“What’s a well-intentioned single guy to do?”

Feminist Philosophers has posted an anonymous “open letter” about sexual harassment in philosophy. Part 1 of the letter lists “34 things NOT to say in response to complaints about sexual harassment in philosophy.” Part 2 provides some elaboration and explanation of the list, including what seems to be a central point: “Countering complaints about sexual harassment by pointing to the hazards of dating life and noting women’s consent to affairs ignores the nature of the wrong being committed and diminishes the seriousness of the complaint.”

I urge readers to look at the list and to take it seriously. I know different enough people in philosophy to know that some people will look at each line and think “of course,” and some people will look at each line and think “yeah but…”. There are clearly some bad attitudes at work behind the bad behavior, but I would bet that there is also lack of understanding, too (which is why things like this open letter are helpful).

The author of the letter anticipates an objection: “What’s a well-intentioned single guy to do when he meets a likeminded female philosopher with similar interests and with whom he makes a ‘connection?'” Her answer: “Hold back. This isn’t OKCupid. A thoughtful philosophical conversation is not flirtation, however titillating it might be, and following it up at the bar or wherever the rest of the professionals go after the formal encounter has ended is not an invitation for sex. Imagine this woman was your advisor/letter writer/dean, and then ask whether your interest is strong enough to risk the professional relationship.”

I think the “imagine” device here could be a helpful heuristic. Since comments are not open on these posts at Feminist Philosophers, if people wish to comment or provide other suggestions, they may do so here. I remind readers that comments are moderated, my time is limited, and the First Amendment does not apply.

37 thoughts on ““What’s a well-intentioned single guy to do?”

  1. I don’t think a moratorium on dating within the profession is a good idea. (I don’t think a lot of the things said in part two of this letter are good ideas, even though I found that part one really resonated with me.) That being said, I do think that read in the right way, the ok cupid thing above is right. “Read in the right way” is as follows: it’s perfectly acceptable to be interested in people in the profession, and it’s even acceptable to indicate that interest. Having given it a lot of thought, I don’t think that it is pretty much ever a good idea to indicate your interest in someone at a conference where you met her for the first time, at a talk, etc. I’ve had this happen in many different ways, and none of them felt good to me (even if I was also interested in the other person). So I don’t think it’s ok to view conferences as hook-up opportunities. Also, I think if one is going to enter into a relationship with another philosopher, one needs to think long and hard–much more so than people seem to–about what the consequences of that relationship might be down the line.

    If you want a long-term relationship with someone, it better be the case that you intellectually respect that person, and not just that, but that you demonstrate that you intellectually respect her. This seems to me particularly important if you are in the same academic profession. Hitting on someone at a conference when you just met her–regardless of whether it is intended this way–comes across (at least to me and many women I’ve spoken to) as indicative that your interest is farther towards the interest in her qua piece of meat side of the spectrum and farther from the interest in her qua person/philosopher/smart cool awesome lady side of the spectrum. I think men in the profession really underestimate what kind of effect this has, especially when it happens to lots of us women constantly. At this point if a man starts talking to me at a conference, the default assumption is that he’s not talking to me because he’s interested in my philosophical work or thoughts or because he wants to talk philosophy with me, but that he has an ulterior motive. I think it’s important for men in the profession to realize that this is a justified default assumption–that’s how pervasive sexual comments, flirtation, harassment, etc. are.

    So even if one instance of this might seem harmless–even if you thought you had a connection with the person–you should always try to put this in a broader context. If you thought you had a connection with the person in part because she was smart and cool and said interesting things, then talk to her about those smart interesting things. Take the time to get to know her. Respect her as a colleague and a philosopher. Later, once you guys are friends/have a good philosophical relationship, you can figure out together if you want things to go further. Is this a lot of work? It shouldn’t be, if you’re interested in a serious relationship with someone–presumably, if you’re interested in a serious relationship with her, you are interested in her life and her work and not just her body. And you should be happy to make a new philosophy-friend and leave it at that if need be.

    If you don’t want a serious relationship with someone, then yeah, I sort of think dating within the profession is dumb for a number of reasons. And I think the author of this letter, despite perhaps coming across as a bit (far) more puritanical than I would, has hit on something right with this suggestion.

    There is not a single thing that has made me feel more insecure about my status in the profession than the fact that what seems like the majority of the time, male philosophers are really only talking to me because of what I look like instead of what I think about. I know from talking to many other female grad students and junior faculty that many people feel similarly. It’s worth taking that seriously. I think there’s a great deal of reactionary response to this kind of suggestion. And that’s unfortunate because I think men should not behave like this at conferences (much less in their own departments, but that’s another story…).

  2. (Maybe I am an idiot who only deserves attention for my looks. But if so it would be helpful to know this. Part of the problem is that since it is often so hard to tell why someone is paying attention to me, I really don’t know whether I deserve to be here in this profession or not. And I don’t want to be here if I don’t deserve to be here. If there were more of a norm of not sexualizing interactions at conferences and other professional situations, I suspect this would be far less of a problem.)

    • Anonymous raises an important point which I think everyone should be more aware of, and more open about.

      The highly competitive nature of academic publication and employment, combined with the highly reflective nature of philosophical practice makes it inevitable that most of us will, at times, find ourselves questioning our abilities and whether we belong in the profession. I have often advised others to meet those doubts by emphasizing their accomplishments and paying attention to the good reception their work and contributions have received from advisers and colleagues. But sexualizing professional spaces undermines people’s ability to do this, insofar as they have to wonder whether their advisers and colleagues have ulterior motives for their praise and support.

    • Don’t fall into the (sexist) trap of wondering whether you “deserve to be here”. If there really is something meaningful behind “deserving to be a member of the philosophy profession” (which I’m not sure there is), time and an inability to teach, collaborate, and publish will tell you that. In the meantime, keep working. That’s all any of us can do.

      • Thanks. In some sense I agree. But part of why I posted that second comment was that I think probably the vast majority of philosophers, at some point at least, have felt very insecure about whether they belong in philosophy. I don’t think that, on its own, is a sexist trap. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But supposing I’m not, I really wanted the male philosophers who do not have bad intentions but also might not see what’s wrong with, say, hitting on someone at a conference to be able to see that it is part of a systematic problem that adds a serious layer to this kind of standard insecurity. Since I assume most of them have experienced some of this insecurity before, I figured I’d just be honest and say exactly how this sort of behavior at conferences etc. makes me feel.

        In short, I was just trying to give people a way into what it’s like.

        (Also: In some sense I don’t feel like I need to be told not to fall into a sexist trap/it’s not very helpful given that I think I have a pretty good understanding of the problem. The point I was trying to make was that maybe men need to stop systematically pushing women into one, even if individually they are “nice guys”.)

  3. As a feminist, what I am “fed up” by is the sexist insinuation, which is non-stop on sites like FP, that women are emotionally fragile and unable to stand up for themselves even in relatively benign situations (like being approached by a “well-intentioned single guy”).

    What should a well-intentioned single guy do when he meets a fellow philosopher in whom he has a romantic interest? He should treat him or her the way all human beings ought to treat other human beings; by feeling out the other’s interest in an appropriate way and being respectful of that interest or uninterest. To say that a well-intentioned guy ought to “hold back” is bad for two reasons. One reason is that love and sex are good things, and there should be more of them in the world, and healthy and fun flirting is how we get more of them. Second, these campaigns undermine women’s agency and reinforce harmful and false stereotypes (“women are fragile little flowers”).

    • You write, ” He should treat him or her the way all human beings ought to treat other human beings; by feeling out the other’s interest in an appropriate way and being respectful of that interest or uninterest.” I think one thing that is in dispute here is what counts as “appropriate” and “respectful.” Do you think the author’s advice to “imagine this woman was your advisor/letter writer/dean, and then ask whether your interest is strong enough to risk the professional relationship” is not helpful in being appropriate and respectful, or is too restrictive? Are there alternative rules of thumb you might suggest?

      • I don’t think that’s helpful at all, because none of us should ever be engaging in sexual or romantic relationships with people we have authority over. So if two philosophers meet and are interested in each other, and either follows that advice, then nothing can come of it and that is a shame.

        In terms of rules-of-thumb, I think, first: Actually listen to the other person. Be attentive to the verbal and non-verbal cues that he or she is putting off. Be genuinely interested in what he or she has to say. Second, take things slowly. It is not appropriate to ask someone whom you’ve just met to come up to your hotel room, no matter how well your conversation is going. It is appropriate to ask someone that if you met him or her the day before at a conference session, and then decided to have lunch together, and then spent a few hours at the bar flirting. Third, you must have total respect for what he or she has to say. So, let’s say you’ve just asked him or her to go up to your hotel room, and you get the response: “I’m not sure if I should, I have an early morning.” It is not correct here to push the matter, even in a friendly way. The correct response is “I understand, and I hope to see you again soon, as I’ve had a lovely time with you this evening.”

    • “He should treat him or her the way all human beings ought to treat other human beings”

      I think a point that the first anonymous made well is that men and women are in *structurally* (not emotionally) different positions that can make it hard for men to judge how they would want to be treated *if they were in the position that women are in*, rather than the position they themselves are in.

      Many men might be delighted to be hit on at a conference by someone who they found attractive, because it is a rare experience for them. They may have little understanding either of how common it is for women, or, as the first poster said, of the effects that its prevalence per se can have on how any particular instance of being hit on will be experienced.

      For this reason, I don’t think that urging men to be much more cautious and thoughtful rests on any assumption about women’s emotional delicacy.

  4. In general I agree with much of what commenter #1 said. But, it is depressing (and common, and telling, both internal to philosophy and out in the rest of the world) when people think that a moratorium on sexual harassment amounts to a moratorium on dating. As far as I know, nobody’s actually proposed the latter, and that the two even *could* be confused in the first place is surely part of the problem.

    • Yeah–I agree with this. It’s just that a lot of people I’ve talked to have interpreted the ok cupid comment quoted above as exactly what you say no one’s proposed: a moratorium on dating. I doubt that’s how it was intended but it isn’t totally obvious one way or another. I just meant to be agreeing with a (reasonable) interpretation of it: not only should we have a moratorium on sexual harassment, but given the incredibly competitive profession we are in, that also has an extreme gender problem (not just a sexual harassment problem), and given that as things stand many women have experiences like those I detailed above, we also have an obligation to be cautious and careful and thoughtful about dating and sexualized interactions within the profession. (I think we mostly agree, just wanted to be clear about this.)

      • Oh, I also agree wholeheartedly with your “reasonable interpretation” of it. I just wanted to push back against the less reasonable, “moratorium on dating full-stop” interpretation, since (as you said) a lot of people seem to take it that way — and taking it that way often seems to be a key step in a chain that gets you to “…and so this ban on sexual harassment is clearly overreaching / unfair / unacceptably prudish” or whatever.

        It’s also additionally annoying that, if it WERE a proposed moratorium on dating, that in and of itself seems to be enough for some people to warrant its rejection — as though “freedom to date” is obviously more important than other concerns. And yet expressing *this* annoyance tends to be misread as an implicit endorsement of the (not actually proposed) “moratorium on dating” proposal…

  5. I’m curious to hear from others whether the idea that conferences and the like are highly sexualized areas, with lots of people looking for hook-ups and the like (as is suggested in the post) is wide-spread. I’m a happily married guy who tends to talk about his wife a lot to people, so perhaps that explains why this hasn’t been my experience. But different people have different experiences, so I’d be interested to hear if the idea or experience of conferences as involving lots of flirting, hitting on people, sex, etc. is very wide spread. (I long remember Martha Nussbuam [I think] reporting hearing the cleaning staff at an APA conference saying that the philosophers “didn’t screw much, but sure did drink a lot”, but perhaps things have changed.)

    • Matt–I think part of this is probably a simple numbers thing–there are *a lot* of single men in our profession, and far fewer single women. In part because of that (though in part for other reasons, e.g. that it’s more socially acceptable/expected for men to create a sexualized situation than for women to), I suspect (and my conversations with other women have supported this) that women tend to experience conferences, etc., as far more sexualized environments than men do. (I think this is also true of one’s home department. My department has a pretty standard distribution of male and female grad students for philosophy, and I am pretty sure that a good majority of female grad students have had the department feel like a sexualized environment at times, while I suspect that for a good majority of male grad students this is not the case. And my department is generally quite professional and, while not perfect, is comparatively (in my experience) a pretty good place to be a woman.)

      • I was thinking a lot about the numbers thing when I read this post. Speaking as a “well-intentioned single guy” who is deeply passionate about philosophy and is looking for a partner who shares my passions, my ideal mate is, basically, a single woman philosopher. But single male philosophers outnumber single female philosophers to a pretty insane degree. If only one in four men are feeling amorous during any particular night of an APA, say, that’s still enough men to ensure that every woman in the room gets hit on. That’s insane.

        The result is a self-perpetuating cycle. The number disparity makes women feel much more sexualized than men in the profession, which leads to an unfriendly environment for women, which contributes to the massive numbers disparity. The good news here is that this vicious cycle can become virtuous if it is reversed. A more friendly environment will lead to more even numbers, which will lead to a lower chance that any given woman will be propositioned at any given conference, which will lead to women feeling less sexualized in the profession… Let’s try and get this process going, shall we?

        And for the women reading this thread, to give you my perspective: If I end up acting flirtatiously towards you at an APA, it’s precisely because the kinds of women who attend APA conferences are intelligent and passionate about the same things that I’m passionate about. Of course there is a “meat market” aspect to dating, but – for myself, at least – contrary to the fears of anonymous, if I’m inclined to act flirtatiously towards a woman at a philosophy conference, it is precisely because I value what she brings to the table intellectually. I do not hit on random girls at bars. Of course, other men at APAs are substantially less well-intentioned. Those guys are jerks.

  6. Another Matt: Here’s my perspective on your post, which I offer for your consideration. It seems to me that you have decided to restrict your dating pool to the confines of professional philosophy. One of the things I take the OP to be trying to tell you, and people like you, is that that your decision to restrict your dating pool in this way is inappropriate. The women who are attempting to forge careers in philosophy did not sign up to be members of your restricted dating pool. And insofar as you perceive them as members of that pool – and the problem as an issue regarding your restricted dating pool – you are doing one of the things with which the author of the OP is, understandably, fed up. This does not make you a bad guy, or a guy with bad intentions. But it does make you (at least potentially) a part of the problem the OP is attempting to address.

    • Paul: Thanks for your comment. I think you misunderstood a few things I said, though (which is entirely my fault for not being clearer). So in the interests of clarity, let me take another run at articulating my thoughts.

      We all know that some behaviors which are (unfortunately) still prevalent within the profession are just grossly inappropriate. Unsolicited touching, not taking a hint, not taking no for an answer, implicit or explicit belief that women are intellectually inferior to men… sadly, the list goes on. Much of the original post at FP is directed toward this kind of behavior, and I have nothing to add besides complete agreement that it needs to stop now. But then there’s this other thing: cases where male philosophers have a preference for dating female philosophers. That’s trickier.

      Everyone’s got things that they are attracted to. Some are attracted to men, some to women, some to tall people, some to short, etc. And as any adult knows, serious relationships are based on more than physical attraction, but also compatibility of personalitites. So just as people can find certain physical characteristics to be more alluring than others, we find certain mental characteristics to be more alluring than others. And we can predict which mental characteristics people will find more alluring – specifically, people tend to be attracted to others who share their passions. (Relationships without this tend to fall apart because “we just don’t have enough in common.”)

      These general observations on human sexuality, combined with the fact that professional philosophers are all passionate about philosophy (you don’t make it in this field if you aren’t), suggests that straight men who are passionate about philosophy will tend to be attracted to women who are also passionate about philosophy. Consequently, it seems reasonable to suppose that male philosophers will tend to be attracted to women philosophers. I offer myself up as an example: I have these preferences, and for these reasons. Which passionate philosopher wouldn’t prefer a partner with whom one can debate Hume exegesis over a partner with whom one can debate only what to have for dinner that night? I imagine other men within the profession feel similarly.

      Is this a problem? Not intrinsically, I wouldn’t think. But when you add the severe gender imbalance in the philosophy profession into the mix, some bad results start to pop out. A large number of men attracted to a small number of women will make women tend to feel singled out and sexualized, since the market for female partners is one with much higher demand than supply (so to speak). This is a bad thing (particularly since women are also victims of the grossly inappropriate behavior that we all deplore). It sets off a vicious cycle, where the small numbers of women in the profession and the fact that the profession feels hostile to women become mutually reinforcing.

      Am I part of this problem? Sure, I guess. I mean, I have the preferences that I have. And as we’ve seen, having that preference in a certain setting can be a problem. What matters is the question of what we should do. What norms should we reinforce as a philosophical community? What should I do, personally, to make things better for women in philosophy?

      It looks like some act should be censured, but it’s hard to say what. Censure mere attraction to women philosophers? That sounds both extreme and impossible. Censure aggressive flirting? We already do this, and should. Censure more subtle, respectful flirting – basically, censure any action that could clue the woman in question in to the fact that the man is attracted to her? Maybe this is the way to go, but it also feels extreme. As others in this thread have indicated, censuring this would be tantamount to censuring dating within the profession, since dating cannot occur without some degree of flirting. And we really shouldn’t be forbidding dating within the profession, right? Can we thread this needle by enforcing a norm that, within the philosophy profession, only women may express interest in men? This seems a bit more reasonable, but it’s clearly a kludge, and it would be fairly hard to socialize philosophers in this way, since the rest of society places heavy social pressure in the other direction. (Does anyone else have any thoughts on this, one way or the other?)

      I’m honestly not sure what the best way forward is. Any solution that allows male philosophers to express an interest in female philosophers will have the result that women will feel like objects, given the gender balance in the profession. But any solution that forbids this looks like utopian social engineering. Perhaps we should say that it’s pointless to worry about these more subtle ways in which women are made to feel like objects and focus on minimizing grossly inappropriate behaviors and attaining something like a gender balance within the profession. After all, within a gender-balanced profession, respectful and tactful displays of interest shouldn’t create a hostile environment. But on the other hand, this feels like ignoring the problem, and that’s no good either.

      I have more scattered thoughts than even this, but I’m already starting to ramble, so I’ll cut it off here. I’m really interested to hear what people think, particularly the women in the discussion.

      • Another Matt, I believe the other commenter meant that it is inappropriate to flirt with women philosophers in *professional contexts*, such as philosophy conferences. It is also inappropriate to mislead a womanuby telling her you want to discuss her work when really you are interested in dating (even if you are also interested in her work, that is NOT an acceptable lead-in to a proposition). The two should be kept separate, at least as far as flirting goes.

        You may be interested in women philosphers, and you may date them, but NOT in a professional context or under a profession related pretext.

  7. I wanted to note that the posts at FP, which I was by and large a fan of, implicitly suggested that sexual harassers are all men and their victims are all women. Neither of these things is true, either in general or in philosophy, and it is important to maintain awareness of that.

  8. A guy’s anecdatum. Some time ago in grad school, there was an informal dinner gathering of grad students, married and unmarried, as well as faculty members, some along with spouses. There were at least 8 women total that I can recall specifically. Why do I remember this? Because I clearly recall thinking during the meal that every woman present had explicitly propositioned me (usually with alcohol involved). Not that I was some George Clooney, though I guess I was ok enough. Because of my particular religious history, it was well-known that I was a virgin. I did feel like a target, and that made me question motivations about intimacy, and helped me on the road to become a feminist.

  9. Once, when I was explicitly told by fellow grad students that the post-talk beers-and-philosophizing was limited to the male grad students only, I pointed out that this was unfair to the few female grad students, who enjoy and benefit from informal philosophizing. Only one grad student bothered to respond, and his answer was that he was already married, so it didn’t really matter to him whether or not the female grad students got to go along. The idea that we might have something to contribute to the conversation, or that we ourselves might actually get something out of it that we were missing out on otherwise, did not even occur to him.

    A sexualized environment doesn’t have to mean that everyone is panting in your face. It can just be that you register to many conference-goers as “someone I may or may not be interested in” in a way that obscures women’s presence there as philosophers. Informal socialization is a main reason to spend the time and money to go to conferences. There have been conferences I’ve decided to skip because I knew it was likely to have that kind of atmosphere, and going all that way to get ignored by some, and hit on by others, while others look the other way, is just not worth it.

  10. Yeah fnln two birds with one stone. It’s win-win!

    Come to think of it I bet there’s a whole load of other wrongs we could right by policing people’s emotional lives. What could possibly go wrong.

  11. Let me try a re-boot on this conversation. Conferences are in the first place professional, but, let’s face it, they are social as well. And the two are mixed. Socializing can enhance one’s professional goals, through getting to know people and exchanging shared philosophical interests. And engaging professionally can create new friendships and relationships (in the broadest sense of the term).

    We’ve gotten far from the original thread now. We’re not talking about sexual harassment or dating. But maybe this is something we should talk about: how do we behave as equals? How do we behave when we’re conscious that the person next to us merits our attention as much or more than the person across from us, when the person next to us is a women whose name we don’t know and the person across from us is a man whose name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue? How do we behave in that circumstance? I’m a woman, and I know that I have behaved very badly in that circumstance many times. The social situations of conferences do not bring out the best in us. In fact, they bring out the worst in us.

    Maybe we can use conferences to set a new social agenda: one in which women are invited out along with the men because we are all philosophers; one in which women are not placed at the ends of the bar tables and not engaged with…because we are also philosophers; one in which we are, yes, full, adult humans capable of choices, including sexual choices, which means that when we turn you down, you should be just as interested in what we are working on as when you thought we might sleep with you…because we are also philosophers.

    We all want the same thing, and what we want will be better for all of us. Philosophers who are women (and men) want women to be treated as full and equal partners in philosophy – recognized and respected as such both professionally and socially. Philosophers who are women (and men) want conferences to be both professional and social. And yes, that might include the possibility of maybe finding someone you’d like to maybe possibly be intimate with.

    The point is: we are not in that modal space right now. Do you want that space? Well, then, we all (including me) better start working on recognizing our women colleagues as colleagues and as philosophers. I’m beginning to think that the chief problem is the move from thinking of women as theoretical equals to thinking that the actual women with whom we engage every day as in fact equally worthy of our attention, our respect, our engagement…as philosophers.

    • Another Matt@12:27am: “These general observations on human sexuality, combined with the fact that professional philosophers are all passionate about philosophy (you don’t make it in this field if you aren’t), suggests that straight men who are passionate about philosophy will tend to be attracted to women who are also passionate about philosophy. Consequently, it seems reasonable to suppose that male philosophers will tend to be attracted to women philosophers. I offer myself up as an example: I have these preferences, and for these reasons. Which passionate philosopher wouldn’t prefer a partner with whom one can debate Hume exegesis over a partner with whom one can debate only what to have for dinner that night? I imagine other men within the profession feel similarly.

      Is this a problem? Not intrinsically, I wouldn’t think. But when you add the severe gender imbalance in the philosophy profession into the mix, some bad results start to pop out. A large number of men attracted to a small number of women will make women tend to feel singled out and sexualized, since the market for female partners is one with much higher demand than supply (so to speak). This is a bad thing (particularly since women are also victims of the grossly inappropriate behavior that we all deplore). It sets off a vicious cycle, where the small numbers of women in the profession and the fact that the profession feels hostile to women become mutually reinforcing.”

      ^THIS^. A safe working environment is morally more important than someone’s dating preferences. Philosophy departments and conferences are, first and foremost, a workplace. No one should have to go to work getting hit on constantly, and having to wonder whether whatever attention they get is tacitly sexual. But this is precisely what women in our profession face. It may be “innocent”, but it is also WRONG. Imagine Ron Burgundy, in the 70’s “Mad Men”-era sexist environment, saying, “I only want to date female newscasters.” The right thing to say to this person is, “Grow up and branch out a little. Your profession is not a singles-bar. Women in your profession are marginalized and sexualized. You shouldn’t contribute to that. If a woman asks you out, fine. But your first duty, as a professional, is to treat them as professionals, and to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  12. Another Matt@12:27am writes:

    “Which passionate philosopher wouldn’t prefer a partner with whom one can debate Hume exegesis over a partner with whom one can debate only what to have for dinner that night?”

    Do you think that if you don’t date a philosopher all you will have to talk about are food preferences (or something similarly banal like whether to be quilted or non-quilted toilet paper)?

    Is this view, namely that partnering up with a non-philosopher consigns one to an intellectually barren co-existence, a common view amongst men in the profession?

    My guess is that it is not a common view. I hope I am not wrong.

    • I do not think this. Some people seem to have interpreted my remarks as endorsing some sort of “restricted dating pool,” or “I only date philosophers” mentality. This is not true. I am describing a preference, not a constraint. Really, the only thing that I am saying is the following: for single, male, philosophers, the odds of you meeting a woman that you really connect with are substantially higher at a philosophy conference than elsewhere. (This isn’t unique to philosophy. Foodies are more likely to meet women with whom they connect at a cooking class, etc.) Obviously, this fact does not mean that you should use philosophy conferences as hook up opportunities or some form of speed dating. I certainly don’t do this, and I would hope that others don’t, as well.

      My discussion was concerned with the question of what you should do if you go to a philosophy conference and, just through the normal process of conversation with a peer, find yourself becoming increasingly interested in the woman sitting across from you. What norm ought one follow in that situation?

      • You ought to obey the norm of not making any sort of move. If she’s interested, allow her to let you know on her own. Any other norm produces the collective-action problem discussed above, producing a sexualized environment. For although your action in an individualized instance may be harmless, hundreds of other males doing what you do leads to a sexualized environment. The only way to avoid this is a strict norm: men, do NOT hit on women at conferences. Trust me, if they want to pursue something, they have the capacity to let you know on their own without you having to come on to them first.

      • Anonymous@4:27: This. What I don’t understand is why this isn’t obvious. Does anyone *really* think that just waiting until someone else shows interest, given the collective-action problem, is repressive or paternalistic?

      • Thank you, anon 4:27. This is EXACTLY right (and I’m a woman with a partner who was initially a peer).

        Guys, if there’s really the connection you think there is, then she’ll usually make her interest known — if she wants to. Sometimes, even if there is attraction, a woman in this position might choose not to pursue it, because of the long-term risks of getting involved with somebody in the profession or other concerns. I think this is something men don’t consider, that there’s more to it than just having mutual attraction, because those costs aren’t typically the same for them, or at least they’re certainly higher for women.

        So even if you really are accurately picking up on the fact that the amazing woman you just met at the APA is attracted to you, that’s not a good enough reason to make a pass at her — you still have no way of knowing if your advances would be welcome. So always let her initiate.

        If this alternate approach is strange for you and you worry it’ll hurt your ‘game’, well, get over yourselves — it’s a small opportunity cost for doing a lot to improve the climate, and if you’re otherwise a friendly, desirable person, you’ll probably still do OK.

  13. I suspect this will sound obnoxious, so apologies in advance. [...]

    To simplify, there seem to be two aims that are in conflict: (a) sex/romance, and (b) a safe, professional environment for women. At issue is how a “well-intentioned single guy” can achieve (a) without compromising (b), particularly in conference settings. I think the answer will come from thinking concretely about which specific kinds of actions and statements a man takes/makes in pursuit of (a) that threaten (b).

    These kinds of actions include: awkwardly inserting sex into the conversation, looking at the woman like a jackal looks at raw meat, hovering, talking to a woman about her looks or body, explicitly propositioning the woman, introducing the idea of inviting the woman up to your hotel room[...]. Probably other things, too, but let us stick with that list for now.

    In my judgment, none of these things is particularly effective at achieving (a). If you are doing these things, not only are you threatening (b), you are probably doing a lousy job at getting (a). In other words, you are a bad flirt. Seriously. Learn the basics. [...]

    Men, the women are saying, “back off, don’t pursue us.” They are saying it for feminist reasons. Those are good reasons. I agree with them, and I agree with the advice. But that same advice is good for this reason: if you follow it, the women will be more likely to be interested in (a) with you. At least that has been my experience.


    I suspect that many (b)-seeking women feminists reading this may think I am [...] advocating action based on what they would take to be an objectionable reason. I suspect that many (a)-seeking men may think I am a feminist trying to get them to behave well. I concede that both parties would be right, but that doesn’t make me mistaken.

    The fact of the mattter is people are not going to stop thinking about sex. It is too much a part of who we are, both men and women, and it comes into our minds at all sorts of times, including inappropriate times. The most we can ask of each other is that we behave ourselves, and all I am stating here is that seemingly conflicting aims, (a) and (b), could both be better achieved by the same behavior.

    Is this all that needs to be said on this topic? No, but since it hadn’t been said yet, here it is.

    [Note: this comment has been edited by the moderator; “[...]” indicates where text has been deleted.]

    • P, on the narrow issue, you’re correct. Steering a non-sexual conference conversation toward an explicit proposition is not a good way to achieve sex. That said, for the people who boldly do this, it’s unlikely that sex is what they’re really trying to achieve. It’s a power game. This person isn’t a well-intentioned single guy. He’s a douchebag.

      The appeal to the “well-intentioned single guy” amounts to little more than a red herring. 95% of the time, the well-intentioned single guy never runs into these problems, because he mentions sex only when appropriate to the path of the conversation. The other 5% are the sort of socially awkward guys that people seem to be concerned for. But in that other 5% of cases, the well-intentioned single guy’s actions create problems only because of the existence of the aforementioned douchebags.

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