When all criticism is gender criticism

There’s a really interesting Ought Experiment column at Daily Nous today, on an issue I’m sure many of our readers have encountered before. What do you do when a student who has experienced discrimination in the past begins to interpret all criticism of their work as further discrimination? How do you respect the harms that the student has endured while still trying to get them to accept critical feedback on their work so that they can become a better philosopher?

As Louie Generis points out, this is an incredibly difficult issue (and it highlights one of the many ways in which there are downstream harms of discrimination). I hope our readers can weigh in with thoughts.

4 thoughts on “When all criticism is gender criticism

  1. I have a related question: how do I know when a certain unpleasant treatment of me is gender-related?
    My experience is like this: I get a kind of thoughtless or unfair criticism that I know women get more than men, but other grad students (males) assure me that they do sometimes suffer this kind of criticism too — and I’m sure that’s true. So I assume sometimes the criticism is due to my gender, but sometimes it isn’t.

    It’s very hard to know how to react.

    Janice Dowell gave some helpful thoughts at DN; anyone else?

  2. Hi woman gs,

    Here’s my two cents, for whatever they’re worth. Hopefully others can chime in as well.

    One issue is how you respond if you think someone is criticizing you in a manner that’s a little thoughtless or unfair, quite possibly because of your gender. Speaking for myself, I try (emphasis on try – I don’t always succeed) to separate how I react to criticism from what I think is motivating the criticism. If someone is criticizing my work, even if they’re being a little jerkish about it, I try take what they’re saying seriously and give a reply I think makes sense. Trying to separate the criticisms I should engage with and the ones I should brush off is a rabbit hole of uncertainty I don’t want to dive down. But I also have tried to learn to stand up for myself and my work. I think my tendency early on was to back down in the face of bluster, because I assumed the person blustering knew more than I did. Knowing that *sometimes* the person is blustering just because of your gender – even if you don’t know whether your current situation is one such situation – can be a confidence boost when learning not to do that. (Caveat: sometimes people are just being obvious assholes, and as a matter of preference I try to avoid or exit those interactions when I can. Life’s too short.)

    There’s then the matter of how you figure out, in your own head, whether a particular criticism was gender motivated or not. I tend to think that, for particular criticisms, this is often hard to do. Not always, of course. We all know people who are routinely much more dismissive of women, or aggressive toward women, etc. And sometimes the gendered element is *so obvious*. But other times it’s less clear. Your gender might be playing a factor, or this person might just be dismissive in general, or they might just be having a bad day, or they might be coming across far more uncharitably than they mean to be. Judgements in particular cases are hard. But I also think they aren’t all that important because. . .

    Judgements about patterns are pretty easy. Sure, men get uncharitable and dismissive criticism too. But one thing many women – not all women, but many women – start to notice when they compare notes with male peers is that while this happens to their male peers sometimes, it happens to them *all the time*. It’s the norm rather than the exception. And it’s the pattern that seems more significant, and also more easily judged as gender-related. And again, noticing this pattern – rather than tying yourself in knots trying to make judgements in particular cases – can help as confidence boost when you’re facing dismissive or unfair criticism.

  3. As magicalersatz suggests, it’s easier to have knowledge about patterns than about particular instances. But there is evidence that members of stigmatized groups, as opposed to members of dominant groups, have more accurate perceptions about when implicit bias is present: in “Perceptual Segregation,” Russell K. Robinson (http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1033&context=facpubs) cites a relevant study (see note 170).

    Members of the dominant group are often motivated to deny that privilege exists, and one way they do this is to suggest that they are having all the same experiences that members of the stigmatized group have. There is some popular discussion of this phenomenon here: http://mic.com/articles/122149/new-study-explains-the-denial-of-white-privilege.

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