Academia and credibility

Jender’s discussion of Rachel McKinney’s wonderful post on “grey rape” led me to McKinney’s site and a great discussion, with informative links, about underrepresentation in philosophy and engineering. And through those links to important information about women’s publishing in ‘top’ philosophy journals. And then back to Jender.

There’s a surely related phenomenon, and it’s mentioned interestingly enough in Female Science Professor’s Friday post, Training Wheels and Oracles.

One of my more oppressed female colleagues … had some new ideas for the course, but all of her ideas were ignored or dismissed except when one senior [male] faculty member stepped in to support her. Then her ideas were taken more seriously.

I have a young friend who has had a similar experience, except no one has stepped in to support her and, since she’s complained to one of the senior men, she now has a blot on her record which appeared in a report about her. She had not been asked for her side of the situation.

And it continues. I recounted a similar experience in a comment here.

I have often wondered why no one notices that the women are missing, as I did recently when one of my closest colleagues told me about a center director’s meeting. I should have been asked to the meeting, wasn’t, and apparently even a close male friend didn’t notice. Why is no one asking, Where are the women?

Let me invite hypotheses.  They should also account for the following sort of exchange I had many times when discussing hiring minorities:   August Male Academic Person:  We’d hire more minorities but the good ones all get much better offers from top universities.  JJ:  Actually, that is not really true.  Of all the African American PhD chemists graduated over X years from the top fifty departments, only 1 was hired by a top fifty department. (See here for the research on diversity and much more precise statistics.)  August Person:  O, so there aren’t any good ones.

Obviously, the August Person was not himself thoroughly involved in discriminatory practices.

Women have talked about the rampant discrimination for decades.  Why has it been ignored?

Female Science Professor again:

In fact, I do ‘see’ sexism quite frequently; that is true. When you have been told directly and/or indirectly nearly every day for more than 20 years of a career as a female science professor that you are not as serious, intelligent, mature, interesting, technically skilled, quantitative, creative, or professional as men with equal or lesser talents, you do start to get the impression that sexism is pervasive.

6 thoughts on “Academia and credibility

  1. I agree, it is often amazing to me that men just don’t seem to notice that women are missing. Like when we do graduate admissions and make rankings of TA candidates (new grad students who will get funding), and the list gradually assembles itself on the blackboard based on people’s votes and I realize once again there are no women, and then I sit there wondering how much longer should I wait before pointing this out? Will anyone else even notice? So far they never have, and then I get the negative energy projected back against me when once again I assume the feminist burden and point out what should be glaringly obvious. (And I won’t even go into the ‘shifting standards’ approach, according to which a TA candidate who already has a Ph.D. and teaching experience from another field, and who happens to be female, is marked off the list because that other field will somehow “interfere” with her teaching of philosophy.)

  2. There are two different phenomena: it not being noticed that women who should be at a meeting aren’t and it not being noticed (e.g.) that there’re no women on a shortlist. I don’t see why they should have the same explanation. Here’s a hypothesis that would explain the former but not the latter situation.

    Often when we go into a meeting we’ll be going in with an agenda: a result that we want secured and that we know not everyone will want secured. Because of that, it’ll be imporant to us that we have allies at that meeting: people who we think we can rely on to help try and secure the result we want secured. It’d be natural, then, that the people whose attendance (or lack of) we notice are our allies and our opponents. But because women are, as a matter of fact (whether or not we contribute to this) disenfranchised, they won’t be allies or opponents. They might agree with your position, they might disagree – but it doesn’t matter, because they don’t have the power to influence the decision (as witnessed in the story from Female Science Prof), and hence their presence or absence isn’t as salient: whether they’re there or not just doesn’t make as much of a difference.

    So we should work on empowering women at these sorts of meetings. When their attendance makes a difference, people will notice a lack of it.

  3. This is also something that Virginia Valian describes, and explains in terms of schemas for ‘woman’ and ‘philosopher’. She gives anecdotes of exactly these sorts. So, also, does Miranda Fricker in her _Epistemic Injustice_.

  4. Ross– i just found your comment, which had for some reason been marked as spam. If this happens to you again– or to anyone else!– just drop me an email via the ‘contact’ link. Sorry!

  5. Ross, I probably didn’t adequately emphasize the distinguishing feature of the situation: it was a meeting of center directors, which at my university is a leadership position. So my concern really was: why doesn’t anyone notice the women are missing from leadership positions, even when they in fact hold one.

    I think there is a pretty direct connection between not seeing women as leaders, even when they are, and not hiring women.

    Further, putting aside my own effectiveness at meetings (please!), I would maintain that when women do get into leadership positions at universities, they tend to be reasonably articulate and effective. After all, look at what they’ve overcome.

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