Advice is being solicited here. Do consider offering ideas.
On staff-student relationships July 7, 2014
Some things in academia never change. Even in an age when the feminists apparently control everything, it seems that the practice of older (usually male) scholars sleeping with much younger (usually female) graduate students is alive and … well, I wouldn’t say “well.” With two such relationships making recent news in the discipline of philosophy alone, for some of the older generation of male professors (again, mostly male), the grad students are still a dating pool—and vice versa. This is not just icky—it is highly damaging to the profession.
Philosophical Profiles July 1, 2014
This will hopefully help raise the profile of women philosophers:
A new series of interviews with distinguished and influential philosophers working on a range of issues of interdisciplinary interest, from Political Philosophy, the rights and status of children, Bioethics, Sex and Gender, the nature of free will, personhood, right through to the physical structure of the universe. Each philosopher discusses his or her particular area of focus and how he or she became interested in that area in a way that should be accessible to a general audience. The production of Philosophical Profiles is under the aegis of the Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics<http://www.cognethic.org/jcn.html>.
For additional information, please contact Simon Cushing by emailing
A lack of respect for women June 27, 2014
I think the letter gives us some indications about one factor that holds the behavior in place, and indeed may even in effect spread it. A foundational problem, one can see from the letter, is a pervasive lack of respect for women.
This lack of respect shows up in the 34 responses the writer gets when attempting to talk about the problem. No where do we see “O my god, that’s awful. What can we do about it?”
I think the lack of respect can show up even more chillingly in the treatment that women as outsiders can receive. And here I certainly do not mean to suggest that only men can do this. Women can also inflict the damage described in this passage:
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 (my stress).
One particularly awful fact is that once one is positioned as an offending outsider, the complete lack of respect may be communicated to younger scholars. “O, she is just awful,” even if, for example, she has been chosen by peers for leadership positions, is generally described as at or near the top of the profession, and so on. The lesson here is: No matter what sort of reputation she manages to get, she does not deserve the sort of respect we give our male colleagues because she is a feminist, or she behaved in appropriately, etc. Junior scholars may not need to learn this behavior by example; they may be instructed in it. And so it goes on and on.
One problem for women who get this sort of treatment is that Equal Opportunity people may not see that it is gendered and so an offense against Titles VII or IX. “The department has a lot of jerks, but being a jerk is not illegal,” they may say. However, being a sexist jerk who is creating a hostile environment for a woman is. So it is well to go to any meeting to complain with a list of the kind of gendered cliches that show up in denegrations of women. Here’s the start of one and a few references.
So, supposing I’m right about the problem, what do we do? Suggestions, biblios, etc., are very welcome.
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.
Mansplaining? inclusiveness in philosophy June 23, 2014
One problem a woman can have when men explain things to her is that the subject matter can change in puzzling and even bizarre ways. And at least some of us can be flummoxed since we feel obliged to absorb the ideas of an earnest interlocutor in our debate. Such a situation may arise with today’s The Stone.
The author maintains that when we trace back the history of various ideas of contemporary interest, we may find our discussions draw on ideas originally formulated in distant times by people radically different from today’s academic philosophers.
The author concludes that unless we make an effort to include all the diverse origins of contemporary ideas, our efforts at contemporary inclusiveness will be paltry.
The idea seems to suggest this: Human beings have for millenia had ideas about, for example, how bodies get connected to thinkers; unless we includes such conjectures in our philosophy of mind courses, insisting on giving a place to voices of different sorts alive today is really a sham.
The adequate account of any conceptual innovation or discovery in philosophy would be the one that also gives an account of its place in the broader context of human culture and history, and that would reveal its inextricable connection to cultural practices and human concerns that at first glance appear rather far removed from the concerns of the philosopher. This is an impossible goal, of course, but we can at least tend toward it, as toward the limit of an infinite series, if we wish. If we do not learn to see this effort as intrinsic to the study of philosophy, the recent calls for greater inclusiveness of other standpoints within philosophy will remain mere half-measures.
We might take the article to pose this question: are there good reasons for wanting to open philosophy to contemporary women that do not commit us to wanting to open philosophy to the hunters’ and gatherers’ thought of past millennia? The idea that inclusiveness must embrace our very distant past seems to employ conceptions of doing philosophy and of inclusiveness that change the topic.
What do you think?
NOTE: I will not be able to moderate any more comments to day, so I am closing comments. It’s 4:33 pm, cdt.
How to mentor, review, etc: something to think about June 16, 2014
Have you ever felt flattened by a negative review? Been the target of comments that left you feeling you were in the wrong? Here’s a thought about how you might avoid leaving someone else in the same state:
I’m not in a position to validate the research, but I think there are some ideas well worth discussing
Third Biennial Mentoring Project for Pre-Tenure Women June 14, 2014
The 3rd Biennial Workshop of Mentoring Project for Pre-tenure Women Faculty in Philosophy, co-directed by Louise Antony and Ann Cudd, will begin accepting applications this fall, and take place June 2015.
Mentees will be assigned a networking group consisting of a mentor and four fellow mentees working in similar fields. Each mentor will be responsible for providing written feedback on the workshop papers of each of her mentees, and for participating in discussion at the workshop. Mentees will take responsibility for providing written feedback on the papers of their group members, and will serve as discussion leader and first reader for one paper and second reader for another. In the long term, group members will actively monitor the progress of each others’ careers, offering philosophical feedback and, in the case of the mentors, advice about professional development along the way.
Visit the site, here, for more information.
The post “Why are there so few women in philosophy?”referred to research that described several ways in which beliefs about abilities affect women’s career choices. One important factor was whether people in the field saw the foundation of ability as something like inborn genius. Since women are seen as being less likely to possess innate brilliance, and they know this, the ‘genius fields’ may well seem less attractive to women.
I think there are a number of comparisons it would be interesting to make. How do exceptionally gifted children fare if they grow up to go to philosophy grad school? Another is asked by Josh Knobe below.
What do you think?
From Josh Knobe:
In my (very limited) experience, it seems like things have actually gotten a little bit better in this regard. I am really curious to hear whether people have the same impression.
Back when I was a grad student, there was a prevailing sense that the ticket to getting a job was not making concrete contributions to philosophy but rather cultivating an aura of genius. Some of my fellow students ended up writing and publishing papers while they were in school, but this effort was seen almost as ‘tarnishing’ or ‘sullying’ the purity of their philosophical work. Of course, this is exactly the sort of atmosphere that Leslie et al. show leads to underrepresentation of women, and all of the women in my year ended up leaving the field.
In the time since then, my sense is that things have actually improved a bit. More and more, I see an emphasis not on innate genius but on actual concrete contribution. But this sense I have is based entirely on anecdote and personal experience, not on any serious empirical research. So I am curious, do other folks see things in the same way?
Let me close by mentioning one thing that worries me. There are a lot of researchers these days investigating creativity. Creativity may be teachable to some extent, but not, as far as I can tell, by hard work. I don’t know what that means for originality in philosophy, nor do I have much idea of how much creativity and originality a field needs. Here again, what do you think?