Archive for the ‘sexual harassment’ Category

Today I (a female grad student) was discussing with my partner (a male grad student) some of the comments Ruth Chang makes about sexual harassment in her recent 3am interview. He was shocked at senior philosophers confessing to Chang that they don’t consider expressing romantic interest in a student to be particularly problematic, as he (reasonably) considers it to be wildly inappropriate. To be clear, everything he said was supportive, and he is very understanding of the issues women in philosophy face, but still two of the things he said (and especially my reactions to them) struck me as noteworthy.

1) “I can’t believe someone would really think that was okay!”
I reeled off the names of four people we know personally who we know to have expressed interest in students or junior colleagues, and in fact to have gone further than mere expressions of interest. (This includes one who person he knows harassed me as an undergraduate). He agreed that in some sense he knows that people do it, but still can’t get his head around the idea that they would think it is okay.

2) “Imagine if I was talking one-on-one with [senior member of staff] and she admitted that she was attracted to me. That would be so horrible and so inappropriate!”
This made me realise that even the most empathetic of male philosophers will have trouble fully understanding the extent of ‘what it’s like’, because I only recognised this point myself during our conversation: whenever I have ever had a meeting with a male member of staff I am on some level worried that they might express interest in me, or that I will realise that they are interested in me, or that they will think that I am interested in them. I can’t think of a single exception to this, and now I’m feeling exhausted at the prospect of a career filled with such stressful interactions.

A highly abridged list of incidents:

I got excellent teaching evaluations from my students. But the Chair discounted the report citing the my “good looks” and NOT my “teaching” as the explanation for the high marks.

I was repeatedly denied a raise and told among other reasons that I didn’t need one because I didn’t have “a family” or “children” and that I just thought that I was “better than everyone else.”

I was initially denied an office and told that I shouldn’t have expected one because I “failed to negotiate for it” and I shouldn’t complain because I was “lucky to have a job” despite turning down several other offers. Then they tried to put my office in Women’s Studies.

I was repeatedly the subject of discussions about the fit of my clothing and general appearance. I was told that I need to “dress” like “an adult” “behave like an adult,” but probably cannot/will not until I have “real responsibilities” (i.e. children).

I arrived on campus and met with several undergraduates who report sexual harassment and discrimination by a certain professor in my department. I report the incident to the Chair with substantiating documentation and it is ignored. The offender is then given emeritus status so he can retain his office on campus to meet with students.

I was required to meet with faculty assistance center social worker and eventually ADA officer for special permissions to have my dog on campus (which was agreed to prior to accepting the position) while no male faculty member with a dog (of which there are several on our floor) was required to do so.

I go up for tenure and I am told by the Chair that my friends cannot write letters for me. When I explain that my area is very small and that my colleagues in the area of expertise are all friends, the Chair says “you know what I mean….” intimating that my relationship with these colleagues was sexual.

Harassment on the periphery

Posted: April 2, 2014 by Jender in sexual harassment

It is not only graduate students and younger professors in philosophy departments who are subject to harassment from male professors. Many of us who do not stay in academia end up on its periphery, as editors, journalists, independent scholars, activists, and in other roles.

It is decidedly not uncommon to be harassed, even stalked, at APA and other conferences. When one’s role is editor or journalist, for example, one is in the unenviable position of having to interact with the harasser at a press booth or in an interview room; one’s job requires it. This can lead to repeated uncomfortable incidents, and there is no recourse that I am aware of.

Ok here goes. I was doing my MA at [a university in country X], and the language spoken there was not my native tongue, even if I was fluent in the language of instruction. Naturally I felt a bit isolated and insecure. But also, both the general approach to philosophy that the department was engaged in, and its pedagogical methods were new to me. I was trying to be very open to this new way of doing things philosophical, even if I did not like it very much.

Instead of teaching us for the whole term, professors required that from the 4th week of class, students– each in turn– take on the weekly 3-hour seminar, and present their work. This was all terribly tedious, as the 95% male students, as well as we 5%, were either 1) fresh from undergrad and unable to really talk intelligently about their subject, or 2) long term graduate students who knew how to talk about philosophy without actually saying anything. We all wore black clothes, smoked camel cigarettes and felt existential :)

When it was my turn to present on a philosopher that we had not covered at all in class, but who I was supposed to research all on my own and present to the class (for three hours) as expert, I felt a bit freaked out. I asked my prof. (weeks ahead) if I could meet him to get some help. He was so busy, it seemed… always traveling or something.

In the end, the only time he could meet me was in the evening… a few days before I was due to give my presentation in class (upon which my entire grade depended). So sorry, but would I mind coming around to his house? We really did need to discuss things before I presented this major philosopher’s work to the class. I had literally started from scratch in trying to read and understand his writings, had had no instruction at all on his thought, and now I was supposed to do a 3 hour seminar presentation to the 15 other slightly hostile students. And was supposed to do this in a language that was foreign to me.

All this to explain how easy it was for me to accept the prof’s invitation to come to his house three days before my presentation, in order to “discuss the work of X philosopher”. It was too cold to get my car started, and I had to take a cab to his house. When I got there 1/2 hour late, he already had a big whiskey poured for me. I had to climb over the various children’s fisher-price toys for 4 year olds, and big lego sets to enter the room. It was all so uncomfortable, and he carefully explained that he was now single.

He was drunk, though I was too naive to see this right away.He kept insisting– INSISTING that I drink more whiskey, and pouring me huge amounts. I tried to comply … but didn’t fall for the liquor or the conversation. It was all so juvenile! I was a grad. student, not some 17 year old… and he just got progressively more drunk. I was naive enough to think that we would talk about Wittgenstein, but after he flopped over me a few times, telling me that I had to have sex with him– he needed it so badly, etc.–..and then beginning to force me to lie down…. well, I made my escape. Caught a bus home. Got home really late and tired and felt filthy for having let him go as far as he had.

Well a few days later I gave my presentation to the class, with the prof watching, editing, intervening, just as a good teacher would do. I thought the grade he gave me overall for the course was fair. Later, I contacted the University and tried to register an anonymous complaint, but met too many roadblocks. I tried to spread the word among my fellow students, but most were uninterested. Finally, I just moved on.

There is fellow academic at my school who I like and admire as a friend and colleague, but I struggle endlessly with mixed emotions knowing that he lives his personal life in a highly misogynistic way.
He has had relationships and secret affairs with students, and made passes at students; some were his own students too.
When confronted about his sexual harrassment and relatiosnhips with students, he will deny it and claim that he doesn’t know where these “rumours” are coming from. However, he knows perfectly well exactly what is being spoken about. And if he knows that you know too, then rather than denying his behaviour he will attempt to justify it, claiming there was consent and denying any power imbalance.
His behaviour has been addressed by our school and he is no longer permitted to engage in friendships or events with students anymore. But rather than reflecting on his behaviour, now he instead dates students in other schools! These students sadly have no idea that they are a notch on the bed in a long line of graduate students – and I often wonder how this would effect their “consent”.
He actively seeks relationships that involve a clear power imbalance: the women are his students, they are siginificantly younger than him, they are underage, he is paying for their sustanence, he is in a position to advance their career, and so on.
And he often lies about these relationships to people who are concerned about the power differential. When female friends attempt to educate him on this, rather than avoiding future relationships with a power imbalance or seeking to equalise power in current relationships, he simply denies that it can exist.
We befriended a female student who was visiting from another university. She came to work with him (and others) and was deeply embarrassed to find out that people had assumed the academic work was a ruse to cover an affair. Of course, people’s assumptions were justified based on his past behaviour.
How can we respect someone as an academic, and as a colleague, and expect them to respect us as women in academia and in philosophy, when the way they behave in their personal life is riddled with subtle misogyny and abuse of power? When will academia be a safe place for women?

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.

Creepy tutor

Posted: December 19, 2013 by Jender in harassment, retaliation, sexual harassment

Creepy tutor mentioned knowing where I lived (?!) and suggested ‘meeting’ in the area. He received a polite though firm ‘no’ from me.

Couple of months later I submit my dissertation and discover he’ll be marking it. For all the ‘blind marking’ tosh, everyone knows everyone else’s titles and he’ll be able to identify mine. No worries I think – I’m sure he’s professional and I’ve already had two reviews from his colleagues telling me it deserves [a top mark]. When I get my transcript I discover he gave it [a low mark].

I am a junior member of a Philosophy department. Recently at a faculty meeting we were discussing the application of a philosopher to teach at our program for a short term. The applicant crashed a party I threw a while ago, arrived somewhat drunk, and hit on me incessantly even as I tried to maintain a professional distance (and I wear a wedding ring.) I explained this, including how uncomfortable I felt. A senior male professor said, ‘I don’t understand…is this positive or negative?” That was followed by heartfelt chuckles from some of my other colleagues. Somehow I found it in me to respond to that and say that it was negative, and that I did not appreciate the remark at all, since I had already stated it had been uncomfortable. To this the response of the senior member was, “I see.” After which, a senior female member of the department went on to tell me that not everyone, e.g. not her, would find it wrong to flirt with a married woman.

I’ve been relatively lucky, in that I never found myself in a dangerous or exceedingly difficult situation in all my years as a graduate students. That’s the saddest thing, perhaps: that the little vexations, inappropriate comments and other unpleasant situations are not even considered worthy of attention. Professors get to make female students uncomfortable through all kinds of inappropriate comments they would never dare make to a male student, and we just have to deal with it.

During my years as a graduate student, I got treated to a number of remarks from my supervisor, like “Ok, I’m staring at your chest right now, but that’s because I’m wondering what’s written on your pendant” (couldn’t he just ASK, instead of staring AND pointing out to the fact that he was staring?), or “Did you manage to speak to X? So, was he sensitive to your charms?”, or on one occasion, by e-mail, after he had sent me back something I had written with a LOT of very scathing comments in the margins: “You’ll see, I’ve been a bit harsh, but that’s because you have a habit of walking around naked begging to be disciplined” (aside from being utterly inappropriate, that’s just not the sort of comment I was looking forward to after having had my work lambasted in a completely not tactful way).

Sad thing is, I know I’ve been quite lucky compared to other women, and I didn’t want to speak up as I knew for a fact either none of this would be taken seriously, or the department would turn against me. Like my friend who was propositioned by her supervisor as they stayed in the same conference hotel, I’m far from the stage when I could actually sue, or even ask for an apology; in fact, my supervisor was known in some circles as a womaniser, and his relationships with female students seemed to make people giggle instead of react. I’m thankful it never got past the inappropriate comment stage. But is it too much to ask of our male professors that they help us go through our curriculum without having to put up with gratuitous moments of humiliation?

But this is how it’s done in Europe

Posted: August 23, 2013 by Jender in sexual harassment

I am a man who saw several cases of sexual harassment during my time in academia. The worst one (other than the case where I was sexually harassed, which obviously wouldn’t fit here) involves a high profile visiting professor from Europe. He was a flashy, well dressed “continental” philosopher who exuded old school European charm.

On the last day of the grad seminar he was teaching he took us all out for wine at a nearby cafe – including the one undergraduate student who took the course. At the end of the night, she complained of not feeling well. He lured her into his apartment under the pretext of getting her some aspirin and as she was lying down dealing with her headache, he crawled next to her naked. She got up and quickly left.

The worst part is that when she brought up his behavior to another (male) professor, he explained that this was simply how it was done in Europe and she shouldn’t make a fuss about it.

It’s never just you

Posted: August 18, 2013 by Jender in sexual harassment

By far, not the worst story I have to tell, but the one most easily made anonymous.
As an undergraduate, a professor called me into his office to tell me that he had heard there were “rumors” that he and I were romantically involved. For a variety of reasons, I found this so untenable that I burst out laughing. I don’t think he knew how to interpret the laughter, and I was so unnerved and mystified by the whole thing that all I could think to do was excuse myself from the office.
At my undergraduate institution, faculty sometimes ate dinner in the dorms. One night, shortly after the office incident, he did. After dinner, he found me in the ‘kitchenette’ after dinner, pinned me against the refrigerator with his body, leaned in and said “maybe we should just make those rumors true.” I was terrified, and have no idea what would have happened had someone not come in the room at just that moment (they left immediately).
I avoided him thereafter, in every way I could, and he in turn made it very clear–explicitly– that he would do what he could to keep me out of a top graduate program.
I got into a good enough program anyway. Years later. I’m now tenured. The recent story that has been all in the press starts discussion in various formats. I’m contacted –just as part of a general conversation– by not one, but two different women who, it turns out, were harassed by this same guy. I’d always heard rumors, but the truth is, until those two women told me, there was a small party of me that wondered if it was just me.
Word to the wise: it’s never just you.

I was referred to your interesting website recently and it revived unpleasant memories from my time as a graduate student in philosophy several years ago. I was in my second year of studies at a top philosophy department in the US. I took a course in X that was offered by a very prominent male philosopher who also happened to be quite active and outspoken in attempts to improve the position of women in philosophy. Once after class I mentioned to him that I was considering the possibility of writing a dissertation under his supervision, and he seemed supportive as I was among the best students in his course. One evening toward the end of the term we discussed possible topics for my thesis in his office. At one point during that conversation he stood up, looked at me in a strange way and said that he had an irresistible desire to touch my breasts. As he approached me I recoiled in disgust and rushed outside. When I later told some of my friends what happened they wondered why I was so shocked about the incident because they said this professor hitting on female students was common knowledge in the department. This was too much for me. It obviously meant that this behavior was tolerated and that none of my other teachers in that department felt any obligation to do anything about it. I left the program after a few weeks for good and never returned to philosophy studies again. I am telling you this story mainly because I would like your readers to know that sexual harassment is sometimes practiced even by those who nominally subscribe to feminism and who pose as advocates of women’s rights and equality.

Similar story

Posted: August 11, 2013 by Jender in sexual harassment

After being notified of [...] scandal, I was disturbed at how similar this story was to one of my own experiences. This is a brief description of what it was like to be the boyfriend of a harassment victim.

A few years ago, my then-girlfriend took a couple philosophy classes at her university. Her 50-something instructor [...] sexually harassed her both in person and via email and Facebook. He would give books under the pretense of helping a young scholar, but his true intentions were revealed when he treated her to lunch and put his hand on her thigh. She declined any more lunch offers, but remained in terse contact with him via email. He eventually began questioning her about her relationship with myself and about how I was clearly a dumb jock out to oppress her. To the both of us, this was strange because I am a really bookish historian and while definitely not a genius, I am pretty far from an athletic he-man from an 80s movie. The only thing this instructor knew about me was that I had attended a Southern university and that I was his student’s boyfriend. What began as teasing turned into him openly denouncing me on Facebook as being unfit and a protofascist. He then emailed me directly in order to denounce me as some kind of caricature of a southern republican misogynist with a penchant for violence in some kind of desperate attempt( on his part) at being a white knight. Apparently this is foreplay in his world. At the time of this incident, I was not yet attending this university, so I didn’t think that I could file a complaint.

My girlfriend was highly intimidated and threatened by his behavior and mentioned it in passing to another faculty member. She was too afraid of repercussions and failed to pursue the matter further. The instructor is still teaching at this university and has a reputation for groping other students.

I no longer work at college level but when I did the professor of Philosophy quite explicitly told me that if I slept with him he would ensure I was looked after as far as my career went. I did not but I know others who did and he did keep his word, they received a lot of help establishing their careers. I am ambivalent about their behaviour since they were, as I was, mostly very capable anyway but I am somewhat cynical when they speak at conferences as representative feminists.
After my Phd was published, and the postgrad supervisor (a woman with whom I refused a relationship when we were both students, simply because I am straight, not gay) as well as my supervisor were ‘too busy’ to provide comments for the dust jacket I realised there was no point asking for the references necessary to enter the book for the relevant philosophy prize for publications in my area that year.
I wrote a letter to the university which awarded the prize tactfully mentioning the difficulty of finding overworked academics to write the necessary reviews and several names were suggested but they all were ‘too busy’ as well so I simply gave up. (The prize is no longer offered).
Finally, one examiner of the Phd which became the book, a professor at a prestigious US college, had offered to write a good review when it was published but was unable to be contacted either by the publishers or me when the time arrived. Nonetheless, when the university which had offered the prize for which I could not enter invited a well-known international scholar based at the same college as my examiner to give its annual ‘prestige’ public lecture the synopsis sounded suspiciously like my book. I wrote to him as well as the institution mentioning this and asking for a transcript of the lecture. Neither he nor the college replied but the international scholar’s first announcement at the lecture was that he had changed the topic and it would no longer correspond to the abstract that had been published.
So,sexual harrassment, attempted plagiarism of junior researchers and brushing it all under the carpet. If nothing else I no longer believe that well-known scholars are the best philosophers, merely the most ruthless and amoral.

These happened quite a long time ago: 1981 or 1982, but the word is that the department in question remains notoriously sexist.

1. I was at a party talking to my dissertation adviser and several other grad students in which I said “Can you imagine me taking that position?”(about having had the opposite of my well known views attributed to me) to which he replied, very unctuously, “I have imagined you in many positions over the years.” The conversation in the small circle of people came to a screeching halt, and I just walked away. I was far enough along on the diss that switching advisers at the point would have been very hard. But I did everything I could to avoid being in the same room with him from then on, leaving my work in his mailbox.

2.A senior person in the department who’d been on my MA thesis committee offered to write me a rec when I was putting together my job apps. The grad student adviser was a woman rightly famous then and now for her fierce defense of women in the profession (how I wish I could name her) read the letter in my file, and asked the writer why he’d written such a short,weak letter, especially since he’d offered to write it. His reply was seriously too weird to believe, but here it is: he said that he’d thought my work was good, but had trouble paying attention to anything but my…wrists. He said this to her! Insane! All she could do was have the letter pulled from the file.

I had enough and left

Posted: August 8, 2013 by Jender in sexual harassment

The philosophy prof was foul-mouthed, twice my age and expected his female TAs to solve his social problems. It had worked with my predecessor and it worked with my successor, so he wondered what was wrong with me. After fending him off for a whole term I then discovered that my next job was to work for a prof about three times my age. His Lady-Godiva party invitation I posted to my mother, just to show that I wasn’t making it up. She aptly called him a “corset salesman”. I had had enough and left the university.

Same old story

Posted: August 5, 2013 by jennysaul in sexual harassment

I just read the piece about the philosopher in Miami. It is an old, old story. I was a graduate student in philosophy at [University of X] from 1961-63, at which time I left the school, having been chased around the desk and propositioned by a now-long-deceased philosopher. I went home for a weekend to explain the situation to my father and obtain advice. He told me to go back and inform the philosopher that I would detail the situation to the President of the University. I did so. The philosopher’s response? He laughed. He pointed out that he was a valued faculty member whereas I was a lowly graduate student (though I did have a Du Pont Fellowship and was doing research for my dissertation). There seemed no solution but to quit. I loved philosophy, including analytic philosophy, including the arguments, including the times when I was on the losing (but plucky!) side. I also wanted to write, and maybe if I’d stuck with philosophy I wouldn’t have got around to writing. I often deal with philosophical questions or issues in my writing, and I love to write, so I’m not crying about what happened to me. But I am sad to learn that other women have been dealing with sexism and professors who prey on them, or try to. Such behavior is, or should be, archaic by now. I’m startled to learn that it isn’t.

This is in response to the call for stories of sexism being taken seriously. I’ve posted about this story here before so I won’t get into the details of the harassment. I will say that it was so extreme, I thought everybody must a) know about it, and so b) not care, given that it had been going on for so long. After a year and a half of kind of unbelievable harassment, which you’re fairly confident your colleagues are more or less indifferent to, you’re pretty despondent. But, about midway through my second year, my MA advisor, we’ll call him A, asked me to stay a minute after one of our meetings. A told me that another professor with whom I was close had relayed to him some concerns about my wellbeing, and did I want to talk to him? I was really surprised when he asked about it, to be honest. But I was close enough with A, and I knew that he definitely wasn’t close with my harasser, so I explained what had happened and how things were now. A was aghast when I gave him the details, and promptly thereafter things started to get fairly serious. I forwarded a swath of emails to A and to the dean, and over the next couple of weeks A accompanied me to a handful of meetings with the dean, in which we discussed my options. I was withdrawn from all of my classes with my harasser and he was basically given a university wide restraining order. In the aftermath I worried about what the Ws would look like on my transcripts (I was applying to PhD programs at the time) and about what my harasser might say to people about me. As for him, I don’t think the issue followed him around professionally in any way, or in any way affected his standing in the dept. I think the seriousness with which the matter was treated was a mater of protecting me from any more harm, and not directed at preventing this person from perpetrating these abuses again. It did come to my attention, in talks with A and the dean throughout this process, that my harasser was not a first time offender. So on the one hand, I think my department really let me down. On the other hand, I think A really stepped up and stood by me. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

Here’s the picture they paint of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy: I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi.

It’s a wonder there are any of us left.

I’ve faced two large-scale gender-related events in my time as a grad student: the first involved explicit bigotry, and the second involved sexual harassment. While they were extremely different kinds of problems, dealing with both experiences was quite similar: it was incredibly disruptive to my life and made me question whether I wanted to stay in the profession. In both cases, though, an amazing support network materialized to help me through these experiences. I had personal and robust support and mentorship from specific professors, and the overwhelming support of my department as a whole – both the faculty and the grad students.

In addressing both problems my complaints were taken seriously, I was treated with respect, and I was actively empowered in how both cases proceeded. While neither problematic behavior has been fully curtailed, I believe the philosophy department did all it could to intervene and to cordon off the impact of those behaviors. In neither case do I wish something else had been done by any of the people in my department who had power over these things.

Were these cases successful? My department did all the appropriate things, both formal and informal, to intervene. I’ve walked away with a robust understanding of university processes for dealing with these sorts of things, and I have real first-personal knowledge of the amazing support system I have. I’m still angry though – both at the professors themselves, and that I had to spend so much time and emotional energy dealing with this while my peers were developing their work and off giving conference talks. I’m not displeased that I gained this knowledge – I believe I am in a much better position now to be an advocate for myself, colleagues, or students who face similar situations – and I think this is important knowledge given the state of the profession. But it’s not knowledge that I can ever list on a CV or mention in a job interview, and it won’t help me in any official way. So, in many ways I believe these cases were successful, but it’s still a success that came with a cost.