Query From a Reader: Dismissive Comments

A colleague of a reader recently circulated one of my papers on women in philosophy around her department. It’s been my experience that people usually respond well to the empirical data and the non-blamey tone. (Though maybe that’s just how they respond *to me* and they say other things when I’m not there.) Anyway, this time a more senior colleague responded with dismissive mockery. Any thoughts on how to deal with this?

10 thoughts on “Query From a Reader: Dismissive Comments

  1. I circulated the article with my undergraduate club in philosophy and got the same reaction. I will also be hosting a “women in philosophy” panel later this semester in my department inviting undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members, so I would appreciate any advice, as well.

  2. Machiavelli (cited by Isaac Deutscher):

    “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand…or more uncertain of its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has
    for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new….

    hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed. Besides the reason mentioned, the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion.”

    If one lacks the power to demand respect from those who mock one, there is not much one can do about it unfortunately and that’s one of the principle problems that feminists face.

    The simple fact that women tend to be physically weaker than men means that in many cases, men will mock them when they would not dare to mock a fellow male.

  3. Dear Professor So-and-So,

    It has come to my attention that you react with mockery to empirical facts about implicit biases against women, which all evidence suggests impede those pursuing careers in philosophy.

    As myself a woman in Philosophy, graduate of Princeton University, Chair of the Sheffield Dept of Philosophy, Primary researcher in the Implicit Bias Project, … Distinguished Honourary bla-bla… [here you list all your accomplishments], I am greatly interested in your views as to why you find such facts subjects of mockery.

    Please respond at [your address] at your earliest convenience.

  4. It will depend on the form of the mockery, but a guileless question is sometimes good, one that appears to take the mockery as serious intellectual engagement and thus requests explanation of any ostensible substantive content. It at least requests explanation and thus affords an opportunity for sheepish regret to develop if the mocker is capable. Even if not, it can alert bystanders that not all participate in or sanction the dismissal.

    In the alternative, noting the weaknesses of scorn as a form of argumentation is also good.

  5. How about comparing this to Rove’s caustic and irrational reaction on election night to hard data that his pet unfounded prejudices about how the election should play out were decisively refuted? Fools usually step up as their own best critics, and this senior colleague seems to have stepped up as well.

  6. Unfortunately, these lapses in collegiality have gone on since before Parmenides mocked one of Heraclitus’ papers, and the phenomenon is probably about five minutes younger than the discipline of philosophy itself. Hard to say much more without knowing more about the dismissive mockery in this case, as well as its object.

  7. Adele: Leaving aside the fact that I find that sort of name-dropping rank-pulling shit incredibly dickish, I also don’t think the situation would be helped by me intervening in an internal correspondence. What they need is a good way to respond to this kind of stuff internally– one that helps to shift things in a good direction. Amy, your expertise on manners is lovely and oh so useful. Excellent suggestion. Also, would you consider writing a “Dear Professor Manners” column for philosophers?

  8. I really like Amy Olberding’s response, and would like to expand on it based on my experience in another realm (disability). My two cents: finding allies helps!

    I’ve had a fair amount of success asking for clarification/explanation when I’ve done this in the presence of another more senior, non-disabled identified philosopher who is an ally (at least in the sense of supporting intellectual engagement on the issue). Having someone else involved in the discussion who doesn’t *seem* to have a dog in the fight sometimes makes a difference.

    Dismissiveness sucks, and I’m sorry you have to deal with this. Good luck!

  9. All of the above plus: Go fuck yourself and critique what I have written when you have something more than an unqualified, uninformed opinion.

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