Confronting individuals, and teaching about marginalisation

April 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was at the periphery of a conversation between a male graduate student from my program and a male undergraduate. The undergraduate said he had taken one philosophy class, and the graduate student proceeded to ask questions to determine what class it had been and who the professor had been. The graduate student asked for a physical description of the female professor, and the undergrad said things like “tall, had brown hair.” The graduate student impatiently interrupted, asking, “Did she have big tits?” I walked away, disgusted.

I spoke with the graduate student, asking him why he spoke about our professor in objectifying terms. I told him that I was frustrated because it seems as though no matter how hard women work, we get reduced to sex objects. He apologized. Oddly, he attempted to justify this objectification of our professor by citing his respect for her.

While I think large structural changes are necessary for the field of philosophy to improve for women, I also think it is important to address these types of incidents to the extent that it is possible.

In my teaching, I point out ways that women are marginalized throughout the history of Western philosophy. I bring up problematic passages to students, whether it is a feminist philosophy class or not. I think that the way we practice philosophy (and I think teaching is a way of practicing philosophy) is significant for its transformation.

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