Feminist Philosophers

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GCC FAQ September 3, 2011

Filed under: gendered conference campaign — KateNorlock @ 4:03 pm

Here at FP we thought the same questions about the GCC recur so often that we could use an FAQ.  If you’re ever in need of something like this, it is also now linked from the Gendered Conference Campaign page.  See you in the funny pages!

1) What’s the harm of an all-male list of speakers?

The effects!

  • All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male.
  • This in turn contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, stereotype threat, and at times the reinscription of the same few male names as the only leaders in their specialty.

2) Are you saying that gender is more important than philosophical merit in deciding on conference speakers?

  • No, but the most important reason to invite a speaker need not be the only reason to invite a speaker!
  • This sounds like a false choice, in any case, and depends on the definition of merit.  If the ‘philosophical merit’ of a speaker is that they are the most prominent leader in their specialty, then the perceived merit of the same few speakers is self-fulfilling.

3) Are you saying the organizers of these conferences are malicious?

We impute no blame to the organizers, and we can’t read their minds.  All of our focus is on the effects.

4) So everyone should invite a token woman?  

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  So let’s not.  As Anca Gheaus argues, there is no good reason to fear tokenizing.  Besides, men get invited for reasons that are not reducible to the quality of their work either. What say we all make the effort to invite skilled women appropriate to the area and available to speak!

5) How do you know the organizers of an all-male conference didn’t try?

We don’t know what organizers of conferences have done or what they meant to do.  We know the outcome, and that’s what we are concerned with. (See (3) above.)

6) What if there aren’t any women specializing in the conference topic?  So few women do some topics, they’re even more male-dominated than philosophy in general.

Yes, we also notice that philosophy and many subfields are male-dominated.  This does mean finding available and skilled women in a specific area takes effort.  But if we members of the profession do not make the effort, then the male-domination of fields becomes self-perpetuating, with some bad effects.  (See (1) and (2) above.)

7) Maybe women just don’t like the conference topic?

This seems unlikely to us, but if so, then we expect there must not be any women in the audiences at these conferences either, or women editing or refereeing journals in the area, and organizers must not have any female students who could use the kind of opportunity that a conference invitation would provide.  Is that the case?  How interesting if it is!  (But if that’s not the case, and if it’s not possible to determine the likes of all women in philosophy, perhaps we are all best off proceeding to invite women to speak.)

8) None of the well-known women in this area were available, so how would organizers find a female speaker?

Let us help!  Feel free to ask online here at Feminist Philosophers, or better, see our first point under How to Avoid a Gendered Conference.

9) Wouldn’t a woman asked to Conference X after you call attention to it just be undermined by feeling tokenized or being assumed to be a mere token by her audience?

  • We hope that a skilled philosopher speaking on her speciality would not be assumed to be merely a token.  We can’t prevent others’ sexist assumptions about talented women who agree to participate in a conference.  For a splendid articulation of related arguments, again, see Anca Gheaus’s “Three Cheers for the Token Woman!”
  • The double-binds women face in a sexist world, such as our either being neglected, or being invited and fearing we are mere tokens when we’re asked to speak on an area of our expertise, are both familiar and unfortunate to feminists.  But the solution is not to continue the prevalence and perpetuation of all-male conferences!

10) Why don’t you email the organizers instead of publicly shaming them on the internet?

  • We point them out to the online readers as evidence of the persistence and prevalence of all-male line-ups.
  • We call attention to all-male conferences publicly because this is the best way to raise awareness of the phenomenon and its effects. We are very explicit that this is not about blame, and it is not intended to shame.
 

29 Responses to “GCC FAQ”

  1. Rebecca Kukla Says:

    Very nicely done!

  2. Ingrid Robeyns Says:

    Excellent! Hopefully this FAC will contribute to keeping the debate on the GCC constructive, since there have been quite a number of defensive reactions over the last months (both online and offline). I especially like your suggestion of ‘let us help’ in case one is looking for female speakers, and I do hope conference organizers will make use of that offer.

  3. James Camien McGuiggan Says:

    I wonder if Q7 is phrased a bit aggressively? Would it be better if phrased: “What if the explanation were that women just aren’t interested in the conference topic?”?

  4. profbigk Says:

    In light of McGuiggan’s comment, I just lopped off the first six words, instead. (Thanks, James.) That question has been posed to me by people who indicated that they assumed I’d never thought of it, so maybe their aggressiveness was still lingering in my mind! (“Has it occurred to you…”, the way I’ve been presented with it, usually comes with the implication that the speaker is the first to ever think of it! Surely if they’ve thought of it, then I have never encountered the possibility before. Heh. Sigh.)

  5. Trip Says:

    Great work! Here is another one that comes up from time to time, although less frequently than the others: “Women are not the only underrepresented group at philosophy conferences, so why focus only on gender?” Someone had a great response in one of the last threads, but, looking back, I couldn’t track it down.

  6. Jane Says:

    I like the GCC and this is helpful. But I can I chime in with others in previous posts, to suggest that you stop using the ‘Men discuss X’ titles? I personally find these snarky, and also a bit disrespectful to the women who are nevertheless part of the relevant conference (e.g. as the sole speaker, commentators, or audience members). Why assume that even with an all male-line up, women in the audience aren’t planning to discuss X?…

  7. Susan Says:

    Thanks for this post, and for sticking with it!

  8. Jeremy Says:

    “This sounds like a false choice, in any case, and depends on the definition of merit. If the ‘philosophical merit’ of a speaker is that they are the most prominent leader in their specialty, then the perceived merit of the same few speakers is self-fulfilling.”

    This is a straw man. No one would “define philosophical merit” as “prominence.” The real concern expressed in Q2, I take it, is “What if the people doing the best work in area X are all men?” That sort of thing happens. Assuming that for many conference topics T there are many more men than women working in area T, that only a handful of people are doing the best work in area T, and that sex and quality of philosophical work are uncorrelated, we should expect that for many T the best people people working on T are all men. Some numbers:

    2:1 gender imbalance; 6 people doing best work in area –> 9% likelihood the latter all men
    3:1 gender imbalance; 5 people doing best work in area –> 24% likelihood the latter all men
    4:1 gender imbalance; 4 people doing best work in area –> 41% likelihood the latter all men

    I think these sorts of numbers are important to keep in mind.

  9. profbigk Says:

    Jeremy, it is not the case that “no one” would define the meritorious by appealing to prominence. Therefore, this is not a straw man. In fact, I used this as a FAQ because of the many times it’s been posed to me.

    Your examples of merit are certainly better, but they do beg the question as to how one knows who does the best work in an area. Assessments of best work or off-the-cuff reports of who’s ‘best’ sometimes do refer back to who’s most widely known. I know that’s not always the case, but I don’t need it to be universally true that opinions of merit supervene on renown. To avoid being guilty of a fallacy, I only need it to be the case sometimes. It is the case sometimes. Therefore it’s not a fallacy.

  10. Marge Says:

    With regard to (Q4), here is a worry I have. The campaign may have the unintended consequence that organizers invite a single female speaker, even if her work is not particularly relevant, in order to avoid being publicly criticized — this will be difficult to avoid with workshops on very specific topics on which few women have published. Regardless of whether you disavow inviting token female speakers, I worry it sometimes *will* have this consequence, which is what’s relevant. Second I (like commenter #6, Jane) find use of the generic “Men Discuss X” unnecessary. I’m a female, and I’ll be participating (not as a speaker or commentator, but so what?) in a workshop that was recently called out on this blog.

  11. Monkey Says:

    Funny how tokenism is so much more worrying than privilege, i.e., the fact (if it is one) that a woman might occasionally be invited to speak at a conference outside her area is SO much worse than the fact that white males might often be invited to speak as a result of privilege.

    Why is that, I wonder?

  12. Monkey Says:

    Of course it’s good women are participating in conferences. The difference made by women being invited speakers, commentators, and so forth is that their participation is visible to those beyond the conference hall.

  13. Jeremy Says:

    Monkey: Are you accusing the organizers of all-male-lineup conferences of choosing whom to invite on the basis of privilege? If so, please elaborate–I really don’t understand the suggestion.

    At any rate, my concern about tokenism isn’t, as you imply, that it’s unfair to white men. (White men have it good; we’re in no position to complain.) My concern is that it hurts women in the profession. Generally speaking, talks by experts are better than talks by non-experts. If women are invited to conferences on areas in which they are non-expert in order to achieve gender balance, then they will tend (collectively, statistically) to give weaker talks than the other conference presenters who are expert in the area. Creating situations in which women give comparatively worse presentations than men is not the way to combat stereotype threats! And that’s to say nothing of the negative effect on audience expectations (and as a result perceptions) of talks perceived or suspected to be the result of tokenism.

  14. magicalersatz Says:

    Jeremy, I don’t think Monkey was suggesting that organizers select all-male conference line-up on the basis of privilege (at least not consciously). Rather, the thought is simply that privilege can influence the selection of such line-ups. You’re worried that people will view female speakers as having been invited (perhaps unconsciously) as mere tokens. But no one ever seems to be similarly worried about whether male speakers were invited (perhaps unconsciously) as a result of factors of privilege that have nothing to do with their philosophical ability. We seem to be terrified that women may get an unfair advantage (or be viewed as having an unfair advantage) over men, and all the while men have documented and established advantages – and are viewed as having such advantages – over women.

    You say that your concern about tokenism is that it will harm women in the profession. There are perhaps two strands to this worry. The first is that – whether justly or not – female speakers will be *viewed* as mere tokens. I can’t see that this is something the GCC should be concerned about. If people are disposed to view female speakers as tokens, that is there own fault – and is symptomatic of a wider sexism in the profession that efforts like the GCC can’t fix overnight.

    But there’s also the worry that if women are in fact invited *as mere tokens*, they will give bad talks, people will form bad impressions of those talks, and it will harm the general perception of women in the profession. Again, not sure this is something the GCC should worry about. There’s a simple solution that conference organizers can avail themselves of: don’t invite token female speakers! Invite excellent, expert, ass-kicking female speakers (and yes, there really are plenty of these to go around). If the topic for your conference is really *so narrow* that there aren’t *any women* who do good work in that area, then you’re organizing an excessively narrow conference. If you widen your discussion parameters a little, you can invite awesome women doing awesome work in related areas. It’s not that hard.

  15. Jeremy Says:

    @magicalersatz

    a) What do you mean by privilege? [That's not a snark--I'm genuinely unsure.]

    b) Let me repeat: my concern is *not* about women “getting an unfair advantage.”

    c) You write: “The first is that – whether justly or not – female speakers will be *viewed* as mere tokens. I can’t see that this is something the GCC should be concerned about.”

    I don’t understand. The stated purpose of the GCC is the following:

    “1) What’s the harm of an all-male list of speakers?

    The effects!

    * All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male.
    * This in turn contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, stereotype threat, and at times the reinscription of the same few male names as the only leaders in their specialty.”

    My worry is of precisely the same form:

    What’s the harm of the GCC (if my concerns are well-founded)? The effects!

    * The GCC helps to perpetuate the perception of women in philosophy as “mere tokens” (if my concerns are well-founded).
    * This in turn contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, stereotype threat, etc.

    d) You write: “Invite excellent, expert, ass-kicking female speakers (and yes, there really are plenty of these to go around). If the topic for your conference is really *so narrow* that there aren’t *any women* who do good work in that area, then you’re organizing an excessively narrow conference.”

    Two points of disagreement. First, I don’t think a topic on which, say, a half dozen people are really the ones pushing the literature forward need be excessively narrow. If you could get all of them to come, I think you could have an awesome conference! All might happen to be men. (See my previous post for some numbers.) Second, it’s not the case that there are always ass-kicking female speakers *available* to attend to the conference.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with Jeremy that there are good topics for conferences on which there just aren’t any women doing first-rate work. Yes, if you look hard enough, you’ll probably find a woman working on just about any topic (though surely not every topic). But the prescription (by magicalersatz) is that one should “Invite excellent, expert, ass-kicking female speakers” — and, presumably, not just invite them, but to get them to come. In order to follow that prescription, one will simply have to forgo organizing conferences on many topics. It seems to me bizarre that if I work on X and get a grant to organize a conference on X and can pay for, say, 5 speakers, and it just turns out either that there are no women I want to invite or that there is one and she declines, I should either give up and not have a conference at all or change the topic of the conference.

    I also note that if we applied this to all demographic groups against which there plausibly are implicit biases, organizing conferences would become impossible. Suppose that we require that anyone organizing a conference has to invite some women, some nonwhite people, some people who are not native speakers of English, some disabled people, and some LGBT people (or, perhaps even one L, one G, one B, and one T). And not just invite them, but get them to accept. The outcome pretty clearly would be that there would be hardly any conferences, and many of the lineups for the ones that we would have would be obviously chosen just on the basis of the speakers’ membership in these groups (and this would have the bad effects that Jeremy is talking about).

    Since we obviously can’t do this for all groups against which there plausibly are implicit biases in conference invitations, I wonder why we should do it for one such group in particular.

  17. magicalersatz Says:

    Jeremy, the types of privilege that might influence the invitation of men include the advantages with respect to stereotype threat and implicit bias (you can read more about these by clicking on the link that says ‘Gendered Conference Campaign’ at the top of your page.) It’s also important to note that implicit bias in particular can influence whose work we think is “best” within a discipline. It’s not like, when we’re organizing conferences, we can pull out a list from Plato’s heaven that tells us The Ten Best People Working in X. Judgments about who is “best” can and do vary a lot from philosopher to philosopher (and from philosophical community to philosophical community) – and they’re often much less a product of pure rational deliberation than we’d like to think.

    It’s simply not that hard to organize good, interesting conferences – on most any topic – which aren’t all-male and which don’t have purely token female representation. It isn’t. It may take a little extra effort or thought, but it’s the position of the GCC that this extra effort is well worth it.

    There will no doubt still be those – like Jeremy and Anonymous – who have concerns, but these aren’t obviously concerns that we can allay through rational discourse. Our efforts are perhaps better spent promoting efforts like the GCC than debating with “concerned” male philosophers.

  18. magicalersatz Says:

    And to follow up on what I just said, I wanted to repost the final comment from a previous thread (“Men Discuss Metaphysics”), because it bears repeating:

    “I’m not affiliated with the GCC and don’t speak for its organizers. However, this thread has gotten annoying.

    The GCC is a modest political campaign with the narrow and simple objective of highlighting a single expression of the pervasive and institutionalized sexism within contemporary philosophy. As anyone who has ever organized one will tell you, campaigns of this sort reliably provoke reactions such as that seen from “Another anonymous commenter” throughout this thread. Their objective is to shift the ground of the debate, making the issue the act of highlighting the problem, rather than the underlying problem itself. Thus, “concerns” are expressed that the GCC might backfire by provoking some nasty tokenizing reaction from conference organizers, or by making people think women on conference rosters were picked just because of their gender, or that (because of the first two responses) it will—oh, cruel irony—cause women to further question or undermine themselves. (See, ladies? *Now* look what you’ve done!) The push is for the problem under discussion to be “Do these strategies make some people uncomfortable and is that fair?” rather than “Aspects of Sexism in Philosophy”. Ultimately the claim is that campaigners are really hurting their own cause by provoking even more sexist responses (tokenism, etc) from those made uncomfortable by the campaign. The alleged solution is for the GCC to lay off.

    This is of course ridiculous. Sexist responses to the GCC are not the GCC’s problem. They are the problem of the people who initiate them. If you organize a conference with only men on the roster, that’s *your* problem. If, in response to being called on it, you add a woman to the list just as a token, that’s *your* problem. And if you think “others” will interpret a woman’s presence at a conference as evidence of tokenism, then that will still be *their* problem.

    In short, don’t get sidetracked by concern trolls. The idea that a small-scale effort like the GCC should accommodate and anticipate any and all negative reaction to it by, say, becoming some full-fledged NSF-funded, ten-year data-collection engine on representation at all relevant conferences, is just absurd. The GCC is just one small piece in what ought to be (and, increasingly, is) a wide-ranging effort by people of good will to document, publicize, face up to, and ultimately change the frankly embarrassing situation contemporary philosophy is in with respect to gender. By the standards of activism in similar settings elsewhere it is a rather mild, and indeed painstakingly polite, bit of consciousness-raising.”

  19. Marge Says:

    Hi magicalersatz, in response to #17: you single out “debating with ‘concerned’ male philosophers”. I’m also a philosopher concerned about the exact way the GCC is being implemented (for just the kind of reasons elaborated by Jeremy) *and* female (see comment #10 early on). I think the gender of the people raising these worries is irrelevant, however.

  20. Monkey Says:

    F-in’ bravo, magicalersatz!

    I might also add that any more concern trolls will simply be deleted.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    Magicalersatz, could you explain what a “concern troll” is? Is Marge one?

  22. Monkey Says:

    Anonymous – here’s the internet – go look it up.

  23. [...] a reminder, here is a description of the Gendered Conference Campaign and here is a list of FAQs. If you are new to the Gendered Conference Campaign please take a look at them so we don’t [...]

  24. [...] here is a link to FAQ‘s about the Gendered Conference Campaign.  It would be great if you took a look at them so [...]

  25. [...] here is a link to FAQ‘s about the Gendered Conference Campaign.  It would be great if you took a look at them so that [...]

  26. [...] (For more information on the GCC, see our GCC page and our GCC FAQ page.) [...]

  27. [...] For information on the Gendered Conference Campaign, see our GCC page and our GCC FAQ page. [...]

  28. [...] –Fem Phil on The GCC Campaign [...]

  29. […] you want to comment on this post I would like to invite you to first check out this list of frequently asked questions about the Gendered Conference Campaign.  Doing so might spare us all from repeating conversations […]


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