Gender dynamics in the philosophy classroom

by Harry on April 6, 2016

Leiter has an interesting post on why undergraduate women give up on philosophy. A senior female philosopher diagnosed the problem, and started with the following comment:

My assessment of the undergrad women in philosophy thing: undergrad women get sick of being talked over and strawmanned by their peers in and out of the classroom, and get sick of classes where the male students endlessly hold forth about their own thoughts.

Leiter adds:

I will say that over two decades of teaching, it has seemed to me that the students who speak out of proportion to what they have to say are overwhelmingly male.

My experience is exactly the same as Leiter’s. And I’ve heard from countless female students that they just got tired of being ignored, both by prof and male students, and also tired of trying to get a word in among the ramblings of boys who think that they are really smart. Even in classes taught by women. And in classes, I’m embarrassed to say, taught by me. To make things worse I think that such behavior can be a very good strategy for learning – it gets you the professor’s attention, and the professor will correct you or argue with you, even if they are extremely irritated, and you can learn a lot from that.

Leiter goes on that “Maintaining control of the classroom, and creating a welcoming environment for all student contributions, can probably go some distance to rectifying this—but that, of course, supposes levels of pedagogical talent and sensitivity that many philosophy faculty probably lack.”

I almost completely agree with this, but would substitute the word ‘skill’ for ‘talent’. I’d say that if you really feel you lack the talent to manage the classroom in this way, so do not think it is worth investing in learning how to do it, I advise that you avoid teaching in mixed male/female classrooms, or find a job that doesn’t involve teaching. But I think most of us have the talent, we just lack the skill because as a profession, at least at R1s, we are spectacularly complacent about developing our pedagogical talents into skills. We focus considerable effort on developing our talent as researchers, consuming the research of others, discussing their research, our research, and other people’s research in a community of learner/researchers, putting our research out for comments from friends and, ultimately, for review and publication. We ought to become pretty good at it. But as a recent paper by David Conception and colleagues shows, we receive hardly any training in instruction, and once we become teachers we might try very hard, but we invest very little in the kinds of processes that would enable us to learn from experts, as opposed to improving through trial-and-error. It is like trying to become a good violin player without anyone ever listening to you, and without ever listening to anyone who plays it well. Possible, I suppose, but hardly a recipe for success.

So, from my own trial and error (combined with some watching of experts, and employing coaches to observe me) here are some things that I have learned how to do which seem to me to make the classroom one in which women participate at a similar rate to men and seem to reduce the problem of particular male students dominating the room.

1.Cold calling. This has to be done with sensitivity. You are not trying to put people on the spot, so you warn the class ahead of time, and tell them that it is fine to wait a moment while they gather their thoughts, and also fine to say that they don’t having anything to say right now. Students won’t like you when you start doing it (One student: “After the first time you called on me I called my mom after class and told her that I hated you”). It’s more effective if cold calling someone is not the first time you have talked to them – always get to class several minutes early and have casual boring conversations with particular students who don’t talk much (or at all) in class, so they are more relaxed when you call them.

2.Deliberately wait till women raise their hands, and do not call on the guy who always talks even if he has his hand up. In my current class there is a lovely, smart, guy (who is not at all like the students women complain about) who sits at the front and always has something to say before anyone else – I just say “I’m going to go for someone who doesn’t usually talk/hasn’t talked recently”.

3. When someone strawman’s someone else’s argument you always either point it out yourself, or get someone in the classroom to point it out. Always.

4.If your students write weekly online memos (as they should), you can immediately see which women (and men, for that matter) have things to say who are not talking in class. Call them out in class when the point they made is immediately relevant to the matter at hand – “Well, Hannah, you said X. Could you elaborate on that for us?”

5.Emailing a students about a comment they did make in class is very encouraging for them. A grad student subbing for me a year ago commented to me that A and B – both capable, and very reserved-in-class, women – had said particularly insightful things. He emailed them saying so, and it was like gold dust. Both were more participatory afterwards, and after the following class, as I was leaving I heard one of them telling a classmate with great excitement (but no pride) that he had emailed her about how interesting what she had said was. I have started doing this, though probably less often than I should.

6.Here’s a trick I have been criticized for (because it knowingly deploys sexist norms, albeit for non-sexist ends). In my large lecture classes, I break students into groups to address particular questions or think through thought experiments. I tell them to appoint a note taker. When they report out I ask the note taker to report. Naturally, the note taker is almost always female, and usually, even if not female, a non-talker. They get the experience of talking and, bizarrely, seem not to notice the patterns.

7.If you have a serious problem, directly tell a student (obviously, not in class) that they are talking too much, and that you want them to talk less. A strategy I once used was to tell a student I did not want him to raise his hand until at least 4 people had spoken after he had spoken. Compliance was imperfect, but he told me, later, that he learned more because he started listening to what other people were saying rather than thinking about what he was going to say all the time.

8.Conversely, talk to a student about why they don’t talk. Last semester I taught a (small) class which was 50/50 M/F, and about 25% freshmen, 25% sophomore, etc. Early on one particular female student was writing excellent comments and not talking in class – and looking very embarrassed when I would cold call her. I decided she must be a senior who was moderately hostile to the class, so felt bad when after I asked her what her major was she told me she didn’t have one because she was a freshman. I worked on getting her and another reticent girl to talk more in class. At the end of the semester I told her that I felt I had not really succeeded in my mission of making her talk more and she said “Well, I’m the kind of person who only talks if I think that what I have to say is really worth saying”, which made me laugh, and I told her that she needed to lower her standards a bit so that the rest of us could hear things that were really worth hearing even if she didn’t think they were really worth saying. A work in progress that one.

A final comment. I have taught all-female classes twice (with considerable overlap in the particular students). It is impossible to generalize, but I was struck both times by the level of freedom the students seemed to feel in expressing themselves, and the extent to which they seemed to form common bonds.

Leiter’s discussion is about the diagnosis of why undergraduate women give up on philosophy – you can discuss that over there. What I am interested in here are ideas about how to engage women – and reticent students more generally – and prevent particular students (usually male, occasionally female) from consuming excessive class time. And ideas about how to improve the pertinent skills of teachers.

UPDATE: the in the light of bianca’s comment I should make clear that I (more than) welcome comments from students and ex-students, and especially women who have experienced good, and bad, practice in the classroom; and request that they attempt not to be inhibited by the worries about being misinterpreted or accused of misunderstanding their own experience.

ANOTHER UPDATE Every college teacher should read Dipper’s comment.

{ 183 comments }

1

Corey Robin 04.06.16 at 1:54 pm

Great post, Harry, as always. Slightly off topic from what you want to talk about, I know, but I did wonder how much of this is more peculiar to elite schools, whether public or private. I remember this all too well from grad school and undergrad, but I’ve noticed at CUNY, where I teach, that I see a lot less of this. Whether it’s because the male students feel less entitled or the women students must push harder just to succeed in the most basic ways, I wonder how social class can affect these dynamics. I know what I am saying may seem counterintuitive to some — the stereotype of working class and immigrant students is that sexism is more rampant the lower down the social totem poll you go — but it’s just not been my experience at Brooklyn College.

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harry b 04.06.16 at 2:20 pm

Thanks Corey!. What is almost certainly true of a large majority of your students is that the girls are very used to being in classrooms in which it was common knowledge that girls outperformed boys in all academic ways, and probably widely known that they were more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and graduate college (that is, schools and classrooms with relatively high rates of students on free and reduced lunch). That is not true of students at Princeton and Yale, and while most of my students were in classrooms and schools in which girls outperformed boys, relatively few of them (maybe 20-25%?) were in classrooms and schools where it was common knowledge. So I wonder how that affects the dynamics over the long run.

3

Anarcissie 04.06.16 at 2:24 pm

You could do as the hippies do and pass the deal to the left. Everyone speaks, or explicitly passes up the opportunity. Slow but sure.

Male children are probably still being taught from infancy that they must compete and dominate, so you need something pretty clunky to restrain the tendency.

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Dipper 04.06.16 at 2:35 pm

You can get similar problems in organisations in team meetings and project meetings. In those meetings individuals have roles, so they need to be heard. Managers, team leaders, and project members generally have had training in team work, personality types, and about engaging all members of teams. Also, most modern organisations are acutely aware of the performance and status of women in in the organisation and it would not be unusual for someone to be talked to if it was felt they were not supporting women speaking in meetings.

Most people in corporations get sent on brainstorming and creativity courses where the importance of not shouting down ideas in creative sessions, and on courses about understanding different personality types, finding your own, and learning how others perceive you. Free-for-all discussions are very rare in large organisations.

The OP mentions giving roles to individuals as one way of facilitating more women contributing to discussions. Possibly structure the process of class response even more so individuals have roles which require they be given the opportunity to speak? I don’t see anything wrong, and quite a lot right, about formalising the process of class discussion to get wider participation.

5

JeffreyF 04.06.16 at 2:49 pm

Very thoughtful post, not much to add. One thing I would note is that some sensitivity to these concerns going into the first couple class meetings can go a long way. A lot of the strategies suggested here are useful once students have settled in to the class a bit and built some rapport with one another & the instructor. However, the first few class sessions are the most likely to be dominated by a small group of students, generally male, and the environment set in these early sessions can be hard to shift once established. So I find that attention to these concerns during this opening stretch is crucial, and the most outspoken female student(s) can be your best ally in warding off the general impression that the class conversation will be mostly among men (moving forward).

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bruce wilder 04.06.16 at 3:01 pm

In teaching a business school capstone strategy course, I tried various gambits, including expressing general concern about excessive aggression. Sometimes I appointed representative leads for the main topic discussion, and invited meta-comments on the observed dynamics in a second phase. One thing that worked surprisingly well was to reserve a seat in a favorable location for a reticent student with a tented namecard I printed. That small investment of attention in a particular student seemed to pay off. I was focused on students who were in the habit of arriving late or just seemed harried. A few times, the student seemed bewildered and unprepared and I would just promise at the end of class to repeat the reservation of a seat — otherwise I offered no explanation for the handful of occasional seat reservations.

7

engels 04.06.16 at 3:11 pm

I’m rather out of touch but seems to me that more than most fields Anglo-Ametican philosophy has an image of itself as a gladitorial pursuit with a heroic view of its champion fighters (eg. Rawls, Dworkin and Cohen, when I was studying pol phil). In so far as students are influenced by their example, isn’t this likely to lead to discussions where one or two brave knights end up commanding the field?

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RNB 04.06.16 at 3:40 pm

Once took courses with great philosophers. Did ok. but have forgotten a lot. So maybe these examples are not good ones, but I thought it would be worth considering whether the examples given in class could be more interesting to women.

So I wonder whether we could have discussed the bodily experience of being a woman walking to the library alone at night when discussing Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the body; or whether what’s assumed to be implicit in a conversation differs when men are speaking to a woman than to man (are women unfairly assumed more often to be violating a Gricean cooperative principle?); or whether, to take an example from Sen, the positional objectivity of false beliefs very oppressed women have is discussed in epistemology; or whether the question of abortion rights is treated seriously as a way of examining different moral theories.

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engels 04.06.16 at 4:07 pm

(Okay Rawls’ style wasn’t really gladitorial. Siege warfare perhaps?)

10

Omega Centauri 04.06.16 at 4:12 pm

I suspect this more or less generalizes to most of the STEM fields. I was usually one of the most talkative of the students, for me it was aggressively pursuing learning, and it think it worked. An interesting data point was a paper a few months back (no I don’t remember author etc.) about math students. They gave students a math test, and asked them to estimate how well they had done on it. On average the female’s estimates were pretty accurate, but males seriously overestimated how well they did.

I liked suggestions 5 and 8. I would think that the median student is probably too reticent, so
bringing up the shy ones is probably more important than suppressing the talkers.

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RNB 04.06.16 at 4:17 pm

@10 Shelley Correll has done interesting experiments on how male self-assessment of results on a test of made-up ability are much more generous than female self-assessment of the same results on a made-up ability especially when the experimental subjects are primed to think about gender. The results indicate that such differential self-assessment may contribute to women not pursuing paths that men with similar results think they would do fine in.
https://sociology.stanford.edu/people/shelley-correll

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JeffreyG 04.06.16 at 4:35 pm

something related to yet distinct from the ‘time distribution’ concern is that of volume. Male students are more likely to speak with an authoritative tone, high volume, etc; I think these things really matter. Sometimes I have female students voicing insightful comments at near the minimum audible volume, & it pains me to notice people on the fringes tuning out &/or straining to hear. I try to advise people to ‘command attention’/’command the attention they deserve’ with volume and tone, but idk if that is actually useful/helpful. As someone who is both very loud and with a bit of a public speaking background, I know that I don’t fully ‘get it’ on this score. Any ideas/strategies that people may have found success with would be appreciated.

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bianca steele 04.06.16 at 4:42 pm

It’s too bad you’ll probably get so few descriptions of personal experience from women, Harry, because some who might respond will either assume you want only reports from other teachers or from experts, or will hesitate to open themselves up to criticism about whether they interpreted things right. In any case, it’s not unheard of for women to complain that other women talk too much in class, though probably they complain more that the girl in question is “ditzy” or something, than that she should talk less. It’s not unheard of either, especially in grade school (at least it wasn’t not too long ago) for parents and teachers to tell girls it would be wrong and unfair not to make sure the best students were recognized to be boys, so while I’m sure that doesn’t happen in the classrooms of CT participants, it might not be unreasonable for students to assume it would be likely.

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Kiwanda 04.06.16 at 5:19 pm

A pedagogical discussion of classroom participation need not reference gender: some students talk more than their share, some talk less; for some classes, it’s important for things to be more balanced. The OP seems like a good discussion of techniques for encouraging that. Conjectures regarding root causes aren’t really necessary.

Some classes (including STEM) may not actually require lots of classroom discussion for success; as someone who is neither vocal nor fast on their feet, this was very helpful.

15

Ben 04.06.16 at 5:30 pm

My experience, and conversation with female peers/students both contemporaneously and years later, backs up RNB’s point: females tend to have less self-confidence in their own thoughts / ideas as the males do. Even comparing them with males that have a fairly objective read on their own abilities.

I’ve seen / heard of in-classroom compliments about intellectual performance going a long way. Either in the moment – “excellent point” – or calling out assignments as “the best” or “bringing up ideas I hadn’t thought through”, etc.

Can be “showing” instead of “telling” too: engagement with students as peers engaged on the same plane of intellectual discovery as the instructor can be as powerful as positive re-enforcement. Asking clarification questions, asking questions about the implications of an argument, etc. Puts the student in the rhetorical position of “knowing”, and once they’re comfortable with that role they tend to do it more often.

As the OP puts it, “like gold dust”.

16

Sumana Harihareswara 04.06.16 at 5:39 pm

I just read Missing Class: Strengthening Social Movement Groups by Seeing Class Cultures by Betsy Leondar-Wright which has a chapter on how different class cultures approach under- and over-participation (albeit in progressive activist groups). You’re already using many of the techniques it mentions — cool! The book also has some tips on how to use specific targeted questions to draw out the perspectives of people with underrepresented experiences, in case you want some thoughts on that approach.

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LizardBreath 04.06.16 at 5:49 pm

I’m a woman who noticed this dynamic way back when I was in college and law school, but was for some reason always on the high side of it — that is, a few students would suck up all the oxygen in the room, and they were generally a bunch of guys and me.

From the student end, it looked really professor-driven a lot of the time: that is, there’d be multiple hands up, but the usual suspects were the ones who got called on — it felt as though professors had identified a small group of students as permitted to speak at will, but everyone else would only be acknowledged at long intervals. I’m sure no one thinks they’re running their classroom like that on purpose, but it might be something to suggest that professors do some self-examination for.

The gender split of the students who are allowed to pontificate is an issue, certainly, but it would be fixable by not having particular students allowed to take up a disproportionate amount of attention at all: I shouldn’t have been allowed to take over classes as much as the male students in my classes shouldn’t have been allowed to do the same.

18

LizardBreath 04.06.16 at 6:06 pm

(I should say that 2 and 7 in the original post pretty much address my point, and sound like useful tactics.)

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Harry 04.06.16 at 6:06 pm

Thanks bianca — and everyone. I agree with Kiwanda that all this can be talked about usefully without referencing gender — gender helps us notice something in this case. bianca and Lizardbreath’s comments both emphasize this in a way. Patterns start early in the course of a class, and can be very hard to shift, so it is important to get off to the right start, and that includes making sure everyone is participating, and no-one (or no 4 or 5) are dominating. Tip 2 is really about that — you need to work to get beyond the usual suspects. There will always be usual suspects, and that’s not at all a bad thing, or their fault. The instructor is responsible for getting this right –and this is where the importance of actually training people to teach, and having continuing professional development concerning pedagogy (and talking about teaching, as here) is so important.

20

Trader Joe 04.06.16 at 6:15 pm

Plenty of good thoughts, thanks.

I had a professor once, for a discussion oriented literature class, who said on the first day: “Every class session I will hear from each of you at least once, but never more than three times – those who don’t like to talk should go ahead and volunteer points they want to make rather than let me pick on you at random, and those inclined to be gabby should hold their fire for their very best points since you will only get a few.”

Early on the professor enforced this pretty rigorously – particularly against the over-contributors, but after a couple of weeks it seemed to normalize out into a good discussion where pretty well everyone pitched in and no one really dominated….this is anecdata so I don’t know if it would always come out so neatly, but I always thought it was a pretty good approach.

21

femk 04.06.16 at 6:16 pm

I’m one of those women who does not talk much, but I do get very annoyed with those guys who always talk and mostly about nothing. Often, if I want to say something I am talked over. The thing is, it should not be necessary to constantly be talking rubbish in order to be heard. Telling me to say more, i.e. talk more rubbish, will not make the classroom into a better environment I think. It would be great if talking rubbish was tolerated less. Also, I usually do speak when I feel passionate about something (when i think the other is absolutely wrong or when it touches me personally then it is important enough for me to interfere) or when I have a good idea, so perhaps it would help if classes are more thought provoking.
Doing it in a way like ‘who has something to say?’ will get the bullshitters going, so instead more structure would be great….pose a provoking thesis, make a provoking claim, ask a difficult question and ask a difficult follow up question, or two or three,….and moderate the discussion (let people speak who hold up their hand instead of just the loudest people, i.e. point at them and say ‘yes, you, go ahead’).

22

Chris Stephens 04.06.16 at 6:17 pm

Hi Harry-

These look like good suggestions. A question: do you discuss the gender dynamics issue in a general way at the beginning of your courses (and if so, do you find it helps) or do you find it better to just implement the various strategies you suggest without a general discussion?

23

Denise Cummins 04.06.16 at 6:19 pm

I think LizardBreath (a female who was outspoken in Philosophy classes) hit the nail on the head:

“…it looked really professor-driven a lot of the time: that is, there’d be multiple hands up, but the usual suspects were the ones who got called on — it felt as though professors had identified a small group of students as permitted to speak at will, but everyone else would only be acknowledged at long intervals. I’m sure no one thinks they’re running their classroom like that on purpose, but it might be something to suggest that professors do some self-examination for.”

I’ve known professors like this in various disciplines, but they seem in more abundance in philosophy. I suspect the driving force behind their behavior is the belief that it take “a certain kind of mind” to be a philosopher, namely, the kind of mind that has always been in the field. From my vantage point, this seems to mean someone who argues primarily to display his (real or imagined) brilliance to his peers and to attract the attention of “gurus” (big names in the field) so that he can “prove himself”.

For whatever reason, this “kind of mind” usually belongs to a male, and the professors who preferentially cater to these “minds” usually have this “kind of mind” as well.

Women have no problem with argument as the fact that half of law students and practicing lawyers are women. It’s that “craving attention from the guru so I can prove myself” that seems to be the defining difference.

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engels 04.06.16 at 6:21 pm

I do feel like this post is yoking together too important issues – uneven student participation in discussions and underrepresentation in philosophy – without really showing they’re connected. The guy who waffles on in discussions annoys the instructor and the students. For him to be causing the gender skew he’d have to be having more of a deterrent effect on the female students than the male ones, wouldn’t he? Is there any evidence of this? Perhaps your experiences do support it.

(More speculatively, I also wonder that if the problem is of (some) men exerting a kind of dominance in academic group settings, the guy who is perceived by his peers as speaking too much appears to have failed at that. At the risk of waffling myself, I feel that a lot of these analyses focus too much on aberrent male behaviour when the focus should be on normal male behaviour.)

Like Kiwanda, I remember being a pretty reticent student who liked that fine. Philosophy seemed like a subject where I needed much more time to think before opening my mouth. I would have hated being ‘cold-called’.

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engels 04.06.16 at 6:22 pm

Sorry – ‘and _women’s_ underrepresentation in philosophy’

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LizardBreath 04.06.16 at 6:31 pm

I feel odd saying that the overparticipating issue is definitely a gender issue, given that I’ve said that I was both an overparticipator and a woman. But it definitely felt that way.

The guy who waffles on in discussions annoys the instructor and the students. For him to be causing the gender skew he’d have to be having more of a deterrent effect on the female students than the male ones, wouldn’t he?

I think you’re underrating the number of successful overparticipators. You’ve got some people who drone on and annoy everyone, but you also get some students who really do have things to say, and are successfully showing off how brilliantly they can dominate class discussion (possibly more successful at intimidating their fellow students than at impressing the professor). If the students with permission to show off how brilliant they are are predominantly male (and really, almost exclusively male), it does send the message that being recognized as smart is something that’s reserved for the male students, and that’s where your gender skew comes from.

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Harry 04.06.16 at 6:56 pm

addendum to LizardBreath’s comment — Especially given how many very smart women are reticent and how many others are merely considerate (I have several girls in a current lecture class who could talk non-stop, and brilliantly, if they wanted to and I would let them; but they are well-mannered and, although entirely willing to contribute, also want to listen to others)

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engels 04.06.16 at 6:56 pm

you also get some students who really do have things to say, and are successfully showing off how brilliantly they can dominate class discussion

Sorry, this is what I meant that the focus should be on normal male behaviour. If the predominance of ‘positive’ contributions to the discussion are coming from men then the negative impact of that on women’s perceptions doesn’t seem to me to need spelling out. I was querying the assumption that the guy who annoys everyone by droning on was a gender issue (rather than, say, an annoyance for Harry, Leiter and their students).

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MacGnu 04.06.16 at 6:57 pm

I always felt that teachers called upon students to try to keep them engaged by having them make the points that the teacher intended to make all along, and the students most reliable at saying what the teacher intended got called on the most. Could it be that students speaking less are either less sure they know what is intended to come next or less interested in inserting themselves between the classroom and the material under study?

30

Paul Reber 04.06.16 at 7:00 pm

I’ve adopted a variation on Cold Calling that I’ve been increasingly happy about in my own teaching. I bring a list of student names to each class in a randomized order. At each discussion point in class, instead of letting them raise hands, I call the next name on the list to answer.

This guarantees a pretty fair distribution of participation and you don’t have to worry about your personal bias accidentally creeping in about who you choose to give an answer from a set of raised hands.

It won’t work in every class, but in my undergraduate classes I set up my lectures around lots of quick, relatively simple questions and I can get everybody a chance in a class of 25-30 in an hour. At this rate of participation, the students all get used to this style quite quickly (even though some are nervous about it at first — probably the ones who would normally be pretty quiet).

In a larger class, it might be more intimidating and if answers require more thought or discussion (like philosophy) it might be harder to implement.

There’s some skill to develop as teacher in this method that come with practice. For one thing, it’s really important to say something as nice as possible about their answers even if they are off the mark. For another, I mix in a fair number of really easy questions that mostly just check that they are paying attention. That means you get a lot of quick, correct answers and can give positive feedback and keep up the class pace.

I’ve been really pleased with the way it shapes the classroom. Everybody gets used to participating all the time. And in general, right after answering a question, you see students trying to jump in on subsequent questions (meaning if there is a hard one, they’ll often help each other out).

I settled in on this approach to deal with the observation that in any class there was a small number of people who always wanted to give the answer and a bunch of people who never answered. I hadn’t even thought to assess how gendered those groups are (implicit bias is hard) but the random list approach naturally avoids one part of the problem.

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Harry 04.06.16 at 7:03 pm

engels — yes, I meant it to be about (relatively) normal, as well as exceptional, male behaviour. I don’t find the normal behaviour challenging as a teacher, because I have learned (I think) how to handle it and prevent it from having the kinds of effects I don’t want it to. Exceptional behaviour still challenges me….

32

Ronan(rf) 04.06.16 at 7:04 pm

“I remember being a pretty reticent student who liked that fine. …I would have hated being ‘cold-called’.”

This was my experience , more or less (I was perhaps more vocal in some classes than others, though they were probably the exception )
But I’m wondering, why Is participation by all so important ? Is it because it enables students to learn more? To develop public speaking skills ? Because some people dominating conversation is seen as unfair ? (Sorry if this was answered in the Op, and I missed it)

33

Harry 04.06.16 at 7:06 pm

in response to MacGnu — in short, yes, it could! But then the wrong sorts of question are being asked. I tend to ask questions to which I want them to be thinking about the answers, and for which a fairly wide range of answers will be things I can usefully work with in the class (sure, sometimes, I am expecting and hoping the discussion to go one way rather than another, and am sometimes a bit disoriented when it doesn’t, but I think after a while students see that that is ok.)

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AcademicLurker 04.06.16 at 7:13 pm

Having more structure imposed on discussion in the first few classes (as described in 20) is a useful approach.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned so far is how difficult it can sometimes be to get any participation. It varies from semester to semester, and while some groups are pretty chatty, with others it’s like pulling teeth to get students to speak up at all. In those situations, if there are 1 or 2 students who are talkative, it’s tempting to rely on them as a lifeline to keep from having the class end up being all the instructor’s voice or else silence (I know I had to wean myself away from this tendency when I first started teaching). If that happens in the first few classes, then a pattern of who is allowed to dominate the discussions gets established. So having clear rules for discussions at the beginning and getting more relaxed as the semester wears on is a good idea.

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Neville Morley 04.06.16 at 7:14 pm

This rings true in lots of ways – especially the phenomenon of the student who gets lots of attention by talking, regardless of whether he has anything terribly helpful to contribute. I am conscious that I tend to under-use cold-calling, simply because I’m all too aware of how much I would have hated it myself (and tending to ignore the fact that it might have done me good…).

I have a particular – and perhaps not very generalisable – problem with the mix of degree programmes (US majors) in most of my classes; generally, majority Ancient History (which means predominately male) with a minority of Classical Studies and Classics students (more likely to be female). However much I reiterate that all perspectives are equally valuable and this *isn’t* supposed to be a purist ancient history class, they don’t appear to accept this – which means that the majority of female students then doubly disparage their own right to speak.

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Rob Barrett 04.06.16 at 7:24 pm

I use short response papers with floating due dates (i.e., the Harvey Pekar response paper can be turned in on any of the days we discuss Pekar in class; it must be focused on one of the pages from the reading assignment due on the day it’s turned in; it must be turned in online at least 2 hours before class), and these work quite well for shaking up discussion. I do more of the lifting on the first day or two (since only a few eager beavers write on those days), and then I can pretty much just ask the students to discuss what they observed in their papers. This allows me to supplement the usual “handful of students, male and female, who are always ready to say things” with appeals to the quiet but insightful ones. I also have trained myself to be willing to say in class, “Anyone? X, we’ve heard a lot from you so far today, so let’s see if someone else can answer.” Finally, you can train yourself to recognize the facial expression of someone who has an answer but is hesitating about offering it–and then call on them with a “Y, you look like you’ve got something to say here.”

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Frowner 04.06.16 at 7:33 pm

In the community ed classes that I teach, I’ve found that non-talkers/women generally/marginalized people generally participate more when some effort has been made to build relationships in the room. When there’s some trust between people – even if it’s only “I know a little bit about you so you’re not an unknown quantity who may blow up at me if I disagree with you” – I think typically marginalized groups tend to open up a bit more. The well-meaning yet chatty also tend, IME, to find it a bit easier to listen attentively when they see their classmates as full people with complex thoughts and interests rather than as people-shaped blanks.

I usually spend the first class session at least in part on some getting-to-know-you-getting-to-know-all-about-you stuff – round-robin questions about students’ background and interests, small group brainstorming, collectively creating a timeline based on our existing knowledge about whatever we’re reading, open-ended general knowledge questions, etc. I keep it relatively light, since the purpose would be totally defeated if students came away feeling stupid. Basically, the goal is to get everyone to talk once or twice to the whole class and in a small group setting. This also doubles as a chance for me to see what people already know about the topic.

Until a rhythm is established, I try to start classes with a lighthearted opinion question that relates to the material and that everyone must answer. “Would you date Mr. Rochester?” “If you were invited to Mars by Bogdanov’s Martians, would you go?” “What would be an appropriate nickname for St. John Rivers?” That type of thing – and I figure you could adapt it easily to at least some philosophy classes. Ask a silly question about one of the famous phrases in Kant or something. On several occasions, we’ve actually jumped right into very productive discussion from the intro questions, and the sillier questions actually provide fun call-back as the class sessions progress.

I also do some small group work at the start of some classes, but I keep it very short – three people sitting near each other have [five minutes-ish] to respond to a prompt.

For all of these, the actual content of the discussion is secondary to getting students into the habit of talking/listening.

Admittedly, community ed is pretty far from Serious Educational Institution philosophy classes, but I did go from having students drop out pretty regularly to having a consistent and engaged group when I started putting more time into creating some connections between students.

38

Harry 04.06.16 at 7:39 pm

Responding to Ronan — I do think it depends on the subject matter to some, maybe a considerable, extent. Three things though. One, in a large class, a wide variety of participants is needed because it is just too easy for too many students to lose focus when they are hearing the same old voices (esp mine, but mine plus two others is not much better). I want them to be alert, otherwise they can’t learn. Some will be alert whatever happens, but most are normal, easily distractable, people. Two — esp in smaller classes where I can get everyone to talk — people learn a lot from hearing what they, themselves, say, from having to formulate something in a coherent enough way to articulate to others, etc. Three — they learn from what each other say. I want the student I mentioned in tip 8 to talk mainly because I want other students to hear what she says, rather than having her keep it to herself.

Someone mentioned not being vocal or fast on their feet. And — at least in philosophy, which demands really careful thought in order to be done well — the kid who is not so fast on her feet may have something to say that we’ll lose if we only turn to the fast on their feet. We have a discipline which overrewards being quick on one’s feet (I am quick on mine, though I hasten to add, only metaphorically) and the discipline is poorer for it.

39

The Temporary Name 04.06.16 at 8:05 pm

Competitiveness is the western way of life. Whether we like it or not. The aggressive succeed, the shy are left behind.

The Western world seems awfully large.

40

Anarcissie 04.06.16 at 8:26 pm

Ze K 04.06.16 at 7:52 pm @ 39 —
I was tempted to start in about people being in philosophy class to seek class privilege anyway, but I will forbear, and say only that the shy, the weak, the ordinary might be taught a bit of social judo and learn to defend their inward being and truth from the Übermenschen raging around them. Then they could fit into the WWoL, and yet would embody some sort of possibly useful philosophy.

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Lynne 04.06.16 at 8:30 pm

Harry, I love your exchange at number 8. This post has made me remember my long-ago student days, when you could not have paid me enough to speak in a large class. Even in classes of 10 to 12 students, I rarely spoke, and was very nervous when I did. When I was in graduate school and became a TA, obviously I had to overcome this reluctance to talk in front of groups, and I did this well enough to tutor the classes I was assigned, where I was expected to supplement the professors’ lectures rather than facilitate a lot of discussion.

I think I would have felt quite different as a student if my classes were all-female. I never had such a class, but, at least as I remember it, my reluctance was a paralyzing fear of being mocked by the boys. (I experienced quite a bit of that in high school.)

Since you don’t have the option of dividing your classes, some of the suggestions for rotating questions among the class, with fair warning, seem like they might be good ideas, but I don’t know whether they would have decreased my dread of speaking. I do remember that by the end of my undergraduate years, I had got to know the other honours students, and once we knew each other, I felt much more relaxed. By that time I had also distinguished myself academically, too, so no one in those classes was going to mock me. That took a few years, though.

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RNB 04.06.16 at 8:39 pm

On getting talked over, I remember a woman student told me that she had transferred from Political Science into our program which has been about 2/3rd’s women because she was getting sick and tired of being talked over and interrupted in discussion. The men may (or may not) have been embarrassed to know that she was the daughter and grand-daughter of two of the most prominent politicians in the country, something she kept to herself. The idea of a bunch of guys man-splaining to her about how elections work and what happens in Congress was one of the more amusing things I can envision happening in a classroom.

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engels 04.06.16 at 8:57 pm

Perhaps in future the classes will be conducted via social media and people who ‘over-participate’ will get unfollowed or unfriended by everyone else

44

Philip 04.06.16 at 9:02 pm

This is just a few thoughts from my various times studying. Coming from a working class school in the UK the macho culture was definitely for boys not to show they were interested in learning and participate in class. Some people were popular and confident enough to participate in discussions if they wanted. I mainly tried to just keep my head down and do enough work to get okay marks but if I was interested in something I would contribute as I wanted to learn about it.

My BA was in economics at an ex-poly so was massively weighted to state educated men. The few women on the course did contribute quite a lot, as far as I remember as it was years ago. Sometimes group discussions wouldn’t be going anywhere and I would try and contribute something, there wasn’t really people trying to show off in discussions. I then did an MA in social policy at a Russell Group university which was more women than men. It was a small group and everyone made good contributions. In my experience people would only put their hand up if they wanted to ask a question when the professor was speaking, if a question was asked to the group then anyone would be free to just speak out.

Now I am doing an MA in Social Work which has fifteen people on it and just three men. Generally group discussions are great and there are some people who will tend to participate more and some who do so little but they learn through listening to the discussion and are happy to be fairly quiet in class. One lecturer did try cold calling on the people who participate less but it did feel a bit too much like they were being put on the spot. Another student, she is 21 and most of the group are 30+, always makes a really good point when she contributes. She said in her last degree, a large psychology course, she never wanted to speak out but is comfortable in this group and will try and think of something she wants to say in each session. Whereas I am the opposite and will check myself and think do I really need to say that, although at times I can’t get a word in either.

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bianca steele 04.06.16 at 9:35 pm

I wish I’d known about mansplaining 15 or 20 years ago when the Intertubes were becoming a thing; I would have saved a lot of time.

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bianca steele 04.06.16 at 10:08 pm

Brett, you are really a piece of work, do you know that?

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harry b 04.06.16 at 10:58 pm

I don’t think he has any doubt, bianca.

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Val 04.07.16 at 12:29 am

Interesting parallels here. This quote from the OP

‘My assessment of the undergrad women in philosophy thing: undergrad women get sick of being talked over and strawmanned by their peers in and out of the classroom, and get sick of classes where the male students endlessly hold forth about their own thoughts.’

Sounds like a lot of CT threads.

And this

3. When someone strawman’s someone else’s argument you always either point it out yourself, or get someone in the classroom to point it out. Always.

– I really wish someone on CT could do this. I’ve been straw-womaned so many times here I’m thinking of giving up commenting.

I’ve felt for a while that there’s a particular culture of competitiveness in some threads on CT. Maybe this post helps to explain where it comes from.

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JW Mason 04.07.16 at 2:07 am

Thanks for this, Harry. I really appreciate your posts here on teaching.

My solutions to this problem are, first, cold-calling. Like Paul Reber, I use a randomized list to call n every student an equal number of times over the semester. (This also works as an attendance-keeping device, if you need one.) Besides its other benefits, going to the trouble of making a list protects you from your own unconscious inclination to call on certain students disproportionately. Second, like Rob Barrett, I require students to write response papers that are due prior to the class meeting where that reading will be discussed, so it’s easy to say “Student X, you pointed out this in the reading…”

Couple more points on this second one. Obviously everyone should experiment and find what works for them, but personally I would not recommend giving students a choice of dates for response papers/memos/etc. You think you’re being flexible and accommodating but in reality this kind of “choice” is just one more task that takes up students’ energies and they will often fail at. I assign every student their dates for response papers on the first day of class. (For my classes, one response paper every other week, so 7 per semester seems to work well, but obviously that will vary.) the most important thing is that students turn them in early enough that you can look at them before class. i also find it’s helpful to have very specific prompts — I used to give students the option of writing about whatever in the reading in was interesting to them, but again, this kind of “flexibility” actually just means more work for them. Better to tell them what you’re looking for — a couple of well-crafted questions will be useful for all the students as they do the readings, whether they are writing a paper for that class or not.

A couple of people here have said they are naturally reticent and wouldn’t like being cold-called. With due respect, I can’t quite accept that. I teach economics, so every class I get some students who say they just can’t do math. I don’t accept that. They may well have gotten a poor math education in the New York City public schools, but they aren’t incapable of doing math. Often — not alway, but often — with some coaching and encouragement they end up doing fine on that part of the class, but the big hurdle is always first getting them to accept that it isn’t impossible for them.

It’s the same for you reticent people speaking in class. Ze K is trolling but he’s kind of right. We do live in a society where you do sometimes have to get up on a plinth. I don’t have a completely satisfactory answer to Ronan;s question @32 — why does everyone have to participate — but I feel like, they do. Partly for the reasons Harry gives, but also because I think the capacity to speak up, state and defend a position in front of a group, is one of the big genuine capabilities that you should get in college.

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Alan White 04.07.16 at 2:13 am

A great post and thread Harry.

First: let the class breathe. Ask questions and then just refuse to answer them yourself (you know the old stat that a prof answers her own question in 2.8 seconds; yeah probably BS but a grain of truth nonetheless). Impatience to get to the next point is the professor’s greatest enemy, and enforces dialectical pressure to respond, and as well constructs the class as a competitive game. This may well bring out characteristics that suppress people not so disposed to participate.

Second: engage people by looking at them–looking at them. Don’t scan across rows of eyes–look *into* them. Okay, not so useful in classes of 200–but not impossible even there. And be mindful of your own predilections to look at certain kinds of people–you do have such predilections whether you know it or not–so force yourself to look at everyone there. You’ll be surprised who looks back especially when you haven’t engaged them before. Look at them.

Third, use praise, and use it equally and optimally. Got that brilliant response? Of course you’ll praise that. But get a bizarre answer from someone who hasn’t replied before? Praise that too, for the courage to engage, and extract the best of it. Occasionally remind everyone that being wrong is the mark of real learning–we learn from our mistakes for the most part, and not our successes so much, as celebration typically thus replaces reflection.

Finally, take time as students leave class to call someone aside and praise them individually for anything that they have done to add to the class, and especially if they have not done so before. And be mindful of any tendency of your own to thus praise only good students, or students of some particular gender/ethnic description, and even try not to praise repeatedly anyone you are predisposed to praise (even for good reason). They probably don’t need it, except occasionally.

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Plume 04.07.16 at 3:12 am

I took university classes in three different decades. My experience of the classroom wasn’t that “men in general dominated” the discussion. It was that a very small number of students ever bothered to speak at all. So while you did have a lot of women remain silent, the percentages of silence were about the same for both genders. The vast majority of students, male or female, remained silent, for whatever reason. Professors struggled to get anyone to talk most of the time, and their frustration with this was often visible.

In smaller seminars, I think this reluctance broke down a lot. It was the greatest in large classes. But the problem seems to me to be far less gender-specific than one of alphas and those seemingly content with following.

Is alpha culture more prevalent among men? Probably. But this still yields a situation where most men are time-dominated by other men in the classroom, too, as are most women.

Interestingly enough, in grade school, girls in general seem to be the most outspoken, and are often called on by the teachers more than the boys — unless it’s to discipline them.

Not sure what changes through the years, but it doesn’t seem to shift later. Umpteen studies have been done about this shift, of course. But I think an important point is missed if we just look at this in strictly gendered terms. It’s more about social hierarchies in general, how they form, what they entail, and this impacts men just as much as women.

That said, professors should always be aware of any patterns of discrimination and avoid them, studiously.

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Plume 04.07.16 at 3:14 am

That should be “does seem to shift later.”

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.07.16 at 4:01 am

I’m grateful for how the teachers, discussion leaders, etc. here are working to reduce the glibocracy — thank you!

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Matthew Kalman Mezey 04.07.16 at 8:24 am

The ‘Liberating Structures’ authors point out how only 5 microstructures tend to dominate how we run all our meetings. And they are *not* designed to be engaging for all. Exclusion is a normal byproduct.

They urge us to widen the palette of microstructures we use – to offer a much more engaging and creative experience for all.

Take a look at the 33 microstructures they offer: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ls/

You can even use this Inclusion and Engagement Quotient  (IEQ) survey to diagnose your meetings.  http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ieq-survey

It’s a long time since I’ve been in HE seminars, Philosophy or other, but I suspect the prevailing IEQs are as low as ever – if anyone was to check. (Anyone in HE doing any research like this?).

Would be rather fab to start comparing the overall IEQs of particular courses, and HE institutions. Making them public! ;-)

(And there’s arguably some sense that normalising the use of Liberating Structures builds a more just society in microcosm, as Lawrence Kohlberg’s ‘Just Community’ model did).

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Dipper 04.07.16 at 11:10 am

ok Harry. No beating about the bush. Just straight in.

I’ve worked in large organisations where this stuff is taken very seriously, so if I consider a specific case of a departing employee in one of my teams and translate it onto someone leaving your course, here’s how it goes. And in this, I’m the head of department and your boss.

The person leaving your course gives feedback to the institute central team that they left because they were talked over and had their opinions misrepresented and ridiculed. My boss in the central team brings me in and says there is a clear problem with repeat women leavers in one of my departments. what am I going to do about it? Failure to address this will result in a low personal appraisal, lower remuneration, eventual dismissal.

I get you in my office and tell you that this is not good enough. you need to run a course for everyone, not just a few loud mouths. I want you to come back within a week with an action plan. What I am looking for is for you to accept that there is a genuine problem (which you’ve done above) and that you are accountable for sorting it out. What I am expecting is that you will come back with some specifics, but that you will also come back with some general points that you, me, and other heads of courses can sit down, work through, and implement to improve participation across the whole school.

Now going away from the actual case, the thing is, Institutions Deliver Performance. Raw material in, professional goods out. Some of that raw material has ego issues that they can only (currently) resolve by dominating other people in arguments. They may not actually be smart at all. The institute has to not only deliver knowledge, but teach some professional skills that allow students to function in a professional environment. If big egos carry on driving out less forceful women, not only have you failed the women, but you have failed the big egos who will go into the outside professional world and find that modern organisations have little time for this kind of behaviour.

I see no reason why a teacher should require people to instantly respond out loud to material they have just seen. Is that how philosophy progresses? Surely there are better ways of organising time than this? More formal structure round discussion, more planned participation of individuals?

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Lynne 04.07.16 at 12:07 pm

Val, the dynamics here would be very different if Harry were in charge! But alas, this is a private blog run by busy people, so the kind of facilitating you are talking about just doesn’t happen, understandably so.

It is a tremendously male-dominated space, both in comments and in posts, and I wish it were different, but I guess the bloggers here could just tell me to go make my own blog. If I did, right now I’d be talking about the fall-out from the Jian Ghomeshi trial. I keep wishing Belle would post about it….

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Saurs 04.07.16 at 12:14 pm

Are we trying to figure out why men are falling behind, why the education system is failing them? Why boys are doing so horribly in primary school? No, of course not. We’re focusing like a laser on the shrinking domain where men still do better than women, and trying to figure out how to eliminate them. With the eventual goal, one must assume, of making sure women do better than men in every field.

You’re careful here not to explain precisely what the consequences of boys “failing” and men “falling” are, or what it means for women to be doing “better.” Is male poverty growing? Is male employment shrinking? Is the under-awarding (not the undereducation) of men of certificates and higher degrees costing them anything? What subjects are the bulk of these degrees awarded to women? Do they lead to high-earning positions, are they located in prestigious fields? Are men’s wages falling below those of women? Is there a scarcity of male CEOs? Are, in fact, the majority of women doing better in nearly every field? What does this “better” look like, how is it being measured? In short–and pretending that all uncited claims you’ve made are wholly correct and easily substantiated–what are the actual outcomes?

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bianca steele 04.07.16 at 12:20 pm

Val: I’ve felt for a while that there’s a particular culture of competitiveness in some threads on CT. Maybe this post helps to explain where it comes from.

I agree. Long ago I ran across a variety that explicitly styled itself as doing (or trying to do) a kind of free-range philosophy. So, for better or worse, that’s the image of it that’s stuck with me. (Thank God for 4chan!? Yeah, no, that still sounds bad.). It’s not anything I encountered in class at any time. really, though many I was lucky, and I don’t think it was usual back then for lecture courses to involve discussion.

59

Exloudmouth 04.07.16 at 12:48 pm

When I first took philosophy classes, I was definitely one of those who talked too much and too combatively. A few things would have helped both myself and the rest of the class:

– If whoever was leading discussion could have specifically instructed me to listen rather than speak at certain points, perhaps with additional instructions to be able to summarise the discussion or provide a single response or clarification at a later time.

– If I were told to structure my responses in an organised way – to explain what I was responding to, why I thought it was important, how it related to the topic, etc. before jumping in, and to avoid rambling – with the structure of comments praised or corrected just as the structure of a sentence or essay might be. In particular, reminding me and others not to start with “Yeah, but…” every single time would have improved both the comments and the atmosphere.

– If there were a few minutes between presenting an argument or idea and discussing it, with encouragement to collect my thoughts in the meantime. In fact, now that I am a much more reticent speaker, this would still help, just in the other direction.

Perhaps some discussion at the start of the course about what makes for aggressive or disruptive discussion habits would also have been helpful. Even at my most talkative, I stopped speaking when I felt the room had that kind of atmosphere, or if the dynamic between myself and someone else felt that way. I was just a bit overenthusiastic, and clueless as to how things might have felt for others. And even people who self-consciously enjoy combative discussion probably don’t like to think of themselves as aggressive, so a quick warning at the start of the course might work for them too.

I should add that I think the unpleasant nature of some professional philosophical debate is a result of untreated cases of loudmouth-undergrad-itis rather than a cause. Undergrads just don’t have much exposure to actual discussions between philosophers. I never saw any until I was in my last year at uni and I was surprised by the atmosphere. (In my case, it was just experience of talking about philosophy, listening to others, and formulating adroit responses that calmed me down, so my surprise was that that hadn’t happened for people who were much more experienced than me.)

In fact, this inspires me to think that early exposure of undergrads to discussion between philosophers who are careful about how they present themselves might be helpful too. To come briefly to the subject of women being more likely to stay silent, seeing competent professional women discuss philosophy with each other and with men, and seeing them listened to and responded to, might encourage undergrad women to speak up. Though that can only be conjecture coming from me.

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harry b 04.07.16 at 12:49 pm

On Brett’s main point, divorced from the snark:
i) This post was about philosophy, which has a particular, serious, problem
ii) The unequal achievement of men and women is, I agree, stark. It is not actually because males are doing worse, but because they have stagnated as female achievement has exploded. BUT the inequalities are not substantial at institutions like mine (last time I checked men and women that we admit graduate at about the same rate — though that was a while ago, and your comment makes me want to check again), although it is true that we enroll, and graduate more women than men. At more elite institutions (Ivy plus) they enroll and graduate equal numbers of men and women. Corey’s comment above and my response represent the part of the distribution where the issue is really big.
iii) sometimes I just think education is like health and longevity — once you treat men and women roughly equally maybe women do better, because they are superior. But millennials are in the middle of a sea change which may have very large consequences that are unpredictable, and for which our social norms are not well adapted. (Anecdote: I surveyed a class of girls recently, and they all planned to partner with a guy who is as well or better educated than they are — something that would have been easy for them all to achieve 30 years ago, but won’t be in their generation).

On Val, Lynne and bianca’s comments: yes, I agree, and I regret it, and get frustrated with it, too. I know that’s not much help, but it is frustrating, and I think we each make different choices about how to frame and moderate our threads to avoid it – I try to avoid it through framing because if I felt I had to moderate I’d never post at all (because most days I can’t check in often enough to moderate effectively). Please DON’T get your own blogs though! — just to take the three of you, our comments sections would be much poorer without you.
(One thing to remember: for every person that responds to your comment hundreds or thousands more have read it, and most of them have understood and learned for it, and recognises the sexist response for what it is!)

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Harry 04.07.16 at 12:57 pm

Dipper — thanks for that. I’ve added an update telling everyone to read it.

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ZM 04.07.16 at 1:02 pm

I have done a couple of philosophy subjects. I found the content was more problematic than the teaching. In one the teaching was problematic, but this was not due to the tutor’s teaching style it was due to him being a utilitarian and not appreciating it when students disagreed and didn’t see utilitarianism as having any merit. And since I never liked utilitarianism this was a great problem as I never agreed with the tutor at all.

In order to make the content appealing to female students you would probably have to introduce gender in the first year subjects as a philosophical problem. Then ensure that the course content included about equal amounts of work by female and male philosophers and theorists.

Also the historical and literary examples and hypotheticals should be equally about things women would do or be interested in, not just with sci fi and trolley problems and dilemmas of bombing munitions factories (this is the worst example since I don’t think many women did aerial bombing in WW2 at all and I am sure more women worked at factories whereas men would have been more likely to be bombing or otherwise killing people in WW2 and less likely to work in factories in WW2, female students are not going to be imagining themselves bombing but working in munitions factories and getting bombed).

If the content was reformed you would probably get equal numbers of women since it would be more interesting for young women to study.

I doubt there are fewer women because philosophy professors are worse than other professors at facilitating discussion. I really think it is the content which is an issue in discouraging women from studying philosophy.

63

engels 04.07.16 at 1:18 pm

sometimes I just think education is like health and longevity — once you treat men and women roughly equally maybe women do better, because they are superior

Sorry this is far OT but I’m puzzled how this fits with what I thought was your defence of ‘radical equality’ in education. I can’t seem to find the paper it’s in but eg.

what I call the radical version of the principle of educational equality, which demands that children face equal prospects for educational achievement regardless of their social background or their natural level of talent

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bianca steele 04.07.16 at 1:27 pm

I’m also curious about engels’s question @66. It used to be said that the US was more hung up on the idea of natural talent than other countries are, in math at least, and I wonder whether that’s really, or still, the case.

Harry @63

But I already have a blog (a low-volume one, anyway)! I think Val does, too. I’ve made semi-rules for myself about what should be a separate post and what can go in a comment box, and not using people’s comment sections as if they’re providing a chat room for others, and have tried to follow them.

65

bianca steele 04.07.16 at 1:36 pm

Also, ZM @65 and RNB @ 8 raise good points. I also wonder about RNB’s questions. From a lay point of view, that’s what it seems like Merleau-Ponty is all about, right? To go in that direction and find questions specific to women were not what was meant by attention to the body would be a somewhat frustrating experience, and I’d assume understandably so.

66

JW Mason 04.07.16 at 2:21 pm

If there were a few minutes between presenting an argument or idea and discussing it, with encouragement to collect my thoughts in the meantime. In fact, now that I am a much more reticent speaker, this would still help, just in the other direction.

Yes, this is helpful. One way of doing this — which I should probably use more — is to begin the class with a few minutes of writing, where the students respond to some question or prompt about the reading. Having to write something down at the start of class makes them take a few minutes to think, and makes it easier for students to speak who might have trouble coming up with something to say on the spot. It also gives you (the instructor) a bit of information about who has something to say that they might not contribute on their own.

67

JW Mason 04.07.16 at 2:25 pm

Harry, I’m curious what you found valuable in Dipper’s comment? Frankly it struck me as a good example of exactly the problem we are trying to solve — someone with no particular knowledge or insight on the topic, but very confident their voice should be heard.

68

Z 04.07.16 at 2:32 pm

I agree with Harry’s point @63: one can both believe that current cohorts of girls and young women in most of the democratic, developed western world do significantly better than boys and young men in terms of education (and, to answer Saurs questions, in terms of access to jobs and income as well) and at the same time that there exist disciplines in some institutions which nevertheless have a strong and (in view of the previous point) mildly puzzling problem of women participation. So thank you Harry for your thoughtful tips and suggestions (even though they don’t seem to apply very well to my particular field, which is much less organized around discussion of competing ideas).

Of course, if one believes both clauses, then it follows that there are some fields with a strong (in fact even stronger) problem of numerical men participation. Interestingly, my anecdotal experience in working in one of these (namely linguistics, which is very heavily skewed towards women in France) is that the mode of communication is in fact not very different from male-skewed fields (based on a gender and content anonymized transcript of how often people asked questions, interrupted each other or voiced a disagreement, politely or not, I don’t think I would be able to discern math from linguistics in that respect, even though the gender-ratio are mutually inverse). Based on this very anecdotal experience, I don’t think that the whole story can be how boys and girls are socialized to interact.

Another data point to keep in mind is that the typical men jobs in the 1950s in my country were (as was well known to anyone) doctor and lawyer, whereas the first computer science departments (dating from the same time) were gender balanced. 60 years later, doctors are overwhelmingly women, women form a distinct majority of lawyers but computer scientists are overwhelmingly men. Why?

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ZM 04.07.16 at 2:51 pm

bianca steele,

I think RNB had some good ideas, but I also think it could be problematic for young women for the lecturer to objectify them as part of the subject like that, particularly when the same was not done for men as a distinct gender group. I remember a class I took where the Professor started a discussion about gender generally then asked male and females both questions about gender in their lives.

I think problematising male-ness is as important as bringing up the different experience of women.

Related to Val’s comments above, I think in some cases discussions she has with male interlocutors on CT the male commenters say things like they are feminists and see women as being equal to men and therefore they aren’t being sexist etc which I find really problematic since it is still seeing male experience and subjectivity as normal and then saying women are equal — or can be equal to this if they act a certain way and argue like a man — when Val has repeatedly said that is not her type of feminism. And rather than a discussion eventuating about this often the male commenters shut down the discussion by saying they are feminists and she shouldn’t call them sexist. To be honest I think gender becomes a better lens here than feminism, because while the male commenters may identify as feminists, they are not female, and don’t have the experience of being a female commenter on CT.

I know in studying history there were a lot of women’s and gender subjects available, and gender would also be part of the content of other subjects which were not themselves based on gender. I think history as a discipline is a few decades ahead on this than philosophy seems to be, as far as I can tell without studying it much.

70

Kiwanda 04.07.16 at 2:53 pm

ZM: “sci fi and trolley problems and dilemmas of bombing munitions factories”

Trolley problems may be a bad example: I believe trolleyology was started by Phillipa Foot (at least wikipedia says so), and to have been studied by a relatively high proportion of female philosophers. But relative proportions here are hard to say.

There aren’t too many crew members of WWII bombers around, and never were. The usual point: “most X are Y” is not the same as “most Y are X”.

71

Collin Street 04.07.16 at 2:58 pm

But it’s all kind of undermined by the way Bretty shits all over the table and you do nothing to stop him, isn’t it. You’re talking about all these tools you could use to stop over-aggressive narcissists from bullying people out of spaces, but you don’t even try and use them, you don’t even think of using them.

What’s the point, here? What are we trying to help you with?

72

engels 04.07.16 at 3:04 pm

I think the trolley problem might be one for the fat acceptance movement to focus on

73

ZM 04.07.16 at 3:07 pm

Kiwanda,

Your comment is very contradictory ;-) on the one hand you imply women must like trolley problems since one woman invented trolley problems and other female philosophers have done trolley problems ; but on the other hand you point out that just because bombers were mostly men doesn’t mean most men were bombers . I appreciate your points, but I have never seen such a short entirely contradictory comment before ;-)

74

MPAVictoria 04.07.16 at 3:37 pm

Wasn’t Brett banned months ago?

75

bianca steele 04.07.16 at 3:43 pm

Oh, and Harry, thanks for the kind words! I’m embarrassed to admit I was pressed for time and forgot I’d only skimmed your comment before I replied to it.

It would definitely be nice to think readers would judge for themselves AND agree with me, but I worry that the wish may be only a hairs’ width away from “the lurkers support me in email (or they would if they emailed me)”.

76

The Lurkers 04.07.16 at 3:51 pm

All hail Bianca Steele!

77

Kiwanda 04.07.16 at 3:54 pm

ZM, more complete quote:

Then ensure that the course content included about equal amounts of work by female and male philosophers and theorists..

Also the historical and literary examples and hypotheticals should be equally about things women would do or be interested in, not just with sci fi and trolley problems and dilemmas of bombing munitions factories

It’s a fair point, ZM: you believe that although trolleyology was started by a woman, and appealed to a number of female professional philosophers, at the same time it is obviously a topic that does not appeal in general to female students of philosophy. Similarly, you believe that while sci fi has many female authors and readers, it does not appeal in general to female students of philosophy. On the other hand, although vast numbers of men and women had the opportunity to be bomber pilots in WW2, somehow only men chose to have the pleasure of participating in bombing, and so problems related to bombing are obviously appealing to men in general, right up to the present day. This is sensible and not at all contradictory. :-)

78

Plume 04.07.16 at 3:56 pm

Collin @74,

“You’re talking about all these tools you could use to stop over-aggressive narcissists from bullying people out of spaces, but you don’t even try and use them, you don’t even think of using them. “

I disagree with Brett on pretty much 99.9% of the issues presented anywhere on CT. But the concept of “bullying people out of spaces” on a bulletin is absurd. It can’t be done. The medium (threaded) doesn’t work that way. In a classroom, in the real world, yes. But not on an online forum. Everyone has space here — at least until the mods say no to it. Brett’s posting doesn’t take away someone else’s. And he has no ability to physically intimidate others into silence from behind his computer screen.

And this raises another baffling concept that I learned from posting here, which has never come up in any other forum for me, anywhere else — and I’ve posted in various online communities for more than 20 years now:

That one can post too often, apparently, and this provokes even lurkers to complain — or email mods. I find this too bizarre for words. Participation, one would think, would be encouraged. And since one person’s post can’t possibly crowd out another’s — again, that’s just not how threads work — it should be “the more the merrier.” And if lurkers and others don’t like seeing this or that person, they can easily ignore them. Scroll on down the page. The words on the page remain silent if you don’t read them.

Again, in a classroom, yes. People talking out loud can “crowd out” others for a time. But not online. There is no possibility of physical intimidation, and no possibility of silencing others via one’s posts.

79

ZM 04.07.16 at 3:56 pm

There is quite an interesting article about Trolley Problems at The Atlantic, apparently neuroscience has found different parts of the brain are activated in the different decisions

“He ultimately found that the answers people gave correlated with how emotionally engaged they felt with the dilemma. The decision to pull the switch was related to activity in the prefrontal cortex (associated with cool, conscious deliberation), while the decision not to push the fat man involved areas like the amygdala, associated with strong emotional reactivity.
….
The ethicist Peter Singer cites Greene’s research to support some of his positions about why we ought to make greater sacrifices for problems that may seem distant, like world poverty or a disease raging halfway around the globe. Singer argues that we shouldn’t avoid our moral obligations to someone just because they live too far away to engage our brain’s emotional machinery.”

But apparently trolley problems are being used to decide the ethics in programming driverless vehicles.

80

Lynne 04.07.16 at 3:57 pm

Bianca @ 78 Ditto from me!

Also, sorry to imply you and Val don’t have blogs. I don’t have one because I wouldn’t post often or interestingly enough to garner a readership.

“not using people’s comment sections as if they’re providing a chat room for others, and have tried to follow them.”

Note to self to do the same!

81

Anderson 04.07.16 at 4:12 pm

I did a summer term at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and the seminars there followed the pattern that everyone was required to come to class with a question about the reading, and the instructor (“tutor” @ SJC) would pick someone to begin, go around the table, allowing a brief discussion from others re: each student’s question, but guiding so that everyone (usually) was heard as to their question.

Not perfect, but it did not favor monopolizers, & probably I heard more women speaking up there than in any other school.

82

bob mcmanus 04.07.16 at 4:21 pm

Harry B: …once you treat men and women roughly equally maybe women do better, because they are superior.

Awesome. Not at all qualified, so morally, intellectually, emotionally all women all of the time are superior. Nice to finally get it clear.

8: are women unfairly assumed more often to be violating a Gricean cooperative principle?

Not unfairly, since there was no objection to Harry’s assertion of women’s universal superiority. But not at all unique to women or feminists.

Not a big fan of Grice, but I could accept a socially functional application of the Maxims, in that it is the clear and open violations or trangressions of the cooperative principle are used to establish friendly spaces, borders and boundaries, friends and enemies.

83

ZM 04.07.16 at 4:23 pm

Kiwanda,

Well to be honest I dislike trolley problems all together and also got put into one in a novel the author of which decided not only in his novel but in real life that my life is not so important as a group of other people’s careers, so as well as disliking trolley problems I am also very bitter to whoever encourages trolley problems as being an ok way of making moral decisions.

Also I don’t like a whole lot of sci fi , so perhaps that is my prejudice. I do think sci fi historically was more male oriented but has changed more in the past couple of decades to have more female characters so perhaps more modern sci fi examples would appeal more to female students now there is quite a bit to choose from. But I don’t know why there arent more literary examples from other sorts of novels. Sci fi is more like adventure stories , whereas you could just as easily study novels about society and relationships in philosophy but neither of the subjects I took had these literary examples.

In terms of bombing, I mentioned that as well as bombing men were also involved in other fighting work in WW2 involving killing, and also commanding. It is very difficult to imagine oneself as a woman in WW2 making the decision to bomb munitions factories, and much more easy to imagine oneself as working in a munitions factory and getting bombed. This is not to say all men did aerial bombing in WW2 but that it is something make philosophy students have probably read about men doing and considered the possibility of if they were alive at the time they could be in that situation. When we had to discuss that in class I found it completely unfathomable to consider bombing munitions factories , although there was one male student who also disagreed it was moral to do. Possibly the proportions of men and women who agree/disagree about bombing munitions factories being ethical are the same, I don’t know, but it occurred to me that while male students may have grown up reading about war with men as soldiers and commanders , women grow up reading about war where women are nurses or work in factories etc and that this could alter ideas about whether bombing munitions factories is moral or not

84

ZM 04.07.16 at 4:31 pm

Ze K,

“Is it true that men and women are interested in different philosophical problems? “

I guess so since women do not find the philosophical problems studied in philosophy courses as interesting as men do, or there should be the same number of male and female students.

Either something is wrong with the women, or something is wrong with the philosophical problems, and I am going out on a limb and saying it must be the philosophical problems which are wrong ;-)

85

Elly 04.07.16 at 4:39 pm

I guess so since women do not find the philosophical problems studied in philosophy courses as interesting as men do, or there should be the same number of male and female students.

Oh dear. No. Just no. No, no, no, no, no.

I took one (1) philosophy course in college. I very quickly realized I was shipwrecked in dudeland. I was not welcome there.

Maybe I am the only woman on Earth to ever have that experience? Possible, but unlikely. And if this has happened to other women, then one might suspect that feeling unwelcome is at least one reason why there are fewer women studying philosophy.

But how adorable of you to hint that the problem *might* not be with women.

86

Elly 04.07.16 at 4:43 pm

I disagree with Brett on pretty much 99.9% of the issues presented anywhere on CT. But the concept of “bullying people out of spaces” on a bulletin is absurd. It can’t be done. The medium (threaded) doesn’t work that way. In a classroom, in the real world, yes. But not on an online forum. Everyone has space here — at least until the mods say no to it. Brett’s posting doesn’t take away someone else’s. And he has no ability to physically intimidate others into silence from behind his computer screen.

So there does exist a parallel universe in which G*m*rg*t* never happened. Who knew?!

Online bullying of women? It is, in fact, an actual thing that happens in this world, and it happens in comments threads everywhere.

87

ZM 04.07.16 at 4:46 pm

Elly,

I didn’t feel unwelcome as a female student in the philosophy subject I took, so I guess I don’t really relate to that on a personal level. i disagreed with the tutor about everything since he was a utilitarian, but otherwise it wasn’t an unwelcoming environment .

Was your experience that you were interested in the content of the course but found the class atmosphere was what you didn’t like?

88

Ronan(rf) 04.07.16 at 4:46 pm

Harry & jw, thanks for the replies.
I think jw’ s

” the capacity to speak up, state and defend a position in front of a group, is one of the big genuine capabilities that you should get in college.”

Is what I was trying to get at with”develop public debating skills”. (Btw, I don’t necessarily think my 18/19 year old self was correct to be reticent about involvement in group discussion. But I guess such wisdom only really comes with time)

89

Plume 04.07.16 at 4:51 pm

Elly @91,

You’re talking physical threats being directed at people who did not have the protection of anonymity. Those threats were real-world threats, if I understand what happened correctly. They had nothing to do with threaded online space. They went well beyond that space.

I’m speaking in the general sense of a threaded medium, where people don’t know each other, don’t have access to real-world information about where people live, etc. etc. No one can “bully” you into silence in that case, unless you let them. If they don’t know who you are, or where you live, they can’t physically touch you. Ever. They can’t physically silence you. Yes, they can’t frustrate you and piss you off and say truly disgusting things. But if you choose to keep posting, they can’t stop you from doing that.

In a forum like CT, the only person who can do that is the mod. And the mods here would quickly shut down the person who said disgusting things, delete them, and likely ban the poster, etc.

90

Plume 04.07.16 at 4:52 pm

Should be “yes, they can . . . “

91

Hektor Bim 04.07.16 at 4:53 pm

I agree 100% with Elly. Online bullying of women is a thing, and I see it often in Crooked Timber threads, most obviously against female posters and longtime female commenters.

92

ZM 04.07.16 at 4:57 pm

Ze K,

Women buy more books than men (67% of book sales are to women) in every genre category except the Fantasy genre, where equal numbers of men and women buy books.
Women make up 84% of Romance book buyers, and the Romance genre is the highest selling genre.

“In 2010, romance fiction made about $1.358 billion in sales. The same year, Science Fiction and Fantasy made about $559 million, mystery made about $682 million, literary fiction about $455 million”

93

anon 04.07.16 at 4:58 pm

Harry B: …once you treat men and women roughly equally maybe women do better, because they are superior.

Wow, that’s the kind of sexist essentialism that gets Harvard presidents (rightly) removed. But I guess the scoring system depends on whose team you’re playing for.

I wouldn’t, actually, be that surprised to discover that women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged have superiorities (both moral and practical) for socio-cultural, rather than essentialist reasons. Very roughly, having to jump more hurdles to get half as far may promote character traits conducive to success. On the other hand, it may be selective bias: those who get into the game at all are better than the dominant group, since everyone of merely equal ability to the dominant group or less got weeded out by the additional hurdles.

94

Elly 04.07.16 at 5:00 pm

Plume,

You claim that bullying cannot happen in a discussion forum, and that therefore it is impossible for targets of impossible bullying to be pushed out. And yet women frequently talk about how they don’t comment in certain fora because their experience is that they will be bullied. Been there, done that. And if they aren’t bullied, they get talked over. The result is that we read and lurk and don’t speak up. Not entirely unlike the classroom problem the OP was addressing, yes?

I’ve read CT for years, but have only commented a few times. It’s not a pleasurable experience, so why bother?

95

dr ngo 04.07.16 at 5:01 pm

That one can post too often, apparently, and this provokes even lurkers to complain — or email mods. I find this too bizarre for words. Participation, one would think, would be encouraged. And since one person’s post can’t possibly crowd out another’s — again, that’s just not how threads work — it should be “the more the merrier.” And if lurkers and others don’t like seeing this or that person, they can easily ignore them. Scroll on down the page. The words on the page remain silent if you don’t read them.

In theory, perhaps. In practice, no. I have myself avoided threads, and occasionally forsaken whole blogs, because they were dominated by obnoxious windbags. I would try “scrolling on down the page” for a while, and eventually give up: no longer worth the effort. So an excess of certain kinds of comments or of certain commenters may in fact be harmful to discussion, assuming the ideal is to keep as many minds engaged as long as possible.

96

bob mcmanus 04.07.16 at 5:04 pm

then one might suspect that feeling unwelcome is at least one reason why there are fewer women studying philosophy.

Going back to Harry B’s “they [women] are superior” I am aware that some might claim here I am “strawmanning” Harry. In other words, those self-included in Harry’s group would be more generous and perhaps not take it at face value, as not literal, as ironic or sarcastic.

I claim that it is the function of such statements to force self-inclusion or self-exclusion from someone on the borders, a third person undecided about interpreting the implicature.

As in Sander’s “Clinton is not qualified for President.”

I doubt that this is ever escapable, that it is the nature of cooperative discourse to use implicature to reward and punish, bond and exclude, to socialize participants and observers.

97

Elly 04.07.16 at 5:05 pm

ZM,

It was 25 years ago, so my main recollection is truly that of being shipwrecked on an island full of misogynist dudes. I think there was one other girl in the class. It was supposed to be intro to philosophy, but it didn’t feel like an intro class. Maybe I wandered into Plume’s alternate universe by mistake?

The experience was so off-putting that I withdrew from the class.

98

Plume 04.07.16 at 5:07 pm

Elly @99,

No. I didn’t claim that bullying can’t happen. Not in the slightest. I said a person can’t bullied out of a space in a thread forum. There is a massive difference between the two.

99

engels 04.07.16 at 5:10 pm

As long as you can keep them away from men, women are generally superior from a capitalist point of view and bosses have known this for centuries.

(Elly is quite right that online bullying of women [anonymous or otherwise] is a problem and it’s a bit depressing that people here are arguing about it.)

100

Elly 04.07.16 at 5:14 pm

Oh, just *threaded* fora, not non-threaded fora. Got it.

101

Hektor Bim 04.07.16 at 5:15 pm

Plume,

“Can’t” is a strong term. That would suggest that using only words one can’t bully someone successfully. Since that flies in the face of my experience, I have to reject it. I do think people can be subjected to sufficient bullying on a thread to withdraw from it. And I see it all the time, including on CT threads.

102

Lynne 04.07.16 at 5:16 pm

Bianca, I am still savouring the delicious idea that lurkers support me in e-mail, or would if they e-mailed me.

All the same, thanks to Harry for the kind words. Do keep posting, Harry. I don’t always comment but I generally read.

103

Lynne 04.07.16 at 5:20 pm

Plume, I am not sure what you mean by “threaded” since I have often wished for thread trees here on CT.

I’m afraid I disagree with you, though, on both counts. If someone says disgusting things so someone else leaves, what is that if not bullying? If you restrict the term “bullying” to the reasonable threat of physical violence, then we can call it something else, I guess. If people have been discouraged enough, though, they aren’t here to put up their hands and refute you.

As for the long posts, in theory it shouldn’t matter, but in practice I find my eye runs more lightly over a thread dominated by a few people posting long comments.

104

ZM 04.07.16 at 5:20 pm

Elly,

Oh, that sounds really hideous. My experience wasn’t that bad at all, and it was at a smaller university where women make up 70% of the students so I guess that is much different and why I thought of the content as the main issue for me.

105

Trader Joe 04.07.16 at 5:24 pm

Tweeeettttt! Tweeeettttt!

Personal foul on comment #103 Plume – “Mansplaining”

15 comment penalty fromt the spot of the comment, repeat first down.

Restart the play clock.

106

Plume 04.07.16 at 5:25 pm

Elly @106,

Communication without the non-verbal is fraught with misunderstanding, as you know. So I want to try to make this clearer, if I can. I think I’ve done a poor job so far.

I definitely agree with you that “bullying” takes place online. I’ve experienced online bullying myself. It’s not limited to women, either, though studies have shown it happens much more often to them. But it does exist for both men and women, and it’s definitely not pleasant.

My point is that without the ability to physically silence someone, that online bullying really has no teeth. It’s just digital blustering and can be ignored too — though I know that’s really difficult. Again, I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and when you’re in the thick of things it’s extremely difficult to ignore. Personal experience. Yes, it is really unpleasant.

But the point I was trying to make was that in this kind of medium, you can answer someone’s nastiness with more speech. You can yell back. That other person has absolutely no power over you and no physical ability to make you close up your laptop and get offline. The mods can shut folks down. But bullies can’t. And, again, while it is tough to do in the moment, we can ignore them as well and just post what we want in the thread regardless.

Bottom line: I’m really sorry you’ve experienced it at all. In any form. Ever.

107

Lynne 04.07.16 at 5:27 pm

Elly: “I’ve read CT for years, but have only commented a few times. It’s not a pleasurable experience, so why bother?”

I’m sorry to hear that. I keep an eye out for women commenters and was glad when you appeared in this thread.

108

Plume 04.07.16 at 5:30 pm

Lynne @109,

I’m probably not using the right word when I say threaded. Technically, that has the reply option per post. So apologies. I’m thinking in terms of linear space, I suppose, which rules out the possibility of someone silencing someone else with a post. Yours just shows up next in line, etc. etc. It’s not pushed off the page by another’s. It’s not a problem of simultaneity, etc.

109

engels 04.07.16 at 5:30 pm

My point is that without the ability to physically silence someone, that online bullying really has no teeth

There is such a thing as ‘psychological injury’

110

ZM 04.07.16 at 5:33 pm

Plume,

“But the point I was trying to make was that in this kind of medium, you can answer someone’s nastiness with more speech. You can yell back.

But the point Elly made was that this is enough to put her off from commenting despite reading CT for years. You do take a fair walloping sometimes but you have pretty thick skin, but for other people it’s enough to make them not comment.

111

JW Mason 04.07.16 at 5:37 pm

Plume-

Your position would make sense if people took part in conversations without regard to whether anyone wanted to hear them. But with notable exceptions, people do care about that. So making someone feel that they are not welcome in a conversation, effectively excludes them from it.

The reason people are disagreeing with you is not that they don’t understand you. It’s because they don’t agree with you.

112

engels 04.07.16 at 5:37 pm

Fwiw almost every time I comment here I swear it will be the last time (nothing to do with bullying, and not too diminish the seriousness of that)

113

MPAVictoria 04.07.16 at 5:37 pm

““not using people’s comment sections as if they’re providing a chat room for others, and have tried to follow them.”

Note to self to do the same!”

I must say I disagree with this. Friendly back and forth, as long as it doesn’t get excessive, is a great way to build community.

114

Plume 04.07.16 at 5:38 pm

ZM @116,

You and she (and several others here) make very good points. And it depresses the hell out of me that online bullying exists at all and can have that effect. We lose, as an online community, when people like Elly feel it’s just not even worth bothering to post in such an environment.

115

Lynne 04.07.16 at 5:42 pm

MPAV, Actually I agree with you, and that is how I behave (as I’m sure you’ve noticed). But I’ve been wishing hard that CT would address the Ghomeshi verdict with a post and I was just reminding myself that it isn’t my blog and no, I can’t discuss the fallout from that trial here. {sigh}

116

Plume 04.07.16 at 5:47 pm

JW @117,

“Your position would make sense if people took part in conversations without regard to whether anyone wanted to hear them. But with notable exceptions, people do care about that. So making someone feel that they are not welcome in a conversation, effectively excludes them from it. “

Thing is, at least for me, if someone is berating me (which has happened here), if someone is nasty to me (which has happened here), I quickly lose all respect for them and their opinions of my posts mean less than zero. Why should I care what a person thinks of my posts when they’re being jerks, to put it nicely? I don’t.

I do care about the opinions of those I respect, however. But I don’t respect bullies. Never have. I’ve always felt it was important to stand up to them, in fact.

But, again, I feel rotten that someone like Elly feels their posts are unwelcome. I’ve walked in her moccasins and I think I know how she feels.

117

Lynne 04.07.16 at 5:48 pm

Engels @ 118, why is that? if you don’t mind saying.

118

MPAVictoria 04.07.16 at 5:49 pm

“I’ve been wishing hard that CT would address the Ghomeshi verdict with a post and I was just reminding myself that it isn’t my blog and no, I can’t discuss the fallout from that trial here. {sigh}”

I don’t think I could take the comment section to be honest…

119

Lynne 04.07.16 at 6:05 pm

Good point.

120

JW Mason 04.07.16 at 6:06 pm

at least for me, if someone is berating me (which has happened here), if someone is nasty to me (which has happened here), I quickly lose all respect for them and their opinions of my posts mean less than zero. Why should I care what a person thinks of my posts when they’re being jerks, to put it nicely? I don’t.

I realize that’s how you feel. But (1) most other people do not feel that way. And (2) your thick skin is actually a problem. Because what you call being nasty or a jerk, may actually just be someone disagreeing with you. So when you call standing up to bullies, often looks to the rest of us more like, “When someone disagrees with me, I ignore them and just reassert my own opinion.”

Being vulnerable to bullying is not a weakness or a character flaw. It’s a necessary result of caring about other people’s ideas and emotions. A lack of that is not something to be proud of.

121

MPAVictoria 04.07.16 at 6:18 pm

“Being vulnerable to bullying is not a weakness or a character flaw. It’s a necessary result of caring about other people’s ideas and emotions. A lack of that is not something to be proud of.”

You can be empathetic and still try and not let bullies push you around.

122

Plume 04.07.16 at 6:19 pm

JW @126,

“I realize that’s how you feel. But (1) most other people do not feel that way. And (2) your thick skin is actually a problem. Because what you call being nasty or a jerk, may actually just be someone disagreeing with you. So when you call standing up to bullies, often looks to the rest of us more like, “When someone disagrees with me, I ignore them and just reassert my own opinion.”

Aren’t you being a bit presumptuous with that “most other people do not feel that way”? How do you know? As for the next part, I’m pretty good at telling the difference. I tend to be fairly perceptive about language and non-verbal communication overall, online and in the real world — though as a flawed human being, like everyone else, I do make mistakes. But in general, I’m confident about my ability to make that distinction.

And this:

“Being vulnerable to bullying is not a weakness or a character flaw. It’s a necessary result of caring about other people’s ideas and emotions. A lack of that is not something to be proud of.”

I never said it was a weakness or a character flaw, and I’m not sure why you’ve inserted that into the conversation here. But, oh, well. And then you go on with at least an implied accusation that I don’t care about other people’s ideas and emotions? Come on. That’s absurd. I don’t care about what bullies have to say. Obviously, when they’re in the midst of bullying, they’re not exactly posting “ideas” worth noting, and their emotions in that moment also aren’t worth dwelling upon. When they stop the bullying and actually try to express interesting ideas, buoyed by honest emotions? We can talk then.

123

bianca steele 04.07.16 at 6:46 pm

JW Mason: Being vulnerable to bullying is not a weakness or a character flaw. It’s a necessary result of caring about other people’s ideas and emotions. A lack of that is not something to be proud of.

What does this mean? That bullying is really nothing more than normal group dynamics and someone who doesn’t knuckle under is ethically or psychologically unfit? That the only correct response to bullying is to break down and cry, and run away? I expect better from you, and this surprises me. I was amused to see the old 1990s Internet shibboleths come out–speech can’t harm, you’re obliged to instantly agree with everyone who speaks up loudly enough (unless the group thinks they’re a troll)–but not to see them taken up by someone like you.

124

TheSophist 04.07.16 at 6:54 pm

I have just spent an interesting hour discussing this thread with my senior ethics class. (For the record, I teach at a reasonably well-respected prep school.) Many of the patterns that the OP describes are, of course, already in place by the time the students get to college, so I worry about what I and my colleagues can do so that we are setting students up to succeed.

I think that there’s a slightly different aspect to the classist (rather than sexist) aspect of the problem, which is this: My students will arrive at college already very used to participating in small discussion-based classes in which informed participation is expected. The more introverted ones will have been coaxed in numerous small ways (I regularly write on report cards some variation of “your writing shows very interesting ideas – it would be wonderful if you could share those ideas with your peers more frequently”) to up the level of participation. Additionally, every student will have completed a ten minute speech in front of the entire student body, that will have been crafted with great care and in close consultation with a faculty member. Students who begin college with such a background seem to me to be much more likely to be vocal in class, sometimes (because of some of the pressures that exist in our environment) to the detriment of others.

Some of the young women in my class definitely agree that boys are more likely to talk over girls than vice versa ( which tells me that I need to get better at policing this) and also boys are more likely to talk just to say something.

Tools that I have implemented over the years include the following:
Explaining to the class that silence is ok. If I ask a question, there doesn’t need to be a response immediately. This has some impact in allowing those who take a little longer to formulate a response an entree into the discussion.
Semi-cold calling: I’ll split the class up into small (3-4) person groups and give them a question or two to discuss. While they’re doing this, I’ll walk around and listen. Then, when the class gets back together I’ll start out with “x, you were saying some very interesting things when I was listening to your group; why don’t you share those ideas with everybody.” I’ll make a point of x usually being a student that doesn’t often volunteer answers.

My class’s assignment for tonight (which they are excited about) is to read this entire thread and write a response to one of the comments (which won’t be posted here – a little intimidating for my high schoolers to be let loose amongst the CT commentariat). So thanks to Harry and to all for the discussion.

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Igor Belanov 04.07.16 at 6:55 pm

I’m a regular viewer on CT and I reckon the amount of ‘bullying’ that occurs is negligible. There are an awful lot of intelligent and principled people commenting here, and that obviously leads to argument but rarely abuse- I expect the moderators would put a stop to that anyway. If anything, it is the nature of a comments thread that can cause problems. People often do not have the time to adequately respond and this often leads to misconceptions as people have not had chance to properly explain themselves or are frustrated that someone else does not appreciate the full force of their argument.

Disagreement is inevitable where comment is permitted, and never to be questioned or contradicted would lead to a lack of intellectual stimulation and moral doubt. I have seen threads where women have been bullied in a sexist fashion, but I’m rather puzzled that anyone should think it happens here. Maybe I’ve missed something.

126

mdc 04.07.16 at 7:19 pm

My impression from the thread (and some experience) is *not* that philosophy classes are great, but have certain features that unfairly drive women away; rather, it’s that philosophy classes are lousy in ways that drive out women disproportionately. After all, there must be some men who are also driven away by know-it-all blowhards.

The methods in the OP seem like well-considered ways to make philosophy classes better. If that’s too much to ask, maybe we could hope for classes that are equally awful for both men and women.

127

MPAVictoria 04.07.16 at 7:29 pm

“I saw one Brett Bellmore being bullied right here in this thread.”

Brett was banned months ago. Apparently no one cares.

128

Elly 04.07.16 at 7:29 pm

My point is that without the ability to physically silence someone, that online bullying really has no teeth. It’s just digital blustering and can be ignored too

You can ‘splain it 500 times, but I still disagree. If you make a space inhospitable to someone, you cannot expect them to want to participate. That is true of online fora as well as classrooms.

129

Paul Davis 04.07.16 at 8:09 pm

This isn’t directly related to Harry’s original call for classroom strategies. But it seems somewhat relevant to some of the anecdotal (and not-so-anecdotal) stories in the comments.

Back when my (first) wife was a grad student and I worked at UW CS&E with mostly grad students for friends, a group of us used to meet every week for dinner. A recurring theme that appeared after a while was the very different verbal behaviour patterns that would show up during these gatherings. It became the main topic of discussion for a while, and we eventually settled on this analysis:

There were two main behaviours, which we characterized as “nurturing” and “non-nurturing”. The latter consisted of people who considered conversations, discussions and debates primarily as opportunities to get closer to truth and who viewed it as a good strategy to work from a basic operating principle of “you’re wrong, and here’s why”, thus giving the other person a new opportunity to either change their mind or refine their explanation/concept/idea.

The former group consisted of people who considered conversations, discussions and debates to be a chance to help others develop their ideas and opinions and knowledge by thoughtful support, open-ended questions, claiming confusion rather than disagreement, and generally operating on the assumption that everyone’s ideas probably had some merit and interest for all of us.

We labelled them “nurturing” and “non-nurturing” very deliberately to mirror the same assignment of that behaviour by the culture toward gender categories, observing that it was about as accurate: correct in some cases, but not universally.

Classrooms generally seem to be places where “nurturing” behaviour is expected, but it can be hard when there are people present for whom “non-nurturing” behaviour is a more natural mode. As someone who is naturally a “non-nurturer” but who has tried to be more “nurturing” in his intellectual interactions with others, it seems wrong to try to tell non-nurturers that their behaviour is unacceptable, but also wrong to allow it block out, or worse, scare away, the non-nurturers.

So the problem can beyond merely the amount of speech coming from certain individuals, but also encompass the style, if not the actual content.

130

Lynne 04.07.16 at 8:13 pm

“Brett was banned months ago. Apparently no one cares.”

From observation, the policy on bans seems to be less “go away and never come back” and more “go away and don’t come back until you can behave yourself.”

131

Plume 04.07.16 at 8:20 pm

Elly@135,

I’m fine with your disagreement. It’s a part of the give and take of these forums.

But another way to look at it, which is always in the back of my mind when I do experience online bullying:

You leave, they win. You leave, and you’ve just ceded them ground they don’t deserve, given their behavior. In a sense, you’ve empowered them to bully others, because they see it works.

Fight back and maybe that’s not the case. Fight back, or just ignore them and post on, and maybe they see the place isn’t hospitable to bullying. The old “do not feed the trolls” thing.

We disagree about this and that’s okay. Again, I wish you hadn’t experienced the bullying. All the best, regardless of your decision to stay or go.

132

js. 04.07.16 at 8:36 pm

the policy on bans seems to be less “go away and never come back” and more “go away and don’t come back until you can behave”

I think the policy is more like, “go away and don’t come back until we’re not noticing anymore”.

Also, harry b — great post. Thank you.

133

Val 04.07.16 at 9:11 pm

Lynne and Bianca
Thanks for your comments. I have on a few occasions received emails from people who agree with me ( as well as a few who don’t necessarily agree but are interested or want to pursue discussions off line) because it is possible to find my university email via my blog. So I know there are some people who agree with my views but don’t want to comment online.

Elly – I am sorry to hear you don’t want to comment and wish you would, but I agree with you and don’t agree with Plume. It is possible to be excluded online. I have sometimes made up my mind ‘I am not going to be pushed out of the conversation’ but even I give up sometimes, and think many other women give up or don’t even try.

One of the things that is particularly annoying here, as ZM has suggested, is the male posters who repeatedly tell me my feminism is wrong, or “nutty” as one repeatedly said. It does seem to be the height of ‘mansplaining’ to tell someone who is not only a woman, but also formally studying feminist theory, that her feminism is not just wrong but nutty! However mansplaining feminism even seems to be happening on this thread (ZK @ 90).

Will write a bit more later as I’m in danger of going on too long here.

134

TM 04.07.16 at 9:20 pm

In my school time, boys (myself included) were always convinced that girls got preferential treatment. We now have detailed studies showing that when boys and girls get exactly equal class time, boys tend to believe that girls get much more than their share. Could it be that some boys lose interest in education when they can’t dominate?

I have to agree with 98, I think Harry’s speculation is both ill-advised and unilluminating. The question why men as a group seem to have educationally “stagnated” deserves better answers.

135

TM 04.07.16 at 9:25 pm

To be clear, I am referring to gender behaviors impressed by socialization.

136

The Temporary Name 04.07.16 at 9:26 pm

It’s odd that discussion of Leiter’s approaches to his colleagues in the past is missing.

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Man-Who-Ranks-Philosophy/149007/

Good post though.

137

AcademicLurker 04.07.16 at 9:32 pm

The question why men as a group seem to have educationally “stagnated” deserves better answers.

I recall reading somewhere a few years ago that the whole trend has big class and race specific aspects to it, so talking about the academic performance of generic “men” and “women” can be misleading. If I can find the article I’ll post a link.

138

LFC 04.07.16 at 10:17 pm

Haven’t been following the thread w great care, but as a general matter I think I’m inclined to agree w JW Mason @126, if I’ve understood him correctly.

It’s easy to recognize bullying with kids on a playground or in some other real (non-virtual, non-digital) settings (incl perhaps classrooms), but online things seem to get blurrier. What looks to X like bullying in a comment thread may look to Y like the expression of vigorous disagreement.

As Igor Belanov said, disagreement is inevitable on almost any comment thread w a large number of participants. Occasionally it crosses the line into name-calling or whatever. However I think CT threads usually (not always, but most of the time) stay on the vigorous-disagreement side of the line.

The whole point of a comment thread is conversation, which implies give-and-take and a willingness to acknowledge that no one is infallible. Most of us change our minds about things at least occasionally, most of us are sometimes — and for good reason — uncertain exactly what we think on some pt or other. Good conversation incorporates these widely-shared traits, and needless to say conversation wd tend to be boring if everyone agreed on everything all the time.

139

harry b 04.07.16 at 10:37 pm

anon — its a good job I’m not President of Harvard. It was a joke….

140

harry b 04.07.16 at 10:43 pm

Well, it was a joke. But… For the generations in which men outachieved women it was generally claimed by conservatives that this was because men were superior to women. Interesting that when women stared outachieving men, conservatives found the explanation in social construction.

But of course I assume it is social construction, and as I said I think it is a serious issue, and we should try to understand and address it.

141

engels 04.07.16 at 10:52 pm

Doesn’t ‘radical educational equality’ mean policy should target a 50/50 gender split in graduation numbers, regardless of whether unequal aptitude is the cause?

142

harry b 04.07.16 at 10:53 pm

Yes!

143

Saurs 04.07.16 at 11:20 pm

Again, a startling lack of specificity about what women have achieved and how those achievements are measured and defined.

144

Layman 04.07.16 at 11:40 pm

“Equal, but not the same.”

Separate but equal, one could say.

145

Collin Street 04.08.16 at 12:51 am

Of course, one of the ways in which men and women could be different, one of the possibilities we might have to structure our society around and respond to, is that men might be substantially more likely to be narcissistic bullying fucktards.

146

Saurs 04.08.16 at 1:54 am

As is to be expected, since men have one X chromosome, and women two, so that for a fair number of genes women can be heterozygous, while men can only be homozygous.

This is painfully wrong.

That means that there are both more really stupid men, and more really smart men, than is the case in women.

No, that doesn’t follow from what you said. More scientific illiteracy butchering simple words and concepts you don’t understand.

But you’re probably going to tear into me for daring to say it.

You’ve not said or substantiated anything I’m interested in. I want to hear more about how US women are succeeding, not because they are Mediocre Smart but because they are being awarded more degrees and boys and men are being “failed” by the system. I want to hear–substantively–about the consequences for women and men in this scenario. Once more, with feeling.

147

harry b 04.08.16 at 2:04 am

I think the interesting part of this discussion finished a while ago. If I can figure out how to close it, I will….

148

Harry 04.08.16 at 2:07 am

Oh well, as expected I can’t figure it out. Anyone with nothing better to do than chat with Brett is welcome to..

149

Saurs 04.08.16 at 3:29 am

You’ve said as much yourself belowthread, harry. What are the outcomes of enrolling and graduating more female students? What are the outcomes of enrolling and graduating fewer men? You mention in #63 that the achievements women have been given are “unequal” and “stark” and will result in “unpredictable” changes. What are those changes? What have more degrees given women that make them more successful (not almost achieving parity with) male contemporaries, in terms of income, debt, employment, occupying the upper echelons of their profession?

And in 148

For the generations in which men outachieved women it was generally claimed by conservatives that this was because men were superior to women. Interesting that when women stared outachieving men, conservatives found the explanation in social construction.

How are you defining achievement, then and now? Where are women outachieving men? What are the consequences?

I don’t disagree that goalposts move and essentialist arguments get re-tinkered when the stranglehold men have enjoyed over, well, nearly every tiny little sphere in the universe slightly dissipates, but I’m not seeing the connection between earning a degree in 21st century USA and overachievement, which is the obfuscatory blanket term being employed to describe the phenomenon of women increasingly pursuing post-graduate degrees of a very specific kind (but conveniently leaving out what fields those degrees might apply to, what concrete and long-term advantages the degrees confer that put them permanently ahead of less educated men and other women, and whether they positively affect female employment opportunities, advances, and income, not to mention the salutary effects on previously male-dominated fields*).

The post is an interesting one. The predictable, handwringing derail less so, mainly because there’s no substance and the handwringers seem incapable of providing it.

*of course, we know that, in general, fields where women flock, blossom, and achieve high ranking, the average wages go down and the men disappear; I suppose this must be part of that “overachievement” under discussion

150

Saurs 04.08.16 at 3:59 am

Are degrees more difficult to achieve now than before [in the unspecified Long Long Ago when men were being awarded more than women]? Are they more expensive? Are they more prestigious? Are they good value for their money and time?

Very simply: is it being suggested that women earning more degrees than men is An Achievement (or a Pox on social engineering, or whatever it is small minded boys on the interwebs are crying about this time). For it to be an achievement or a pox or both, the outcome for men and women must be different and must favor women. Is it different? Does it favor the women earning the degree over everyone else?

151

Val 04.08.16 at 4:06 am

Ok well I will seize the opportunity to add a bit. I do apologise for taking the thread OT a bit Harry, but I think it’s related – we can strive to do the right thing in classrooms but so much of gender is learnt informally.

First just clarifying what I meant about Ze K ‘mansplaining’ above – Ze K appeared to be making the mistake (quite common on CT I think), that actions coded as feminine are actually inferior. They’re not actually (reading romances is not inferior to reading sci-fi), they are treated as inferior because they are coded as feminine. Same with pay rates for different kinds of work etc.

I can see that the relevance of that to what Ze K said still may not be entirely clear, but I’d better leave it at that for now.

The thing that particularly bugs me on CT is when I make a comment, and someone straw-womans it, thinking (or pretending to think) that I have said something much stupider or more right wing than I actually said, and then a whole lot of other people jump on board to condemn the stupid thing I’m supposed to have said. It’s really frustrating. I can explain it all again, but even then it’s likely that the same person or a new person will straw woman me again. I can keep on explaining myself, but that makes me look like someone who is self righteously justifying herself and taking up too much air time, or I can give up and let the misrepresentation stand. Hopeless.

I know one time it really bugged me was when I was about to start teaching in a post-graduate course. The thought of my prospective students reading this description of me as some kind of simplistic neoliberal do-gooder that I was repeatedly being portrayed as by some people agreeing amongst themselves really got to me. I got very angry on that occasion.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I realise CT bloggers can’t patrol every thread, but maybe when it happens we can state that strawwomanning is happening – name it, and if it keeps happening, maybe report it.

Of course male commenters can do this too, but I’m particularly concerned here about how female commenters are being excluded from CT.

152

Val 04.08.16 at 4:15 am

Just to clarify, my post and Saurs cross-posted. I was just adding a bit because Harry couldn’t close the thread, not to what Saurs said. I have to say that even after two posts just now from you Saurs, I don’t actually understand what you’re trying to say.

153

Neville Morley 04.08.16 at 5:16 am

I may have missed someone saying this above, in which case apologies, but I think that two different issues in respect to undergraduate education have been conflated at points: overall perfomance of male v female students (admissions to programmes, percentage of degrees awarded etc.) and performance behaviour in specific tasks/areas. My female students do perfectly well in different forms of written assessment, hence in overall degree class (we mark anonymously; I don’t know how much of a difference that makes). They do less well on average in contexts like seminar discussion and making presentations, as the OP discusses, despite the fact that I’m making effforts to ensure everyone participates equally. It doesn’t noticeably affect their grades; it does mean they’re getting an inferior education overall – and, since I know what some of them *could* contribute, it means everyone else gets an inferior experience as well.

154

Neville Morley 04.08.16 at 5:20 am

Sorry, that should be “performance/behaviour in specific tasks/areas”.

I might add that I would really like to include some element of assessed presentation in the award of the degree, besides the conventional essays and exams, but I do have misgivings about the risk of disadvantaging female students.

155

Dipper 04.08.16 at 7:37 am

I was going to suggest the discussion could be progressed by reading about Laszlo Polar and his three daughters …. but what I should suggest is reading about Laszlo and Klara Polar and their three daughters.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/László_Polgár

156

TM 04.08.16 at 7:40 am

148: “Interesting that when women stared outachieving men, conservatives found the explanation in social construction.” More precisely, they insinuate that boys are being discriminated against and victimized by feminist academia, and often demand that remedial action be taken to help boys (while at the same time and with equal conviction holding that the race gap is not evidence of discrimination and affirmative action should be banned). The hypocrisy couldn’t be more obvious and we should thank Brett for making the point so clearly.

“Doesn’t ‘radical educational equality’ mean policy should target a 50/50 gender split in graduation numbers, regardless of whether unequal aptitude is the cause?”

I think radical educational equality should mean that (1) everybody should have access to the education they want (and no, college isn’t the only kind of education that should count), and (2) people’s life chances shouldn’t depend on the kind of educational certificate they have. Of course, (2) is not going to happen as long as certificates have the function of justifiying privilege in a highly stratified society. As long as this is the case, graduation numbers will remain a very incomplete measure of educational thriving, not only because many motivated students are denied access but also because many students who do attend college are not actually interested in the education, they just want the certificate.

157

Val 04.08.16 at 7:43 am

@165
No it’s not seen as biologically determined – just empirical I think. ZM was just suggesting that in philosophy classes, examples could be used that are more likely relate to women’s experiences, based on empirical evidence. Of course you would have to beware of stereotyping – not just assume that women are going to read romantic literature – but if you chose examples from generally highly regarded authors like Jane Austin etc, you could effectively avoid the possibility of shallow stereotyping.

Or of course you could use sf examples but draw on Ursula La Guin, say!

I also understood perfectly well what ZM was saying about bombing munitions factories – it seemed perfectly clear to me and again drawing on empirical evidence to talk about how women and men might relate to such an example. The fact that seem to find it difficult to understand perfectly clear reasoning when talking about feminism is what makes one doubt their good faith. Possibly they really don’t understand it, but it seems more likely they have a low expectation of women’s reasoning and therefore don’t try very hard to understand it.

158

Dipper 04.08.16 at 8:16 am

you still haven’t read it have you. You might want to read about Barbara McClintock at the same time.

159

ZM 04.08.16 at 8:48 am

Ze K,

“No, I don’t. It’s just that I thought that a feminist would declare the coding itself atavistic and insulting. That the coding is a consequence of Gender-Roles, Gender-Roles are a major feature of Patriarchy, and Patriarchy is the enemy. I actually asked for a clarification in 85.
But now I see that in this version of feminism (which I would call ‘stereotypism’, to distinguish it from the one I’m used to) this coding is assumed to be biologically determined (was I right to come to this conclusion?). “

Breaking down your comment:

1. “a feminist would declare” — feminists do not all think the same about everything, there are a lot of different major feminist theorists, and then everyday women also have their own views about what is feminism. Also, you could historicise major feminist trends such as suffragettes and ideas that women were naturally more virtuous, to Simon de Beauvoir and existentialist structuralist accounts of women’s oppression (I think the existentialism and the structuralism is connected as structuralist feminists don’t usually just say that’s the structure and lets leave it at that), to post-structuralist feminism which looks at gender, the body, and agency while not giving up on structure all together. The sort of feminism you are thinking of as what “a feminist would declare” is pretty much the structuralist sort of the mid 20th C.

2. “the coding is a consequence of Gender-Roles” this is again the structuralist account (although I am sure reading structuralist feminist theory it is a bit more nuanced), and you have to think of this sort of structuralism as being partly the result of Western engagement with non-Western cultures where gender roles are different. While there are different roles for different genders in different cultures, pretty much every culture has some sort of gendered division of culture.

3. “But now I see that in this version of feminism…this coding is assumed to be biologically determined” This is not what either I or Val have argued. I would argue that there are a range of factors involved. However since the 80s The Body has become a site of analysis, and some difference is located in The Body. You also have dominant cultural gender roles, and this also comes down to the individual actor and how they negotiate these during their lifetimes, and what their personality is and so on.

It is not a opposition of body/culture — both of these can be important at the same time, and there is also the personality and agency of individual women to take into account etc.

160

sanbikinoraion 04.08.16 at 9:35 am

So I’ve skipped forward a hundred comments or so so I apologize if this has already been covered. It doesn’t seem like it.

Harry, what you’re doing here is clearly improving your understanding of how to solve this problem but in your post itself you make it quite clear that the reason this problem exists is because of the ongoing pathetic lack of continuous professional development for university faculty when it comes to actually teaching their damn courses.

Surely the far more important question is how to ensure that all university courses are taught to a standard by teachers who have actually been taught how to teach properly, including how to cover what it pretty fucking trivial stuff like how to manage class participation!

161

ZM 04.08.16 at 9:37 am

Dipper,

But neither Val or I were arguing that women are incapable of doing philosophy. I was saying that women may not be so interested in the content of philosophy courses as I think it is quite masculine gendered and this might be one reason women are underrepresented in philosophy.

I have a read quite a bit of theory for other subjects, including a lot of theory around gender and I think philosophy could remain just as rigorous while the content was altered to be more inclusive of feminine gendered topics, I wasn’t saying women can’t do philosophy because women can’t play chess.

I think in this respect philosophy is quite different from STEM subjects being a humanity, for STEM subjects I think one of the main things is encouraging young women to take an interest in them and breaking down gender boundaries. But as philosophy is a humanity I think part of the problem is the content is not gender neutral and skews towards male content.

162

ZM 04.08.16 at 9:50 am

Ze K,

I don’t see why it can’t be a cultural and to do with women’s bodies at the same time, and these things are entangled so its not very easy to disentangle them.

There is a paper by Sherry B Ortner that uses some of de Beauvoir’s work and cultural anthropology and she has an interesting idea that women’s bodies develop to have and nurture children, and the practice of doing this involve focus on particular individuals rather than focus on abstract and cultural matters. Of course she is an anthropologist and is very able to do abstract and cultural analysis, and many women don’t have children, and women have fewer children now than in the past. But this is the sort of thing I mean where it doesn’t have to be a question of is it biology or culture, the two can interact.

163

engels 04.08.16 at 10:46 am

Harry, thanks. Since I think I accept Brett’s statistics and Saurs’ analyses, I assume it now requires channelling a greater share of educational resources towards men and boys than to women and girls in order to equalise their educational attainments, even on the expectation that women will be (further) disadvantaged in the labour market and in society at large as a result. I’m guessing your answer to that is that it’s only one value that will be outweighed by others in practical decisions but it still seems a bit hard to swallow…

164

engels 04.08.16 at 10:49 am

But looking forward to future CT postings on ‘men in linguistics’, etc (Z, #71)…

165

Barry 04.08.16 at 11:43 am

ZM 04.08.16 at 9:37 am
“Dipper,

But neither Val or I were arguing that women are incapable of doing philosophy. I was saying that women may not be so interested in the content of philosophy courses as I think it is quite masculine gendered and this might be one reason women are underrepresented in philosophy.”

The last time I looked at Ph.D./grad student figures, Philosophy looked very bad, compared to field which were considered to be very masculinely gendered, until women entered them, such as math, engineering, law, medicine, physics,…

From https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/10/01/are-stem-fields-more-gender-balanced-non-stem-fields-phd-production

“Interestingly, the top 10 fields in which women are overrepresented among doctoral degree recipients include five STEM fields, as defined by the study: forestry, information science, engineering-related fields, computer engineering and engineering physics.”

166

Harry 04.08.16 at 12:02 pm

sanbikinoraion

Yes. Absolutely. But I’ve written here saying that, and already feel like a broken record, and am working on getting something actually done about it instead. In the meantime, outlining sensible practices which colleagues pick up on and try out seems worth the small amount of time I put into writing these pedagogy posts (which get shared widely, and which philosophers, in particular, read — the most common thing that gets said to me by philosophers I meet from the first time is “I like your education/pedagogy posts on Crooked Timber” — people comment on it much more often than they comment on my scholarly output….).

167

Michelle Trim 04.08.16 at 1:15 pm

I appreciated reading this article – thank you for posting it.

In teaching writing to classes composed primarily of male computer science majors, I have learned that there seems to be a critical mass of female-identified students needed before any of them will speak freely in class. Three seems to be the threshold number, unless the two students in the class are very close friends. I don’t know if these numbers are affected by having a female-identified teacher. For that reason, I don’t cold call on that single female student, but I do work consciously to provide constructive support on papers, and often make it a point of praising some writing choice the student made in one-on-one conversations. I feel this helps, but I don’t really see an obvious solution to getting the one or two female students to speak up in these discussion based classes. My class deals frequently with identity politics and other social issues — I don’t want the few female-identified students to feel like spokespersons for their gender.

168

engels 04.08.16 at 2:18 pm

Michelle’s comment rings true for me

169

JW Mason 04.08.16 at 2:43 pm

What does this mean? That bullying is really nothing more than normal group dynamics and someone who doesn’t knuckle under is ethically or psychologically unfit? That the only correct response to bullying is to break down and cry, and run away? I expect better from you, and this surprises me. I was amused to see the old 1990s Internet shibboleths come out–speech can’t harm, you’re obliged to instantly agree with everyone who speaks up loudly enough (unless the group thinks they’re a troll)–but not to see them taken up by someone like you.

I originally commented ont his thread to contribute to the discussion of how to encourage broader participation in the classroom, and I should have stuck to that topic. I regretted posting the comment you’re responding to almost immediately after hitting Submit. For the record, no, that is not what I meant. But it really isn’t worth the trouble to get into it further.

170

JW Mason 04.08.16 at 2:48 pm

pretty fucking trivial stuff like how to manage class participation!

Are you a teacher, sanbikinoraion? I’ve been doing this for a few years now and in my experience it isn’t trivial at all. But if you have resources you want to share on how to do better, I’d be interested in seeing them.

In teaching writing to classes composed primarily of male computer science majors, I have learned that there seems to be a critical mass of female-identified students needed before any of them will speak freely in class. Three seems to be the threshold number, unless the two students in the class are very close friends.

This is an interesting observation. Now that I think about it, this has been my experience as well.

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RNB 04.08.16 at 3:31 pm

@183 But having sent that message, JW Mason, you will no longer be remember for provocative empirical work on a whole set of economic issues but for being an anti-bullying ideologue. You can’t make us unsee that message.

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RNB 04.08.16 at 3:36 pm

@175 Have read the first several chapters of Joseph Henrich’s recent book. Argues our behavior results not from genetic inheritance from the inheritance of a cultural repertoire, though we have biologically evolved to assimilate that cultural inheritance. It’s one of the recent attempts to deconstruct a simple opposition between culture and biology., though I am worrying that our cultural inheritance is understood overwhelming in strict functional adaptationist terms. And there hasn’t been much talk about gender yet.

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bianca steele 04.08.16 at 4:02 pm

JW–

I could have phrased my reply better, sorry. I do think a classroom is different from a comments section is different from a discussion in a bar, and there are times to pay careful attention to what someone says and times when you can just dismiss what they say out of hand. Obviously as more people are involved and the more likely they are to be strangers to one another, it becomes more difficult to expect “normal processes of group formation”, whatever those are, to hold.

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Plume 04.08.16 at 4:16 pm

RNB @185,

“@183 But having sent that message, JW Mason, you will no longer be remember for provocative empirical work on a whole set of economic issues but for being an anti-bullying ideologue. You can’t make us unsee that message.”

I disagreed with JW’s comment too, but I think your response is a bit over the top. Which, unfortunately, is all too often the case in these online forums. The medium seems to make people a bit crazy, and provokes a strange kind of heightened, artificial atmosphere where the perfectly mild becomes “the worst thing anyone evah said” time and time again.

I honestly think that if you and JW were having a conversation in the real world, say at school, or a dinner party, or a bar, and he said what he said, you wouldn’t have a problem with it. You might disagree with him, but I doubt you’d call him an ideologue or add the overly dramatic touch of saying he won’t be remembered for his work but for that one (very mild) comment.

Typical online responses all too quickly move from the mild to the wildly exaggerated and back again at the blink of a databit. It still strikes me as strange, and I’ve been on them for more than twenty years.

Oh, well, such is virtual life.

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RNB 04.08.16 at 5:12 pm

You’re joking like I was?

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RNB 04.08.16 at 5:17 pm

But I do things would have quickly gotten worse at a bar.

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Plume 04.08.16 at 5:40 pm

RNB @189,

Cool. I kinda thought so. But wasn’t entirely sure.

;>)

This, again, is a medium without roughly 90% of the communication pool involved, which is non-verbal, etc. But you may be right about the bar — kidding or not. In that scenario, looks can kill. Sometimes, no words are needed.

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Z 04.09.16 at 9:53 pm

I assume it now requires channelling a greater share of educational resources towards men and boys than to women and girls in order to equalise their educational attainments

Well, for what it’s worth, when I taught for a couple of years in the elementary school teachers training department of my university, I got a preliminary briefing by the two heads of the department (both women) to ensure that I understood two important points, the second of which was that if I had could discern a promising male student, I was to devote special care to his training, as the gender-imbalance among elementary school teachers is considered to have reached a worrying point.

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sanbikinoraion 04.10.16 at 7:46 am

JW Mason: no, I’m not a teacher. But ensuring class participation seems to me to be an absolutely fundamental skill of teaching and, it seems going on the ideas given here, one with very many fairly easy solutions. It is scandalous that university lecturers who are, let’s not forget, hired and paid to teach as part of their job, are neither selected in their teaching ability nor trained in basic teaching methods, nor as far I can tell subject to any rigorous CPD whatsoever when it comes to teaching skills.

Students are paying tens of thousands of dollars/pounds to get an advanced education from people who basically don’t know how to deliver it. My university department was ranked best in the country for teaching the year I graduated, and yet, amongst other travesties, our entire final module was eliminated from scoring toward our degree after the lecturer changed the week long assessment 40 times in the course of the week. There were at least two modules per term in my final three years in which the lecturer simply stoked the notes off the blackboard, one of them so poorly that we complained hard enough and he was replaced by one of his teaching assistants.

I say again, there is, in my experience, an abject lack of teaching quality at university level which is being institutionally ignored, to the detriment of the young adults paying top dollar for it.

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sanbikinoraion 04.10.16 at 7:46 am

(Apologies, I was only trying to bold the word scandalous and missed a closing tag!)

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Lynne 04.10.16 at 10:05 am

Sanbikinoraion, I agree with you. It is scandalous. The instructors who care about teaching probably wish they were better prepared, too, and some of them are trading ideas in this thread, but as for the rest of them, there’s no touching them. University education is far more expensive for students today than it was in my day, and class size is bigger. I have the impression from my kids that it is harder to get a decent education in university than it used to be, despite the high cost. As you say, scandalous.

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lindsey 04.11.16 at 6:21 am

hi harry, I haven’t read all the comments, but I thought I’d chime in with a memory from my first grad seminar in philosophy, taught by you! You may remember that there was at least one guy (maybe more?) who dominated the discussions and who, at least once, made me regret offering up a thought. I, a lowly undergrad, was not keen to duke it out. I can’t remember the details, but I do remember that one of the other grad students–a woman–stood up to that guy for me about something I said. I remember feeling incredibly grateful and glad that my idea might have merit. I also remember you telling me that I needed to participate, but I think there was something special about being supported by another student. Perhaps we should spend time developing classroom allies who pay attention and support other students when needed. And actually, I think if I’d have been given a job like that as an undergrad, I might have spoken more (at all?) in class!

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TM 04.11.16 at 7:57 am

193 Here’s a hint: university lecturers are indeed hired and paid to teach, but they are often paid miserably.

Another hint: An advanced education isn’t something you can buy for tens of thousands of dollars/pounds. It’s something you have to aquire by your own effort. The educational system is indeed cheating students but the cheating is not primarily in offering an inferior product – the cheating lies in treating education as a product.

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