Eureka! Why women are excluded from philosophy!

(Preliminary note:  when I was involved in faculty governance, I used to joke that women thought that if someone didn’t have relevant personal experience of a problem, they didn’t think he/she was competent to make judgments about it, while men, on the other hand, think that if you have personal experience of a problem, then your judgment is invalid. 

I deeply do believe that if particularly we older women cannot appeal to our experience of issues, we impoverish the discourse.  That said, I do realize that for some people that could invalidate  a discussion.  So please notice that what follows isn’t really an argument from a single case:  it uses a single case to raise a question about a possibility that highlights, among other things, how we  need to work on networking for women.)

Let me be more modest than the  title suggests.  I’ll move beyond the sense of discovery and ask more modestly:  is this sort of gatekeeping (see below) one reason why women are not faring well in philosophy?  And  could it connect with the fact that women tend to be small minorities  at conferences, or absent entirely? 

Unfortunately, the source of insight came at  my own expense.  I submitted a paper to a society and it was rejected.  The referee’s comments really blew the  paper off.  Well, no surprise there, but there’s more  to the story.  And I hope no one thinks they have to assume the paper was really good.  The ideas about exclusion should be independent of the quality of one paper, but obviously I wouldn’t have even started to look for the explanation I found unless I had had it accepted somewhere very good. 

First of all, the central ideas of my paper have been accepted without comments or revisions by a very prestiguous publications.  Secondly, the referee’s comments had three features that set me thinking:

1.  There was no indication that he (as I assume) saw any of my arguments.  I had a very formal and explicit argument, in the form of a classic dilemma, against the central thesis of a text.  The referee’s comment?  “This won’t bother the author.”  Then he remarks that I decided against a promising strategy, not registering, it seems, that I argued the strategy was not  promising.

2.  He spent quite a bit  of time outlining what I should have done to construct a rival to the  text’s theory.  I was in fact not interested in doing that, so he didn’t seem to notice what I did  do.  (I think there are deeply serious problems with assumptions behind all the  theories, which was what I  was discussing.)  He in fact seemed to think the points he recognized were all right, but since, again, he didn’t think they’d bother the author, he didn’t think that they were worth making even though they put paid to two prominant approaches. 

3.  Quite possibly as requested, he closed by saying why he was competent to  judge and basically it’s because he works in the area.

So here’s my hypothesis:  The area is one in which a lot of youngish guys are communicating with one another and are engaged in the quest for arguing for or against roughly 3 competing theories in the area.  And I think I see a kind of gatekeeping.  Since “the text” in question has just come out and it does have a very new thesis, there isn’t an established  literature in this area.  That’s just starting  to form.  But there are groups of guys outlining what they think are the important issues, on blogs and at conferences.  And  if you are not part of that, you may not be passed in any refereeing process, I now suspect.  Not because you aren’t known, precisely, but because it doesn’t count as what they think is the right kind of move.

And I’m inclined to think that the fact that the arguments were disregarded shows how central the familiarity of the discussion is.  It it’s too different, you can just toss it. 

So how does this speak to women’s situation in philosophy?  Quite simply, if we’re not networking and getting our ideas out there in an informal way, we’re very seriously handicapped, I am hypothesizing.  But doing that supposes that informal groups are as open and congenial for us as they are for the guys.  And they are not, for many of us.  And if conferences stay very male oriented, they won’t be.

I think we can hope:  a lot of younger women seem to have some access to some of the clusters of discussions.  Of course, that’s what makes a recent  account of a woman getting cut out because she turned down sexual advances so very serious.

And then there’s the chicken-and-egg problem:  why aren’t we networking?  Is there an even more foundational problem there?  Well, let’s all discuss this.

52 thoughts on “Eureka! Why women are excluded from philosophy!

  1. Without any experience of what goes on in networks of male philosophers, but having seeing other male networks in action, I’d suggest that it might be wiser for women philosophers to form their own networks than to try to participate in male ones, where they are always likely to be second class citizens. That sounds harsh and I hope that I am wrong.

  2. That referee sounds like an idiot and/or a jerk, whatever explanation you might propose of the behavior. What this shows is that ‘achievement’ in professional philosophy is about little more than a bunch of fads and that neither men nor women should spend their time on trying to become influential in it.

    Sorry for being so negative, but if being a professional philosopher required some rationality, this referee (and the many others who are like that) would have been filtered out. That this is not the case and that things like this are standard practice really calls into question the value of the bulk of philosophy for either philosophers or society. There might be exceptions (i.e. good and important philosophy), and if one’s contributions are among them that’s very good, but what’s popular is largely independent of that, being more about fads, grad school indoctrination, networks, etc. The many prejudices in the field only confirm this.

  3. Anonymous, I just remarked to Jender that I thought I saw something I hadn’t realized before. We all know that there is gatekeeping; Kuhn made that very clear. And in philosophy we know that many gate keepers only allow in analytic philosophy. Further, they want topics recognized in analytic philosophy. I think the gatekeeping I hypothesize is in the referee’s comments is much more local and quite alarming. It’s that one has to be within the parameters understood within a largely unpublished discourse.

    And having said that, it seems to me to be obviously so. There’s tons of discussion of what gets said in contexts when someone doesn’t fit in in expected ways – a significant topic in diversity discussions – and I’ve seen them when I reviewed referee reports and only just now recognize what they were doing.

    Amos, I think a lot of people agree with you. I’m not sure what I think; I’ve been discussing this with friends since the hypatia conference in October (?) which we blogged about. You can find that, if you are interested, if you search under “hypatia”.

    Thanks to you both. I should also said that I just told Jender I’m worried about the content of this post, and invited her to pull it if she shares my worries.

  4. Question about the experiences of older women in philosophy: do you find yourself having less success at accessing male-dominated networks than you did when you were younger? I ask because I am a young woman who has had a pretty easy time with networking so far, and I don’t know how much of the disparity in experience is due to age, how much is due to generation (the intended contrast is that your age changes but your generation stays the same), and how much is due to other quirks of personality and environment.

  5. Jj, I think you’re absolutely correct in your assessment that women are often seriously handicapped by networking issues. And I think the reasons we have varying degrees of success are closely related to gender. One thing that makes me think this might be the case is anecdotal evidence which suggests that the further a woman strays from the (male) paradigm, the less welcome she is in discussion groups and so forth, regardless of her ability and interest in participating. To take a superficial but stark contrast, I know two young female (analytic) philosophers who are successful networkers by almost any account, and both have physical features which fit the paradigm: short hair, glasses, thin/athletic/active, loose masculine clothes of dark color, no jewelry, neat but obviously not distracted by fashion, etc. I am also friends with a third young philosopher who has been surprisingly unsuccessful at networking. She has long hair, wears contacts, carries an extra 10 or 15 pounds, and occasionally wears taboo colors like fuschia and cherry red. All three are, in my estimation, equally gifted analytic philosophers. But the third is too “feminine” to fit in at the fringes of the paradigm. Her male colleagues and counterparts at other universities aren’t quite sure how to classify her. They can’t simply discount her, because she continually makes quality contributions and perceptive remarks at colloquia and conferences. But they also don’t include her, because she makes them uncomfortable. Instead, they wind up projecting all sorts of utterly inept schemata onto her; she is “too argumentative” (say what?), and “arrogant” (not), and “stubbornly independent” (well, only because they have forced her into a lonely position).

    Anonymous: I’m sure you’ll find these comments deeply disturbing — as you say, if ‘achievement’ in philosophy is about little more than fitting in with the fads, neither men nor women should waste time trying to become influential. The problem is that this fact about our social circumstances is not unique to philosophy. There are accepted trends and fads and paradigms in every game we play. In some cases they concern the deep rules or content of the game — the moves that are acceptable in, say, science or art or logic. In other cases they are relatively superficial but equally stringent rules that govern the sort of clothes we wear (white lab coats for doctors, pumpkin pins for preschool teachers, dark-rimmed glasses and muted colors for philosophers), along with other aspects of our appearance. Sure, I’d love to change this undesirable feature of the way we play and classify and sort each other into types. But it would be a very steep hill to climb, and I don’t think our energies are best spent in this direction. (Other than perhaps going out of our way to support individuals like the third philosopher I mentioned — i.e., those renegade few who persistently refuse to conform.)

    So what do I think *can* be done to help women network? Well, one step in the right direction would be to encourage (support? fund?) the development of online conferences — ideally conferences offered by interdisciplinary “mainstream” organizations such as the APA. We have a separate conference for every region of the U.S.; why not an online conference which would support those who are unable to travel? Aside from eliminating that “what-does-she/he-look-like” aspect of conference interactions, it would benefit women in general by providing a networking opportunity to those who are temporarily unable to travel because, say, they are the primary caregiver for an aging parent, or because they have a young child at home. (And, given all the talk in the recent post about sexual harassment, I can’t resist pointing out that I’ve never heard of anyone being harassed at an online conference.)

    Sure, this doesn’t address the fact that women are still (often) excluded from all those private reading groups and networking spheres, but at least it’d be a step in the right direction.

  6. zenmind: I entirely agree that this not unique to philosophy, is not limited to content but include irrelevant things such as clothing, and that trying to change that is a waste of effort. I don’t find your comments disturbing at all. The facts you talk about are disturbing, but not very surprising, and no more disturbing than most things in this crazy world.

    Obviously networking is very important for one’s career and nearly all need to make a living. If discrimination can be mitigated or reduced that’s good. I’m just suggesting that underlying all of this is the question of what doing philosophy is for and to what degree it’s serving that function. The naive view would be that the examined life should (among other things) reduce and eventually eliminate one’s prejudices. So either this is false, in which case philosophy’s value is seriously undermined, or professional philosophers are not examining their lives in the right ways and need to figure out how to do so.

  7. Depressing, JJ, and I’m sure you’re right. The online conference idea sounds great. Does anyone know how the recent online conference on consciousness went?

  8. Anon #2 – History and sociology of science shows that science typically works in this way. Part of this goes back to Kuhn, as jj’s reference in #3 suggests. The standards and techniques for good and bad arguments (experimental design, data analysis, etc.) aren’t a list of rules, posted in public for all to see and adopt. Very roughly, they’re transmitted and reinforced by individual scientists recognizing and emulating the work of prestigious scientists and marginalizing scientists who don’t use the same standards and techniques.

    This, by itself, doesn’t make science irrational. Indeed, if the socially-enforced standards and techniques are reliable ways of producing knowledge and the marginalized ones are unreliable, then science is working well in at least that respect. To borrow some of your language in #6 (I take it that’s you again), the politics of science can help promote science’s function. What goes for science, I assume, goes just as well for philosophy.

    The problems are when individuals are marginalized for irrelevant reasons (say, because of their gender) or for having, say, reliable techniques that aren’t recognized as reliable. `Very’ feminine feminist philosophers who try to challenge some of the methodological assumptions of mainstream philosophers can be faced with both sorts of problems. I don’t know whether this was jj’s situation or not, but I’d suspect that something like this underlies the networking problem she hypothesizes.

    To an extent, I’m inclined to agree with amos here. Marginalized individuals can form their own, rival network, pursuing similar problems with their own (`heterodox’) standards and techniques. If both orthodox and heterodox approaches are viable, both networks are likely to flourish and function well. (That’s assuming things like equal access to funding, which is a whole other problem.) Letting a thousand flowers bloom is a good way to show that tulips and daffodils can peacefully coexist, and perhaps even provide a way for tulips to challenge the dysfunctional daffodil orthodoxy (when the daffodils are completely unable to respond to a disastrous housing market crash and credit crisis?).

    But it’s important for the heterodox individuals, if their approach really is viable, to keep trying to influence and challenge orthodox work. The goal isn’t to create a safe space for heterodoxy. It’s to improve economics. I mean science. I mean philosophy.

    (And, hey, look at the male philosopher, treating this as an abstract problem instead of speaking from personal experience! I’m such a cliche. :-) )

  9. Noumena, I really wasn’t clear in the post, and though I’ve said what I’m about to say in a comment, it’s worth repeating from a different point of angle.

    I don’t want to make this all about my paper, but an advantage of having an example is still considerable. So first of all, the paper is not really heterodox. Its main points are in a piece coming out in a very prestiguous interdisciplinary journal. Secondly, there are two main negative arguments. One is a classic dilemma; and the other appeals to a very familiar kind of argument; namely (and roughly), the account might succeed as an account of cognition in a lab, but it cannot succeed as an account of cognition in the ordinary world. I also point out that it’s a familiar point made in the history of philosophy. Further, just to hammar the point, in fact I’ve just recently gone off the society’s executive committee.

    So we’re talking very orthodox by Kuhn’s standards, and those standards by which it failed are very local indeed. And my concern is that a lot of people may be being judged by very local, narrow standards, access to which can vary by gender.

    Furthermore, people who are invited to conferences and who get in on discussions have a huge advantage. We’re frequently told that while there are women writing on TOPIC X, they don’t approach it the way the organizer and his friends do. Some of our more heated discussions have been about this kind of claim.

    So why don’t women approach it in the way he and his friends do? We all go away and wonder what about women leads us not to approach it that way. But maybe there’s a much simpler explanation: we’re not approaching it the way he and his friends do because they don’t talk to us, and that’s the only way to get in on that discourse.

    Now I should say that I was aware of some of the blog discussions, but I think they were all fiddling with details on the periphery, which is pointless if you think there are foundational issues that may invalidate the whole approach. So my argument wasn’t about my not having access; it was about how what counts as acceptable approaches is getting defined. And it turns out that there are problems in general with women having access to that very local material. Look at the comment I linked to in the post: turns out that two different conference organizers came onto her, she rejected their advances and now she’s not invited to their things.

  10. I wonder if women networking with other women is not so common because of the horizontal hostility we are taught, including seeing other women as competition first? I “think” I’m past this but I sometimes catch myself in something that seems very much tending in that direction. I am an “older woman philosopher” and maybe younger women are more deeply and fully affirming of one another.

  11. Rachel, I think it is easier when you are young. There’s a cliche in the literature about diversifying faculty in higher ed. It’s that a lot of women are unaware that there are any problems at all until they go up for tenure. It isn’t just that they encounter exclusionary actions for the first time, though. It’s also that they not as young and attractive, they may have children, and so on.

    I was at a Pacific APA a few years back, and it seemed very divided along gender lines. I was talking to an old friend who is hyper-distinguished and she remarked on the division. So I asked her what her account of that is. “We’re not sexy any more,” she said.

  12. J.J.: What you say fits with what I hear from my woman companion, who works in media, not philosophy, and constantly complains about being discriminated against not
    just because she is a woman, but also because of her appearance, which does not conform to certain stereotypes of how the female body should look.

  13. zenmind, I think the idea of online conferences is excellent – so glad you agree, Monkey.

    I’m not sure what you have in mind, but with APA conferences people already have written out papers and often written out comments. And with a lot of the APA colloquia, there’s not enough time for discussion, so it could be discussed online.

    Perhaps we could just ask for volunteers from the APA?? Or other conferences?

    In fact, the society to which I submitted my paper has been concerned about the dearth in the society of women in philosophy (duh!) and this might be a very good thing for them to do.

  14. zenmind, I’ve been thinking about the online conference thing; the APA has a grant deadline coming up and the grant would be enough probably to fund a grad student to oversee the project for a year and to pay for the initial set up. Would you be interested in applying? Perhaps with me or others?

    I think the grant is limited to the US, but the project wouldn’t need to limit participants.

  15. This topic has clearly touched a nerve — there are so many interesting and frank comments. Thanks for having the audacity to write the post, jj!

    A few specific responses/thoughts:

    @Noumena, who writes: “Marginalized individuals can form their own, rival network, pursuing similar problems with their own (`heterodox’) standards and techniques. If both orthodox and heterodox approaches are viable, both networks are likely to flourish and function well. Letting a thousand flowers bloom is a good way to show that tulips and daffodils can peacefully coexist…”

    Ah, if only the solution were that simple!

    You see, those of us who work in the mainstream areas of (analytic) philosophy are more like that rare hawkweed that grows only in 7 patches in Snowdonia, than tulips. How many female philosophers are there whose primary AOS is epistemology? Logic? Philosophy of science? And how many of these have tenure or are likely to get tenure at a top-tier research-oriented institution? How does one form a rival network when the number of female colleagues working in the appropriate field can be counted on one hand and are flung across several continents?

    I have resisted adding my own personal story to the mix, but it is probably worth mentioning that I, too, have encountered networking obstacles that continue to mystify me. Earlier this year, for example, I was invited to join a of group of well-known philosophers (from NYU, Brown, MIT, Yale, etc) who work in my primary AOS and meet regularly to discuss manuscripts, works in progress, and so on. All the roughly 15-20 members of the group are male. The invitation was extended by one of the senior members. I enjoyed the first meeting immensely, but was subsequently un-invited by the group leader. You’ll have to take my word for it when I say I can assure you that my participation and interaction at the first meeting was well within the bounds of appropriate; two of the group members expressly indicated that they were happy I had attended, and looked forward to seeing me at the next meeting. So why was the invitation rescinded? Well, the email is vague — something about wanting to keep the group small and having to extend the membership to too many others if I were included. (I am a very recent PhD and a junior faculty member who is just starting to publish.) He also indicated that “under the circumstances” he would help me to network and find a NYC area group to participate in next fall. (Under the circumstances? Next fall? Whaaa?) The implicit suggestion that I don’t yet have the requisite publication track record is something I might reluctantly be able to accept, but the thing that really confuses me is that a colleague of the group leader volunteered the info that the “behind the scenes” reason is that the group leader is aware that I am expecting, and doesn’t think it wise for me to participate given my “current condition”. Um. Yeah.

    I’m not bringing this anecdote up because I have a proverbial ax to grind — but rather because I want to point out that when no research data is available, it is sometimes helpful to pool individual data (“personal experience”, as Noumena calls it) to get a sense of the scope of the problem.

    Back to responses:

    @Rachael: I concur with jj in the assessment that age makes a difference. Aside from factors like the responsibilities associated with family, civic duties, and other things that tend to accumulate with age (and get in the way of networking in both obvious and subtle ways), there is the fact that women become a rarer phenomenon as you work your way through the ranks. I saw a recent study (based on SWIP data, I believe) which shows that, while we are graduating a roughly 50-50 mix of male and female philosophers from undergraduate programs, the numbers of women decrease dramatically on the successful completion of grad school (a 30-70 ratio, if I remember correctly), and exponentially thereafter. The reasons for the attrition are complex and not yet fully understood. My point here is merely that the attrition exists. Not surprisingly, the decrease in the number of female colleagues, various shifts in life challenges (including, as jj points out, appearances), and presumably other factors that I haven’t thought of combine to create additional networking challenges.

    @jj: What I envision is an annual online interdisciplinary APA conference, something that would hopefully (eventually) be on the same scale as the Pacific, Eastern, and Central conferences. I think it would be more effective if it is run as an independent event, rather than a session paralleling one of the regional conferences. The few online conferences I’ve followed seem to run about 3 days, with abstracts and full papers posted approximately 2-3 weeks beforehand, and online registration which enables participants to both post questions before the scheduled “talk”, and to engage in live “discussion” (typically via comments posted in a chat format, with a moderator to regulate the flow of the exchange) during the designated time. I unfortunately don’t have any experience in organizing online events, and as a junior philosopher I really have no idea how the politics of the APA work, but I’d certainly be interested in joining a group application.

  16. Philosophy, as an academic discipline, has been hijacked in the U.S. by the grumpy old male trained exclusively in the analytic tradition, and, as a result, philosophy has become marginalized and irrelevant. I specialize in Logic and have a lot of math background, so I am not allergic to rigorous reasoning; I am, however, mystified by how so many fail to recognize the power of logical reasoning hence its limits in application, in embedding it into meaningful and relevant discourse. I am mesmerized by the status of philosophy in this country, and by the status of its women philosophers. I grew up in Eastern Europe, trained originally in economics and computer science, and studied Philosophy in the U.S. as a middle age woman. Women philosophers don’t fare any better in Europe, but there philosophy, at least, remains the backbone of all academic endeavors, and it retains its glorious status and every-day relevance. Young people there still read Camus and Sartre as my sons and their peers watch sitcoms here. This worries me the most: at the start of a course NO student of mine (and I am teaching at three schools in the suburbs of a major city) can name any philosopher, any philosophical idea and any philosophical contribution to any other discipline, or to their own high-tech lifestyles. Moreover, too many of my male colleagues hide poorly their ignorance of, hence enmity towards, most other disciplines. This might be true of some female philosophers as well, but since philosophy is fundamentally a male dominated and driven discipline, the males do carry the ultimate responsibility for this state of affairs. They have divorced philosophy not only from female-oriented goals and lifestyles, they have also divorced it from physics, genetics, economics, technology, etc. I agree we should network, but it almost sounds like an underground movement born out of frustration, rather than a challenge to an antiquated approach. This is the 21st century. I suspect some female philosophers reading this blog remain silent here and still prefer to seek acceptance from their male colleagues rather than challenge the status-quo. After all, male acceptance is still the key to academic success.
    Zenmind describes above the successful woman philosopher (although she specifically refers to networkers):” short hair, glasses, thin/athletic/active, loose masculine clothes of dark color, no jewelry, neat but obviously not distracted by fashion, etc.” This is the typical female impersonating (possibly subconsciously) the male paradigm. Quite like Hillary Clinton, a woman presidential candidate who made every effort to hide her femininity behind the shapeless, acceptable, “proper” pant-suit. Notice, in Zenmind apt description, the qualifier: “NOT DISTRACTED by fashion”. Typically, I add, the single-task paradigm according to male mentality: one cannot perform several tasks well. God-forbid one is able to write proofs in logic; AND argue against dualism; AND make an asparagus cream soup; AND install the tiles in the bathroom; AND help their kid with homework in wave equations; AND wear twelve bracelets on each arm with a yellow dress with birds printed on it. BUT THE FAULT IS OURS: we choose to wear the loose, shapeless, dusty-colored suits, and choose to leave home the trinkets and the high heels to ensure our ticket to male acceptance, hence academic success.
    We need to do a lot of things: be women not male impersonators; talk and share stories and advice; maybe read each others’ papers and improve; and, maybe, contribute a chapter or a story to a book of ours. We must not ask for male acceptance. We must to steer the discussion, set the tone, define the goals, and stylishly gain an audience.
    Anyone who feels the way I do?

  17. Zenmind and JJ, thank you for your answers. That’s depressing, but it’s better to know how these things work than not to know. I feel a bit embarrassed for having not picked up on the appearance thing sooner: I fit zenmind’s description of a normative-looking female philosopher almost perfectly.

    The online conference sounds like an excellent idea.

  18. I think we should be careful what we say about women’s appearance here. Whilst I wouldn’t want to attribute the views I am about to express to any of the commenters, I think they are implied by some of what people have said – even if they didn’t themselves intend the implication. Women – especially young women – are caught in a catch 22, as far as personal presentation goes. If you wear dark clothes and glasses, have short hair, and don’t wear any jewellery – you’re impersonating males and trying to gain acceptance that way. If, on the other hand, you wear colourful clothes, contact lenses, long hair and jewellery – you’re trying to gain male acceptance by looking sexy and feminine. What exactly are the other options? A sheet with a hole cut in it? Let’s not get into criticising women in this way, people.

  19. There are so many interesting comments and ideas, I’m not sure where to start, and I know I can’t get through them all now. So just a few things:

    zenmind, I’m sick at the thought that “expecting” got you excluded from what could have been a great experience. I’ve seen that happen to other women even in a very big way. If you don’t have much understanding of what’s going on, it can be crazy making, as indeed it was in one case I know reasonably well. That is, I saw it happened and then we moved; the next thing I heard was that she had resigned and was being said to have become mentally unbalanced.

    I agree that we only have a problematic range of choices for clothes. I had an experience that gave me a new take on comfortable, simple dark clothes. I ended up a couple of weeks ago at a celebrity bash in NYC being held by Vanity Fair. (I cannot tell you how off my usual track such a thing is.) I was quite stunned by the total absense of bling, except for a few models. Think Sex and the City, but they’re all wearing black knits and little or no jewelry. Very New York, my son explained, and said that the media types there tended to dress so that other things stood out.

    zenmind, I get the sense that there are a couple of different ideas about what the online conference might be: (1) creation of a new space or (2) extension of existing conferences. Starting anything up in academia can be daunting, quite like getting a group of cats organized. Still, it is worth pursuiing.

    I am hoping I can now get back to sleep….

  20. Nn, you NAILED it! It is truly disenchanting to approach a subject with sincere interest in the potential for its “everyday relevance” as a tool for rounding out perspectives in other disciplines, and instead be met by a round of plebe-bashing from a group of “grumpy old men”. As if knowledge were some kind of Tolkienesque trinket that can only be utilized by the “deserving”.

    Zenmind, I wonder if the gap between the success rates of the group of undergraduate students and grad students you mentioned might have anything to do with the pattern of grading I’m seeing at my school. In my case, the prof nitpicked and condescended and played some pretty vicious games that still appear to me to have been contrived to undermine my own confidence in my abilities. (just to let you know, that bs doesn’t work on me–I skipped the 2nd grade, won competitions all through elementary&high school, yada yada–anybody that tries to imply that I may be “intellellectually inferior” only destroys his own credibility in my view). Later, he offered me a “deal”(?!?). If I just handed everything in, he would pass me with 50%. A 42% drop from my college grades? HARDLY. Call it civil disobedience or whatever. My government has just paid me close to 40k to flunk every single course I’ve signed up in. PROUDLY. I do, however, plan to take up my disputes with the ombudsman, etc. (I’ve had this problem 3 times now–the administrative people here are even worse than the TA’s).

    So I, the eavesdropping queen (excuse me if that’s rude, but I’m swimming in elitism here, and if that’s the only way to get my questions answered, then so be it) discovered that many of the grad students in the humanities programs here strive to keep their class averages between 60% and 79% so they don’t have to meet with their students. They claim they’re tired and overworked or whatever. Some set up elaborate “private tutoring” scams to soak the students for under-the-table cash. If it’s that easy for them to designate those averages to whomever they please, then what’s to stop them from assigning whatever grades are required to keep certain individuals out of grad school? I mean, there’s graduating, and then there’s graduating ahead of the curve.

  21. Thanks for this very valuable discussion from which I’m learning a lot. I’m sorry to hear about Zenmind’s experience and hope that some of the men in that group called the official inviter on his faulty reasoning. nn, a great post and that yellow dress sounds fabulous as does the asparagus soup.

    jj, here’s a strategy I’ve been trying out recently with some success. I’m organizing my own conferences and editing volumes with prestigious publishers — this puts me in a position to send out very tempting invitations and to create a more inclusive research environment (younger scholars, more women, more international, and so on). The conferences obviously take resources, although the online conf. idea should be quite workable. Editing volumes or special issues of journals is major work, but I think it’s a key move that some of us are well-positioned to take on. It may not eliminate the problems you described, especially with major specialist societies, but it can be a way to help diversify the all-male teams out there.

  22. Xena, you are making quite serious charges, and I’m getting the sense that your views are shared by other undergrads?? If that’s so, I think you ought to consider getting a group together to see whether you all can draw up a list of issues to take to your chair. Quite honestly, in any organization, a complaining group at a fairly junior level can seem not at all plausible at a more senior level, but that just means you’d need to work out a serious agenda.

    JT, such good ideas. I do know at least one person who’s felt she’s benefited a lot from your efforts, though without seeing the whole strategy.
    I think you recommendations are very valuable, and really worth thinking about.

    zenmind, I consulted my trusty source for info on the male science mind and he wasn’t the least surprised at the idea that someone would decide that your expecting was a disqualification. (Not that he thought that was good at all.) I must be naive, which is a bit surprising.

  23. Nn, I have a beautiful image of you in my mind wearing those bracelets and the yellow bird dress, cooking asparagus soup, helping with the wave equation homework, and doing your own proofs on the back of a napkin. Thanks for your poignant exhortation to work with each other, and to “steer the discussion, set the tone, define the goals, and stylishly gain an audience.”

    The cognitive dissonance of nn’s yellow dress brings to mind the ideas Cheshire Calhoun offered to counteract the gender schemas that code philosophy as male at the undergraduate level (“The Undergraduate Pipeline Problem,” Hypatia 24:2, spring 2009). Among other things, she suggests that we court cognitive dissonance by using images of women to represent philosophy on websites, bulletin boards, and so forth. The lesson I’m drawing from the impact of the yellow dress description on myself is that the power of images is not to be underestimated.

    JT, thanks for the excellent and concrete ideas regarding ways to create a more inclusive and diverse research environment! If/when I find myself in the position to edit an anthology, I will most certainly take this advice to heart.

    And jj, thanks for remarks about how “crazy making” the exclusion can be, and for the confirmation that this is not a singular instance of what I’ll call (to keep myself sane) “mental imbalance” among the men who hold such views. I did, by the way, mention the fact that I had been “un-invited” to a member of the group (who happened to be my primary dissertation adviser, but was not the one to extend the original invitation). His response was a little frustrating; “why do you care so much?” he asked, “just move on, focus on submitting and publishing.” Not the response I had hoped for, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume there are subtleties in the dynamics of the group that I don’t understand. I didn’t mention the problem to the member of the group who originally invited me because I didn’t want to create an awkward situation for him. Ah well. Whatever. Moving on…

  24. zenmind: the person who invited you will know you were uninvited? I’d worry that if you don’t explain, he’d think you just weren’t interested.

    About your adviser’s comment: As with the closely related white privilege, the people who have it are often clueless about what it is and why it is important. In a philosopher with female students, that seems to me pretty bad in fact. Among other things, they see complaints about injustices as just whining. And they aren’t aware that if the only names that come to mind when they think of a topic are white men’s, then they ought to make some effort to think of others.

    Of course, this might be unfair regarding this particular individuals, but really one sees this everywhere. The total absence of any realization that their supposed perceptions of philosophical excellence are anything other than direct contact with reality means that in most contexts I’ve been in discussions of diversity are intensely frustrating.

  25. Thanx, JJ. I’ll try that. Good luck with the online conference. Maybe I’ll check it out in a few years when I have something to add to what all of you are working toward.

  26. JJ and Zenmind – I am completely shocked that some males would think that pregnancy is a reason to be excluded from a discussion. I would have been completely furious in your shoes, Zenmind, I’m really sorry this happened to you. (I must also be naive as I didn’t think this kind of thing went on any more.)

    JJ – did your trusted male source give any indication of why this isn’t surprising? (I obviously need to find some trusted male sources myself for further insight.)

  27. Monkey, when I expressed surprise, he just said, “I know it’s terrible, but that sort of thing goes on all the time.” I take “that sort of thing” to be arbitrary judgments of exclusion based on gendered considerations.” Mind you, when he can change/influence the situation, he does. But, as I have found out from very recent communication with the executive board of the society, some people have a concepture of supposedly impersonal procedure that takes precedent over all else.

    I have to tell you that the totally ironic thing is that I was chair of the diversity committee for the society, which was founded as a reaction to my pointing out that a program committee of all women had come up with a program with two women philosophers and something like 36 male philosophers. I resigned from that position in the fall when I found out that the program contained no women philosophers as invited speakers. I think that nothing much can happen until the executive committee itself takes on some responsibility for the fact that the society has a very bad record in including women.

  28. Yes, Nn, I am completely with you! You are spot on.

    Zenmind, I think it’s important that you do mention it to the person who invited you. One cannot assume that he knows you’ve been uninvited. He probably has no idea. So, if you don’t let him know, then he might assume you are uninterested in the group, and also that you didn’t bother to mention to him that you are uninterested in the group. I would suggest that perhaps you can start off by saying thank you for the invitation, and how much you appreciated it.

  29. Hi all,
    I’ve been following the discussion with much interest, but I must say that I do not entirely recognize the situations being described from my own personal experience. I am an assiduous conference-goer (I think most of them are lots of fun, in fact one of the high points of the academic career as a whole), and considered to be particularly successful at networking (I’ve heard it from several people in the field). I work in logic and philosophy of logic, one of the most male-oriented subfields of philosophy; I am tall and thin, I wear flashy clothes, dresses, skirts, jewelry, long hair etc., and if anything at all this has played in my favor rather than the other way round. (I must say that I mostly circulate in Continental Europe, and from a brief period living in the US I did get the feeling that the atmosphere over there is much less woman-friendly.) What I mean to say by all this is that the LAST thing we should be doing is to conform to the stereotype that seems less threatening to our male colleagues in order to facilitate our networking! Much to the contrary, the thing to do is to show them that you can be extremely feminine in many respects and ‘yet’ be a good philosopher and a good networker.

    In fact, I have attended several conferences while pregnant (both pregnancies), and have attracted quite a lot of POSITIVE attention with my big belly. Just once I think I may have gotten some confused looks when, at a plenary session, I stood up with my big belly and asked a fairly confrontational question to a high-profile philosopher; on the other hand, some people told me it was great precisely in that it got some people thinking about how the two things can be perfectly compatible. I also made a bit of an impression when, at a different conference, baby out of the belly but in the sling with me (she was 3 months old and refused anything but the breast as a source of nourishment, including breast milk from other kinds of containers), I again asked a confrontational question to another big-shot guy (who at first thought I wanted to know what ‘ungrounded sentences’ were… We’re good friends now and I always make fun of him for having fallen prey to the stereotype!). Again, I think it got quite some people thinking. In sum: DO NOT bend to the stereotype yourself! Be feminine and assertive at the same time; the more of us do it, the more it will help change the stereotype.

    As for practical difficulties with combining motherhood and going to conferences; I don’t see why this would be any different when it comes to male philosophers who are parents. It is a matter of negotiating things back home so that to mother gets just as much of a chance to travel around as the father. It IS important to attend conferences, and I doubt that online conferences could change things much, because most of the networking takes place not during talks, but at breaks and social program. My husband has an extremely busy job (in the business world), with even more traveling than me, but we just make sure to coordinate our agendas months ahead so that we both get to do our traveling while there is always one of us with the kids at home. Of course, helpful grandparents can make a huge difference too. So again, if you as a female philosopher with children are not getting the chance to go to a lot of conferences, perhaps it is fist of all a matter of negotiating things with your partner a bit? Just a suggestion…

    I hope I don’t come across as saying that the problem does not exist; much to the contrary, I am acutely aware of the fact that it does exist (thanks to this blog, I am always keeping track of how many female speakers there are at conferences…). But the best we do is to fight it off the best way we can, including by practices that may help change the stereotypes, i.e. when we show that there is nothing incompatible between being a woman, a mother, and a good philosopher who attends conferences and does successful networking.

  30. I don’t want to generalize about philosophical refereeing, because all I know firsthand is how it generally goes for journals and societies in my own areas of specialization. But with this (large) caveat I’ll say, judging from 20+ years of experience, that refereeing by societies tends to be ingroupish in the extreme. You play by their unwritten rules or you don’t play at all — and nobody feels guilty about this because they are, after all, only societies. (In effect: “If you don’t like our rules, send your work to some other society.”)

    As for the journals, much hinges simply on the luck of the draw in getting some particular referee. A great deal of refereeing gets done by youngish profs, who tend to be — again, in my own experience — more rigid, narrow, and draconian in their judgments than most of the older profs. I don’t have statistics too prove that these youngish referees are disproportionately male, but I’d bet that they are — partly because their female contemporaries usually have less time to spare for refereeing, partly because women are somewhat less inclined to see refereeing as an unmissable opportunity to exercise power over others.

    Another problem:
    The more submissions that any given journal receives, the higher the odds of getting stuck with a referee of marginal competence but plenty of strong opinions. More specialized journals, with fewer submissions, can use a smaller, more select group of referees without overburdening them. Journals with a wider scope can’t afford to exercise such quality control because they need a much larger pool of referees. So at the refereeing stage — if they actually have genuine refereeing — journals with a wider scope are more of a crap shoot.

    Ironically, the sheer number of submissions makes journal editors feel all the more justified in rejecting many articles solely on the basis of their own judgment, without even sending them to referees. I wonder: is there any philosophical journal where the editor does this but only some assistant, not the editor himself, knows the author’s identity? I’d really love to hear of one.

  31. I agree with most of what jane265 says above, with a big exception to the following:

    “have less time to spare for refereeing, partly because women are somewhat less inclined to see refereeing as an unmissable opportunity to exercise power over others.”

    i’m sorry, but this is a pretty messed up thing to say. the odds are more referees are men than women simply because more men than women are in the profession. and you might be right that more women are less inclined than men to referee, which would further decrease the percentage. I have no hard evidence that this is the case though, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, but not for the reason you suggest: many universities have a university-wide policy that requires that there be women and minority members on various time-intensive committees, such as search committees. If there are fewer women than men in departments at such universities, then there will be a disproportionate amount of service to the university done by them (one reason why this sort of policy strikes me as misguided), and that would leave them for fewer time to ref. papers.

    But i don’t know anyone who goes out of their way to referee a paper because they are looking to exercise power over others — it’s service work, and it’s called that for a reason. And i bet you don’t know anyone who does that either. Are you saying this just to let off steam? Some of the things being reported in the thread above are pretty infuriating, to be sure, and I would understand the need to vent a bit.

    But I just don’t see the value in making that claim, which (i) is highly dubious and (ii) and suggests that something far more sinister than implicit bias is operating among your young male colleagues: that people are consciously looking for ways to screw other people over. There are some crummy people in philosophy, and some of them might even be that crummy. But most of us aren’t.

  32. ehhh. the stuff reported above is obviously much more deserving of getting worked up over. for example, what happened to zenmind is completely messed up. i shouldn’t read blogs when cranky. sorry for being a bit over the top there.

  33. Sorry mm, but some people don’t regard refereeing as one more chore, roughly on a par with grading papers. They see it as a golden opportunity to help professional allies and damage professional rivals. Hence gloating remarks like, “The Journal of X sent me a paper by so-and-so, and I really savaged it. My report said. . . [fill in a recitation of cutting criticisms].”

    How on earth could anybody make such a remark without feeling like a total sleazebag? Some possibilities:
    1. You feel persecuted, excluded, and well justified in taking revenge on your oppressors.
    2. You regard professional life as a kind of Homeric combat.
    3. You regard professional life as a Darwinian struggle for survival.
    4. You’re convinced that you and your allies have the Right approach, or at least that others have the Wrong One, so that you’re serving the higher cause of Truth.

    I certainly agree that people like the one I’ve quoted aren’t in the majority. The problem is, they’re the very kind most eager to referee — the ones that a journal can always count on to write a report. And they can often identify the author of a paper just by googling the title. Sometimes the paper was given at a conference or colloquium; sometimes it’s listed on the author’s CV as work in progress; and sometimes it’s mentioned in a blog.

  34. Yikes, commentators, we have declared this blog a peace zone. We might disagree about issues, but we have to be respectful.

    I think there’s lots to be learned from some of these disagreements, so let’s think about the fact that there are these different perspectives, and not simply reject the unfamiliar ones.

  35. jane265:

    While those are all fine hypotheses, there’s also:

    5. You’re an unreflective idiot.

    And this one is undoubtedly true in a lot of cases, and in particular seems to apply to the referee the original post was about. Granted, it could be that he actually did understand what the paper was about and wrote a disingenuous report on it, but that seems less likely to me.

  36. I firmly think it’s better to think in terms of politics instead of solely individual faults. More later when i’ve gotten home from the apa.

  37. I won’t be offended if dismissed, but I would still like to ask the following questions:

    jj, I couldn’t understand: was there anything gender-specific in your article? Or was it feminist-specific, which did not happen to be a mainstream approach in the field? Since you mention that some ideas the paper raised were from a respected publication, could you cite it?

    My mathematician women friends say they typically scoff at “women’s conferences” and dismiss them as making no real contributions to math. Is such a position in your opinion anti-feminist?

    On the issue of sex that was brought up here: I suppose it is a double-edged sword. If a woman says “no”, she may suffer disproportionately, but is this not intimately coupled to the power of a woman’s saying “yes” to disproportionately privilege her? I fully understand that being in such a situation may be very frustrating, but if you criticize it you at least have to complain about the whole thing, not just about the times it hurts a woman, no? Some women use their desirability to their advantage. Some don’t. Some don’t have the desirability to begin with. There are all sorts of scenarios. It isn’t true that all women suffer in all of them. Kindly do not take this as a sign of disrespect or insensitivity towards women who have had various unpleasant experiences. But it’s strange to see women who complain when they suffer at the hands of men, but don’t give much thought to cases when they enjoy free rides that their male colleagues never get. Again, forgive if this is inflammatory.

  38. D, someone whose opinion I value told me last year that all my work is feminist. I dearly love the idea, but if its so, then I doubt many people would see it in papers like the one I’m describing.

    It isn’t yet it print; I just sent the proofs back. I am very concerned that if I say much more, I’m going to stop being anonymous. I don’t especially mind being known in some ways, but I could get in a lot of trouble for, among other things, telling tales out of school. And then there are the occasional threats…

  39. D – I think the problem is that the ‘net’ effect is that women are disadvantaged. The dearth of women in philosophy (and other areas) is testament to that. So the ‘power’ that some women have for a short time from being attractive in no way makes up for the negative effects of the system on women in general, from which both spring.

  40. nice point, Monkey.

    Lots of groups have stereotypes that some members can exploit or just benefit from. That just doesn’t make the bad fortune of those who don’t or won’t so benefit less a matter of concern.

  41. It seems to me that one of the privileges of belonging to an elite or to whatever group or caste or class has more power is that one does not have to show one’s legs or smile to get ahead. I recall a girl-friend who noticed that I never smile at people in public and commented: I come from a poor family and we learn to smile at everyone at very young age.

  42. Amos – yes. Tangentially, there’s a study on women’s body language which shows it is the same body language as that of ‘inferiors’ (e.g., employees to boss) – e.g., eyes downcast, taking up less space, smiling more, etc. Can’t remember reference.

  43. D, your anti-feminist rhetoric sounds familiar. You wouldn’t be the troll from the Law Profs Advice to Rapists post, would you?

  44. Xena – remember be nice. D asked respectfully and got a respectful answer. No need to start accusing D of trolling.

  45. Ok, my apologies, Monkey. The question irked me a little, though. Kinda like asking a child soldier “If refusing to blow away your parents will get you punished, will blowing them away leave you disproportionately rewarded?” “So young soldier, you complain about how westerners started this war in the first place, but you never complain about how you get to do more cocaine as payment than those Westerners will ever imagine” ARGH! Some of us don’t see a cycle of PROSTITUTION and SLAVERY as a reward, D.

  46. Well, I do think there are significant problems even with women getting rewarded for taking part in sexual activity with a superior for example, (e.g. the objectification of their sexuality/bodies, backlash from colleagues, lack of credibility despite seeming improvement in one’s conditions, etc.) I do think there might be a legitimate point there about men not receiving the same level of benefit as women when they engage in sexual relationships with their superiors. Of course, that said, I would still contend that the fact that women are in a position to receive “disproportionate benefit” is actually a function of their marginalized status and that in itself is hurtful to women, regardless of the “benefit” side of things.

    I guess my point is, regardless of the fact that I think the whole situation is problematic for women (even when they use it to their “advantage”), I can at least understand why someone like D would think that way.

  47. Now that I’ve calmed down and had my coffee, I see that Monkey is right. I’ll extend that apology to you as well, D. I’ve never seen a male bias stated in such apologetic terms. Congratulations, and thank you. Let me try explaining my view without all the exaggerated comparisons to killing, and please excuse me for being such a drama queen.

    When a man fulfills his (written, spoken or whatever) professional duties for pay and then finds out that sex is an unspoken part of the agreement, he usually considers that a “perk”. Women see the addition of sex to a contractual agreement for pay as a nasty extra chore that got dumped on them at the last minute, like requests to pick up garbage or pour coffee for the guys. Blame it on the differences in anatomy, or whatever. It’s true.

    Much to my dismay, I’ve been told repeatedly that the answer to all of my money problems is to just “suck it up” and “get nekkid,” in whatever context. I could have done that without the crippling student loan debt, thank you. Being told that I look good enough to pole dance is not a compliment when I think of the investment I made to develop my mind and my skill set, hoping to someday earn a decent living WITH MY CLOTHES ON. That investment is wasted when even first year profs dismiss my questions because of the way I look.

    I have no problem with prostitutes, because they call their profession what it is. I have a real problem with men who abuse their authority for the sake of treating young undergrads like prostitutes because they’re too cheap(?) hung up on false ideas of purity(?) to hit a brothel, put down their cash, bag their willies and CALL THE ACT WHAT IT IS.

    The women that buy into this exploitation? I have to admit that they do exist. Maybe it’s just me, but they seem more common since the advent of “Reality” tv and the cult of the malignant narcissist/professional trainwreck. They’re somewhat more forgivable, but they do other women a disservice too. If they keep blurring the lines between academic/professional and prostitute/nude model, men will continue to claim that they don’t grasp the difference either, whether that claim is true, or just an excuse.

  48. Oops. Just spotted that “nude model” thing. Maybe I should say “porn model”. Modelling for an art class is different from selling sexualized nudity.

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