“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.

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