(Not so subtle) Ways women are excluded

We talk a lot here about subtle ways that women get excluded from or marginalised within philosophy– the workings of networks, implicit bias, and so on. Sometimes, it’s not so subtle. Reader E sends us this tale:

a good friend of mine (a tenured philosophy professor in the states) was just accepted to an NEH summer seminar in [European city]. She’s a single mom and, obviously, wants to bring her son along. But she says she: “has just been given 12 hours to “demonstrate” that she has full-time childcare arrangements for her son for the month of July that “are to the [completely unspecified] satisfaction” of the Institute directors; if she fails to meet this requirement, she has been told her accceptance in the program will be withdrawn. She was notified of said acceptance on Monday.”

12 hours to find childcare in a foreign city on another continent, and the requirement to prove this to the satisfaction of some committee. As E says, “Sometimes the ways women get excluded in philosophy are subtle and complicated. Sometimes they are so fucking obvious they make you want to scream. . .”

63 thoughts on “(Not so subtle) Ways women are excluded

  1. Is there a way that pressure can be brought to bear on the organizers to reverse on this ridiculous requirement? A petition? Emails from some well-placed allies?

  2. At this point, I think she should respond “well, of course, my wife will be coming with me and responsible for full time child care.” And I think she should say that especially if it’s not true, just to f with their sexist heads.

  3. Since we’re not allowed to ask about such things when we’re hiring, I somehow doubt the requirement is legal. (Perhaps someone here will know more than I.) Nor should it please the NEH.

  4. Here is contact info for the NEH:
    http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/officedirectory.html. Not sure if there’s one email that’s better than another… The general counsel seems to jump out…

    But, maybe, we should ask the person involved first how we could help? After all, official outrage could also backfire… I assume you could reach her through E…

    There are other levels of discrimination at work here, too: Obviously against women, but also against singles, especially if we dare to be parents. If this person were married and her husband or wife (after all marriage is more inclusive in some states) could come along, she might have automatic child care.

  5. I’m working on getting in touch with her via E, to find out if she’s willing to have us press this further on her behalf– either publicly, or behind the scenes. I’ve also suggested she contact the APA ombuds. I’ll keep you posted on developments.

  6. That’s ridiculous! I would recommend contacting a childcare- or nanny-agency. I am a single mother and did just that in Melbourne. I got a Nanny 12 hours a day for a little more than $100 per day but this was for a week. For four weeks this adds up. I also strongly suspect this kind of service is going to be a lot more expensive in Europe.

  7. Thanks, jender, for the post and the follow-up.

    I wonder if there’s also a sense of an entitlement to demand. I.e., we’re entitled to demand a mother have adequate plans. Would they feel so entitled to demand a father have such plans. Does anyone have any experience of father having encountered a similar situation?

    Another thing I’m suddenly concerned about is whether the NEH has a policy about who can accompany one on such seminars. I’ve recently seen policies on some of the “writers’ retreats” places, and some are fairly open about mildly exclusionary practices (not that this is mild).

  8. but it’s not paid, is it? so, it wouldn’t be covered by employment law. -i know it’s legal to bar children from staying in hotels, camp grounds, etc. this might count as that sort of a thing. (i mean, i bet there’s a problem in that it’s not out-and-out sex-based. they could claim that they would require the same of a single father.)

  9. I’m not even sure which law is relevant– it’s not clear to me whether it’s someone at the NEH or someone in Europe saying this.

  10. yes, mr. elp (tho he hates being called that) wonders is this just some cog who doesn’t know what he’s talking about making this requirement on the hoof? ought she get in contact with NEH, or someone else involved in the process, and simply ask ‘is this actually your policy?’ ?

  11. A quick google uncovered the following English-speaking nanny agency in the relevant city:
    8 euros an hour for one child; equipment such as child beds also available.

    The thing I’d worry about in many parts of Europe is whether anything can be arranged on very short notice from across the Atlantic.

  12. I’ll pass on that suggestion, elp. It’s a good one, as it can be done with an appearance of helpfulness, e.g. “Can I have a look at your policies regarding this requirement so that I can be sure to conform to them?” And hopefully the NEH will then come down like a ton of bricks on the person who said this to her.

    She is, unfortunately but understandably, reluctant to do anything confrontational at this point. She is still awaiting their response to her reply, and she still wants to both go to this seminar and not jeopardise her relationship with the NEH for the future.

    Reflecting on it, this sort of reluctance must be SO common. How many more cases like this that we don’t hear about must there be for every one that we do??

  13. Is it that similar conditions would not be applied to any solo parent irrespective of gender? Examples of male solo parents being given more flexible treatment?

    Or is the rush of outrage, apparently exacerbated by the gender of the victim, so strong such considerations are given no thought.

  14. hamish, i think the problem is that- by a wide margin- single (primary caregiver) parents tend to be women. so, any policy that disadvantages single parents is more likely to push women out than men. (but we don’t even need this to be outraged. a policy that disadvantages single parents is bad, full-stop.)

  15. HM: not given “no thought.” See #11.

    This example also fits into long discussions women philosophers have had over many years about conferences and accommodations for children. Sometimes the lack of accommodations come close to ruling out women’s participation; nursing mothers don’t want to leave their babies at home. Other times, the lack of accommodations feeds into a regrettable asymmetry: women have been – at least until very recently – inclined to be the more accommodating spouse for a whole lot of conflict situations: she has the lesser job, the greater child and house care responsibilities, etc.

    I think there’s evidence that young men are beginning to see the situation as one of family problems, not just women’s problems. Such a change couldn’t be more welcome. But as it is, E’s friend is one in a very long line of about 99.9% women who are institutionally disadvantaged by parenthood.

  16. for what it’s worth, I suspect it would be covered by EU anti-discrimination law (assuming the requirement does, as a matter of fact, place women at a substantial disadvantage compared with men): it could come under the employment and occupation directive, if it could count as vocational “training”, or it might come under goods and services if someone is paying for it. There’s more at http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/employment_and_social_policy/antidiscrimination_relations_with_civil_society/index_en.htm (The relevant Directive would then be implemented by domestic law in whatever European country it’s in.)

  17. With all due respect, both to the human rights that allow us to bear children AND pursue the careers we want….I have to ask a couple of questions. My interest is in being pro-active, and solution-oriented, not trolling.

    1) How old is the child? The reason I ask is it’s a different matter to find child care for say, a school aged child than for an infant. Likewise, if the child is a teenager, why would care be required at all? And of course, travelling to Europe would be a great educational experience for a school age kid with a guide who can show him/her around. However, to some kids, an academic conference would be a great big SNORE, as would hanging out in a hotel room in said European city.

    2) Are other people (male or female) also bringing their families, and is the conference picking up the tab for the extra accommodations?

    If Dr. So-and-so is bringing his wife and kid on the conference’s tab and the single mother isn’t allowed to bring her child and a caregiver, I call that unfair.

    If the conference’s budget can only afford, say, six people and no “guests” of any kind, and it’s five single guys and one single mother, it gets a lot more complicated. Unfortunately, when you sign up they don’t tell you that you can’t be an academic AND have a life. If it were a single father, this would be the same question.

    3) This is where it also gets touchy (no trolling here, either), what kind of support network does the single mother have? I mean, if it were me and my career depended on me being out of the country for four weeks in July, I’d send the kid to summer camp or Grandma’s or something.

    I think we’re missing some key information, and I like to look at both sides of an issue before I make up my mind about it. The organizers’ reasons might not be prejudiced against mothers or anti-woman, they might (for example) be strictly budgetary. Or simply, the conference is no place for kids.

  18. Synaesthetik, there’s no hint of any restrictions in the seminar website. Under “accommodations”, they suggest single occupany flats, but allow that confereees might want larger apartments.

    It would be good if the mother had a strong support network, but that’s an odd requirement for participating in philosophical events – and I don’t think you meant it as such.

    I agree there’s a lot more to know before we can pass final judgment, but I think there’s a more subtle point. Maybe she can get the issues resolved, maybe the person declaring what’s required will rescind the judgment, but the fact remains that she’s got a lot of extra stress, and nothing in the system seems prepared for her situation or prepared to smooth the way for her. At the same time, nothing in the system gave her any warning that being a single mother with a child was potentially disqualifying.

    Now, I can remember vividly some university tutors utterly flipping out at the news that one had a child. This happened to friends of mine in the 1960’s in England, while many US universities didn’t admit any women. It is 40-50 years later and some people still don’t seem prepared to cope with single mothers. Isn’t that …well, pick your adjective: tragic if they’re in control, utterly surprising unless you’ve been around the block, disgusting, probably illegal, etc, etc.

  19. It’s been my experience with single dads (though they’re all blue collar, not academics) that they don’t have these problems with accomodation at work. I don’t think it has anything to do with them being more focused or competent or whatever the world of work requires from any employee, either.

    I think single dads are regarded as “heroes” while single motherhood is still stigmatized. Employers and friends bend over backwards to help single dads, while single moms are viewed as a burden, or somebody that needs a hero that nobody wants to be.

    What kind of an employer thinks a woman’s childcare arrangements should be inspected by some committee before they allow her to do her job?

  20. Synaesthetik,

    The concern isn’t one of accommodation cost at all. They haven’t asked her to e.g. pay for her own larger accommodation; they’ve asked her to prove that she can arrange childcare on another continent within 12 hours.

  21. With all due respect, both to the human rights that allow us to bear children AND pursue the careers we want

    In cases like this, the gut reaction of those subscribing to the governing institutional norm is to say “This problem person is looking for special treatment”, who “wants to have it all”, and who should find a way to conform to the norm in a way that doesn’t create trouble for anyone beyond the “problem” person themselves. And, indeed, the latter is often what happens, as costs generated by the institutional structure are borne by those who don’t fit its expectations. But this rhetoric of “special treatment” is straightforwardly mistaken: a particular model of family structure — a minority model, even — is already receiving special treatment. It’s defined as a component of what a proper career looks like, and it’s built by assumption into the planning activities of organizers of events like this. So when people cry, “How is it possible combine having children and pursuing a career?”, one can only reply “I don’t know — try asking your father”.

    The fallback position from here is to say that the particular institutional model of career development we now have is somehow a brute fact of nature, or the inevitable outcome of the harsh laws of supply and demand. A general ignorance of both the history of occupations and life in other developed countries is helpful to maintaining this view. At any rate, if a sober concern for quality of scholarship and “commitment” is at the root of one’s belief that family responsibilities are incompatible with a real career, the obvious institutional solution was adopted by the Catholic Church some time ago. Department chairs should simply require strict vows of poverty and chastity of any assistant professor as a credible signal of their commitment to their scholarship. I don’t see how people can plausibly claim to be committed to doing serious intellectual work while being distracted by such trivialities as material possessions, sexual entanglements, and the wide range of cultural and social distractions offered by large European cities.

  22. You nailed it, Kieran. Synaesthetik is my proud spinster sister. She worked a series of crappy jobs after she got her degree and finally started doing well for herself in her early 30’s. Then came the gvt. cuts, my problems and my kids. We do a lot of good natured (?) squabbling about what she’s done for me, but I am SO grateful.

    I think her question was really “I agreed to take my sister’s problems for a couple of years. Doesn’t this woman’s family care enough to help her for the summer?” or something more to that effect. Synaesthetik meant to try to look at the problem from other angles. But yes, she’s more of a liberal feminist with a staunch protestant work ethic. I lean toward socialist feminist. Makes life interesting.

  23. Kieran, yes! This bears repeating and stressing: “And, indeed, the latter is often what happens, as costs generated by the institutional structure are borne by those who don’t fit its expectations.

    Also, I wonder if you have any thoughts on dissing analytic philosophy, a post from last week. I notice you consort with some philosophers.

  24. Sadly – i had a similar experience related to a question over healthcare coverage for my children while in residence for a year at a top university in the US. The first question when i inquired into receiving coverage for the kids as part of a year long fellowship was – we were surprised to hear you are not coming alone – have your plans changed in some unexpected way? My application mentioned nothing about whether or not i would be coming alone or with children. I couldn’t imagine how it would be any of their business; nor how it should affect their decision making. In then end, I will be paying most of the additional healthcare myself – approximately 12,000 dollars. Another way in which the academy structurally favors the single and the unattached, or alternatively – those who can come up with an extra 12000 dollars.

  25. Sandra, not to be judgmental, but that really is terrible. I can hardly believe that a top university is not providing health care for your family. I assume you have tried to reason with the relevant officials, but have you looked for some sort of ombuds person? Do they have a faculty senate or any advocacy group?

  26. I’m puzzled. The discussion started with the obviously outrageous case of a requirement to prove childcare arrangements–within 12 hours at that–as a condition for acceptance to a summer seminar.

    Now a further claim has been made that a fellowship that comes with healthcare coverage for the recipient should also come with healthcare for the recipient’s family. This is not obvious. Morally running the cases together does not seem like the best strategy for promoting gender fairness.

  27. Right, it’s unfair but quite normal that fellowships do not come with health insurance. In Australia I had to prove that I had health insurance in the States before I could start the job.

  28. anon “sr” philosopher: it’s probably better not to think of our sprawling discussions as constructing neat arguments. Still, the general principle has been introduced and indeed repeated and stressed: costs generated by the institutional structure are borne by those who don’t fit its expectations. Here the “institution” would be a combined one.

    There was a considerable outcry against the Westin St. Francis and having the Pac. APA there this year because the management wanted its employees to pay $200 (more?) a month for health care, which becomes $2.4K a year for workers getting about $30K. I don’t know what one year fellowships give, but even if it gives $60K a year, $12K is a very part. It’s 8% versus 20%.

    Of course, the details of a fellowship may be arcane. And if it’s a grad student position, it might be hard to expect any sort of very good deal. One might be well advised to check these things out, but I’d hardly expect everyone to know to do that.

  29. BB/Sr Phil, I just worked my way around to the fact that it might be a fellowship that does not make one over 50% FTE. Typically then one is treated roughly as fairly as grad students. Yikes! But also this should have been made clear at some point, particularly if it is not a grad fellowship, and so the recipient might be assumed to be coming from a place with full health coverage, as the comment implies, I think.

    The thing is, with the Australian system, does any Aussie need employer based health care coverage? I’m embarassed to say that I think one might have been able to get special rates for private coverage when I was employed in the UK. My GP urged me to get such a policy since if I had to go to a specialist I wouldn’t want to be touched by one of them – that is, one of the male commonwealth doctors employed in England. Or, more precisely, one who was a person of color.

    I think I’ll go away now and not think of such things.

  30. I’m puzzled.

    Funny old thing, conversations, eh? They do develop in odd directions.

    The rest of you are a lot more tolerant of concern-trolling than I would be.

  31. Having it all means going to a foreign city and leaving a 12 year old alone for 7 or 8 hours a day, for a month.
    One of the comments at Crooked Timber referred to being trusted to feed the cat and check the mail. No one was offended by that one.

    A child is a moral responsibility not a possession. Parental love is not contract law. The request sounds like European bureaucratic overkill but that’s what social democracy does sometimes.
    I want to know when she told them the kid was coming with her and his age. Let him stay with the father or another family member.

    This is something of the mirror image of divorced men complaining that they have a hard time winning custody because they’re men. In the past men had jobs, and women had kids: neither had “it all” except as a pair.
    It reminds me of a CT thread from 2007.

  32. See, that is what your better class of troll looks like. (Anon “sr” Philosopher, take note.) For those of you keeping score at home, Seth used to be one of our regulars over at CT, until he managed to pointlessly derail the posts of a large enough subset of our contributors that he got himself permanently banned.

  33. Kieran, take note: some readers might not be sure what your problem is.

    I understand the style at CT, where guys like you condescend to dismiss people who annoy you–especially on issues of gender and race. But this isn’t your blog, I post here with some regularity, and I was actually trying to be polite. I don’t know why you imagine that readers here might need your advice about tolerance.

    I’m sorry you feel that expressing reservations about running together various claims about gender bias, some of which are much more plausible than others, is an indicator of bad faith. But maybe if I were more like you, I would have reason to feel more anxious about my gender and race sensibilities than I do.

  34. C’mon now peeps, let’s keep it happy. We’ll ban any trolls as we see fit, but ceteris paribus, we don’t count civilised dissent as trolling.

  35. Kieran, we do tend to be very slow to make accusations of trolling here. If someone’s not being nice we’ll call for a return to niceness (as Monkey has just done); if they’re abusive they’re likely to be deleted; and if they’re non-abusive but raising some tired old point we’re bored with we ignore them.

  36. An update: “Friend still hasn’t heard back from the seminar organizers. She will be directly contacting the NEH EOO office tomorrow to make them aware of the situation and ask for advice/clarification. Also, for those that have asked: Son is 13 (making the demand for demonstrated *full-time* childcare provisions even stranger).

    She also wanted to thank everyone for their support and helpful suggestions…She was pretty unsure of how to proceed, and then suggestions I’ve passed on to her from you have really helped her to feel like she’s got a concrete plan of action.

  37. I’m sorry you feel that expressing reservations about running together various claims about gender bias, some of which are much more plausible than others, is an indicator of bad faith.

    In the context of the conversation in this thread, the claims you mentioned were in no plausible sense being “run together”, and so I didn’t find your posture of puzzlement particularly convincing.

  38. The NEH has now been contacted about this by Inside Higher Ed, and they say that the requirement is against their policies: .

  39. Just a note on concern trolls, whom Kieran mentioned. They needn’t look like trolls at all. Rather, they appear to support the discussion while at the same time derailing it. As one website puts it:

    Concern trolling is a form of Internet trolling in which someone enters a discussion with claims that he or she supports the view of the discussion, but has concerns. In fact, the concern troll is opposed to the view of the discussion, and he or she uses concern trolling to sow doubt and dissent in the community of commenters or posters.

  40. jender, it’s great that IHE caught onto our discussion. I hope that if people from NEH come over here, they’ll see there was some attention paid to the point that we did not know it was NEH’s decision that we were discussing.

    I’m very concerned that some people want to dump on the mother. We really don’t have much reason to suppose she’ll leave the kid alone for 7-8 hours. She might have language classes in mind, for example. Or know some people, or expect to find faculty who have children that age.

    4 week in a European city for a 13 sounds to me like a dream experience. It’s very unfortunate that her inquiry came close to ending her plans.

  41. Fortunately, Kieran, I don’t need to answer to you in blog or thought. Perhaps others find your bizarre posture of indignation toward me particularly convincing.

    I took exception to one claim, which entered the conversation late: that a fellowship (in the U.S.) not providing healthcare for the recipient’s family constitutes a clear case of gender bias. To me, this claim did not do service to the kind of bias situation that had been under discussion.

    If the moderators believe that my point approaches “concern trolling” or is tired and near worthless, they really should feel free to let me know.

  42. I personally found Kiernan’s post odd (I had to read it several times). That said, Jender and JJ’s responses seem to me telling, so perhaps “anon” and I are in the minority here.

  43. Fortunately, Kieran, I don’t need to answer to you in blog or thought. Perhaps others find your bizarre posture of indignation toward me particularly convincing.

    Readers are welcome to search my comments at 36, 38 and 43 above for any evidence I was contorted into a “bizarre posture of indignation” with respect to anon “sr” philosopher, or indeed any demand that I be “answered to”.

  44. I was never a concern troll at CT Kieran, any more than those now “concerned” by Henry’s defense of Orin Kerr (who couldn’t answer the question as to whether waterboarding is torture because he hadn’t studied the issue enough).

    The argument here has been as much about principle as the actual case and my question was why the interests of children have largely been ignored. Was I the only one offended by the comparison of a child to a pet?

    The issue of equal concern for men and women is one thing, but should the state make it a policy to show less concern for a child’s welfare if the child’s primary caregiver is female? And this because women are primarily disadvantaged by the burden of this third party?

    Kieran H: “So when people cry, “How is it possible combine having children and pursuing a career?”, one can only reply “I don’t know — try asking your father”.

    But men in the previously standard relation didn’t have the children, women did. And as I pointed out in this country divorced men are much less likely to be given custody even if they make a claim. So again as I said, no one has ever “had it all.” Other countries decree than men do have it all but that’s not the subject here.

    I’m not a defender of what’s now called Men’s Rights but I am pissed of by the bureaucratization of love and the perception of children as property rather than simultaneously as dependent obligation and fully independent subject.

    My last comment on this issue unless asked.

  45. May I suggest that we bring a halt to the discussion of exchanges among participants on this list? It is not constructive.

    I do think the category of concern troll is important, but I do not mean to suggest anyone here is one. Unfortunately, we are ending up just where concern trolls like to take a discussion: off the topic and close to forming factions.

    I do know that on political sites I’ve been accused of concern trolling when I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. It may be that philosophers can quite easily look that way, and end up unintentionally having the same effect. Of course, it’s a nice question here just who is having what effect. Let’s NOT address it!

  46. Just one clarification– The seminar in question only runs 3 hours a day. Not that I really think it’s anyone’s business how long this woman leaves her son alone, or with others, or whatever she is planning on doing. I just want people to have the facts.

  47. Was I the only one offended by the comparison of a child to a pet?

    Since everyone else seems to have correctly understood that the comparison was made not in terms of the relative importance of children and pets, or in terms of possession or property, but in terms of “responsibilities a mature adult might have to take care of in order to attend a conference in another country that are properly well beyond the concerns of the grant committee”, I suspect you probably were.

    Jender, I’m glad to hear of the IHE piece.

  48. He’s 13?!? If it weren’t for the passport & getting to the American departure city issues, I’d offer my 18 year old’s services. She says she’d do it for travel& accommodation costs and a chance to work on her languages, no pay. Better luck next time opportunity knocks.Thanks for giving me a reason to get her a passport.

  49. “At this point, I think she should respond “well, of course, my wife will be coming with me and responsible for full time child care.” And I think she should say that especially if it’s not true, just to f with their sexist heads.”

    Or that she’s heard that the slave markets are good in the country in which the conference is being held, and she figured that she could rent suitable servants for the month.

  50. Seth:
    You’re wrong. At least in the US, 100 years ago if a couple divorced, the father got the children. The exception was for very very small children who would stay with their mother (under the assumption that they needed to spend their tender years with her) until they reached about 6 years old, at which point they would be returned to their father. So she’d end up with absolutely nothing, and the father would have everything.

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