How to be an ally

I had a really interesting conversation recently with some male graduate students and younger male faculty about how they could best support their female colleagues. I wish I’d had more to say – I find the issue a really tricky one – so I’m hoping comments here will provide some further insight.

Step 1, of course, is don’t be a sexist bigot.

Step 2 is to be aware that your own sexist bigotry may not always and everywhere be immediately transparent to you. (Yes, even though you’re a philosopher. Wild.)

But these guys were great, and pretty much up to speed with steps 1 and 2. They were most concerned with navigating the complicated and perhaps more nuanced step 3: be supportive and encouraging of your female colleagues without coming across like a condescending asshole.

Do you go out of your way to interact philosophically with your female colleagues, to follow up on points they’ve made in seminars, to call on them in q&a? Or does that just make you seem like you’re coddling them?

Do you intervene when you see a male colleague being a sexist jerk? Or does that just make it look like you think your female colleague can’t stand up for herself?

How, in short, does the well-meaning male philosopher do his best to be an ally to his female colleagues?

Comments are open – thoughts welcome!


40 thoughts on “How to be an ally

  1. Being a male person, I think those step-3 questions are actually not as tricky as it might seem, though of course it’s natural to have them, and they should be discussed.

    > Do you intervene when you see a male colleague being a sexist jerk?

    Do you intervene when you see one person is beating up another? Of course you do. It doesn’t mean you think the person being beaten up can’t stand up for themselves.
    Besides, sexism is toxic for everyone. When I see it, it hurts me, and stopping it is in my own egotistic interests.

    > Do you go out of your way to interact philosophically with your female colleagues, to follow up on points they’ve made in seminars, to call on them in q&a?

    Does “going out of your way” here mean “never interacting with male colleagues”, or simply “interacting with female colleagues as if they are normal human beings”?
    So I’d suggest framing the issue differently. When you are in a seminar, and didn’t follow up on a woman’s point, do a mental test: was it because I shouldn’t have done so, or because what she said was kind of invisible to me? When you are calling on people in Q&A, check whether you are skipping some people as less important because of their gender (or any other minority status). When you look over who you cite in a paper, make sure you are not leaving out some relevant and important work by women simply because you kind of forgot to include it.
    All those things are not about doing something special for women, they are about NOT letting your bias to rule over you.

    In general, if you’re a male, don’t think about the step-3 things as of some sort of chivalry. That’s misguided. It’s not about you being a knight in shiny armor who generously comes to the rescue of poor females. It’s just about not being a jerk yourself.

  2. P.S. Oh, and then of course there is also step 4, involving positive, externally oriented actions of support, like helping your female colleagues to achieve meaningful change, like supportively mentoring your female students, etc. This may seem even trickier than step 3, but actually there are a few very simple heuristics which pretty much insure you against being a condescending asshole.

    – Listen more, talk less. Learn how to be an active listener. Learn to better identify the needs of the person you are listening to, as opposed to deciding yourself what’s best for them. Be attentive.

    – If you want to help, don’t think of yourself as being in the lead. Become a supporter: see what women themselves think needs to be done, ask them questions, offer your help. Don’t get upset if they don’t actually want your help – it is their right.

    – Raise your own consciousness. Read more feminist literature. Learn more about the issues. Remember that there are plenty of bad things in the world, and you do not have to deal with all of them alone; but sometimes you’d find that a particular issue resonates too strongly with you for you to stay inactive. If that happened, just follow your nose.

    Perhaps surprisingly, all those things are good not only for being an ally to women. They are good in general. They help yourself just as well, and make your life richer and more meaningful.

  3. IY, thanks for your comments – though I’m not sure the issue is quite as simple as you suggest. (Just to be clear: the two examples I gave are just that – examples. There are of course many more ways in which the issue of how to be an ally can arise.)

    On intervening: I really do think this is tricky. I remember once when I was giving a talk, and kept being interrupted and talked over in the q&a by a male audience member (who often behaves this way with women, but rarely with men). I was just about to confront him by saying “let me finish my point” when a male colleague intervened and said “let her finish her point”. He meant well, and I appreciated what he did. But to be honest I really wish he hadn’t stepped in. My position with the guy that was interrupting me would’ve been stronger if my male colleague had given me the chance to stand up for myself.

    On philosophical interaction: the trouble is how to handle a situation where you’re trying to address known but often unconscious biases. If we’re all probably a little less likely to take what a woman says seriously, a little less likely to call on a woman first in q&a, etc., then we naturally want to take efforts to redress the effects of this bias. But when we do this, we’re walking a fine line. Our efforts can easily seem contrived or over-the-top.

    By way of another example – I’ve found that male colleagues often go out of their way to be encouraging. Which is great! Women have a hard time in the profession, and get a lot of subtle discouragement, and extra encouragement helps counteract that. But that extra encouragement can sometimes feel belittling if it isn’t handled carefully. I think most women have probably encountered the well-meaning male colleague who always asks them whether they’re “feeling okay” after a rigorous q&a (“you got some tricky questions – I just want to make sure you’re alright!”). Yes, my delicate lady-feelings have survived the tough philosophical questioning. Thanks.

    So I definitely agree that step 3 isn’t about chivalry – that’s just to reintroduce misguided sexism in a different guise! But I don’t think it’s *just* a matter of not being a jerk.

  4. Thanks so much, Magicalersatz, for this post. Sally Haslanger made a very important point in a meeting I talked about here:

    With a lot of the slights people can receive, one can look like a jerk if one stands up for oneself. So it’s a mistake to assume that someone would object to bad treatment if she wanted to. E.g., I can’t say, ‘I said that first,’ but someone else can say, ‘Just so we’re clear about what the issue really is, I think this point is in fact the same as AJJ’s earlier point.’

  5. Just to add, since it might seem I was disagreeing with the OP in #3, I think these things are very tricky. It might be hard to discern when one could and when one couldn’t stand up for oneself. One thing to look for might be when a person is getting really unfairly left out of the discourse; that is more likely to happen to women, in my experience.

  6. Yes, Anne, absolutely. Sometimes – depending on the context, I guess? – intervention is key, for exactly the reason you suggest.

    A helpful ally can, e.g., say “I’d like to follow up on X’s point, because I think it’s important” when that point has been unfairly dismissed. Whereas X herself can’t exactly say “I’d like to follow up on my point, because it’s important!” without coming across badly.

  7. Thanks for this. There is a lot of interest in our department (Rutgers) right now about the practical side of how to be a good ally and supportive colleague, especially in common, everyday situations. In response, our climate committee is organizing a “being a good ally” workshop. We’re hoping to hold two sessions, one for graduate students and one for faculty. We’re still looking for someone to bring in to moderate (alongside one of our faculty members). Any advice from people who have done this kind of workshop in the past would be appreciated.

  8. I’d really like to hear more from female/women philosophers about this topic (a problem which I encounter more generally in life, but at least discussing it in the context of philosophy gives me a little more to go on). I am a male/man philosopher person myself…

    One thing I would suggest is that there is a huge difference between tackling a colleague being sexist by backing up a/the wom[a/e]n involved, or when there are no women around, vs tackling a colleague being sexist by steamrollering over the women present to make your own arguments against that sexism. If you’re looking to wade into a conflict between a male and female colleague in a way that will take all the focus off of her and make it a debate between you and him, I think it’s probably best not to, although that doesn’t mean that you can’t quietly show that you have an interest in the debate, and (when appropriate) ‘back someone up’ in a way that doesn’t divert the focus of the debate.

    Does that sound about right?

  9. 2magicalersatz: Yes, of course the actual situations can be tricky. But I do believe the guidelines are very simple. What’s tricky is honestly and consistently following them.

    Here’s how I see the three examples which you give.
    1) When a male colleague said “let her finish her point”, he usurped your authority. Which is why that didn’t feel right to you – it just wasn’t right. It’s preventing somebody to shut a woman up by… shutting her up yourself. Wait a minute.
    2) You write “Our efforts can easily seem contrived or over-the-top.” I guess what distinguishes bad and good efforts is sincerity. The point is not to just mechanically listen and ask women more – without actually caring to hear what they have to say. It’s to be genuinely interested in what they say. Then of course, it’s not that one can intentionally get sincerely interested in what another person says. But one can create situations where getting interested is more probable. Or less probable – if you never talk to your female colleagues or read their work, it’s just not going to happen.
    3) I frankly fail to see how this sort of automatic “are you all-right” thing can be viewed as encouraging! But even more generally, I think the path to being _helpfully_ encouraging goes through paying attention to the other person, and not just performing a mechanistic ritual.

    Of course it’s not easy to always be sincere, to see the whole situation, to not be caught in your own preconceptions. Every male aspiring to be an ally will mess up a lot of times. But that’s just because being a good human is tricky. Everybody let their friends down once or twice because they failed to assess the situation correctly or presumed too much.

    But just listening to the descriptions such as your three examples can help a lot. If a male would-be-ally starts to understand that not all “let her finish her point” statements are actually helpful, they should be less prone to acting that way.

    Maybe the trick is to have more discussions of cases where well-meaning male colleagues mess up, just so that it’d be easier for males to recognize such types of situations, and therefore avoid them? It would actually be great to see what a workshop on being an ally, like the one Heather Demarest mentions, could look like.

  10. I’m a (pretty outspoken) feminist male graduate student. I’m in a department with known sexual harassers and a predominantly male and white faculty. I’ve called out other men for commenting on the size of a female philosopher’s breasts. They didn’t seem to see the problem. I’ve been told that at least one of the professors with whom I work closely has drunkenly harassed women. I’ve been told this by the women themselves, and apparently there are other stories. I’ve been at department parties where high-ranking, tenured philosophers tell prospective (female) graduate students how women graduate students just don’t seem to be as good as the men, and parties where those philosophers think it’s appropriate to talk about highly sexual topics.

    In a department like this, which is Leiter ranked and well regarded, it sometimes feels like there’s little one can say or do which will make any effective change. My strategy for being a good ally at this point is to survive while doing as little personal damage as possible (by refusing to participate in some of these behaviors), being as feminist as possible in my teaching, and hoping that someday I’ll be in a position to counteract the kinds of institutional structure that protect abusers. That is what the female grad students I’ve asked about things have suggested to me themselves.

    I wish there were something more, but when the men on the faculty who are outwardly and explicitly feminist don’t engage in corrective practices, it seems there’s little a graduate student can do.

  11. I think #11 highlights two points that are really important. (1) The obvious: a graduate student is not in the same position to be a good ally as a professor when the bigoted conduct is conduct of a professor. Things that are true.
    (2) I think it’s sometimes too easy to focus on relatively subtle situations about whose voice is being heard, how to appropriately make sure women’s voices are heard in actual philosophical dialogue as much as men when conversation is flowing very quickly, etc. Those issues are important, and important to figure out. But I worry that focusing (sometimes obsessively) on those kinds of incidents can be (not always, but sometimes) a form of deflection. It can be a way of focusing on situations where it is hard to figure out *exactly* what to do, as a way of avoiding thinking about cases where it’s clear what to do, because failure in the latter cases is a simple matter of cowardice. When professors are openly saying that women are not as smart as men and drunkenly harassing the women (as in #11), or when there’s discriminatory conduct in hiring, tenure or promotion, violations of university or department policy in the service of discrimination, different procedures used with respect to the targets of discrimination as technique for discrimination, open threats and attempts at intimidation, or any such thing, there’s no reasonable question about what the bigot’s colleagues’ should do in order to qualify as allies. They should tell him it’s not okay, that he must immediately stop and take necessary corrective actions, and that he needs to apologize to the target of his discriminatory conduct. And they should mean it, and take further action if he fails to take any of those corrective actions. And they should publicly stand with the targets of discrimination insofar as the targets of discrimination themselves have the resources (emotional, financial and otherwise) to stand up to such conduct.
    Or, shorter: if you’re a man, and you want to be an ally– well, grow a pair. Same if you’re a woman- though different pair.

  12. I had a strange situation at a small college in the US where a colleague kept presenting himself to me as a feminist and referring to the importance of men being feminists but then I found out from students who had taken his introductory ethics classes that he makes absolutely no reference to feminist theory or feminism. His female students seemed even to be insinuating that he was anti-feminist. And then also his research is completely lacking in a feminist lens. It occurred to me then that he was probably not supportive of my promotion in the department and I had better find some real allies. Beware of the fake feminist man.

  13. Nicandr4, I think it’s possible to be a feminist and a philosopher without doing feminist philosophy. I know some men *and* some women who fit this description, and I don’t believe they are “fake feminists”.

  14. Sigh. I feel like its obligatory to note to the last commenter that it is entirely possible for a man to BE a feminist (in the sense of supportive of women, treating women as equals, recognizing that women continue to face different and often more difficult challenges to success than their male colleagues etc) without thinking that work in feminist theory is particularly good, or that the way to include women on equal terms is to include feminist work. I consider myself a feminist (and I’m a woman, if it makes any difference.) If I was teaching an introductory ethics class, I’m not sure that I would include feminist theory. I would however, make an effort to include works BY women, many of whom do not work on feminist theory. Equating women, support for women around you, or support for the status of women with support for feminist theory strikes me as its own kind of sexism.

  15. 2Sigh.

    Hmm. Strictly speaking, you are right in that one can perhaps be a feminist without knowing any _academic work_ in feminist theory, though, frankly, for a university professor it is kind of hard to manage. But nicandr4 mentions not only feminist theory, but also “feminism” and “feminist lens”, which seems to suggest a much more informal and broad meaning, and there can very well be legitimate reasons for concern behind nicandr4’s words even though we are not given specific examples.

    But most importantly, even if somebody does equate “support for the status of women with support for feminist theory”, how come that would be “its own kind of sexism”?

  16. I’m with Sigh. The prof in question isn’t said to not know any feminist theory: just that he doesn’t teach it in his into ethics class, and that his research is lacking in a ‘feminist lens’. I imagine the latter is true of me also; and while I don’t teach intro ethics, if I did it would probably not draw particularly on feminist theory. But I consider myself a feminist. My feminism manifests itself, I hope, in my behaviour and my beliefs and attitudes: it doesn’t manifest itself in the content of my research, but I can’t see why that matters to the question of whether I’m a feminist. It’s not that the content of my research is *anti*-feminist (again, I hope), it’s just that I work on different things. I don’t think this makes me a fake feminist, and I don’t think one could draw a conclusion about whether I’d support someone’s promotion in my department.

  17. Dear Ross, the language nicandr4 used implies something more serious than just not talking about feminist theory in intro ethics. Of course, we do not know whether there is a substantial basis for the accusations, but there _are_ males who can say they are feminist, and then engage in clearly discriminatory practices. So I see no a priori reason to think nicandr4’s report is false.

    Her report does not point to any specific person. The phenomenon in general does exist. So I fail to see any harm in assuming that she could provide more evidence, but just didn’t. In fact, I very much doubt anyone would accuse anybody of sexism just on the basis of a single fact that they did not teach feminist theory in intro ethics.

    Accusing her of “its own kind of sexism” on the basis of that comment is completely unfair.

  18. I wasn’t saying nicandr4’s accusations were false. I have no idea if they were, not knowing who or what she’s talking about, obviously. And yes, I agree there are males, indeed females too, who can say they are feminist and engage in discriminatory practices. And yes, I agree it’s not a priori to think that nicandr4’s report is false. In fact, I’m utterly bewildered as to how anyone might have thought I was suggesting anything that contradicted any of that. I was merely saying that the specific things she cites shouldn’t be taken as evidence that someone isn’t a feminist.

    And I didn’t accuse anyone of committing “their own kind of sexism”, so I take it your comment about this being completely unfair isn’t directed at me, and therefore doesn’t belong in a comment beginning “Dear Ross”?

  19. Ross, I’m glad that we agree.
    The citation “its own kind of sexism” is taken from Sigh’s comment, and you started yours with “I’m with Sigh”, that’s why I mentioned it in a comment directed to you. Of course, people often agree with statements by others in general without actually subscribing under everything they said.
    The reason I mentioned it again was that the comments about nicandr4’s position singled out one of the facts she mentioned, and ignored the rest, so it all really started to look dangerously close to a personal attack undermining nicandr4’s credibility. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but I’m a little sensitive to situations which sometimes do look to the person being discussed as attacks at their credibility, and I think it is important to discuss them explicitly to make it absolutely clear that nothing like that was meant, and that everyone’s position is respected.

  20. Hm, I think I also agree with Sigh — I’ll reserve judgment on the “own kind of sexism” part, but agree with the rest.

    The two pieces of evidence are: professor does not refer to feminist theory or feminist in intro ethics; professor’s work lacks feminist lens. The conclusion is: professor probably did not support commenter’s tenure case and was not an ally; further strong implication is that the professor is a fake feminist man.
    So, with Ross and Sigh, I am agreeing that that’s not good evidence for the conclusions.

    For the record, I don’t teach intro ethics (and I don’t know what I would include on a syllabus were I to teach it). My metaethics class includes no feminist metaethics, but like Sigh I do think it’s important to include some *women* on the syllabus.
    (Also, aside to profbigk: I am now careful not to say about either the male or female authors on the syllabus that they are brilliant! Well, anyway, I try not to.)

  21. I’m afraid that I have to remind everyone agreeing with Sigh that a person who feels they’ve been wronged does not have any obligation to _prove_ that before they express it.

    A personal accusation, of course, should be supported by evidence. But that’s not what this is about. nicandr4’s statement is being dismissed because she did not provide enough evidence for a conviction in the court of law. Wait a minute.

    The more this discussion goes on, the more it looks like your run-of-the-mill case of shutting up anybody who speaks up about being wronged. All this leads to is that people become afraid to talk about their negative experiences in public. And this affects not only nicandr4, but everyone reading the discussion. This is how bias is created in our society.

    There are always ways to learn more about the situation when evidence is not complete if one really is interested in learning more. You just ask the person for more. Experience shows that usually there is a lot more to back up the initial statements in such cases. And if in some cases there isn’t, no harm can be done by taking the other person’s concerns seriously while talking to them.
    But none of those who accused nicandr4 in presenting a flawed case has even tried to ask her for more evidence. This is a very good indication that what is going on is very different from a simple pursuit of truth.

  22. I’m feeling a bit confused, and I’m wondering if we are simplifying things a bit. It seems to me that there are a number of cases of approaches to a topic – entirely outside of any direct feminist concerns – where one might say that one is simply not interested in adding in work from that approach.

    For example, one might do philosophy of mind and not be at all interested in adding in anything from neurophilosophy or embodied cognitive science. But if, say, members of some minority group often worked with one of those approaches and said that they found the approach full of new and enlightening ideas, then does one’s somewhat studied indifferent look the same? And can one happily say “O, I really support members of X and respect their work” when in fact one has no interest in including it, however relevant it is to one’s own teaching?

    I think there are many, many differences that one might find between what’s said above and this sort of case, but I’m finding myself bothered by the discussion.

    Let me be a bit more specific. I think one of the most exciting aspects of feminist philosophy has been its understanding of the important of the social. It has also seemed to me that, with a few small exceptions, analytic philosophy of mind is a-social. Jesse Prinz has a new book. which I haven’t read yet, which is apparently saying “it’s mostly social.” (I am no doubt crudely over-simplifying.) So this seems to be one of those exciting new ideas the guys come up with, except that it has been in feminist philosophy for a long time. (As, in fact, I suspect Jesse realizes).

    So what do we think of ideas becoming accepted into the mainstream when a guy says it and not before? And what is the status of “I really support and admire members of X’s thought, but in fact I don’t want to include it,” IF in fact it will get included as soon as Jesse says it.

    Let me finally just mention that I have in mind some material that’s being developed for the central division APA 2013. We will be having a session on Jesse’s book, thank goodness, but he himself sees his thought as close at least to that of a feminist whom, I suspect, a lot of people just won’t include on their syllabus until they hear about Jesse. Though they strongly support women, etc, etc.

  23. I just added an explanation of the claim that most analytic philosophy of mind is a-social. It’s now frozen in cyberspace. Let me say briefly that of course many people in the philosophy of mind hold that context is external and dependent on social factors. But when it comes to the vehicle of content, there are very few who would say that the vehicle of one’s memories is the society. This goes for both the Cartesian types (the vehicle of content is wholly internal, and in the mind/brain) and the embodied, embedded types, who might be happy to say one’s notebook is a vehicle of memories.

  24. Re nicandr4, IY et al. I haven’t really had time to think thoroughly about it all, but I think there are certain things philosophers should avoid, and that I wouldn’t want to lose sight of because of my previous comments. Philosophers can drive some of us a bit crazy when they say:

    1. Well, that’s what the scientists says their experiments show, but why should we believe it?
    2. Well, that’s what this woman said about discrimination, but why should we believe it?

    Why have a conversation where we refuse to grant someone any initial credibility and do so for no particular reasons?

    I also think that encountering a group where one has no initial credibility is sort of paradigmatically crazy-making.

  25. So I’m beginning to worry that the comments of Sigh, Ross Cameron, and Jamie Dreier are being interpreted very uncharitably.

    There’s a big difference between the following exchanges:

    A: “Someone in my department discriminated against me.”
    B: “Oh yeah? Prove it!”

    A: “Someone in my department discriminated against me because P”
    B: “Really? P doesn’t sound like something that’s discriminatory.”

    I take it that what Sigh, Ross, and Jamie were engaged in is something like the latter exchange. But they seem to be being accused of something like the former exchanged. They haven’t assumed that nicandr4 (at 14) is lying about having been treated badly, and they haven’t demanded that she (?) prove or substantiate her claims. But as far as I can tell, a casual reading of nicandr4’s comment suggests that nicandr4 is citing not teaching feminism in intro ethics and not having a “feminist lens” on research as evidence of being a “fake feminist”. Sigh, Ross, and Jamie seem – quite rightly, to my mind – to be questioning whether these factors really are evidence that someone is a “fake feminist”. That is, they are objecting to the idea that direct engagement – via both research and teaching – in feminist scholarship is a necessary condition for being a “real feminist”. I don’t see how an objection of this kind makes them hostile to nicandr4.

  26. Dear magicalersatz,

    I think your comment underscores my problem with the whole discussion of what nicandr4 said. If you look at her comment, she mentions 4 different pieces of evidence. Yes, none of them is particularly detailed to be accepted as a proof, but there are 4 of them there. And yet what subsequent commenters discuss, including you, are at most two of them, and mostly just one of the 4, the intro ethics class.

    Moreover, note how the new people joining the discussion tend to overlook the full content of nicandr4’s comment after Sigh only mentioned one of the 4 examples in her comment. nicandr4’s words began to be taken not as they stand, but as they have been represented by another person.

    So let me just reiterate. If you don’t buy somebody’s short argument, there are many possible options. One of them is to say something like “Dear X, can you please tell me something more about that guy? The things you mention seem to be pretty innocent, so I am not sure if I’m getting the full picture”. The main difference between something like that (which _still_ strongly signals one’s reservations about the point, by the way) and what Sigh said is the role you assign to the person who claimed to have been wronged. By inviting further input from her, you signal respect to her position. By dismissing the conclusion without checking first whether there is more evidence for it, you signal “don’t you even dare to say anything unless you’ve built a perfectly flawless case”.

    It seems to be that this discussion is actually a good example for the main topic of the post. Being a good ally involves listening more to the people you want to be an ally to, and sincerely inviting their opinion.

  27. P.S. Oh, and by the way, I do not see such a big divide between the two dialogues between A and B. The second dialogue _seems_ to be a little milder, but in fact can conceal exactly the same motivations that the first one, only expressed by a more educated and eloquent person.

  28. IY, I definitely agree with you that this thread contains several good examples of bad attempts at being an ally. But I suspect we disagree as to the locus of these examples.

    But, in any case, I’m giving up.

  29. Magicalersatz,

    I take the distinction you made as very apt. I didn’t want my comments about feminist philosophy to distract completely from IY’s claims. I think the claims are important to consider. I also think the two bits of dialogue I cited are common and infuriating. However, I tried to indicate, obviously unsuccessfully, that I hadn’t looked at the issue enough to say who was saying what. I just didn’t want the possibly that IY was correct to be lost.

  30. I’m afraid that I have to remind everyone agreeing with Sigh that a person who feels they’ve been wronged does not have any obligation to _prove_ that before they express it.

    Nothing I said implies that anyone has an obligation to prove anything, let alone that they have to provide proof that would be adequate for a legal conviction. Nor have I “dismissed” anything that another commenter wrote, nor “shut up” anyone. So, yeah, no.

    Far be it from me to dare where magicalersatz is no longer interested in treading, but I did feel I had to defend myself from the flurry of IY’s flak.

    (Flak probably doesn’t come in flurries, but I don’t know from flak.)

  31. Anne, that is a very interesting point about Jesse’s book. I don’t follow the field, so it’s just informative for me, and also raises an interesting general issue.
    I don’t think there is a parallel case in metaethics. Of course, that’s partly because I’m not sure what parts of metaethics to identify as ‘feminist’; probably some of Jennifer Hornsby’s work might fit, and a couple of things of Sally Haslanger’s.

  32. I think there are (at least) two discussions going on here: One is about whether nicandr4 was discriminated against. Another is about what the necessary conditions are for being a real feminist. I read Ross et al. as discussing the second, but I think they’re being taken to be discussing the first.

  33. People can be as contradictory in their feminist identification as in any other identification, for example, being a Christian or being a Marxist.

    Who is a real Christian?

    It is a bit utopian to expect people’s behaviors to be wholly consistent with their stated beliefs. Often it’s just great that people say that they believe the same things as one does, even if they don’t act on them much and as long as they don’t actively work against them.

  34. In defense of what nicandr4 said above, she was reporting on her own experience with a colleague, and we just have a short comment rather than the whole story. No, I don’t think you have to be interested in feminist theory or include it in your courses in order to be a feminist–of course not. It’s possible for someone to totally reject the major strands of feminist theory (please, let’s not suggest that feminism or feminist theory is an ideological monolith), yet still work to achieve gender equity. However, the emphasis here is on work and action. If you say you’re a feminist but you do nothing to achieve or stand up for gender equity, then your self-label is pretty much meaningless. If you’re a feminist, it should be easy to see in your actions that you support gender equity and resist sexism. Did nicandr4 see this evidence in her colleague’s actions? Perhaps not, and we don’t have the whole picture.

    In addition, if you (male or female) are frequently identifying yourself as a feminist and talking about how important it is to be a feminist, and you teach intro ethics but say nothing about feminism, it’s at least a little odd, isn’t it? Feminist ethics is an enormously influential part of the ethics tradition, you can’t really talk at all about ethics of care without discussing feminism, and there’s also a lot of important work done by feminists who identify with traditional approaches like Kantianism or utilitarianism. I honestly don’t see how you get through an intro ethics class without at least some mention of feminist ethics or gender issues. If it’s a course in something like current moral issues, and you’re talking about hot topics like abortion or affirmative action, then I would say it’s even poor practice not to include any discussion of feminist work.

    Apart from these introductory moral issues courses, I’m pretty sure that my male colleagues do not discuss feminism in their courses at all, even in intro ethics. However, that’s their business and I won’t presume to criticize how they put together a syllabus, at least in part because I don’t want them criticizing my syllabi either. On the other hand, none of my male colleagues self-identify as feminists or say anything about the importance of feminism; if they did, I would wonder why they paid it this lip service in public, but then never actually talked about it when it was directly relevant in their teaching. I guess I’d rather know who I’m dealing with straight up, than hear someone profess feminism but never practice it.

  35. Dear Jender, what triggered me initially was that the comment of nikandr4 hardly can be read as a stab at the question of “what the necessary conditions are for being a real feminist”. And yet the following commenter, Sigh, said that she “feel[s] like its obligatory to note to the last commenter that it is entirely possible for a man to BE a feminist without thinking that work in feminist theory is particularly good, or that the way to include women on equal terms is to include feminist work.”

    I see that as a substitution of nikandr4’s point with something quite unreasonable which she never said. And then the discussion shifts further and further in the direction of how wrong it is to require male professors to mention feminist issues in intro ethics classes. Each participant in this development hardly had any sort of bad intentions, starting with Sigh. But it does not make the development itself OK, in my view.

    So for me at least, I did not intend to discuss the first issue you mentioned (“whether nicandr4 was discriminated against”). The issue for me is rather “why, when a woman writes something critical of a male colleague, she is immediately rebuffed for something she never actually said”. This is a pattern which can be seen all too often in various settings in our society, and I think it is important to notice it when it occurs, and avoid reproducing it, especially (returning finally to the topic of the original post) reproducing it unintentionally.

  36. IY, I don’t agree that nicandr4 was rebuffed for something she never said. She wasn’t ‘rebuffed’, for one thing, but disagreed with. More to the point, I think if someone said “I thought your friend was a philosopher but then I found it she was a woman,” we would take that person to be insinuating that being a woman excludes being a philosopher. Similarly, when nicandr4 wrote

    “a colleague kept presenting himself to me as a feminist and referring to the importance of men being feminists but then I found out from students who had taken his introductory ethics classes that he makes absolutely no reference to feminist theory or feminism.”

    it seems reasonable to understand her as implying that making no reference to feminist theory or feminism in the intro ethics class excludes being a feminist.

    It’s quite possible this is all a misunderstanding, but if so it’s a reasonable misunderstanding by Sigh and others.

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