Feminist Philosophers

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Who’s fed up? Part II June 25, 2014

Below you’ll find Part II of a letter FP was invited to post. There are several elements in this post that are worth explicitly distinguishing:
(1) Sexual harassment, which we can understand to include drawing particularly attention to a women’s gender.
(2) Demeaning one or more female colleagues and creating a hostile environment for her/them.
(3) The author’s tendency to link (1) and (2) to things like bruised masculinity and “personal or professional frustrations.”

I think that (2) and its link to (1) and (3) form a very important topic. As one Affirmative Action officer put it to me, “there’s no law against being a jerk.” That can make it seem as though women, despite their being a protected class, have no legal recourse when they are demeaned and their reputations are assaulted. However, I’ve argued in much earlier posts that we can discern elements of the demeaning which are gendered. I’ll shortly repeat some of those points and open the discussion to our readers. The current post, however, is closed to comments.

I’m repeating the last para of the previous post, since it provides a context for what follows it.
_____________________

Complaints of harassment are complaints of lack of professionalism in ways that hinder women’s professional advancement in philosophy. They include complaints that men are sexually predatory, aggressive, hostile, that they abuse their position, that they alternately prey on women sexually or spurn them for perceived rejection, that they systematically exclude women from philosophical conversations, downgrade their contributions, ignore them or respond to them with overly hostile reactions. Men in the field often take out their personal and professional frustrations on their female colleagues with sexual aggression. They do so overtly, by making overt sexual advances towards women that bear no relation to meaningful attempts to enter into a mutually respectful and caring relationship, and have everything to do with reasserting their feelings of power and control in personal and professional contexts. Or they might do so less overtly, with ad hominemm attacks on women’s femininity or sexuality and attractiveness, or their quality as a philosopher, made either directly or behind women’s backs to other members of the profession. These are also ways of reasserting their power and bruised masculinity and enlisting other members of the profession in their diminishment of their female colleagues.

Junior and senior philosophers alike are guilty of these behaviors. Offenders are your friends, colleagues, co-authors, co-organizers, esteemed rivals, and mentors. They are also husbands, fathers, and boyfriends. You might even have unwittingly crossed the line on occasion as well.

An exalted atmosphere of collegiality and sociability exacerbates these problems, and provides cover for these attacks on women. The informality and sexual permissiveness that pervades many professional philosophical environments (conferences, graduate departments, and so on) masks aggression and abuse, making them seem like gossip or harmless flirtation. Well-intentioned colleagues can unknowingly contribute to a climate of abuse by participating in and encouraging this fraternal banter, out of a misguided sense of friendship, loyalty in rebuilding bruised egos, or simply attempts to curry favor, gain inclusion, or seek professional advancement by more powerful members of the profession.

Make no mistake about the seriousness of the abuse and the depth of the damage that this kind of behavior wreaks, however. Bias thrives in unstructured environments, where objective excuses for hostility are available, and where stakes tend towards doling out in-group rewards rather than punishing out-group exclusion. When professional rewards are discretionary, distinction between in- and out-group membership is heightened, the perceived flaws or weaknesses of out-group members are exaggerated, members are blamed more harshly, weaknesses are attributed to the person (“she’s not very smart,” “she’s crazy,”…) not the circumstances, excuses are less available, and punishment is swifter and more severe. Withholding professional respect, excluding women from philosophical conversations, refusal to acknowledge their contributions or minimizing their significance in favor of those of male colleagues, are all examples of discretionary rewards that even the best-intentioned philosophers are prone to deny women in informal settings. The presence of a male philosopher displaying overt hostility or aggression towards a female philosopher licenses further in-group hostility towards her, and where an objective rationalization is available for explaining this behavior (he has an objection to her argument, say, or she behaved somewhat inappropriately, etc.), it is often taken to justify this response. Women philosophers thus also suffer judgments that are harsher than their male colleagues’, more hostile, quicker and crueler dismissals of their views, and these judgments are multiply-reinforced by even their well-intentioned peers.

Countering complaints about sexual harassment by pointing to the hazards of dating life and noting women’s consent to affairs ignores the nature of the wrong being committed and diminishes the seriousness of the complaint. Sexual harassment isn’t sexual assault. Consent is irrelevant. The concern lies with a vitriolic professional atmosphere which allows virtually untrammeled sexual access to women, including the diminishment of their professional status, under the guise of “dating,” and in which women bear virtually 100% of the professional costs of relationships gone wrong. Pointing out the adulthood of the complainants and alluding to the fact that some relationships succeed is belittling, beside the point, and, frankly, a bullying tactic aimed at embarrassing women complaining of the over-sexualization of the profession into silence. It is no part of a meaningful conversation about the climate in philosophy.

What’s a well-intentioned single guy to do when he meets a likeminded female philosopher with similar interests and with whom he makes a “connection?” Hold back. This isn’t OKCupid. A thoughtful philosophical conversation is not flirtation, however titillating it might be, and following it up at the bar or wherever the rest of the professionals go after the formal encounter has ended is not an invitation for sex. Imagine this woman was your advisor/letter writer/dean, and then ask whether your interest is strong enough to risk the professional relationship.

I don’t know how to rid philosophy of sexual harassment or what an ideal outcome would look like, but I am certain that no progress can be made without genuine and sincere attempt to come to terms with the full breadth of the problem, and a meaningful way of holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions. Women are failing by virtually every measure of success in philosophy. Responses like those listed are defensive and deflecting, and serve more to silence conversation and stifle understanding, than they are attempts to make meaningful progress on an important and pressing issue.

I am writing anonymously because of the overwhelming risk of professional retaliation. I hate doing this. The indignity of not being able to defend myself in my own name is outweighed only by my frustration with these “conversations” that I have to keep having.

Fed Up

 

Who is fed up? Part I June 24, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias,bullying,discrimination,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 7:44 pm

Plenty of people are fed up with the current treatment too many women receive in the philosophical community. This blog was offered the opportunity to post an open letter to the profession on this topic. We reacted enthusiastically. The letter is long, but contains many valuable observations. Rather than edit it, I’m putting it up in two parts.

———

An Open Letter to My Colleagues in Philosophy:

The most recent bout of sexual harassment scandals has brought on yet another round of tortured conversations about women in philosophy and what we can do about the problem of sexual harassment in the field. It is a good thing that and that these problems are coming to light and that people are finally taking note of widespread misbehavior and abuse that occurs across the profession, and I believe that there are genuinely well-intentioned male (and female) philosophers who are sincere in their desire to learn more about what they can do to improve the situation. But I continually encounter responses to these complaints in casual conversations that frustrate me almost to the point of tears, and if I have to summon the energy to adopt the cool, measured tone I must assume in order to maintain my place as a Reasonable Woman in this “conversation” one more time, I fear I will rip my tongue out of my throat. So in the hopes of moving this conversation along, I’ve compiled of list of things not to say when women complain of sexual harassment in philosophy, and a brief explanation of what is wrong with them. This list is just a compilation of bits of conversations I’ve had recently that rankle me the most. Please feel free to edit them, and add your own.

34 things NOT to say in response to complaints about sexual harassment in philosophy:

(Note: ALL of these have been said to me, at some time or another, in conversations about accusations of wrongdoing by fellow philosophers. I’m sure other women have others.)

1. But here is some other couple (both members in the profession, who got together when one was a faculty member/held a more senior position to the other) who are happily married.
2. But he’s fun/just having fun.
3. But he’s cool.
4. But he’s married/has a girlfriend.
5. He’s harmless.
6. He never does that to me.
7. He’s really nice to me.
8. I was hit on/propositioned once at a conference/ talk.
9. I was hit on/propositioned once at a conference/ talk, and it wasn’t so bad/I enjoyed it.
10. But what’s wrong with meeting someone at a conference whom you find attractive and with whom you have similar interests?
11. What’s wrong with asking someone out/two members of a profession having a relationship with each other?
12. But how is a guy supposed to get a date?
13. I’ve never seen him do that.
14. But he’s a good philosopher.
15. But he’s a good force in the department/field.
16. But she’s not a very good philosopher.
17. She’s crazy.
18. The other women who’ve complained about him are crazy.
19. All the women who’ve complained about him are crazy.
20. Pursuing this complaint would ruin his career.
21. But think of all the good he does.
22. What did she expect would happen?
23. But he had a reputation for this kind of thing/everyone knows he’s a sleaze. (!!!)
24. She was asking for it.
25. She’s had other affairs with members of the profession.
26. She’s slept with everyone in the profession.
27. She consented.
28. She’s an adult.
29. It was an adult consensual relationship.
30. Yes I agree he’s a problem but what am I (we) supposed to do about it?
31. But then you owe me a solution to the problem/an answer to the question of what we should do about this.
32. What do you want them (us) to do, fire him?
33. Just ignore it.
34. Just ignore it and focus on your work.

Why are these wrong?

Complaints of harassment are complaints of lack of professionalism in ways that hinder women’s professional advancement in philosophy. They include complaints that men are sexually predatory, aggressive, hostile, that they abuse their position, that they alternately prey on women sexually or spurn them for perceived rejection, that they systematically exclude women from philosophical conversations, downgrade their contributions, ignore them or respond to them with overly hostile reactions. Men in the field often take out their personal and professional frustrations on their female colleagues with sexual aggression. They do so overtly, by making overt sexual advances towards women that bear no relation to meaningful attempts to enter into a mutually respectful and caring relationship, and have everything to do with reasserting their feelings of power and control in personal and professional contexts. Or they might do so less overtly, with ad hominem attacks on women’s femininity or sexuality and attractiveness, or their quality as a philosopher, made either directly or behind women’s backs to other members of the profession. These are also ways of reasserting their power and bruised masculinity and enlisting other members of the profession in their diminishment of their female colleagues

 

NIH Peer Review Challenge June 12, 2014

Filed under: bias — Jender @ 5:19 am

The NIH Peer Review Challenge

The National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review (CSR) is issuing two Challenges for ideas to detect potential bias in peer review and ideas to strengthen reviewer training to enhance impartiality and fairness in the review of grant applications. A First Prize in the amount of $10,000 and a Second Prize in the amount of $5,000 is offered in each category below.

Challenge #1 New Methods to Detect Bias in Peer Review

Submit your idea on how to detect bias among reviewers due to gender, race/ethnicity, institutional affiliation, area of science, and/or amount of research experience of applicants. First and Second prizes will be offered in two categories, best empirically based idea and most creative idea.

Challenge #2 Strategies to Strengthen Fairness and Impartiality in Peer Review

Submit your idea on how to strengthen reviewer training methods to enhance fairness and impartiality in peer review. First and Second prizes will be offered for the best overall ideas.

Submissions: Must be received by 11:59 PM (EST) on June 30, 2014. Late submissions will not be considered. Winners will be announced September 2, 2014.

More information at http://public.csr.nih.gov/Pages/Challenge.aspx

 

Why are there so few women in philosophy? May 22, 2014

    The data on doctorates is telling. According to recent research the number of women receiving doctorates in philosophy is very near the bottom of the academic barrel.

    This blog has been looking at many facets of this problem. See our discussions of research here and here, for example. Or search our site for posts on implicit bias and stereotype threat.

    New research is opening up our understanding of another factor, which resides in the beliefs about one’s ability to succeed in a career:

    The decision to pursue a career rests in part on how we judge the following inequality:

    image

     

    If we believe this inequality to be true, we might proceed; if we decide it’s false, we might look elsewhere. Importantly, however, neither side of this inequality is easy to evaluate. Abilities are nebulous, context-sensitive things that are notoriously problematic to pin down. As a result, we often look to others for clues, leaving the door open for substantial social and cultural influences on career choices. A symposium at the 2014 SPSP conference in Austin highlighted a number of recent findings that link sociocultural influences on people’s assessment of the inequality above to the presence of gender gaps.

    How do we get from sociocultural influences on this formula all the way to gender gaps? First, and most obviously, contemporary culture is rife with stereotypes about differences in men’s and women’s cognitive profiles; these stereotypes shape people’s beliefs about the quantity on the left-hand side (that is, the abilities they are likely to possess). Second, and less often discussed, practitioners of different careers may send different messages about the abilities that are required to reach the highest levels of achievement in their particular field; these messages shape people’s beliefs about the quantity on the right-hand side (that is, the abilities required for success). Putting these two elements together, we might make the following claim: One circumstance that gives rise to a gender gap in a career or discipline is when a gender group is stereotyped to lack an ability that the people in that discipline believe is essential for success.

    The post from which the quote above comes comes is full of interesting ideas and results. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the questions concerning access and opportunity.

    Here are some snippets:

    In some disciplines success may be seen as depending on sustained effort and dedication, whereas in others it may be seen as requiring a “gift” or brilliance that cannot be taught. Because women are stereotyped as being less likely than men to possess innate intellectual talent, they may find the academic fields that emphasize brilliance as the key to success to be unwelcoming. [note that the claim here is that the fields themselves may seem less welcoming. This seems different from the conclusions of Carol Dweck that we discuss in our Psychology of Philosophy section.]

    – Regardless of the purported cognitive differences men and women, or of the abilities purportedly required to become a physicist vs. a psychologist vs. an anthropologist, the mere presence of (1) different societal beliefs about the intellectual abilities of men and women, and (2) different societal beliefs about the intellectual abilities required for success in different fields will be sufficient to give rise to (or at least exacerbate) gender gaps.

    Stereotypes may have many different sources. To the extent that they contain messages about ability, this research says they may quite significantly affect career choices. Though the research is specifically about gender, we should keep it in mind as we think about issues such as the incredibly low representation of blacks in higher education in The Uk. Or the abled body whiteness of US philosophy.

    (Thanks to BL.)

 

New study further confirms implicit bias towards non-native speakers of English at work May 7, 2014

Filed under: bias,language — axiothea @ 12:46 pm

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, here.

 

We propose and test a new theory explaining glass-ceiling bias against nonnative speakers as driven by perceptions that nonnative speakers have weak political skill. Although nonnative accent is a complex signal, its effects on assessments of the speakers’ political skill are something that speakers can actively mitigate; this makes it an important bias to understand.

 

There are interesting tie-ins with an earlier post in this blog on bias and foreign languages.

Thanks F!

 

Great Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy May 5, 2014

Filed under: bias,jobs — Jender @ 7:21 pm

There’s a wonderful new APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy. I have almost no time for anything right now because of two ongoing job searches in my department, but I’m making time to read (the highly-relevant) “Best Practices for Fostering Diversity in Tenure-Track Searches”. And it’s really rewarding me for the effort! Can’t wait till, many months from now, I can read something else.

 

Bias at early stage April 23, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias,science — Jender @ 12:25 pm

A fascinating new study examined rates of response to emailed requests for a meeting by prospective PhD students. Here’s what they found:

[T]he researchers found that there was virtually no difference in the rate of response when prospective students asked for an immediate meeting. But when they tried to schedule one in a week, white males were 26% more likely to successfully schedule a meeting and 16% more likely to receive a response. While white males were more likely to get a response if they asked to meet in a week rather than the same day, female and minority students had a better response rate when they asked to meet immediately. The response rate for women and minorities was 14 percentage points higher at public institutions than at private schools. Further, a $13,000 increase in a faculty member’s salary was associated with a four percentage point drop in the email response rate to women and minorities, but faculty salary had no such effect on white males.

Really fascinating, and important for philosophers to bear in mind as we try to make our field less white and male. (Thanks, S!)

 

Daily Mail Really Unable to Cope April 5, 2014

Filed under: bias,race,science — Jender @ 5:25 am

with scientists who are women of colour. (I know: you’re shocked.)

UPDATE: There’s now a petition, created by the UCL branch of the UCU.

A piece in the Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column on Wednesday used their appearance on BBC’s Newsnight on Monday to comment on the possibility of a new era in understanding the origins of the universe to have a dig at the programme’s “Guardian-trained editor, Ian Katz”, who, it said, “is keen on diversity”.

The item added: “So, two women were invited to comment on the report about (white, male) American scientists who’ve detected the origins of the universe – giggling Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Sri Lanka-born astronomer Hiranya Peiris.”

For more, go here.

 

Reader query: how to help? April 2, 2014

Filed under: bias,women in philosophy — Jender @ 7:29 pm

A reader writes:

So, I/the rest of my cohort are facing a difficult issue: a male faculty member has two advisees in my cohort, a man and a woman. It is obvious to the rest of us who are not his advisees that he treats the male student *much* better than the female student. Yesterday we all did presentations of our research for this faculty member (as part of a dissertation seminar). Her presentation was very good, just way too long and thorough. After she finished, the faculty member proceeded to go off on her for a good fifteen minutes, in front of the rest of us (her peers). Stuff like “this isn’t philosophy” and “this all has to be gotten rid of,” the latter of which he sort of changed his tune about over the course of his rant. It was intense. Had I been the student on the receiving end, I would have cried. I’m amazed that she didn’t.

My question is: this is plainly inappropriate behavior, but what can we (as her fellow grad students) do about it? I mean, content of the presentation aside, what seems inappropriate was to dress a student down in front of her peers and to do it in such a harsh manner. I’m just worried that, because this faculty member is well-regarded in the department, that if a few of us were to tell someone about this that we at worst would not be believed and at best there would be nothing that anyone else could do.

So, for readers: what can fellow grad students do to support a grad student in an abusive advisor relationship?

 

This is the US criminal justice system

Filed under: bias,race,rape — Jender @ 5:19 am

Rich white man gets no jail time for raping three year old. Meanwhile, they’re now seeking 60 years for Marissa Anderson’s warning shot in self-defence. Presumably I don’t need to remind you of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

[Of course, it isn't just the *US* criminal justice system that behaves like this. But that's where these particular recent examples are.]

 

 
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