And the years just fell away

Two events last week seemed to come at me from the past. They could have occurred five years ago, or even 10 or 20 years ago. I did not, however, feel a burst of youth. Rather, I felt a real sadness for all of us who had once found such things common.

One was a lecture at the Jowett Society at Oxford and the other an emailed notice. The lecture itself itself was given by Jennifer Lackey. It was terrific. In fact, I wanted to raise an issue. Indeed, I put my hand up. And then someone else was called on. When that discussion was over, I put my hand up again. And then again. For 50 min my arm was straight up whenever there was a pause for a question. I was incredulous.  I might as well have been invisible.  I finally spoke out.

The other event was earlier. The other event was the CFP for this conference.

SCIENTISM AND CONSCIOUSNESS
A Conference at Keele University, UK, 27-28th June 2017

Keynote Speakers
Philip Goff • John Cottingham • James Tartaglia • Keith Frankish • Christopher Norris

Five male speakers and no female speakers. I was incredulous, and indeed kept rereading the list to spot my mistake.

Well, one good thing: Jennifer Lackey’s sterling performance was a great example of why and how we benefit when women can speak.

14 thoughts on “And the years just fell away

  1. Thanks for this post, Anne. I have just sent this message to the conference organizers:

    Dear xxxxxx

    I have just seen this post about your conference on Feminist Philosophers; https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/and-the-years-just-fell-away/. I hadn’t realized that the keynote speakers would all be men, and I don’t feel too comfortable being part of an all-male line up, especially as there are many strong women philosophers working in this area (off the top of my head, Katlin Balog, Sue Blackmore, Pat Churchland, Amy Kind, Diana Raffman, Martine Nida-Rumelin, Amber Ross …). I am not suggesting that your choice was intentionally sexist, and there may be perfectly good reasons why it was not feasible to secure any female keynote speakers this time, but I wondered if you could reassure me about this, please.

    I don’t wish to be ungrateful or ungracious, and I’d very much like to take part in the event (which promises to be fascinating), but I’m sure you’ll agree that this is an important issue, which we should all address in whatever way we can. In that spirit, I’ll add that if you need a slot for a female colleague, I will willingly, though with regret, withdraw.

    Best, Keith

  2. Thanks for your post, Anne. I have just sent this message to the conference organizers:

    Dear xxxxx

    I have just seen this post about your conference on Feminist Philosophers; https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/and-the-years-just-fell-away/. I hadn’t realized that the keynote speakers would all be men, and I don’t feel too comfortable being part of an all-male line up, especially as there are many strong women philosophers working in this area (off the top of my head, Katlin Balog, Sue Blackmore, Pat Churchland, Amy Kind, Diana Raffman, Martine Nida-Rumelin, Amber Ross…). I am not suggesting that your choice was intentionally sexist, and there may be perfectly good reasons why it was not feasible to secure any female keynote speakers this time, but I wondered if you could reassure me about this, please.

    I don’t wish to be ungrateful or ungracious, and I’d very much like to take part in the event (which promises to be fascinating), but I’m sure you’ll agree that this is an important issue, which we should all address in whatever way we can. In that spirit, I’ll add that if you need a slot for a female colleague, I will willingly, though with regret, withdraw.

    Best, Keith

  3. Thanks Keith. And Jenny.

    I wish I could have taken the time to explain why we make note of all male conferences. Jenny has done that, though she often adds that we are aware that these things happen for all sorts of reasons.

  4. Keeping my hand up for an entire Q&A to signal I wanted to ask a question and being ignored happened to me as well. Multiple times. In particular, at a 2-day workshop in London this happened to me at multiple sessions.
    I thought there was a good reason: I’m an unknown graduate student, and the chair may have wanted to give space to the senior and famous (and male) philosophers in the room. After all, speakers certainly benefit more from THEIR comments. But then I notice that other (male) junior researchers and graduate students, including the chair himself, were being given ample space. I can’t find a good reason why that happened.
    I wasn’t able to deal with the situation like Prof. Jacobson did, though. I could only stay quiet in my chair. In retrospect, I realise that the experience of being ignored may have caused me to be more hesitant in the following sessions, and refrain from even raising my hand again.

  5. Grad student, I feel very sad and sorry that this happened to you.

    In fact, I think I was an older unknown woman, so clearly best left out.

    I expect it may help to air these things. People can view their own behaviour differently when they see it described in public. I’m also going to look at whether we have some posts on moderating. We should have one up now.

    In the meantime it would be helpful to know about other similar experiences.

  6. Thank you for letting me know about this conference. As a graduate student currently set to review their PhD program for potential admission, I’ve contacted the organizers with my own concern.

  7. Hi Paul,
    Your reference to a conference makes me wonder if your comment should be attached to a different post.

  8. Hi Anne, I’m sorry you had a frustrating experience at the Jowett Society. I think one thing you may not be aware of is that our faculty policy is that graduate students always get to ask their questions before any faculty members do, so that made for a long line of questions from grad students. Also,while I have no doubt that gender often plays a role in women getting ignored (and it’s great that you are raising awareness to this issue) in this particular talk – which I myself attended – I can count *six* other women who asked a question before you did (Annina Loets, Johanna Schnurr, Alison Hills, Lizzie Fricker, Lucy Campbell, and myself) so I suspect that this wasn’t playing a role on this particular occasion. (Most likely you got called late in the queue due to a combination of the fact that this was a very interesting talk with many questions + many graduate students had questions + you were sitting at the very back). I hope your future experiences are less frustrating though.

  9. I’m sorry – this was meant for your post about having seen the rather uninclusive keynote line-up stated in the CFP for Keele University’s ‘Scientism and Consciousness’ conference?

  10. Ofra, I should have been clearer. I was quite aware that other women were called upon, and I am glad you menntioned that. Indeed, Lizzie Fricker was called upon three times at least while I was ignored. And so were other faculty women, some at least twice. But I am not a familiar face, and my hypothesis was that I was simply the unknown definitely older woman. Why call on someone like that? I did everything I could to draw attention to my desire to be called upon, before I finally spoke up. So I don’t think it was entirely accidental.

    As we here at FP have tried to draw attention to women being left out of the discourse – whether it is all women or just young women or just unfamiliar women, etc. – I end up doing some things I really dislike doing. These include (1) counting, as in she was recognized three time, another two times, (2) being disruptive – perhaps it was my parents’ misguided love of Dale Carnegie – coming from a woman such a tactic is fraught with difficulties, and (3) publically criticizing an institution which I hold in some regard and for which I feel some affection. I think I was an officer of the Jowett Soc many, many years ago, though it may have been the Occham Soc. In any case, I count going to the Jowett Soc a significant benefit for philosophers at Oxford.

    I am glad you mentioned the grad student preference. I think most places have something like that in place. I did wonder if I had made a mistake waiting for some grad students to ask questions

  11. I should add that I’ve been to the Jowett Society a number of times this past year, and engaged in a number of discussions. Ineed, I had assumed that experiences like that of grad student (see above) were largely over. It is pretty awful if they are not. Grad students receive a lot of thei education in the profession through reactions to their comments. Women who are excluded are being treared unjustly.

  12. Hi Anne,
    You were obviously right to draw attention to this. As one of the organisers of the “Scientism and Consciousness” conference, I am very embarrassed that we overlooked something as obviously important as ensuring that our conference isn’t overly male-centric. In an attempt to explain how this oversight happened, I could discuss our lack of experience as postgraduate students organising an event of this scale for the first time but I do not consider this a valid excuse.

    Although we were considering inviting female speakers who, in the end, we could not afford to fund travel for (due to their being based outside of Europe) and although there were others, such as Sue Blackmore, who turned our invitation down due to having other arrangements at the time, these things clearly do not justify leaving women out of the line up of keynote speakers altogether. We have ensured that postgraduate abstracts are kept anonymous, but this would not be enough if we have already set a tone by having the event led entirely by men. As such, we have secured another headlining speaker, Sophie Allen, who we are excited to hear from in June.

    I appreciate that fair representation of women at all such events is a very important issue, and I also appreciate that in the first place we did not do enough to take this into account. But I admire the work you’re doing here; sometimes it’s only by pointing out where such things have been ignored that we can learn to make sure that such mistakes do not happen again.

  13. Adam and Keith,

    I am impressed by, and feel indebted to, your generous responses. Both of you have taken steps that will add to efforts to change some of the deeply seated tendencies in our profession. In an exclusionary setting it can be hard to avoid acting according to the pattern, even when one doesn’t intend that at all. But your actions will provide models that will further facilitate changes our profession clearly needs.

    It is difficult to see some common reactions: we didn’t understand, that didn’t really happen, etc. We need instead to recognize that exclusionary actions can harm all of us eventually..

    I worry, looking at my responses, that I’m lapsing into cliches. So let me end just with a strongly felt ‘thank you’.

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