93 thoughts on “Men Discuss Metaphysics

  1. Hmmm. . .that’s odd. It’s working from my browser.

    In any case, the conference is the Oxford Workshop in Metaphysics.

  2. In case any one else can’t open the link, the speakers are:

    Dean Zimmerman
    Kit Fine
    Nathan Salmon
    Tim Maudlin
    George Bealer
    Timothy Williamson

    There are 5 confirmed commentators are:

    Jeff Russell
    Joseph Melia
    Robbie Williams
    Tim Button
    Ofra Magidor

  3. Hm… I wonder what Oxford’s climate is like for female philosophers, especially grad students?

  4. Maybe men (in general) are more interested in things like abstract objects and mereological sums? Just a thought.

  5. > Just a thought.

    This is technically true.

    Back in the EEA, males who could plausibly characterize abstract objects were much more likely to reproduce—the capacity to write papers and hold seminars on aspects of mereology and compositional identity showed a surplus of physical capacity over and above that required for making hand axes, hunting antelope, and worshipping the Sun. This was highly fitness enhancing, even if most of the actual contributions to the literature during this period turned out to be riddled with elementary errors of logic.

  6. Modalist: That’s quite funny by the standards of commenters on this blog. But what I said was that its possible that men are more interested in analytic metaphysics. I did *not* say any of the following:

    1. Men are more competent at analytic metaphysics (though that’s possible too).

    2. Men’s higher interest in and/or competence at analytic metaphysics is an evolutionary adaptation.

    3. Men’s higher interest in and/or competence at analytic metaphysics has anything to do at all with their genetic endowment.

    I am agnostic on all of the above questions. And for the record, I think analytic metaphysics is largely (though perhaps not entirely) bunk, so if men really are better or more interested in it, so much the worse for us.

  7. Modalist, please could you rewrite your last comment. Whilst I entirely agree with what you said, I need you to express it Nicely in line with the blog policy. It’s been pretty horrible over here in some discussions recently. Your friendly moderators have all gone a bit hard-line with the commenting policy. (In between trying to do some actual work, etc.)

  8. James: yes, it’s *possible* that men are more interested in metaphysics than women. It’s possible that this is true because of the male dominance of metaphysics. What’s certainly *not* true is that there aren’t an abundance of women who are interested in, and brilliant at, metaphysics. I take it the thought behind the gendered conference campaign – one I agree with wholeheartedly – is that even if it is true as a matter of fact that men are more interested in metaphysics than women (which I don’t think *is* true, but still . . .) it is still a good thing to strive for greater representation of women in metaphysics: both because that’s a good in itself, and because doing so would make it easier and better to be a woman doing metaphysics, which of course would make it less likely that women were put off from pursuing metaphysics.

  9. In response to Anonymous 10:07:

    I’m all in favour of the gendered conference campaign, and I think it’s right to flag this conference – like others with an all male line up. But I would have thought that we’ve all learnt our lesson about jumping into conclusions about the climate for women in departments.

    (And as it happens – I know several female graduate students in Oxford, who have had a fantastic experience in the department. This anecdotal evidence is of course no proof that there aren’t other will less positive experiences – but, again, let’s not start smearing a department’s reputation without evidence…).

  10. Jill, I didn’t read Anonymous as jumping to any conclusions. S/he seemed to simply be asking a question.

  11. I don’t think it’s too much of a jump to take Anonymous 10.07 to be suggesting that Oxford has a bad climate for women grad students (asking that question in response to this post certainly suggests that s/he thinks there is some connection.)

  12. I didn’t read 10:07 as implicating a bad climate at Oxford, but as raising a genuine question. FWIW.

    Also, James, a couple of important points. (i) The Gendered Conference Campaign does not demand equal gender representation at conferences, but only flags the 0% female ones; (ii) FP is pretty careful not to impute any particular explanation (women’s interests, sexist organizers, bad luck, etc.) for the composition of any particular conference.
    The issue is the consequences of gendered conferences, not the intentions behind them. (I think this point has to be reiterated frequently.)

  13. Ugh, I didn’t really mean “impute” (I was going to write “impute any particular motive” but then half changed my mind). Also, I think I added essentially nothing to what Ross C. already said. So I was really just asserting and illustrating the “has to be reiterated frequently” point.

  14. It does have to be reiterated frequently, Jamie – so thanks!

    Anon, I think it would be perfectly legitimate to think that there’s a connection between the absence of all-male events and a good climate for women. The absence of all-male events seems, for example, to be in keeping with the kind of things folk have been suggesting as indicative of (or even constitutive of) a good climate for women over on this thread:


    But thinking that there’s this kind of connection doesn’t in any way mean that the presence of a single all-male event at a department means that the department has a bad climate for women. There could be perfectly legitimate explanations for why a single conference ended up with an all-male line-up, or a particular all-male conference could be an isolated event (oversights and omissions happen sometimes – and as Jamie says above, the point of efforts like the GCC isn’t to point fingers or attribute motives). Alternatively, all-male line-ups could be common place at a department, yet that same department could have so many other good-making features that on the whole it’s got a perfectly lovely climate for women. You can easily think that there’s a *connection* between all-male events and climate for women without thinking that the presence of an all-male event entails that the climate for women is bad.

    But if you think that there’s such a connection, the presence of an all-male event might lead you to at least question a department’s climate for women. Was the event an isolated incident? Are there other things about the department that are really good, all-male events notwithstanding? Anonymous seems to simply be asking such a question. And yes, this question may have been prompted by the – quite reasonable, if you ask me – belief that there is a connection between the absence of all-male events and a positive climate for women. That doesn’t mean that Anonymous is saying – or conversationally implying – that Oxford has a bad climate for women because Oxford is hosting an all-male event.

  15. “FP is pretty careful not to impute any particular explanation (women’s interests, sexist organizers, bad luck, etc.) for the composition of any particular conference.”

    This may be true in principle, but the tone of the gendered conference campaign posts (and particularly the comments beneath them) often do implicate the more negative explanations. Looking through them, some of this might be warranted, but it goes against the stated aim. An example would be the suggestion that there is a connection between a single small all male conference and a bad climate for women (which I’m afraid I still find tenuous, despite magicalersatz’s post above.)

    Another thing is that while the campaign has certainly made me aware that there are conferences with no women in them at all, I have no idea what proportion of conferences are like this. While I find it hard to believe that you couldn’t have avoided inviting 10 keynote speakers without getting a single woman, in a small workshop like this, if women are more under-represented in metaphysics, say 20%, we could expect as much as 20% to 30% of 6 speaker workshops like this to have no women without there being any under representation which goes beyond the under representation of women in philosophy.

    I don’t know the actual stats, btw, I’m just reporting how someone without the relevant knowledge like myself might fail to see the significance of the campaign for events like these.

  16. Hi Anon,

    I don’t agree with you about the tone of the GCC posts, but obviously tone is as much read in as it is supplied by the attitudes of the writer, so maybe this isn’t something that can be usefully disputed.

    As to the rest of your comment, hmmmmm.

    I guess I could say it again: the focus of the GCC is the consequences of all-male conferences, not the motives, bias, etc., of the organizers of those conferences.

  17. “I guess I could say it again: the focus of the GCC is the consequences of all-male conferences, not the motives, bias, etc., of the organizers of those conferences.”

    I’m not sure I said anything to contradict this. I take it that many people would be moved if they found out the proportion of women at philosophy conferences was smaller than the proportion of women in philosophy. (We already know the proportion of women at philosophy conferences is much smaller than it should be, e.g. relative to the total proportion of women, but this fact fails to isolate the cause.) That’s all I’m saying.

    If the real aim of the GCC is to promote women philosophers to encourage more women into philosophy, that is also a good thing if it really works. Thumbs up for that. But it is also something I expect people would consider supererogatory; failing to do this may not make one deserving of criticism. (Or, what at least one relatively impartial reader perceives as criticism. But I think it’s hard to interpret this kind of “calling out” as simply an attempt to make people aware of the good consequences of having women at conferences).

  18. But I think it’s hard to interpret this kind of “calling out” as simply an attempt to make people aware of the good consequences of having women at conferences

    Better to put it this way: the immediate goal is to raise awareness of the many all-male conferences. The point of that is that there are bad consequences of all-male conferences.

    Do you find it hard to interpret the GCC as having that purpose? If so, I wonder why. It is the purpose, explicitly stated, I don’t think I’ve seen anything in the postings that is dissonant with that purpose.

  19. My thought on James’ post before reading any of the replies was that it was an honest reaction. The thought expressed is the thought that would pass through the minds of a lot of people (including myself a few years ago).

    I praise the gendered conference campaign for

    (i) showing the harm done to women by these conferences is that a stereotype is reinforced (I think that James’ response, if it is the honest response I assume it to be, illustrates that);

    (ii) ALSO pointing out conferences where there are lots of women in those very fields where there are often all-male conferences (I recall metaphysics being one of them; philosophy of science another) to counteract these stereotypes;

    (iii) offering concrete help in how to go about planning a conference so that you might be able to include some of them.

    I do understand the fatigue people feel in having to counteract the stereotypes, though. All the more thanks for the tireless work of those staffing this blog!

  20. “The point of that is that there are bad consequences of all-male conferences.

    Do you find it hard to interpret the GCC as having that purpose? ”

    I’ve been suggesting that the practice that leads to occasional all-male conferences might be bad if it produces more of them than would be statistically expected; and might be merely not promoting good consequences otherwise (and I don’t know which of these these possibilities obtains.) I can see you disagree, but the reason isn’t obvious. Is it because you think that we are morally obliged to actively prevent people from forming and believing negative stereotypes?

  21. Anon, I’m a little lost now. I think we can evaluate the consequences of the conferences without knowing what practices lead to them. Are you saying that this isn’t possible? (Since you replaced the question about the consequences of the conferences with a question about the consequences of the practice that leads to them…)

    I don’t actually understand the distinction between having bad consequences and not promoting good consequences in this context. What is the baseline? Not having any conferences at all? Having conferences with speakers of different genders? Or what?
    I didn’t mean to be placing any weight on the difference. So maybe we can agree that the consequences are better if there are fewer all-male (and concomitantly more mixed-gender) conferences, and just finesse the distinction between promoting something bad and failing to promote something good.

  22. The question about whether these practices are bad or not is more central to the issues about the goals of the campaign, whether the criticism is misplaced, how best to make things better, and so on.

    As to your question, yes I am, of course, happy to agree with you that gender imbalance is a bad thing (at conferences and generally.)

  23. Anon, I’m not quite sure why, but we seem to be largely talking past one another.
    The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the all-male conferences. It’s the stated goal, and the actual postings about the conferences are perfectly consonant with that goal.
    And my point wasn’t that gender imbalance is a bad thing! It was about consequences of all-male conferences. Oh well. (Maybe I should have said causal consequences?)

  24. I don’t think you can talk of causal consequences in this context – because what we are concerned about here is false views. For instance, the view that men are by nature better at metaphysics than women. No one is caused to have false views – whether by all male conferences on metaphysics or by anything else. It is the responsibility of the individual not to form false views.

    This suggests that the grounds for the GCC is (should be?) to ensure women are given equal consideration by conference organisers. I don’t think consequentialist justifications work here (or anywhere else come to that). If excluding all women from speaking at all conferences had the best consequences, that still would not justify excluding women from speaking at all conferences.

  25. ps – when I say ‘should be?’ , I know it is an aim – I meant rather something like ‘should solely be?’. In other words, I meant to cast doubt on the consequentialist justification for the GCC. I just find it hard to believe that all the clever rational postgrads and faculty I meet would be swayed in their opinions of female philosophers by how many all male conferences there are. And those who would are at fault, so surely should not be pandered to…?

  26. Maybe you all think this is a dumb question, but I’d like to understand the purpose behind this campaign a little better. Why is a conference that lacks women more problematic than a conference that lacks some other demographic; say, theists? Since only about 15% of philosophers are theists (http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl), I’m sure there a lot of conferences that don’t have any theists. Would you support a campaign that called out conferences that don’t have any theists participating, since those conferences might reinforce the stereotype that academic analytic philosophy is secular and atheistic or agnostic?

  27. “And my point wasn’t that gender imbalance is a bad thing! It was about consequences of all-male conferences.”

    You’re right, you did extend your claim to the consequences of all-male conferences as well. Are these claims not at least materially equivalent in worlds like our own? I’m happy to agree to both individually though.

    If this is somehow relevant to whether the campaigns criticism is misplaced I’m missing it.

    Tina: I think I agree with you that we are not generally morally responsible for people forming the beliefs they do. But you have to admit that even if the people who do form these beliefs are at fault, it would be good thing to prevent? Such people might be on hiring committees, conference invitations, et cetera, (I think calling it “pandering” is a bit misleading.)

  28. Anon, as it happens I believe they are materially equivalent (since they are both true). Is that what you meant to ask me? I don’t see why it’s relevant.

    So, I thought your reason for thinking that the GCC criticism is misplaced had to do with the question of whether there are more all-male conferences than one would expect by chance (given the proportion of women in the discipline, size of the speaker list, etc.). Correct me if that’s wrong. My point is that this would be an important question if the GCC were criticizing the intentions behind the conference, but is not an important question given the actual goal of the GCC.

    Then there is an issue, which I thought was a red herring, of whether a bunch of all-male conferences have bad consequences, or just fail to have good consequences that some alternative might have. But as far as I can tell, this is not an important distinction.

    So, now we agree that the consequences of this collection of all-male conferences are bad consequences. That is why there is a GCC in philosophy. To bring to people’s attention the large number of all-male conferences, in the hopes that this large number will decline. Because of the bad consequences.

  29. Jamie, I keep getting a facebook-inspired urge to click ‘like’ for your comments.

  30. Full disclosure: I am an Oxford graduate student and will be attending this workshop, and I am not female.

    I think it’s a good idea to do something to raise awareness about gender imbalance in philosophy, but I don’t think this campaign, in its present form, which involves calling attention to conferences with all male invited speakers, is acceptable, because it doesn’t further its stated goal (which I share). What it does is use a crude propaganda technique which all of us would denounce if we saw it used in support of goals we find repugnant: to convince your audience that X is a serious problem, report on every instance of X you learn about.

    To see why this is not good practice, ask yourself what you think of racist websites and blogs that do the same thing. For example, there are many white supremacist blogs in the US that call attention to every instance of black-on-white crime they find. The events they report are real, and they link to legitimate news sources. But the way in which they use this information is unacceptable, obviously, because reports of individual instances of black-on-white crime tell us nothing about whether such crime is a particularly serious problem or not. What’s helpful are crime statistics (which, of course, don’t help the racists’ case), not reports on instances of the alleged crime epidemic.

    The fact that this campaign has noble goals does not exonerate it from basic intellectual responsibility. What we need is information about how much of a problem gender imbalance at philosophy conferences really is, and the many blog posts here highlighting all-male conferences do not tell us anything about that.

  31. I expect the opinion here is that the overall effects of this technique are positive, even if it is not intellectually honest. And I’m inclined to agree that it’s worth doing this if it works; the end justifies the means.

    But it does raise the question of whether it works. A list of F’s which are G gives us no indication of what proportion of F’s are G. Since the targets of this campaign are trained philosophers it’s hard to believe this will go unnoticed, it might do more to irritate than convince anyone.

  32. Given that this blog is quick to praise the all-too-rare cases where there is a happy gender balance at conferences, it’s hard to take the above problem seriously.

  33. Commenter 34 should also note that we don’t take our pointing to instances of all-male conferences to be an argument that all-male conferences are a serious problem, as he seems to assume. Rather, the background assumption to these posts is that all-male conferences have bad consequences. (See the Gendered Conference Campaign page for details about why we think this.) But we also think that the same sorts of things that make all-male conferences bad makes them very easy to overlook. So we do these blog posts to make them less easy to overlook – to draw attention to something we think is a problem. That is, we repeatedly point out instances (which might otherwise pass by unnoticed) of something we take to be problematic in the profession. That we point them out is not by itself an argument that there’s a problem – and the GCC is pretty clear that we’ve never intended it as such. We do have arguments that there’s a problem, and we’ve discussed them on this blog at length.

    I would hope that those who want to criticize the GCC would be a little more careful to at least get the facts right.

  34. In response to Jamie. I guess I’m aware that the official line is that this is just an awareness campaign. Like, for example, the ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the bad effects of smoking (to oneself and others) in the UK. Naming and shaming particular conferences just seems to me to be a very odd way to go about achieving this goal; it would be totally bizarre to publically call-out smokers in an awareness campaign. It would also be weird to attempt to raise awareness of poverty by naming and shaming people who don’t give enough to charity.

    I can see the need for the GCC to distance itself from the aim of criticising the intentions of particular conference organisers. Overt bias, or even implicit bias, would be impossibly hard to prove in any given case. Criticising the general practices, without ascribing misconduct in any particular place, seems to me to be a goal to which naming and shaming would be warranted. Changing such practices is also a way to make things better.* But in that case the actual statistics would be relevant (and would presumably also motivate people!)

    *This is why I brought it up in post 22; the “red herring”, I thought, appeared in your post, 23.

  35. So as someone who’s not involved in the campaign, I can report that it has been very motivating to me, in a way that simply citing the statistics wouldn’t have been. Seeing – again, and again – examples where it looks like it would have been easy to involve women and none were involved – and with the background knowledge that this is the norm (which unless we’re totally ignorant, we have) – really made the problem vivid to me. I’m not saying knowledge of the statistical facts isn’t useful either: but just the stats wouldn’t have been quite as motivating to me as seeing these things keep cropping up and, in each case, thinking of all the great women that could have been invited to that particular event. The campaign also helps keep the problem salient over time, whereas I probably would have been shocked by the statistics and then after a while it would have ceased to be salient to me.

    The differences between this campaign and the case of racist reporting are massive. The racist reporters are pandering to an existing stereotype; this campaign is attempting to counteract an existing stereotype. This campaign is occurring in a context where it’s already established that there’s a problem with male dominance in philosophy (it’s not meant to convince you of that, as I understand it: it’s meant to emphasise the extent of the problem); the racist reporting is occurring in a context where there’s a false belief about a problem.

  36. I agree with Anon #35. I’m not an intellectual honesty purist. Sometimes noble goals are attainable by intellectually dishonest means — it’s hard to engage in politics (effectively) without using techniques of persuation that most professional philosophers would frown upon. But the problem in this case is, as Anon #35 says, that the targets for this PR campaign are professional philosophers, which make me doubt that this can be effective. Speaking for myself, I can say that as soon as I learned about this campaign (long before the Oxford workshop was singled out), my BS sensors started beeping.

    Ross Cameron #36:

    “Given that this blog is quick to praise the all-too-rare cases where there is a happy gender balance at conferences, it’s hard to take the above problem seriously.”

    And I’m sure you can find a white supremacist or anti-Muslim blog (Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch comes to mind, incidentally) that occasionally highlights cases of blacks or Muslims not misbehaving, and I suspect you wouldn’t be impressed if the owners of such blogs replied to the same criticism directed at them by saying “Given that this blog is quick to praise the all-too-rare cases where [members of whatever the hated group is] are being fine, upstanding citizens, it’s hard to take the above problem seriously.” No, I don’t think reporting on lots of instances of X and a few instances of non-X really has any evidential value. Why should anyone believe that these reports are giving us any idea about what the actual statistics are?

    magicalersatz #37

    I didn’t take “take [your] pointing to instances of all-male conferences to be an argument that all-male conferences are a serious problem”. Rather, I thought it was supposed to be evidence that gender imbalance at conferences was a serious problem. You say: “the background assumption to these posts is that all-male conferences have bad consequences”. That a generic, so I’m not totally sure how to interpret it. Is the idea that *each* all-male conference has bad consequences (I disagree with that), or that the many all-male conferences collectively have bad consequences (that may be right, but then I would like some information about just how common all-male conferences are, which is something this campaign does not provide; I don’t remember ever having been to an all-male conference, excluding this metaphysics workshop), or something else? What seems problematic to me is gender imbalance at conferences generally. I’ve been to lots that have just one or two female speakers. I would support a campaign to raise awareness about that, but then we’d first have to try to quantify the problem. Reports on individual conferences just don’t help me see how serious it is.

  37. Ross Cameron #39:

    Well, then, different philosophers react differently to this stuff. That’s to be expected. Maybe I was wrong to assume that most would have the same reaction as I did.

    One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that the people organizing the conferences that are highlighted in these posts are for the most part not going to react in the way you would hope. People don’t like being lampooned in public.

  38. Just in case there are any confusions, I’m distinct from the anonymous in post 34.

    The continual highlighting of these examples is a good feature of this particular campaign. I’ve found some of the particularly egregrious examples very motivating. My issue was with the inclusion of all-male events which could very easily have happened by chance. It is natural to assume, without doing a bit of reading around, that this is intended as criticism of these events, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it diminished the overall impact of the campaign.

  39. “the people organizing the conferences that are highlighted in these posts are for the most part not going to react in the way you would hope. People don’t like being lampooned in public.”

    One thing I think the campaign is very good about is not ‘lampooning’ anyone. I think they’ve been very good about not shaming individual organisers, and making it clear that the problem is one with the culture and profession rather than with particular individuals.

    But I’d certainly be interested to hear your evidence for the claim that most organisers won’t react in the way you’d hope, especially in the light of past comments on this blog from organisers that have been very positive. I’m sure, given your own methodological concerns, that your statistical evidence will be forthcoming.

  40. You might also be interested in what Andy Egan and Brian Weatherson had to say when their volume was featured in a similar post over at NewAPPS:


    Or how Dave Chalmers reacted when a conference he was speaking at was featured in our GCC:


    Or how Simon Kirchin reacted when the BSET was mentioned in a similar post:


    Or how Kris McDaniel was moved to song:


    Now, I’ve not got any statistics for you, so you’ll probably dismiss this all as irrelevant. But I’ve at least got more than induction on a case of one.

  41. This is slightly off topic, but it’s something I’ve been curious about. The main bad consequence of all male conferences cited on the campaign page is that they reinforce negative stereotypes when people become aware of them. Obviously an awareness campaign that draws attention to all male conference would be shooting itself in the foot if there weren’t some implicit assumption along the lines of this: “by drawing attention to such conferences only to highlight that they’re bad we do not reinforce any negative stereotypes.”

    But I’ve seen enough common sense assumptions like this turn out to be false for me to wonder if drawing attention to these conferences, even to point out they’re bad, isn’t reinforcing negative stereotypes. Does any one know what the research says about this?

  42. magicalersatz #44:

    I’m doing an induction on more than one case — in fact, considerably more than four — but I don’t think the people I know have been antagonized by these name-and-shame posts would appreciate being publicly named on this thread as opponents of the campaign. (And let me be clear about this: I do not have the organizers of the Oxford metaphysics workshop in mind. I haven’t had an opportunity to discuss this blog post with them, and don’t know if they’re even aware that it exists.)

    Anon #45:

    Good question. I’d like to learn about research on that as well.

  43. Ross Cameron #43:

    The post on which we are commenting is obviously lampooning the Oxford workshop. The heading is “Men Discuss Metaphysics”. How is that not intended to make the conference sound ridiculous? Do you find the heading presents the conference in a positive light? Or neutral? Or might it be a mixture of negative and ridiculous (i.e., lampooning it).

    And very funny of you to ask for statistical evidence about what the organizers of the targeted conferences really think about the campaign. You know there can be no such evidence. But we could have lots of statistics about the gender makeup of philosophy conferences. It’s a small field. It wouldn’t be difficult to collect the data.

    But yes, it would be more difficult than unsystematically sniping at all-male conferences that happen to come to your attention on a blog.

  44. Another anon, let me remind you of our “Be nice” rule.

    Since you seem determined to interpret both the commenters on this thread, and the GCC in general, deeply uncharitably, I’m not going to engage you in discussion any more. Others can do as they see fit.

  45. Hi,

    I’m like Ross in that I was not (pre-GCC) aware of the large number of all-male philosophy speaker lists, and I’m sure I’ve attended small conferences that did have all-male lists and I simply didn’t notice. It’s made a difference to me. On one recent occasion I was in a particularly good position to suggest some names to fill out a conference speaker list — there was just one woman on the list already, so I made a conscious effort to suggest some more. It didn’t much — no heroic effort! — and had I not been thinking about gendered conferences, I very likely would have just named the first half dozen philosophers who came to mind, probably mostly men. (I won’t name the conference, because I do think it’s a good point that apparent ‘shaming’ is counterproductive, and the organizers of the gig I have in mind certainly didn’t have bad intentions. And it worked out pretty well in the end.)

    I’d love to see statistics, proportions, other useful information, personally. But that would be a lot of work for someone!

    Oh, and #38, I don’t see what in my #23 you are calling a “red herring”.

  46. I genuinely think the title is neutral, and doesn’t intend to – and doesn’t – ridicule the conference. It does to some extent portray the *conference* in a negative light, given the assumption (which many share) that all male conferences are a bad thing; but the issue was whether it ‘lampooned’ the *organisers* in a negative light. I genuinely don’t think it does.

    I don’t know that there can’t be such evidence concerning the reactions of organisers. I really don’t see why there couldn’t be. We could ask them. We’ve had testimony from some. The evidence I have available to me suggests that people don’t react particularly negatively to this, but rather want to engage in the conversation. i don’t pretend to have all the available evidence, of course. But I’m pretty bewildered as to why you think it would be impossible to have the statistical evidence.

    I have, to my recollection, been ‘called out’ twice for arriving at a list that wasn’t appropriately gender balanced. In both times, I’ve appreciated it being drawn to my attention. We’re all, as is often pointed out on this blog, subject to implicit bias: we can’t always expect that we’ll be doing as our ideal selves would desire to do. Having my attention drawn to this made me more aware of it, and helped me correct for it, and I was grateful for that. Sure, some people might react differently, but this reaction certainly isn’t unique as the links from Magical Ersatz showed. So I still don’t see what warrant you have for your claim that most people won’t react in the way you’d hope.

  47. I guess the “Be nice” rule applies only to the comments on the blog, but not the blog posts, since the headline of the post on which we are commenting is not nice. Apparently it’s also not nice to point out that the headline is not nice. Oh well — your blog, your rules. With that, I am retiring from this thread.

  48. Guess I’m not retiring yet…

    To Ross Cameron:

    I too have been, on occasion, told by colleagues that some list of mine was lacking in gender balance. But I have never been made the subject of a blog post that says, e.g., “NN invites men to discuss the philosophy of X”. If I had, I think I would not like it. Public naming-and-shaming by people you’ve never met is a little different from a polite suggestion form a colleague.

    And now I am really retiring…

  49. Ugh.
    Okay, in the absence of the broad, systematic data that everybody wants and nobody has, here’s another personal reflection.

    I have organized two small conferences. In neither case was I thinking about gender when I invited speakers. Both were some years ago, so I don’t remember my thought process or whether I got everyone I invited to come (I think I did, actually). As it happened, I think I made about 25% women overall (3/12). In a nearby world at least one of my conferences would have been all-male. So now I’m thinking, how would I have felt if something that was my responsibility had turned up on this blog? Hard to know. I figure I would have been embarrassed, maybe defensive. But I certainly *hope* I would not have been so reactionary as to be influenced to invite *fewer* women to future conferences!

  50. Just my two pence, but I found it very hard to read the title in a positive or neutral way. If I had been called out on this blog in this way I expect I would, like Jamie, also feel publicly embarrassed and would be defensive, even if I would have agreed with the criticism had I been impartial. (I have great respect for the way Weatherson, Egan and the others responded to the criticism — but I don’t think you should *expect* that amount of grace in response to a public shaming.)

    Ross’s distinction (post 50) between criticising a property of something and criticising the person who is directly responsible for it having that property is subtle to the point that I don’t see that it matters in practice. (Which is not to say such criticism is never warranted, but it’s hard to maintain that only conferences and never people are getting criticised here.)

  51. I wasn’t talking about colleagues having a quiet word with me. I was talking about something exactly like this campaign: where I wasn’t named, but something I had partial control over was mentioned as not having an ideal gender balance, but where there was no attribution of blame but rather it was to draw attention to the phenomenon and to make us reflect on how easily things could have been better.

    And sure, I was embarrassed. Rightly so: it was embarrassing! And maybe my first instinct was to be defensive: but it made me realise that I should have been thinking more about these issues from the start, and it has influenced my behaviour subsequently in ways that I am grateful for.

    And sure, maybe not all reactions would be the same. But the worst that can be reasonably expected is that the status quo is maintained. It would take a pretty spectacular asshole to say: well that offended me, so now I’m going to consciously try to make things even worse for women!

    I really don’t think it’s a big stretch to say that it’s the phenomenon that’s being criticised, not individual conference organisers etc. Especially when we’re in a context where we recognise that we’re all subject to implicit bias: that makes these mistakes *easy* to make. But the good thing is: they’re also quite easy to correct as long as we pay attention to it. And all the GCC is trying to do is make sure we do that.

  52. I guess I should state – explicitly and for the record – that the title of this post isn’t in any way meant to be aggressive, snarky, or ‘lampooning’. It’s just meant to be factual. This is a workshop at which some men will be discussing metaphysics. And that seemed like an apt title, since it gives a headline summary of the post. Of course, that it wasn’t my intention to be rude or snarky doesn’t mean that I wasn’t in fact rude or snarky. But I’m in all honestly a bit baffled that the title of this post could be taken as mean or aggressive. And I wonder whether those who read it as such are perhaps imposing quite a lot of their own background views about the GCC onto their interpretation.

    I get that the distinction between criticizing a conference and criticizing a conference’s organizers – what they did, their intentions, etc – can be a subtle one. But I think this has to be taken in context. We’re very explicit in our explanation of the GCC that we’re doing the former but not the latter. We send out e-mails to the conference organizers reiterating this. We bend over backwards to say that this project is about awareness, not about blame. I suppose some people will inevitably still interpret it as being about blame. But I’m not sure that’s something we’re responsible for – or something we can avoid.

    And for the record: had I been going for snark I’d have titled this post “Too many dicks in the ontology room” or “How big is your fundamental particle?”. You can, um, see where my mind goes when I’m aiming for snark.

  53. Or I might’ve just posted this:

    “Tell the fellas, make it understood
    It ain’t no good if there’s too much wood
    Make sure you know before you go
    The dance floor bro-ho ratio
    Five to one, it’s a brodeo
    Tell Steve and Mike it’s time to go
    Wait outside all night to find
    Twenty dudes in a conga line
    Too many dicks on the dance floor
    Easy to fix
    Too many dicks on the dance floor
    Spread out the dicks”

    Wise words from our friends at Flight of the Conchords. I’ll stop now. I promise.

  54. I hope I have a chance to comment on some of the individual comments, but I want to express puzzlement at the charge that the title of the conference is somehow disparaging. Once one starts to look at the causes of discrepancies in gender representation, it becomes clear that gender plays a role in all sorts of ways. For example, women are statistically a minority presence in the profession, and there are well research effects of being a minority. If you search under “dovidio” (I think) you’ll see our reporting on these. For example, papers by minorities are less well remember and they tend not to be discussed in informal interludes in conferences. Partly because of this, people come away from a conference more familiar with good men’s work that good women’s work. If you look at the iat tests at harvard, you start to see how numerical presence can affect the extent to which ability in a field gets much more easily associated the members of the majority.

    So it is no surprise that anyone who has thought about these issues sees all male conferences as having a speaker list imfluenced by the gender of the speakers. It’s painful perhaps in a profession where a lot of people think they have a pure perception of merit. But this latter belief is probably stunningly false. Humans do not have disengaged intellects.

    I have to say that what really gets me is the disproportionate distribution of perks in the profession. Being a keynote speaker on at an international conference counts in tenure, and it counts in merit decisions. How much depends on the institution, but, as Virginia Valianhas argued, all these little things add up to a substantial difference in career successes. That these difference can actually affect the quality of one’s work, for reasons having to do with quality of feedback, oppotunities to develop ideas further, etc, strikes me as sickenimgly tragic.

  55. As a male metaphysician, I was deeply offended by the title of the post. First, it suggests that all men, or at least all male philosophers, would be discussing metaphysics at the conference. But I wasn’t invited to give a talk there. I wasn’t even invited to the conference. When I read the title of your post, and reflected upon what it suggested, I found myself so upset and frustrated that I vomited and peed my pants. And moreover I am quite confident that I am not the only man who did not speak at this conference! Think about the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people you have offended.

    Surely if you had any decency at all you would have considered some other title for the post. I understand why you didn’t want to say “some men discuss metaphysics”, since that would be consistent with some women discussing metaphysics as well. But perhaps “Only men at this conference were invited to present papers at this conference”? In addition to being more precise and specific — and more importantly, much less offensive — it is also almost poetic in its elegance.

    There is a second reason you should feel guilty about the post’s title. It is highly reductive! By saying “men discuss metaphysics”, you suggest that this is all that we do, as if the only important thing a man ever could accomplish is to discuss metaphysics. But I do much more than discuss metaphysics. On occasion, I have also discussed philosophy of language, and occasionally even philosophy of religion. I’m other men have similarly diverse interests. You paint with far too broad a brush!!

    Please forgive any typos in this post, as the tears I have been weeping as I typed it have made it very hard to see the screen.

  56. Umm… wow. That’s exactly the form of title I use for these posts when I’m trying super-hard to be neutral, non-snarky and non-judgmental. I honestly can’t see any more neutral way to title the post for the purpose of this campaign. Honest question: Would it be better to call it “Another all-male conference: this time on metaphysics”? Of something else I just can’t think of?

  57. Jender, if that’s an honest question then: yes, to my ear the original title sounds a little bit snarky, and your other suggestion sounds neutral. (I’m actually one of two people who have said this so don’t sound *too* incredulous.)

    My reaction to the theatrical over-the-top sarcasm in comment 60 makes me wonder if maybe I’m sensitive though! I don’t read the comments on this blog much, but it’s a lot more hostile than I’m used to, even to the point where I sometimes can’t tell if someone is being good natured or snarky!

  58. Wow. I genuinely can’t really hear a difference in snark between the titles. But since I’m genuinely aiming to avoid snark, I’ll go with the one in 61 in the future. Thanks.

  59. I genuinely can’t hear a difference in snark-level between the two options either. And I guess I’m somewhat interested in the counterfactual of what the comparative judgements would have been had we gone with the other title. I worry that had we gone with the option that’s supposedly better, *it* would’ve been interpreted as snarky.

    If people don’t like what we’re up to, they’re likely to interpret whatever we say as snarky or accusatory. We can’t avoid that. That doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to comments or listen to feedback. But we’ve got people whose opinions we trust saying the title of the post is fine – Eric Schliesser even said the post was ‘discreet’ over at NewAPPS. And then we’ve got two anonymous people, who both have problems with the GCC, saying the title is snarky. On balance, it’s a situation that doesn’t leave me overly worried about snark.

    And I think what Jamie says at 18 is worth repeating: “tone is as much read in as it is supplied by the attitudes of the writer, so maybe this isn’t something that can be usefully disputed”. Is the tone of the title snarky? Maybe that depends on who’s reading it. The more important question is: is the title something which is problematic, unhelpful, or for which we should apologize? I really can’t see how it is. It is, to repeat, just a headline.

  60. Is #60 allowed under the “Be nice” rule? My comment was extremely mild compared to #60.

    More to the point, if the target audience of this campaign is conference organizers (which may not be true, but I had assumed so), you should probably try to be nice to them. Usually, when you’re trying to win people over to your side in a political struggle, it’s best to observe this maxim: “Be nice”.

    Maybe there are disclaimers somewhere on this blog saying that in calling attention to individual conferences you are not accusing the organizers of anything or implying that the outcome was a result of implicit biases, but I haven’t seen them and I can assure you that no one I talk to non-anonymously about this campaign has read those disclaimers. And why should they? Lots of people’s first exposure to this blog is when they hear about a conference they’re attending or speaking at or organizing being featured here. Given the tone of the campaign, that is likely to be their last exposure to it.

    And even if the disclaimers were made more prominent, what’s the point of calling attention to individual all-male conferences when you have no idea why they are all-male? For all you know, the organizers may have gone out of their way to invite females and none accepted. Also, isn’t the problem that we should be tryin to work on the number/proportion of women working on topic X rather than the number/proportion of women invited to conferences on X? If there are 0 women working on X, you can’t have a conference on X that is not all-male. I can think of a few topics within my AOS on which exactly 0 women (that I know of) have published. If we restrict the quantifier to women who have published on the topic in top-10 journals within the last decade, I can pretty confidently say that I can think of a few potential topics for conferences such that there are 0 women who have published in them.

    They’re narrow topics, to be sure. A metaphysics workshop is a lot broader, but given that metaphysics is overwhelmingly male-dominated, presumably more so than the field at large, it should not be a surprising outcome if even a conference that tries its best to get female speakers ends up with 0.

  61. If the Oxford people who organized the all-male-speakers conference are upset about being called out, they should reflect on how easily this could have been avoided: they could have invited some women to speak at their conference.

    Another point. As far as I can see, the organizers were either ignorant of the bad effects of holding all-male conferences (especially prestigious ones like this one), or they don’t care about the bad effects. Which was it? More importantly, whether it was the first or the second, the GCC is doing a good thing by calling it out. In the first case, the organizers need to be made more aware of the consequences of their actions (and since such effects are generally known, especially by bright academics who read the internet, something drastic like a calling-out seems to be necessary to get their attention). In the second case, they need to start caring.

  62. Anonymous #67,

    I have no idea if the Oxford people who organized the conference are upset about this post or whether they even know that this blog exists. I’ll let them speak for themselves if they wish (and if they know their conference is being discussed here, which, again, I don’t know).

    You seem to assume that the organizers did not invite some women to speak at their conference. Clearly this assumption is unwarranted. You have no idea who they invited.

    You pose a false dilemma. It is possible that they care, and that they invited women, and this is just how the lineup turned out. Even Oxford philosophers do not have the power to force women to appear at their conferences.

    I thought the rule here in the comments was “Be nice”. You are violating that rule by imputing indifference to known bad effects/ignorance for which they should be held culpable to the organizers of this workshop. You have no evidence for these charges.

    Thankfully, the people who officially speak for this campaign have made it clear in this very thread that they do not agree with you, Anonymous #67.

  63. Anonymous at 66, as someone in the line-up for the present workshop, let me speak to the prediction about the reaction of attendees/speakers/organizers on encountering the GCC: “Given the tone of the campaign, [their first exposure] is likely to be their last exposure to it”.

    This is not my experience. This is my second time speaking/commentating at a conference that’s featured in the GCC. I don’t feel super about being mentioned in this connection either time. But the tone of the GCC posts seem to me admirably neutral. Really, the stand-out feature of the post we’re discussing is how flatly factual it is. I’m perplexed it’s drawn such fire. Its neutrality is appropriate given—obviously—that there are many possible explanations for how particular line-ups were arrived at. So the GCC doesn’t judge in individual cases, but records. At least, that’s the ideal as I understand it, and certainly seems an apt description here.

    One thing that being featured in this way led to is me learning a bunch from reading the material provided with the GCC (e.g. on implicit bias). While everyone is aware that chance can lead all-male lists on occasion, as could ill intent, it’s well worth being aware of other mechanisms to watch out for. And if all-male lineups have bad effects (as all-male juries would have, I guess) then even if they’re arrived at in a scrupulously fair manner they’re regrettable, and worth flagging up.

  64. Robbie Williams:

    You say “the tone of the GCC posts seem to me admirably neutral… I’m perplexed it’s drawn such fire. Its neutrality is appropriate given—obviously—that there are many possible explanations for how particular line-ups were arrived at. So the GCC doesn’t judge in individual cases, but records”.

    This is what I have learned after reading comments in this thread. However, there are partisans of the GCC who do not shy away from judging in individual cases — see Anonymous #67 above — and I worry that the GCC style of campaigning encourages this, no matter what the intentions of the campaigners.

  65. Hi AAC—well, I don’t think that the GCC organisers can be held responsible for every individual reaction that appears on the threads. Some people react by saying “hey, maybe women are less interested in abstract objects” (sorry to pick on james at 6 again, but really, it’s too funny :) ). Some like anon at 67 wants to mount a criticism of individual cases. People on the internet can be relied on to have opinions, I’ve found. (And folks are free to politely challenge each others’ reactions, as has been happening for the last 70-odd comments).

    Still, it might be that there’s some pro tanto bad consequences of running something like the GCC. Checking my wrist-mounted Mill-o-matic 5000, I figure I lost maybe 20 utiles when I saw the post—that little clutch of embarrassment, a bit of regret mixed in. Maybe organisers lose a few more. But really, no biggie in the scheme of things. But any loss on this front needs to be weighed up against what the GCC is designed to address. What I see is a group of people highlighting a serious issue for the profession in a dignified manner while providing lots of helpful links to both theoretical work and practical tips. I reckon that’s worth a little bit of awkwardness.

  66. well, anon 68, I suggest you call the organizers’ attention to this discussion and encourage them to speak for themselves.

  67. Another anonymous commentator: I’m puzzled too that #60 got by. I got involed too late really to take action, I decided. And anyway these are judgment calls, we all make mistakes, etc, etc.

  68. Anonymous #72, if you are identical to anonymous #59: no, I won’t be calling the organizers’ attention to this. Presumably they have better things to do than to respond to your slander, or to try to prove that they did try to invite some females. (If you are not Anonymous #59, then ignore the bit about “your slander” but substitute “#59’s slander” for “your slander”. The numbering of the comments seems to have changed since yesterday. Perhaps an early comment has been deleted?)

    Anyway. I’ll have to keep this one short, because I am just about to leave for [undisclosed nearby university] to attend a conference that has exactly one female speaker. Therefore the conference escapes this blog’s scrutiny. So I guess the lesson this campaign has taught us conference organizers (those who have noticed it) is this: invite exactly one token female, and you’re fine.

    #74, I like humor too. When I get back from the all-male (oh, sorry, one female!) conference tomorrow, perhaps I will post a humorous comment like #59 except one making fun of this campaign.

  69. Late to the dance floor, I’ve just read through the entire thread. I self-identify as (inter alia) a male metaphysician. I thought the title had just a hint of snark — not nasty snark, not ill-natured, but a gentle ribbing of the conference. And I liked it. Granted, the the GCC is aiming to keep track of all-male conferences, not pass judgment on particular ones; but it seemed pretty obvious to me that, if anyone had wanted to pass judgment on this particular one, the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong. I mean, I take it the only way that the organizers of this particular conference could be entirely blameless for the all-male lineup (with Ofra Magidor the lone exception — so it’s false that having a “token woman” lets you off the hook) is if they had made a concerted effort to ask several of the top-notch women in metaphysics to attend, and all had turned them down. (I’d rather not name names on general principles, but if you doubt their existence I’ll be happy to list a few top-notch female metaphysicians.) But I, for one, find it incredibly hard to think that we here have a conference that managed to get Dean Zimmerman, Kit Fine, Tim Maudlin, Nathan Salmon, George Bealer, and Timothy Williamson all to come, but somehow found that the several women invited just couldn’t fit it into their busy schedules. I mean, yes, it could happen — it’s consistent with the evidence, just as the bloody gloves not belonging to OJ and the moon landing being an elaborate hoax are consistent with the evidence — but it’s a pretty farfetched possibility. And I’m a bit surprised that, in this day and age and with what we know about gender bias and the state of the profession, I’m being asked to take this possibility seriously.

  70. “I guess the lesson this campaign has taught us . . . is this: invite exactly one token female, and you’re fine.”

    I suppose there are those who will draw that lesson. Thankfully, we know that it’s not universal, and that the campaign has had a positive effect on many. And of course, the campaign is part of a broader movement that, amongst other things, seeks to educate people so that they don’t draw that lesson, and to minimise and counteract the harmful effects of the people that are disposed to draw that lesson.

  71. Anonymous #74, why are you assuming that the single female speaker is a “token” female speaker? Perhaps she was invited because she has talent and does excellent work.

  72. 79 here. Just to clarify: obviously “token” could just mean “single”, but this didn’t seem to be the connotation of “exactly one token female” since “exactly one” was already in the sentence. Also, the numbering is moving around, so in case there is any confusion, I was referring to this paragraph:

    “Anyway. I’ll have to keep this one short, because I am just about to leave for [undisclosed nearby university] to attend a conference that has exactly one female speaker. Therefore the conference escapes this blog’s scrutiny. So I guess the lesson this campaign has taught us conference organizers (those who have noticed it) is this: invite exactly one token female, and you’re fine.”

  73. Okay, wow. Lots has happened while I’ve been away. I’m going to take a scattergun approach to replies and we’ll see what sticks.

    – First off, there’s this:

    “Maybe there are disclaimers somewhere on this blog saying that in calling attention to individual conferences you are not accusing the organizers of anything or implying that the outcome was a result of implicit biases, but I haven’t seen them and I can assure you that no one I talk to non-anonymously about this campaign has read those disclaimers. And why should they?”

    Scroll up to the top of the page. There’s a link that says “Gendered Conference Campaign”. Click on it. Read at leisure. Note the email that we send to organizers of any conferences we features on GCC posts. Why should those critical of our project read this material? Well I’d hope that people – particularly *philosophers* – would seek to inform themselves about a subject before they start lobbing criticism around. Will people in fact do so? Maybe not. But I don’t think we can be blamed for their ignorance if they don’t.

    – Conferences don’t automatically avoid a GCC post by having a single female speaker. It depends on the overall balance of female to male speakers, and we’ve done many posts about conferences which included a single female speaker. But conferences which are all male are of particular concern to us. That being said, we don’t hear about every conference, so we certainly don’t do a post about every all male conference.

    – I’m guessing, given that AAG is at Oxford, that he’s going here:


    One female speaker out of seven is a respectable though not ideal gender balance and likely wouldn’t attract the attention of the GCC. But Sonia Roca Royes is not a “token female”, and I’m deeply offended that it’s been suggested that she is.

    – I interpreted mm’s comment as satirical but not mean – he wasn’t attacking anyone personally, and his comment was not aggressive. These things are judgement calls, though, and they can be hard to get right. But mm’s comment made me laugh so hard I almost choked. So note to commenters: this moderator will go easier on you if you’re funny.

    – As frustrating as this thread has been at times, it’s been really nice to see so many prominent male philosophers stepping up to defend the GCC. Thanks, guys.

  74. magicalersatz #80:

    That has got to be the most bizarre accusation I’ve ever heard (against myself). I have never said, or suggested, that anyone is a “token female”. Nor have I ever, in this discussion thread, referred to the person you just named. Since you don’t know what country I live in, a fortiori you do not know which “nearby university” I was referring to. It could be one in California or Croatia for all you know.

    When it comes to this campaign, I don’t think people should be discussed by name, esp. in anonymous comments. Even less should one name people based on guesswork like yours. I don’t think I would enjoy seeing my name here coupled with the claim that “it’s been suggested that” I am a token female. Nor would you, I’m guessing, if it were you being named. I hope you have the good sense to delete your comment or ask whoever is in a position to do so to delete it. Or at least delete your “guess” from the comment, if that’s possible.

    But the misgiving I articulated about the campaign is quite serious, and it’s one I’ve heard several female philosophers express when I’ve discussed it with them non-anonymously: the worry is that the campaign (and other work in the same vein) might lead people to believe that certain women are being invited to conferences because of it. Of course, that would be a mistake, for the same kind of reason why it would be a mistake to suppose that the composition of the Oxford conference was in any way the outcome of implicit bias, indifference, or culpable ignorance. The latter mistake is exemplified in comments right here, though (e.g., #67 and #76). This is the kind of mistake even philosophically trained people seem to be prone to.

    Anonymous #78:

    Your question has a false presupposition, so I cannot answer it. In your #79 you quote my words, which is helpful, because if you read the words of mine you quote, you will see that I do not say that I thought that the single female speaker was a token female. And yes, I meant “token” in the pejorative sense.

    Euthyphronics #76:

    The Oxford conference is not a counterexample to the claim that having one woman *invited speaker* lets you off the hook. Exactly 0 of the invited speakers are women. I thought what got conferences featured here was having 0 female invited speakers, not 0 female commentators.

  75. Another anonymous commenter, you used the word ‘token’ in a sarcastic post above (#74); magicalersatz’s reply takes you more literally. Let’s all chill out on the token thing, since neither of you really said anyone is one.

    The misgiving that the GCC might lead to women being invited because of the campaign is puzzling to me, because that is indeed how I would measure the GCC as a success. I suspect I’m not understanding what you mean by “the worry is that the campaign (and other work in the same vein) might lead people to believe that certain women are being invited to conferences because of it.” Do you mean, er, ever? I’m thinking, No, — if I’m taking your worry correctly, you mean that the worry is that a woman would be invited to a particular conference on X after that X-con was identified on this blog as all-male. But even this doesn’t strike me as obviously bad. Would it “of course” be a mistake if the belatedly-invited was, e.g., a woman with considerable expertise whose perspective would greatly enhance the conference? If I was invited post-publicity to a conference in my area of specialization, I would think, you know, “Good.” AH, perhaps I imagine correctly that you imagine the harm to the belatedly-invited, that others will think she’s an afterthought? But of course, if I was overlooked despite my expertise, then I was an afterthought. I’m still awesome. I don’t much care what the audience thinks of my belatedness, if indeed they are actually even aware of it.

    You add, “Of course, that would be a mistake, for the same kind of reason why it would be a mistake to suppose that the composition of the Oxford conference was in any way the outcome of implicit bias, indifference, or culpable ignorance.” I see that supposing does a lot of work here, but I hope that the GCC doesn’t suppose this (although given that implicit biases are not equated with culpability — they are implicit, after all, I’ve got those myself — I don’t think it imputes any wickedness to anyone to suppose something could be the result of implicit bias ‘in any way’). I don’t see a sentence in the brief template of the letter that says any blogger here supposes a conference organizer was any of these things. And indeed, as the letter’s merely a template; I always add the following:
    We’d like to know how it is that you came to have an all-male collection of speakers. We want to bring it about that there aren’t all-male conferences, but to do that we need a better understanding of how they come to be. We always welcome the news that women were invited who declined, or that you didn’t notice the invited speakers were all male! As more than one of us has noted in comments in previous discussions of these issues, feminist philosophers share the same implicit biases and have been known to line up exclusively male speakers.

  76. A couple of thoughts:

    1) I think the GCC is a positive thing overall. It has benefitted me by making me think harder about who I invite to conferences, and also whose work I cite and assign to my students. This past semester, I assigned several excellent readings by women in logic and metaphysics that I might have ignored, had I not been thinking explicitly about including women.

    2) I do worry about the tone putting people off. One of my friends/mentors (a man who devotes a lot of thought and effort to making the profession friendly for women) was featured here for having an all-male conference. I emailed him about it, and he did not respond positively. (To the campaign–he was OK with me). My email was the first he’d heard about it, and I think he would have really appreciated a private letter before being publicly featured. He had made a serious effort to include women, and felt that the post about the conference was implying that he hadn’t. I know it’s not possible to prevent all conference organisers from feeling threatened or reacting badly, but I think emailing the organisers before featuring them here would be a helpful step. I also think it’s worth being extra strict about correcting commenters who speculate on organisers’ motivations.

    3) mm’s comment (now at #59) cracked me up. I feel that the third paragraph is particularly excellent.

  77. To clarify my #2: I don’t think the tone is particularly bad now; I just think that a lot of people are going to hold you to high standards given that you’re anonymously commenting about features of conferences that are going to make the organising uncomfortable. I also think it’s worth finessing, as few things come out perfect right from the beginning.

  78. Thanks, Rachael. I agree that emailing the organisers before featuring them here is preferable. (On the whole, we’ve taken to more moderation of intention-blaming comments, too, but until we have a magically paid staff who can pre-mod comments, we’re limited to playing catch-up with them after work, which is often rather too late to do much.)

    mm’s one-sentence follow-up (now #64) slayed me much more. Man, that was the pie!

  79. (That is, we’re limited to playing catch-up with the comments. We are not limited to playing games of catch with magically paid, imaginary staffers. Oh, the ambiguous pronoun!)

  80. profbigk #83:

    No, I think that commenter was actually right to assume that I was speaking literally, not sarcastically, as far as my remarks about the conference I am attending and my use of the word “token” are concerned. I did not, however, suggest that the conference in question included the female speaker as a token. I only said that the fact that it escaped this blog’s scrutiny — along with very many other 1-female conferences, which I suspect are more common than 0-female ones, but I’m happy to be corrected — tells me that the easiest way to escape scrutiny here is to include exactly one token (pejorative sense) female in your conference. That doesn’t seem right. It seems to me that one-female conferences are problematic for the same reason why 0-female conferences are.

    You are puzzled over my:

    ““the worry is that the campaign (and other work in the same vein) might lead people to believe that certain women are being invited to conferences because of it.”

    I’m just reporting what the female philosophers I’ve discussed this with (very good *and* successful ones, by the way) have said. They have said that they worry that campaigns like this, and moreover conference organizers’ concern with gender balance (which is often independent of any external campaigning), may lead to a situation in which the odd woman or two at a metaphysics (or whatever) conference will be perceived by much of the audience as a token, in the pejorative sense. As well, the female philosopher may worry that she is getting invitations not because her work is excellent but because she is female. I haven’t heard any dissenting opinions from female philosophers (in person, non-anonymously), but maybe that’s only because I only know ones who are successful by the prevailing professional standards.

  81. Another anonymous commenter,

    So I’m a reasonably successful female metaphysician, and I think the Gendered Conference Campaign is great. Do I worry about tokenism? Sure. Do I worry, when I get prestigious invitations, that I’m only being invited because I’m female? Yes.

    None of that means that the GCC isn’t doing good, important work. It just means I’m prone to doubting myself, and will take most any excuse to do so. Funnily enough, my male peers don’t seem to worry that the only reason they’ve been invited to speak at a conference is implicit bias and their own stereotype-threat advantage.

    I don’t know who your anonymous friends are, but most of the professionally successful women I know likewise appreciate the work that the GCC is doing.

  82. That’s funny, AAC. My experiences with well-known female philosophers have been totally different. Much more like Elizabeth’s.

  83. AAC: what does it matter, once the female philosopher gives a great talk? Any foolish thoughts about tokenism will disappear after that.

  84. Rachael, thanks for your comments. I do think it’s really important that we try to handle the tone of the GCC carefully (and there have certainly been growing pains in this regard). No doubt there’s room for improvement. Just to reiterate, though: it’s now the case that we send emails to all organizers whose conferences/volumes/whatever are featured in the GCC. You can read the template for this email on the GCC page. A big part of it’s aim is to clarify that we’re not attributing blame, fault, or bad motives. (And many of us add to the template, along the lines of profbigk’s addition.) But we usually send this email at the same time we put the post up. I wonder if it would be better to send the email beforehand? Definitely worth thinking about.

    And I agree that we need to be careful in how we handle comments. I’d thought this thread had been pretty explicit in terms of non-blame-attribution, but I now realize that none of the bloggers responded specifically to Anonymous @ 66 (I should’ve done so, but there have been so. . .many. . .comments – it’s hard to keep track!) So just to be super-clear: we don’t endorse or agree with any comment that suggests the organizers of this conference are blameworthy in any way. This post – and the GCC in general – isn’t about blame.

    And now, we here at FP think this thread needs to end. So I’m going to close comments. If you have constructive suggestions about the GCC, remember that you can always get in touch with us using our ‘Contact’ form, or you can email me personally at magicalersatz at gmail dot com

    RIP, ‘Men Discuss Metaphysics’.

  85. I’ve been sent the following comment from a friend, which he was drafting while I was closing comments. It contains some important points, so I’m going to go ahead and put it up. And now comments are *really* closed.

    “I’m not affiliated with the GCC and don’t speak for its organizers. However, this thread has gotten annoying.

    The GCC is a modest political campaign with the narrow and simple objective of highlighting a single expression of the pervasive and institutionalized sexism within contemporary philosophy. As anyone who has ever organized one will tell you, campaigns of this sort reliably provoke reactions such as that seen from “Another anonymous commenter” throughout this thread. Their objective is to shift the ground of the debate, making the issue the act of highlighting the problem, rather than the underlying problem itself. Thus, “concerns” are expressed that the GCC might backfire by provoking some nasty tokenizing reaction from conference organizers, or by making people think women on conference rosters were picked just because of their gender, or that (because of the first two responses) it will—oh, cruel irony—cause women to further question or undermine themselves. (See, ladies? *Now* look what you’ve done!) The push is for the problem under discussion to be “Do these strategies make some people uncomfortable and is that fair?” rather than “Aspects of Sexism in Philosophy”. Ultimately the claim is that campaigners are really hurting their own cause by provoking even more sexist responses (tokenism, etc) from those made uncomfortable by the campaign. The alleged solution is for the GCC to lay off.

    This is of course ridiculous. Sexist responses to the GCC are not the GCC’s problem. They are the problem of the people who initiate them. If you organize a conference with only men on the roster, that’s *your* problem. If, in response to being called on it, you add a woman to the list just as a token, that’s *your* problem. And if you think “others” will interpret a woman’s presence at a conference as evidence of tokenism, then that will still be *their* problem.

    In short, don’t get sidetracked by concern trolls. The idea that a small-scale effort like the GCC should accommodate and anticipate any and all negative reaction to it by, say, becoming some full-fledged NSF-funded, ten-year data-collection engine on representation at all relevant conferences, is just absurd. The GCC is just one small piece in what ought to be (and, increasingly, is) a wide-ranging effort by people of good will to document, publicize, face up to, and ultimately change the frankly embarrassing situation contemporary philosophy is in with respect to gender. By the standards of activism in similar settings elsewhere it is a rather mild, and indeed painstakingly polite, bit of consciousness-raising.”

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