Plenty of people are fed up with the current treatment too many women receive in the philosophical community. This blog was offered the opportunity to post an open letter to the profession on this topic. We reacted enthusiastically. The letter is long, but contains many valuable observations. Rather than edit it, I’m putting it up in two parts.
An Open Letter to My Colleagues in Philosophy:
The most recent bout of sexual harassment scandals has brought on yet another round of tortured conversations about women in philosophy and what we can do about the problem of sexual harassment in the field. It is a good thing that and that these problems are coming to light and that people are finally taking note of widespread misbehavior and abuse that occurs across the profession, and I believe that there are genuinely well-intentioned male (and female) philosophers who are sincere in their desire to learn more about what they can do to improve the situation. But I continually encounter responses to these complaints in casual conversations that frustrate me almost to the point of tears, and if I have to summon the energy to adopt the cool, measured tone I must assume in order to maintain my place as a Reasonable Woman in this “conversation” one more time, I fear I will rip my tongue out of my throat. So in the hopes of moving this conversation along, I’ve compiled of list of things not to say when women complain of sexual harassment in philosophy, and a brief explanation of what is wrong with them. This list is just a compilation of bits of conversations I’ve had recently that rankle me the most. Please feel free to edit them, and add your own.
34 things NOT to say in response to complaints about sexual harassment in philosophy:
(Note: ALL of these have been said to me, at some time or another, in conversations about accusations of wrongdoing by fellow philosophers. I’m sure other women have others.)
1. But here is some other couple (both members in the profession, who got together when one was a faculty member/held a more senior position to the other) who are happily married.
2. But he’s fun/just having fun.
3. But he’s cool.
4. But he’s married/has a girlfriend.
5. He’s harmless.
6. He never does that to me.
7. He’s really nice to me.
8. I was hit on/propositioned once at a conference/ talk.
9. I was hit on/propositioned once at a conference/ talk, and it wasn’t so bad/I enjoyed it.
10. But what’s wrong with meeting someone at a conference whom you find attractive and with whom you have similar interests?
11. What’s wrong with asking someone out/two members of a profession having a relationship with each other?
12. But how is a guy supposed to get a date?
13. I’ve never seen him do that.
14. But he’s a good philosopher.
15. But he’s a good force in the department/field.
16. But she’s not a very good philosopher.
17. She’s crazy.
18. The other women who’ve complained about him are crazy.
19. All the women who’ve complained about him are crazy.
20. Pursuing this complaint would ruin his career.
21. But think of all the good he does.
22. What did she expect would happen?
23. But he had a reputation for this kind of thing/everyone knows he’s a sleaze. (!!!)
24. She was asking for it.
25. She’s had other affairs with members of the profession.
26. She’s slept with everyone in the profession.
27. She consented.
28. She’s an adult.
29. It was an adult consensual relationship.
30. Yes I agree he’s a problem but what am I (we) supposed to do about it?
31. But then you owe me a solution to the problem/an answer to the question of what we should do about this.
32. What do you want them (us) to do, fire him?
33. Just ignore it.
34. Just ignore it and focus on your work.
Why are these wrong?
Complaints of harassment are complaints of lack of professionalism in ways that hinder women’s professional advancement in philosophy. They include complaints that men are sexually predatory, aggressive, hostile, that they abuse their position, that they alternately prey on women sexually or spurn them for perceived rejection, that they systematically exclude women from philosophical conversations, downgrade their contributions, ignore them or respond to them with overly hostile reactions. Men in the field often take out their personal and professional frustrations on their female colleagues with sexual aggression. They do so overtly, by making overt sexual advances towards women that bear no relation to meaningful attempts to enter into a mutually respectful and caring relationship, and have everything to do with reasserting their feelings of power and control in personal and professional contexts. Or they might do so less overtly, with ad hominem attacks on women’s femininity or sexuality and attractiveness, or their quality as a philosopher, made either directly or behind women’s backs to other members of the profession. These are also ways of reasserting their power and bruised masculinity and enlisting other members of the profession in their diminishment of their female colleagues