I found your website by accident and was moved by the stories. I had no idea what is going on, and reading the stories will, hopefully, make me more sensitive.
I don’t know if your readers would be interested in my story, but here it is.
I (mid-forties male associate professor) was teaching a graduate seminar today. Students were taking turns discussing paper ideas. I had spoken with one student (call him B) during office hours a few days earlier about a particular topic he was researching in cognitive neuroscience. In class, one of the students (call her A) brought up the same topic from a more philosophical angle. As she was finishing up her summary, she mentioned that she had not yet found any empirical support for her position. At this point, I volunteered that student B could certainly help. Everyone chuckled knowingly, and student A blanched. I had obviously done something wrong, but it was obvious to me only after I had done it. Students A and B are a couple. Everybody in class knows it, including me.
That’s pretty much the story. You can cut it there. Just so you know, though, if I hadn’t read your blog, I don’t think I would have given it a second thought, or even noticed A’s reaction. Having read the many stories on your blog, though, I approached A later and talked to her about it. Indeed, she felt at the moment that she was no longer independent student A, but had suddenly been reduced to just “B’s girlfriend.” I apologized, and she graciously apologized for being “too sensitive.” If student B had, instead, been unattached student C, I would have said the same in class about student C being able to help (but with perhaps less certainty). Therefore, as a fairly privileged white male professor, it is easy for me to excuse my mistake as innocent and unintended, but looking at it from the point of view of A, I can see that I should be more careful.
I’m a Ph.D. student in a field that isn’t philosophy, but I got a Master’s degree in philosophy and I still read it sometimes. The other night I read [redacted].
It’s a great textbook; I recommend it. But [then], I read this line, explicating an example:
“James has a date with a girl who likes tidy men, and his hair is a mess.”
So James, presumably, is an untidy man, but the woman he’s dating is just a girl.
And I thought: I bet it never in a million years occurred to [redacted] that this is a problem.
And I thought: I wonder if I ever met him, and told him it was a problem, if he’d see it and feel embarrassed, or would he think I was bizarre and humorless and maybe not that bright, and leave me to be the embarrassed one?
And I thought, thinking about [redacted] and all the men in this field that I love that I imagine passing over this line without a second thought: These people don’t think I belong with them.
I submitted this earlier post about mentoring. I can’t believe it, but it just happened again. We’ve got two tenure-track people starting next year, one man and one woman. We were recently wrangling over our reduced budget, trying to decide where to direct resources, and several times the department chair asked a male colleague to check with our incoming man to see what speakers he’ll want to invite next year, what conferences he wants to go to, etc. These two men work in the same area, so it was pretty clear that the more senior person was being asked to informally mentor the more junior one. After several of these requests I finally spoke up and asked if anyone was going to do the same thing for the incoming woman. The chair looked surprised and said, “Oh. I don’t know. Could you take care of that?” So I guess I’m her mentor. But if I hadn’t said anything, she would have received none of this support, and I don’t think anyone would have noticed that they had forgotten about her.
I was scheduled to be a speaker at a workshop in my area, which was canceled due to lack of funding. The conference organizer wrote this to me:
unfortunately for the only other workshop i have in mind the organizing theme is one where you won’t fit, but on the other hand for purely cynical political reasons i will need a token woman.
When I replied that I didn’t want to be his token anything and found his attitude disrespectful, he told me that the cancelled workshop
was 50% women, so if any of them were tokens they would have a hard time guessing this.
I tried one more time:
Yes, but please also don’t tell them shitty, undermining things. “I will need a token woman” is a rotten thing to say to somebody you want to come to your conferences. (Sometimes friends can say rotten things to each other as jokes, but that one definitely crossed a line.)
sorry if you found the joke offensive, but that is the effect of the “gendered conference campaign” which it seems almost everybody but me thinks is a great idea.
I’m almost certainly not organizing any more conferences, thanks for your interest in participating in my nonexistent one.
I am a graduate student at a top university. It has taken me over a year to decide to write this. These events have not only hurt me on a deep personal level,compromised my chances in the field, and most importantly have made me question my philosophical abilities. I will recount not a single incident, but an series of incidents.
Two years ago, as a visiting perspective student I met the leading expert in my area and the most famous philosopher in the department at a welcoming party. As I approached with another male prospective student, he launched into a rant about how female philosophy students just tend to be weaker students and that he had a mind to start a tutoring team for female students in this department. When I suggested that the team should be available for anyone seeking help, either male or female, he emphatically replied that it is the female population that needs help not dropping out. When I met him in his office the next day, he continued on his point. Weeks later I was about to take another offer when the department secretary emailed me letting me know that an additional sum has been added to my package. I took this as a sign that that professor felt apologetic and really did want me to join the department and accepted their offer.
A couple of months into the semester, at a conference after party he leaned towards me and half asked, half suggested that my main adviser and letter writer at my undergraduate department (a famous philosopher) gets “chummy” with his female students. I firmly replied that has never been the case (and after 5 years at that department and many friendships with grad students, I know that that professor is a decent and good human being). He went on to insist that he is in the know and then put his arm around me. I just slid away and later told myself that the whole night was probably just a fluke and that he had too much to drink and probably doesn’t even remember it.
An uneventful year later, I was doing an independent study with him when he expressed enthusiasm about my idea and even said that it was publishable. Later, he placed himself very close to me and then touched my hand as I was handing him an article. I pretended that it didn’t happen and finished the meeting as usual. Later that day, I brought my fiance to the department party and introduced him around. He glared at me but didn’t make contact. After that evening, everything started to change. He started ignoring my hand during seminar, screaming at me in public, calling me incomprehensible to other grad students at bars and so forth. In the middle of the night on Valentine’s Day he emailed me saying that I have no future in philosophy and that “others agree” with him and so forth. I asked the chair whether there was an ongoing consensus on my philosophical potential amongst the faculty and he denied it to be the case. He then told me in reply to my complaint that he “cannot make a professor like a student” and that was that.(Incidentally, the chair was good friends with that professor and was also the one who put his hand on my lower stomach at a party and told me “don’t get knocked up” when I entered in on a conversation about preschools between him and another male grad student). Grad students started treating me differently. I remained in that seminar to stand my ground and show that I cannot be bullied. He was co-teaching this seminar with another elderly, well respected philosopher. One day this elderly gentleman asked this professor to give him a case of ‘X wants some Y’. That professor looked at me and said “He wants some young mail-order bride [from country Z]” and laughed (everyone knew, including him, that I was [from country Z]). Everyone started to laugh with him, including the elderly professor. I raised my hand and said “isn’t this example sort of inappropriate?” and the elderly professor replied through his laughing tears “oh excuse me” and continued laughing.
I recently experienced an unpleasant dismissal by both a speaker and session chair at a major conference where I was a commentator.
The session to which I refer was divided into a number of pairs of speakers and commentators. My session was last, and I therefore had the opportunity to see how the previous speakers and commentators (all males) were treated by the male session chair.
As is the norm, the speaker usually responds to comments before opening the floor to questions from the audience. However, as soon as my comments were finished, without hesitation the chair began to accept questions from the audience, giving the speaker no chance to respond to my comments. This had not happened to the preceding male commentators.
At the end of each sub-session, the chair had asked the male commentators if they had further responses to make during questions and after the last question, and also made remarks pertaining to the content of the comments, which he mentioned he had read prior to the session. I was entirely ignored, and he had clearly not read my comments.
As I got up to leave at the end of the session, the chair acknowledged that he had forgotten to ask for a response to my comments, although he seemed to take this matter lightly and did not apologize. The male speaker said that this was fine. He himself had also never acknowledged receipt of my comments by email prior to the session. When my comments were alluded to sympathetically in questions from the audience, he dismissed them as being irrelevant to his main argument. In the course of verbalizing this dismissal, he managed to entirely forget my name.
Although this incident is comparatively minor, it was evident to audience members that I had been treated distinctly differently to the male commentators. Given that this was in front of a 90% male audience, it unhelpfully reinforces the notion amongst male philosophers that female philosophers need not be attended to as to their male counterparts.
This might have been easier to bear (though by no means lacking in blameworthiness) if the paper on which I was commenting had been worthy of my time. But it had been classified as a “weak acceptance” as it fitted well with the program.
I have mostly, and certainly recently, experienced considerable respect from my male colleagues – so this dismissal has served as a timely reminder (as though one were needed) that there is absolutely no room for complacency.