Feminist Philosophers

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Men headline Oxford grad conference November 8, 2011

Filed under: gendered conference campaign — magicalersatz @ 12:00 pm

The 2011 Oxford Graduate Conference will feature three keynote speakers. All are male.

We hesitated somewhat about whether to do a GCC post on this conference, simply because the lineup is so small. But as there’s no particular theme, it would’ve been easy to get an excellent female speaker on the program. And we think that female representation at graduate conferences – particularly prestigious graduate conferences like this one – is of particular importance.

{Takes a deep breath}

Okay. I suspect concern trolls are concerned. Bring it.

 

72 Responses to “Men headline Oxford grad conference”

  1. Logoskaieros Says:

    Happy Troll is happy for you calling out the continuation of a social pattern, even if in isolation reasonable reasons can be given for this particular instantiation.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Looks like the last time they had a female keynote is in 2004.

  3. magicalersatz Says:

    Yikes.

    (And thanks, Happy Troll. You have awesome hair.)

  4. Anon Says:

    Good old Oxford: they just keep improving their image, don’t they?

  5. annejjacobson Says:

    2004? Talk about strange! I wonder why there’s this pattern. They keep forgetting that there are women in this world?

  6. Jeremy Says:

    I was party to the initial stages of conference planning. Here’s how speaker selection worked. There was a ballot where everyone ranked potential speakers in two categories: theoretical and practical philosophy. These were compiled, and the (anonymized) results were as follows:

    Top 6 theoretical: M, M, M, M, M, M
    Top 6 practical: F, F, M, M, F, F

    Speakers were invited in each category in the order they were ranked. In the theoretical category, one of the speakers declined, and then, after another speaker accepted, informed us that he’d be able to come after all and could use his own travel funding. Naturally, we were delighted to have a third keynote.

    I can’t speak to past years; it’s a different committee every year.

  7. anon Says:

    Based on Jeremy’s response, it does appear that including this conference was premature. Was no attempt made to contact the organizers before putting up this post? That would seem especially desirable, given the small number of speakers. One never knows what might be behind the pattern – unless one asks.

    I understand that the purpose of the Gendered Conference Campaign is not to shame the particular sponsors of the conference, but instead to draw attention to more general issues of women’s under-representation in the profession. However, I don’t think we should ignore the fact that pointing at a particular conference does cast aspersions on the organizers of that conference, intended or not. People reading this post draw inferences about those particular individuals, which may have consequences for those individuals, and those consequences may not be merited in the particular case. This is an especially important consideration when the individuals in question are relatively disempowered members of the profession, especially vulnerable to the effects of being publicly (and google-ably) cited for apparent sexism. One such category of individuals must include graduate student organizers of conferences.

    I’m not saying that we should never point a finger at conferences organized by such individuals. But I do think the circumstances call for especially heightened scrutiny and care. In marginal cases (such as with a very small number of speakers, where gender imbalance arose through contingent circumstances) the good of not harming the reputation of such individuals may trump the value of adding another item to the catalog of problematic conferences. At minimum, contacting the organizers before posting seems necessary.

    (For what it’s worth, I tend to regard the label “concern troll”, especially when deployed preemptively, as a silencing tactic.)

    (Disclosure: I have an Oxford affiliation. But I have no connection to this conference, nor do I personally know the organizers.)

  8. Anon Says:

    The fact that people voted for speakers and voted what turned out to be an all-male list is no excuse for blindly following the votes and inviting an all-male list. Give me a break.

  9. annejjacobson Says:

    I think #7 suggests that we might gather information about the facts behind an all-male conference lineup and then decide whether to put a post up about it. I, for one at least, would feel particularly reluctant to be making such judgments. Once this process was known, the negative connotations of the posts would certainly increase, with possible unfair results.

    As it is, what we look at are results. We publish explanations when we get them.

    If the Oxford voting system is indeed producing all male panels since 2004, then perhaps people should rethink what they are doing. It is hard to believe that this continued all-male line up is not having some of the effects that have concerned us. For a discussion of these effects, please see our gendered conf campaign page above.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    8: No, they voted for a list that was a third female, as can be easily seen if you look at the post in question.

  11. anon2 Says:

    annejjacobson: how would you suggest they do things differently?

  12. magicalersatz Says:

    First of all, can everyone on this thread please bear in mind our “Be Nice” rule when constructing future comments. And now for some random, scatter-shot commentary.

    – Those of us here at FP are of the opinion that regardless of how they came to be all-male, all-male conferences are a bad thing. We’re also of the opinion that lists like the one Jeremy mentions (note that there aren’t any women represented in the “theoretical” category) aren’t always the product of pure, unadulterated value judgements guided by nothing but pure reason and the Form of the Good. We think we have good reason for thinking both these things.

    – With that in mind, it’s perhaps not the best practice to just come up with a list of everyone’s top speaker choices and invite down the list. This tactic is likely to land you – quite unintentionally – with a gender-imbalacned conference. Not only are you perhaps more likely to come up with male names than female names for your list of favorites, but women (for a variety of reasons) are also more likely to turn your invitation down.

    – We aren’t accusing the organizers of this conference of sexism – not in any way, shape, or form. I’m also quite skeptical of the idea that anyone sensible will read this post as implying that we are. Let s/he who’s never accidentally organized a gender-imbalanced conference cast the fist stone, etc. We’re all in this together, and none of us is getting it exactly right. The point of these GCC posts is – again – just to raise awareness of the prevalence and systematicity of the phenomenon.

  13. Anon Says:

    10: “list” in “voted what turned out to be an all-male list” refers to the list of those actually invited (or you can read it as the list of top vote-getters), as opposed to the list of possible invitees. Creative semantic interpretations aside, the point still holds. In fact, the situation looks even worse, since what seems to be the case, from the description in the comments above, is that there were women who were voted for but the organizers still decided to invite two male speakers (and then a third male speaker when one of the first two turned them down).

  14. magicalersatz Says:

    Anon, I think the implication of Jeremy’s post is that two women were invited (to be the “practical” keynote), but that both declined.

  15. Nemo Says:

    The only way I can reconcile the described procedure with the outcome is to infer that in the practical category, the first and second ranked candidates (both women) were invited in succession and that both declined, and that the third practical candidate (a man) accepted. That would mean that the organizers issued, in total, invitations to three men (two theoretical and one practical) and two women (both practical), and all of the invited men accepted (one after initially declining) and all of the invited women declined. I would be inclined to discount for this analysis the male speaker who flip-flopped, since the conference was planned for two speakers and the third was a fortuitous freebie for the organizers (he gratuitously offered to pay his own way). Am I thinking this out wrong? If not, then the situation doesn’t seem quite as negative as it did at first blush.

    I have some misgivings about the suggestion in #8 that, in a matter agreed to be decided by ballot, the particular outcome of the ballot is not generally sufficient to justify following it. Not something I’d feel comfortable universalizing, for sure.

  16. A Says:

    Magical Ersatz, given that they asked two women to come, and that a third of people on the short list to ask were women, what makes you so sure that no one who was voting took into account the fact that there hadn’t been a female speaker for a while, or tried hard to come up with female speakers if they couldn’t think of them immediately? I mean, given past speakers, I think the general tradition is to have ‘very famous senior philosophers’ as speakers at the conference in question. What percentage of these people are women? Is it definitely lower than a third? I actually support the idea of at least flagging every all male conference just to point out to people how many of them there and agree they’re a bad thing and people should try to avoid them, but I don’t see what gives people the right to imply that people in a particular place didn’t consider the issue or hold the belief that they are totally unbiased evaluators of philosophical quality.

  17. Anon Says:

    magical ersatz: ah! Thank you, I read Jeremy’s post differently. It is easier to understand now why they ended up with three male speakers. Still not a good result though, as people have pointed out.

    Nemo, the general point about not simply following a vote comes up when, say, a country or a group votes for something bad (e.g., the Jim Crow laws in the American South). Just because a majority of people vote to make a rule a law doesn’t make it right to follow the law.

  18. Jamie Says:

    I completely agree that attention to the consequences of (and not the intentions behind) all-male speaker lists is the right way to go, and I would say that even if some people do misunderstand and think the organizers are being blamed, that’s acceptable collateral damage. But for this reason, AJ’s remark at [5], which does seem to me like ‘casting aspersions’ (“They keep forgetting that there are women in this world?”), is therefore counterproductive.

    Also, I could not understand Jeremy’s explanation, so I thank 14 & 15 for making it clear what he meant.

    I run the colloquium series for Brown’s philosophy department. We choose speakers by vote. But there is a big general problem, of which gender balance is one aspect, and that is that aggregating individual votes will very often result in *holistic* considerations being ignored or swamped. For instance, every voter could have a perfectly balanced ballot, but the aggregate could be all male. (Or, all modern historians, etc.) I think this problem is too great, and I’m going to suggest that we change to more of a benevolent despot model.

  19. Anan E. Mus Says:

    @8, annejjacobson, magicalersatz: The votes here were not all male, as other comments have clarified, but this leaves a question that I think a lot of people want to ask:

    You’ve claimed that balloting isn’t a good option, but you’ve given no alternative. When a conference or a lecture series is organised, the organizers must together decide on who to invite together. A ballot seems like the best way to do this. (If you disagree, please explain why.) Now it’s true that the results of the ballot can sometimes be adjusted if doing so will promote a gender balance without a massive change (for example moving #4 up to #3), but this isn’t always the case. What do you then suggest the practice should be? It /looks/ like you’re suggesting instituting a quota, which I take it you aren’t, but I really don’t see what the other options are.

  20. Nemo Says:

    Anon, I think you’re right, strictly speaking – though Jim Crow laws were also undone by votes (a prior controlling one on the Fourteenth Amendment and a subsequent one on the Civil Rights Act). But that’s a separate and much larger discussion.

    Anyhow, to clarify, are you saying that this is a bad result (implying a bad slate of keynotes), or just that it could have been better?

  21. Anon Says:

    Just that it could have been better in terms of gender distribution (because of the message the lack of diversity sends). Of course, each of the keynoters is fantastic, and it’s a great lineup in terms of philosophical quality.

  22. another anon Says:

    I’d like to make a small suggestion regarding the execution of the GCC. The current procedure is to post about conferences before they occur. This adds to the stress of conference organizers at a time when they are already under a great deal of it, and puts a damper in general on such conferences. If shaming were the goal of the GCC, then these considerations would be neither here nor there. But the GCC expressly and rightly states that it makes no assumptions about the efforts or intentions of conference organizers. Rather, the goal is to raise awareness about, and increase the visibility of, the problem of gender imbalance in philosophy conferences. This goal would be equally well furthered by posting about conferences immediately after they occur. The aim should be to improve future conferences by encouraging gender balance, not to cast a cloud over conferences that already unfortunately lack gender balance.

    (I don’t pretend that this is the most weighty consideration surrounding the GCC; I make my suggestion only because I see no downside to implementing it.)

  23. Anonymous Says:

    The “current procedure” of the GCC “adds to the stress of conference organizers” of all-male conferences and might “cast a cloud over” them?

    I know we’re talking about the philosophy profession. But the “small suggestion” for change is supposed to be sly mockery of tedious responses to and complaints about the GCC? Right?

  24. another anon Says:

    no.

    another thing. i suspect that a sizable proportion of the conferences called out on this blog ended up having all-male lineups through no failure or fault of their organizers. the relevant proportion is:

    (1) #reasonably_organized_all-male_conferences/#all-male_conferences

    not

    (2) #reasonably_organized_all-male_conferences/#conferences

    the common refrain on this blog that reasonable diligence almost always leads to gender diversity in conference lineups speaks to (2) being small. it has no bearing on (1); that is, it doesn’t speak to how likely it is, given that a conference is featured on this blog, that its organizers nonetheless exercised due diligence. i conjecture that (1) is at least a third. (after all, who wants people to find out about their conference here!)

  25. anon7 Says:

    anon#7 responding again, also in bullet-points:

    – I continue to maintain that publicly citing a particular conference for participation in institutional sexism brings risk of harm to the reputation and professional standing of the conference organizers. Although magicalersatz expresses skepticism that “anyone sensible” would read implications of sexism from such citation, exactly that appears to be happening in some of the comments above, regarding Oxford’s (and implicitly the organizers’) attitude toward women. It follows that either commenters (4) and (5) are not sensible people, or magicalersatz’s skepticism is misplaced. I favor the latter conclusion. The implications an audience draws from an utterance are not wholly within a speaker’s control. Even if the speaker does not intend it – even if the speaker attempts to explicitly cancel the implication – there exist circumstances under which an audience will naturally draw the implication. This seems like such a case, so it does involve imposing risk on the professional reputation of the organizers.

    -Clearly the outcome of this particular conference (an all-male line-up) is not what we want to see. But before getting into criticizing the voting procedure from which it emanated, we ought to consider context. This is a graduate student conference. Grad conference organizers are not like other conference organizers. They are not using their own funds. They did not cause the conference to exist. They do not always have the authority to change anything substantive about the conference. In many ways, the position is more administrative than executive. Let us grant that the voting procedure used by Oxford is imperfect, especially if it has led to a 7-year history of gender-imbalanced speakers. The trouble is that the conference organizers are almost always different individuals from year to year. Indeed, since the standard duration of a D.Phil at Oxford is 3 years, it is likely that no one one on the present conference committee has even overlapped as a student with anyone on the 2004 committee – two whole generations have graduate students have passed through in that interval. Imagine, then, a new conference organizer (often a relatively junior graduate student, since the most senior are often busy with the job market) taking office and announcing that she will dispense with the long-standing democratic procedure of selecting keynote speakers, and will institute her own – less democratic – procedure to ensure gender balance. There were would an outcry; she would face substantial opposition to such a unilateral change. Now, of course, it would be better if she initiated an open discussion, leading eventually to some consensus on a new procedure. But, that takes time, probably more time than exists between the appointment of a conference organizer and the deadline for selecting keynotes. And, that takes enormous courage. As we all know, championing gender equity over maximal democracy (and perceived maximal “philosophical quality”) tends to attract hostility from certain quarters. I do not believe that taking up such a burden is obligatory on any graduate student; no one deserves blame for failing to do so. Nor do they deserve imposition of risk to professional standing.

    -Conclusions: I’ve said that highlighting a conference in the GCC imposes risk (of personally undeserved ignominy) on the organizers of that conference. I think that there are many circumstances in which such risk is justified. For instance, when a committee of senior, tenured faculty unilaterally select a half-dozen speakers who are all men, then of course the risk is justified – even if none of the particular individuals are demonstrably culpable. But when the individuals in question are especially vulnerable, and especially powerless, and when the source of the imbalance is both highly contingent (speakers dropping) and highly decentralized (by voting), the undeserved harm done by imposition of risk outweighs the good done by citing the conference. This does not mean doing nothing. It seems to me that the best response would have been to contact the conference organizers and raise these concerns with them privately. Very likely, there is nothing they could personally do to rectify the situation (as graduate conference organizers rarely have strong executive power). But perhaps they might have been interested in starting a dialog among Oxford graduate students, with the assistance of GCC organizers, regarding means for ensuring that next year’s keynote selection procedure is more equitable. Perhaps they would have subsequently agreed to have the situation described here as a model for others, thus also serving the goal of publicity of gender imbalance. As I said in my first comment, this case (as with probably all grad conferences) seems like a clear one for making contact with the organizers before posting. It seems to me that there is a double misfortune here: both the gender imbalance of the conference keynotes and the inclusion of the conference here began in good intentions, but gave lamentable results.

  26. annejjacobson Says:

    One benefit of mentioning the conference before hand is that some conferences change.

    My Question in #5 is so absurd that I am surprised anyone took it as genuinely casting aspersions. It was meant to be a reference to the days when many Oxford colleges were positively hostile to the presence of women, as though they refused to recognize our existence, rights to civil treatment, etc. Clearly it did not succeed. ‘Keep’ was doing serious work. I now see that I went right beyond subtle and on to completely obscure.

    The claim that people’s reputations are damaged by being mentioned here looks like a very substantive claim; I am not sure it is true. I am more sure that there are young women who find such conferences undermining. Actually, older women too.

  27. Jamie Says:

    Anne, a comment can be taken as an aspersion even if it is not taken literally.

    [25] (Anon7) said only that people’s reputations have been put at risk, so like Anne, Anon7 may be “unsure” that anyone’s reputation has been damaged. I think it’s true that there’s some risk, but I’d agree that it’s fairly minimal. And think of it this way: if some organizers are put in grave professional jeopardy by having their conference listed here, then surely they were already in some pretty serious danger merely by having their all-male line-up exhibited in public at all!

    All that happens when the GCC adds a conference to the list is that (i) it gets a little more attention, and (ii) it gets more attention qua gendered conference. (And of course (iii) over time a vivid story is told here and a useful collection is built up.)

    On the idea of posting a gendered line-up after the conference: I believe at least one organizer has added a woman to his list *after*, and likely *as a result of*, that list being publicized here. (Not just ‘believe’, actually; I’m fairly certain of it.) That’s a very important benefit of keeping the timing as it is now.

    Oh, and as to investigating the intentions and process behind a gendered conference before posting it here: I thought Anne’s point in [9] was utterly decisive. (Don’t you wish people would say that about your philosophy papers??)

  28. mm Says:

    I’ve been having an internal debate on whether to write this. Here goes:

    I’m starting to wonder about the point of allowing comments on GCC posts. I write this as someone who strongly supports the GCC’s efforts.

    What seems to happen regularly enough is the following. There is a GCC post. Often, someone does make a remark like the one in #5, which will be read as an aspersion by many readers, and reasonably so. (That’s how I read it. Regardless of whether such an aspersion is called for in this case, I think it’s hard to read comment #5 as anything but one.) And that is counter-productive and contrary to the GCC’s stated aims.

    A little later there will be pretty much the same inane and unconvincing arguments against the GCC or its particular instantiation, typically but not always accompanied by concern-trolling-esque behavior.

    Jender and/or Jamie will usually write something eminently sensible, carefully constructed, fair minded, and true. ME will do this too but will often be funny as well.

    Often someone will say something about the inconsistently followed and inconsistently applied ‘be nice rule’. Maybe I’m violating it right now with this comment? I hope not.

    Then the thread will kind of peter out.

    Am I wrong in thinking this is the typical pattern?

    If I am not wrong, may I gently suggest for consideration closing comments in future posts, but with the understanding that you will give the conference organizers the opportunity to respond to the post in an update to it? And that you would welcome such responses?

    What else at this stage is gained by comments on these threads?

    These are meant as genuine questions, not rhetorical ones. I’ll admit that I’m feeling a bit down lately from these threads. And again let me emphasize that I say this as a strong supporter of the GCC and not a concern troll.

  29. Ross Cameron Says:

    I second mm’s suggestion, again as a firm supporter of the GCC and its aims, and as one who thinks that it largely succeeds in those aims and who is utterly unconvinced by the arguments against it. The aims seem to me to be met by the post and not by the comments, which just seem to always be getting hijacked by comments which are only a distraction from the real issues. Personally, I’ve stopped reading FP as much as I used to, and as much as I’d wish, because I just dread the latest batch of comments! As long as the organisers have a chance to respond, that’s all the response I feel the need to see. If people are genuinely concerned about negative effects of the GCC they can feel free to start their own blog and post about it, and I will feel free not to read it: sensible debate about the campaign would be welcome, but I at least feel we have passed that point.

  30. Anon Says:

    Since I think it is actually pretty easy to organize conferences that have a reasonable number of invited female speakers, I find the protests in some of the comments here utterly unconvincing. It is very common to have some invitations declined, and most conference organizers do their inviting in stages in order to make sure the conference has the right holistic properties. And as Jamie points out, conference organizers who actually care about having a conference with the right holistic properties (even if they originally failed to notice that their conference lacked these properties) tend to be responsive in a very positive way.

    I am sympathetic to most of what mm says. But I think discussion about conferences that fail to exhibit the right holistic properties needs to happen, and the main place it happens is on the threads where the announcement of the conference is posted. Sure, the same tired old trollish arguments get trotted out, but that’s the way of the internet. Don’t let the trolls shut down the discussion!

  31. Modalist Says:

    I think it worth emphasizing that the most important thing for everyone involved in the GCC is to ensure, by all means possible, that they bend over backwards so as to make sure that there is never any possibility that some Anonymous Internet Person might conceivably be offended at the suggestion that conference organizers anywhere—let alone conference organizers at an institution such as Oxford, whose commitment to gender equity and rejection of male privilege in education runs as far back as the High Middle Ages I’m sorry, I mean 1974—should risk feeling any twinge of private or, Heaven forfend, public embarrassment in the face of some no doubt imagined tendency to repeatedly organize conferences that feature only men on the program. We are, it is worth remembering, only in the second decade of the twenty first century. Mary Wollstonecraft is not yet cold in her grave. Surely Philosophy as an enterprise—nay, an endeavor; a vocation; the love of wisdom itself; a noble calling that grabs one by the testicles early in life and refuses to let go; perhaps indeed the last best hope of rationality and clarity of argument on this benighted Earth—can only suffer terribly if small, unfunded websites populated by aggressive viragos and their emasculated enablers insist on making a habit of pointing out the unfortunate yet, I am sure, entirely accidental Male Pattern Allness occasionally visible at conferences within the field. I should also like to remind the organizers of this “campaign” that a policy such as I have recommended—characterized as it is by polite deference, an unwillingness to make any person feel in any way even slightly out-of-sorts or unpleasantly compelled to recognize their so-called “privilege” on an otherwise perfectly pleasant sort of afternoon in the Junior Common Room, combined with a constant willingness to apologetically back down at the slightest suggestion that umbrage has been taken, or the first appearance of a convoluted description of an imaginary yet technically possible state of affairs wherein the observed outcome might not have been sexist in any way, shape, or form—has been shown by repeated historical experience to be without question the most effective means of effectuating change, especially the kind of modest, incremental and above all comfortably distant, blame-free social change that I am sure we all agree would be the best outcome in this case. Now if you’ll excuse me, my cocoa is getting cold and I do not want to have to ask my wife to heat it up again.

  32. Nemo Says:

    mm, what’s the downside? Do you not feel free *not* to read the comments?

  33. Under the Influence Says:

    I initially felt strong agreement with the suggestion that the comments section on these posts be closed. I too read the blog regularly, read these comments, and feel dispirited by the repetitive nature of the objections. But then it occurred to me how the threads have helped me, and helped me a great deal. Here’s the thing, I’ve often been a position where I’ve advocated for some change or have objected to some practice or set of outcomes that seemed problematically to reinforce or contribute to the exclusion of women in the discipline. This has all been part of my local experience in my little corner of the disciplinary world, my department. In these interactions, I’ve often faced objections that mirror patterns in evidence in these posts: efforts to cite bad outcomes as accidental, to insist upon the well-meaningness of everyone involved, arguments that there just are no alternative ways of doing things, etc., etc. What I’ve gotten from these threads is hard to detail, but it comes down to seeing the bloggers here as role models for my own efforts. Your responses to these threads has importantly schooled me in the myriad ways one *can* respond to such things, both the sorts of arguments one can leverage as well as, more fundamentally, how to have to persistence and mojo to not be put off by such objections (however often they be made!). Long story short, one function of the hamster wheel the bloggers have to run with each and seemingly every one of these GCC posts has little to do with the GCC and much to do with sustaining and modeling for women like me who may be encountering similar patterns of interaction and, frankly, can profit from seeing the many ways one can respond. Not all trolls and concern trolls are virtual. They live among us too, and modeling how to respond is one service these threads provide.

  34. Monkey Says:

    @Modalist. ROFMLAO

  35. mm Says:

    I agree with comment 34. As someone who likes overthetopcommentary, how could I not?

    Nemo, I feel as free to not read the comments as I feel free to not eat another slice of cake. In both cases, there is a compulsion to do something that is overall bad for me. But that’s not a good enough reason by itself for closing them. But it does mean that I’ll need to avoid the blog more in order to not tax my self-control muscle unduly. Based on what Prof. Cameron said above, I’m not the only one feeling this way.

    Under-the-influence also has some nice and helpful remarks in response to my original comment. They are worth thinking about. Thank you for them.

  36. hippocampa Says:

    Wiping the wine of my screen. Modalist, WARN A PERSON!
    Hahaha, that totally made my day!

  37. hippocampa Says:

    Under the influence, I totally agree with you, seeing the counterarguments countered again and again does help me with dealing with the issue in 3D.

  38. Jender Says:

    MM writes: “Jender and/or Jamie will usually write something eminently sensible, carefully constructed, fair minded, and true. ME will do this too but will often be funny as well.”

    I think they’re mixing me up with JJ. I generally can’t bring myself to enter into these comment threads. Which is to say that I think there’s a lot of merit in thinking about ways of getting rid of/reducing them.

    I’m glad that people find these discussions a useful model, but I wonder if perhaps we’ve done enough modelling now to last for a while?

    Modalist: What Monkey said.

  39. anon7 Says:

    Anon#7 (also #25) writing one last time, to express sadness and disappointment.

    To be clear about motives here: I am a long-time reader of FP, for at least the last three years continuously, and a some-time commenter. I teach feminist philosophy, and have used many ideas and links I’ve seen on this site to inform my teaching. I expect that I shall continue to do so. I am also a supporter of the GCC – when people I know are organizing a conference, I make sure they are aware of its existence, and point them to GCC suggestions on attaining gender balance. Generally I have regarded previous instances of spotlighting a conference as justified and appropriate. I have read (but not participated in) nearly all previous GCC discussions, and therefore understand that many previous challenges to the GCC have been spurious and irritating. I do not think this fact entails that there can never be a legitimate criticism of a particular GCC instance.

    I spoke up in this case because it seemed unique. The small number of speakers was one thing, but the involvement of graduate student organizers seemed to me most salient. On my reading, graduate students are among the most vulnerable and most disempowered members of the profession, and I take this to require special care in (potentially implied) criticism of them. I assumed that heightened concern for vulnerable and disempowered classes would be recognized as a feminist motivation. Not that it would necessarily be decisive, but that it would at least be taken seriously. Yet none of the responses seem to have engaged with this point (setting aside a certain not-being-nice run-on paragraph laced with vitriolic jabs regarding the Junior Common Room). I am surprised at this, and I am disappointed.

    On a personal level, the most discouraging aspect has been receiving a rather aggressive sort of dismissal of my views. I took time to carefully write an explanation of my position. A few of the responses (thank you, magicalersatz, annejjacobsen, and Jamie) have been reasonable and substantive. But others have simply labelled my opinion “trollish” and refused to engage its substance in any way. A few, such as #31, have elected a form of abusive straw-manning over discursive exchange. The net effect is precisely the sort of experience that we as feminists worry about: a strongly conveyed impression that my point of view is not valued, that I will not be listened to, that the substance of what I have to say has been pre-judged as irrelevant. This is something we study. It is another form of education to experience it, especially here. As I said, I am sad and disappointed.

    This isn’t a petty “how dare you! You have lost a reader!” comment, because you haven’t lost a reader. I’m sure I’ll continue to read FP – although I’m far less likely to participate in any future comment thread. Nor is this a complaint about the moderators, who generally do quite a good job. My point here is directed principally to other commenters. Do please consider that the person you label a “troll” and refuse to take seriously may not be an internet troublemaker, but may simply be someone who shares nearly all of your views, but who is nevertheless sincerely attempting to respectfully explain to you why she departs on one particular point. It seems to me that no one’s interests are served by a readiness to peremptorily and insultingly dismiss even a partial dissent.

  40. anon2 Says:

    @annejjacobsen, magicalersatz, 25, 30, et al

    Let’s be clear: The only way for a conference (especially one looking for only two speakers) to ensure that one of them is a woman is to have a policy of inviting women until one of them says “yes”. That’s called a quota. Is that what’s being suggested? (That’s not a hostile question, just a request for candor.)

  41. not a troll Says:

    39: Completely agree with your penultimate paragraph. This has been my experience and the experience of friends of mine on these threads. We care very much about the climate for women in philosophy, have had some differences with the GCC, and have found the tenor of the replies quite disheartening.

  42. Anan E. Mus Says:

    No one seems to have answered my question, which was indirectly raised again by @40.

    I think this is really quite vital for the GCC if it wishes to gain support across the board. I don’t know of any philosophers who are against gender-balanced conferences, workshops, etc., but opinions differ on how to achieve this. Until the Campaign puts forward an *official* position on (1) what procedures should be enacted to maximize gender balance, and (2) if and when it’s ‘all right’ to have an all male line-up, I know that I can’t say that I endorse it, and I know that I’m not alone in this opinion.

    Although you may not aim to embarrass anyone or accuse them of sexism, by creating a public list of conferences which don’t fit your standards, while at the same not providing a good description of these standards, I feel like you’re influence is half highlighting a moral injustice and half fear-mongering.

    (Apologies if this seems harsh – I honestly want to get behind the GCC, but I need to know the stance it takes before I do.)

  43. Anon Says:

    39-42: I will take your comments to heart if you use your real names. Else, who knows what to think? Heartfelt anonymous comments are, well, just anonymous.

  44. Modalist Says:

    > vitriolic jabs regarding the Junior Common Room

    My feeling here is that you have perhaps not been exposed to sufficient quantities of actual vitriol in life. But, no matter. Alas, I cannot engage further. I assure you my continued lack of interest in your replies springs more from sorrow than anger. I am disappointed—to the point of tears, perhaps—by the sad breach we now seem to have arrived at. What sort of world do we live in when Anonymous Internet Persons are not granted the deep respect and deference they so clearly deserve? That is not a hostile question, I hasten to add; just an example of the candor so lacking nowadays in Internet discussions. I honestly do want to get behind the demands of every passing Anonymous Internet Person—and God knows the profile and mission of the GCC would benefit enormously from the full and unconditional support of “Anan E. Mus”, “not a troll”, “anon7″ and “Anon”; support that seems ever so close at hand and yet remains at any particular moment withheld until just a few more questions are answered to their satisfaction—but until I can be assured in some official fashion that these demands are in fact designed to be productive of discursive exchange rather than expressions of self-piteous whinging born of an inflated sense of what, exactly, Random Internet Chaps are entitled to, then I am afraid no further progress can be made on this matter. I suggest instead you all launch a campaign of your own, highlighting the intolerable misandry that clearly bedevils whole swathes of philosophy today, and haunts the Junior Common Room like a gangrenous specter. In a dress and comfortable shoes.

  45. Nemo Says:

    @Anan E. Mus,

    I confess to not understanding why it should be incumbent upon the GCC to put forward a position on what procedures should be enacted to maximize gender balance, or delineate exactly when an imbalanced conference is objectionable. To do so might even be a bit hubristic. Does any person, or any group, necessarily have those answers?

    The GCC seems to me to be watching for and chronicling a series of occurrences, any one or more of which may or may not be a sign or instantiation of something, but which taken in the aggregate at least arguably (and strongly, I think) point to the existence of something amiss. To me, this endeavour taken as a whole is almost by definition edifying, but leaves it to conference organizers (and the reader) to reflect on and ultimately reach some conclusion about whether what they ought to do, or ought to have done, something different in the unique circumstances of their respective situations.

    To fault the execution of this campaign in some respect or other is one thing. Yet can reproaching the GCC for not offering (or not purporting to offer) a sure diagnosis and prescription for what might ail the gendered conference possibly be anyone’s genuine basis for withholding support?

    These GCC posts should be viewed as dispatches from the front; it seems unreasonable to require of them a treatise on war.

  46. anon2 Says:

    I don’t want my comment (40) to get enveloped by whatever is going on in 41-45, so let me differentiate it.

    Certain commenters in this thread have suggested that the organizers of the Oxford grad conference should have used a different procedure for inviting speakers. I would like to know what alternative procedures they had in mind. In light of the procedure Jeremy described (which struck me as a not unreasonable one) I can only understand the aforementioned suggestions as claiming that the organizers should have had a policy to invite women speakers until one accepted. I myself do not think that sort of quota is a good idea, but we can have a reasonable debate about it if that is the suggestion. (Jamie’s benevolent despot model would obviously not be appropriate for a conference organized by a committee of graduate students.)

    Please don’t refer me to the FAQ; I’ve already read it. And I know the GCC isn’t monolithic, and I’m not after a manifesto. I’m just asking annejjacobsen, magicalersatz, 25, and 30 what they mean by the following:

    annejjacobsen: “If the Oxford voting system is indeed producing all male panels since 2004, then perhaps people should rethink what they are doing.”

    [incidentally, this misleadingly suggests that the Oxford grad conference is organized in the same way every year. it is in fact organized by a different committee every year, per Jeremy's post.]

    magicalersatz: “it’s perhaps not the best practice to just come up with a list of everyone’s top speaker choices and invite down the list.”

    25: supports a “less democratic – procedure to ensure gender balance”

    [only a quota can "ensure gender balance".]

    30: “It is very common to have some invitations declined, and most conference organizers do their inviting in stages in order to make sure the conference has the right holistic properties.”

    [again, only a quota can "make sure" there are "the right holistic properties" (i.e. gender diversity).]

    PS: One gets the frustrating impression, rightly or wrongly, that the aforementioned commenters favor quotas but don’t want to come out and say it. (By “one” I mean me and a handful of friends of mine who read this blog.) If I’m wrong about this, please correct me and tell me how you think this conference could have been better organized! I would really appreciate constructive suggestions, as I am myself on a committee of graduate students in charge of organizing a lecture series in a predominately male area, and we take gender balance very seriously.

  47. Ross Cameron Says:

    I am not one of the bloggers and have no connection to the GCC other than that I support it, but since people are looking for someone to come out and say it: I favour quotas. I think it would be a good thing if we set a number of slots in conference programs as dedicated to female speakers and did our best to fill them so. Sometimes there will be legitimate reasons why we can’t (I have no interest in trying to come up with necessary and sufficient conditions, so please don’t ask), but I would expect that will be rare.

    I’m less sure about my earlier comment regarding closing comments on these posts. It hadn’t occurred to me that those who face this kind of thing in real life, rather than just from anonymous internet posters, would take comfort from reading the counter-responses. That’s a perspective I hadn’t considered.

    Lastly, the generic ‘graduate students are amongst the most vulnerable people in philosophy’ might be true. Whether graduate students at Oxford are more vulnerable than women in the profession is . . . not obvious.

  48. magicalersatz Says:

    Yep, I agree with Ross Cameron. I don’t like to use the word “quota” because I find it means different things to different people (and it has a lot of odd connotations wrapped up in the American debate over Affirmative Action, at least for us Americans.) But do I think that when organizing a conference you should aim for a certain gender balance and structure your invitations in order to get (roughly) that gender balance? Yes. I have no problem and no qualms whatsoever in admitting that. Nor do I think such a procedure is unfair, undemocratic, or likely to undermine quality. (As for why the GCC doesn’t advise a specific decision procedure – not only are we not monolithic, but there are also obviously many separate decision procedures which could fit this general methodology.)

    It’s harder to get women to accept conference invitations than to get men to accept conference invitations, for all sorts of reasons. Women tend to be more tied up in committee and admin work, are more likely to have an unequal share of childcare and domestic responsibilities, and are perhaps less likely to feel comfortable giving an unpolished “work in progress” paper. And, well, there are simply fewer women than men to go around. We hope – we suspect – that the more philosophy gets to grips with its gender problem, the easier it will be to get women to accept your invitations. But part of philosophy getting to grips with its gender problem is getting women on conference programs. And you won’t be able to do that, in many cases, just be inviting one or two and then saying “well, we tried!”

  49. Heg Says:

    I’m with Ross Cameron and magicalersatz: I favour quotas, especially if the quota is “for goodness’ sake, get at least one woman on the program already”. That would, after all, be enough to make it not-all-male.

  50. Jender Says:

    And now I will demonstrate why it is that the GCC doesn’t have a position on quotas: I remain unconvinced that quotas are the right way to go. (‘Oppose’ is too strong– I’m very unsure what I think). What I am sure of is that there are too many all-male conferences. The GCC is about calling attention to this pattern, and I think that’s the right thing to do. And I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent in taking this position and being uncertain about (or even opposing) quotas.

  51. Monkey Says:

    I’m not convinced by quotas either.

  52. Jamie Says:

    Like magicalersatz I’m not exactly sure what ‘quota’ means in this context. But it seems to me that the point of having a list of theoretical philosophers and a list of practical philosophers was to ensure that the keynote speakers included one of each. Is that a quota? It seems like a reasonable way to address the desire to have at least one practical philosopher and one theoretical philosopher. So, if the Oxford graduate students decided to address gender diversity in the way they addressed topical diversity, I think it would be a bit rough to criticize them for it. (I can’t tell if the anon2 and handful of friends are critical of quotas in general, or just of quotas for women.) (Of quotus, or only of quota. Hm, no, plural: quoti or quotae. Or wait, “critical of”, so quotis or quotis. I think I need help on this one.)

    Still, I’m behind Jender’s idea: the main issue is not any particular process or result, but that *there are so many all-male speaker lists*. No doubt various organizers will come up with their own good ways of addressing the problem.

  53. Modalist Says:

    I think every thread about the GCC should have a quota of at least two Anonymous Commenters Who Would Like Some Questions Answered and whose Support Will Not Be Forthcoming Until Satisfactory Official Responses Have Been Obtained. Perhaps this can also be extended to conferences, so that every speaker would be required to engage for an unspecified period during the Q&A with a guy in a V for Vendetta mask. This scone is delicious, by the way.

  54. Monkey Says:

    Jamie – I don’t think anyone is criticising conference organisers who do operate some sort of gender quota system for their conferences. I certainly wasn’t. I was merely expressing the thought that a quota system might not be the right way to go for every conference, so I – being part of the GCC campaign, albeit not very active – wouldn’t want the campaign to have quotas as its official recommendation.

  55. Jamie Says:

    Monkey,
    Understood. It’s much better to have no official line on methods.

  56. A Says:

    Can I ask how modalist is possibly even vaguely in compliance with your ‘be nice’ policy. Or does that only apply to people who disagree with you?

  57. A Says:

    Also, does ‘concern troll’= someone who disagrees with me but adopts the irritatingly effective dialectical strategy of conceding some of my premises and showing conclusion doesn’t follow from them, or rather to people who even more irritatingly do this when they don’t exactly disagree with my premises but aren’t quite as sure of them as I am and/or are less emotionally committed to them, and also argue in said way?

  58. Monkey Says:

    A – not all of the bloggers here at FP agree with labelling someone ‘a concern troll’. Some of us find it annoying that the term is bandied around in discussion.

    For your information, no we don’t only moderate those who oppose us. We have often deleted supportive comments that don’t adhere to the ‘Be Nice’ rule.

  59. anon not-7 Says:

    Modalist wasn’t bland and “nice,” but she sure was funny. And she wasn’t fooled. I prefer that sort of commentary, frankly.

  60. magicalersatz Says:

    Our “Be Nice” rule is vague enough that I often find it difficult to use as a moderating tool. But Modalist hasn’t been aggressive or personally insulting to anyone on this thread. Modalist has also been *hilarious*. I give more latitude to comments that make me laugh my ass off. I’m just an unfair despot like that.

  61. anon2 Says:

    Thanks Ross, ME, Jender, Monkey, Jamie. I think Jamie’s analogy between topical and gender diversity is a good one. And I agree with ME about the unfortunate Affermative Action connotations of “quota”. There is certainly nothing unfair or undemocratic about ensuring that conference lineups have at least one woman (although “at least” is a bit misleading in the case of this conference, as the intended n = 2). I also agree that in this case, where there weren’t any topical or geographical constraints, the organizers would obviously not have had to compromise quality to ensure that they had a woman on the program. So I agree that in this case a quota policy would have been fine, and arguably preferable.

    However, I do not believe that this is always that case: I think that when organizing small conferences with geographical constraints in male-dominated topics, there will be a non-negligible number of times where no women doing good work on the topic will be able to come. Maybe around a sixth of such cases, to throw out a number. In such cases, I think the right thing to do is to have an all male lineup. While I agree that conferences with all male lineups are bad, I think conferences with lineups whose only women do subpar work in the advertised topic or do work conspicuously unrelated to the advertised topic are worse (in terms of stereotype threat, etc). (You can call me a “concern troll” if you want, although I find such labeling disrespectful and unproductive.)

    So that’s why I don’t favor quotas in general. And while I agree with Ross that we shouldn’t be in the business of setting out necessary and sufficient conditions for ok-ness of all male lineups, I disagree with the view of many on this blog that these conditions are met so rarely as to be reasonably discounted. This point is amplified by the important issue of base rates raised by 24. I know the GCC doesn’t condemn the practices of any particular conference organizers. But there is a common implication that “Well, for all we know in any particular case there might have been extenuating circumstances, but surely almost all of the conferences mentioned here should have had at least one woman on the program!” When restricting our attention to smaller and more local conferences mentioned on this blog on male-heavy topics, I don’t think that’s true.

  62. Anan E. Mus Says:

    Thanks everyone – responses are highly appreciated.

    Although I was perhaps too quick to request official positions from the GCC, I maintain that it’s important to put the beliefs of those organizing it on the table (as some of you have done).

    On a separate note though, I’m not sure how this isn’t personally insulting and sexist:

    “I honestly do want to get behind the demands of every passing Anonymous Internet Person—and God knows the profile and mission of the GCC would benefit enormously from the full and unconditional support of “Anan E. Mus”, “not a troll”, “anon7″ and “Anon”; support that seems ever so close at hand and yet remains at any particular moment withheld until just a few more questions are answered to their satisfaction…. I suggest instead you all launch a campaign of your own, highlighting the intolerable misandry that clearly bedevils whole swathes of philosophy today, and haunts the Junior Common Room like a gangrenous specter. In a dress and comfortable shoes.” (post 44)

  63. anon not-7 Says:

    Nope: not sexist. Just funny. Very, very funny.

  64. annejjacobson Says:

    “Quota” and “quotas” are often used to imply that merit is being replaced by some diversity requirement. I’d be surprised if anyone writing for this blog thought that we’d recommend that, though perhaps some would.

    What we have been very much more concerned with is the idea that we philosophers can count on being able to deliver accurate assessments of merit, ones unsullied by various kinds of biases. There is no evidence that philosophers are so gifted. Indeed, we could take the statistics about philosophy to indicate philosophy leaves us with such an illusion of self-insight that we are particularly blind to our biases.

    It is much more constructive, I think, to think about what needs to be done to avoid years of male only conferences. The reason for doing that. for many of us, is the fact that these male only conferences can have quite negative effects.

    I think Jender has a post on how to include women, and perhaps she or someone else can mention it. God forbid it has disappeared into a FAQ. I think one thing she notes is that many of us, for quite long periods, are less available than many men are. We may also be at less well endowed colleges (a statistic confirmed fairly recently for women in science) and so less able to contribute to the trip’s expense from university funds. And so on.

  65. E Knox Says:

    Um, haven’t read everything, but where on Earth did the `no females since 2004′ stat come from. I organized this conference in 2006, and Delia Graff Fara was one of the two keynotes (along with Hartry Field). I can’t remember if there are other exceptions, but one of the most worrying `facts’ in this discussion does seem to be false!

  66. magicalersatz Says:

    E Knox: That’s good to know – thanks! When the comment you refer to above was posted I had a look at the pages of previous Oxford Grad Conference websites to see whether it checked out. The 2005,2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010 conference pages only list male keynotes. But the 2007 conference page didn’t say who the keynotes were. Very helpful to know that Delia Graff Fara was one of them! (Though it’s still not a glowing conference history, gender-wise.)

    (By the way, I’m assuming you organized the 2007 conference and not the 2006 conference. The website for the 2006 conference lists Kit Fine and “Professor Jonathan” as keynotes.)

  67. anon2 Says:

    @annejjacobson

    I think I’m a decent judge of philosophical merit. And I think judgments of philosophical merit are reasonably convergent: Audience pro/con judgments after talks tend to be reasonably uniform in my experience, for example. Why the skepticism?

    Anyway, are you suggesting we not use meritocratic judgments to decide who to invite to conference? That strikes me as bizarre! What’s the alternative? Anyway, it’s just a fact that meritocratic judgments will not infrequently be in conflict with desired gender ratios. There’s no beating around that bush.

  68. anon2 Says:

    ok, i should have qualified that–better: I should have scrapped that first paragraph. there are all sorts of biases that cloud people’s judgments of philosophical quality. gender bias is one among many. we are biased against people on the basis of all sorts of superficial characteristic. no less strongly, we are subject to philosophical biases; for example, to discount the work of people working in research programs we thing negatively of. and while we may often be blind to our biases, anyone who is intellectually responsible knows that this is all a huge problem. i certainly didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.

    i stand by the second paragraph.

  69. Jender Says:

    Here’s How to Avoid A Gendered Conference, mentioned by Anne: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/how-to-avoid-a-gendered-conference/

  70. Euthyphronics Says:

    anon2, I’m really not grokking where you’re coming from in that second paragraph you’re standing by. If judgments of merit frequently select all-male lineups, then if all-make lineups are a bad thing, we ought not rely on judgments of merit alone. You explicitly endorse the first antecedent. I take it (since in earlier posts you claim to be in at least some sympathy with the GCC) you endorse the second antecedent. I can’t see how you could deny the conditional. So I take it that you agree: we should not rely on judgments of merit alone in selecting conference lineups.

    So what you find “bizzare” must be not the claim that we shouldn’t rely on these judgments alone, but that we shouldn’t use them *at all*. I agree: that’s bizzare. But I can’t see anything anyone has said that can be interpreted even remotely charitably as endorsing this “bizzare” claim.

    Relatedly, with all the hubabaloo over “what the GCC recommends” above: Given that we know judgments of merit are systematically skewed to favor men, why not take merit rankings, and then use a systematic multiplier to help cancel out that noise? It’s nowhere near perfect (something else is needed to keep women from being overlooked entirely, for instance); but it’s just one illustration of why the “merit judgments vs gender equality” is simply a false one.

  71. Ross Cameron Says:

    Euthyphronics: very well said!

  72. frances Says:

    @Modalist

    ” … Male Pattern Allness …”

    I stopped reading the comments after that (screen is lucky for absence of wine). Best neologism of 2011.


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