This is not a foreign experience to some of us at all

Jane Clare Jones has a must-read post on Justin Weinberg’s long and intensely clueless post about the sorrows of “t philosopher.” She has resolved, somewhat to my chagrin, to curb her tendency to jokes and swears by way of professional courtesy. She also plans to be calm even though she is pissed, man, and even though this having to pretend not to be furious is in fact central to what she’s saying.

The letter written by the anonymous ‘t philosopher’ is principally an emotional appeal to vulnerability, an intent to share the philosopher’s “pain and anger about being forced out of a career that I once loved.” The argument is, essentially, ‘allowing these women to express their views makes me feel so intolerably bad I have to leave, recast as ‘being forced to leave’ (a.k.a “you made me do it”?).

This. t’s letter is maudlin, and what it’s maudlin about is t’s fee-fees and t’s desire to make the women stop talking. This makes it a tad infuriating to see men like Justin Weinberg rush to sympathize and agree.

The first thing I want to note, is that Justin responds to this appeal as if it describes an entirely foreign vulnerability. There are several instances of this:

“But most of us are fortunate enough never to have had our toughness tested in this way.”

“For most of us, our well-being is almost never jeopardized by our work environments.”

“Most of us have not experienced what t philosopher has experienced.”

I picked Justin up for this on twitter, because, of course, as is immediately evident to anyone who is not a white man, this is not a foreign experience to some of us at all. (Note: I am not claiming that trans philosophers’ experiences of marginalization are the same as women’s, that is not something I could ever know. I am merely noting that the idea of being ignorant of what it’s like to be mentally jeopardized by our work environment is a statement that could only be made by white male (and probably straight) philosophers.) In response to my tweet Justin has clarified that that is why he wrote ‘most of us,’ and has since amended the post to reflect the recognition that the profession is 70% male and 85% white. I still, however, want to underline what is going on here. We are having a conversation about whether some women should be effectively muzzled in the profession, and the person writing the post is male, and the audience he is imaginatively addressing is also male. That is, the men are talking about whether a few women should be silenced, without acknowledging anything about how the men’s sex is affecting their understanding of the situation, and how that might be different for the women they are discussing – the women who, implicitly, are the ‘problem’ here.

That. So much that, that I want to stop reading it for awhile, so that I can let that part settle in, like watering the flowers at dusk.

It’s amazing – it amazed me when I first read Weinberg’s post – that the audience he is imaginatively addressing is also male, because the audience he is literally addressing is not all male…but it might as well be for all the difference it makes. He did say that thing – “But most of us are fortunate enough never to have had our toughness tested in this way.” Yeah, right, it’s only trans women who are ever made to feel unwelcome or mocked or ignored or talked right over.

I hope he reads Jane’s post. I hope his cheeks burn with shame.

Has the water sunk in a little? Onward.

One thing that is incredibly striking to me about this is that the men are extending a degree of concern and empathy to the experience of t philosopher that is completely foreign to how I, as a woman, have come to understand men’s reactions to women’s experience of philosophy.

Men tend to see women as the opposite of philosophy, as being Pathos as opposed to Logos, and it follows that women can’t express any emotion without confirming that very stereotype. It’s quite a bind.

The culture at large, as is reasonably well recognised, is littered with images of ‘hysterical’ ‘angry’ ‘vengeful,’ women. Any expression of women’s needs which refuses to comply with male people’s desires or demands is frequently characterised as wanton aggression (which is highly relevant to the emotional force of the image of the TERF).

Aw, yeah – I hadn’t thought of that before. The deep weirdness of the emotional force of the image of the TERF has always puzzled me as well as pissing me off, and that is very helpful. We’re Medea, we’re Clytemnestra, we’re Medusa.

So next she points out that because of all that we couldn’t write a post like that and get the reaction t philosopher did. In us it would just be seen as more of the same pathetic emoting that women do and why do they even try to philosophy? And that’s why we need to be able to name the sex of people, and it’s not just to be big ol’ meanies.

because yes, I am claiming that the very fact that t philosopher thought expressing her pain in this manner was a potentially effective political manoeuvre, and that people responded to it as such, is something to do with her not being female.

Everyfuckingthing to do with it.

The fact is, therefore, that those of you who are male do not know a great deal about female people’s experiences of harm in the profession, because we do not tell you, and we may, furthermore, go to some great lengths to conceal it from you.

I was thinking this, in an infinitely more inchoate way, when reading t philosopher’s lament. I was wondering why the hell t philosopher felt so comfortable writing such an extended “pity me me me me me me” when no woman in philosophy would dare write such a thing. Sally Haslanger wrote a great piece on the treatment of women in philosophy but it was nothing like t philosopher’s.

These issues surrounding the non-expression of women’s feelings also relates to the fact that we are trying very hard, in this situation, not to let anyone see how distressing this whole conflict is to us, because we have no confidence that it will not simply be weaponised against us. (Justin for example instructs us in the manner we should respond – cordially, calmly, although the whole conversation is precipitated by an extreme – and some might think, manipulative – expression of emotion which is, nonetheless, being given enormous, uncritical, weight).

Oh so he does. I didn’t even pick up on that.

I’ll stop talking now so that you can read it all in peace.

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