Oh did you say something?

Jennifer Saul goes on to talk about the other ways women are belittled and overlooked in philosophy departments.

The blog also contains story after story of women whose point isn’t taken seriously until repeated by a man; or who simply aren’t called on during question periods.  And the Gendered Conference Campaign (run by the group blog Feminist Philosophers, of which I’m also a part) documents conference after conference with absolutely no invited women speakers. Recent work by Kieran Healy has dramatically demonstrated how infrequently work of women philosophers is cited.

What lies behind this?  There is undeniably still some outright prejudice in the field: One male philosopher I knew was well-known for openly declaring that women and black people are generally of inferior intelligence, and he remains highly respected and extremely well-paid.  But much more frequently what’s probably going on is due to implicit bias — unconscious associations we hold largely due to living in cultures structured by social categories like race or gender.  Psychologists have firmly established that these associations lead us — even, very often, the committed egalitarians among us — to judge the very same CV to be less good when a female name appears at the top rather than a male one.  They also lead us to take women’s comments less seriously, to have more difficulty recognizing them as leaders, and to be less likely to think of them when considering who to invite to a conference.  All this takes place largely outside of our conscious awareness, and can’t be corrected simply by trying harder to be unbiased.

So…could someone develop a pill, please? Or an implant? Or a genetic modification?


Moreover, reflecting approvingly on one’s own objectivity (as philosophers are wont to do) will make it worse.

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god – it’s The Skeptics again. I think they’re even more wont to do that than philosophers are. They are very wont to do that. Remember Mr Deity the other day? Yammering about other people’s cognitive biases while in the very act of hotly insisting that a friend and collaborator of his couldn’t possibly have a skeezy side? Yeah. Irregular verbs, but even more irregular than usual – I’m objective and you’re not.

I know I have implicit biases. I know I do. I was raised on cowboy shows and cop shows and war movies like everyone else! How could I possibly not have them?

I think an implant would be the best way to go. At birth. Mandatory.


  1. deoridhe says

    I had a big eye opening to this when I found out about Project Implicit, which offers a chance to test some of your biases (and explicit biases show up, too – I had the fun of one of those). They aren’t at “what we should do” stages yet, but personally I try to be very upfront about my biases, my privileges, and verbalize them a lot. It makes people really uncomfortable – mostly privileged people. I have had an astonishing number of privileged people try to “forgive me” for the people I have wronged due to my racism, for example, which really underlines how pervasive it is.

  2. says

    I’m pretty convinced that the next big leap in skepticism and rationality will involve learning to determine the “shape” of ones own motivated reasoning. And maybe learning to see such shapes in others as well.

  3. sawells says

    The depressing thing is that Francis Bacon warned us all to look out for the idols of the mind four hundred years ago, before the scientific revolution, and we’re STILL not getting it.

  4. Tim Harris says

    Read Pierre Bourdieu on such unconscious (and sometimes not so unconscious) biasses with respect to class origins….

  5. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Moreover, reflecting approvingly on one’s own objectivity (as philosophers are wont to do) will make it worse.

    Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god – it’s The Skeptics again. I think they’re even more wont to do that than philosophers are.

    I’m hardly the first person to make this observation, but if you don’t have the proper attitude of humility and self-criticism, learning the tools of skepticism may very well leave you worse off than before, since it only gives you another means of rationalizing your pre-held biases and dismissing criticism. As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.


    kinda sorta OT:

    I never made it past Philosophy 101 because my professor was such an asshole. I had taken his class at the insistence of some guys I knew who swore he was hilarious and good natured. Instead, he made derogatory comments about lesbians and told us that sex with condoms was sex without love. He was awful. By the end of the semester I was skipping classes and only showing up for the tests.

    It wasn’t unusual to me. My high school psychology teacher told his class that all women are whores in one way or another.

    *trigger warning harassment/stalking/rape*

    Thinking back on it, sexual harassment was just part of education for me. I was sexually harassed on the bus from a young age. I got in trouble for slapping a guy who was forcing a girl’s face against his crotch and laughing with his friends as he did it. In college (same semester as the philosophy class) I had a stalker. When I went to the school for help, they told him I had told on him and did nothing to help me. I found out that he had a history of stalking women and that he’d even stalked one professor. It wasn’t taken seriously. A woman in the dorm next to mine was raped by her stalker in the parking lot by the dorm. She went to the authorities. She pressed charges. He got away with it. So, with that in mind, I dropped my night classes so I wouldn’t have to walk alone at night. Before I dropped out I drove, but I had to park illegally and I could not afford any more tickets. I wore a body alarm and carried pepper spray and a knife. But as I had signed up for class, not to be a Road Warrior, it did not seem worth it. I really don’t know how other women soldier on. More power to them.

    It pisses me off so much to know that my daughters will have to live through that kind of stuff just to get an education.

  7. rnilsson says

    @6, Bjarte:

    As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean. (… I think ;-))

    @7, Jackie: : I can only attempt to symphathise. But I do.

    In this whole horrible story, Ophelia has consistently made very sharp analyses. In my opinion, which is all I have.

  8. deepak shetty says

    One of the tangentially disappointing things for me is the lack of Introspection in the non – believer community. For e.g. Dawkins or people who supported the Dear Muslima comment don’t think – “well what if I add the dear Muslima comment to Jennifer Saul’s article? After all women getting an education ,albeit harassed, is better than Saudi Arabia where they wont get any education” .We dont get articles saying “well these women can just tough it out – They are such quitters!” . There wont make jokes about wax. Mr Deity doesn’t have a video asking for evidence! Anonymous allegations against anonymous professors! We are skeptics – Better standards of evidence are needed!.

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