An open call for reasons to stay

This is cross-posted from What is it Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy, which doesn’t allow comments. Leave your responses in the comments here!

I am about to start my PhD at an excellent Leiter ranked program. I have a BA and and MA from excellent schools. I have worked closely with ground breaking philosophers in my field. I have published, I have an excellent teaching resume, phenomenal letters of recommendation, and moreover I love my job. I am a good philosopher, and I am thinking about leaving philosophy.

I have been a secretary and a chauffeur. I have been disingenuously promised research assistantships and letters of recommendation, in return for dinner dates and car rides. I have been asked if I was married while my colleagues have been asked what they think. I have been told that I’m both cute and idiotic. I have passed on professional opportunities because I am a woman, and no one would believe that I deserved those opportunities — accepting would make me seem like a slut, since men make it on merit, and women make it in bed. So, ironically, I have been praised as professional for having passed on professional opportunities. I have been the lone woman presenting at the conference, and I have been the woman called a bitch for declining sexual relations with one of the institutions of hosts. I think I have just about covered the gamut of truly egregiously atrocious sexist behaviour. So I just have this one question that I think I need answered: Is the choice between doing
philosophy, and living under these conditions, or saving yourself, and leaving the discipline?

This is an open call for reasons to stay.

60 thoughts on “An open call for reasons to stay

  1. I cannot believe this is happening, and worse, I cannot believe philosophers are actually thinking about leaving because of sexism! Is this subject so touchy that everyone loses their ability to reason, to observe, to make pragmatic conclusions and act accordingly? What is this? Some non overcomeable obstacle that just sprung to life? NO, look around you? Its ordinary typical opression, chauvenism, hate. Women in political, social, feminist and historical philosophy (and surely, more) who consider leaving maybe should do so on the grounds that you, by considering leaving, show lack of knowledge or interest in the big questions such as democracy, womens liberation, equality, slave liberation etc. That was random and unorganized. But hey- I mean it. This is old stuff.

    Sure, I know what it is like to have idiots around you who do anything to put you down, something I have not experienced more of in philosophical settings- au contraire. Most men in philosophy I’ve met have been equals, really good, humble, careful and thoughtful men with no such intention at all as to put me down.
    The men that have put me down, however, are those who have philosophy as an interest, to begin with, only on the basis of their own insecurity. They are the kind of men that don’t do well socially. That have suffered from depression and frustration. The kind of men that need status. That wants to relate to Nietsche, Wittgenstein, [] (these come to mind), philosophers who all were rebels emotive and wierdos. Sure, I know these men. They are weak. They are few. They are lonely. And they just…need…love.*

    But is this something they do exclusively against women? No, I don’t think so. I think this is the kind of jargon among really insecure and frustrated men, and they do it to each other as well. But even if it was only something that happened from men to women, leaving would be a mistake.
    What have you done to make it stop? How have you confronted these men? Do you stir up a storm on campus spreading the word or do you just swallow the insults? I will write more on this subject and come back with a new comment. But until then. Don’t be foolish and leave. Fight it, shed some light on it, and most important of all: Do not be afraid.

    (Remember the findings on how rapists choose their victims by style of walking? They can smell fear, they can see it before you speak. Use this knowledge. And learn from studies on bullying- this is the same thing.) They can’t do anything to you. They are just small, ignorant, scared, lonely sexist men who do not deserve that you leave philosophy.

    *I am not suggesting that anyone bears any responsibility to ‘love’ or ‘care’ for these guys, I’m just saying that you should see it like it is. If anything, I suggest you should confront them, one by one, on these premises. Tell it like it is and say you won’t put up with this or you will call the police.

    And lastly I just want to add: Do not leave philosophy, because it would lead to a horrible development in philosophy, university and feminist history.

  2. i don’t have an answer, and I agree that comment three is, of course, right (tho, probably not going to happen). just wanted to say I ink victim-blaming is just as inappropriate in this instance as it is wrt rape.

  3. I think it is a mistake to make analogies to rape, in most subjects. I would very much like to hear the motivation for such comparison.
    In the topic of bullying/sexism/verbal hate crimes I think it is necessary to stand up (as they say..) for your rights. The issue of sexism needs more nuances and more people to get engaged and say what they think. It is closely related to an authoritarian problem; someone should ask who gave them the mandate do be heard? -Don’t listen, don’t obey or take notice of this nobody who is just flowing of hate.
    Also, the fact that so many have different experiences is important. Perhaps if all experiences were collected, were to be assessed openly, a policy to exclude sexist men from work or sexist comments would be implemented. The debate on Leiter was similar, and nobody seemed to be able to work together, everybody were confused.
    The fact that so few stand up and speak loudly against these few men (who should not be in charge of faculties, conference management or editing journals) is a huge problem as I see it. Otherwise it risks becoming a one way communication, where bullies hurt and leave without resistance. I, being a woman, would never consider leaving philosophy. How can this be that our opinions differ so gravely? I would like to know, and to have this topic discussed further.

  4. “…and moreover I love my job” If you love your job why are you thinking of leaving. Nuff’ said.

    Seriously. though, I suspect that one of two scenarios obtains in this situation. Either you have had highly unusually bad experiences in philosophy which, in all likelihood, you will not experience through the rest of your career or there is more to your motivation to leave philosophy than you have said (and perhaps than you are aware). This is simply because I do not believe that as a whole the profession is sexist enough to make a reasonable woman who loves philosophy want to leave on that basis alone.

    Also, I find comment 4 inappropriate. It is entirely reasonable to question what the appropriate response to bullying or sexism is, as Astrid has done. And saying that doing so is comparable to blaming rape victims is absurd.

  5. Can I please ask people to mind the tone of their comments? This is someone at a very early stage of her career who has had such shitty experiences she is thinking of leaving, and who has turned to those of us with more experience in the profession for some moral support/advice.

    – Implying that the person is a coward for not staying to fight/making a big noise about the behaviour of sexist assholes.
    – Implying that she is somehow to blame because sexist idiots will pick on those they can tell are weak.
    – Suggesting her experiences are either ‘highly unusual’ or that she doesn’t love philosophy as much as she suggests – which implies, of course, that her reports may not to be trusted.

    This is entirely inappropriate. I will delete any further comments of this nature.

  6. Reasons for not leaving: it’s not always this bad!

    Can you try to find out more about the experience of women grad students at the place where you may do a PhD? Are there senior women faculty members there? Are they sympathetic? What’s the general culture of the department? It can be difficult to find these things out in advance, but it may be worth it. Because not every department is as bad as those you’ve encountered so far, and it would definitely be a good thing to do your PhD in a department where this behaviour is less likely to occur.

  7. – Implying that the person is a coward for not staying to fight/making a big noise about the behaviour of sexist assholes.
    – Implying that she is somehow to blame because sexist idiots will pick on those they can tell are weak.
    – Suggesting her experiences are either ‘highly unusual’ or that she doesn’t love philosophy as much as she suggests – which implies, of course, that her reports may not to be trusted.

    None of these implications were my aim, to defend my reply. I do not think anyone is a coward But the sexists themselves. I do not, at all, think that the victim is to blame but that, when hurt, the ‘victim’ can take some precautionary advice such as being more hard and ready for it (I presume she is in an environment where this is a recurrent feature whithin the interaction at her department) and realizing there is nothing to fear. Why is this wrong? I am here to defend her and to helping her realize she doesn’t haveto leave! I hope you don’t read in to anything else, or any other tone that I might have. I am trying to be an optimist.
    Also I do not suggest her reports are not to be trusted. As I said, all experiences should come to light? Why should my voice be silenced? Is the subject that explosive that if a person does not immediately reason likewise she is not to have her opinion? That, sounds to me, is opression too.

  8. I appreciate that you may not have intended these implications, but they are there. Remember that what’s said on the internet comes across differently than what’s said face-to-face, where tone of voice, facial expression, and so on are also important media of communication. This is why I asked everyone – not just you, btw – to mind the tone of their comments.

    Second, the last wasn’t directed to you, but to comment 6.

    Third, diversity of opinion is fine here, but we ask commenters to be careful how they make their points. Friendly and constructive is how we like it. There will be no silencing so long as this rule is followed!

  9. I’ve been in this profession for 16 years, including grad school. I’m tenured. I’ve published well and have a proven record of excellence as a teacher. I’ve experienced much sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment, starting in grad school and continuing to the present. (Actually, I can site one incidence as an undergrad philosophy student.) I’ve observed more sexism directed at others. I’m in a large department with few women–a dwindling number of women, I’ll add. I’ve been marginalized or nearly invisible to my colleagues, despite my being persistently vocal. Of course, the details make a difference in understanding my story. But that’s the basic shape of it. And here’s how I feel about it: I do not think I would not do it again. I would have chosen a different field–I had other interests and talents beyond philosophy. I thought when I went into philosophy that it would be receptive to feminist thought; it wasn’t. I thought when I became a professor that I could improve things for women in the field, and I’ve tried and tried, and made very little difference–yes, some women students have been inspired and fostered and mentored by me, but the profession hasn’t budged in decades. No, I don’t want to encourage women to give up, abandon the cause, etc. But if someone is, at such an early stage, already feeling that her success in the field is jeopardized, already feeling discouraged, etc., and thinks maybe she wants to do something else, more power to her. PArt of being a successful feminist is choosing your battles. And there is a lot of feminist work to be done in other areas. Whatever you choose, believe in yourself.

  10. To the author of the original post: sorry to hear about those dreadful experiences. That truly sucks.

    I’ve definitely had times when I’ve thought about leaving philosophy (I’m post-PhD, and, fortunately, in a job). One angry thought that keeps me with it when I’m having doubts is: why the crap shouldn’t I be in this profession? I have no less right than the folks who deal out the sh*t.
    Sometimes that angry thought is enough!

    But more seriously, I think Monkey above is right about finding supportive people. That has helped me a great deal.
    Can you make links with the Women in Philosophy Taskforce? Or with a branch of SWIP? There may be mentoring programmes. Being in touch with supportive people really helps me to feel at home in philosophy, which I need to enjoy the work and put all the insecurities out of mind (hard to do!).

    Good luck!
    Btw – it would be great to hear from you on what you’ve found useful. I imagine a lot of people share your concerns.

  11. To the OP, I sympathize with your anguish. You are not asking a stupid question or one with an obvious answer. The things we love can bring us a lot of grief. I love doing feminist philosophy (as a grad student) but I question myself all the time about whether it’s worth the pain and frustration when I can be doing something fun and lighthearted (by comparison) and popular, like philosophy of science–where people don’t attack my basic premises (mostly) and the importance of my entire field.

    If love was enough, then I would say stay if you love the field and to hell with the rest of the unwanted, annoying side effects. But sometimes love isn’t enough, and you’re the one who has to make this judgment call. But sexism can get under your skin, and being in a hostile environment can add stress and feelings of insecurity and loneliness. Sometimes we can push through the hostility and find pockets of a community that value and appreciate us. We can learn from all the bs people put us through; we grow stronger and tougher than they themselves will ever dream of being. But sometimes the good does not outweigh the stress, the aggravation, the stolen opportunities, and the thousands of demeaning words and gestures. And it’s partly a crapshoot based on which school you’re going to.

    And this is about you; it’s not about feminism or women in general. You have no obligation to stay because it will be good for other women. If you want to stay partly to help make room for other women, I salute you, but that’s not your duty. Your ‘duty’ is to take care of yourself, and your future in a world that stacks the deck against you in many ways. These reasons to stay are reasons for you, the individual, in your particular circumstance.

    Sorry I don’t have any concrete reasons for you to stay, but I think this is a gamble you have to make. It might be amazing, but it might not. The most concrete reason I can think of it how damn fulfilling philosophy and feminist philosophy are as intellectual pursuits, so it all depends on where you are and what you’ve been through. Best of luck in your career!!

  12. Not to be depressing, but is there any reason to think you wouldn’t experience similar sexism in other careers? What would you be leaving philosophy to do? Law? Business? All of this is awful, of course, but I don’t know that we have evidence that philosophy is distinctive in any of these ways. Academics – especially male academics – often like to think they live an enlightened bubble, and the What It’s Like blog and this blog and other sources are important reminders that that’s not true. We need to work to make our corner of the world better and less sexist. But I honestly don’t think that it’s a good gamble to assume that leaving philosophy will help (although again this depends on the alternate career, I guess.)

  13. I too have experienced situations in academia which have given me cause to think of leaving philosophy, sexist behaviour being one of them. But ranking above gendered and sexist reasons for leaving as a push factor, are the responses of some of the women whom I have looked to for mentorship. These are career philosophers who have given responses akin to those given on this forum by the likes of Astrid Paulsson — people who suggest that there is something wrong with me for even _thinking_ of leaving and for casting aspersions either on my character or love of the discipline that I should consider this option.

    There is something deeply dysfunctional about the philosophical community when people who ask for help and advice are instead offered suggestions that are frankly insulting and discouraging. What is scary is the lack, it seems, of any moral recognition that the kinds of comments offered are offensive and trivialise the experience of a person coming to you for advice. If we would like to retain women in the discipline, perhaps it is time we looked at what it means to provide encouragement and nurturance for young career researchers.

    To the original poster — in light of your experiences, you have every right and also good reason to think of leaving a community which treats you in this manner. Having said that, it would be unfortunate to see someone of your potential and with your sense of what is right leave philosophy. It is our loss. While I have shared similar experiences as yours, I can also say that those episodes were rooted in a limited and insular philosophical community. Leaving that environment made me realise that philosophical communities vary tremendously in terms of social and professional norms that are considered acceptable. If you cannot find redress or nurturing in the place that you are at, leave, and leave early. But I would hope that you leave for another philosophical community that may be more egalitarian, respectful and encouraging rather than that you leave the discipline entirely. Such environments do exist and I hope you find one that you can flourish in.

  14. In response to Rebecca – I think there is some reason to think it might be a bit better in other fields – philosophy is one of the worst for gender-distribution (possibly for other distributions too).

  15. The thought that kept me going when the going was tough was: if I quit, they win.
    Of course, that mantra alone was not sufficient and thanks to a great web of supporters (friends, colleagues, mentors) outside my department (where I experienced sexism) helped me a great deal.
    Good luck and I hope you stay.

  16. I would like to echo the advice to do some research, and ask around, to find out about your new PhD program’s friendliness toward women. I also found myself the victim of a great deal of sexism and inappropriate harassment as an undergrad and again as an MA student that thankfully, and almost *completely* disappeared at my (also Leiter top 10) PhD program. If you discover your PhD program is women-friendly, then you’ll have a guaranteed 5 or more years to enjoy a great, supportive environment doing what you love. If the program turns out not to be friendly, then I would strongly suggest reapplying/transferring to one that is. It makes all the difference in the world to feel supported and comfortable where you live and work, so surround yourself with good people! Note that you cannot just go with the official list of “women-friendly” departments. You will have to actually ask graduate students at those departments. It may be a bit awkward and a hassle, but worth it for your peace of mind over the next 5 years.

  17. Reasons to stay. (Warning: these are from a man, so take with as many grains of salt as you need).

    because you are great at philosophy
    because philosophy is fun
    because you are probably better at philosophy than anything else you might do
    because living well is the best revenge
    because you can create safe space for others in the profession, now and later
    because we are changing, slowly
    because they are trying to shove you out of their gendered space
    because IT GETS BETTER
    because we all, at some point, experience some philosophical buttmunch who tries to make us feel worthless, and if we all left, there would be no more philosophy in the universities, and that would be a tragedy, because it brings so much
    because the good moments will always outweigh the bad
    because you are right and they are wrong, and you can prove it, logically
    because you are a woman and therefore you have a reserve of inner strength
    because you will get through this
    because there are lots of safe spaces out there, and you will be heard for the quality of your ideas
    because you only have to reach some of the people
    because your students need you
    because your teachers need you
    because the world needs you
    because
    because
    because

    I was a philosophy grad student when I was 21, 22, 23. I was kind of a dick then, and while I was stridently, publicly (and even arrogantly) feminist, I’m sure at several points I talked over and down to women and made them feel like crap. I was a jerk. But I’ve grown partially out of being a jerk, and lots of people are like me – 15 years of thinking hard about men and women and sex and gender can begin to make you see the mirror held up to yourself.. Of course, I *left* the active practice of academic philosophy because I got tired of the point-scoring (and became, believe it or not, a lawyer, and was lucky enough to go to places where women’s contributions are valued and respected by everyone).

    All the reasons I gave, above, are often reasons to leave philosophy as well. But if philosophy feels “right” and only the sexism feels “wrong”, do the philosophy, and fight the sexism (with the rest of us, we need you!) And keep talking about how philosophy (and philosophy departments) has a problem with women, because if we talk about it, it will help. ON the other hand, you said leaving would be “saving yourself”. If you’re in peril, RUN RUN RUN. There’s a whole world out there where you can do philosophy without being an academic philosopher.

    Philosophy is usually the very last place where social revolutions make themselves felt – it’s the most conservative of all the academic disciplines because it takes great pride in being the oldest and false pride in being the most fundamental. But it does, eventually, begin to move. And it is beginning to move, and the increasing willingness of people (especially women) in philosophy to talk about its problems with women is a sign. (We’re almost starting to get around to race and culture too).

    And like I said, philosophy is fun. That is a great reason to do things.

  18. Dear OP,
    I’ve dealt with the kinds of sexism you describe, and in my own case, far worse forms of heterosexism (worse in terms of career-damage). If you count graduate school, I’ve been in the profession for twenty years.
    And I’ve heard some of the things you’re hearing here, and I suspect will hear out in the real world. E.g. “if you quit, they win”; “you have to fight”; or “no matter what, you win, because they can’t take away your work and they have to live with being who they are”. And some additional lines you may well hear later in your career if you decide to stay, like “think of the younger women/gays/queers”.
    Sometimes I find those thoughts helpful, in that it’s good to be reminded forcefully that bullshit is bullshit, and injustice is injustice, and the vicious are vicious, and they should all be called-out by their proper names. That’s *really* important. Sometimes I don’t find it helpful; I signed up to spend my life doing philosophy, not fighting bullshit heterosexist and sexist idiots, and the wear and tear involved in doing the latter (both the external fight and the fight to keep from internalizing) can be at times unimaginably awful. That’s the truth, and OP, I will not promise you it will get better. It might not. My own post-grad school experience has been far worse than grad school. Whether it’s typical or my bad luck, my post grad school experience has been replete with pigs and troglodytes of various sorts.
    But I stay, and to the extent my reasons are transparent to me, here’s what I can tell you about why I do: I deeply love doing philosophy. I love talking philosophy, writing it, that look on a student’s face of revelation when something really hard gets through. I think other fields, including law, would be less heterosexist/sexist than what I’ve dealt with so far, but philosophy, for me, is way more fun. And for all the pigs and moss backed medieval troglodytes, there are also some truly amazing men and women whom I never would have gotten to meet, let alone count as dear and much loved friends, if I didn’t do this. And that matters a lot to me too.
    For me, so far, this has been enough. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

  19. I am retiring after a career of 22 years in philosophy. Just after I earned my Ph.D. a group of women – mostly grad students – and I filed a hostile environment claim against the department and won, requiring the department to always have a senior feminist philosopher on the faculty, which has been followed since. As a result, I encourage any women who experience a hostile environment to consult with the campus Affirmative Action office in this regard. Although difficult, it has been worth the effort. I have survived and thrived in part as a result of taking my rights as a human being seriously and I have not silently “taken” disrespectful treatment. The department I spent my career in has a “crticial mass” of women faculty which tends strongly to discourage sexist treatment of students, faculty and staff. Then, about 10 years ago, a group of our graduate students also went to Affirmative Action and that matter was settled in a face-to-face mediated meeting between grad students and faculty about sexual harrassment. It was, by all accounts, quite successful. We are not powerless and one benefit of Affirmative Action is it provides remedies for retaliatory acts that could follow. I have loved being a philosophy professor and cannot imagine, even with the hassles, spending my life doing anything else. Finally, I try to think about the battles fought by people of color, or LGBT faculty, or the disabled. This kind of challenge is not limited to women philosophers and there is much to learn from others. Giving up sets back liberatory efforts by all.

  20. My initial reaction was something like Rebecca’s in post 15, but I wanted to sit back and let other people weigh in, since I’ve never had any kind of sexism directed toward me and probably won’t ever have that issue. It might be right that other academic fields aren’t as bad as philosophy, but I frankly can’t find any reason to think the business and corporate worlds are any better. I think one of the things philosophy grad students tell themselves in the face of the declining job situation is, “hey, at least it isn’t as bad as soul-draining corporate hell where you wake up every morning and make the world a worse place for a (if you’re lucky) reasonable salary”. But I would imagine that in any domain, it’s something of a roll of the dice. There are plenty of stories at “What It’s Like…” where women who were harassed in grad school had a wonderful time in their first job. There are plenty of stories where it goes the other way. I imagine that the business world or even the non-profit world have similar stories.

  21. @Rebecca, at least judging by the experience of my friends in the business world, even in male-dominated disciplines like engineering, philosophy has a worse gender climate. There are lots of reasons for this, probably; the extent to which philosophers rely on connections and weak ties for advancement, the relative scarcity of tenure-stream jobs, the tenure-track and early career formation lining up so nicely with the biological clock.

    To the OP, it’s hard to give you advice without knowing you. But I can say that I, at least, think that it’s prudent rather than a sign of too little love for philosophy that you’re questioning what you want to do with your life. I’ve always disliked the maxim that one should do philosophy only if one can’t imagine doing anything else. Talented hard-working people can do a lot besides philosophy; do we want to attract only those who feel like they’re stuck doing philosophy because they *can’t* do anything else? It’s a bizarre kind of Stockholm syndrome to take someone’s confidence that they could do something else as evidence that they don’t love philosophy enough to be good at it.

    You’re talented and hardworking, and if philosophy were healthy it would panic and figure out better ways to be hospitable towards talented women who are rightly judging that they can do something else less aggravating. In short, I’d hope you’d stick around, in part because you seem like you’d make a great philosopher, and in part because it’s possible that your PhD community will be much more conducive to scholarship than what you’ve experienced so far. If it’s not, and you leave for a better life, though, my thinking is that losing you as a philosopher is our failure, not yours, and the bulk of the responsibility for retaining talented women lies with the philosophical community, not with the young women thinking about their options.

  22. The philosophy profession is gender-imbalanced with some structural sexism. I do not believe the original poster will necessarily continue to live under all the conditions described, on the basis of anecdotal and personal evidence; many of us do not suffer from that much routine, overt and egregious sexism. So if that’s what you’re dreading, then it’s worth staying and seeing if you can thrive here. The conditions are not always that bad.

    However, there will indeed continue to be gender imbalance and structural sexism for quite some time. You’ll still be the only woman at some conferences, and you will likely be underestimated for your worth and brains. It is highly likely that you’ll go through the graduate school grind with its own obstacles, sexist and otherwise, only to find out there are no jobs in our field other than exploitive temporary positions where your vulnerabilities are heightened, your worth more often underestimated.

    Leaving would not be a mistake, just a different choice. There are many career paths out there which have lovable and deplorable conditions. The prospects of anyone having a good-paying, full-time tenurable position with benefits in philosophy are not great, and if I were a graduate student today, I might not try to pursue this career today. But the reason I would give you to stay is that, if the job prospects work out, this profession can be truly glorious. I have found collegial minds, great friendship, tremendous personal satisfaction and intellectual stimulation in philosophy as a woman and as a feminist. I can identify lots of reasons that I would stay. It is rational to consider other paths! But it is rational to stay, too. It can be grand here.

  23. Matt’s point about not having had sexism directed at him is interesting and coheres with much of my experience. My experience isn’t quite the same, but the difference is probably instructive (instructive and maddening). As a man who did a lot of feminist philosophy, I *have* had some sexism directed at me, from fellow students who thought my work in feminism useless a priori because I didn’t have the experience of being female, to teachers who thought I couldn’t be serious about feminism and never got over their suspicion of me.

    You know what I did? I bulled ahead and ignored them, and did what I wanted. And nothing can be more illustrative of sexism in philosophy than that. I knew, somewhere deep down, that if I did that, just ignored it and got my head down and worked past it, that I’d ultimately be protected and/or rewarded. I knew I wouldn’t be isolated, and I knew I was right – and that I didn’t need the validation of those people to succeed or to feel comfortable. The experience sucked a little but it was in no way debilitating. A woman going through the far more common reverse experience will almost never be afforded the same feelings of security that male privilege gives to a man. And what’s more, those trying to beat were down were just a tiny percentage – most women welcomed a male voice doing feminist theory.

  24. Simply put: leaving will only fuel the sexist fire. In order to make a difference in any given subject area or movement (such as this feminist movement that we’re considering) one must plant their feet firmly, so to speak. Great areas are not breached by cowardice or fleeing the harsh realities. Freedom and beauty is gained through firm resolve (despite all of the perhaps inevitable heartache and hardship).

    We, as women in philosophy, are currently given an opportunity to breech the most one-sided profession in history: the intellectual realm. I doubt that it will be easy, and I do not mean to sound like some sports coach attempting to pump up their team, but it is terribly true. Good luck.

  25. I do empathize. It is most difficult for me to understand how, in philosophy sexism is prominent. Are we not engaged under the umbrella of the search for wisdom, for understanding? It is rather ironic, and I would perhaps argue even hypocritical on the behalf of chauvinists

  26. Bleudaimonia, while I agree with your point, it’s my experience that there is *nothing* in this world so gendered as the notion of “wisdom”.

    A central problem of philosophy is that we’re trying to dismantle and rebuild a 2,500-year-old cathedral of class, sex and race privilege. With our bare hands (and minds). All this in a world that is still deeply dyed with those same class, sex and race privileges.

    There are few institutions in the world as monolithic as philosophy is.

  27. It’s so distressing to hear stories like this. My advice would be to look into other programs, though this might be more or less feasible (depending on your areas of interest). When I applied to grad school (in the early 90’s), I decided not to go to a more highly-ranked instituion (that had admitted me with funding) because there were fewer women in that program and the faculty there were less supportive of feminist philosophy (my specific interest). The program I chose was still sexist in a number of ways–the department chair was known to sleep with female students, for instance–but overall there was a lot more support for women than at most other institutions. But this was my #1 concern–I wanted to do feminist philosophy, and I knew that I would not be happy in a philosophy department that wasn’t at least midly supportive of feminism and of women. A friend of mine (from undergrad) was a star student (we were at a Leiter-ranked undergrad school) with interests in feminism, and she went to “the best” grad school she got into. That was her criteria for choosing a school, and she ended up at a very highly-ranked (Leiter) school, but after a few years was one of only a couple of women in the program still taking courses. That was now years ago–she never finished, and I suspect that the reasons for that had to do with pervasive sexism and hostility to women.

    I would also recommend going to conferences–ones that include some women doing what you do (for me, attending SWIP, and then FEAST, was really important). Even though there were already many other women (and feminist) grad students in my own program, developing connections with others through conferences was crucial to my own sense of “beloning” in the profession. I’m not sure how much it helps at this point, but know that you’re not alone!

    Finally, I would suggest that you make the decision about whether to leave, to stay, (or to explore other programs), based on what’s best for *you*. Yes, it makes me sad to hear about talented and accomplished women leaving philosophy, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the profession. Good luck, whatever you decide to do!

  28. I certainly understand, hence the necessity for a firm resolve. Regardless, I still find it quite ironic. These preconceptions run deep. Even I have trouble reconciling my femininity with the understanding that I am much, much more. Those who are so ignorant as to deny the potential of the female mind only do themselves a great disservice, for they deprive themselves of a community of great teachers. There is much to be learned from all.

    It is certainly a tangled mess, (all the more so for feminism being a rather recent development) but I think that it will slowly unravel. Perhaps I am being too idealistic; I am only an undergraduate student of philosophy with plans to pursue a further career. I’m sure that I’ve only tasted the tip of the iceberg as far as chauvinism is concerned. Regardless, I am committed to the idea that we (as an intellectual community and more) will one day understand the ridiculous nature of even posing the question, “is woman capable of higher thought? etc.”. We are making rather remarkable progress in many areas that were left unconsidered up until recently (vegetarianism and the organic movement come to mind as well as the idea that access to information is a right, not a privilege).

    Perhaps it is the monolith for those of us who are motivated to pursue philosophy. To an extent, it certainly is. But the true monolith lies within each of us. We can choose whether or not to acknowledge this outside noise, and if we choose to largely tune it out, then we will achieve much, much more. Perhaps we will simply gain our place by example. Women in politics are neatly illustrating this point. Regardless of whether or not women remain in the professional philosophical community, I hope they will continue to pursue philosophical inquiry and publication. This too, will revolutionize the current nature of the community.

    I think we (as an entirety) stand at the brink of a new Renaissance, of sorts and I hope that this is encouraging.

  29. I actually find discussions like this more disheartening than the everyday sexism I encounter in the profession at large. This is supposed to be a feminist space, yet we’ve got people saying that even thinking of leaving means a person has “lost their ability to reason” or “shows lack of knowledge or interest in the big questions”, that no “reasonable” woman would think of leaving, that leaving would be an act of cowardice and “fleeing from harsh realities.” Discussions like this are why I started spending more time at different kinds of feminist blogs where the ground rules for discussion are more stringent. Blogs like Shakesville and Shapely Prose provide a very safe space for discussing these kinds of heart-wrenching personal questions. No doubt many people (especially philosophers) will cringe at the heavy moderation employed at those other blogs, but spending a lot of time there has helped me be more perceptive about when able-ist and victim-blaming language is being used and what’s so awful about it.

  30. Beautifully put, bleudaimonia.

    I discovered this site through this post, and the link from “What Is It Like?” Is the discussion here always of this high quality? I hope to discover that it is.

  31. I can’t speak for the other posters here, but I would hardly say that I’m accusing women who are thinking of leaving the profession “cowards”. It simply seems that most do not really want to leave, they only feel forced to. I just hope to offer encouragement for those who would rather stay than go, in the hopes that they might feel strengthened in knowing that others stand with them. To leave is not cowardly in the least, but to stay perhaps requires a bit of encouragement.

  32. The notion that anyone can look at the experiences the letter writer has described, or read any of the What It’s Like blog, and still respond to this question with any suggestion that she would be wrong, or negligent, or insufficiently committed to philosophy to consider leaving is baffling to me. It is also, to be frank, completely of a piece with the sexist background it purports to be fighting against, insofar as it suggests that 1) women bear some responsibility for ending sexism and 2) that the “proper” response to oppression is to bear down, and be better than everyone else, in order to prove one’s worth (i.e., bootstrapping).

    To the letter writer: I am so sorry for your experiences. I know that they are, tragically, not far out of the norm. I am also deeply sorry for some of the responses you’ve had to read to your question; I’m not sure that I would have kept reading, were I faced with such hurtful comments. I can’t tell you if you should stay in Philosophy. I, too, have thought of leaving many times, and I completely understand why you would choose that path. Please know that there is nothing wrong with making that choice, if you decide it’s the right one. There’s a tendency amongst academics, I think, to reassure ourselves of the value of our choices by encouraging others to make the same ones–and often, this takes the rather pushy form of suggesting that nothing in the world is as valuable as what we do. But here’s the thing: that’s totally false. Doing academic philosophy is really great in some respects–if it’s your thing–but there are a lot of other really great things you could do with your life, too. Choosing something else, as someone said earlier, isn’t a bad choice, it’s just a different one.

    Do you love talking philosophy, and writing philosophy, and teaching philosophy, enough to keep fighting with/putting up with/ignoring this stuff? That, to me, is the question–and honestly, it’s really, truly ok if the answer is no. There’s nothing romantic about choosing that battle; it’s hard, and sometimes it really doesn’t seem worthwhile. (And the getting better thing is no guarantee, so I’m not even putting that out there.) If the answer is yes, and you do choose it, that’s awesome–and if you want to be actively involved in fighting sexism and oppression from within the discipline (in ways that go beyond your mere presence in it, as a woman who already has some consciousness of the realities of oppression), that’s awesome too. But know that you don’t owe anyone anything, least of all Philosophy.

  33. My experiences in the field have been sufficiently negative that I considered (post-tenure, no less) leaving the field. Part of what informed my decision to stay was the rather simple exercise of considering what other work I might pursue. In doing that, I discovered that while there were several other careers I could imagine enjoying as meaningful and fulfilling (I don’t subscribe to the love-philosophy-more-than-any-alternative school!), none afforded me the freedom for intellectual activity I desired and the work-schedule freedom I enjoy. It simply came down to that – I want work that really “works” my intellect and I want work that allows me, e.g., to attend my daughter’s school functions in the middle of the afternoon. (On the latter, to be clear, I mean not that I work fewer hours, but that arranging *when* my work hours occur is more often mine to determine than many careers permit.) I suppose what I’m suggesting is just that it can be very useful to entertain, deeply and imaginatively, “alternative lives” for yourself so as to explore what your reactions to those alternatives might be. It is far more useful to consider choices such as this not as doing philosophy or doing something else, but as doing philosophy or doing X (where X is as sharply defined and understood as you can manage). In my case and when I really was on the cusp of quitting, that’s what it took. I had to forget quite deliberately all the stuff about love of philosophy and heroics for future women – those just seemed like existential rat holes to me, in which a difficult to maintain mythic self-conception seemed a requirement for staying in my job – and my decision came much more easily. I looked into the other careers I could imagine, felt out how the cultures in them operated, what prospects they offered for intellectual activity and scheduling, etc. And my decision formed based on the two very prosaic and non-mythic elements I already described. Perhaps considering (definite) choices in this way might help?

  34. It’s hard to add anything to the broad range of advice already offered. But one thing to bear in mind is that regardless of what choice you make, you need never “leave the discipline” or stop “doing philosophy”. Thoreau’s observation is arguably more timely than ever: “There are now-a-days professors of philosophy but not philosophers.” Be the latter.

    Good luck!

  35. I think there is another point of view worth mentioning, which has been left out.

    Leaving can be really, really good for you. I left philosophy after I finished my MA, with no intention of going back. I was tired, emotionally and physically. I was heartbroken, I was lost, confused, and angry. I moved to another state, got a 9-5 higher ed administrative job, and spent six months or so not doing philosophy. I let myself heal up inside a bit. Then, I saw a therapist for six months tow ork on my confidence, took a philosophy class the university where I was worked, and found myself with a couple of women academics (my boss and the professor of that class) who really moved me. My boss showed me that there are lots of ways to be in academia, and her confidence in my intelligence and recognition of my skill helped me realize what I had of value, outside of just as a philosopher. I could be successful at other things, if I wanted to. My professor took interest in me, liked what I had to say, and thought I was a good philosopher — reminding me that I am also good at that. I applied for a job teaching philosophy, and later returned to get my Ph.D. and finish what I started. And though I am fortunate enough now to be in a professional space where there are far, far fewer issues of discrimination & harassment, it will never be out of my life completely as long as I am a philosopher and a woman. I was lucky to have had time to spend with two amazing women who helped empower me.

    However, I might never have gone back into philosophy. And I believe that had I stayed with the work I was doing – administrative work – I would have been at least as happy as I am now, if not moreso.

    A good part of this is all chance. You might work hard and suffer much — whether or not there is a payoff is a matter of luck , to a good extent. You might discover you don’t suffer at all and get the payoff you seek.

    Whatever you decide to do, however, I strongly recommend that you seek out a therapist who is capable and qualified to work with women in academia. It’s a process — I’ve had to do interviews before finding someone I could work with. It is, however, easily been the most important professional decision I’ve ever made. (And I was basically cornered into doing it the first time around.) If I had to say that one person helped me more than anyone as I returned to academia, and continues to help me even though I never see her anymore and will probably never see her again, it is was my amazingly gifted therapist I saw during that six month period. I never believed in therapy, and never wanted to be one of “those” people who had a therapist, but with the right person, I was unable to undo so much of the damage that had been done in the previous years in just six months time. (If I could, I would find that therapist, fly her to my state, and keep her by my side at all times.)

  36. I am one who left philosophy (ie, chose not to continue in a graduate program) for the same reasons described by the letter-writer. I’m still “doing philosophy” (I attend philosophy conferences, publish in philosophy journals, and count philosophers among my closest colleagues), but I am in an interdisciplinary field in which I find much greater freedom, collegiality, and support for feminist work than I did in philosophy. Absolutely no regrets.

  37. STAY because you love philosophy,
    because it’s going to be tough & there will be days that make you want to quit-
    because there’s going to be people that make you cry and want you to leave-
    because you might be the one woman philosopher in a room…at a talk/conference…in the department…etc-
    because they won’t take you seriously (now)-
    because they’ll act like your thoughts don’t count (they do!)-
    because some idiot will try to harass you (sexual or what not)… and then make you out to be the bad guy (person)-
    because even after all this (and so much more) you find yourself wondering WHY YOU SHOULD STAY:
    STAY BECAUSE YOU LOVE PHILOSOPHY and eventually all that negative stuff DOESN’T REALLY MATTER one day (though it probably seems like the weight of the world now as you are going through it)

    stay because ONE DAY, there will be a GIRL–a young WOMAN, probably like yourself, in the same situation and you can help her,
    stay because you can understand her,
    stay because you can teach her,
    stay because you can encourage her,
    stay because you can defend her,
    stay because you can change others from treating her like they treated you,
    stay because you teach others not to be like those who made it difficult for you,
    stay because you can change the direction philosophy is heading,
    STAY because if you leave, it won’t get any better,
    because if you stay, there will be one more PERSON LIKE YOU in the field.
    STAY BECAUSE IF PHILOSOPHY is something YOU LOVE, no one should make you leave. The choice should be yours, not theirs.

    STAY BECAUSE ANYTHING GOOD, ANYTHING YOU LOVE is WORTH FIGHTING FOR IN THE END. (Aritstole: teleos)

    Good luck.
    (now I should probably take my own advice and finish up my philosophy undergrad)

  38. Here’s Anita Allan on the general question:

    ““I have not been able to encourage other people like me to go into philosophy because I don’t think it has enough to offer them. The salaries aren’t that great, the prestige isn’t that great, the ability to interact with the world isn’t that great, the career options aren’t that great, the methodologies are narrow. Why would you do that,” she asks, “when you could be in an African American studies department, a law school, a history department, and have so many more people to interact with who are more like you, a place where so many more methods are acceptable, so many more topics are going to be written about? Why would you close yourself off in philosophy?”I feel that philosophy is hoisting itself by its own petard. Its unwillingness to be more inclusive in terms of issues, methods, demographics, means that it’s losing out on a lot of vibrancy, a lot of intellectual power. … Why? What’s the point? Go out and win the Pulitzer Prize! Don’t worry about academic philosophy. On the other hand, I would like to see that world open up to more women and women of color.”

    from: https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/?s=anita

  39. Hi there,

    I really don’t know what to say to you. Erin’s words seem pretty wise to me. Fighting the fight sounds terribly noble but to be honest after a while it can just wear you out. It also gets in the way of getting work done and enjoying life. And battening down the hatches and just trying to get through it all isn’t great either. Ideally, colleagues are people you like to interact with intellectually and sometimes socially. Not feeling able to do that can really get you down. It’s just not nice to be constantly worrying about how the people in your environment behave towards you or about the assumptions they make about you. So although there is a tiny idealistic glimmer in my soul shouting ‘Stay!’, ”Fight’ and all that …I’m not sure whether that glimmer is to be trusted. In my experience, philosophers – male and female – can be a pretty assuming lot, and when their assumptions don’t match how things are it can be alienating, and that makes it hard to feel comfortable around them. But if you choose to stay, good for you. Try to make it so that your environment is as supportive as possible, both in your professional and personal life, and give it a whirl. There are some great people in philosophy. They can’t make the less-than-great people (to put it mildly) disappear. But focusing on them sometimes makes things easier. Sometimes !

    Good luck !

  40. Stay — I am a relatively young professor and just tenured this year. There were days I have wanted to leave and go do something else. I have experienced overt sexism and that mild form that is more institutional and when pointed out shocks the person who perpetrated it.

    But, when the day is done, I love my job. I can mentor young women who are students–both undergraduates and graduate students. I can, in mentoring male students, let them know what women go through. And in talking with my colleagues, remind most of them that women go through something different than they do in the daily grind of their jobs. And I do, in fact, do all these things.

    And most of the time the daily grind of my job doesn’t confront sexism in the overt sense and is a wonderful and rewarding profession. I will admit, the context I work in, might be typical in the sense it is primarily a teaching not a research institution, and atypical in the sense I am at a religiously affiliated school with a strong sense of justice from the faculty to administration, the students at all levels, and in all the support staff from secretarial to custodial.

    But even when the sexism is at its worst, I can’t think of any job I would rather have–it is personally and professionally rewarding, it allows a freedom most jobs do not, and interestingly enough, provides and intellectual forum and area of research to combat the problems we find in our own pursuit of this work.

    As one of my dear colleagues used to sign his (and I mean “his”) emails to me before he left for another position out of state and outside the academy (he is now a parish priest), “Courage!”

  41. I am a tenured philosopher with a pretty good job. I have experienced alot of the sexist garbage that we have been blogging about around here. If I knew when I was a grad student what I knew now I am not sure what I would have done.

    Four things to keep in mind
    1) leaving is not failing. It is simply a different choice. My two best women philosopher friends have left the profession. Both of them get more respect, make more money and have just as much job flexibility as me. Both of them have jobs that ‘make the world a better place’. Both of them were very good philosophers and now excel in different careers
    2) Remember that there are lots of ways to make a good life. Since grad school i always had a viable alternative career plan ready to go. I still do. It feels better to stay when you know that it is actually a choice.
    3) As my career progressed I gained more power to surround myself with people, philosophers, who were good to me. I keep my distance from the BS macho conferences, and spend as much time as possible at FEAST and FEMMSS.
    4) I still regularly deal with sexist a-holes. I tend to see them as more pathetic and less threatening than I used to, tenure helps.

    What ever you decide, it doesn’t have to be forever. Never let yourself feel trapped.

  42. I’d like to second (or perhaps third) Erin’s advice, which I find to be exceptionally balanced and sound.

    I have one thing I’d like to add. It *is* better elsewhere. I don’t mean to suggest that one can’t find equally sexist environments outside of philosophy departments. Of course, one can. But the unfortunate reality is that philosophy (taken as a whole) is exceptionally backwards when it comes to sexism. Having worked in the corporate world, and having regular social contacts in law, medicine, and business, I can honestly testify to the existence of a very real gap between the prevailing norms in philosophy, and those in much of the rest of society. When it comes to recognizing appropriate norms for workplace behavior for men in relation to women, we in philosophy have a problem, and it is quite serious.

    If you need to leave to save yourself, don’t feel bad. We’re failing you. Not vice versa.

  43. This sounds really trite, but I have found that having a serious avocation has been really helpful. Life as a philosopher, intellectually stimulating as it can be at times, can also be very monochromatic and stifling. At the end of the day, it is a very small province that we live in! An activity that provides relief, that gives a glimpse into another, perhaps larger world, like music, or political activity, or any of a million different things one can do, nourishes, revitalizes and creates perspective.

    It sounds like you should keep doing philosophy. But you also need to create an area of refuge for yourself.

  44. I wasn’t expecting such a swift and heady response, but since at least one commenter suggested that it would be helpful for me to acknowledge which of the replies were helpful/informative, and since this request is perhaps the most in line with my motivating reasons for posting, I’ll try to do that. Other, less helpful comments, were perhaps due to what some have indicated was lacking from my original post. That is, further details about my experiences in the last few years — mostly omitted in order to preserve anonymity — and in particular, what I meant when I said that I had been thinking of leaving the discipline. To be clear – I am going to graduate school. I have every intention of pursuing my career in philosophy. Despite my frustration and lamentations, I’m not planning on packing it in. And not because I don’t think that I could do, and could be very happy doing other things. (I thought one posters reference to the bizarre Stockholm Syndrome-type response was particularly hilarious. In related discussions between my colleagues and myself we have drawn that parallel, too.) To one poster, who discussed having spent some serious time devoted to thinking about what, precisely, she would do, were she to leave the profession, and what, precisely, she could anticipate that being like, I did do that, and you’re quite right – it was helpful. It was partly helpful because it made me feel like this was a choice I was making with a clear head, and because it gave me pause to reflect on my reasons for making this choice. So that’s a bit of advice we can give one another — think about what else you might do. Why that? How is that different from philosophy? What would that be like? And finally, having considered those questions, how does it compare?

    I digress, I’d like to distinguish between _considering_ leaving philosophy, and finding myself _thinking_ about leaving, and what that might be like. I think it would be far less intellectually honest to find oneself having thoughts about leaving and not ask the question that I ended my post with. _Is_ the choice that women in philosophy have to make between staying, and going through the kinds of things I reported, or leaving and “saving one’s self”? It sounds like the answer is “no”. I hear a lot of “it gets better,” and sometimes “we know, because we’ve seen it _getting better_.” And those are both reassuring things to hear. Keep telling us that. We need to hear it.

    On the other hand, one poster suggested, more or less, that I should toughen up. Other posters seem to imply that there’s a kind of responsibility we have to one another to stick it out, together. Rally the troops! Fight to be heard! I think both of those comments miss a certain subtlety about the point: if we’re staying in philosophy to fight for the right to do philosophy, when precisely does the philosophy get done? I love doing philosophy. But sometimes, with all the fighting, and the politicking, it can seem difficult to recall which moments of your day were spent _having ideas_ instead of safeguarding yourself (as one poster put it, “being more hard and ready for it”) and directing one’s energy to planting her feet firmly enough to be allowed to share the classroom. It’s exhausting, albeit, necessary.

    Finding supportive people is key, I think. So this is a good piece of advice, too. When I was choosing where I would go next, I was careful to investigate, as best I could, the attitude of the departments I was looking at, wrt to women. This, too, is a good piece of advice. Someone suggested that the PGR should include a ranking according to departmental attitudes and graduate student experiences. This doesn’t seem like an altogether difficult thing to do, and speaking as student just off the grad student market, *we would all love to see this happen.* One wonders how including these considerations would change the numbers, both in the area specific and overall rankings.

    In general, I think the replies have been largely divided into two camps: the if-you-leave-they-win camp, and the if-you-leave-no-one-will-blame-you camp. Both camps have their virtues. Speaking personally, the most helpful posts were the really bright and sunny ones. The ones that just said: Stay. I suppose that means that what I wanted most to hear was that there are happy women in positions like the one I want to be in, eventually. So if anything, more! More stories about happy women!

    This is an open call for stories about what’s best about your jobs.

  45. What’s best about my job as a tenured professor of philosophy

    1. There really is no boss of me. Yes, academics complain about our provosts, our university presidents and so on, but it’s not the same. My landlord is around fifty, not much older than I am, actually; he was downsized from his long-held job and has taken a series of other jobs since. He regularly finds that he just can’t stand bosses, being bossed, the petty antics of bossy boss-people, especially at his/our age. I listen to his anecdotes, such as being yelled at, daily, by a ‘boss’ half his age, in the middle of Wal-Mart, and I think, “I love my freedom.”

    2. I have a creative life. By that I mean that after a decade or two of crafting classes at intro and advanced levels, I’ve found that within reasonable parameters I can really make a class into anything I want. I can have them read an amazing essay, watch a classic movie, and write a terribly dense paper on their interrelation, and never use the same reading or movie twice. It is actually true that I am rarely bored (except when grading!). I push them and myself to try new things constantly. My partner can only marvel at my constant discoveries.

    3. I found out that I’ve got mad skills. I’ve got skills at teaching that I didn’t know existed. I don’t have all the skills I need. (E.g., my organization is for shit.) But there is nothing like managing an intense, unpredictable conversation among college-level students about the most enduring questions of life to bring out sides of me that are surprising.

    4. This academic life, it’s filled with these relationship thingies! I’m in this wide, thick web of relationships that I never expected. There are thousands of philosophers, more thousands of students! I hope that if I left the job tomorrow to be ambassador to Antarctica or something, I’d still take part in this web. I’m richer for having been a part of it.

    5. Last but not least: I feel my powers growing. Seriously.

  46. This thread has is timely and important. I second the request for more encouraging stories like this! Give us something to look forward to, something to aspire to, and something to hope for.

    I also really like OP’s suggestion for the PRG to include a ranking for attitudes toward women/departmental culture. There needs to be profession-wide accountability and I think that Leiter should to step up to help us get it.

  47. I had a professor as an undergrad who I swear would bleed red ink all over every one of my papers with notes, and notes, of what I should have done differently. I happened to overhear him once, telling another professor about me. He said I was “kicking ass and taking names” in his class, and I was “one of [his] best students ever.” If I hadn’t overheard the conversation, I probably would have forever thought he didn’t think I was a particularly good philosopher. Remember there are probably all sorts of people who recognize your good work, but don’t tell you directly!

  48. Things that I love the most about my job (I’m an associate professor in a philosophy department), in no particular order:

    1. The flexibility and freedom — I can work the hours that fit me best, rather than working a strict 9-5. If I want to go to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, I go. I don’t have to ask someone’s permission. I often work from home. Papers are a lot more fun to write curled up on my couch, in comfy lounge pants, with my dog there for moral support.

    2. The people — Yes, I’ve met some jerks in philosophy. But I’ve also met some truly amazing people. People that are as peculiar as I am. People I can talk to. People I love.

    3. The confidence — In graduate school, philosophy killed my confidence. I had a hard time in my program, and I ended up thinking that everyone was better at philosophy than I was, and that I was pretty stupid. Now that I’m in a supportive environment, philosophy is slowly starting to help me rebuild my confidence, and on firmer foundations this time. Philosophy is *hard*. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of making progress on a philosophical issue, and nothing more satisfying than a growing sense of “Hey, I can do this!”

    4. The travel — I get to use my job as an excuse to go to all kinds of cool places. It’s fun. I always feel like I’m going on an adventure, which is maybe silly, but I love it.

    5. The students — If I’m being honest, about 80% of them drive me crazy. But that final 20%. . .they’re magic. When their eyes light up in recognition, when they follow you back to your office to keep talking about a point you were discussing in class, when they see some philosophical point and seem almost overwhelmed by it — to know that you’re involved in helping them get there is one of the best feelings ever.

    6. The subject — And this is the big one. I get paid to think about philosophy. That still seems too good to be true. It means I get paid to think about what I love, because at the end of the day I really do love philosophy. I used to worry that I didn’t, or didn’t love it enough, because all the boys wanted to talk philosophy 24-7, and I didn’t — I have other interests, and I can easily feel intimidated by rapid-fire philosophy talk. But there’s more to loving philosophy than obsessive philosophy-talk, and I love philosophy very much.

  49. my suspicion is that the amount of viciousness one experiences in this (or any) profession depends on who finds you threatening. The people I know who have experienced or witnessed the most abuse have been in the high powered departments (or law firms or….). If you’re a woman, this abuse will be sexist; if non-white, racist, etc.

    But, there are good, functional departments where your colleagues won’t be threatened by you and will, in fact, be supportive and collaborative. I’ve been lucky enough to be in one of those departments and I don’t think my experience is an anomaly (though it may very well be). If you can end up in that sort of department with those sorts of colleagues, I can’t imagine a better job to have. I agree with all the things that profbigk and magicalersatz said above about the positive aspects of the job. I’ve been given so many opportunities to grow and develop in this profession that I too ‘feel my powers growing.’

    One things that may be helpful is finding yourself a mentor and/or a group of people who will give you the emotional support you need. I recommend AAPT as a wonderfully supportive group of philosophers but I’m certain there are others. From what I’ve discerned, it’s the smaller, more focused speciality groups & conferences (as opposed to the APA) where the support can really be found.

  50. Hey OP,

    Thanks for your post. I’m about to write my MA thesis, and will be applying Phd programs this fall. With a BA and half way through an MA program, here’s what I’ve gone through (so far):
    1. I’ve been offered a mistress position.
    2. Right after a colloquium at a prestigious philosophy conference, I was asked out from across the room, in front of 40 or so people, by a man old enough to be my dad … . And worse, I was asked out by him again the next day at the same conference.
    3. I was given a card with a phone number on it by a philosopher old enough to be my grandfather at a philosophy conference, which he then said: “call me some time.”
    All of this happened during the last two years of my BA.

    Now, for year 1 of my MA:
    4. A faculty member tried to kiss me in my office.
    5. While at a pub after a workshop, one of the (philosophy) speakers kept trying to play footsies with me. When it didn’t work, he put his hand on my thigh. I took the hand off and asked about his wife and kids.

    LIke you, I, too, have been really discouraged by these experiences. I think they have put a nice dent in my confidence to be able to do good work in philosophy. I already feel super insecure about my intelligence as it is, coming from a working-class family and being the first to obtain a university degree and the first to attend grad school.

    That said, I’m still going to apply to the top schools of my choice and hope that I get into one. I don’t doubt that more shit will happen but it’s a battle that I’m willing to fight. AND, if I ever make it, my voice will be heard loud and clear!
    OP, goodluck to making the right choice for yourself!

  51. Yikes, TTP– so sorry to hear of your experiences. It’s good to hear that they haven’t yet made you give up– I hope you manage not just to get into a top school, but to get into one where you are treated the way you *should* be treated!! Would it be alright if I post your comment over at What is it Like?

  52. Ok, I’m not a woman in the field, but I was in the field and I left. I had publications and several presentations, a good resume, i was from a not famous but very well regarded analytic program, and had excellent recommendations. My reasons for leaving were:

    1. Family. I have a family and children. I didn’t want to drag them from one city to another while working temporary positions, which was the experience of my classmates. Eventually people settle into a permanent position, but it can take years before that happens.
    2. Locale. I wanted to choose what city to raise my family in. Not a realistic expectation for a beginning academic.
    3. The lifestyle. Yep, it’s a lot of fun: conferences, travel, lots of free time. But these are not traits that encourage maturity and responsibility. It’s a pressure cooker for personal drama, and there’s lots of that in the academic world.
    4. Money. I make a lot more outside of academia. Money isn’t a huge issue, but supporting my family is. And I can support them better on what I make outside of academia. If my wife doesn’t want to work, she doesn’t have to.
    5. Religion. We’re a religious family. The academic people I know are tolerant of that, but at the same time, it’s like i have a mental illness. They tolerate it, but don’t undersatand it and hope I will some day snap out of it. That’s not the best work environment for someone who is religious.

  53. Wow 59 replies, can’t read all of these. Scanning through, I have to say, some of these experiences are simply disgusting. My mother has been a clinical nursing professor for the better part of 25 years, and it makes me sick that she could have gone through such things. But here might be one reason to stay that hasn’t been expressed: I am a young white middle class heterosexual male, and female philosophers changed my life.

    This might sound cliché, but I mean something quite specific. During my BA (philosophy and psychology) I was interested in the philosophy of science, or specifically the demarcation of science from non-science. This, I had been thought (and believed) was important to avoid pop-psychological or pseudo-scientific therapies, methods, remedies etc. to be used on unsuspecting patients. I wanted to do this out of compassion, a compassion no doubt that sprung from my blind faith in the sciences of psychology/psychiatry/neurology etc. as helping or caring sciences. When looking up grad schools for my MA, I found an obscure interdisciplinary program at a small university that seemed to me to be quite fitting for my studies. What I encountered was incredible. Coming from an analytical background (but maintaining a phenomenological/existentialist lean) I encountered there a philosophy and an English department filled with continental thinkers, with new questions, new horizons; in short, my eyes were opened to the historical/political/institutional dimensions of the social sciences (something I had not been concerned with before). But, as I think most academics here (on this blog) would agree, the research we do changes us as people—to intentionally use a cliché now—, as they say ‘who we are in 5 years is a combination of the people we meet and the books that we read.’

    My professors at this institution were predominantly female, I don’t know about the actual percentages for active faculty, but in my coursework I had but one male professor, and my work was being supervised by a tenured female prof. I was assigned some readings whose value was obvious, like Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida and the like… but I was also encouraged to read things that I would never have read otherwise (to broaden my horizon, so to speak). Authors like Ladelle McWhorter*, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, Sarah Ahmed, Eli Clare, Andrea Smith, Wendy Brown etc., some of which have become central to my ongoing academic projects. (My doctoral work now falls somewhere between disability studies and madness studies, where work in gender, sexuality, and race studies remain quite relevant).

    But something else has happened. I don’t see the world in the way I used to, I don’t experience it the same way, and I don’t look at people the same way. Education is formative, it changes who we are. If this is true, then those professors changed me; they changed my life. I want to be a professor, like those professors, who just happened to be female. This is the perspective that I don’t think has been expressed in the responses I have read. Some people mention the influence you might have; that you may inspire the next generation of female professors, you may inspire an undergraduate to chase her dreams or become politically active, and I applaud and support that. I understand that there is a labour/human rights struggle, a whole history behind equalizing the participation of women in all aspects of universities as institutions, or any labour market for that matter (as an imminent example, not to exclude the whole history of western culture in the arts and sciences). But I don’t share this experience; this is all that I mean by ‘they just happened to be female’ [for me, this was not a sginificant thing vis-a-vis their role in my education]. They did not inspire me because they were female; they inspired me because they were great professors. Just know that your work is valuable for your struggle, but also that you have a certain power, a certain position (I would not say responsibility, this is not my place) that you can be an agent of change in the life of the most unlikely student [too]. ;)

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