A female graduate student writes:
I have recently found myself wondering about being a woman in philosophy who is feminine and sometimes perceived as attractive. As a teaching assistant, I have been hit on by undergraduate students. I once received uncomfortable emails from a student asking me on dates to the point where the instructor had to grade his work so that he did not have reasons to communicate with me. I have also been asked my credentials by male students on numerous occasions. Other male TAs I have consulted with do not share these experiences. After hearing my stories, one male TA remarked: "I'll keep my male privilege, thanks."
Another male colleague of mine was tremendously competitive with me while he was in graduate school. He was not competitive with other graduate students. He told me that a paper of mine (now published in a decent journal) reflects my immaturity, and that I received a higher grade than him in a seminar because the professor felt sorry for me. (I was sick near the end of the semester.) He also called me out for taking what he perceived as "female middle-ground positions," such as moderate foundationalism in an epistemology course, and raising too many feminist arguments--which did not, on his view, count as real philosophy.
It is possible that these examples are not connected to my being a woman in philosophy. But given that I have read and heard about other women sharing similar experiences, and have not read or heard about men facing similar experiences, I think it is reasonable to at least be suspicious about these connections.
I also use twitter to connect with philosophers around the world, and find it a generally supportive and stimulating space to communicate with like-minded people. But I received a troubling tweet in response to a (non-sexual) photo I posted recently. The tweet was by a male philosopher. He said that philosophers are not supposed to be pretty.
These experiences have made me wonder whether being perceived as pretty, to some, will also mean that I will be taken less seriously in philosophy. Clearly, the tweeter's comment was not well thought out. It was a tweet. But do we still have distorted understandings about what philosophers are "supposed to be" or "supposed to look like"?
And what about female philosophers who reject the false stereotypes that go along with "being feminist"? I am as committed to feminist philosophy as the next feminist philosopher, but I have long hair, and I care about fashion. I am professional, but I wear makeup and skirts. Because of this, I often feel out of place in philosophical circles where I feel as though my femininity removes me both from philosophy as a discipline, and from feminists as a group.
Ultimately, I am looking for advice from female philosophers about how to exist in a discipline that is still male-dominated, and how to embrace my femininity in ways that will not hurt my career.
Signed comments will be preferred, but any on-topic replies that include a valid e-mail address (which will not be published) will be approved.