Elevator Story, Deux

I'm not kidding!  This is a great example of how unconscious assumptions can make women invisible--

I'm at a philosophy conference outside of the US. I think there may be even fewer women in philosophy in this country and its neighbors than in mine. The conference hotel is small, and philosophers don't look quite like most of the other guests. There are no nametags, and the conference just started today.
I got on the elevator this morning, on the 6th floor, to go down to breakfast at the designated time. On the 5th floor a young man got on, sporting a ponytail and sport coat (i.e., our uniform). On the 4th floor, a white-haired man got on. The young man turned to the older man before the doors were even closed and asked him "Are you a philosopher? Are you here for the conference?" (the lingua franca is English) and introduced himself.
I may as well have well been wallpaper. Female, and visibly pregnant to boot. No chance of my having deep thoughts or being someone worth knowing. Or--maybe I'm just overly sensitive, and it was the white hair that made the young man snap to. Someone 10 or 15 years older than me might be someone worth schmoozing with. Then again, I don't often see my white-haired female colleagues getting that treatment, either.
Evelyn Brister is the writer, here.


Russell Blackford said...

Ugh. Yeah, this seems more worrying than Elevator Guy in Dublin, who at least claimed to find Watson "interesting".

Obviously a philosopher is supposed to look like an older bloke with white hair and a beard (I totally should grow a beard, right?).

I wonder whether the same kind of stereotyping would apply to, say, a literary conference. Is it a particular philosophical stereotype? Even so, it's obviously not a good one to have around.

Russell Blackford said...

Of course, this raises the question of whether the guy even had a beard or whether being male and, um, "distinguished looking" was enough to have someone suck up to him.

Jean Kazez said...

Funny how this is a much more clear-cut case of conference elevator sexism than the endlessly discussed one. The ponytail and sportcoat part was amusing--yes, that's the uniform.

Aeolus said...

So the writer stereotypes the young man because of the ponytail and sport coat, and then complains that he in turn seems to have a stereotype of what a philosopher looks like? Am I missing something?

A recently retired member of my department looks like a member of ZZ Top -- which means I've always thought that he looks like a real philosopher. I also think I can often spot atheists from the way they tend to look and dress -- which is not to say that all atheists wear the uniform.

Ardent Skeptic said...

Isn't the "ponytail and sportcoat" stereotyping?
If someone is unhappy because they are not "pegged" as "something" due to their appearance, shouldn't they not engage in stereotyping? That's perpetuating the stereotype, isn't it?

She sounds as though she knows what to look for as the philosopher "type". If an immaculately coiffed young woman or man, dressed 'head to toe' in Prada, had entered the elevator, would she have assumed either of them was a philosopher? I doubt it. Moreover, women are always much harder to "peg" as "something" because they don't have a "uniform". Women's fashions have much more diversity than men's, and women seem more capable of not dressing in a standard "uniform".

(Besides, men are no longer allowed to speak to women on elevators. ;-)

ianbargain said...

Everybody knows that all philosophers have a white beard, bald head, say nothing with many convoluted words and cannot eat dinner when there are an odd number of forks.

It would be intersting if this young man could tell us what was going (or not) through his mind in two-elevator-floor time. May be, he is just scared of visibly pregnant women. I used to be (when I was about 5. What happens if the baby just falls out her :))

The moral of these stories: Everybody take the damn stairs. It is good for your health and handy when there is a fire.

Ardent Skeptic said...

BTW... Anyone one wants to be considered capable of having "deep thoughts" needs to say something profound. The ability to have and articulate "deep thoughts" has nothing to do with gender, appearance, or profession.

Ardent Skeptic said...

Sorry for yet another comment but this post has made me rather annoyed.

The young man was in the "uniform". Was she?
What is the "uniform" for a woman philosopher?

If women want to be treated as equals they need to behave like equals. The young man was sporting the "uniform". Did she start a conversation with him when he entered the elevator?

I have heard far more "sexist" cracks, and have been treated with inferiority by far more women than men, starting with my mother who considered me unlovable because I was thin and had really small breasts.

My husband is 8 years my junior. A number of women have said, "I robbed the cradle." No man has said this to me. Moreover, no man is told that he has "robbed the cradle" if his wife is merely 8 years his junior.

Plenty of women have told me that I'm "lucky" to have my husband. Luck has nothing to do with it. First, I initiated the relationship by calling my husband and asking him out to dinner. Because I had done the inviting, I did the driving and paid for dinner. I also opened the passenger-side door of my car first because his comfort was in my hands. Each and every time I extended an invitation, my behavior was the same. My husband chose to marry me because I am an intelligent, pragmatic, and capable woman. I have earned his respect and love. It isn't "luck" that he has been my spouse for 19 years.

I am a childless housewife. More women than men have immediately written me off as an inferior because of my standing in life. Women aren't suppose to "stay home" anymore. Too many women have the idea that being a "good" feminist means having a career.

Most men treat me as an equal because I behave as such. I wish more women would do the same.

Jean Kazez said...

I have an idea for a new blog--"The Elevator". It will be 100% about ethical issues that arise when people get into elevators together. People will send in queries and dilemmas. I will solicit commentary from well-known ethicists. Then there will be the book, and of course the movie...

Anyhow. What? Great minds think alike and all, but I don't agree with any of you (plural). There is nothing wrong with having stereotypes, as in--concepts in your own head of what the typical X looks like. That is just entirely normal and part of standard human cognition. What does a typical house look like? Of course an image comes to mind, and you're not a mansionist if it's not a mansion.

The typical philosopher does have a certain look. It's okay to say so, and even okay to joke around about it. However, it's important to realize that not everyone fits the sterotype. You have to both have the stereotype and keep in mind that there are lots and lots of atypical philosophers. A pregnant woman would be atypical, but is still very possibly a philosopher. That's especially important before you open up your mouth and ACT on the basis of your stereotype. It's rude for Guy1 to address Guy2 in the elevator, but not the woman.

Likewise, don't be discriminatory toward mansions, just because a mansion is an atypical house. But of course, it would be absurd to banish the thought that a mansion is an atypical house.

ianbargain said...

Yes!, Elevator the movie. Who will play the guy, I wonder? I vote Anthony Hopkins. There will be sequels. So many sequels. And documentaries. Experts will speak. So many experts.

Seriously, though, I would be more concerned when stuff like this happens outside elevators. As in, where there is no ambiguity about professions and backgrounds but still somebody is literally overlooked. Not sure about philosophers - but I have seen it happen in conferences, I have attended. Bunch of scientists and grad students are milling around between sessions and some discussion informally mimics people talking in round-robin except for some bizarre reason, one person in the "round" will be jumped over or somebody will cut in at that exact point. Repeatedly. To be fair, the "jumped over" is not necessarily a female nor the "cutter in" male - but it seemed to be more in that lines. May be not very important since we don't let stuff like that happen during sessions. And sessions are mostly presentations rather than discussions - all venom having been exhausted during the blind reviews.

BTW: Most stereotypes of philosophers in my field can be traced to this problem. We hate philosophers :) - at least until we get the solution.

Simon Rippon said...

"It's rude for Guy1 to address Guy2 in the elevator, but not the woman."

Without wishing to assume the role of Richard Dawkins in this thread, I find it hard to accept this! I fully understand the feeling of belittlement and exclusion that the third party can be subject to in such a situation (because I have a younger appearance, I have often been familiar with it myself), but I don't think the other parties are ultimately responsible for that feeling, or acted rudely, based on the information we have about the incident. For one thing, it was quite absurd for the narrator to draw the inference from the pony-tailed man's actions about his thinking: "No chance of my having deep thoughts or being someone worth knowing." What she *should* have inferred was: "He thinks I am not likely a philosopher." That can lead to "invisibility" of course, which may in some contexts be unfortunate. But when did it become an insult? (In contrast, if the man had entered the elevator and said: "Someone's having a heart attack, we need help! Are you a doctor?" ignoring the woman, that would have been an insult. But that's because the inference to be drawn from his behaviour there would be: "That woman can't possibly be a doctor"!)

Would you hold that it is in general rude to ask anyone in an elevator whether they are a philosopher without asking everyone in the elevator the same question? Suppose a woman had come in instead of the pony-tailed man and ignored the white haired man, addressing the question to the narrator of this incident - would that have been rude? Or is it only rude if those excluded by stereotypes are ignored? Would it then be rude to ignore a man wearing a hotel cleaner's uniform? (It might be a philosophy grad student with a part time job!) What about a muscle-bound very trendily-dressed man? I'm all for inclusion and fairness, but the suggestion that acting on stereotypes is wrong even when you act consistently with recognizing that not everyone fits them strikes me as both onerous and absurd.

Wayne said...

Heh as a relatively young looking guy with a LONG ponytail, I guess I look like a philosopher (although I never sport a sportcoat).

Yeah, it seems pretty reasonable to me for the man here to be questioned as a philosopher, since, well... he sounds like he looks the part more than she does. Does that mean that women don't usually look the part of philosophers? Well... yeah. But plenty of male philosophers don't look the part of philosophers either.

But I don't think this is any kind of real secret... Women and philosophy have a long history of being quite separate. Heck women and almost every profession have had a long history of being quite separate. Like Simon said above, the only solution would be to start asking everyone if they were philosophers, to avoid rudeness, which just becomes odd. Would it be rude of me to ignore the fetus within Evelyn? Are you a philosopher in there? What are your thoughts about the status of your personhood?

I had an experience, similar to this, but involved no elevators or women. I just landed around midnight in Cincinatti, and I was STARVING. So a short skinny long haired geeky starving grad student does what anyone in his position would, he starts roaming the city looking for something to eat. The only thing I could find open was a fast food joint (this was before I was veg). But in front of the fast food place, were several very large African Americans wearing parkas, hanging out in front of the door. I had to kind of walk through them to get inside. I did, and ordered, and walked through them when I left. I recounted my HARROWING tale to my friends. Was I being racist for being afraid of walking through a group of African Americans? Would I have been afraid if it was a group of white guys? Probably not. Was it fair of me to judge them like this? Probably not. Did I wrong them? I don't think I did....

I could have wronged them by calling the police for loitering, and not the same for a group of white guys.

Back to Brister... was she wronged? She was the victim of a stereotype. Had she been a basketball player and not been asked if she was a basketball player, when a tall black person walked into the elevator, I don't think she would have been wronged... If anyone was wronged in this situation, it was the long haired sport coat wearing guy. He fit the stereotype, and was assumed to be a member of that group.

Inivibility always seemed like the easiest thing to cure. "He's a philosopher too?! What are the chances that philosophers outnumber non-philosophers in any given place?" But maybe that's just because I'm a male.

Jean Kazez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean Kazez said...

Too many typos, trying again--

The dining philosophers problem--wow, I had no idea!

Simon, You didn't begin your comment by saying "Dear Muslima, You think you have problems,what with your burka making you invisible, but let me tell you..." So you can't be the Dawkins of elevator deux.

I wouldn't want to commit myself to any general principle or extrapolate to other situations--too hard! In this situation, it seems like Older Guy isn't wrong to have his stereotypes, but it's still "slightly bad" that he didn't work harder at containing them before speaking. If it had been a huge elevator with 10 people on it, sure, he wouldn't have had to address them all, but it would been easy for him to address both people, just to be on the safe side. He should have done it, though it's certain a minor error--that's how I'd put it.

Wayne, I'm not sure exactly what you are and aren't allowed to do, under the influence of stereotypes, but it could be you're allowed to protect yourself, but not allowed to ignore non-threatening looking people on elevators. How's that for a principle with no generality?

Ardent Skeptic said...

She made a reasonable assumption based on appearance. It isn't horrible that the ponytailed man in the sport coat did the same.

She is the statistical anomaly and knows it. If she wants to be treated like what she is, then she knows she needs to jar those preconceived notions. That means she should start talking and stop behaving like wallpaper.

When I go to TAM, I don't look like a typical TAMer in a TAM T-shirt and jeans. I also don't wear my name tag while out and about in the hotel because it's a really bad idea. (If I'm wearing my name tag and not in my room, I'm saying, "This is who I am and my room is empty so feel free to go to my room and steal my valuables.") When I'm in an elevator, restaurant, bar, or wandering the halls and I see a typical TAMer, I start the conversation because I know there is no reason for any other TAMer to assume that I am also a TAMer. Of course, I also start conversations with people who are not obviously TAMers, not because I'm thinking, "Maybe, this person is a TAMer", but because I care about my fellow human beings and want them to know that no one is wallpaper to me.

It's my responsibility to "bust" preconceived notions. The preconceived notion I am most interested in "busting" is the self-centeredness we are, unfortunately, born with. The world doesn't revolve around me and most people are not intentionally meaning to cause me offense. I take offense when people's words and actions are meant to cause offense. So, I appreciate that my husband is worthy of people's high regard and I don't take offense when women tell me "I'm lucky to have him" while, at the same time, treating me with respect. I take offense when women tell me "I'm lucky to have him" or "I robbed the cradle" while sucking up to him and treating me like an unworthy piece of garbage.

The "young man" behaved self-centeredly by beginning a conversation with someone whose appearance made it seem that he was worth getting to know. The woman behaved self-centeredly by taking offense when no offense was likely intended. Equally bad behavior by both in that elevator because of our "preconceived self-centered notion". When she chose to write about his "self-centeredness" with an assumption that his behavior was sexism rather than his having made the same assumption that she did based on preconceived notions, she compounded her "self-centeredness behavior "offense. That's why I'm annoyed.

Dave Ricks said...

Tenor sax player Bud Freeman wrote a book of anecdotes, including his experience that people would tell him, You Don't Look Like a Musician. And a friend of mine said that if you saw the keyboardist Joe Zawinul in the hallway, you'd think he was here to fix the air conditioner. And my dad told me the conductor Herbert Von Karajan had a tux fitted, and when he raised his arms to see how the sleeves would look conducting, the tailor said, "Oh, you're a waiter!"

Evelyn Brister could share a laugh like those men, but instead she's asking for victim status. Personally, I am not friends with any men or women who act like this.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't think it's "self-centered" or "asking for victim status" to notice a problem, even if it's a very small problem, and point it out. The guy with the pony tail did something very minor, of course, but this kind of thing does contribute to making philosophy more hospitable to men than to women. It's not "self-centered" or "asking for victim status" to complain--it's just factual. Example: if I call on men more than women in my classes, or treat black students differently, I'm all for them noticing and complaining. There's no reason to think it's up to them to somehow put up with it or solve the problem unilaterally. I should behave differently--of course I should. I don't see complaining in the bad light that some of you do--especially when complaining is proportional to the wrong-doing. Here we have a minor error and a quiet complaint--I see nothing wrong with it.

ianbargain said...

When somebody is merely recounting a personal experience, I think we should give maximum deference to their interpretation of it. In this case, I thought it was amusingly written and to the point. Strict scrutiny is needed only when:
a) such interpretation is used to harm somebody (expel that young man!) or draw adverse inferences about his character. She didn't call him a sexist or even personally criticise him - just recounted the event. We can readily see it from what would have been her point of view. She even acknowledges other interpretations albeit flippantly (white hair/overly sensitive). Insisting on the least charitable explaination could cause unintended harm too if anonymity is broken. How the other elevator guy managed to remain anonymous is a mystery.

b) Personal interpretation is used to make grand claims at a larger scope. This needs significant and reliable evidence. Putting personal experiences in the forefront of large claims without adequate evidence - forces anybody who wishes to contest or question your claim to inevitably make seemingly personal criticism which can degenrate to insults. And, then the fun starts :)

In summary, un != deux.

May be there is some elevator etiquette - the person already-in should greet the new-comer. In which case, Evelyn was rude :). May be, ponytail dude will write elevator trois - snobby female philosophers don't talk to young men. May be the older man will write it - mobbed by young men, while indifferent female philosophers just look on.

ianbargain said...

Also, what if EG-2 read about Eg-1 and has given up talking to women in elevators at conferences?

Jean Kazez said...

Ianbargain, In Advanced Elevatorology, we will have to have to do a very detailed comparison of un and deux, but I think I agree with everything you said. Maybe we can co-write the textbook.

Ardent Skeptic said...

Sorry, Jean, but I don't consider your analogy of the elevator incident to a classroom situation as being equivalent. In a classroom situation you know everyone is a student. And, seeming to ignore one type of student while paying more attention to another type of student should be pointed out as inappropriate behavior whether it was your intention to behave so or not.

Expecting someone to make what is, in essence, a bad guess based on statistics when a wrong guess could have made the woman uncomfortable is demanding way too much.

What if the woman's answer to the "Are you philosopher?" question had been "No." Then what? A white haired man gets on the elevator and is asked the same question, to which he replies, "Yes". A conversation ensues which doesn't include the woman. So, she thinks "What am I wallpaper. I'm just a baby factory incapable of having deep thoughts or being someone worth knowing because I'm not a philosopher."

I know what I am. And, based on the TAM "uniform", I can be pretty sure what other people are. I don't wear the TAM "uniform" and I don't wear my name tag until I enter the conference room. Making people guess on the FIRST morning of the FIRST day on the elevator down to the continental breakfast that I am a TAMer, and feeling slighted if I'm ignored, is self-centered behavior, IMO.

Had she made herself known to the "uniformed" (and, therefore, likely to be a philosopher) young man on the elevator, and he chose to give her the cold shoulder, or stopped talking to her when the white haired man (and, therefore, more important) got on the elevator then her mild complaint would be absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, justified.

As it stands, it was a missed opportunity on her part to jar the preconceived notion of "philosopher", and become a welcome and included member of that group. The young man was obviously interested in networking with his fellow philosophers. Because she didn't speak up and, instead, expected him to make a bad guess to initiate a conversation with her, she has no way of knowing whether it is only white haired male philosophers he wants to network with or any and all philosophers irregardless of age, gender, ethnicity, etc...

Her post on this matter makes it seem like she places the burden solely on men to not cause offense by never acting (based on philosophical world reality) in such a way that she can assume is meant as an offense to women. It isn't just a complaint that he failed to consider the possibility that she is a philosopher. It goes beyond that to an assumption that he considers women, generally, of being incapable of deep thought and not worth knowing.

windy said...

Is it obvious that the younger man was a philosopher and not an interested bystander? Maybe it was clear from listening to the ensuing conversation, but if you're trying to suck up to an older expert in your field, "are you a philosopher?" seems like a less than optimal opener.

Jean Kazez said...

Ardent, I think the burden is on everyone to break through stereotypes, and really don't see any reason to accuse this woman of thinking it's entirely on men.

I run into the elevator-type situation quite often--and OK, yes, it's a bit different from a classroom situation. For example, I occasionally go to a party with my engineer husband, where we'll meet a couple and statistically the husband is more likely to be another engineer than the wife. If I were to address some company-oriented (and utterly boring) comment to the man, that would be bad...surely! Not, of course, a huge problem, but a small error. The sort of thing I ought to try to avoid.

Speaking of engineer husband--he did make a good point about the case at hand. Perhaps Pony-tail guy was sort of in search mode. All he needed was one philosopher to talk to, for some reason. He wasn't more generally looking for philosophy pals or philosophy chat. When he saw Old Philosophy Guy, perhaps he thought "found one!" Now that he had found one, he just had no reason to look for another. This would make his situation different from the one where you meet a couple at a party and you're certain not in search mode, but just socializing. But...that's kind of reaching for a story that makes the guy blameless. It's possible it was that way, but not inevitable.

Ardent Skeptic said...

Sorry, Jean, but this situation isn't at a party either. It isn't even on an elevator at Philosopher World Headquarters. (Does such a place exist? :) It is three strangers on an elevator in a hotel before the conference has gotten under way.

To not have offended the woman, the young man would have either had to make a likely bad guess about her and attempt to engage her in conversation, (as he is alone with an unknown woman on an elevator that probably isn't advisable), or not act on his good guess about the white haired man by not speaking to him.

She was on the elevator first and said nothing to the ponytailed man whom she stereotyped as a philosopher when he got on. That could certainly give the young man the impression that she has no clue what the philosopher "type" looks like so, therefore, it is even less likely that she is a philosopher. Still, he has a responsibility to not speak to the white haired man just in case she is a philosopher so as not to cause her offense?

You have said the burden is on everyone to break through stereotypes. So what was her responsibility, in that regard, in this situation? She thought the stereotype, she just didn't act on it. Should she not have thought the stereotype, or should she have acted on that assumption and let the young man know she likely knew what he was, thereby, proving that there are women philosophers too?

I'm all for placing the burden on everyone to break through stereotypes but I don't think that 'strangers on an elevator in a hotel' is a situation in which someone should have the expectation of stereotype breakthroughs.

As I have been a complete pain about this issue, I promise to shut up now. (And, Jean breathes a sigh of relief. ;)

Jean Kazez said...

I think it's quite a bit like being at a party--you're in the hotel, you know a bunch of people around you are there for the conference, but not everyone. The issue is: should you or shouldn't you use stereotypes to guess who's a conference-goer and who's not? And should you act on that basis?

Likewise at the party you've got a mix of people-- some are engineers, some are spouses (and some are actually caterers, in some cases). Do you use sterotypes to guess who's who, and should you act on that basis?

You say if the young man should have talked to both people, then the woman should have addressed the young man who she'd pegged as a philosopher. But nobody's saying that anyone who got on the elevator HAD to interact at all. They all could have remained silent. That would be fine, surely. The question is about someone who DID have a desire to interact -- should they use stereotypes to decide whom to interact with, as the young man did?

No need to shut up--for some reason elevator scenarios are intriguing.

Aeolus said...

Jean: For your next book, I suggest HEAVY LIFTING: The Ethics of Elevator Encounters. (Alternative subtitle: The Ethics of Small Spaces.) Seriously. It could be a fairly short book, written to be accessible to the intelligent person-on-the-street -- you have a knack for that. ("Fun and provocative!" -- New York Review of Books.) It would introduce the new philosophical field of "liftology" (less of a mouthful than "elevatorology"). By its nature, liftology is wider in scope than trolleyology, so there would be no shortage of ethical problems to write about.

Jean Kazez said...

What a terrific title--it almost makes it a terrific idea. Certainly fun to think about for an afternoon, but here's what may be the horrible truth--

Some people like to write about light things heavily, and some people like to write about heavy things lightly. I think I might be in the second category.

(Note to self: Oh come on, don't dismiss it so fast. This could be the "Bullshit" of 2012! Chatting with Jon Stewart would be fun-fun-fun.)

Ardent Skeptic said...

OK, since I don't need to shut up, even though I probably still should, these are my questions:

If we want to break through stereotypes, how does everyone having the same kind of thoughts but not putting them on public display through their actions fix the problem? Don't people need to have their thoughts challenged for any real change to occur? How do we challenge thoughts we don't know people are having?

If she had spoken up when the young man got on the elevator or spoken up when the young man spoke to the white haired man, she would have challenged his thoughts and real change about stereotypes might possibly have occurred. Wouldn't that have been better than writing a blogpost about it which she can't be sure the young man will ever read?

At a party, people are there to socialize, (even possibly the caterers so they can get more business), so asking personal questions and engaging in chit chat with everyone is expected. At a hotel, not everyone is there to attend a conference, (and, apparently, women don't want to be chatted up in elevators by strange men unless the woman starts the conversation), so until the conference actually gets underway, people make their best guess as to who those kindred spirits are. If people make educated guesses, connections can often be made before the conference starts when people start arriving at the hotel. That's part of what the "Old Boy Network" is. It doesn't have to be "Old Boys", though. If women speak up, they can be part of it too. I think women need to be willing to engage or they will continue to sit grumbling on the sidelines. She needed to use those "stereotypes" to her advantage, like the young man did, to join the 'party' rather than asking other people to 'stop partying'. IMO, that's the best way to break through stereotypes. If there is more diversity in a group, the stereotypes disappear. She could have made that elevator 'party' more diverse but chose not to, so the stereotype remains.

I think it is unkind to assume that this young man's thoughts were that women can't be philosophers because women are incapable of having deep thoughts or are not people worth knowing. All we can really know is that he wants to 'party' with philosophers and so he picked the first likely candidate he encountered on the way to breakfast on that first day. It was a missed opportunity by all three on the elevator, because she didn't join the 'party'. That's really unfortunate, IMO.

(The research has begun... Write the book, Jean! It might even be made into a movie with possible sequels... "Heavy Lifting: With a Vengeance" or "Lift Free or Die Hard".)

Jean Kazez said...

Love the movie names:-)

"If we want to break through stereotypes, how does everyone having the same kind of thoughts but not putting them on public display through their actions fix the problem? Don't people need to have their thoughts challenged for any real change to occur?"

Good question. I think it's just normal and not inherently harmful to have images in your head of the typical philosopher or typical engineer--just like you have an image in your head of the typical house or typical cat. It can be (but isn't always) harmful to let that picture influence your behavior for this reason: because of the potential impact on female or black (or whatever) philosophers, engineers, or whatever. It's just one little incident, but a lot of them add up to women feeling like they don't belong in philosophy, and then cumulatively I think that actually impairs performance. That's surprising, but there's evidence to that effect.

So--that's what I've been assuming about why stereotypes in people's heads are OK, but action based on them is problematic.

Ardent Skeptic said...

We have images in our head which is OK. Got it.
So, my next questions are these:

Why shouldn't we use those images to seek happiness?

Do we have the right to tell others not to seek happiness because the images aren't us?

Are we justified in feeling slighted when people seeking happiness don't have an image of us?

Isn't it our responsibility to speak up if we want to change that image, if the image it's OK to have, isn't us?

Jean Kazez said...

I'm not too worried about images in people's heads, per se. Something's got to be "the typical house" and someone's got to be "the typical philosopher" or "the typical engineer." The paradigm case can't be both big and small (for the house), both black and white, both male and female. Do female philosophers have a responsibility to go around broadcasting that they are female philosophers, every chance they get? I wouldn't think so. The woman in the elevator can just quietly take the trip from one floor to another. The guy who initiates conversation is another story. If he initiates conversation, then he's got to conform to rules of etiquette and ethics.


Ardent Skeptic said...

I understand where you're coming from about "images", Jean, but I think that expecting people not to act on those "images", rather than realizing that they will, is wrong. She felt slighted, but I think she wasn't, in fact, slighted. If she had spoken up and been treated shabbily, then she would have been slighted.

We go about our business not really noticing most of the people around us until we see a pattern we feel is worthy of our attention. When that pattern gets our attention, we act based on that pattern recognition. It's inevitable that this will occur. And, in the elevator, that's precisely what happened. If this is a slight, then we are all guilty of it pretty much all the time we are out in public.

We can't prevent others from doing this pattern seeking and acting on it. So, we need to accept that it will happen and choose our own actions accordingly.

She chose to put thoughts into the man's head ("No chance of my having deep thoughts or being someone worth knowing.") that weren't necessarily there. Does she have the right to assume that her hurt feelings are someone else's thoughts and, therefore, be certain that she has been slighted? She didn't fit the pattern; most people don't. Anyone who doesn't would have gone unnoticed in the elevator.

She can just quietly take the trip from one floor to another, but it isn't reasonable to expect that everyone else do the same. To insist that someone wanting to make a connection with another possibly like-minded individual in an elevator, (for any reason that makes them perceive a possible similarity to themselves), is a breach of etiquette or ethics because it might inadvertently hurt the feelings of a complete stranger is, in essence, saying no one is allowed to start a conversation with anyone else they encounter for the first time in an elevator ever. Isn't it?

Do you think we would have heard about this if there had been, say, a tailors' conference also going on at that hotel, and the younger man had asked the white-haired man if he were a tailor? Should she (the philosopher) have felt slighted at not fitting that stereotype, too?

Jean Kazez said...

You talk about hurt feelings, but that's not the reason I gave why it's important for the young guy to reach out inclusively, if he's going to reach out at all. The reason I gave is that making women feel invisible can contribute to the philosophy community being inhospitable to women, and so to their under-representation. Since I think it's good to be part of that community, I think that sort of inhospitableness is a problem. It would be exactly the same if it were a black philosopher being ignored, not a woman. I wonder what you'd think of that sort of case. Three guys on an elevator, one black. The white guy turns to the other white guy and asks if he's at this philosophy convention, or doctor's convention, or engineering convention...or whatever. Can't the black guy feel a bit irritated? I think so, and for exactly the same reason why the woman can. No? What do you think about that scenario?

ianbargain said...

There is obviously no duty on the female philosopher to open a conversation with everybody who enters the elevator. But interactions with strangers are not as simple, is it? When we enter an elevator, if somebody inside doesn't smile or make eye-contact, would you just blurt out, "are you a philosoper"? It is fair to assume that, the person just wants to be left alone. Having assumed that Evelyn is not open to a conversation, is it incumbent on the young man to avoid conversation with any other philosopher(ish) to subsequently enter the elevator? Social interactions are not simple and you always have to predict whether you would be welcome are not - may be white-haired man had a pleasant countenance or the young man just decided to gamble. It is not sufficient for the young man to assume that Evelyn is a philosoper, he has to assume that she is a philosopher willing to talk to a stranger. For all we know Evelyn might be a very nice and kind person, but why would a stranger be assured of that, after a split second look. Just because they are at a conference is not sufficient to guarantee a willingness to chat with strangers in elevators, is it?

Unless the young man is willing to step up and offer his version (self-serving or not) - it is impossible and unfair to draw any conclusions. If similar observations are made by colleagues who work in the same department or frequently shared elevators, then we can possibly read more into it.

I guess, the more interesting question is: are these kind of "overlooking" sufficiently frequent to establish a trend - in which case the annoyance is more at the trend. The young man's motivations and intentions are moot - since he has at least acted as a reminder of the trend. If there is no trend, then I think any assumption is presumptuous. If there is such a trend, at least a few others must have noticed it. Jean?

Also, the elevator in this case, unlike a certain other case, in and of itself is irrelevant, isn't it. This could have happened if they are just checking in at the hotel at the same time or standing in the ostracized smokers' corner.

Jean Kazez said...

I think the elevator actually isn't completely irrelevant. The reason why is because in a small enclosed space like this, you can be sure Young Guy did see Pregnant Woman. Also, there weren't so many other people and events going on that his attention may have been on someone or something else. So you know Young Guy did see Pregnant Woman, did not think to as if she were at the conference, but then did ask Old Guy when he got on.

Evelyn Brister has made an inference to the best explanation here--that it simply didn't occur to him that she was at the conference, because she was a pregnant woman. Of course, that's not completely certain--it could be that something about her, personally, was off-putting. But she doesn't present it as certain either.

Surely we should not sentence Older Guy to 10 years of hard labor over this, both because it's uncertain, and because it's a minor mistake, if it's one.

I think it was worth her pointing out though. Invisibility is a problem for minority members. Rarely do you have a 100% clear-cut example, but that shouldn't stop minority members from *ever* citing any examples.

Ardent Skeptic said...

I didn't assume that the woman, the young man, or the white haired man are white, so your scenario doesn't change my perspective.

People will be irritated by what they consider to be inappropriate behavior by their fellow human beings. It doesn’t, however, mean that their irritation in why they feel what they feel is the thinking of the person who caused the hurt.

My parents used to say to me, “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” I took these words very literally and would think about why I was crying and if my tears were justified.

Am I justified as “not a philosopher” to feel hurt by the way this woman chose to write her post?

“No chance of my having deep thoughts or being someone worth knowing.”

A woman, therefore, not a philosopher, therefore, “No chance, etc...”

Is that philosopherism? Does that make the philosophical community inhospitable to non-philosophers?

I don’t feel hurt because I don’t think that’s what her intention was. (Actually, I laughed when I read her comment because I’ve been reading one “white haired male” philosopher’s writings for years and I think he is clueless about basic human nature, including his own, which makes his “philosophy” shallow, and him a snob who is not worth knowing. My apologies for the slight to any “white haired male” philosophers who may read this comment and think it might be them. It isn’t unless the entire world considers you the “father” of your philosophy. If this description fits you, don’t worry about it. I don’t possess the “educated tastes” of a “fully developed intellect” so my opinion about you and your philosophy just doesn’t matter.)

She got hurt. But, the hurt she articulated in her blogpost isn’t necessarily justified. We can’t be sure of what the young man’s prejudices are, based on what happened. For all we know, there might be a much simpler and less egregious explanation for his actions like:

He's one of those "cheery" morning people and she’s a "grumpy" one and looked it. He chose to leave her alone and didn't think she would be offended if he chatted with another "cheery" looking person.

I think it’s a good idea when we’ve gotten hurt to stop and think about whether our tears are justified. Moreover, we should do our best to give our fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt, start our data collection, and make a final judgement when we have sufficient evidence. I don’t think she has done that, so the answer to her “overly sensitive” question would be “yes”. She has overreached, and I don’t think the situation described is really a good example for demonstrating that the philosophy community is inhospitable to women.

(Should we talk about the white haired man now and try to decide what his responsibility was in this scenario? You have to collect more data for your book so you will be asked to be on Jon Stewart’s show :-)

ianbargain said...

Yeah, I see that the elevator could be pretty relevant.

In any case, I don't have any problem with people citing examples like this. It doesn't matter if the example is not ideal - which is probably not possible - it doesn't even matter if the example turns out to be plain wrong with more info - the fact that feelings of being overlooked is being caused, unwittingly or not, is worth understanding. If it were a scientific field, the field's (community?) major purpose is to ensure that everybody is encouraged to make their best contribution, not to probe whether examples are right or wrong - only whether they are hindering workers in the field or not. Similar argument holds in most fields, I think. Obviously, there is potential for such examples to be abused - as we know :)

I was only musing on this - all in the interest of elevatorology obviously - how far this example can go. Just idle musing - not criticizing anybody. I should probably stop now :)

Jean Kazez said...

Ardent, The issue isn't at all whether the woman felt "hurt". That's not her grounds for complaining. The complaint is about stereotypes causing a person to be excluded, not sheer feelings.

The fact that you may have thought of one of the three as black doesn't do the same job as deliberately changing the case so the person left out is black. That's what I'm asking you to do--suppose the person let out is not a pregnant woman, but a black man. Suppose the young guy's sterotypes prevent him from thinking that the black guy could have been a philosopher. Would the black guy have grounds for complaint? I would think so.

Look, blacks really do get overlooked and excluded in lots of situations, and so do women. This holds them back, so it's something to be taken seriously. Any given incident is just one tiny speck, and we usually don't know all the facts, so can never make a completely certain assessment, but it seems absurd to suggest that nobody should ever complain about these things.

I think they should complain, but proportionally, and with the proper acknowledgment of uncertainties.

We probably need to drop this soon...all signs are that we are not going to agree, which is fine. It's been an interesting discussion, partly because we don't agree.

Jean Kazez said...

Ianbargain, If there were really going to be a book on elevator ethics, surely the introduction would have to discuss whether there's really anything special about elevators, whether they create a special class of moral puzzles. There are lifeboat puzzles and trolley puzzles ... is there also a family of elevator puzzles, because of something about elevators? Er...maybe not, though I think the elevator does matter in un and deux. Problem is, I can't really think of trois ...

Maybe I haven't tried hard enough. May you get on an up elevator, if you're really trying to go down? That's not too exciting...

Can you let your kids push buttons for other people? Snooze.

I fear there is not a really a rich vein here.

Ardent Skeptic said...

I agree with you, Jean, that proportionate responses are entirely appropriate. I guess I was trying to say that I thought a more proportionate response would have been to address the issue right then and there, rather than complaining to the world on a blog.

And I suppose I may have been reacting to the association in her post between being a philosopher and being capable of having deep thoughts. As a non-philosopher, and someone who has frequently been dismissed for being a mere housewife, that struck me as being snobbish and unwelcoming more generally.

That she appeared to be guilty of succumbing to stereotypes, while in the process of complaining about stereotypes, weakened her case, in my opinion. If she had left it at feeling like "wallpaper," and not brought in the "deep thoughts" crack, I would have had more sympathy. Everyone can relate to feeling like wallpaper from time to time. Leaving it at that would have been more effective at invoking some self-reflection in others on whether they, too, have been guilty of making people feel that way.

So I definitely agree that people should point out injustices and foster an environment in which those injustices become less acceptable. But committing an injustice, while pointing out other injustices, comes across more as self-centered oversensitivity, rather than as a sincere attempt to address those injustices.

(BTW, I've taken the hint, and will shut up now. :))

Simon Rippon said...

Sorry, I just came back here to check out the comments thread. I see that in one of the later replies here, Jean, you've fallen into attributing Young Guy thoughts that - as I explained in my earlier comment by raising the example of needing a doctor in an emergency - can't be reasonably attributed to him:

"Suppose the young guy's sterotypes prevent him from thinking that the black guy could have been a philosopher."

Sure, it *would* be totally offensive and unreasonable to think a (particular) pregnant woman or a black guy *couldn't* be a philosopher, and to act on that basis. But that's just not what's at issue in this anecdote! And that's why Pregnant Woman is *unjustified* in feeling invisible here, even if she does in fact feel invisible as a result of Young Guy's addressing White-Haired Guy and not her. Young Guy plausibly thought just that white-haired guy was *more likely* a philosopher. And *she herself accepts* the kind of stereotype that produces this judgment! So if she wants to engage in philosophy chat, it's surely incumbent on *her* to make herself known. Like a plain-clothes police officer, she could simply choose to announce herself, and there would be no need for either confusion or exclusion! There's no reason to think she wouldn't be positively welcomed into the conversation here if she simply chose to join it. So I think it's a stretch to say that the kind of behaviour cited here contributed to an "inhospitable climate for women" in philosophy, even in the tiniest degree. What contributes to *that* is being overlooked or belittled in contexts like that of the seminar room, where everyone already knows what you're trying to be.

Suppose that the conference was not philsophy, but the Black Students' Association, and someone who is of 1/4 black ancestry but outwardly white or mediterranean-looking was in attendance. Would you say that he faces an "inhospitable climate" in *any* respect if he was ignored in the elevator as in this anecdote, but treated just like everyone else when he either spoke up or got into the conference room and put on a name badge?

Jean Kazez said...

Hmm. Young guy and Pregnant Woman both see Old Guy as more likely to be a philosopher. That's OK, as far as it goes. But surely they also agree that a pregnant woman has some reasonable chance of being a philosopher. It's not really, really small, like the chance of a plain-clothed person being a police officer, or a white-skinned person being African American. At least if this were an American APA, Old Guy would just be more likely to be a philosopher. Pregnant Woman would not be extremely unlikely to be a philosopher. That's what I was assuming, anyway.

Given that the two guys knew that there was some reasonable chance Pregnant Woman was a tribe member, it's a little inhospitable not to include her in their conversation... I would think. Now sure, she could have just barged in. I can see that as a good question for her--"Why didn't you speak up? Why wait passively for inclusion?" But then--maybe the answer is that she found the whole thing fascinating, and in fact she wasn't sure what was going on. As someone said above, you can't rule out that Young Guy was hitting on Old Guy--they may have been two gay philosophers! (And then that gets into that old chestnut about hitting on people in elevators!)

I think it's fine to talk about the possibility of sexism in a certain situation, even when you can't prove it. In fact it's necessary to do that, since there are general indicators that there is sexism out there, but you're rarely going to be able to identify individual cases with certainty.