As soon as the prospective graduate students visiting Northwestern University’s philosophy department reached the top of Chicago’s lofty John Hancock Center, the cocktails began to flow. Later that evening, everybody had dinner at a prominent professor’s high-rise apartment, where the partying continued well past midnight.
Those raucous recruitment weekends were once routine in the department. But the big, boozy nights are over. Now prospective students spend an early evening with professors at a local Thai restaurant. No one orders alcohol, and the director of graduate studies often brings her children.
That is the new reality as colleges are increasingly vigilant about sexual harassment. When a well-known philosopher at Northwestern, who had hosted the party at his apartment, was pushed out of the university after a female graduate student filed a high-profile complaint of sexual misconduct, the department examined not only his behavior but also its context. “These events all provided a really easy opportunity for nonprofessional relationships,” says Jennifer Lackey, director of graduate studies in the department.
By A Woman Philosopher of Color
I am genuinely grateful for and impressed by the critical discussions that have taken place across the blogosphere and on Facebook (and otherwise) about Thomas Pogge’s harmful behavior. That said, I am worried that many of the voices that are being heard about this matter are those of white women (and men). With the exception of a few, such as the courageous Fernanda Lopez, women of color have largely remained quiet. This is for good reason. Given their precarious position in the discipline, it makes sense that women of color are reluctant to discuss the matter. Fear of further exclusion from the discipline runs high. When some women of color have managed to talk about the matter, they have done so only to make clear that they were not victimized by Pogge. It is unfortunate that women of color in philosophy feel the need to do this. However, it is an appropriate response in the context of some of the dialogue that is taking place.
For example, consider the letter written by Professor Melissa Williams indicting Pogge for his harmful behavior and his weak response to the allegations against him. At the end of the first page, Williams asks Pogge (to whom the letter is addressed) to engage in a thought experiment:
You do not seem to grasp how damaging your conduct has been. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a woman of color who worked with Thomas Pogge on this or that project over the years. Imagine the topic of Thomas Pogge’s conduct coming up in conversation, and eyes turning to you with the implicit question, “You too?” Imagine further that Thomas Pogge’s letter of reference for you was important in securing your current job, so that you are constantly wondering whether colleagues believe you got the job only because you slept with Thomas Pogge. I know you to be capable of imagining yourself in another’s position, and you must have imagined scenarios like this.
Williams uses this thought experiment to criticize Pogge for trying “to discredit” his accuser in his response to the initial BuzzFeed article. Though the connection to the above thought experiment is left unclear, Williams is right to call Pogge out for his poor response to the allegations. It is wrongheaded for many reasons, some of which are also discussed here. My main worry with Willilams’s argument is that it does not go far enough in its support for women of color in philosophy. After making the point about “reference letters”, Williams should have taken this opportunity to make clear that the women who do succeed in the profession are very good and that whether they did or did not get a letter from Pogge is really not a basis to evaluate them on. If this simple fact remains unacknowledged, then women of color who work in global justice are left in the position of having to prove that they were not victims or that they didn’t receive letters or jobs on the basis of letters from Pogge.
Professor Ingrid Robeyns’s post on “Why we should sign the Thomas Pogge open letter” makes other important mistakes. Roebyns argues that in deciding whether to sign the letter or not, what matters is whether one regards oneself to be a member of the relevant academic community. In Pogge’s case, the relevant academic overlapping communities are (at least): academic philosophy/political theory; the community of people working on global justice; and the universities where Pogge works or has worked, and organisations to which he is affiliated. If one is a member of any of those overlapping communities, then knowing about the Open Letter yet not signing can reasonabl[y] be seen as a statement that one believes that this is none of one’s business since (i) this is merely a matter of a person’s sexual preferences, which is a private matter; and/or (ii) the legal institutions will do their work, and we must let them do their work; and/or (iii) we don’t have all the relevant information and hence shouldn’t judge.
Robeyns goes on to convincingly argue that these are not good reasons for failing to sign the letter. However, contrary to what Robeyns suggests here, there are other reasons for not signing the open letter that should not be understood as an expression of believing that “this is none of one’s business.” Some of these reasons apply broadly, but seem especially relevant in the case of women of color in philosophy.
First, in the United States, many decisions about tenure are based on external letters. For junior professors who work in global justice and who may have little choice over who is asked to write a letter on their behalf, there is the risk that Pogge himself or some of his ardent supporters may be asked to weigh in on one’s tenure case. Pogge and/or his supporters could hold one’s signing of the letter against her (or him). This seems especially worrisome for women of color who have worked with Pogge or in global justice and where his letter or his supporters’ letters may seem natural to include.
Second, Robeyns’s post ignores the general fact that it may be especially hard for women of color – let alone junior women of color – to sign the statement, given their precarious position in the discipline. Again, the worry about negative repercussions or further exclusion runs high. There is also the worry that women of color have historically been lumped into the group of “repeat players with a track record of reckless accusations who will sign anything, regardless of the merits”. Because of this history, women of color are likely to be very leery of signing an open letter of this type.
Third, there are other ways to express support of the women who have been harmed and to condemn Pogge’s actions. For example, there are many women of color and otherwise who have been working behind the scenes to, among other things, help with writing the open letter and to provide relevant information for the civil rights case. Especially when one is doing these other things, not signing the letter does not necessarily imply that one does not share in the attitudes expressed in the open letter or that one does not condemn Pogge’s actions.
It is unfortunate but understandable that women of color are reticent to speak about the Thomas Pogge matter. Because of the dynamics of this case and of those in the discipline of philosophy, this is unlikely to change for the near future. I hope that those who do have the privilege of being able to speak will work harder to take the considerations of women of color in philosophy more seriously.
 Note that Professor Leiter does not seem to have women of color in mind here. There is, however, a history of identifying women of color as being out to get white men (especially through false accusations of sexual harassment).
Eric Schwitzgebel brings us this graph showing what’s happening to the percentage of women getting PhDs in various fields.
The overall trend is clear: Although philosophy’s percentages are currently similar to the percentages in engineering and physical sciences, the trend in philosophy has flattened out in the 21st century, while engineering and the physical sciences continue to make progress toward gender parity. All the broad areas show roughly linear upward trends, except for the humanities which appears to have flattened at approximately parity.
I urge you to go read more!
An important post over at the APA blog, with surprising data on gender and placement, and some interesting hypotheses about the findings.
Although more men than women were placed in permanent academic positions within two years of graduation, it is estimated that women have a 0.50 unit increase in the expected log odds of finding such placement…
We have two hypotheses regarding this result that we hope to explore:
- Women philosophy graduates are more likely to find permanent academic placements because those women who would have been less likely to find permanent academic placement are more likely to leave the discipline before graduating than men in the same position. Here is one example of how this might occur: women are less likely to receive positive feedback or more likely to face a hostile environment than men such that less confident women are more likely to leave the field than less confident men. Women graduates are thus more confident, on average, than men graduates and confidence boosts likelihood of placement. (Thanks to “another commenter” at Daily Nous for this hypothesis.) To test this we will need attrition data that include gender. We intend to ask philosophy programs for this information in our next round of data gathering.
- Women philosophy graduates are more likely to find permanent academic placements because women are more likely to specialize in areas sought by hiring programs. Although our analyses accounted for first-reported area of specialization, they did not account for the area of specialization sought by the hiring program. To test whether hiring AOS helps to explain the gender effect, we intend to match our placement data to the job ads from the same time period.
Another possibility is that women philosophy graduates are more likely to find permanent academic placements because hiring programs have a preference for hiring women, all else being equal. This hypothesis has found some support in STEM fields. We do not now have plans to test this hypothesis, but could attempt in future to gather information from graduates relevant to hiring, such as publication and teaching records.
For more, go here.
Nomy Arpaly has recently initiated a really interesting discussion on this topic. After an excellent discussion of the problems of philosophical rudeness (read it!), she ties the issue to gender.
I would like to add the following. I think the state of women in philosophy can be improved significantly simply through the elimination of rudeness in philosophical discourse. One can have many views about things we could or couldn’t do, should or shouldn’t do, to improve the state of women in philosophy, but before we settle those issues, why not start by doing what we already know that we have excellent reasons to do – utilitarian, Kantian, virtue-oriented, and commonsensical reasons, independent of any special feminist theory – and reduce our rudeness?
Here is how I think it will help. First, if everyone is rude, women are judged unfairly (as potential colleagues, for example) because rude women are treated more harshly than rude men, by everyone, due to implicit bias. Implicit bias is notoriously hard to change, but thankfully it is not as hard to change behavior – such as rudeness. I am not saying that we should not try to change implicit bias – of course we should – nor am I saying that changing behavior is easy (I have plenty of experience to the contrary), but you get my drift.
Second, in the actual world, polite women are also judged harshly when they respond to the rudeness of others. In a job interview, for example, a woman who faces a rude interviewer has the choice between responding assertively (and thus facing the notorious “shrill voice” bias) and responding gently. A woman who responds in a gentle, conciliatory manner to a rude interview question, or who looks too insecure and intimidated in response to the rude question, is often perceived by the some people in the room as not having enough to say. This whole painful catch-22 does not occur if the interviewer is not rude in the first place. Again, changing behavior is much easier than changing implicit bias.
Third, it has been said many times that women are put off by the idea of entering philosophy because girls are not taught to handle confrontational, adversarial situations, or situations where one’s abilities are judged harshly. Some think philosophy should change here – either through what I called “pacifism” earlier or through changing the way we evaluate people, or otherwise. Some, on the other hand, say that though the education of girls should change, philosophy shouldn’t. After all, girls and women play sports nowadays, and compete in athletics, and the ones who do most definitely don’t ask for the rules of rugby to be changed to make it kinder and gentler, or for boxing be made non-adversarial, or for the cruelty of publishing players’ stats to be stopped.
Me? All I want to do here is suggest that we try to eliminate what we already regard as foul play, what we already know we shouldn’t do but do anyway. It won’t solve everything, but if we reduce rudeness, I solemnly promise that more women will want to do philosophy. I hereby conjecture with confidence that the simple words “sorry, but you were saying-?”, can make a critical difference, consciously or not, to some young women’s readiness to do philosophy. It might sound silly, especially if one forgets how susceptible all humans are to seemingly insignificant factors, but it is not silly, but rather tragic, if we have lost some wonderful potential contributions to the field just because we couldn’t wait for someone to finish talking. It would show the wrong priorities if we continue to lose such wonderful contributions in the name of some supposed sacred right to be as obnoxious as we’ve always been.
For further reflections on philosophy and rudeness, inspired by Arpaly, check out Kieran Healy.
Here, by Zoe Drayson:
I created this syllabus largely to show that it can be done, and to create a resource for other philosophers looking to add female authors to their syllabi. (I did not create this syllabus in an attempt to rid the philosophical world of men.) I was also inspired by finding this personal ad on Google.
UPDATE: We’ve decided (in consultation with Morgan) that it would be a good idea to open discussion here as well, so we’re doing so. Please do feel free to comment!
An important blog post by Morgan Thompson, about an important paper.
In early 2012, Toni Adleberg, Sam Sims, Eddy Nahmias, and I began a project to gather empirical support for explanations of the gender gap in philosophy, focusing on potential causes of the early drop-off of women in philosophy between initial courses and choosing to major, since research shows that this is the most significant drop-off. If the proportion of women majors remains stuck under 1/3, as it has been for decades (National Center for Education Statistics 2013), then it will remain difficult to improve the proportion of women graduate students and faculty.
Our paper describing our surveys, results, and suggestions is now published in Philosophers’ Imprint here. We hope people will find it useful, especially for generating more hypotheses, research, and solutions. Below, we offer a few highlights and welcome discussion here at Daily Nous.
I haven’t been able to read this yet because it’s behind a paywall, but I’m going to find a way around that because it’s important.
In 2015, Penn State produced an unprecedented number of black, female Ph.D.s in philosophy. Here’s how.
Important new research from Eric Schwitzgebel and Carolyn Dicey Jennings.
We leave speculation on causes and possible remedies to others. However we emphasize four features of our findings that might be especially relevant to policy:
A. Journal editors and conference organizers in ethics should not assume that a proportion of women consistent with the proportion in philosophy as a whole (say, in the low 20%’s) is representative of the proportion of available philosophers in ethics.
B. Although the gender disparity in philosophy is large, it is even larger outside of ethics than it is in ethics. Non-ethics fields might be in even more need of intervention than would appear to be the case looking at the numbers in philosophy as whole.
C. Although the younger generation appears to be closer to gender parity and ethics is somewhat closer to gender parity than other subfields, ethics remains far from gender parity in junior hiring; and it remains the case that the vast majority of authors of ethics articles in elite Anglophone journals are men.
D. If it is true that the 20th-century trend toward less gender disparity has slowed or stopped, then current practices to encourage gender parity might not be enough to ensure further progress toward that aim, and more assertive action might be required.