on this web site, but I'd sure hate to be wrong. I'm all for hiring lots of white men, but I'll pass on all the sexist, bigoted motherfuckers apparently on the market right now!

Anonymous said...

anon. 7:14:

anonymous 11:25 PM, you assume that when I get completely ignored, it is because I am soft-spoken and put off by confrontation. Let me assure you that quite the contrary is the case. I can always be the loudest, most aggressive, and persistent person in the room if I decide to be. I thrive on fruitful confrontation. I don't need your warm and fuzzy condescension to stand up and make a point.

Crap: I should have known that the sarcasm wouldn't come through in this thread. I think that particular sort of aggressive argument is really often stupid and counterproductive, and I have very often seen women fail to be blowhards and speak up only when they have something incisive to say. (Full disclosure: I am a woman, although I may also be a clueless asshole, and that's often my style.) What I was suggesting was something I consider to be, uh, a bad idea. It should not actually happen.

But as I thought longer about it, I realized it's usually not the loudest person who prevails in the argument: it's his/her interlocutor. No? That's the pattern I've seen... So maybe it's useful to have someone playing the bad cop -- I dunno.

Anonymous said...

Point of information: I get ignored in CLASSES, not just when it's grad students against faculty!

And here is some more "mere" anecdotal evidence of current sexism in discipline: it has been suggested to me, and a female friend of mine in the discipline, more than once, that the reason we have received good grades is only because our male profs want to have sex with us! Unfortunately, since there aren't that many women in philosophy, I don't have any countervailing evidence that I get good grades whether it is a male or a female grading me! But, I suppose, even if I did, someone on here would suggest that the female prof is a fucking lesbian and so it wouldn't count either!

Someone I know once told an attractive female grad student that he was surprised she was any good since he didn't think there was such a thing as an attractive woman who could do philosophy!

I have been in classes where the words 'but you know what women are like...ha ha' were uttered as if it was an inside joke among the men in the class. It's as if I wasn't even there.

And then there's the knee-jerk hostility towards anything feminist in the discipline. I've seen two or three profs just dismiss any feminist work out of hand, merely because it was feminist.

I mean maybe I'm wrong, but this all seems sexist to me. Can someone give me a better explanation? I mean, I realize there would need to be more studies and issues of interpretation would arise because since I am a woman, I am biased, and I can't tell when something is sexist or not. I'd better rely on an unbiased male's opinion (who has no stake in the issue) to help me sort all of this out, since my own judgment must be clouded by my fucking hormones (and men don't have those), or maybe I just have this need to invent excuses for my own individual failures (unlike any of the males on this blog).

Anonymous said...

So, I'm Anon 9:22. Here's the thing: I don't doubt there's sexism in American society, or racism. There's a lot. I see it everyday, and I'm a white male so it's (almost) never directed at me. And if I see it directed at other people, I probably see, what, 10% of what's in front of my eyes? I don't doubt any of that.

But I was making a different point, namely that I think it's much more complicated than most people in our society will admit. I encounter things frequently that, if I wasn't white or male, I'd perhaps attribute to sexism or racism. Now maybe I'm just not very smart, and if I was one of you all then I'd know better what the secret reasons were for people treating me as they do. But I believe that people don't always know their own motives for the things they do, much less the reasons that other people have for the things they do. So it's complicated.

Whereas it's easy to call someone sexist. And I don't appreciate it when I'm called a "sexist, bigoted motherfuckers", as Anon 10:28 does rather cavalierly, when all I'm saying is that sometimes we don't understand people's motives as well as we think we do.

I think our society encourages us to assume the worst about other people's motives sometimes. But the principle of charity is a basic part of hermeneutics, right?

Anonymous said...

"But the principle of charity is a basic part of hermeneutics, right?"

Yes. But keep in mind that this isn't about deciding who gets a gold star at the end of the day. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether you're an evil mastermind rubbing your hands together over your power to thwart women, or a generally nice but clueless guy who unconsciously assumes Stephen is better than Sally at philosophy because he sees the other guys give Stephen a little more deference.

Would that it were all the work of evil masterminds, as they wear capes and cackles and would be relatively easy to fire. But what evidence we do have suggests it's far more subtle, like that study that found that otherwise identical resumes with male names were perceived more favorably than resumes with females names, or that recent study that shows that women that show anger are perceived negatively, but men that show anger are not. (One could make the argument that affirmative action is not about correcting for numbers, but for our unconscious biases. If I look at a resume from 'Kwame' it's possible that I hold it to a higher standard than the one from 'Joe.')

Given how subtle racism and sexism can be (though not necessarily, given some of the trolls in the other thread who seem to be upset that a woman got a job before they did), it's usually not something most people notice. Hence why it's very frustrating when people continually dismiss women's experiences on this point because *they* don't remember any sexism (if they didn't mean it, it couldn't have happened.)

Anonymous said...

anon 9:22/11:09 -

you are making the assumption that the females have not, for instance, considered the possibility that any given instance of what seems to be sexism is in fact not sexism but something else. give them some fucking credit. Women are indeed intelligent enough to think, but is it really sexism right now, or something else?

And sometimes, for a given instance, there may be no clear answer. But the point is statistical: this happens to women *a lot*, and so explaining any given instance as maybe not sexism does nothing about the overhwelming number of those instances.

Seriously. People need to start from the assumption that the women and minorities making these claims do have some standard rational skills and can consider other possibilities, and that, as they as so impacted by it, they have probably given more thought to these matters than the off-the-cuff remarks made here.

Anonymous said...

Dear 11:09,

I'm sorry if I came across as cavalier. Just a couple of the comments in yesterday's thread provoked me and gave me a pit in my stomach about some of my colleagues in the profession. I wouldn't use that kind of epithet casually or broadly. Still, my fault, I shouldn't talk like that, I know. Sorry.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear to me that:

1. sexism and racism often occur when the people perpetuating them have no idea they're doing it

2. racist and sexist biases are a significant enough part of the explanation for the difficulties women and non-whites face

3. A lot of women are prone to assume sexism when they have little evidence for sexism in their particular case, and the same goes for non-whites with racism

4. Most of the people in the threads on these subjects are talking past each other. Whenever anyone says anything that questions the inferences drawn from personal experiences, it's taken as sexism rather than wanting to know the truth rather than jump to conclusions. It's taken as a double standard because the same skepticism is assumed not to apply to claims that discrimination against white males is taking place, but this accusation occurs against people who may well be skeptical of those claims as well until more data can be summoned. Those offering explanations that aren't the one taken to be a kind of orthodoxy by many here are called misogynists and are assumed to be denying that orthodox explanation when they may not be but may just be offering a more complex picture.

Now there are people here who've said stupid things that are either racist or sexist or vastly oversimplified in assuming racism or sexism to be the only or primary explanation of some experience many have had. But the vast majority of people have not been in that category and yet have consistently called each other names, misread arguments of claims, assumed more was meant than said, and all manner of things that philosophers should be smart enough not to do.

It's as if philosophers suddenly become as awful at reasoning and basic reading comprehension as the average blog reader once they get into blog discussions of these issues. It's really sad.

Anonymous said...

"There's also an interesting phenomenon that I don't remember seeing anyone bring up so far. As a female graduate student, I have some lovely male colleagues who I really enjoying talking with one-on-one. But once they're in a group with other men, they start to ignore my contributions, talk over me, etc. I've speculated with other women as to what kind of dynamic is going on, but I'm not sure what's at work in this sort of situation."


There have been many posts by women detailing specific cases of discrimination between, e.g., a faculty member and graduate students--between individuals at different stages of academic progression, with different amounts of professional power. There is, of course, much to say about men who abuse their roles of power, as in these cases. But the comment above is indicative of the pervasiveness of sexism in the discipline and is, I think, a really good example of the sort of constant, repetitive, subtle discouragement that ultimately wears away at one's motivation and confidence. I am a female graduate student and have time and again experienced the phenomenon that Anon. (above) describes (and have also speculated, on occasion, with other female grad students about why this happens). While I can think of a few overt instances where a male faculty member has acted in a sexist way towards me (and am probably oblivious to many instances because I tend to be mildly oblivious in general), the type of circumstance described above is incredibly frequent. As a graduate student at a top and close-knit program, this can be disheartening, since I consider these individuals my friends and have no trouble interacting with them one-on-one or even in a small group (a couple of them at a time). At certain point, however, some sort of group-power phenomenon inevitably takes over, forcing me out of the conversation, leaving me feeling like I walked into the wrong event (what are these people even talking about??). I cannot overstate the effect of the shift in dynamics here. I now tend to avoid philosophy social gatherings where I know I will either (a) be one of only maybe two or three women in a sea of men, or (b) be the only woman with four or five men. Furthermore, the effects of this phenomenon are not localized: I attend seminars and other professional events with these same people. Having become discouraged about speaking up, socially, in a group of men, it is that much harder to speak up as (one of) the only woman in a seminar.

I'm sure I'm just rehashing the same old story here, but I do so to emphasize the subtlety point: while there are countless instances of overt discrimination perpetrated across different levels of the power hierarchy, much of the sexism is so ingrained that tons of cases of what looks like having a beer with the guys (and me) is actually an interaction laden with sexist overtones.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes women get ignored or dismissed because they're women. Sometimes, like (male and female) grad students, they get ignored or dismissed because they're not known quantities. And, of course, sometimes that they are women in a male-dominated field might help explain why they're not known quantities. So, yeah, it's complicated.

Anonymous said...

I say: "I don't think my judgment is better than Female Grad's or Sisyphus'."

And get the reply: "I realize there would need to be more studies and issues of interpretation would arise because since I am a woman, I am biased, and I can't tell when something is sexist or not. I'd better rely on an unbiased male's opinion."

I say: "I don't doubt there's sexism in American society, or racism. There's a lot. . . . I probably see, what, 10% of what's in front of my eyes?"

And get the reply: "it's very frustrating when people continually dismiss women's experiences on this point because *they* don't remember any sexism."

I don't know whether a lot of people on this blog are so mad they're not thinking straight or what, but you don't seem to be doing very good at reading what I write.

Yeah, I promised I'd stop posting on this topic, and I'm really trying, honest.

Rachel McKinney said...

RE: Anon 12:43

"3. A lot of women are prone to assume sexism when they have little evidence for sexism in their particular case, and the same goes for non-whites with racism"

Can you give some evidence for this, please?

Anonymous said...

I also have to take issue with anon 12:43, #3. I could see how a thread like this, with a concentrated list of descriptions of sexism, might feel exaggerated or even like an attack. But as a woman with female friends in philosophy, I think sexism is just as easily overlooked or misrecognized on our part.

For example, when men talked over me or excluded me from conversations, for at least the first 3 or 4 years of grad school I assumed this was my fault. I must be not as bright, or boring, or something. It was only in the wake of a *lot* of positive feedback (in coursework, at the dissertation stage, and now as a job applicant) and also in talking with other women who have had similar experiences, that I've realized it's not all me!!

Now, maybe some of that treatment was disinterest, or even personal dislike. But when you see a trend the way I've seen it with pretty much every female philosopher I've ever talked to, and throughout these comments - overreaction doesn't seem to be what is going on. (And, of course, it's a pretty common miogynist claim about women to boot).

Anonymous said...

I've found the "chilling effect" that sisyphus describes and the "invisible woman" phenomenon that was mentioned previously on here to be wholly accurate through my lived experiences as a woman in philosophy.
It does seem like male colleagues can be great one-on-one, but then suddenly you are no longer acknowledged and nothing you say has any merit when a group of male philosophers enters the room...conferences do have the same kind of dynamic, like the women are just supposed to sit there and look pretty and keep our mouths shut unless we talk about Feminist philosophy or Ethics(which aren't considered 'real philosophy' by many in our field) while the men "run the show" called philosophy.
I have also found that faculty members can do a whole lot of stereotyping when it comes to women in phl. I had an older very well-known philosophy professor give me a recommendation that said that she has "a great passion for feminist praxis" when I had NEVER talked to him about feminist philosophy ever!
He knew me very well and my specializations, so this was kind of a slap in the face. It is SUBTLE things like this that build up on one another to make philosophy a very uncomfortable place for women. The message the older professor was saying (without actually saying) was essentially "So and So will be good at Feminist philosophy or ethics b/c that's pretty much ALL that women in philosophy can do".
I've also experienced different interactions with male and female colleagues as far as "Know-it-All" syndrome. Many male colleagues will lie until they're blue in the face, rather than ADMIT to a woman that they don't know something. My female colleagues will readily admit to not knowing something and have told me of similar encounters with male colleagues that "fake it til they make it" about subjects that they only brush the surface of and then dismiss because they can fake it no longer. This isn't to say women in the field don't fake it, but I've found men do this more often and it's frustrating, esp. when the topic is your specialization.

Anonymous said...

First, as I mentioned in an earlier thread, I no longer have any doubt that cultural factors make our discipline relatively hostile to women. I still cannot see this first hand even when looking for it, but the weight of testimony has become overwhelming.

Second, though, I still have some skepticism about particular anecdotes. For instance, when I first began teaching, I knew all about the problem of women undergrads getting passed over in favor of men in discussions, and I was worried about it, so I had careful methods to avoid it. (I'd write a list of students with their hands up and call on them in order, I'd check to make sure I wasn't stopping and cutting off my list right before I got to women, and so on.) But on a teaching evaluation in my second semester, one woman wrote that I was skipping over women who raised their hands to call on men instead.
It probably seemed that way to her, but I know it wasn't true. So that's one reason for my skepticism.

But, again, I'm not skeptical about the phenomenon in general, I'm just not willing to take particular anecdotes at face value.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 1/17 9:22am, that this is an empirical question, and one for which we just should not in general trust our ability to judge from an uncontrolled first-person standpoint. (To be clear, it's not epistemically difficult _qua_ claim of sexism, but _qua_ large empirical generalization.) As noted, there are lots of confounds -- there are a lot of equal-opportunity jerks out there, and some of the behaviors in question may be _gendered_ without being _sexist_, like the "Never give up! Never surrender!" discourse norm that so many male philosophers use regardless of the gender of their interlocutor. The net effect of such gendered differences (among many others) can be discriminatory, but in a way in which would both support affirmative-action policies and not support general attributions of sexism.

Moreover, there is an extant empirical literature on gender and interruptions and the like, though I am not aware of anything looking at philosophers in particular. The general trend is that there are definitely some real differences there, but much debate as to their ultimate source. Gender is frequently confounded with status, for example, as noted in this somewhat dated review article
so the observed differences probably have a more complex causal source than gender by itself. But gender is definitely in the mix.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone recommend some accessible empirical studies that discussion such things as interrupting, etc.? I would be interested in showing them to my undergraduates, just so that they can be a little more self-conscious in group discussions.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, I'll be happy to provide examples.

1. Two tenured faculty members in a Leiter-ranked department were up for an award a while back. There were three candidates, two from philosophy. One was a minority woman, and the other was a minority man. She got the award. The department congratulated her without saying anything about him. He publicly accused the entire department of racism for not saying at the time that they were just as appreciative of him.

2. I've had the personal experience of being told that I interrupt people because they are women. I know that I interrupt people. I'm terrible in that respect. But I'm pretty sure I do it to men as much as I do it to women. I'm convinced that women are more often interrupted than men. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that the times I interrupted this particular woman had to do with the fact that she was a woman. I think I was just being rude. It strikes me as a true generalization that sometimes gets extended to cases when it's not true. I'm just pretty rude when it comes to interrupting people, and that is indeed a vice, but I wonder if it gets mislabeled as the wrong vice simply because for many people it is that other vice.

3. Someone I know was in a foreign country with a friend from the U.S. with him. He goes to that country a lot and knows their customs. His friend was a newbie. They went into a shop, and the clerk put the change down on the counter rather than putting it into his friend's hand. In the U.S., someone who is non-white might take that as a sign of racism. In this particular country, it's standard practice. It's not an avoidance of touching people. It's a show of honesty in spreading the change out on the counter so the person can see it. So it was a case of actual racist experiences serving to provoke an inductive sort of response to assume further racism when it hasn't occurred.

The general kind of process I have in mind is when real racism and real sexism turn on the radar of those normally affected negatively by such behavior, and it leads to a response that often is very good at detecting real cases of sexism and racism but also gives false positives with similar circumstances that in fact aren't racism or sexism. Ironically, some of these cases involve white people more easily spotting something as not racism and men more easily spotting something as not sexism. It's a strange case of standpoint epistemology being turned on its head, and yet I think that's exactly what's going on in these cases.

I'm convinced that something is going on like this with some of the responses I've been seeing in these comment threads also. A lot of people who say certain things are misogynists, and someone says one of those things without being a misogynist, and everyone jumps to call it sexism. It may well be that the person saying it has spent much of their life identifying cases of hidden sexism, fought obstacles against women's success, and is very keen to recognize real difficulties for women in academia. But the person then wonders whether scientific discussions of men being more concentrated at the high and low ends of the intelligence spectrum might have at least something to it (even if it's got to be more complicated because intelligence isn't a simple thing, etc.) The person gets called a misogynist.

Isn't that an example like the ones I've listed above? Isn't identifying it consistent with recognizing the reality of hidden sexism and racism and thinking white people and men just don't get what women and non-whites can see plainly? I'm just trying to point out a little bit more of a complexity to these matters, but everyone has been assuming that it means I must hold all manner of views that I find loathsome.

Anonymous said...

Let me add one thing more. A very good example is the person claiming that it's misogynist to say that women might overreact sometimes the way I've been describing. How so?

In particular, my view is that we all overreact often when we think we're being slighted. I think we're surrounded by a culture of offense. People do stupid things to us all the time, but it's not always about you, and it's not always about me. But we want to make it about us. Now is it a surprise if men aren't the only ones who do this? Of course not. So why is it misogynist to say that women sometimes do it?

That's a perfect example of someone calling something sexist when in the particular case it's not, and the reasoning seems to be that a lot of misogynists do rant against women complaining about sexism. Well, that's certainly so, but it doesn't follow that any mention of women getting it wrong is misogyny. So the very complaint against what I said is an instance of what I was talking about. It's false attribution of sexism in responding to the charge of false attribution of sexism.

Anonymous said...

With respect to the last few posts:

There's something kind of unsettling about the suggested policy to disbelieve that particular examples are instances of racism and sexism. I don't deny that sometimes people are overly touchy about this kind of thing, and these accusations are serious. But this attitude suggests that the people making the accusations, in general, do not realize that their accusations are serious, which seems sort of insulting and paternalistic. On the contrary, the people making the accusations, by and large, know that they are serious, and that is why they take the time and effort to make the accusation at all. It's serious to them, too. Read the Haslanger piece. It's so serious to her that she considered leaving the profession over it.

The fact that, as a white male, I can't think of any specific examples of latent sexism which I have witnessed carries no evidential weight whatsoever, because as a white male I am very likely to be oblivious to latent sexism. Since white males are the ones doing the latent sexism, and I doubt that most members of our profession are consciously sexist, the lion's share of the sexism is probably unintentional and sails right over the heads of the people who are doing it and most of the witnesses--almost all of whom are probably white males.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who haven't noticed, the cable channel AMC is currently celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend by showing a Death Wish marathon-an old white guy shooting young black men in movie after movie.

Anonymous said...

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the accused is a basic element of any system of justice. I'm not sure why it shouldn't count in justice systems that aren't laws with criminal penalties. Now in personal evaluations of people, other factors might enter also. If my wife is accused of murder, and she says she didn't do it, should I believe the accuser just because murder is a serious charge and those making the charge know it's serious? Why shouldn't the same be true of my professor who seems otherwise honest, ethical, and nice to women if he's accused of favoring his male students?

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting in this discussion is that almost no one partaking in the discussion has been accused of sexism or misogyny. People have raised complaints about misogyny in a general way, but almost no one has been accused of being sexist or racist, directly. Yet so much is invested in not appearing sexist and racist, that some folks are reacting as if they've been attacked when they haven't, and then gone about undermining the veracity of claims made by women about sexism anyway.

In conclusion, dude, calm the fuck down.

Anonymous said...

anon 4:12,

Since latent sexism and racism in the academy are undoubtedly much more prevalent than murder, and because sexism and racism, while serious, are much less egregious than murder, I fail to see how your analogy applies.

Furthermore, the latent sexism/racism is likely to be unconscious and unintentional and its perpetrators are unlikely to be aware of what they're doing. So in the face of an accusation like the one you mention, where a female student accuses you of favoring her male classmates, or a colleague suggests to you that you treat her differently than you do the men in your department, I think a different strategy is warranted.

I think you might begin by respectfully acknowledging the person's feelings and intelligence. You should probably ask her why, specifically, she feels that way, and what you can do to set her mind at ease. Assure her that whatever it was, it was not intentional, and you will work with her to find a solution. If the person is bringing it up to you, she probably has a reason for feeling the way she does, even if she's ultimately mistaken.

It's probably a bad strategy to be a lawyer about it. You probably shouldn't assert that you're entitled to the benefit of the doubt, ask her if she understands how serious this charge is, and then tell her that you're innocent until proven guilty. If you do that, she'll probably feel disrespected even further, and you might find yourself in a position where someone is really trying to prove that you're guilty. And that would be bad, even if you're not.

I don't really think that having a general presumption in one direction or the other is particularly wise. Maybe we should operate on a case-by-case basis, instead. Maybe considering each alleged instance of sexism/racism on its actual merits would be the best policy.

Anonymous said...

Someone accusing me of something is another matter entirely. In that case, I examine the charge. If it's a claim that a view is misogynistic, I examine the view to see if that is the case. If it involves hate for women, I discover that it is. Otherwise, I discover that it is not. If the charge is non-deliberate bias, then I look for evidence and try to determine what caused my behavior that this person is identifying. If it involves such bias, I seek to change it. If it doesn't, I consider the claim false even if it may have appeared to the person to be true.

But when it comes to people whose motivations I don't know, I give them the benefit of the doubt, even if the person experienced something that they think must come from racism or sexism.

I was certainly accused of misogyny in one of these threads when I tried to present sociological explanations for sex and gender inequality. Misogyny is an extremely serious charge. It's much stronger than inadvertent and unintentional bias. It's hate. The comments I was receiving in response to my initial comment mostly involved serious misrepresentations of my position. Nothing I said in the comment in question involved any hate for anyone. Therefore, the charge was factually wrong and thus morally unconscionable given that the person making it had no idea what motivated me. So it's no surprise if I came across as defensive. I was falsely accused of a pretty serious evil.