Logic, huh?

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Have I ever told you about the so-called “Philosophy exception”? That’s the term that’s used for the fact that Philosophy lags super far behind all other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences when it comes to the recruitment and retention of women. (Well, Theology lags just as far behind — a function of all-male seminaries.) Seriously. Philosophy’s numbers are in the same ballpark as Mathematics’. Last time I checked, women made up something like 22% of faculty in North American Philosophy departments with grad programs.

As with many disciplines that have trouble recruiting and retaining women, Philosophy does an ok job getting women into its freshman courses, does a less good job getting them to major in the discipline as undergrads (and to graduate with that major), and basically does worse and worse at retaining women the higher up the ranks you go. If you made a bar graph with proportion of women on the x-axis, and academic rank on the y-axis (from full professor at the top to freshman undergrad on the bottom), the result would look like this:

From Yoga Paws (http://www.yogapaws.com/)

See her nice wide wheelbase? That’s the proportion of women in freshman Philosophy classes. Well, actually, you’d have to extend the photo several inches to the right and show lots of empty floor beside our yogini to accurately represent the proportion of women. All that empty floor would be the men. Fortunately (at least for the purposes of our representation), there’s plenty of room for the men at the higher levels. See our yogini’s body more closely approximating to origin on the x axis as we move up the ranks? Yup. That’s Philosophy.

In her classic (2007) article, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not By Reason (Alone),” Sally Haslanger identifies the following as among the reasons that many women choose to leave Philosophy (or never to come to it to begin with):

    • outright discrimination
    • unconscious bias, schemas
    • climate, social norms

Since Haslanger published this article, there has been a flurry of important research in this area by feminist philosophers like Samantha Brennan and Jennifer Saul. (Brennan does a great job of discussing “micro-inequities,” the constant, tiny inequities with which marginalized groups must contend, and the steady erosion of one’s confidence, energy and success by these micro-inequities. I’ll write to you about that stuff another time.)

Among the challenges to recruiting and retaining women listed by Haslanger, it is perhaps most difficult to get a bead on climate. How exactly does one study something as vague as disciplinary or institutional climate? What makes a climate inhospitable? And how is it possible to adduce evidence that inhospitable climates affect how many women end up in a discipline.

Well, Vincent Hendricks, the editor-in-chief of Synthese, one of Philosophy’s most distinguished journals, has just made that task a little bit easier. Want an example of ways to cultivate a climate that’s inhospitable to women? Just check out Hendricks’s website for his latest logic course. (Update: Don’t bother clicking the link. I’m happy to report that he’s taken the site down. Screenshots linked below if you want to see what was once there.)

Yeah, that’s right. The photos on the webpage for his logic course represent him as a lone smart guy (you can tell by the glasses and vest) surrounded by sexy, pouty women in slutty schoolgirl costumes.

It was worse, actually. Before the utterly wonderful Feminist Philosophers blog broke the story and a shitload of angry people began barraging Hendricks and his colleagues with emails, this is what his course site looked like. (Mystifying, ain’t it, that he’d take some of these photos down, but leave some up? What can he possibly be thinking?)

So, yeah. Climate.

If you were a woman at Hendricks’s university contemplating which courses to take and you looked at this course page, what would you think? Would you think that your professor would regard all students in the class as equally serious? As equally capable of doing logic? As equally deserving of respect? As equally likely to become future peers? And, if you tried to imagine your fellow classmates, what would come to mind? Animal House?

And, don’t get me started on the way that the schoolgirl outfits both infantilize the women wearing them and, since they are schoolgirl outfits, cast those women as students. Sexy female students. If I were an undergraduate woman, I would go nowhere near a course taught by a man who gleefully represents himself as a solitary rational agent surrounded by sexy, childlike female students.

Did I ever tell you that a couple of years ago, I was at a party when a colleague whom I know very slightly from another discipline told me that when he teaches his large classes, he scans the room in such a way that his students will think he’s looking at all of them, but he is actually checking out the breasts of his hot female students? I was so utterly gobsmacked as to be rendered speechless. Don’t worry. Since then, I’ve worked out a script for the next such conversation I have. I used to find myself so surprised by sexism in academe that when some new sexist thing happened, I never knew what to do or say. Now, as I approach early-mid-career, I regret to say that I have a better catalogue of responses available to me. I’ve just had more practice.

The Philosophy blogosphere is beginning to respond to Hendricks’s page. Here are some posts about the whole business that are worth reading:

Your friend,

Lady Day

6 Responses to “Logic, huh?”

  1. Wha– Don’t leave us hanging! What’s the script for responding to colleagues who make a point of telling one that he’s checking out students’ bosoms?

    • …so, “script” might have been putting things a tad strongly. I don’t necessarily have a pat, witty thing to say in the circumstance I described. But I’ve encountered enough of them now to know how important it is to say something… to make it clear that it is no longer cool to chuckle in the faculty lounge about our hot students and how we “enjoy” them. Hell, it never was, right? I don’t think we need to put pressure on ourselves to always say exactly the right things in such circumstances. But stunned silence def doesn’t help. Better alternatives: “You know that’s really gross, right?” “Um, you know that’s a Policy x violation, don’t you?” “Have you told your chair about this? Because if you haven’t, I would very much like to.” or simply “That’s inappropriate” (See my “Are You Wearing a Bra” post from last week.).

  2. The worries I express above wrt Hendricks’ stupid site mostly concern undergraduates. Here’s a postscript: a brilliant young woman logician I know — a bright light of her generation, currently finishing up her Ph.D. at a top school — who has already been contemplating leaving academe reports on one of those social media sites that the prospect of staying in the discipline with someone like Hendricks an established leader in her field further inclines her toward leaving Philosophy. Hendricks should be ashamed of himself.

  3. Like I said elsewhere, the most astounding thing about those photos is that all the engineering faculty know better than to even pose for photos like that anymore, let alone post them on an official university site.

  4. Hey Lady!

    So sorry for my belated reply. I was knocked out by a nasty bacterial infection. Sigh. However, nothing like a spicey post on institutional sexism to get me back at it. Where to begin? Should I address the Britney Spears inspired Hendricks? The reference to Animal House and the legacy that lives on? Or, the fact that you have (at least once) been rendered speechless? I am going to tackle the latter although aim to pull in all three topical areas.

    I, too, find overt sexism in academe shocking and at times silencing. Today’s climate is more in keeping with ‘enlightened’ sexism’. What the what? How can sexism be enlightened? According to Susan Douglas enlightened sexism is a more subtle form of sexism that suggests women have achieved full equality and thus, the work of feminism is complete. Throughout her book “Enlightened Sexism and the Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done,” Douglas argues this form of sexism is sneaky insofar as it seems to celebrate women’s achievements on the surface, but it is really about keeping women, young women in particular, in their place. Women are given the message that they can be and do anything they want – police officer, politician, doctor, lawyer. But, they need to do so while conforming to hyper-feminine ideals of beauty (see our post What about Beauty for a more thorough discussion of these ideas). The media, posists Douglas, have fed women ‘fantasties of power': we are led to believe that we are more powerful, successful, and financially stable than the lives of women of reveal. The result, a resurrgence of retrograde sexist, stereotypical images of women throughout pop culture, the media, and apparently course websites, endorsed with a wink and a laugh. All in good fun! Enlightened sexism ensures that feminism remains THE f-word and that the patriarchy lives on.

    Douglas is not without hope, however. She argues one of the ways OUT of this climiate is to become indignant about sexist imagery. In her words, “Women and men should be much more indignant about the resurrection of sexist images that undermine girls and women’s self esteem and seek to keep us, and especially our daughters, in their place. And there is still much unfinished business for girls and women in the country, and we should resist — indeed, challenge — the seductive message that full equality has been achieved and that feminist politics are passé and no longer necessary.” So, kudos to the bloggers on Feminist Philosophers who broke the story on Hendricks and all those who called him out on his sexist images. Let’s vote with feet and openly resist forms of pop culture such as Animal House that create and reinforce hyper-feminine and sexualized images of women. Lastly, I hope Douglas offers you, Lady Day, some arsenual for your script the next time (and sadly, there will be a next time) you bump up against against sexism in the academy.

    Your friend,
    Lady Di
    ps – I am still somewhat sick so please forgive any leaps in thoughts, typos or other such errors…..

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