How to be an ally: a case study

We’ve talked before about the tricky issues that arise when the well-meaning, gender-aware male philosophers triy to figure out how to be an ally to women in the profession. As a case in point, a male philosopher writes:

I’m teaching a grad seminar this semester made up of 9 men and 1 woman. I’ve noticed already that the woman tends to talk a lot less than most of the men and to be much more hesitant about putting forward ideas in class. I don’t want to let the men dominate the discussion, and I want to make sure the woman feels that the atmosphere in the class is safe and welcoming for her. But I really don’t know how to go about it. I worry that if I make special effort to ask her for her opinion or encourage her when she speaks, she’ll feel like I’m singling her out or coddling her – which could of course have exactly the opposite effect of the one I intend.

I’m sure a lot of philosophy professors – male and female – have found themselves in similar situations. What’s a well-intentioned professor to do?

Did Obama blow the first debate?

What do you think?

I was planning on watching it, but I was a little late, so I switched it on to hear the cadence of Obama’s speech. My stomach sank and I switched over to something oddly comforting about kidnapping. As the kidnapping story was replaced by one of murder, I’d switch back for a moment, feel very uncomfortable and go back to the murder.

I think what I heard was the sound of a kind of clutching, though I doubt it came across as that, given what I heard afterwards from some pretty angry commentators. I know of two accounts of clutching, a phenomenon with which I’ve had at times too much familiarity. One account is sort of neurophysical: for various reasons, one’s brain is giving warning signals: now is not the time to try anything new; stick to old routines.

Another account says one clutching has lost focus on the goal and is instead focusing on one’s own performance. One’s not focused on getting the ball over the net and is instead focusing on how one is holding the racquet, etc.

So what do you think?