Let me preface this by saying that I am truly grateful to all of the women and men who have made, and who continue to make, our discipline a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable discipline. I consider myself honored to know and work with some amazing, supportive, philosophers. That said, we are not there yet. Things are not changing quickly enough. We, as philosophers and as human beings, should not tolerate anything less than equity any longer.
Ever since its inception, I have found this blog therapeutic. Many of the stories here comport all too well with my own experience. There is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I have been amazed, time and again, when colleagues and friends express surprise at the stories they find here. I am amazed that they do not realize similar things are happening in such close proximity to themselves. I am amazed that some of my colleagues—some of whom have, at times, behaved horrifically themselves—fail to recognize the inequality that is right in front of them.
I note this because I have myself been discriminated against, harassed, propositioned, excluded, talked over, disparaged, and so on. Many of my own colleagues either don’t know the details, or haven’t noticed events that have taken place right in front of them. They don’t realize that what might seem like one-off bad jokes, disrespectful comments, and offers of romantic and sexual interaction are just small pieces of a much larger pattern. They don’t realize the extent to which harassment, discrimination, and even assault take place within our discipline.
We tend to think the problems are someplace else. We tend to think our friends cannot possibly be part of the problem. We cannot possibly be part of the problem. Often, we are mistaken.
Philosophers: Take notice. Listen. Act. Please. These are not just anonymous stories on a blog. These are real people. Real lives. Real suffering. Sometimes your colleagues, and sometimes your friends.
Archive for the ‘sexual harassment’ Category
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.
It took me a long time to get up the courage to recount this and submit this.
When I was a first-year graduate student, five or so years ago, I went to a large party hosted at a house where a few male graduate students lived together. Toward the end of the evening, I went to get my coat in one of the bedrooms in the house. As I was reaching to get my coat off the floor, one of these grad students came up behind me and grabbed my breasts. In shock, I didn’t move, I didn’t breathe. This person proceeded to grope me for a couple more seconds before I turned around and pushed him away and bolted out of the room.
Since then, I’ve spent years trying to make sense of the incident. For many years I internalized it as something I had no right to resent. (And I’m a feminist who knows better!) Only now that I’m older and am no longer intimidated by older graduate students can I see that what happened was *not ok*, and that it *hurt me*.
Since then, he’s landed a world-class tenure track position.
I am a MA student in a competitive humanities graduate program at a prestigious university. Upon first discovering this blog I was absolutely shocked by the sheer scale of misogyny that is operating within undergraduate and graduate programs on both a national, and international level. Now, after spending the past seven months working within a graduate-level academic environment I can safely say that I am considerably less shocked.
On the first day of my program-mandated introductory philosophy seminar the professor asked that all class members choose a topic off of a compiled list that would serve as the basis for our final term presentation. Since no one else in my (all-male) class had chosen Marxist theory, I offered to structure my presentation around Marx’s conception of historical materialism. In response, my professor said that he thought that I would find Marxism, “too hard,” and that I should switch presentation days with a male member of my class so that I could present on an “easier topic.” This switch may have been justified if I were struggling in the class, but this was the first time I had ever met this professor and he had no basis upon which to evaluate my intellectual abilities.
A second incident occurred a few months into the program. During the Fall semester all MA’s and PhD’s within my program are required to apply to a variety of grants in the hopes that an external funding agency will back our proposed research projects. In order to meet the grant requirements, all students are required to submit two academic letters of reference. Since I was new in the department I decided to ask one of my seminar instructors if it would be possible for him to provide me with such a reference. He said that he would have no problem with writing me a letter, but he said that he would like to have a beer with me later on during the week to discuss my research interests further (which would presumably help him to write a better letter of support). The night after meeting with this faculty member I received an email from him saying that he found my research interests “sexy” and would enjoy hearing more about my work at a later date.
Finally, at the end of the Fall semester my supervisor suggested that I meet with a faculty member working within another department, as he was working on a similar topic and would be able to provide me with some in-depth feedback on a paper that I had recently written. The meeting started out really well, with the faculty member providing me with a useful critique of my latest work. He ended the meeting on a different note however, saying that since he had done something for me, “would I be willing to do something for him in return?” After shifting uncomfortably in my seat for a few minutes he ended the conversation by saying “nevermind” and looking away. I left our meeting shortly after, saying that I was running late and had to catch a train.
Although my experiences are not as extreme as those mentioned by other female contributors, I do feel as though they are examples of sexist acts, and that members of academic communities should be taking action against chauvinism in all of its forms.
Message: I guess I have two stories to tell. The first one is not only about being in philosophy, but more generally about studying in the Humanities and as a woman: I went to school in Germany and studied there, in India and in Britain – and starting with A levels there was always at least one instructor who made a move on me; indeed India was the best for that matter and I appreciate that. What has happened usually is that a professor or teacher just kissed me, or one offered to drive me home at night, when we happen to meet and the situation was becoming very awkward. I have never said anything, but it always bothered me to receive good marks afterwards, because it seemed like an apology or someone buying me off. And I have became very cautious about joining academic staff for a beer, missing out on these nice little moments where opportunities are being talked about and people become friends. (What I found particularly offensive was that a school teacher of mine, who was about 40 years older than me and who I looked up to – being a teenager – like a father figure, did not believe necessary to consider how I might feel if he made a move on me. In my view, there is nothing wrong with sexual interest, nor with mildly showing it, if you are in a private and equal position. But not considering other people’s feelings and abusing your position as an instructor, that is very disappointing and makes me feel that after all I am just a woman).
The other story is one of relations among students, philosophy outside of university. I have been to meetings on left topics, since I am very much interested in that, but the atmosphere is so chauvinistic that I have taken my distance. The order of speakers was changed continuously until the supposedly important male speakers had their favorite slot – the ones swapping their slots with them were of course the only women speakers. And second, the whole social interaction was very much in the spirit of free love, which for some of the men seemed to mean that they were free to bully girls into sleeping with them or otherwise taking them to be frigid. I haven’t experienced any bullying myself, but the mood was that something must be wrong with me for not wanting to sleep around and being faithful to my boyfriend.
I am one of those ‘junior scholars’, a woman at that, who are more often than not mistaken by students as ‘one of them’ (which, in many ways, I am). My work is in social and political philosophy, a male-dominated discipline, and I write on questions of power, sovereignty, and violence, themes that are traditionally regarded as masculine. As a consequence, I feel like my age, gender, and appearance put me at a comparative disadvantage with regard to my academic career. In order to compensate for these ‘deficits’, I experience more pressure to produce solid scholarship than most of my more senior or male colleagues. (This is by no means an objection to working hard and doing good research. In fact, I believe that the discipline would benefit immensely if everyone felt the same need to ‘prove themselves’.)
At conferences, in particular, people usually show interest in my work only after they hear my papers. I am, therefore, a big fan of presenting on the first day of a conference, and I dread being on the graveyard shift and having meaningful conversations in a general atmosphere of departure. This cannot always be avoided, and so I often struggle to be recognized and respected as a peer in the profession.
Now, I’m not saying that none of this is my fault. Even though I think of myself as an open and outgoing person, I might have to be more obnoxious and less uncomfortable cornering people. Or I might have to do more advance research about each and every conference participant to have something impressive to say. (Unfortunately, my 6/6 teaching load this year is preventing me from doing this.) However, another possibility suggested itself at a conference I recently attended, and it would entail using what I see as my comparative disadvantage – age, gender, appearance – to my benefit.
The national conference makes a point of gender equality in membership and acceptance rates of papers. This year, 48% of the papers selected through double-blind peer review were written and presented by women. Many panels engaged with questions of gender, equality, justice, representation, and exclusion in incredibly nuanced, critical, and productive ways. I met some great people on the first two days, and even more great people after my presentation on the penultimate panel of the last day. The response to my paper was surprisingly positive, I received measured, generous, and extremely helpful feedback, and some colleagues even said that my paper changed their pretty firm position on the topic.
I do not say this to brag, but in order to give reasons for why I felt like I had succeeded in ‘proving myself’ as a scholar with intellectual merit who deserves to be taken seriously by her peers. Even though I find it unfair that I had to work harder and give a better paper than many colleagues in order to be recognized, at least it paid off.
Or so I thought.
When I returned home, the following email was waiting in my inbox:
This is [….] from the […] conference. I found your email by googling you. It was nice meeting you. Unfortunately you are married.
Hope to see you soon.
‘Unfortunately you are married?’ Well, it is indeed unfortunate that I have to participate in an unjust, unequal, and historically oppressive institution to be able to be with my partner. But surely the sender of this presumptuous message did not email me to express his discomfort with the institution of marriage and his sympathy with my unfortunate situation of being part of an unjust tradition. What was unfortunate, in the eyes of the sender, was the fact that, because I was married, he and I could not hook up.
It is bad enough to have to accept that being a good scholar is not enough to be taken seriously, that I have to be better than others to get the same recognition. Knowing that, no matter how hard I work, I will only be judged as a potential sexual partner makes me sad, angry, and hopeless. What do I have to do to be visible as an equal member of the profession rather than an object of sexual desire?
I do not know. What I do know, however, is that telling someone that unfortunately they are married, is never a good idea. It is not a clumsy, maybe backhanded, compliment. It is an inappropriate, unprofessional, offensive, and – to be honest – incredibly dumb statement. Knowing that it came from someone who works on normative ethics and global justice only makes it all the more inappropriate, offensive, and dumb. It also makes me wonder about the state of a discipline that is concerned with the kinds of questions that arise when philosophers think about right actions. And it brings into sharp view the glaring disconnect between theory and practice. Lastly, I wonder if the sender thinks it would have been nicer to meet me if I was not married. Clearly, it never crossed his mind that I might not be available to him even if I were single (be it because I might not be interested in him in particular or in men more generally), or that I might actually be available despite being in a relationship (not just because people cheat, but also because people live in all sorts of alternative and, yes, open relationships).
I might be overthinking this. Unprofessional and obnoxious creeps might ultimately be the exception. But I do not want to end up at the next conference, suspicious and guarded, finding it even more difficult to have meaningful conversations with people who take a sincere and professional interest in me and my work.
I recently attended a conference in Asia. Over the three day period, there were something like sixty talks. It was not a small conference. I was one of three or four women in attendance.On the way home, I noted that I felt good and that it had been an excellent conference. I found this odd, given the maleness and foreignness of the conference (this point about foreignness is supposed to pick up on the thought that one is more likely to feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments/groups etc.) I quickly realised that it had been the first conference I had been to where no one tried to have sex with me, or involve me in something, in some way, inappropriate.
Every single conference I have ever been to has invariably involved some guy (often older and more established) trying to get me to go home with him; some guy telling me about how lonely and sad his life is in some far off department a million miles from home – and I must feel the same way too (so we should go home together); some guy telling me that he noticed my figure, or my outfit whilst I was giving a talk; some guy asking me if I am sleeping with my advisor (because isn’t that what girls do?); some guy telling me I *should* be sleeping with my advisor; some guy explaining to me that the new female appointment in the department only got the job (over him) because she was a woman; some guy crying into his cocktail over the fact that his wife finally found out about the graduate student he’d been sleeping with (and now that the marriage was clearly over maybe I wouldn’t mind some too); some guy explaining to me that the only reason he goes to conferences is to pick up. The list goes on.
At the conference in Asia, no one seemed to be interested in the fact that I was wearing a skirt. And no one felt compelled to tell me about their romantic tragedies and personal problems. And no one tried to get me to go home with them. In fact, no one really tried to talk to me at all – and if they did it was about my work or the political situation in some Asian country, or something of the like. And this was a relief.
I left the conference feeling smart, confident and like a human being. I got good feedback on my talk, attended some good talks and met some nice people (that’s what conferences are for, isn’t it?) Instead of the usual ‘post conference blues’ where I feel disgusted, inadequate, dumb and convinced that if I were actually even vaguely capable someone would talk me to about something other than the fact that their wife wants to leave them.
All the following events happened to me, a woman in philosophy, with different people (some women), at different stages of my career as an undergraduate and graduate student.
I once found myself hugged by one of the professors I worked with, in his office. He wanted to be empathized with for the troubles he was having in his personal life: he said he needed “some love”. I was paralyzed by the surprise and embarrassment. Fortunately another student knocked on the (closed) door and he let me go.
Another professor frequently looked at my body when talking to me during office hours. I never knew how to deal with it, and it made me extremely uncomfortable, mostly because I suspected he was not paying attention to what I was saying.
I was at a conference with my partner, also a philosophy student. My advisor made sure to introduce my partner, who is not one of his advisees, to all the members of the admissions committee of a very good department to which my partner was applying. At the same conference there was a famous philosopher, with whom my advisor was on friendly terms. I was writing my undergraduate thesis on the work of this famous philosopher. I thought my advisor would introduce me, given how he behaved with my partner who wasn’t even his advisee, but I waited in vain. I therefore introduced myself to the famous philosopher and talked to him about my work (the famous philosopher—also, guess what, a man—did not really engage in the conversation, but answered politely to my questions with, more or less, yes or no). When I told to my advisor that I had introduced myself, he merely said “good job!” My partner was a man.
A different advisor often remarked on my outfits (in the presence of other students) and declared he was in love with me in an email. He was married and he sort of made clear it was a form of Platonic love. He did always engage me philosophically, but I refrained from seeing him as much as I would have wanted because I feared he would take it as a sign of romantic interest.
At a conference once I wore a summer dress that left my shoulders and part of my back bare. I later found out that some women graduate students and a woman faculty member berated me because of my “skimpy clothes”, through which I “debased the entire category of women”. They wondered how women could be taken seriously if they dressed like that. Admittedly, these quotes are second-hand. The faculty member works on feminist philosophy.
A male colleague once told me laughingly that a bunch of male graduate students were exchanging emails about my dissertation topic, which was so “feminine”. He did not seem to think for a moment that there was anything wrong with that behavior, or with expecting me to share his amusement.
Another male colleague, who had been hitting on me constantly and who had talked about my “boobs” in front of other male students, once asked me—again in front of other colleagues—why I presented myself like a “whore”. In the past, I had always acquiesced and tried to go along with the jokes (because they are only jokes, right, and you don’t want to come out as one of those party poopers without sense of humor). This time I coldly replied: “I don’t present myself as a whore at all, why do you see me that way?”. To my surprise, he shut up!
When I was at another department as a visiting student, one of the students there, with whom I had a fling, boasted to prospective students that among the benefits of the program there was being able to sleep with visiting students. I was right there.
I was once at a dinner with faculty members and graduate students, and during what I thought was a philosophical conversation, I made the mistake of mentioning, as a philosophical example, a detail of my personal life that routinely gives the impression to men that a woman is “easy”. After that, a faculty member started to mildly flirt with me, to my surprise and dismay. He stopped after I stopped saying hi to him in the halls, or acknowledging him in any way. For all that time, I felt guilty, as if I was the one who did something wrong.
Later on, in a seminar discussion, I made sure to make a similar point without using my personal life, but by using a sociological generalization. Still, what the men present in the seminar took home was that I was “easy”, and another faculty, during an evening out, made a joke about me that gave the impression that I had relaxed sexual morals. Other male students felt entitled to make similar jokes. I wrote an email to the professor, explaining why his joke was inappropriate. He apologized profusely. So that one went well! (It goes without saying that whether or not I am actually “easy” is irrelevant here.)
Once I was visiting my partner who was in a different PhD program. Prospective students were also visiting that department at the time and I joined them for a night out. I kept asking people about their research interests. Nobody ever asked me about mine. I was just his girlfriend, after all.
There have been many more events similar to this last one, which, more than sexual harassment in its various forms, arguably constitute the most damaging way of undermining women’s academic self-esteem: instances of subtle, widespread, and often unconscious forms of sexism. I personally experienced what so many women reported experiencing on this blog: a woman makes a point, sees it fall flat, and then hears the same point being repeated by a man and acknowledged; a woman is paralyzed by stereotype threat; a woman is rarely, if ever, asked to read or discuss a male colleague’s work; and so forth.
A final meta-reflection: it took me a long time—in fact, more than a year—to finish writing this submission. It was not because I had a hard time putting together anecdotes. (In fact, I left some out.) It was because I spent a long time worrying about being identified, and subsequently worked on making the submission as anonymous as possible.
My preoccupation with anonymity was not only due to the fear of backlashes in the professional sphere, but mainly due to the fear of disrupting some friendships that I still hold with some people mentioned in the post. After all, some of the offenders are still my friends, and this is absolutely unsurprising. Human beings are weak-willed, opaque to themselves, inconsistent, and prone to error. All human beings, men and women (and people who refuse to identify with one gender) alike! Many men who say something offensive and who slip into sexist behavior don’t mean it, don’t realize it, or can’t help it. They may regret it afterwards, but are unable to apologize. They may apologize, but then do it again.
My aim in submitting this post is, like everybody else on this blog, to share my experience as a woman in philosophy, and to highlight sins but not to point my finger against the sinners. Some sinners deserve to be pointed at, of course. Unfortunately, the worst offenders, in virtue of the gravity of their crimes, often go unreported and hence unpunished. But in my case, my main aim is to contribute to make my male and female colleagues aware of things that happen to women in philosophy, hoping that this will bring about awareness and change.
Blogs like this one should not be seen by men as a self-righteous “J’accuse” to specific (mostly male) individuals, but as an appeal to all people of good faith who want to improve the profession. As a post on the Feminist Philosophers blog recently reminded us, the status of women in the profession (and of all minorities, if I may add) is everyone’s business.
Oh my, I’m embarrassed to say that I recognize my own previous sentiments in the entry below, the one that ends, “So my question is, what’s wrong with being hit on?” I once thought that other women (and men for that matter) who responded badly to being hit on by professors were just not taking it as well as I did, not managing better.
Then I read Martha Nussbaum’s contribution to _Singing in the Fire_. See especially page 100: “Even Owen’s relatively benign pattern of sexual harassment, though, created an atmosphere in which women had no dignity… I knew I would go on working with him, and that I would not sleep with him, and that he would never turn against me. But that was really not adequate. The woman who complained was right and I was wrong.”
It was a *click* moment for me to read that. In retrospect, I feel as though I just reinforced the conception of men in my department that women who didn’t respond as I did were the ones with a problem. I regret not backing up all women. I left unhappy classmates isolated. I let others think I was getting ahead because I was cute. Everyone was compromised. And that’s what is wrong with being hit on.
My account brings not much new to the shocking posts I read on this blog, but mainly confirms that they are part of a wider structural problem. I did half of my first degree in philosophy. Prior to commencing my studies there, a female friend and previous graduate recommended the department to me, but warned me that I need to watch out for Dr X and Dr Y as they’d come onto female students. I never experienced any form of sexual advances myself, but during my time there I learned about several sexual encounters, affairs and occasional relationships between male lecturers/ tutors and female students. Generally (perhaps not in every case) I think this is an abuse of power from the side of the lecturers who are in charge of students’ grades and future prospects.
My former philosophy department had a similar set-up as many of the departments mentioned on this blog – exclusively male leadership, and out of the whole staff team only a couple of staff members were female. I was fortunate enough to at some point be taught by an excellent female lecturer, who had left the department due to department-internal conflicts (unknown to me, but they were between her and apparently several male colleagues) and ran her courses from a different department. Courses run by that lecturer are my best memories of my time in philosophy – I suspected that she never fully received the recognition she deserves.
In my final year or so, I asked on a department-internal online forum why there was no course offered on a prominent female or non-white philosopher – indeed, these were generally found only sparsely on our reading lists. On the same forum, several male student ‘colleagues’ posted some ‘jokes’ along the lines of ‘women to the kitchen!’. Then a prominent lecturer responded to my post, saying that it ‘doesn’t matter’ whether a philosopher was male or female, white or black – all that mattered what the philosophical theories produced by them. He overlooked that his assertion was informed by a particular epistemological bias and completely unacceptable as a generalised statement. Furthermore, even in more maths-based philosophy as in the area he worked in, there is a case to be made for making sure that there is a women-friendly climate in general and women get the same recognition as men, so they feel supported to produce the best work they can. I was disappointed. As some others on here said, the most depressing thing is that these are supposedly people who are educated in equality & diversity, and highly educated in general.
As a graduate student, I changed subject and never looked back. I’m now often in strongly female-dominated working constellations – even though recently my (female, self-proclaimed feminist) supervisor told me half-jokingly, ‘Don’t get pregnant while in graduate school!’. This comes at a time when one of my colleagues is struggling with her department being unsafe for her pregnancy, and there are huge delays in making it safe despite repeated pleas from her (male) supervisor. Not that I’m planning to get pregnant anytime soon, but – ouch!
I am a female graduate student who has never experienced anything negative from male (or female) professors or other students. My entire undergraduate career was spent as the only female student in my program with all male professors and never once did I get the sense that my opinion was disregarded. And now in my graduate (M.A.) program I feel the same; we have a large percentage of women and (at least to my knowledge) we are not considered to be any less philosophically minded than our male counterparts. Our female faculty, too, are well-respected in the department.
But it seems that I impose on myself the fears that I, and my opinion, will be disregarded because of my gender. I have fought for years internally and in conversation with the idea that I am a ‘feminist’ philosopher or that I am interested ethics – which, coincidentally, are both included in my list of interests.
I have wondered if my application to my graduate program was accepted over other, more qualified, male students. I am anxious to speak up in class. I avoid giving my own opinion in casual conversation with philosophers I don’t know very well because I am afraid I will sound stupid. I consciously display my engagement ring around male philosophers as a talisman to ward off sexual advances before they occur. I will probably not list “feminist philosophy” or “gender studies” or anything of the sort on my PhD applications.
But I have to ask myself, why I do this to myself if I have only experienced positives? And how do I stop the self-torment and self-imposed limitations to my philosophical ability? It’s obviously true that there is rampant sexism in philosophy and that women face much more challenges that our male counterparts, but how much do we perpetuate it ourselves?
I know that, at least for me, I feed into it much more than others do. And if this is also the case for others, it leaves me wondering if sexism can ever be fully eradicated if our own minds are the most immediate barricade to our success before we even encounter external pressures. So the question I am left with is which changes first? And how do I change one without the other changing as well?
While in undergrad at a prestigious University, my TA hit on me and kept this going for the whole term. When I got my papers back, I noticed I was marked more harshly than my peers, female and male. I received an email from him that following summer explaining he has a lot of regrets about how he ran that TA-ship, including the treatment of me…
Next, I attended a party where analytic philosophers (all men) got together and talked analytic philosophy all night. No one spoke to me. I ended up falling asleep at the party (far from home in the room where the host said I could stay and leave in the morning) One of the analytics came into the room and masturbated while watching me. I was woken up by the noise, but felt afraid, so stayed silent.
The next day, I told him he was inappropriate and he proceeded in an analytic argument about if I don’t want to that to happen, I shouldn’t leave the opportunity open by falling asleep at a party.
In 4th year undergrad, my short undergraduate thesis paper was directed by a male. He said disparaging things to me so loudly and said, “just because a student is good looking, do you think it’s ethical to just give them a mark?” I dropped the course.
Finally, in graduate school, I was interrogated by a male in the department about an award for which I was nominated. He proceeded to say that all philosophy students should abandon philosophy “it’s time to grow up” and go to law school. He also indicated that awards are not given to those who are simply cute. I retorted that I didn’t think I was cute and I didn’t think he would think I was either.
These are main experiences of harassment I have endured. There is much more. Ladies, beware. Hold strong, be confident, and never get into affairs with these men. Why give them more power than they already have.
When I was a second-year graduate student, an old advisee of my advisor’s came back to visit our university. At a dinner after an event he flirted with me, displayed astonishment that someone of my generation appreciated Bob Dylan, etc. At one point he tried to kiss me, and I declined. A few days later he contacted me on facebook, apologized, and said how important the mentoring and support of young women in the profession was to him. I accepted the apology and then didn’t respond to future chats, messages, etc. A few months later at the major conference for our subdiscipline (of which the man in question [I really can't bring myself to say professor] was head organizer) he sought me out and apologized again, and said he wanted to start on new footing. Why, he suggested, didn’t we each find a couple of friends and all go out to dinner, as colleagues? Naively, I agreed to this. By the end of the night he had zeroed in on my friend, whom I perhaps should have warned but hadn’t, in the spirit of a new beginning. Having plied us with a few bottles of very good wine, he insisted on escorting us back to our hotel. We got lost and when I went in search of directions I came back to find him trying to kiss my friend. I found her, too, in the process of declining.
After this I cut off all contact with him, including walking away abruptly at a conference event the next day to avoid punching him in the face. A friend later reported that he explained this to the group of people he was talking to by saying I was “mercurial.” He contacted me once more to apologize and let me know I was welcome to “unfriend” him on facebook — I can only assume because it made him uncomfortable to think of me reading his announcements about feminist political events, and his loving exchanges with his daughter, who is a couple years younger than me.
Two years later I would never let such a situation occur, and I’m ashamed I did then, but I recognize that, as unbelievable as it seems to me now in retrospect, I really didn’t know any better. I feel guilty for bringing my friend into it and enraged whenever I see his name on an email listserv.
On your latest post: about having a sexual harasser in your dept. I am having the same problem. Issue is he has accused me and branded me as such by the university where I am studying. Thanks for your blog. It helps to feel less lonely.
My department houses a distinguished sexual harasser who is relentless in his retaliation if confronted about his behavior. I have have witnessed and experienced his harassment first-hand and have heard numerous female gradate students tell of his hitting on them, even sticking his tongue down one’s throat at a party. His inappropriate behavior extends to staff and undergraduate students as well.
There exists a clear university policy stating that such behavior will not be tolerated and there also exist the trappings of procedure for reporting. However, because of the protection that tenure and stature in the field afford him, there is no true recourse and anyone who lodges a complaint becomes a target for a relentless and insidious defamation campaign.
When I approached my current chair to explain that this man’s endless complaints about me proceeded from past sexual harassment, he explained that the harasser’s professional reputation was an asset to the department and therefore a certain amount of collateral damage was acceptable.
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.