Women's Movement Reflection, 1974
"Wow 2 am 1 ~ I'n not currently working on am/thing that connects with women's issues directly, so what I'd. like to do is just tomake some remarks about how the wonon's movement has "affected no, personally. It Ins certainly affected. mr sense of uyseli‘, and ray un-ierstanding of any history. It has also changed me in a. number oi‘ small ways, each of no par- ticular importance, jointly quite noticeable. I What is less clear to use is whether, and if so how, it has affected me professionally. In one obvious way it has: it brought me two fat salary raises, for which namr thanks to the Vfononw Equity Aotion league, who started the fuss. And I now have to servo on a great many tiresome Univsrsity oomri'b- tees, because it is now seen that there ought to be vronon on then, and there aren't many around, But when one goes sleeper, things get less clear. My work: is teaching and thinking about philosophy - with luck these so- tivitios go on concurrently. That's what]: get paid for. But I think, really, that I go about these activities in the saw way as I always did. I still think slowly, and that mans I still lave to write xv lectures out in detail before- hand, because I can't count on being able to produce arguments and examples off the cuff, onlmy foot; it also means that I still have to. scratch about long and hard for an idea. I suspeot there are a fair mmtor of women -- at any rate, women my age - who still feel slow and thick-headed, so tint I'm not alone in this. That sudden new self-eonfielenoe we might have hoped for from tho wonan's movement hasn't come of it for us. I hope it has for younger women. . But ii‘ its way in which I work hasn't changed, I have come to feel rather differently about one particular feature of the profession, and it's an important one. What I have in mind is the aggressiveness of the average pmlosopher. I don't know if things are different in other aeadenio disciplines; I don't know if philosophy is unique in this rospeet. In any case, I can remember being in- nonsely struck by it when I was first a graduate student, back in the early
2. fifties. A man would be invited to come read a. paper to the faculty and graduate students; and there would be a terrible tension in the room while he read. may the tension? People woule1"se'h1mting about —-' desperately, if the guest speaker were an especially good philosopher —- for the chink in the arnor, the place to go in for the kill. Some people would lungs in and announce: "The crucial step in your argument was thus and such, anal it's plainly invalid." Others went about the destruction of the speaker with more finesse: they'd begin lay saying "I _t___;hi__n1c_ I ‘E have misunderstood your argument," giving the speaker a (last) moment of (false) seeurity. . I should stress it wasn't only the members of the auclience who were in for the killz. the speaker listened to the questions with the very sane tension, in ' hope not merely of protecting himself, but else of destroying the questioner if he could. Now what did it feel like to see this going on? It was frightening, partly because one saw ahead in one '3 future an endless series of occasions on vrlrich one would have to kill or be killed, but also because it was a ciisylay of violence, and displays of violence just are frightening, even where the only weapons are words, and what is killed is not the men but only (only3).his self-respect. At the sane time, I have to confess that it was in a perverse my exciting to watch those displays. I'm rather ashamed now to have fouml it/exciting in those early days; I certainly don't now. ‘Or be more honest, ‘I don't now where we speaker is honest, and tmpretentious. I'm ashanei that I still take a per- verse pleasure in the destruction of the speaker who cheats, or who is pompous and self-ini'1atee1. I do think it bad to take pleasure in this. mere, after all, is the charm in oven the best--deserves! misery? But even in those early days, I often found the displays ugly. It was up- setting too that we graduate students, and the junior faeulw, get points for participating in then: the senior faculty sailed on success in the killing-ga.me.
3. lused to think I must be pretty mm to be bothered by it: none of my friends seemed to be. Perhaps it seemed to then also that I wasn't. Cer- tainly armray nohody ever said smytlaina about it. It was therefore a most extraordinary moment for me when the whole thing came out openly for éiscussion at a mating of the women philosophers, held at the American Philosophical Assooiation convention a few years back. That meeting itself was extraordinary -—- who had ever thought there were so narnr of us; For the most part I think the women had been invisible oven to each other. (That's itself of interest, but I won't stop over it.) In any case, a. woman got up and asked. Wily is tlere so much aggression?" and it was the first time I'd ever heard _am;one say a word about it. What atlessing to rave it out in the‘ open, anal indeed as sonethins which is not to he mrely accepted as a fact of life, but to be explained and aocounteé for. There was a gooel hit of random discussion, and I'm not sure we got very farlinto the question. Perhaps the aggression issues from the nature of the enterprise itself, or from the nature of graduate training in philosophy -~ our training, after all, consists very largely in our being taught to eritioize, it being as important in philosophy to some to see what is Wrong as it is to see what is right, and moreover to see e:¢aot1y why thowxong things are wrong. Or perhaps the aggression issues from thenature of academic work, or academic life generally. It would be of interest to no to learn from the women here in other aeadelsicifields than philosophy whether or not there is as such of it in their fields, and if so what they think it traceable to, and if not, what the difference might be due to. Another question of interest seems to no to be this: why did that question not get brought out into the open before? why did it wait for a mating of the wonen philosophers? I've talked about the matter since that meeting; with some of the non I know in philosophy, and the flash of reoogmition is zirnaediate. Everybody lmew about it all along, but noboeiy talked about it. The women have perhaps been more self-conscious about the philosophy
"40 enterprise than the non have ‘been. I don't know why. Perhaps we are in closer touch with our feelings, perhaps we trust them more anal are less ashamed of then. I think I was supposed to com here to give cone answers and not merely to tell you of questions that intere:/t;\e’1n apology is therefore in order, because I haven't am, For me, I think, it was the raising of these questions about tlm way in which philosophy goes that was the most inportant product of that meeting I spoke of at the American Philosophical Association. As -I_ said, I.don't think that the way in which I actually go about my work has changed in these last few years, but my feelings about it have. At any rate, I don't any longer feel the need to pretend to be cool and call: when Iln not, or to be untouched personslly when I an touched. More generally, there plainly is no need to pretend to love only ideas, and to be dispassionately unconcerned about the people win have then. I have no idea where we'll all come out. I don’ t know whether or not these things that the women have brought out into the open will change. Philosophy‘ seems to no nowadays to be in one of those consolidating stages: there aren't any great, exciting new movements in the air, and we are instead ,9?” process of trying to fimzre out where we should stand when the dust settles, It is perhaps, then, a tine in which people are more likely to he self-conscious about the enterprise and the way in which it is carried out, and about the way in which people are in graduate schools to enter it. It's a good thing anyway that the discussion has got under way. I on myself especially pleased at the contribution which women have made to it.