All-Male Conferences

We all know that certain areas of academia exhibit a profound gender imbalance — philosophy, it turns out, is nearly as bad as physics. Interestingly, one often sees major conferences organized in which the ratio of men to women on the invited speakers list is substantially higher than one would expect even on the basis of gender-blind selection. I have nothing profound to say about this interesting phenomenon, except to quote in full this lovely comment by “Modalist” concerning the 2011 Oxford Graduate Conference (in philosophy).

I think it worth emphasizing that the most important thing for everyone involved in the GCC is to ensure, by all means possible, that they bend over backwards so as to make sure that there is never any possibility that some Anonymous Internet Person might conceivably be offended at the suggestion that conference organizers anywhere—let alone conference organizers at an institution such as Oxford, whose commitment to gender equity and rejection of male privilege in education runs as far back as the High Middle Ages I’m sorry, I mean 1974—should risk feeling any twinge of private or, Heaven forfend, public embarrassment in the face of some no doubt imagined tendency to repeatedly organize conferences that feature only men on the program. We are, it is worth remembering, only in the second decade of the twenty first century. Mary Wollstonecraft is not yet cold in her grave. Surely Philosophy as an enterprise—nay, an endeavor; a vocation; the love of wisdom itself; a noble calling that grabs one by the testicles early in life and refuses to let go; perhaps indeed the last best hope of rationality and clarity of argument on this benighted Earth—can only suffer terribly if small, unfunded websites populated by aggressive viragos and their emasculated enablers insist on making a habit of pointing out the unfortunate yet, I am sure, entirely accidental Male Pattern Allness occasionally visible at conferences within the field. I should also like to remind the organizers of this “campaign” that a policy such as I have recommended—characterized as it is by polite deference, an unwillingness to make any person feel in any way even slightly out-of-sorts or unpleasantly compelled to recognize their so-called “privilege” on an otherwise perfectly pleasant sort of afternoon in the Junior Common Room, combined with a constant willingness to apologetically back down at the slightest suggestion that umbrage has been taken, or the first appearance of a convoluted description of an imaginary yet technically possible state of affairs wherein the observed outcome might not have been sexist in any way, shape, or form—has been shown by repeated historical experience to be without question the most effective means of effectuating change, especially the kind of modest, incremental and above all comfortably distant, blame-free social change that I am sure we all agree would be the best outcome in this case. Now if you’ll excuse me, my cocoa is getting cold and I do not want to have to ask my wife to heat it up again.

Via the always interesting New APPS.

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41 Responses to All-Male Conferences

  1. Ellipsis says:

    Clearly written by a philosopher — trying to make an obvious point in the most long-winded, annoying way possible. No wonder most women don’t want to have anything to do with the subject! 😉

  2. Moshe says:

    Seconded. How many runaway sentences does it take to make a point? Appantly not that many if they have sufficiently many clauses. I can envision my elementary school English teacher marking “dead wood” with a red pen all over this one.

    (obvious point made is obvious, of course, though sadly not uncontroversial).

  3. Harold says:

    Wow, the second to last sentence in the quote…was really long. Maybe not as long as the first sentence though.

    I *always* had trouble reading my essay prompts in my philosophy class. It would take hours to digest a single sentence.

  4. Kea says:

    Just Brilliant! And having been to philosophy seminars at Oxford, I can indeed confirm that they are just as bad as theoretical physics, complete with the golden boys, old saints and do gooders.

  5. Shecky R says:

    Was John Cleese at the Conference?

  6. speranza says:

    Give it a chance. The runaway sentences ARE the point, or at least part of the point. Modalist’s comment is satire — a pretty devastating satire, I have to say — and to be successful, satire must speak the language of its target. Read it to yourself in your best “pompous Oxford philosopher voice” and all will become clear.

    Incidentally, pointing out that a sentence is long is no more penetrating a critique than is pointing out that an equation is particularly hairy. To people in the other of the “two cultures,” it comes off rather in the same way as “Math is hard.”

  7. Lab Lemming says:

    6:
    Wrong. Complaining about sentences like this is complaining about equations that are long because they have not been simplified. It is like complaining that an equation writer, instead of cancelling appropriate terms, has thrown extra-complicated ways of writing “times one” as a stylistic flourish.

  8. Kea says:

    My, my, the MRAs are quick to appear on this subject.

  9. jpd says:

    thirded. maybe women focus on useful subjects

  10. speranza says:

    Lab Lemming: Do you think there could never be a good reason to use a stylistic flourish? Like, literally never? Let’s say you were performing a bit of mathematical comedy, to entertain your class, and you were being needlessly complex in your mathematical expressions in order to make a point about a certain kind of mathematical communication? Wouldn’t it be missing the point a bit to complain that the equations could be simplified?

  11. ProstateLess says:

    I agree with speranza’s take on it. Very amusing. Thanks for posting it, Sean.

  12. Moshe says:

    Speranza, nothing is wrong with a complicated sentence structure if it used to convey a complex and subtle idea. Ditto for “hard math”. That’s not the case here, which makes the style seem pompous and self-aggrandizing (yes, there are ways to do that with math). Anyhow, I tend to agree that it is probably the point of the joke, otherwise it is really over the top…Sorry for missing the point, the quote is a bit out of context.

  13. Felix says:

    I’m sure the pedantic picking at the writing style in this comment is IN NO WAY related to any discomfort with the actual content of the comment! It’s just that writing that doesn’t meet our exact specifications (or where the style is perhaps lost on us) is much more outrageous that any, actual, sexism in academia, right?

    Down with writing we don’t like! Talking about sexism is boring!

  14. Captain Electron says:

    Actually, Ayn Rand had longer sentences — but she wrote with an actual purpose.

  15. kowalski says:

    I have never read any good philosophy by a woman, they need to step their game up.

  16. Lab Lemming says:

    speranza:
    You can use flourishes to make a knock-knock joke drag on for half an hour…

    The longwindedness distracts us from the point, however. The trouble with having women at conferences is that we’ll need to stop convening them on submarines.

  17. günal şen says:

    thirded. maybe women focus on useful subjects

  18. Nick says:

    I suspect most women find that philosophy just doesn’t “grab them by the testicles”. However this theory may just be a load of balls.

  19. Doug says:

    @kowalski 15:
    Either that, or you do. Hard to say.

  20. I find it strange that many seek individual explanations for each field with gender imbalance rather than a common explanation for all fields. Yes, there might be some field-specific causes, but the lion’s share of the difference probably has the same explanation in all fields.

    What fields are male-dominated? Physics, maths, philosophy, crime, garbage collection, high-class chefs, chess players, politics, mental retardation, rock music, music composition, computer science, high-level business. (One could come up with a list of comparable length of female-dominated fields.)

    In particular, I think rock music illustrates my point. Apart from singers, those with romantic involvement with boy(s) in the band and members of all-girl groups, can you think of even one reasonably well known female rock musician? (I can think of only one, but even that is something of a special case.) If you believe in field-specific causes for male dominance, what is it about rock music which keeps women out? (The same probably applies to country music, or jazz or whatever though not to “classical” music.)

  21. Neal J. King says:

    TL/DR

  22. Kiki says:

    One problem for a lack of women in the fields mentioned above can be probably traced to the fact that women are usually discouraged when entering such a field. The other problem is the creation of a family. In order for one to become the next Einstein or Beethoven, one has to study, practice, envision a bunch of ideas, discard the ones that don`t seem useful. So, if a woman decides to form a family, that means at least 1 year of no work. When she gets back to work, she has to start everything anew. Despite all this, still a lot of women excel in their profession. But, in order to become a genius of one`s time, one has to have supporters. “Behind every successful man stands a successful woman”, says the old proverb, but how many men are willing to stand behind their genius ladies?!

    P.S. Sorry for my grammatical errors, English is not my native language.

  23. Allyson says:

    Huh?

    Liz Phair
    Ann and Nancy Wilson
    Grace Slick
    Tina Turner
    Chrissy Hynde
    PJ Harvey
    Karen O
    Debbie Harry
    Courtney Love
    Neko Case
    The Go Gos
    Joan Jett
    Siouxsie Sioux
    Alannis Morrisette
    Kathleen Hanna (should we do all of riot grrl and punk rock?)
    Sheryl Crowe
    Janis Joplin
    Kim Gordon
    Pat Benetar
    Michelle Branch
    Patti Smith

    I haven’t even opened my iPod, yet. Your ignorance of rock musicians (HOLY GOD PATTI SMITH???) and apparently country and jazz is astounding. Nina Simone? Really?

    Do you own a radio? Seriously, send me your addie and I’ll send you about 40 mix CDs of all the shit you’ve missed. It’s really good. Motown? You know Motown is rock and roll, right?

  24. “One problem for a lack of women in the fields mentioned above can be probably traced to the fact that women are usually discouraged when entering such a field.”

    This begs the question, though: why are they discouraged? Yes, this was certainly a problem in the past, with Planck telling Meitner that there were no women’s toilets in the physics building or whatever. However, how much opposition does a female chess player face today?

    “The other problem is the creation of a family.”

    Probably true in many cases. But why are women common in symphony orchestras playing Beethoven, say, but not in jazz bands? And women without family, or whose husbands bear the lion’s share of the work, aren’t as visible as they should be were this the main explanation.


    “Behind every successful man stands a successful woman”, says the old proverb, but how many men are willing to stand behind their genius ladies?!”

    Some pundit remarked that beneath every successful man lies a woman. (Sorry, couldn’t resist; I’ll get me coat!)

  25. Let me quote myself: “Apart from singers, those with romantic involvement with boy(s) in the band and members of all-girl groups”. (I also mentioned “well known”; one can always find the obscure person.)

    At least the following are singers:

    Grace Slick
    Tina Turner
    Chrissy Hynde
    PJ Harvey
    Debbie Harry
    Courtney Love
    Joan Jett
    Siouxsie Sioux
    Alannis Morrisette
    Sheryl Crowe
    Janis Joplin
    Pat Benetar
    Patti Smith

    Many (most?) of the names I didn’t recognise are probably singers as well. Fill us in please. Is even one of them not (primarily) a singer? There is nothing wrong with being a singer, or being romantically involved with someone else in the band, or being part of an all-girl band. However, most male rock musicians are not singers, are not romantically involved with someone in the band and are not marketed as part of a boy band.

    Ann Wilson is a singer. Nancy Wilson is (primarily) not a singer. Indeed, she is the special case I was thinking of (special case because her sister is in the same band). Again, there is nothing wrong with such special cases, but I want to avoid examples of reasonably well known rock musicians who are special cases in the sense that they have some property (the three I mentioned) which most male rock musicians don’t.

    The Go Gos are a girl band.

    Although I subscribe to Mojo and have been to maybe 1000 rock concerts in my life, I recognise none of the following names:

    Liz Phair
    Karen O
    Neko Case
    Kathleen Hanna (should we do all of riot grrl and punk rock?)
    Kim Gordon
    Michelle Branch

    and thus submit that they are not reasonably well known. How many of them are singers?

    Can’t you just think of a woman who plays bass in a rock group and isn’t the main singer? It’s enough if the group is well known and the individual members aren’t. (Don’t say “Tina Weymouth”.)

    I haven’t even opened my iPod, yet. Your ignorance of rock musicians (HOLY GOD PATTI SMITH???) and apparently country and jazz is astounding. Nina Simone? Really?

    Errm, Patti Smith and Nina Simone are both singers.

    Do you own a radio? Seriously, send me your addie and I’ll send you about 40 mix CDs of all the shit you’ve missed. It’s really good. Motown? You know Motown is rock and roll, right?

    Name me one female Motown musician who is not a singer.

    Yes, people familiar with the field, like myself, can find examples of female rock musicians, Carol Kaye, for example, who aren’t a “special case”, but, despite having been on a huge number of recordings, Carol Kaye is not well known (probably because she is primarily a session musician).

    Read my criteria again. Maybe they are arbitrary, but since most male rock musicians fulfill my constraints, it’s a fair point of comparison.