Sunday, June 6, 2010
What worries me on a professional level is my unwillingness to engage with people that want to fight. When a discussion gets heated and people begin to talk over each other, I pull out of the fight. I am simply uninterested in getting into a yelling match, and unfortunately, the points are often lost when the argument reaches this point. Interestingly, I have heard this desired echoed by many of my male colleagues, so perhaps it is generalizing too much to say this is a gender issue. There are a lot of us out there that just don’t want to argue. We want to figure out complex problems with philosophical methodology, but we don’t want to fight.
Yet, so much of philosophy takes place in the seminar room, or in casual group conversations. These can often become disorganized and chaotic as everyone tries to make their voice heard. The loud prevail and the quiet sit on listening. In the classroom, this can be easily mediated by hand raising or a firm mediating presence, but in casual conversation (or the unmediated seminar conversations which so often take place) there is no established method for toning this down. In fact, the attitude of most is that this is how philosophy should be practiced. If you are quiet, you should learn to speak up.
This, I think, is a mistake, and one that is detrimental not only to the quiet philosophers, but to the discipline itself.
I saw the downside of this behavior very clearly at a gathering of philosophers this week. Two of my good friends were engaged in an argument (with several others) and both were so eager to get their points out that they began speaking simultaneously to the group. They did not pause when they realized the other was talking, but continued on, each getting louder in competition with the other. I turned to another friend, another quiet philosopher, and we both shook our heads and chuckled at the strange situation. Both were so excited to make their point that nobody could understand what either was saying.
This is an extreme example, but unfortunately it is not that unusual. It seems simple but I think it is time to remind philosophers about the virtues of taking turns, slowing things down and actively listening. We’d hear a lot more. The quiet ones would get to make their points. The loud ones would actually be heard. Let’s stop competing with each other and start working together to a common goal. There is nothing about philosophy that necessitates fighting. So why are we doing it so much?
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
But as my friends and colleagues congratulated me on a job well done, a nagging question resounded in the back of my mind. “Was that good... or was it just good for a girl?”
Now, I know this sounds pretty sexist, but its hard for me to avoid this kind of thinking at times. Everyone is aware that there are not many women in philosophy but no one is quite sure why or how to deal with that fact. For better or worse, I think that this sometimes results in lowering the bar for women and sometimes I wonder if I am being evaluated on the same curve as the guys.
This is an extremely delicate subject and I was wary of bringing it up. I don’t think this is an intentional attitude, but I do think it is pretty embedded in the philosophy world. Sometimes, I even catch myself thinking about things that way.
Are people going easy on me in talks? Do professors expect less participation from me in classes? If so, is this a bad thing for women or a good thing? Should I welcome the extra slack or be offended by it?
I don’t know. I think the reason that I have been stalling on this entry is that I couldn’t really decide what to say about the issue. I remain in a state of confusion. Nonetheless, I wanted to flag the issue and see what others had to say about it.
Does anyone else feel this way? Do you find yourself evaluating yourself or others differently based on gender? If there is a different standard... what is the difference?
P.S. Thanks to everyone who wrote to me last week in response to my first post! I really enjoyed the stories, thoughts and support. I only wish that some of these comments had made it to the blog! Remember, you can always comment or post anonymously :)
Sunday, April 18, 2010
It is somewhat surprising to me that I am writing a blog about being a woman in philosophy. When I first started to think about the issue, my initial reaction was “oh right, I guess there aren’t a lot of us...” For me, being a philosopher and being a girl have never been in conflict. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Still, as I began to think about the issue, I began to notice many interesting facets of my life that emerge from living in this male dominated world. Some are negative, some are positive, some just are. It seemed to me that as women in philosophy, we share an incredibly specific experience and there might be something fascinating and useful about sharing it. This is especially true since the majority of us do not have many female philosophers to share it with.
So, hi! I’m Emily. I am a girl and a philosopher. Let me address the girl part first. As much as I try to gracefully mature into calling myself a woman, I still think of myself as a girl. Some days I braid my blonde hair into pigtails and don a pink sundress before biking over to school, and the word “woman” just doesn’t seem to fit that, so I will stick with girl for a little bit longer. Maybe forever.
I am not a typical girl but I am a somewhat girly girl. I love to dress up, go shopping, dance, watch romantic comedies. I cry when I’m upset. I have strong maternal instincts to watch over my friends. I think babies are cute.
I don’t want to start stereotyping other women by saying that these things are feminine. There are a million ways to be feminine. Those are just a few that seem particular amusing to me when I find myself sitting in a room, with a group of guys, discussing some intricate detail of possible world metaphysics. Because, let’s face it - philosophy is not only dominated and overpopulated by men, it is chock full of male stereotypes.
I’m sure all of these will come up in due time but let’s skip the list for now - today I want to talk about the issue of isolation.
My attention was particularly caught by the discussion of isolation when I was scrolling though the sporadic articles and blog posts about the state of women in philosophy. The recurring statement was that female philosophers may feel isolated because there are no other women around. “Hmmm...” I thought to myself “Do I feel isolated?” For me, the answer is a resounding “no”.
I spend the majority of my time with philosophers. In school and out. And, almost all of them are guys. It is not uncommon for me to be hanging out in a group of nine or ten philosophers, of which I am the only girl. Still, it is rare that I think about it in those terms. These are my best friends, I am not “one of the guys”, but I am one of the philosophers, and I never feel excluded or alienated because of my gender. In seminars and colloquium, at conferences, at social events with colleagues, I feel confident and accepted. This is not to say that no one notices the fact that I am a girl. It is not even to say that they don’t treat me differently because I am a girl, it is just to say that I don’t feel isolated - I feel like one of the pack.
This is especially true when I compare my interactions with philosophers to my interactions with non-philosophers. Although I have many good friends, both men and women, who do not belong to the crazy philosophy world, I have never met so many people that I clicked with than I have since coming to grad school. I get philosophers, and they get me. In some ways, we all speak the same language. It is a rather annoying language to non-philosophers but it’s ours and there is something comforting about conversing in it. With philosophers, no one gets offended when I play the devil’s advocate, no one thinks I am being argumentative because I disagree, and any mundane issue can morph into a three hour philosophical debate. It might be a debate about whether a burger is a type of sandwich, but it is an extremely rigorous debate.
To me, being isolated is being around people that just don’t get me. In undergrad, I felt isolated. My friends were awesome people, but most of them didn’t get me and I probably didn’t get them. When I imagine moving into another field, perhaps one with more women, I immediately fear going back to that isolated state. Isolation is not having any philosophers around.
Still, having felt isolation, it concerns me that women in philosophy may be suffering from it. How do you feel about the issue of isolation? Are you feelin’ it? Please share your thoughts or stories! :)