During my time at an MA program, a friend and fellow student went out for drinks with two other students, one of whom was X. After I asked my friend how it went, he replied: “X knows a lot about Heidegger, and a lot of racist jokes!” (A connection here? I leave that as an exercise for the reader)
While grading papers with X, he would drop ‘ironic’ ‘jokes’ like: “haha, why did we ever give women the vote?” This was in front of not only me, a male, but also a female TA and a female professor.
Maybe there was an eye-roll I missed, but neither the female TA nor the professor responded. I said nothing and wrote him off as an idiot, his philosophical talent notwithstanding. He’s now at a very well-ranked PhD program, and it’s distressing to think that he one day might work with minority and/or female students.
In retrospect, I clearly failed to meet my obligations as a bystander, and I reflect on the episode in the hope that in the future I will call out this kind of shit.
Archive for the ‘failure to challenge sexism’ Category
I am Dean of Studies of English Majors [at a major European university]. Last December, 2 students (one woman and one man) came to inform me that they were having trouble with a colleague of mine. It soon turned out that all the 3rd-year students were actually being morally and sexually harassed by the said colleague, and that they had been for the last two years. Men were ignored, women were made to feel that they were objects of pressing desires from that individual and that their grades depended on their silence and willingness to be nice.
I assured them that they had my support and that of the University and informed them that they could act so as to put a stop to that abusive behaviour.
Well… the chair of the Department did not see the situation in the same way, all the more so as he did meet the colleague who complained that his reputation was “being sullied”.
The Dean of the Faculty, (a woman), refused to see the students.
However the harasser decided to put a stop (?) to his inappropriate behaviour.
I have sadly discovered that we were quite alone in that ugly situation. Some of my female colleagues did support us, as did some administrative staff. The authorities did not want to have “problems” and ducked their heads.
Some times, I am not proud or content to be working in higher education.
Quitting teaching philosophy in my department is on my mind:
Every time my male colleague laughs at me behind my back with our students.
Every time my male colleague ridicules me in front of our students.
Every time my male colleague asks our students to discuss my teaching style with him behind my back.
Every time my male colleague dismisses a point I make in a meeting without good reason, and expects that his mere dismissal of my point is sufficient for others, and myself, to accept his position.
Every time my male colleague treats me with utter contempt, then turns around and asks for my advice on student issues/publishing/the job market/life in general.
Every time my male colleagues pretend they are not on campus so they don’t have to meet with me to discuss departmental business, and sit laughing together about the fact that I am on my own in my office trying to run a meeting effectively through google chat instead of meeting with them in person.
Every time one male colleague, who claims to be a feminist, follows the lead of the other male colleague in demeaning or marginalizing me, presumably because it’s easier for him to fall in line than to challenge oppression.
Recent mention of ‘golden boys’ reminded me of an experience I had in grad school. One year, my department had an opportunity to nominate a single PhD student to contend for a substantial dissertation research grant from the University. Unbeknownst to me, my ‘golden boy’ status led to my nomination; in doing so, the department passed over another extremely well-qualified female student. But, one of the department’s few female faculty members took it upon herself to nominate the female student in addition to me.
As it turns out the selection committee got it right, and the better candidate won. When the winner was announced, a senior (male) faculty member took it upon himself to inform me of the situation. He told me that, I was the department’s “unanimous top choice”; that female faculty member X was “being insubordinate” by going “behind the department’s back”; and that the winner “wouldn’t have won had she not been a female”.
It would take far too long to list every aspect of implicit and explicit bias, subtle and blatant sexism in this brief conversation. I was simply shocked, particularly since I wouldn’t have known any different had this faculty member not pulled me aside. All I could manage to say was that I was happy my fellow student had won, and that I was convinced she really deserved it more than I did.
Looking back, I wish I had taken the opportunity to call out the sexism on this occasion (and in particular to stand up for the actions of the female faculty member). It still bothers me, and makes me question whether the other benefits I received in grad school were merited, or were merely the result of gender bias in my favor.
In one recent post a philosopher claimed that she is in a department with a wonderful climate for women, which is nevertheless listed as “Needs Improvement” in this category in the Pluralists’ Guide. My own department is, bewilderingly, listed as “Strongly Recommended” in this category in spite of the presence of known harrassers and openly sexist profs who hold senior positions and/or positions of power over graduate students. Their words and actions are certainly surreptitiously mocked, but these individuals are never challenged in any meaningful way. I don’t want to say anything identifying, but I could provide you with countless stories of situations that have broken my heart and stories also of how complaints of graduate and undergraduate students – when brought even to “feminist” faculty members – are dismissed as things that we are powerless to change.
Message: Now a full professor (in an enlightened department of three women and one man), who teaches feminist philosophy, I’ve been sitting on this one since it happened: In 2000 I was interviewing for jobs for the first time. I visited the University of X for an on campus interview – met with students, taught a class and gave my talk to the dept. I was sitting at the head of the table looking out at all the men – there was one female graduate student there,that’s it. I finished my talk and the questions began. The professor who I would have been replacing raised his hand and said “So…we haven’t had a woman teach fulltime in the department for 40 years, why should we hire one now?” Absolute silence, no one said a word. Rather than saying something clever like, “you clearly shouldn’t as you are not ready” and leaving the interview, I stammered something about perhaps this would help their enrollment,as I would have liked to have had a female role model when I was an undergrad. To this he replied “Well, if we want to recruit more female students why shouldn’t we just hire some hot, young guy?” I was totally flummoxed by this point and just trying not to a)yell or b) cry as I knew either of these actions would reinforce his ideas about women – and I was quite convinced this was the action he was trying to provoke. Again, NO ONE at the table said a word. Needless to say, I did not get the job, and to add insult to injury, they made that distinguished professor drive me back to my hotel where he told me “you did okay, kiddo”. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if the guy they hired was young and hot.
Just a reminder, there are philosophy departments out there that are a nightmare for women. No woman professors ever hired, professors (male of course) sleeping with graduate students, humiliating, sexist remarks made to women researchers on public occasions, and of course, last but not least: a war on the field of women’s studies and any and all related fields. (This means you, phenomenology.)
People crack alot of jokes about gender balance, and question whether people go too far with this kind of sensitivity. But there are alot of demoralized women out there. The women at the department I am talking about are probably too afraid to post on this blog.
When I was on a job interview at a small college a decade and a half ago, I gave a paper on sexual harassment. Things were going well until the dinner, when one male professor who was quiet up until that time, spoke up and said, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with feminists: they need to be dominated by a man.” The other department members (all male) remained silent. I engaged this fellow for a short time, but realized quickly that his character was not one that could be changed. I didn’t get the job. I didn’t want it. I reported the incident to the APA Committee on the Status for Women, and I believe I saw the department listed on the “censured list” a few years later.
A couple of years ago, I was a graduate student working for a 350+ person introductory philosophy class. The professor, though a friend , was the kind who cared little about the issue of gender in philosophy, except where he could use it to needle female students. Each semester I worked for him, there was some incident wherein I had ample reason to take issue with gendered language he utilized in his lectures. I tried to bring these to his attention, and usually was castigated for my concerns by him or by the other, male, I.A.’s.
The most egregious of these came my final semester working for him. In lecture, the professor decided that an appropriate illustration of Locke’s counterexample to the argument that freewill requires choice, was to talk at length about an incident of gang rape. The ‘choice’ in question was not even that of the (clearly female) victim. Further, the illustration was a poor, confusing example of the argument he was attempting to make clear. I decided that I could not let this go, as I often had felt I had to in order to keep my job. I went to his office to discuss the issue with him.
Though I was careful to be level, dispassionate, and to express concern for the students themselves, several of whom had found his language despicable, my supposition that violent gang rape was an inappropriate example angered him. His response was first to ask me if I had ever been raped (as if this alone might account for my disapproval), then to lose his temper, yelling at me that I was wrong and “a feminist”. The departmental administration, though aware of this on-going problem, merely moved me to another professor, failing as always did to contend with the real issue.
Dear APA, thanks for the memories…
Thanks to those who set up this blog, who edit the stories, and who contribute their stories. Although some stories are horrifying, the positive ones are heartening.
As a graduate student in the last decade, I attended the Eastern APA meeting before I went on the job market. At one of the group meetings, I ran into a senior colleague from another university. He said, “why don’t we get lunch and talk about your work.” Over lunch he told me he was divorced with adult children. I immediately pointed out that all his children were older than I was, and stated that my boyfriend and I were in the process of moving in together. Steering the conversation back to philosophical topics, I made it absolutely clear that this was a strictly professional lunch and gave him no reason to think otherwise. On the way back to the APA, he said he was going to his hotel room to show me a book on women philosophers which he thought might interest me. I accompanied him to the room, where he proceeded to wrestle me onto the bed saying “don’t worry, it’s okay, this is okay.” Thanks to my martial arts training, I fought him off and fled the room.
I reported this attempted sexual assault to the organizer of the group of which this professor and I were both members. She said she could do nothing as the group had no authority over its members. I reported it to my advisor, who retorted, “Why didn’t you call the police? Now it’s too late to do anything.” The only person who was willing to take any action was Leslie Francis, the APA Ombudsman. She sent the professor a letter warning him that a complaint had been made to the APA. Unfortunately, this did not deter him from attending my talk at the APA the following year. Although I was dismayed to see him, I managed to give the talk and even answered his questions afterward. These are the kinds of hidden obstacles that some women face on the job market.
I want to publicly thank Leslie Francis for her work as APA Ombudsman. It meant a lot to me that she was willing to help.
When I was a graduate student a senior male professor made some lewd comments to me. I was advised to not tell anyone because he had a lot of friends in the profession so I just tried my best to avoid him.
I’m a graduate student in a department with very few women in the program (at the time this story takes place there were only 3 women that were at all present in the department – including faculty). Many of the faculty seem to understand that this is a serious problem, and have taken steps to try to remedy both the underrepresentation and the climate that results from it (by, for example, accepting more female graduate students and focusing several recent hiring searches on female candidates). However, these efforts have largely backfired. As one of the only female graduate students, I was very involved in a recent job search in which the only fly outs were women. After the final job talk I was stopped in the hall and asked by a group of male faculty members what my thoughts on the candidates were. I said that I thought they all seemed equally qualified, but that candidate X was particularly friendly, approachable, and outgoing while also setting an excellent example of professionalism for the female grad studens. One senior male faculty member interrupted me midsentence with: “Well they’re all women, so what more do you want?” This was the same faculty member who told me in my first year that I had only been accepted to the PhD program because they “went out of their way to accept more women” that year. None of the other faculty members reproached him, they all just wandered away into their offices.
I was having a conversation with a fellow (male) undergraduate student who I had helped, on a number of occassions, with papers, studying for tests, etc. He complained that getting into graduate school would be very difficult for him, but I would get in “just for being a girl.” There were two of our professors present. One laughed, the other nodded. He got into graduate school. I did not.
Within the last 5 years at a department meeting, my most senior colleague argued that we should not interview women candidates because our department was unable to recruit excellent women philosophers. No one said anything. Not a peep. When I pointed out that his proposal was (a) against the law and (b) personally insulting, he replied that I was not an excellent philosopher. Again, not a peep from any of my ‘colleagues.’ Funny, my publication rates, grant funding and teaching evaluations are better than everyone else’s at my rank in my department. So, it must be the case that none of my male colleagues are excellent either. I refrained from proposing that we not interview any men.
As a newly hired tenure-track faculty member (only the second female in a large department), a senior faculty member called me into his office to tell me he had strenuously opposed hiring me and would continue to oppose me in my bid for tenure and promotion years later (which he did, unsuccessfully). At department meetings, he would hurl endless insults, e.g.: “Female philosopher is an oxymoron.” (ha-ha) “Students could learn more about philosophy by waiting on table than taking a class from her.” “Feminist ‘philosophy’ is nothing but a political agenda; it’s certainly not philosophy.” What bothered me most was not his Neanderthal behavior, but the silence of the other faculty members. They never called him on his public insults, but would just sit there, year after year, as if this were acceptable behavior.