To the cismen philosophy majors in my feminist philosophy classes
To the cismen philosophy majors in my feminist philosophy classes:
Yay! I’m so glad you’re here–both because that means you are interested in feminism, but also because you bring lots of philosophical expertise with you. Also, feminist philosophy has a lot to offer philosophical projects that aren’t primarily or explicitly feminist, so I think this will enrich your work no matter what it is.
But it’s also a crosslisted class. Which means that there are people from other disciplines in the class. And, generally, most of the philosophy students in this class are men and most of the non-philosophy students are women. (This may not be true outside of UNCC, but this is generally the case at my institution.) And this fact makes the differing disciplinary norms about debate and verbal engagement a matter of gender politics. (Well, they’re always a matter of gender and race politics, IMO, but in this context such politics are exacerbated.)
In philosophy we’re pretty direct…so direct that most other disciplines think what is normal in philosophy is really rude and unprofessional. So these students from other disciplines, who are often female students, are socialized to scholarly cultures that are more polite than ours. This means they wait for people to take turns, they interrupt less, they wait for other people to say something before jumping in, they frame their critiques more charitably, and so on. Also, women and men of color have developed strategies to counteract implicit biases that frame them as always-already aggressive. Some of these strategies may appear, in a philosophy classroom, like hesitancy or uncertainty.
In the classroom, however, this difference in disciplinary cultures often translates into the philosophy students taking up all the air time. We jump in at the first chance, we interrupt, we often rush and state our critiques in a form that is still too conceptually and affectively rough. And in cases in which the philosophy students are mostly men, this means the male students taking up most of the air time in a class on feminist philosophy. I trust that you are smart enough to recognize the problem here. (I mean, you wouldn’t be in my classes in general if you weren’t smart.)
So what can you do? Slow down. Let others jump in first. Pay attention to the gender dynamics of the class–if the cis male students are a taking up a disproportionate amount of air time, you could (a) point that out, and/or (b) take some notes on your device, post your thoughts as blog comments, or just hold back until later and let someone else take her turn. Don’t interrupt (yeah, I struggle with this too.) You can also listen–doing this carefully and attentively can be a good way to avoid mansplaining.
Female philosophy students: I know this sort of leaves you out, but this isn’t your problem to fix. However, if you do notice yourself acting like, to use bell hooks’s term, “a dick in drag,” well, then it does become your problem to fix.