I’m going to talk a bit about reactions to my Women in Philosophy post, sexual harassment, and the APA. I’ll keep it short.
I wrote a fairly benign post about what philosophy isn’t doing to promote itself to girls and women. I was falsely accused of calling feminist philosophers names, of advocating covering up harassment, of siding with harassers, and of claiming that someone was benefitting from the negative campaign. This is exactly the kind of inflammatory and false rhetoric the NRA, the Tea Party, Ann Coulter, and Donald Trump use to whip up the crowd. And, while I’m using myself as a convenient example, this isn’t about me, specifically, as I’ve seen this exact tactic used to mischaracterize or blatantly misrepresent the views of other people who have spoken up about similar issues.
Apparently, the controversial nature of my last post wasn’t just that some people thought it was poorly timed. Rather, some people believe I was advocating something irresponsible and immoral by first suggesting that there are other concerns for girls and women who may be interested in philosophy that don’t revolve around recent court cases and by advocating for more women in the profession. This isn’t the first time I’ve come across such sentiments in the blogosphere, but it is the first time I’ve seen them so plainly written.
But I was struck most by the commentary of people in the discipline who publicly said they actively discourage women from studying philosophy and find it immoral to encourage women to enter philosophy because of harassment, discrimination, or hostility.
Breaking News: Sexual harassment exists in EVERY sphere of employment. But, by all rights, according to some philosophers, the logical conclusion to the arguments above should be that women should eschew the workplace altogether since sexual harassment can and does happen in every single industry. Would those people have women return to the quiet vicissitude of home and hearth, or insist that women should only enter female dominated professions like nursing and teaching, or maybe it’s just that, for their own good, of course, women should not enter into male dominated professions until all potential threats of harassment have been removed? Curiously, however, this doesn’t apply to women who are currently employed in the profession.
This is not a step forward for women in general or philosophy in particular. And this shouldn’t need to be said.
While a few people making comments on the web aren’t indicative of anything significant, I began to wonder just how widespread and deep the sentiment that one may have a moral obligation to discourage women from entering the profession is or how much the topic of sexual harassment or discrimination is dominating the profession and how the conversation is occurring in more formal places. So, I decided to do a little looking around on the APA’s website. Surely, the information contained on that site is more or less indicative of the general attitude towards these issues, no? And certainly any links or information that appear on the APA’s website indicate, at the very least, an implicit—if not outright explicit—endorsement and should be taken as fairly representative of the discipline’s view as a whole. While I didn’t find any moralizing about whether or not women should enter the profession in the current climate (whatever that is), I was surprised by what I did find.
What I discovered is that the APA links in several places to What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?as part of its wider dialogue on harassment and discrimination.In the blog’s own words, “This blog is devoted to short observations (generally fewer than 300 words) sent in by readers, about life as a woman in philosophy.” The blog’s owner also goes on to advise, “Extra points will be given to those who combine these in an interesting or original way. Or they would be, if we had points to give.”
While the existence of such a site is perfectly acceptable and some people may find it helpful or informative, I find myself stunned to see it featured on the APA website in the Open Letter on Sexual Harassment, because its main function seems to be more of a gossip blog than anything else (Gossip; OED: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true). Having such a site endorsed as a source of information by the APA in a formal statement seems appallingly unprofessional given how other professional societies represent these issues, and it indicates this passes for legitimate information about the profession. As a point of fact, the open letter says, “APA members need to be fully aware of the pervasiveness and impact of sexual harassment, and we recommend reading the narratives on the blog What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?” The APA might as well link to one of the metablogs, too, as a source of reliable and factual information about the profession. That aside, my assumption is that if the APA is endorsing such a site, then such a site’s importance, prominence, and relevance to the profession is also endorsed more broadly by most members of the APA.
As a point of interest, here is the APA’s public mission statement: “The American Philosophical Association promotes the discipline and profession of philosophy, both within the academy and in the public arena. The APA supports the professional development of philosophers at all levels and works to foster greater understanding and appreciation of the value of philosophical inquiry.”
Other places where What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy may be found on the APA website include:
Open Letter on Sexual Harassment
Committee on the Status of Women (main page)
Committee on the Status of Women (Advancing Women)
Committee on the Status of Women (Sexual Harassment)
Committee on the Status of Women (bases, Lists, List-Serves, Blogs, and Wikis)
If you’re interested in seeing how the APA website compares with other associations, then have a look at the three sites below: physics, chemistry, and math. I’ve linked directly to subpages that promote women and their work, but you can click around to view other details.
These were not selected at random; rather they were selected for being male dominated disciplines. You may want to pay special attention to what each organization lists under “advocacy,” and how they highlight their disciplines for outreach and promotion to women and minorities.
Comments are open, but please do try to avoid killing yourself on the third rail.