“Women Philosophers Who Are Not ‘Women In Philosophy'”


The first evening of the conference, there was scheduled a reception for Women in Philosophy at one of the local pubs, and upon viewing this on the schedule, she and I had one of those “Are you going?” “I dunno, are you going?” “I don’t really want to go if I’m going to be the only one.” “I’ll go if you go.” sorts of conversations. Neither of us had an inherent desire to go to the event because of the type of event that it was, but we both felt that, as women in philosophy, there may have been some sort of obligation on us to attend, because it’s an event that’s organized specifically for us—and wouldn’t it be a bit churlish not to go?

But as the afternoon waned on, we talked more, and we agreed: Neither of us really fancied the idea of going and hanging out with a bunch of people we don’t know simply because they’re the same gender as us (especially when, given our druthers, we’d rather hang out with people of the opposite gender). So we instead went out to a different pub with a mixed group, and proceeded to have a very interesting conversation about whether or not we actually had an obligation that we were shirking by not going to the Women in Philosophy reception—a very interesting conversation that included both men and women, something that almost by definition could not have happened if we had gone to the reception, and which had two interesting results. One, one of the men involved relayed how in previous years, the reception has explicitly excluded men, which meant that while it was going on, the men gathered in another room of the pub, and there—without the tempering effect of women—conversation degenerated into the worst of belligerent agonistic philosophy. Thus, while women only events in philosophy may be beneficial for women in philosophy, one might wonder whether they are beneficial for philosophy. Two, we came to the conclusion that neither of us had an obligation on behalf of ourselves to attend the event: If we did not think the event would be beneficial for us, then there was no obligation on us to attend. (Whew! That meant I could enjoy my company and my beer and not feel guilty).

However, there remains the issue of whether we might have obligations towards others to go—to other women in philosophy. In particular, it is unlikely that there would’ve been any other female logicians at the event (which was one of the reasons we weren’t that interested in attending in the first place); however, what if there were a young female graduate student interested in doing logic, but unsure of the advisability of pursuing it, perhaps because of gendered reasons, and who would perhaps have benefited from going to such an event and seeing some more senior (how on earth have I moved into the “senior academic” category? I think it’s the grey hairs) women logicians? I know that I personally never felt the lack of senior female role models—all my best teachers and role models were men, and this never bothered me or seemed problematic—but I also know that I cannot consider myself typical (in fact, I think I am extremely atypical, and also a combination of extremely lucky and extremely oblivious. I have followed What’s it like to be a woman in philosophy? for years, and I have read the stories there with a sense of disconnect with (my) reality: I could not identify with a single story written there. I finally submitted my own a few days ago. Take a look at the title they gave it. Isn’t that sad?). Since I cannot assume that my case is typical, I should assume that there are others out there who would benefit from having someone like me around. Do I have an obligation to them to attend such events?

In the end, the group had a strong argument to the conclusion that “while members of oppressed groups may have a responsibility to resist their own oppression, they don’t have a responsibility (simpliciter) to resist the oppression of others in the oppressed group”. Even though that conclusion excluded me of any responsibility to attend the event, I’m a little bit hesitant to assent to it. I think I do have an obligation towards these amorphous, indistinct others, but I don’t have a good sense of how this translates into concrete action, i.e., which women in philosophy events I can skip and which I can’t…

Those are the words of Sara L. Uckelman (Durham), at her blog, Diary of Dr. Logic. About another event, she writes:

The discussion was actually focused on the 30th anniversary of a special issue of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy on Women and Philosophy, with a number of the contributors to the journal there to reflect on how things have changed (or not) for women in the discipline in the last 30 years. I ended up finding the entire event profoundly uncomfortable. There were a number of times in which “areas that women work on in philosophy” was equated with “feminist philosophy”. Hello! What does that make MY work? Or what does it make ME?…

Sometimes I feel like only those who do feminist philosophy can rightfully claim to be women in philosophy…

I came away from this roundtable with a profound feeling that if this is what Women and Philosophy is, then the only logical conclusion is that either I am not a woman (or the right kind of woman) or what I do is not philosophy (or not the right kind of philosophy)…

A few of us decided we needed to start a club for women philosophers who are not “women in philosophy”

Those are just excerpts; go and read the whole interesting post.

Over at Feminist Philosophers, Magical Ersatz comments on Uckelman’s concerns:

If my experiences talking with women grad students and early career philosophers working in technical subfields is at all representative, I think that at least some of the frustrations that Uckelman expresses in her post are not uncommon. There’s sometimes a delicate interplay between philosophers who are feminists (that is, philosophers committed to feminism) and feminist philosophers (that is, philosophers whose research interests include feminist philosophy). And I think it’s easy for women who work in technical or esoteric parts of metaphysics, logic, and epistemology to be made to feel—often implicitly, but sometimes explicitly—that they are somehow less feminist in virtue of their research areas. And this can easily make them feel as though, somehow, they are the ‘wrong kind’ of women for women-in-philosophy spaces…

There’s no one way to be a woman in philosophy, and no right or better thing to work on if you’re a woman in philosophy. Valuing traditionally marginalized areas of philosophy— including feminist philosophy—shouldn’t come at the expense of saying that other areas are somehow less good or less worthy.

The above posts originally appeared on Friday and over the weekend, and might have been missed by many interested in the topic. Discussion is welcome here, though I ask that the comments on this particular post, at least for now, just come from women who are or have been in the philosophy profession (as students or professors), and not from men. (The “I Am Smart Chorus”: “But Justin, doesn’t that exemplify the very thinking that Uckelman is concerned about?” Maybe. But knowing what I know about how the internet works—and really, one does not need to know much to understand this—I’m just not interested in hearing men’s opinions about women-only philosophy events at the moment.) Thank you for your cooperation with this request.

Sarah Morris, painting from the Rio series

Sarah Morris, painting from the Rio series

guest
46 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

Dear All,

as it happens, my interviewee for this month’s installment of Dialogues on Disability discusses a number of issues that seem pertinent here (as well as other issues). Please be sure to check out the interview at the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog on Wednesday, July 20th, at 8 a.m. EST. Go here for additional details: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2016/07/dialogues-on-disability-on-wednesday-july-20th-at-8am-est.html

You may have read my post at Discrimination and Disadvantage about the position that the editor of The Stone column at The New York Times has taken with respect to disability (if not, follow the link in the Heap of Links). Please consider sending the editor of The Stone a brief email objecting to the exclusion of philosophical work on disability from the column, indicating that you regard philosophy of disability as an important emerging sub-field in the discipline, and encouraging him to accept work on disability for the column. Thanks.

Best,
Shelley TremainReport

Kate Norlock
4 years ago

I mean to be unconcerned when I look at announcements of *any* receptions and gatherings at conferences, but I always read those lines in programs with a little guilt. I usually find, e.g., a peer group in the APA hotel bar that also opted out of the Smoker, and I rationalize myself out of thinking, “it’s an event that’s organized specifically for us—and wouldn’t it be a bit churlish not to go?” by reasoning that such events are organized *for* those who want the benefits. If one doesn’t foresee benefits, if you don’t think you will enjoy yourself, or identify with those likely to attend, or if you’re introverted, or avoiding alcohol, or under the weather, or a host of other reasons, then you’re under no gratitude-demonstrating obligation. Being there for others is indeed a more compelling reason to attend, but I count caring for others as one of my obligations during the daytime sessions of the conference, and by evening, it’s nice to take a break from duty.

I was absorbed by Sara Uckelman’s interesting post, but unintentionally , her tweet “about hanging out with the women philosophers: There’s a lot less beer involved,” did sound more like a broad generalization than a mere relay of the particular experience. Her comment at FP clarifies that she was making a point about her contrasting experiences between two different conferences. However, since casual readers could easily take the beer comment as a broader generalization, I want to aver, to the unfamiliar, that I have gone to multiple conferences of women philosophers, and there is usually every bit as much beer/alcohol involved with women as with mixed groups, in general. Uckelman makes larger points about the social dynamics of post-conference gathering, so the beer thing is not the main thing, but I dig the good times of post-conference drinking and I want to offset even accidental stereotyping of women in philosophy as overly nice and obedient. Also she may give others the impression that they shouldn’t offer to buy me a beer. This danger must be averted.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Kate Norlock
4 years ago

Don’t worry, if you and I are ever at the same conference, I’ll happily offer to buy you a beer. 🙂Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
4 years ago

Sara: YES. Your reply is the mirror of what I wrote on your blog, but then I accidentally navigated away without posting my comment. I was all “we must argue about this over a beer.” This is so wise of us, lining up our drinking in advance.Report

Alex
Alex
4 years ago

One of the important parts of Women only events its to create spaces in which we relate to one another. It’s no secret that in philosophy, as in other professions and public life in general, spaces have been occupied predominantly by men. They not only occupy public spaces, but are very successful in associating between them. Occupying them together, that is, whereas ‘sorority’ in practice is not really a thing. We, women, do not actively associate with each other. We do not relate based on our gender. These spaces are a good opportunity for that.Report

Just a girl
Just a girl
4 years ago

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I not only avoid ‘women in philosophy’ events but I actively aim to socialize with men rather than women. This is largely because when I hang out with a group of women the conversation often turns to something along the lines of how awful men in philosophy are, just how hard it is to be a women in philosophy, etc. Maybe I have just been really lucky. But I cannot relate to these stories, and so I sit there uncomfortably and wish that someone would change the subject. When I hang out with men we don’t talk about this. I also find that men tend to be less sensitive to my jokes. I am a women who sort of likes crude jokes. Shame on me, I guess. Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Just a girl
4 years ago

Yeah, one contributing factor to the whole experience(s) which I’m not sure came across very clearly in my post is that, philosophy/logic aside, given my ‘druthers, I’m much more likely to hang out with men than with women, and that has been the case since at least high school. It often feels like the intersection between the average woman’s topics of conversation and mine is almost empty, and unfortunately this emptiness can sometimes be magnified at philosophy conferences where few of the women are explicitly doing the sort of stuff I’m doing. At least now that I’ve got a kid, I can fill my awkward small talk repertoire with motherhood anecdotes.Report

Just a person
Just a person
4 years ago

I like hanging out with dudes as much as the next chick, but I do think this attitude of, “Oh well, I just ‘prefer’ men… just my ‘druthers’…” absolutely requires implicit stereotyping on part of the speaker, and I think we ought to stop. As in, we ought to actively cultivate a more open-minded attitude about hanging out with a person qua person, regardless of gender. After all, this is what we ask of our male counterparts of us, so it doesn’t seem fair to be doing it ourselves!

I only say this because, anecdotally, I find this attitude echoed by many, many women– including, to be honest, myself sometimes– but it seems to me that these women saying these things would get along quite well with *each other*, and so it’s a shame they’re less likely to give each other the time of day for something like this.

In other words, Lucy could be a beer-drinking mathematically-inclined gal who loves dirty jokes (and even saying this makes me kind of sick, as we shouldn’t assume she’d likely be otherwise), but if she adopts the attitude voiced by Dr. Uckelman & ‘just a girl’, above, then they’re less likely to form a friendship, and I find that sad.

This isn’t to advocate *for* participation in women-only conferences– only to critique actively avoiding them.

(Though if I’ve misinterpreted someone, do please forgive me.)Report

M
M
Reply to  Just a person
4 years ago

I really agree with this. As a woman in philosophy I often feel tempted to present myself as “one of the guys,” and I’ve even professed at times to feel more masculine than feminine on the grounds that I’m analytical and argumentative rather than “nice” or “soft.” But by doing that, I was reinforcing the idea that I can’t be analytical/argumentative as a woman and therefore helping to entrench the stereotypes. And while it’s fine for people to be gender-fluid if that’s part of their identity, in my own case it wasn’t gender fluidity so much as my own internalized misogyny. I think it’s important for women who fall outside the socially dictated norms for female behavior to avoid the one-of-the-guys trope — not only because it hurts other women, but also because supposedly atypical women can help other women out by undermining the very idea of the “average woman.”Report

Just a person
Just a person
Reply to  M
4 years ago

“I think it’s important for women who fall outside the socially dictated norms for female behavior to avoid the one-of-the-guys trope — not only because it hurts other women, but also because supposedly atypical women can help other women out by undermining the very idea of the ‘average woman.'”

Very well said! Exactly.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Just a person
4 years ago

I think you’re very right that we should be careful of painting any group with broad strokes. My comment was very much a descriptive one, rather than a normative one, in that if I survey past experiences, I have had more and better ones with men that I don’t know than with women that I don’t know. I do my best not to translate this into any sort of normative claim about who of new people I meet will I enjoy hanging out with more. After all, I met a number of women in Australia that I was more than happy to hang out with. 🙂Report

J
J
4 years ago

I very much agree with “Just a Person”‘s comment. I also grew up tending to get along better with men. But women-only events were actually really therapeutic for me in that way. I realized that I didn’t make female friends in mixed groups just because men were around. My own attention would be focused on the men, and I would be competing with the other women for the men’s attention. Being the only woman in a group would be especially pleasant because there is no competition. Women-only events, starting with feminist groups during my undergrad, were then really eye-opening for me. And in fact I never made the experience that we would only talk about how difficult we had it and how terrible men were. Sure, sometimes we would share stories, but then we would laugh about them, bond, and talk about all sorts of other things. I formed friendships I never would have formed otherwise. Women-only events in philosophy have been no different. Report

J
J
Reply to  J
4 years ago

PS: I also don’t do feminist philosophy, and work in more formal areas – but I have never felt excluded at these events. Admittedly, most of these events have been either departmental, with women I already knew, or at a graduate student level. Report

Female student
Female student
4 years ago

I relate to a lot of the above: I haven’t had negative experiences with males in philosophy, I haven’t felt that I needed female role models (‘hey, I like how that person thinks’ is enough regardless of gender) (and I can feel solidarity for many reasons – like when the professor who had terrible handwriting made me feel like there might be hope for me yet), and I tend to avoid events with anything about ‘women in philosophy’ in the name. I also did that just recently, actually.

As a student, I have fewer potential reasons to feel obligated. I’m not going to be anyone’s role model, for instance. But even if I did have seniority in the discipline, I would hope that being a woman wouldn’t be the reason I was obligated to go to some social event I didn’t feel like attending. Men can go hang out where they want, but I have obligations because of feminism? No thanks.

In any case, I’ve never really been ‘one of the guys’ and I’m not now, though some of my interests certainly appeal more to males than to females, generally speaking. (Watching sports, philosophy, math, not asking for directions…) I just don’t care to sit around talking about the issue of women in philosophy. It’s not interesting.

And it wouldn’t annoy me that others organised, attended, and possibly even enjoyed such events, except that the only people who have singled me out for being a woman in philosophy… have been women in philosophy. I don’t want to participate in a modern academic rendition of ‘gentlemen to the smoking room, ladies to the parlour’; stop trying to recruit me.Report

Another female student
Another female student
Reply to  Female student
4 years ago

“not asking for directions” – seriously?Report

OG Female student
OG Female student
Reply to  Another female student
4 years ago

Obviously in jest.

You’re not invited to the ‘women in philosophy who like dirty jokes (and men can come too, you bastards)’ event.Report

Another female student
Another female student
Reply to  OG Female student
4 years ago

… And that confirms my suspicion about what was meant by “dirty” all along. I was hoping for something sexier than sexism. Report

HFG
HFG
Reply to  Female student
4 years ago

That’s great that all your experiences have been positive to date. And I hope that they remain so- at least as long as you are finishing your degree. But as you progress in life and your career, you will become a role model in or out of philosophy- that’s just part of becoming an adult. You might find that women you mentor tell you that they experience sexism, and that it has affected their work in a variety of ways. In that case, women-only events might be a way for those students to experience philosophy the they used to, and the way that you experience it now. Report

Female student
Female student
Reply to  HFG
4 years ago

I’m an adult. Not just in the sense that I can vote and legally consent to things, but in the sense that I’ve been in the workforce, for awhile, experienced life, and decided to return to being a student in order to go in a different direction. I’ve dealt with sexism in other arenas and I’ve shared my experiences with younger women. But that’s heavier stuff, not the kind of thing I would do for a conference evening event. And since most of my life experience is from outside academia, women coming to me looking for encouragement to hide away in safe spaces are likely to be disappointed.

(Not all students are without life experience.)
Report

HFG
HFG
Reply to  Female student
4 years ago

Yeah, I get that. And sexism outside of academia is at least as bad, and usually as you put it, a lot heavier. But sexism inside academia can be heavy in a different way.

You’re working extremely hard at something that matters to you more than any other job has mattered to you in the past. Then, all of a sudden, all of your blood, sweat, and tears are rendered meaningless because it turns out that some mentor wasn’t really interested in mentoring you. It’s not what you have to say that interests them, but the same superficial nonsense about you that interests random strangers on the street- people who have never heard you speak a word, and have no idea what you might have to say.

That probably won’t happen to most people in philosophy. But it has happened to some people, and as someone who has had that happen to them, I can tell you that it can damage a person in a way comparable to some of the heavier real-world threats out there.

I’m not sure if that’s appropriate dinner conversation either. But it’s nice to know that there are some people out there who are trying to make sure that that sort of thing happens less. Report

Female student
Female student
Reply to  HFG
4 years ago

Yeah, I don’t want to dismiss how devastating that experience would be. While I haven’t experienced that in philosophy, I have experienced (like many, perhaps even most) the realisation that someone I thought was interested in me as a person, or a teammate, or whatever… wasn’t. So I can only imagine how it would feel to have the past validation of one’s work by a mentor tainted by that kind of situation.

People suck in a lot of ways, a lot of the time. I’ll never disagree with that. And I’ll leave it there. Just wanted to say that I don’t think that experience isn’t serious/damaging. It’s a terrible thing to do to someone, especially to a young student.Report

Just a girl
Just a girl
4 years ago

Yeah, I am inclined to agree that there is something problematic with the stereotyping I admitted to. But here’s the issue. It has been my experience that the most sensitive person always wins. Hence I could be with a group of 10 women, 9 of whom are like me and enjoy dirty jokes. Suppose I then tell a dirty joke and the 1 sensitive woman gets offended. I look like a total asshole- and it is fairly likely people will gossip about how I am a total asshole. And never forget that it is absolutely, completely, like 120% against every social norm to suggest that the offended person is too sensitive, and to say something like, “I’m (sincerely) sorry you are offended, but I still like dirty jokes and I am going to keep telling them as to not ruin the fun for everyone else.”

Now one might ask how any of this is different when I hang out with guys. I don’t really know, other than to say I just have never had these awkward situations come up with guys. Now it might be good and noble of me to ignore my experience and to not judge anyone until I know more about them, etc. But honestly this seems a fair amount to ask simply because time and social occasions are limited resources. Suppose I only go to three conferences a year with three possible outings. I could be fair-minded and not selectively interact. But I only have three opportunities like this a year. It may be sort of bad of me, but my habit is to take the safe route and do what I think will make it likely I have a fun casual evening. I say this completely admitting that I am engaging in somewhat problematic stereotypical judging. Report

Female student
Female student
Reply to  Just a girl
4 years ago

“Now one might ask how any of this is different when I hang out with guys. I don’t really know, other than to say I just have never had these awkward situations come up with guys.”

I would guess that it’s similar to why a disproportionate number of successful comedians come out of Boston; it’s how they’re trained growing up. Being sensitive isn’t encouraged, so joking around is much easier. (Males aren’t encouraged to be sensitive, people from Boston aren’t encouraged to be sensitive, and males from Boston *really* aren’t encouraged to be sensitive.) One comedian from the area described growing up there as training in ducking and weaving to avoid verbal blows, and if you grew up like that people are going to be able to joke around with you without worrying too much about hurting your feelings.

I would attend a ‘women in philosophy who like dirty jokes (and men can come too, you bastards)’ event. Just stick a time and place on these and you’ve got posters: http://postimg.org/gallery/1k3x2x0yg/Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Female student
4 years ago

I’d go to that event!Report

HFG
HFG
Reply to  Just a girl
4 years ago

“Suppose I then tell a dirty joke and the 1 sensitive woman gets offended. I look like a total asshole- and it is fairly likely people will gossip about how I am a total asshole.”

Ugh, I’ve noticed this phenomenon too. I think this is symptomatic of the competitive, and sometimes petty nature of academia in general more than it is a problem for supporting women in academia. If it’s a really offensive joke, I’d hope people would explain to you why the joke might be offensive rather than gossip about you.

It might help you to distinguish between the genuinely most sensitive winners, who are genuinely offended by your jokes, and the disingenuous most sensitive winners, who are just looking for an excuse to gossip about you. It seems worthwhile to tone down our edges out of consideration for the genuinely most sensitive, and unfortunate to do so out of fear of the disingenuous most sensitive. But if there are some genuinely most sensitive out there, it seems reasonable to tone down and let them win. Report

Jessica Wilson
4 years ago

Geezus christ, what a load of crap. It’s 2016, and we are still having to deal with women smugly confiding that they have always preferred the company of men, since after all, guys are so much less sensitive and so much more prone to drinking and palling around or discussing substantive issues or whatever? And this from a logician—who after dropping this bunch of Mad Men retrogradia, clarifies that, oh, she didn’t mean to generally disparage hanging out with women, but was simply registering the contingent fact of her experiences, which if true means, at best, nothing of general interest? Unbelievable. Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Jessica Wilson
4 years ago

Having never watched Mad Men, not sure I have any idea what you’re referring to.

“which if true means, at best, nothing of general interest?” To be honest, I’m surprised at how much interest the post has gotten. If it isn’t of general interest, why has it been shared and discussed so much? (It certainly seems to be more interesting than anything else I’ve ever written; I would be THRILLED if I knew that any of my actual academic work had garnered around 1500 readers! 🙂 )Report

Jessica Wilson
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
4 years ago

My point about the retrograde tenor of your remarks was clear enough, whether or not you’ve ever seen ‘Mad Men’. As for your criterion of what counts as ‘general interest’: by those lights, train wrecks and pretty much anything coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth counts as such. I had in mind a more substantive criterion.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Jessica Wilson
4 years ago

If you wish to criticize the sharing of my post here, I think I can understand that. But if you’re criticizing my choice to write about my experiences on my personal blog, which is not intended to be “general interest”, then I am confused.Report

Jessica Wilson
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
4 years ago

I’m not criticizing the fact of your writing about your experiences on your personal blog (obviously), nor am I criticizing the fact that your post was shared here or elsewhere (obviously); rather, I’m criticizing the content of what you wrote.

Again, this content was retrograde, and reprehensibly so. To say, e.g., “especially when, given our druthers, we’d rather hang out with people of the opposite gender” is no less repugnant, to my mind, than to say, e.g., “especially when, given our druthers, we’d rather hang out with people of the same race”. Such blanket demographic sentiments, sexist or racist, are ludicrously crude and gross. And while I’m fairly shocked that you feel so comfortable expressing your sexist sentiments even qua ‘personal experience’, in fact the terms of your posts went beyond mere personal musings (e.g., “However, there remains the issue of whether we might have obligations towards others to go—to other women in philosophy”). And the sexism and the seeming generalizations go together in your icky comment about the ‘average woman’ and how motherhood has rendered you able to make small talk with her (“It often feels like the intersection between the average woman’s topics of conversation and mine is almost empty, and unfortunately this emptiness can sometimes be magnified at philosophy conferences where few of the women are explicitly doing the sort of stuff I’m doing. At least now that I’ve got a kid, I can fill my awkward small talk repertoire with motherhood anecdotes”).Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Jessica Wilson
4 years ago

Hmmm. Is there a preference about my company that I could express that wouldn’t be X-ist on your view? For example, would it be okay for me to say that, historically, my conversations with democrats have tended to be more enjoyable and fruitful than ones with republicans, and hence, given the choice, in the future I’d rather hang out with democrats or mixed democrat-republican groups than go to an all republican gathering? (If you don’t like the fact that “women” and “republicans” share the same structural role in this analogy, feel free to swap the two.)

Reading your comments I get the impression — perhaps mistakenly — that you are relatively comfortable in diverse social situations. If that’s true, you’re very lucky and I envy you. The larger the group and the fewer people I know in it, the more I struggle. Tell you what, the next time you and I are at the same conference, I’ll buy you a beverage of your choice and we can chat one-on-one. I promise not to talk about my kid. 🙂Report

SomeOneorOther
SomeOneorOther
Reply to  Jessica Wilson
4 years ago

If I’m honest, I used to genuinely feel more comfortable with men than women. I don’t know if this tendency was the result of some kind of patriarchy-induced Stockholm Syndrome or something less sinister, but In high school and college, my male friends far outnumbered my female ones. But now, having spent about a decade in analytic philosophy, my preference has flipped. I deeply value and actively seek out friendships with women. Due to the lack of women in philosophy, this means I have many non-philosopher friends.

Why the change? Not quite sure, but I have found it much harder to form close friendships with men in a mostly-male setting than in the more gender balanced settings of high school and college. My theory about this is that the predominance of men dramatically impacts how men behave, rendering inter-gender friendships more difficult than they would be in gender-balanced settings. I’ve seen otherwise lovely men get quite bro-y when in a group of mostly male philosophers. I’ve also had a lot of unwanted sexual interest from my male peers in philosophy, much more so than I did in gender-balanced settings.

All a roundabout way of saying that I for one am deeply grateful for women-only events and wish there were more of them. Of course, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel pressure to attend them, and I don’t think anyone should feel such pressure. And ideally, they could be scheduled during a slot that does not conflict with other socializing. But I’ve attended many and hope to attend and organize many more. In particular, I wish there were more (any?) all-women workshops and conferences,, which would combine socializing and intellectual work in a nice way, I think.Report

babygirl
babygirl
4 years ago

I don’t think the awkwardness at these events is due to it being all women. It’s due to the highly artificial nature of the event. When at a conference, sometimes I’ll meet a like-minded buddy, male or female. Some off-hand comment sparks a conversation, we find we have a ton in common (usually our hatred or some approach or method or a way of making fun of something), they say, ‘hey, come hang out with us!’ and a group of really awesome people get together and go to the bar and have a great time. I know these are often mixed groups, but once I remember it being all women and believe it or not IT WAS JUST AS FUN! WOMEN CAN BE FUN! Would I trade this for an evening of small-talk at a pre-organized event with an extremely nebulous purpose of mutual support, or something like that? Nope. And gender has nothing to do with it. Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

Well said. I suspect the idea that hanging out with men or mixed groups rather than with women only is more fun might be due to the fact that most of the women-only events or events where women are the majority are the kind of “artificial”, pre-organised events we are discussing here. That is, it doesn’t happen very often in philosophy to hang out with a group mostly composed of women for a drink and conversation just by chance. At least never happened to me — there simply aren’t enough women.Report

babygirl
babygirl
4 years ago

Let me echo some concerns from the original post, apart from the question of whether or not we have an obligation to go to a painfully awkward event when we have better things to do, to which the answer is clearly no. But apart from being artificial and not fun (again, because artificial, not because ladies are more uptight than men or nonsense from earlier posts), I generally don’t go to such events because I wonder if these are primarily political (in a general sense) events and if my politics aren’t right. Like to be ‘in’ with these groups you have to think something like ‘things are really bad for women in philosophy’ and I’m not sure I believe that as a general claim, depending on what is meant by really bad. Also, there seems to be a general attitude that we need to raise *awareness* about how bad things are, and that the ‘what it is like’ blog is a great thing, and I know I disagree with all of that.

It’s telling, perhaps, that Magical Ersatz divides women in philosophy into two groups: women who are feminists and women who do feminist philosophy. Have I misunderstood something? Do women who aren’t feminists have a place at these events? Are they even women?

These events make me slightly uncomfortable, because the ‘women in philosophy’ crowd generally think that things are *extremely* bad for women and anyone who doesn’t recognize that has their head buried in the sand. I’m not sure that the challenges facing women, although unique and serious, are *more* troubling than the unique, serious challenges faced by other groups in philosophy (e.g., international students/philosophers, minorities, philosophers with children, young married on-the-job-market every year folk, single people, etc.). It’s important to talk about these things and make improvements where we can. But I wonder if my contributions are welcome in this movement which seems to have an implied platform that I’m not 100% in agreement with. This is a genuine question. I’ve been snapped at and shouted down before for voicing my opinions on this issue, which are by no means extreme, and not in a friendly-let’s talk about this-philosophical banter sort of way, but a nasty ‘you are the problem’ sort of way. And so it’s no surprise that I feel like someone like me (let me reiterate: I am committed to improving the situation for women in philosophy) is unwelcome. Report

Juliette Kennedy
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

Hi there babygirl (and Hi Sara)!

About your:

“Like to be ‘in’ with these groups you have to think something like ‘things are really bad for women in philosophy’ and I’m not sure I believe that as a general claim, depending on what is meant by really bad. Also, there seems to be a general attitude that we need to raise *awareness* about how bad things are, and that the ‘what it is like’ blog is a great thing, and I know I disagree with all of that.”

I don’t know how long you’ve been in the field (this to babygirl, not Sara), but I can tell you that the world before the What it’s Like blog was very different from the world after. I won’t recount the reasons why I say this; it is just very clear to me that most of the men I have been interacting with (at least at the meetings I have been going to RECENTLY) have taken on board the very specific suggestions you see in WIL and on Feminist Philosophers, how to treat your female colleagues. Really there is no comparison between the situation before and after.

As for the idea that things are not “really bad” for women in philosophy, I assume that the figures on, e.g., the evaluation of resumes, have not changed that much, i.e. resumes with an obviously female name are still being rated lower than the same resume with an obviously male name.

As for sexual harassment, sorry but it’s kind of prevalent. Perhaps things are better in the U.S. and other places than in Europe; or maybe we senior women hear about more of this since we are the ones students and post-docs usually come to. But I am hearing about one or 2 hair-raising stories a year, and these are just from the people that seek me out. So I do think raising awareness in the community is a good idea. Many people have not gotten the memo, not to regard your students as a dating pool.

Ok maybe all this does not rise to the level of things being “really bad” for women in philosophy; for my part it’s bad enough.

Finally, let me add my voice to Clare Mac Cumhaill’s below, that Sara Uckelman is one terrific and righteous woman in philosophy! And her work in expanding the logical canon to include more women has been very important. In fact I was very happy that she accepted my invitation last fall, to lecture in an upcoming women-in-logic event next year.

Sara now that I have got a heads up we will be sure to keep the alcohol flowing…Report

babygirl
babygirl
Reply to  Juliette Kennedy
4 years ago

Thank you for your reply! I’m happy to agree to most of what you’ve said. I know things are immensely better than they used to be, and we younger academic women owe those in the older generation who fought for this state of affairs a debt of gratitude. I think the what-it-is-like blog and I have been in the profession from about the same time (when did that start?), so I don’t really know that previous world. I’ve been lucky to spend my decade in academic philosophy around those who have gotten the memo.

I also have experienced the damage that can be done by indiscriminate ‘raising awareness’—without proper caution and skepticism, I’ve hurt people who were innocent of any wrongdoing. And I regret that. This combined with some other experiences I’ve had have made me extremely skeptical that ‘raising awareness’ is the right thing to do right now. So I used to be more on board than I am. And so I don’t repeat stories anymore, I’m much more hesitant to tell my own, and I view the ‘what it is like’ blog with a bit of skepticism. BUT there are other things we can do to make things better, and I want to contribute to those.

My point is not that there is no problem. There is work to do still. But also, there are other groups whose members also have hair-raising stories, and continuing to raise awareness about women’s issues could be distracting everyone’s attention away from these very serious problems with economic or racial discrimination or exploitation of adjuncts, the job market, etc. My main point, really, is that by differing from the WIP people about what to do puts me on the outside, and I wonder if I’m welcome.

Moreover, imagine a person who believes there is no problem, who is neither a feminist nor someone working in feminist philosophy. Would she be welcome at an event for women in philosophy? My feeling is that her views would not be welcome. And maybe that’s fine! Maybe there is some baseline platform. Then the point is just that there are women in philosophy who are not ‘women in philosophy’. Report

assistprof
assistprof
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

None of the people I know who are worried about the problems for women in philosophy fail to recognize the ways in which other underrepresented groups have it at least as bad if not worse. Talking about one problem does not entail either denying or ignoring another. Report

babygirl
babygirl
Reply to  assistprof
4 years ago

I did not say ‘recognition’ but attention. And I did not make that absurd entailment claim you implicitly attribute to me. Report

assistprof
assistprof
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

This is the part of your original comment I was responding to: “I’m not sure that the challenges facing women, although unique and serious, are *more* troubling than the unique, serious challenges faced by other groups in philosophy”. I’m not sure why this would be worth saying unless you thought that some people think the problem for women is worse than the problem for these other groups. I was trying to say that I don’t think that most people who are concerned with this problem hold this view. Report

babygirl
babygirl
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

Ah I see. But then I went on to say that continuing to raise awareness about women’s issues in particular may focus attention away from these other problems. I did not mean to imply that WIP folk don’t recognize that there are other problems, just that efforts might be more fruitfully directed to more critical problems. Report

Juliette Kennedy
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

babygirl: Sounds like we are very much on the same page, so: ALOT of what you said.

It also sounds like your situation vis a vis WIL is kind of complicated. I don’t have a feeling for what the complications might be so I can’t really comment. I know that the people at FP and WIL are dealing with some very tricky situations, and though I am not always in sync with their way of handling these tricky situations—in particular with the “be nice” culture that I see sometimes over there—I know that they really have changed things—substantially, and for me personally. So I give them tremendous credit, also I give the young guys alot of credit for taking all this in and changing their behavior.

So, from a “woman in philosophy”, in both senses of the word, not a feminist philosopher (though I hope to weigh in some day) but a feminist for sure, I wish you the best. May you always live in the world of people who have gotten the memo!

And if you see a women in philosophy event, maybe try again? The events of this kind that I have attended TOTALLY rock.

(I’d send pics of some wild parties but maybe I better not….)

Report

SomeOneorOther
SomeOneorOther
Reply to  babygirl
4 years ago

So, having now read some of the comments more carefully, it seems that people find these events awkward.
Fair enough. Butmost any scheduled social event with philosophers terribly awkward. Indeed, I’d say that in my experience, the mixed-gender events have been much more awkward than the female-only ones.

To reiterate a suggestion I made above, why not have more all-women conferences and workshops? This would presumably mitigate the awkwardness, as there would be a core intellectual function and, as with philosophers in general, having some philosophy to talk about seems to relieve much of the social anxiety. Social interactions could arise quite naturally during coffee breaks, dinners, etc.. I know there have been some mentoring events for women, and there may be other events I’m not aware of, but I certainly haven’t seen many “Women in Logic” workshops or “Women in Epistemology” mini-conferences. I’d certainly love to attend these!Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  SomeOneorOther
4 years ago

Juliette Kennedy is planning a “Women in Logic” event, and there have been some summer schools in formal methods which have been restricted to women. So there are events out there, just not many!Report

Juliette Kennedy
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
4 years ago

HI Sara, and HI SomeOneorOther:

Our women-in-logic event will take place in the summer of 2018, assuming our funding application is successful. It is going to be a women’s event in the sense that all the lecturers will be women, however men are very welcome to attend.

The event will be modelled on the Women and Mathematics program Which takes place every summer at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), an intensive 11-day mentoring program for undergraduate and graduate women in mathematics. This program has actually been going on since 1994, and it is an amazing event! Brilliant lectures, fun parties at night…a great time.

And the wonderful thing about that program is that it was started by, and continues to enjoy very strong support from, the top. i.e. the mathematical elite (if one might use a somewhat difficult term).

Without support from the top it is very hard to create change.

Anyway to SomeOneorOther: write to me in winter of 2017-18, we’d love to have you! Report

Clare Mac Cumhaill
Clare Mac Cumhaill
4 years ago

Without having read everyone’s comments (sorry!), as a colleague of Sara’s, I can attest to Sara’s commitment to diversity in philosophy, appearances notwithstanding. She is, by the way, the only philosopher I know, male or female, who embroiders during departmental meetings. Durham is one of the few departments in the world that is pretty much gender-balanced, or close to. And we have quite a number of logicians (many of whom are women) in waiting, thanks to Sara’s enthusiam, who by the way is also involved in a recovery project to put women medieval logicians back into the canon.

The issue of ‘women in philosophy’ is a fraught and difficult. It’s not clear that it is anyway an issue of ‘women’ so much as ‘philosophy’. At the moment, philosophy is not sufficiently diverse. So, although everyone grants (I hope!) that there is no one way to be a ‘woman’, there are certainly not enough ways to be a ‘philosopher’, and that is true for both male and female philosophers. I think one general issue in philosophy, as I have encountered it, is a general lack of metatheoretical reflection on methodology and practice. And while female-only events have a mentoring component, others have, in general, sought to create a space to generate such reflection, which is mostly absent from mainstream conversation (with some exceptions). Of course, there is no requirement that such conversation be female-only. Indeed, it shouldn’t be. However, given that women were relatively absent in the formative stages of what we now recognise as ‘analytic philosophy’, there is, without being essentialist about it, a genuine and legitimate question as to whether some of the norms in analytic philosophy as we currently practice it are gendered. This is an empirical question and plainly it is not straightforward – if it turned out that some of the norms are indeed stereotypically ‘male’, that doesn’t mean we thereby want to import ‘female’ norms if by that we mean you can’t tell dirty jokes or drink beer. Obviously! Maybe we need to create new ones.

One current, exploratory activity at Durham is an all-female reading group which does have such an empirical dimension: it aims to explore institutional and structural barriers to inclusion, as well as historical contingencies that have led to certain tasks of thought (including perhaps logic) being valued more than others.

It would be nice if there was simply no need to have such events and perhaps that time is close by! For now, they serve a purpose, which I guess we are still trying to identify. It is interesting that some of the most prominent early analytic female philosophers were logicians (including Susan Stebbing, founder of Analysis). I’m naturally hoping that we can rely on Sara’s expertise in working out why (and I promise I won’t bore you with my ‘average woman’ anecdotes concerning my offspring! And my research isn’t that boring either ;-)). Report