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To Simply Walk into the Room…

There is nothing easier than simply walking into the room, right?

I recently attended a conference at Akron University entitled “Feminist Scholarship and Practice in the 21st Century” and put on by the Committee for Research on Women and Gender. I should begin by commending the conference for putting together an exciting and interesting set of presentations and a fascinating keynote (Patti Lather, Ph.D.). While the other presenters and the staff were kind and inviting, there was nonetheless something disorienting about the experience, a quiet nagging sense that… I did not belong there. Why this feeling of not belonging? Simply put, I was one of two male attendees, and the only male presenter, at at conference run by, principally for, and primarily concerning women. There is a sense to which this feeling subsided over time, as I got more closely acquainted with other presenters, after my presentation was well received, etc. But the sense, particularly the feeling of simply walking into the room for the first time, singing in, making a name tag, awkwardly standing around… never fully subsided.

Perhaps what struck me most strongly, following this experience, was how utterly unfamiliar this experience felt; how unfamiliar it was to me, a male in philosophy. I could not help but reflect upon my past experiences, the theology and philosophy conferences that I had attended. What was the composition of these conferences?

Even? Hardly. A majority male? to say the least. Primarily male? most likely.

Was my experience, of entering a strange land in which I was an unconcealable other, really so unique, or was I merely experiencing what it is like at every other academic conference for women, for racial or sexual  minorities, for anyone who doesn’t fit the philosophical/academic norm?

Philosophers tend to look like this.

Philosophers tend to look like this.

More disconcertingly, even as an “other” at a conference of women, I nonetheless enter with a distinct societal advantage. In the hierarchy of academia, the male has been king (gendered term intended) going on 2500 years. What would be my experience had the roles been truly reversed, had I not only entered as a numerical minority, but at a lower class on the societal scale of value? Would I have even had the courage to sign in and take my place at the front of the room? I don’t know. Nor can I truly even imagine that situation, a situation so radically foreign to my (generally privileged) position.

What “take away” did I bring from this experience? I am unsure. I do not have a remedy.  I do not know what could heal our society, academia, or even our conferences such that the male, the white, the straight, the cissexual, will no longer hold both numerical majority and power control.

What I can recommend though, is that every male in philosophy, theology, or perhaps any discipline, attend a feminism conference.  Feel the weight of being the minority.  As fleeting and partial as this experience was, it nevertheless offered a (at least small) glimpse into an experience that is foreign to the male academic life. Experience, so as to better understand. Perhaps when male philosophy begins to feel this weight, they can better understand the true difficulty of the minority academic experience, perhaps they will understand the strength and courage that it takes to simply walk into the room, and take one’s seat. 

Also, it couldn’t hurt to read these: