17 thoughts on “Understanding others? 7 male speakers

  1. Samantha, yes, I wondered about that, but Andrea is a man.

    I think there’s a question those of us on the side of the gendered conference campaign have to address. The campaign is not really about people having the right intentions or even making some moves in the direction of getting a diverse speaker list. A significant amount of the harm we are concerned about remains if the program is all male, despite whatever went on behind the scenes.

    I’m not keen on saying “intentions are not good enough; you need to have a success,” but I’m also worried about the effectiveness of the campaign if we don’t.

    I think that at the foundation of my concerns is the worry that we are giving into the idea that real merit is not affected by biases (or not very much). Here’s why: I often think in these cases of what friends in African American studies would say. After they stopped laughing. I think most African Americans I know have been around this particular block a number of times. I suspect that they might point out that there’s a hidden premise, to the effect that there are not very many qualified women. In this case, to be qualified may mean that somehow your career does not look as though you struggled through a profession with only 16% women.

  2. There’s another research meeting going on at the same time and in conjunction with the project but separate from it. The women invitees decided to present papers at the research meeting rather than at the workshop.

  3. JJ, I don’t take our campaign to be about deciding who deserves blame, so I’d really want to take the focus off the question of what constitutes enough for an organiser to do. I want people to be thinking about the problem, and discussing its many facets, and also brainstorming about possible solutions. And I think a crucial part of that is that well-intentioned organisers don’t feel like they’re being beaten up when they come on here.

    So, no, I don’t think discussion *should* end with “oh well, you tried”. But equally I don’t think it should continue with “well, that’s not good enough”. I think it should continue with “ok, you tried, and it didn’t work. Let’s think about some new things to try…”

    And I do think that’s largely what we’re doing.

  4. This post and the subsequent comments on Feminist Philosophers came to my attention this morning. I have been thinking about it all morning and remain sad and upset that this is the tactic that you have decided to take. But I’m trying to remain as charitable as I can be.

    Being charitable requires that I assume that the bloggers here are experiencing the same deeply difficult time in the academic and economic world that the rest of us are experiencing. The attacks on academic unions, the lay-offs, the elimination of philosophy programs, the elimination of tenure-track lines, and the horrific job market for new PhDs. I’m sure that you feel the same sense of solidarity and concern for our colleagues in philosophy that I do.

    Given that, you are surely appropriately cautious about using this as a forum for outing, embarrassing, or questioning our colleagues’ abilities to think about gendered issues in a meaningful and effective way.

    Given that, I’m sure you carefully research each conference, workshop, or meeting of philosophers before you decide to publicly out the organizers for the resulting conference line-up. I’m sure you recognize the importance of your campaign to raise awareness about the representation of women in philosophical settings (as do I, most strongly) while also maintaining respect for the earnest thoughtfulness and active concern of most of our colleagues of philosophy. This final point would, it seems to me, make us want to always give the benefit of the doubt to our colleagues. It would make us shy away from condescension, or assumption about their failures to think critically about gender. (This, I think, is one of the main failures of the form letter that you link to for this campaign.)

    Given this benefit of the doubt and sense of respect that most of us — I’m sure — have for our colleagues, I’m sure that in this particular case you thought quite carefully about the workshop topic and conference size. You wanted to be quite sure your accusations were warranted. What would one do to be sure of this? Statistical analysis wouldn’t hurt — one might look at the extraordinarily narrow topic of the workshop, the very small size of the workshop, and then one might come with an actual analysis of how likely it is that given the number of people working in this very narrow field, and given the gender distribution within that very narrow field, what are the chances that seven speakers would all be men? This sort of analysis would be one way of arriving at a good starting point.

    Of course, at this point, there’s still room for quite a bit more charity! We might wonder whether the organizers had geographical considerations in mind, whether there was a history of conversations between certain speakers that would make bringing them together especially fruitful, and we might even ask whether the intellectual quality of this workshop would be best served by this particular line-up. These are relevant consideration alongside — and not instead of — gender considerations.

    Finally, I hope that the actual letter that was sent to the actual organizer was not anonymously signed. It seems to me that reciprocity, respect, and responsibility in these kinds of accusations is of utmost importance.

    Nellie Wieland

    Full Disclosure: Wayne Martin is one of the directors of the Essex Autonomy Project. He was also my dissertation director and a good friend. I am a feminist philosopher (and was trained as such by him) and I can’t imagine a person more thoughtful about these matters than he.

  5. Nellie,

    I’m genuinely puzzled by your comment. We go out of our way, in the letter, to make it clear that we are not accusing anyone or assuming anything. We are concerned with the effects of all-male conferences, so we want to have discussions about them– of how they come about, and of how we can work to bring it about that women are better represented. If something in the letter suggests otherwise, I very much want to change it.

  6. Jender, I hope that I don’t derail Nellie’s reply. Perhaps she wrote it while you were responding to my comment, so she did not see you reiterate the aim to not blame or beat up people. In any case, I think the foundations of her view could be enlightening.

    I’m inclined both to say that I completely agree with your #7 and to say that I don’t understand it. I think the problem (or my problem) might be that there seem to be two or three or even more foci for discourse. One is certainly that of discussing it with people who come to the site in response to the campaign. Another is inquiring into the causes of the absence or near-absence of women.

    I think that conflating the two can take us into either of two undesirable directions. One ends up with blaming the organizers, which among other things would at least as a practice short cut the campaign’s effectiveness. The other direction of comflation would be to take comments such as “no women accepted” at face value for assessing strategies in the campaign. (I do not have any particular case in mind as I say this.)

    My remark above was the result of concern that we were on the verge of doing the second, and perhaps you think we can and should? The problem is, at least in my experience with other academic groups, is that all sorts of factors may affect processes like “looking for minority candidates” and contribute to the null outcome. I don’t mean this as news to anyone, but I’ll mention a few. One may be just that people don’t know how to do it. Another is that it can take quite a bit of effort to effect even a small change in a social form, and people may not want to put the effort into it. The reasons for the latter might be important at some point to address. It’s no wonder that, in a field where women are too often invisible, everyone gets the idea that there are only a few women who are any good in any area. Still, that’s worth questioning. If my experience in talking to and with groups is any indication, one can find buried beliefs that are influential in part because they haven’t been addressed; for example, the belief that a woman or a minority will only interest women or minorities. (As it seems from a recent discussion, men don’t want to read women’s work, etc.)

    I haven’t really articulated an issue, so let me put it one a bit crudely: if we couple discussing bias and the campaign, then we might be taken to be into blaming. If we uncouple them, we may go in the other direction.

  7. I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. There were so many things about this that frustrated me that I wasn’t writing or thinking clearly.

    First, let me reiterate that I support any campaign to raise awareness about gender and conference diversity. What I do not support is this particular tactic. Here are the main reasons:

    1. Anonymity. It’s disingenuous for you to invite someone to have a conversation with you where they are identified and you are not. It’s disingenuous to write a letter saying “I’ve done this too, let’s talk about it.” But you really mean that they should talk about it, not you. A reciprocal exchange requires that both interlocutors opt into the conversation voluntarily and accept the terms. The presumption of the letter is that they ought to answer to you in some way while you hide behind anonymity (to be honest, this is the principal reason I’ve never wanted to comment on this blog before). If I’m wrong about the anonymity, please let me know!

    2. You may not think that the letter reads in an accusatory fashion, but, at least to this reader, it does. We all have a clear enough understanding of implicatures to recognize that the very sending of the letter is mildly accusatory (regardless of whether you state ~p in the letter). For example, giving an organizer permission to admit that he/she “screwed up” is, quite frankly, the suggestion that he/she in fact screwed up. I appear to have a different view than some of the posters on this site in that I think conferences where only one gender is represented can be perfectly Good. It all depends — see below.

    3. As a tactic, it seems presumptuous to post this deviant workshop before your homework is done and then “invite” (see above) the organizer to continue the conversation. (Of course, I have no idea what your actual method is.) In my view, it would be far more respectful to privately submit a query to the organizer. You might find, depending on the case, that it would be entirely unreasonable for the program to be composed in some other fashion. Much of this depends on the factors listed in my original comment (like size of the sub-field, members of the sub-field, other constraints/desires of the conference). Again, I think it’s a matter of respect to have as a starting point the assumption that our colleagues are doing their best, reasoning their best, and are genuinely thoughtful with respect to these issues.

    4. Finally, a larger consideration of context would be appropriate, in my view. If someone is putting on a conference series and women are ill-represented at one meeting, would it really be appropriate to chastise if that’s not the case at other meetings? If so, why?
    Finally, and I realize that this is stated in the letter, but to me it sounds preposterous: do you really want to bring it about that there are no meetings (in this case of *seven people*) that are all male in a discipline that is over 80% male? That goal is (well, obviously) impractical, but also undesirable. I really meant what I said about maybe getting Nate Silver on the job and looking at some probabilities before auto-sending the letter. If your tactic is to send a letter to every organizer of every all-male philosophical event from 1-500 participants, your message will surely be trivialized.

    Anyways, I hope that this is taken as I intend — as open and honest criticism of a goal that I otherwise fully endorse and have often argued for myself. The fact that I am not doing so anonymously might be a problem for me down the road; but I’ll take that risk.


  8. “I’m sure you recognize the importance of…also maintaining respect for the earnest thoughtfulness and active concern of most of our colleagues of philosophy. This final point would, it seems to me, make us want to always give the benefit of the doubt to our colleagues….

    Given this benefit of the doubt and sense of respect that most of us — I’m sure — have for our colleagues….”

    In all sincerity, I have no idea why the philosophy profession is due such charity. How are our colleagues different from members of other guilds regarding the inclusion of women and minorities? Actually, the statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that our profession is doing worse than most others on this front.

    If being called out by the Gendered Conference Campaign (in which I have no involvement) is so dreaded, that seems a sign of success. Quieter, less public measures have resulted in our colleagues of influence, as a critical mass, addressing the underrepresentation of women (and minorities) with all deliberate speed. I can hardly imagine why raising greater awareness about the facts on display would be experienced as a personal accusation.

    Perhaps feminist-minded critics of the GCC could spare some energy for proposing more effective, timely measures.

  9. I’d like to comment on just one of the points that Nellie made: that one of the considerations in putting together a conference is “whether there was a history of conversations between certain speakers that would make bringing them together especially fruitful.” If we think there is a tendency for women not to be cited when they should be — and I think that there *is* reason to believe that — then such a consideration is problematic, even if there is no intentional bias on the part of the organizers or the speakers. In fact, it could be argued that it would be even more fruitful to get together speakers who don’t normally talk with one another, but should.

  10. Thanks for your note, Nellie. I really genuinely do mean the letter and the conversations to be non-accusatory, but I’m aware that not everyone has taken them in that way, which has always troubled me (some have, which pleases me). I see your point about the passage regarding admitting that one has screwed up, and I’ll think about how to change it. That’s very helpful.

    As to the goal of no all-male conferences: Part of the idea is that by getting fewer and fewer of these (and doing a lot of other things) we will *change* the composition of philosophy so it’s no longer all-male.

  11. And yes, I do think one should make a serious effort not to have all-male conferences of 7 speakers (or even 4). And if that effort fails, then I think it’s worth trying to figure out why, and brainstorming about ways to improve– which is what we’re trying to do. As to the existing conversations, if all parties to the existing conversations are male, then perhaps it’s time to try to get some new voices in. (Networks are known to perpetuate existing imbalances.)

  12. Thanks for your responses. I can see your point about wanting new people in the conversations. I think you’re right about that, at least in the abstract. I’m not sure it’s true for every actual conversation. That will always be the challenge; and I guess we will just differ on that.

  13. You’re right that it may not be true for every conversation. But I do think it’s worth *trying* for every conversation.

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