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« Measuring Philosophical Impact -- A Prima Facie Case for More Objective Measures | Main | Under-appreciated Philosophers »

04/01/2013

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Chike Jeffers

Excellent question.

Mark Alfano

You can't have only a few pseudonymous contributors because readers will tend to assume they are minorities. It's an all or nothing thing, I suspect.

Marcus Arvan

Mark: sure, but what's the problem with that? The point of a pseudonym is to hide a person's identity.. What does it matter if people know/think they are a member of a minority? Simply having privacy of identity might make the individual more willing to contribute.

Rob Gressis

I, for one, see no problem with pseudonyms.

Matt DeStefano

There was a helpful discussion about anonymity and female science bloggers at LABS quite some time ago. For those that haven't seen it before: http://labs.fieldofscience.com/2011/09/are-female-science-bloggers-more-likely.html

elisa freschi

Very interesting question and thanks for taking care of the problem. A few thoughts:

1. Part of the question regards the general point (already discussed here) that there are FAR LESS WOMEN THAN MEN IN PHILOSOPHY and that the further you go in the philosophical profession (and a contributor of this blog is likely to be at least a PhD student), the fewer women you encounter.

2. Since I also write a blog, I have also often asked myself why all the comments I receive (with a few exceptions) come from men. I have tried to ask to female readers, whenever I happen to encounter one (e.g., at conferences) why they don't comment and failed to get any real answer. I wonder whether this might have to do with our general education and the fact that MEN ARE MORE ENCOURAGED TO "RAISE THEIR HANDS" and jump into the discussion. I have recently taken part to a workshop about women doing research and a colleague noted that "if there had been 5 men here, I guess they would have been speaking for 90% of the time". In this connection, see also the absence of women among keynote speakers and other "limelight" philosophers.

3. Again related to my blogging experience: there are just FEW WOMEN BLOGGING ABOUT ACADEMIC SUBJECTS, especially philosophy (or South Asian studies, if you are interested in the data), see: http://elisafreschi.blogspot.co.at/2010/02/blogs-and-bloggers.html

4. In many cases, I suppose, ONE PERSON PULLS IN THE NEXT ONE. Thus, the fewer women you already have, the fewer you will get (it is a catch 22, I know). For many people, and perhaps especially for some women, it is hard to be the only one (and then to be forced to deal just with gender issues…).

Kristina Musholt

This is a really interesting question. I suspect the reasons for this are numerous and complex - the reasons listed by Elisa probably all play a role. In addition, I wonder whether women are more inclined to see blogging and related activities as "self-promoting", and are perhaps reluctant to be seen as engaging in such self-promoting behavior (perhaps, again, partly because they are less encouraged to do so). There is also the worry that blogging and commenting on blogs takes time away from the "real" work one should/could be doing instead, such as working on a paper, marking student essays, doing administrative tasks, etc. (I am not sure why this worry should affect women more strongly than men, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that, given that they are fewer women in the profession, they tend to be asked more often to be involved in committee work, etc. and so tend to be more busy, or that women feel more strongly that they have to "prove themselves" in these aspects of their work.)

(I base this partly on my own experience - I have very recently published my first blog post, and was feeling a slight uneasiness about it for some of the reasons mentioned above.)

I am not sure whether pseudonyms would really help with this, though. It's true that some probably feel more comfortable blogging under pseudonym. At the same time, others on the Leiter thread have also noticed the pitfalls associated with this, such as the creation of in-groups and out-groups (where some are "in the know" about who the people writing under pseudonym are, while others are not), the fact that some people feel uneasy about communicating with people whose identity they don't know, or the fact that there is something to be said for taking responsibility for the comments one posts. Finally, it is perhaps harder to feel that one is part of a group when one doesn't know the identity of the other group members (or they don't know one's own). I wonder whether this might not in some sense counter-act the aim of a blog such as this, which is to create a safe and supportive environment.

That said, I am not sure whether the advantages of using real names outweigh the disadvantages, so I wouldn't necessarily rule out the permissibility of pseudonyms if people felt strongly that this would improve the situation.

Anon Graduate Student

Speaking only from my own experience as a woman in philosophy, the ability to use pseudonyms makes it far more likely that I will engage with a particular blog community. I can identify a few reasons why this is the case. First, I have strong concerns about the way I appear to others in the philosophical community. I think that men share many of these concerns, but frequently to a lesser extent. I don't want to be remembered for doing or saying something stupid. In many philosophical contexts you are far more likely to be remembered if you are a woman simply because you stand out. (Ever tried to jog someone's memory about a talk you both heard or a comment someone made by saying something like, "you remember it was the one given/asked by the woman"?) If I speak in error, misquote a source, make a typo, people will remember. Confirmation bias makes this threat worse. For those who already believe that woman don't belong in the profession, one mistake by a woman will carry more weight than a hundred male mistakes. These concerns would apply to other minorities within the profession as well. Second, As far as I know (perhaps there are studies to support this claim) women are more likely to be accused of failing to meet acceptable standards of "rigor" or "seriousness." While many in the profession are open and supportive of blogging as a new way to engage in philosophical conversation, many others are not. Blogging is not rigorous or serious. If I am already going to have rigor and seriousness counted against me because of my gender, it seems silly to expand the grounds for complaint by actively engage in an activity which many in the profession frown upon. Third, the few attempts I have made to engage with the philosophy blogging community (comments posted here, at Leiter, NewAPPS, etc.) have not be well received. Generally my input is ignored. Sometimes it has been responded to with hostility. I can't say that I feel particularly welcome or encouraged to contribute further. With a pseudonymous post I don't have to feel publicly embarrassed in addition to feeling privately disappointed.

Matt DeStefano

I share Kristina's misgivings about anonymity. Many of the blogs that I participate in with pseudonyms seem to attract less careful comments, and I find myself a bit uneasy in communicating with people who don't feel a sense of responsibility towards what they say.

However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it either - as she points out there are many benefits, and if Anon Graduate Student has similar feelings to other women in philosophy, then it is a proposal we should definitely consider.

Marcus Arvan

Anon Graduate Student's concerns seem to me to be very important.

Kristina: although I don't doubt that the things you mention may deter some women from blogging as much as men, I'm skeptical that the things you mention can explain why there are such *stark* differences. So, for example, while it may be true that some women (e.g. yourself) don't like to be self-promoting, but I've known plenty of men and women in the profession who are pretty active self-promoters; and likewise, I've known many men and women who don't blog or comment because they want to focus on work. I grant that women may feel additional pressure not to waste time -- but in my experience the pressure that many men feel not to waste time is very high indeed.

So, while I think you may be onto something, Anon Graduate Student's concerns seem to me to be a much more likely explanation of the root causes of the differences there are. She reports a litany of ways in which she experiences a "chilling effect" distinctly as a woman in the profession: (1) the manner in which people remember "mistakes" or "embarrassing" remarks by women that are not so much remembered when men make them, (2) the extent to which *any* appearance of un-seriousness (including blogging) is interpreted as a lack of appropriate seriousness in the case of women, but not men; etc.

If this is indeed the case, then -- in spite of the reservations several people here have had about pseudonyms -- I think we face a dilemma. *Either* we :

(A) permit pseudonyms to counteract the chilling effect that would-be women bloggers face, or
(B) don't have many women/allow them to be systematically excluded from philosophy blogging.

In which case, I vote (A). We don't want to make "the perfect the enemy of the good." Yes, pseudonyms have drawbacks -- but de facto segregation in the philosophical conversation, which is increasingly taking place on line? That seems worse to me.

Finally, some may say I have presented a false dilemma -- that women "shouldn't let themselves be excluded" from contributing. But this seems to me a case of blaming the victim. If (as I suspect) women experience a "chilling effect" -- if many women truly believe, on the basis of how they are treated in the profession more broadly -- that their professional reputations will suffer *merely* as a result of blogging, then, no, I don't think women can be faulted for not contributing.

We can either sit back and let the chilling effect remain in effect -- effectively pressuring women to self-exclude from participating -- or we can do something about it (such as permit pseudonyms).

Or do I have it all wrong?

elisa freschi

Marcus: probably not. But a further point which would surely help addressing the issues raised by Anon Graduate Student is: Try to answer all comments written by a woman. I know, one does not have time/energy/etc. to address all comments, but the male contributors to this blog might try to make special efforts to answer all the comments by female contributors, holding in mind that the latter might misunderstand the lack of answers as due to their gender and to the typical disregard reserved to women.

Kristina Musholt

Marcus: I think you are right, and Anon Graduate Student makes a very strong case for the use of pseudonyms. Ideally, of course, we would all like to live a world where the "chilling effects" she describes do not exist, but since they do, permitting the use of pseudonyms might be a useful way of trying to counteract them (and is certainly preferable to allowing women to be systematically excluded).

However, I worry that this won't really be addressing the underlying problems. Something needs to be done about these as well. Also, the use of pseudonyms will probably do little to enhance the visibility of women in the blogosphere (as they are usually gender-neutral), and thus will do little to counteract the implicit sense that women do not belong.

Marcus Arvan

Elisa: your point is very well-taken (by me, at any rate). I didn't mean to ignore your post. I was under time constraints and thought it important to respond to the two most recent comments the post received. In any case, I agree with you that the "first one in" issue is one well-worth addressing. This is in part why I wrote the post. I'd like to find some way to attract more women to contribute to our blog!

Dan Dennis

Anon Graduate student and Kristina both raise important concerns. I have a constructive suggestion which should speak to both points. I suggest adopting the following rule:

Anyone who wishes to contribute anonymously to the blog must reveal their true identity to the blog owner, and must choose a pseudonym and stick to it. The blog owner is duty bound not to reveal the real name to *anyone*.

Furthermore, given Kristina's point at 3.45am, about the imoprtance of raising the visibility of women in the blogosphere, this point could be put to the contributor to consider when she chooses a pseudonym - ie she could be made aware that it would contribute to the female cause if the name revealed her sex. But of course the choice should be hers.

elisa freschi

Thank you, Marcus. I did not mean to be personal, nor to blame you in particular (I appreciate the fact that you raised the issue and enjoyed your answers), I was just trying to make a general point. But thanks for addressing it also in a personal way.

Helen De Cruz

Marcus: one reason for the phenomenon might be that blogging is not a risk-free activity for academics. I read somewhere in a guide on how to get tenure the following advice (I don't remember the source, so paraphrasing): Your colleagues of course understand that you will have some hobbies. But not all hobbies are equally innocuous. Acceptable hobbies are sky-diving, hiking (preferably in exotic and far-flung locations), fusion cooking, playing the piano. Unacceptable hobbies are blogging, writing fiction, writing columns for newspapers, or in any other way reaching out to the wider audience. Why? Because such hobbies involve writing and they may give your colleagues, tenure committee etc. the impression that the time you spend writing those things is not spent on research, teaching and service. So bottom line: you need to find things that are far away from your normal research activities. (end of paraphrase). I know someone in whose decision for promotion (not tenure) her blogging actually was held against her!
It seems to me women are often in a more vulnerable position, where they already have higher teaching loads, work at less prestigious universities etc. So all the more reason to be cautious and not blog...
I find it a real pity that this holds women back, however, as blogging is a great way to reach out and make philosophy relevant also to outsiders (as I've noticed while blogging for NewApps and Prosblogion. Many of our regular commenters are not philosophers, and a significant number aren't academics).

Marcus Arvan

Thanks Helen (and Elisa). Helen's concerns also seem to me to be a strong consideration in favor of permitting pseudonyms.

elisa freschi

I ended up writing myself a post about it (but only received answers from male commenters:-D): http://elisafreschi.blogspot.co.at/2013/04/why-are-there-so-few-women.html

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