6.29.2009

Affirming me

Today's Supreme decision (about which Dan has created a very exciting open thread) has raised the issue of affirmative action -- as, I imagine, will the Sonia Sotomayor hearings. I have mixed feelings about affirmative action, although generally in favor of it when there is not an outrageous insult to merit. I certainly don't think such measures amount to "reverse racism."

I thought, however, that I'd share my own experience with it in the field of philosophy. Philosophy is more like the sciences than the other humanities in that the field is still extremely male-dominated. And things aren't changing - I don't believe there is a higher percentage of female graduate students than professors (in my own department, I have just calculated, we have 17.9% female graduate students). As few women as there are, there are far fewer blacks. I have met fewer than 10 black philosophy professors - seriously. There is an even smaller percentage of female undergraduates who major in philosophy at my university (a ginormous flagship state U), although blacks are majors in proportion to their attendance at the university.

In my department, female graduate students receive preference for teaching, on the theory that it encourages the female undergraduates. It is not explicitly stated, although it is generally understood, that female applicants for graduate school in philosophy are chosen if all else is equal with another candidate. When applying for tenure-track jobs, it is generally understood that as a female you are more likely to get an on-campus interview, but are not more likely to get an actual offer.

I have been on the receiving end of a tiny bit of sexism from the professors in my department. Most showed none at all. With one or two, I sensed that I had to prove myself more than the male students (this includes a female professor). I have received many questions about whether I'm able to handle parenting and philosophy work - my husband has received

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