Gender-neutral interventions

What are your favourite gender-neutral interventions that in fact help women in philosophy? The two I’m most excited about at the moment are principles of chairing discussions:

1. The One Question Per Question rule– those with multiple questions can have additional ones added to be back of the queue.

2. Favouring not those who raise their hands first, but those who haven’t been heard from yet– helps all those who may be a bit more hesitant to raise their hands, and (combined with rule 1) leads to a greater diversity of views being heard. Also helps immensely in interdisciplinary settings, because in some fields the convention is not to raise your hand until you actually have a question in mind (!).

13 thoughts on “Gender-neutral interventions

  1. “in some fields the convention is not to raise your hand until you actually have a question in mind” – you mean: in some fields it is not?

  2. I was kind of joking. But in philosophy talks it is quite common to have 20 people raise their hands at once as soon as questions open, and I’ve noticed that e.g. psychologists wait a lot longer.

  3. There’s a lot of good suggestions in the “community of inquiry” litterature (P4C) that adult philosophers could use. One of them is that anyone, moderator included, can ask participants that the current question at stake be restated, or that a participant’s position or intervention be reformulated in other words. It goes a long to include people who are not speaking because they’re unsure whether they understand what’s being discussed.

  4. Picking up on what Jenny Saul said (which, by the way, I did not take as a joke and which I actually do think is a serious issue in philosophy), one idea I like is to simply impose a one minute waiting period at the end of talks before taking questions.

    I do something similar in class discussions when I’m teaching. I’ll give the class a question, ask them to jot down a few sentences in a short time period (maybe 2-3 minutes) and then either take questions or cold-call students. I’ve found it to be useful for cutting down on the problem of the guys in class being more pro-active in discussion. I’ve also found that it generates higher quality discussion.

  5. Very important and constructive question. Thanks! Do you want “gender neutral” in the sense that gender is not mentioned at all, or do you include “gender neutral” in the sense that gender can be mentioned generically, but no specific gender can be mentioned?

  6. I really like Matt’s suggestion of a one minute delay before questions because this also benefits people with disabilities — in my case, it is about letting the signed language interpreters finish signing before calling on people, but this would also hold for access to CART (captioning), C-Print, visual description (if the presenter isn’t doing this as part of the presentation) or any other mode of access or disability that may produce a slight time lag.

  7. Something senior faculty (and anyone who tends to get the attention of the chair of discussion, or speaker if there is no chair) can do. If graduates of one gender have not yet spoken in discussion, and you notice a graduate of that gender (say G) who has raised their hand, but has been overlooked (because they raised their arm politely, not “loudly”), you can waive your arm very visibly, and when you are called on, you say “G has a question”. I’ve done this for years, and people have sometimes been surprised, but no-one has yet complained.

  8. Great topic!

    When chairing at conferences I’ve sometimes employed a “haters to the back” principle. If someone has been noticeably rude, aggressive, or condescending in previous q&a at the conference, they go straight to the back of my question list.

  9. Excellent thoughts! But not we don’t need to confine ourselves to chairing. A few more gender-neutral interventions (by which I mean interventions that don’t make reference to gender, and that can be justified to those who are dubious about gender concerns): anonymous marking, obviously; remembering to give weight not just to job talks but also e.g. to writing samples; writing to all really good students encouraging them to continue in philosophy.

  10. Picking up on a previous comment by a woman can help. E.g., “I would like to return to Eve’s point…”
    I completely agree on the consequences of the strategies Jenny describes. I do worry that there can be a cost. My concern is that there may be another type of benefit that the one question rule makes it difficult to achieve. My three examples might reflect an additional goal for a philosophical discussion.

    (1) when the speaker seriously misunderstands or misrepresents something AND does not understand when it is pointed out. Getting it right can take a discussion that is more than “one question.”

    (2)when a very knowledgeable or even expert on the topic has more than one point to make. I’d feel unhappy if, e.g., Nagel weren’t able to say much about a critique of his recent work, which is currently being given a very negative reception. A maybe special learning experience may be lost.

    (3)Related to two or one: when there is a systematic display of bias in a talk that is not obvious and that might take more than one comment to reveal. Especially when white people are often happy to say “I don’t see that at all” or equally rejecting of challenges.

  11. To clarify: I am definitely not weighting goals. I am not sure at all what I’d do in these cases or, worse, how to handle problems like these that are alleged to be present in a discussion where I don’t see it.

    Colorlines has a discussion of the white priviledge in reporting of the Boston bombing. I missed it entirely. you might have a look. See:

  12. I’m a bit concerned that too rigidly applying ‘one question per question’ could actually reduce women’s (or other minorities’) voice in some cases, e.g. if an audience is (as often in philosophy) 75% male, then allowing any women who ask questions to ask 2 or 3 questions if they have them could actually even up the gender balance of the discussion.
    Of course it depends how big the audience is, but I like having postgrads go first – but it only really works in my experience when there are enough of them there, otherwise it can just embarrass them if they’re only very few.

  13. So this one is pretty minor, but I’m a big fan of “sandwiching” critical feedback on essays and exams. I always start and end my written feedback by pointing out things that were *good* about the work, and which the student should be encouraged to develop further, rather than writing feedback that’s entirely critical or negative. Students who are – for whatever reason – less confident or comfortable with their ability to do philosophy have often said they really appreciate this. (Whether it actually helps them I don’t know, but it’s an easy thing to do so I figure it’s worth a try!)

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