I came across this blog relating experiences of women in philosophy. Take the time to read the stories, they’re short and will make your hair stand on end. While much of the world seems to have moved on beyond the treatment of women in the workplace displayed in Mad Men, it seems that this is not so much the case in academia. This story is particularly irritating:
As a newly hired tenure-track faculty member (only the second female in a large department), a senior faculty member called me into his office to tell me he had strenuously opposed hiring me and would continue to oppose me in my bid for tenure and promotion years later (which he did, unsuccessfully). At department meetings, he would hurl endless insults, e.g.: “Female philosopher is an oxymoron.” (ha-ha) “Students could learn more about philosophy by waiting on table than taking a class from her.” “Feminist ‘philosophy’ is nothing but a political agenda; it’s certainly not philosophy.” What bothered me most was not his Neanderthal behavior, but the silence of the other faculty members. They never called him on his public insults, but would just sit there, year after year, as if this were acceptable behavior.
Yet this story is just completely bizarre:
Not too many years ago, when I was a new Assistant Professor, I went into the department office to grab my mail wearing a “Yale” sweatshirt. I am not a Yale alum; just had the sweatshirt. Graduate students were milling about, and the departmental secretaries, as well as one of my senior, rather powerful colleagues. The latter took a look at my Yale sweatshirt, grinned, and said very loudly “Look–its another Bush from Yale!” The students silently looked at me to see how I would respond. I was so taken aback at being called a bush by a senior colleague, in front of students, that I blushed and was speechless. Later it occurred to me to wonder how he might have responded if I had called him a prick in the same context. The same colleague came into my office some time later to tell me his thoughts about the topic of pornography, which devolved into a discussion of his favorite kinds, and then he let me know that he and his wife enjoyed fun and games with third parties. That was my first year on the job.
I think this treatment of women is reflective of a broader culture of boorish behavior we often find among male academics. One of the most difficult things about blogging, for example, is dealing with assholish posts that innocently portray themselves as just talking like adults, pursuing truth, being critical, etc., when the tone of interaction just boils down to, well, sheer assholishness. Similarly, I’ll occasionally get emails from someone saying something like “I used to admire your work and object-oriented ontology, but now I just think it’s a gigantic sophistry”. The real kicker is that these emails usually go on to ask me for a favor such as reading their article or conference paper, including them in an edited collection or conference, or plugging them to some other thinker. Huh? A friend of mine once joked that about 85% of academics are borderline autistics. I really don’t wish to insult autistics by associating them with the boorish behavior of so many male academics. Where a lack of social graces and self-reflection are concerned, many male academics seem to be in a league of their own. I’m also struck by the great absence of female voices on the theory blogs. Given a male academic culture that turns everything into a fight, competition, a matter of winning, scoring points, and generally behaving in a nasty, insulting, insensitive, and sarcastic ways towards others while believing oneself to be charming and amusing, is this surprising? At any rate, check out the blog. I hope the stories keep coming.