Thursday, October 31, 2019

It shouldn't be like this

Yesterday afternoon I went down to Leeds to give a talk at the joint Mathematics/Philosophy Logic seminar.

It was, in almost all respects, a really lovely day. I know the Leeds campus quite well, having been going to the International Medieval Congress there quite regularly for the last 10+ years, and I realised on the train down that I think I've probably been to Leeds more often than any other university in the UK other than Durham. I got in a few hours early, and hung out in the Old Bar to finish up my slides. (It was very strange, being on the Old Bar and not having it overrun with medievalists. I didn't overhear any conversations about transcribing codices, or rants about sexuality in Arthurian lit.) While sitting there, a friend surprised me by finding me there, and we got to chat for half an hour or so before I headed over to the mathematics dept., where another friend was waiting to join the audience of the talk. There were also a number of other people that I'd met at the British Logic Colloquium in September, which when sprinkled throughout the rather large audience made me feel at ease. I then got to give one of my favorite talks to mathematical logicians -- in it, I try to convince them that they should care about medieval logic, and show them amusing and sometimes rude pictures from manuscripts (my slides are here. There was a lot of enthusiastic nodding during the talk, and some excellent questions at the end. Afterwards, a third friend of mine turned up, and joined us for beers, and then the dept. took me out for dinner -- so, basically a really, really wonderful day out.


I was the only woman in the room.

We all know that philosophy has a gender problem, that math has a gender problem, and that logic, sitting in the uncomfortable intersection between math and philosophy, has inherited the worst of both worlds. There have been many contexts in which I've been one of only two or three women in a group of logicians, and when I was an undergrad and early grad student, this was so normalised, to be honest I hardly even noticed. (To also be honest, I rather liked the skewed ratio, because it gave YoungNerd!Sara members of the opposite gender she could actually talk to and who actually wanted to talk to her. Dear reader, I married one of them.) But this was the first time where I was the only one.

During dinner I pointed this out, and to their credit, the people I was having dinner with fully acknowledged that this was a problem, and also that it is not an accident that they have invited as many women to come speak as they have. The first step towards fixing a problem is recognising it.

But even so, I wonder when the last time one of them gave a talk to an audience that was only women. It's 2019. It shouldn't be like this.