Socratic dialogue


I go to University in the US, currently studying to get my undergraduate degree. I’m a philosophy major, who plans to go to grad school to eventually get my PhD. In addition, I am a philosophy major who gets constant encouragement from my professors, who think I am very smart, capable, and prepared for graduate level work. In class, I am outspoken, and I almost always have something I can positively contribute to class.

One day, in my ancient philosophy class, we were studying the Crito, one of Plato’s early Socratic dialogues. My professor assigned us groups, and in my group the male/female ratio was about even. We had read the work before coming to class, and it was our first day discussing it in class. There was this part in the Crito, where Plato has Socrates defend his decision to allow the Athenians execute him by constructing a discussion between himself (Socrates) and “The Laws.”

I noticed that there was something going on with these “Laws” that was more than just “the laws of humans!” or “the laws of Athens!” There was something there, something complex and fascinating (which, as revealed by my professor later, was true). So, of course, as fascinated by this as I am, I bring it up to my group.

“No, I’m pretty sure they’re just the laws of Athens,” says the rest of my group.

I keep trying to convince them that I’m right and that there’s something going on there that they’re not paying attention to, when suddenly-

“Yeah, I think there’s something going on here,” says one of my fellow (male) group members.

Immediately, the rest of the group sees it! They are convinced that Socrates meant something more than just the laws of Athens! And they all join in, pointing out evidence and interesting passages that point to that direction.

I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t like they had a past history together in their classes; it wasn’t like any of us knew each other at all. But I did know that I had just spent several minutes trying to make the concept clear, while they constantly tried to make it seem like I was “reading too much into things.” But THE. VERY. MINUTE. that my MALE classmate said anything that agreed with me, they suddenly understood.

But I guess I shouldn’t be upset about it! After all, it’s #MFIF.


15 Responses to “Socratic dialogue”

  1. Luna_the_cat Says:

    Ah, yes. That particular invisibility that any suggestion by a woman has, until it has been repeated by a male colleague — at which point it is not only suddenly noticed, it’s also his idea, and a damn good one at that.

    I’m sure there has been a term coined for this, but I can’t remember it off the top of my head. Maybe someone else here remembers.

    • Steph H. Says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what it felt like. I would be very curious to hear an already-coined term; it would be very useful the next time I have to complain to a professor about not being listened to by my colleagues.

  2. Adult Child Says:

    Okay, I’m curious: what did you notice about the Laws personification beyond the obvious?

    • Steph H. Says:

      Well, in that particular conversation, you could say it WAS the obvious: the Laws were not a simple personification of the laws of Athens, the laws of humans, or even really the idea of “law.” I brought this up to facilitate discussion, but instead I ended up arguing with my classmates that it wasn’t “the laws of Athens” until said male classmate mentioned it.

  3. Matt G. Says:

    Maybe they were journalism majors and they were waiting for a second source’s confirmation?

    Nah, they’re probably just still watching shadows on a cave wall.

  4. Merely Academic Says:

    There is a phrase for it: “That’s a wonderful idea Miss Jones – we’ll wait until a man has it.”

  5. Ian M Says:

    I really, really hope this never happened in any of my philosophy classes. Especially since if it DID happen, that means I didn’t notice it at the time.

  6. grapecat Says:

    man, that happens to me ALL THE TIME at work. it drives me crazy.

    • Steph H. Says:

      I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you can try to do something about it and actually be taken seriously doing so. Or maybe even find a new, better job with people who will actually appreciate your insight and value.

  7. H Says:

    The sexual politics of university seminars are very interesting. Philosophy especially, the quick-fire debate seems to privilege men who haven’t been taught to keep quiet until spoken to, and you often find that men in the group are talking more than women. Perhaps men would say that there is a downside to having more of a voice – you are also expected to talk more. I genuinely have noticed very different gender behaviours in seminars. (I think Germaine Greer writes about the differences between male and female students in class in one of her books?)

    • Steph H. Says:

      This is indeed very true. I am very outspoken, but few women will talk much in class. Discussion is usually dominated by the men. But of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have anything better or more significant to add. In fact, I would hazard to say, I often have better things to say than most of the men who DO talk a lot.

  8. Trix Says:

    It’s not just university seminars. I’ve spent a year in those at the post-grad level. I’ve spent 15 times that amount of time in -professional- contexts, and that “deaf until a man says it” syndrome is endemic. At least in the three countries I’ve lived in, none of which have been the US. At least I’m not actually encountering it much these days, but it -still- does happen occasionally.

    • Steph H. Says:

      At least it doesn’t happen TOO much these days; this was the first time I’ve noticed it at my university. Although I don’t know what goes on in the heads of those who just sit and listen without contributing to the conversation.

  9. Evans Says:

    Ah yes, that familiar phenomenon.
    My favourite personal example was at an internal project review:
    Me: …and we’ll send the reports electronically as per the customer’s preference.
    2 minutes later, (male) Senior Manager Reviewer: Make sure you send the customer report electronically, they don’t have much space for paper storage.
    (Female) Project Manager: Yes, we’ve aware of that, it’s standard practice with that customer.
    2 minutes later, Senior Manager Reviewer: You will send the report electronically won’t you.
    Me: Yes, they don’t have room for paper storage.
    2 minutes later… and on and on…
    Of all the details to fixate on. It was so farcical the PM and I couldn’t quite believe it was happening!

    Of course it was less funny when he credited all my work on the same project to a male colleague and passed me over for promotion a couple of months later. 😦

  10. Stephanie Says:

    Ugh, I’ve experienced the same thing. I’m an science/engineering student and there are classmates of mine who will never trust a homework answer I have unless one of his comrades agrees with him or unless I tell him directly that the TA or professor confirmed it, or despite the fact that I’ve been right, time and time again.

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