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Sexism in philosophy and the ‘rigorous sciences’: What Happens When you think you are too smart for the rules to apply to you

February 8, 2014

The list owner of the list I was on posted some of these links circa the Colorado case, and more generally, the PR image of philosophy in-house and beyond. I did not read through everything in there since I have some real philosophy to wrestle with now, but there were inferences made there by some of the commentators in the links that there are those who made ‘hostile’ remarks about philosophy that are ignorant about philosophy and how it functions. Also in the laughingphilosophers’ blog, there is a woman philosopher who did point to the real problem with philosophy and the people in it, but I think subsequent comments below did not quite register what she was saying, being more incline to ‘talk philosophy’ that does not bring to bear on the real issue at hand. I am not reposting here, the comments that the list-owner had received and re-posted (with the poster’s name removed) that both supported and rebuked Rebecca Schuman‘s article, and all the other articles relating to the larger issue of sexism in philosophy (and sexual harassment more particularly). As you all know, when public accusations are made on sexual harassment by one person to another, other parties not in the direct line of fire tend to be reticent about stepping in because they fear, rightly or wrongly, that there will be public shaming based on he said, she said.

Sometimes, professional philosophers remind me of my physics professors: the former consider their form of thinking the most rigorous of everyone in the humanities. As someone who has to actually study analytic philosophy (like really study) because of the nature of my work (even though I am officially in a department that mostly do work in critical theory and continental philosophy, which I also work with), I have a taste of the thinking process involved. My physics professors had (have?) the same attitude towards anyone who is not doing physics (or mathematics), whereby all the other fields that are not in the hard physical sciences (biology, medical sciences, etc) are considered as  ‘soft sciences,’ insufficiently rigorous, and the people in it as not that smart (and of course, there are more women in them). That attitude could be the reason why some of them behave the way they do, thinking that they are too brilliant for social niceties and awareness. Coming from such a background, I actually used to think that my physics professors were right, but by the time I started studying philosophy, I knew neither of the abovementioned principals are right. I let you be the judge.

The APA report on Colorado is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/203684450/American-Philosophical-Association%E2%80%98s-Committee-on-the-Status-of-Women-report-on-CU-Boulder-philosophy-department

A report on this in the Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_25035043/cu-sexual-harassment-philosophy-department (see also http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_25039305/cu-boulder-philosophy-faculty-shocked-by-decision-release).

The Slate essay is here: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/02/sexual_harassment_in_philosophy_departments_university_of_colorado_boulder.html

A robust response to the Slate essay: http://laughingphilosopherblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/what-the-lay-public-thinks-it-knows-about-philosophy-today/

Brian Leiter’s brief blog on the subject: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2014/01/colorados-philosophy-department-put-into-a-kind-of-receivership.html

A report from an APA ad-hoc committee on sexual harassment: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.apaonline.org/resource/resmgr/sexualharassmentreport.pdf

An open letter in response to the APA report, from members of the Colorado Dept: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/a-post-from-colorado-climate-committee-co-chairs/ : “The strict rules of confidentiality that govern these matters make it impossible for us to know how many people have been accused of sexual harassment and how many, if any, have been sanctioned after a full inquiry. But from everything that we have been told by our administration, it is a relatively small number of individuals and this certainly coheres with our own experiences and understanding of the matter. We believe that the vast majority of our faculty are decent and highly professional people who care deeply about each other and the welfare of their students, and have not engaged in objectionable behavior of the sort that the report describes. We very much hope that the reputations of innocent people—especially faculty and graduate students in our department—will not be unfairly tarnished by the public release of the report. At the same time, we want to emphasize that the primary victims here are the people who have found themselves on the receiving end of unacceptable behavior and that our primary focus will remain—as it has been for the last several years—to do our best to improve the situation in our Department for them and for all of us. While we firmly believe that it is a relatively small number of individuals who have generated the problem, we are adamant in our belief that any number greater than zero is too many.”

An earlier essay relevant to the larger issue by Jennifer Saul (Sheffield): http://www.salon.com/2013/08/15/philosophy_has_a_sexual_harassment_problem/

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