Today in Existing While Woman

by Shaker Maud

Via Crooked Timber, I came across this brief post at Feminist Philosophers titled "(Not So Subtle) Ways Women Are Excluded." Poster Jender quotes a reader, E, who wrote to her about a friend, a US professor of philosophy. This friend, a single mother, has been accepted to participate in a month-long European seminar this summer, but her acceptance was made conditional on her demonstrating to the satisfaction of the directors of the host Institute that she has full-time childcare arrangements in place. She was given 12 hours to provide this satisfactory proof, or her acceptance would be withdrawn.

Dang wimminz, trying to use their brains and their organs of child-rearing simultaneously. It's like that thing we do where we endanger society by daring to think and feel at the same time—it's unnatural and unscientific, and it frightens and embarrasses the gentlemen. Men, of course, are more fastidious in their habits. They think their thinky-thoughts in a clean and emotion-free state of purity. Then, when they have occasion to feel something, they stop thinking altogether.

Likewise, should they happen to acquire a child, they interact with and demonstrate responsibility for that child—to the extent which seems to them advisable—in the home, where such behavior is appropriate. When they go off to seminars at august Institutes headed by Directors of Almost Inconceivable Importance, they leave the child in the home with a full-time caretaker whose existence is dedicated to that purpose, otherwise known as a wife.

If you female professors had any sense, you'd marry yourselves some wives. Oh, wait, dear me, no, that won't do. That, too, would endanger society.

I don't know what plans this woman had made about how her son (identified in comments as being 13-years-old) would occupy his time while she was seminaring. But given that she has managed to raise her child for thirteen years without the aid and encouragement, not to mention judgment, disdain and ultimatums, of the Directors of Almost Inconceivable Importance, I am going to assume that she had given the matter sufficient thought when she decided she wished to bring her son with her.

It is not, thus far, clear if this requirement is imposed only on women attending the seminar, only on single parents, or on just what basis this requirement was imposed.The conference is being sponsored by the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities. Jender offers updates in the comment thread in which she says that the professor "will be directly contacting the NEH Equal Opportunity Office office tomorrow to make them aware of the situation and ask for advice/clarification." Also, "The NEH has now been contacted about this by Inside Higher Ed, and they say that the requirement is against their policies."

The comment thread on this post is also of interest: Women immediately began to inquire if there were ways to support the professor to whom this happened in lodging a protest, and offered suggestions which the professor has expressed her appreciation for through Jender, saying they had helped her to formulate a plan of action to deal with the situation. Before the presumably estrogen-fueled passions could get out of hand, however, commenter #18, whose user-name is, purely coincidentally, commonly male-identified (one Hamish MacEwan. Ahem.) steps up to apply the Voice of Reason to the discussion:
Is it that similar conditions would not be applied to any solo parent irrespective of gender? Examples of male solo parents being given more flexible treatment? Or is the rush of outrage, apparently exacerbated by the gender of the victim, so strong such considerations are given no thought.
Of course, that consideration had been given thought previously in comments, and the fact that this was not clear noted.

Given the dignified tone of the comment thread, it is interesting to note what Hamish considers a "rush of outrage." Continued perusal of the thread reveals that philosophers—feminist ones at any rate—are apparently very courteous with their concern trolls, out of consideration, no doubt for the delicate soul of the concern troll, a species always easily wounded by lack of appreciation for the value of their gentle wisdom.

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