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Philosophical Sexual Harassment

Gender discrimination against women in the field of philosophy is one point of concern. Women comprise less than 20 percent of university philosophy faculty members — less than in any other humanities field. Women also contribute a fraction of citations in leading scholarly publications. Sexual harassment in philosophy is of greater concern. The resignation of leading philosopher Colin McGinn, who faced serious allegations, has revealed the endemic problem of sexual harassment of women in philosophy.

A falling star

Colin McGinn was a leading philosopher at the University of Miami. In the 1990s, he gained public attention as a member of the New Mysterians, a group of philosophers who questioned the idea that human consciousness could ever be explained. In recent years, McGinn wrote books on movies, sports and Shakespeare. He agreed to resign in 2012 after a student complained to university officials of sexual harassment by McGinn. The student reportedly revealed a stack of emails from McGinn that included messages proposing sexual relations and additional sexually explicit messages. McGinn claims that his relationship with the student was warm and friendly with a bantering quality.

Stories of sexual harassment fall like rain

Jennifer M. Saul, philosophy professor at the University of Sheffield and an author and blogger, sought to learn why there is such a gender disparity in philosophy. She started a blog on which female philosophers could share their experiences about what it means to be a woman in philosophy. Instead, the blog opened the floodgates to sexual harassment complaints. The stories described how academic institutions refused to respond to complaints, supported the harassers and even retaliated against the woman who complained.

The American Philosophical Association responds

The American Philosophical Association (APA) recognizes its sexual harassment problem and formed a committee to address the issue and publish a report to establish a set of best practices. Skeptics have already voiced their opinions. Two female philosophers who attended the APA Pacific division conference said they skipped certain seminars because their harassers were actually leading sessions.

Sexual harassment is illegal

State and federal law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, including unwanted sexual advances, visual displays of sexual objects or pictures, and any conduct of a sexual nature. If you believe you were the victim of sexual advances or a hostile work environment of a sexual nature, contact an experienced Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer.

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