Archive for the ‘sexual innuendos’ Category

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.

A professor of mine–who is refreshingly mindful of gender issues–brought up to me that most of the gender issues discussed within the philosophical community are issues at the graduate and professional levels. This is weird, as the first drop-off concerning women pursuing philosophy occurs at the undergraduate level. And I can assure you, that those of us women who survive the drop off, are experiencing amazing amounts of sexism from our undergraduate peers. I am at one of the top undergraduate programs for philosophy in the states, here are two of many experiences with sexism I’ve encountered: A male peer and I help opposing views on some metaphysical topic, excited to learn from each other I welcomed his criticism after I had argued my view; to my disgust he responded “I have no fucks to give about your view, can I have some?” A horny and disgusting comment which brought laughter from the rest of our peers sitting with us (all of whom are male). The comment was a joke, yes, but it would never have been said to a male peer, and I felt more than objectified. Another experience was similar; I had dabbled in feminist philosophy (a topic nobody at my school was interested in) and shared some of the questions and theories with some peers–again, they are male–rather than asking any philosophically relevant questions, one responded “We’re supposed to learn about feminist philosophy from the girl wearing red lipstick?” The most unfortunate part of all of this is these are male peers with whom I’ve spoken about sexism within academia, and many of whom claim to be on my side.

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?

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.

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.

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.

“Lolita”

Posted: March 30, 2013 by Jender in sexual innuendos, trivialising women

I am an undergraduate student of philosophy. I almost finish my last year.
Some months ago I was talking with another female classmate about a certain class. She was a close friend of professor of that class and told me what he thought about me.
I used to wear a lot of skirts, blouses and ribbons so he nicknamed me “Lolita”, I also participate a lot in class and colleagues of his think I am brilliant and dedicated. Well, not him.
He thought I was arrogant and pretentious, like an annoying little girl. That no one that young (20) and FEMALE should behave like that. Being tenacious and strong looks well on a man but makes a girl look hysterical.
He never hid his hatred for me and my grades were never excellent even when my texts were good.
Needless to say that a friend of mine, a man, who behave just like me was his favorite. It’s a shame he is one of the most brilliant minds in my college and an expert in the topics I’m interest in. Philosophical collaboration is being damaged with mysoginistic thought.

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.

I was hired into a department in which I was the only woman, and also the only contingent full-time faculty member. Eager to prove myself (since it had been strongly suggested that my position could become permanent if I did so), I threw myself into departmental duties, in addition to research and teaching. Among other things, I cultivated a relationship with another larger department in the area, whose resources would be useful to ours. I was delighted when I learned that this department was bringing a very important, senior woman philosopher to give a talk that year, and I organized a trip to bring our students, and students from other related departments, to the lecture (which was some distance away).

On the day of the lecture and our trip, the chair (who had hitherto said nothing about my efforts, nor the unique opportunity this posed for our students to see such a prominent philosopher speak) said to me in passing, “So, you’re going to see [Senior Woman Philosopher]?” “Yes,” I replied, “it’s very exciting!” He smiled. “Yeah, a friend of mine met her once,” he said. “He says she’s a real bitch. Hahaha!” I replied that I hoped he’d told his friend he was being sexist, which only elicited more laughter.

On other occasions, my chair told a gleeful story about visiting a famous pornographer’s home, full of scantily-clad women, and made joking comments in a department meeting about the importance of secretaries having good legs.

This person, I am fairly certain, has no idea that such behaviors are alienating, or feel hostile to women. But they are, and they do. It was impossible to go to work without thinking “if this is how he thinks about other women–if this is how he thinks about Senior women in our profession–then what does he think about me?” And unfortunately, because he was chair, and I was contingent, I felt I had nowhere to turn. Making an official complaint with HR would have made daily life worse, and I feared losing my job.

Fortunately, I was able to find another position. If I had been forced to stay much longer, I believe I would have given up academic philosophy.

The stories on this blog suggest that being hit on at conferences is a nearly universal experience (for young women in philosophy). It’s certainly been mine.

At a recent conference in a relatively technical area in which I work, I was reminded (by the presence of the hitters-on) of the incidents. This brought out in me not (only) irritation and disgust, but anxiety, which seemed strange. I don’t have anything to fear from these people–except perhaps being objectified or trivialized, which isn’t to be feared anymore, since it’s already happened. (Of course, I can continue to worry about my reputation, but I have reached a point my career at which I can trade on my record of work.)

On reflection, I am beginning to think that these sexualized interactions primed stereotype threat. They served powerfully to highlight the things about me which, according to the stereotype, don’t go with doing good technical work.

You can take this as an answer to the question posed by an earlier post: what’s wrong with being hit on?

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.

I am writing this to tell any potentially discouraged readers to hang in there. I have experienced sexual harassment, dismissiveness, discrimination on the job, and other offensive behavior throughout my time as a grad student and professor in philosophy. Yet I love doing philosophy and teaching so much that none of this can dissuade me from my purpose. I feel lucky to have this rare opportunity to be a philosopher, and nobody’s sexist crap is going to stop me. Don’t let it stop you either if you love philosophy.

As an undergrad philosophy major, I cannot count the number of times I made a point that was dismissed or ignored by the professor, only to have a male student make the same point and receive praise. All of my male undergraduate professors actively discouraged me from applying to grad school on the grounds that my abilities were not up to par. Nevertheless, I was accepted by four top-20 programs.

My grad school mentors were wonderful, supportive, and egalitarian. Unfortunately, from other faculty I witnessed several instances of both physical and verbal sexual harassment of female grad students. For three years, I was the only romantically unattached, heterosexual female grad student in my program. I was pestered and harassed almost daily by the male students, including everything from offensive sexual comments made in the middle of class to relentless efforts to hook up. The specific physical attributes of female students who took philosophy grad courses were enthusiastically discussed in our dept. lounge. Every time the department sought student input into a hiring process, my preference for a candidate was attributed by the other students, in front of the faculty, to my supposed romantic attraction to him. I was frequently quizzed by fellow students about which faculty member(s) or student(s) I would be willing to have sex with, hypothetically, despite my refusal to respond.

When I began attending conferences and APA events, my trusted mentors had to tell me which male professors I should avoid being alone with. Sometimes they accompanied me to parties so that I wouldn’t be harassed. While this may seem like a negative story about the prevalance of sexism, it’s just as much a positive account of the other guys who had my back and wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. Eventually I received many interviews and a few job offers, and all of my success on the job market was directly attributed by my fellow male students to the fact that I am female.

Once I became a professor, I learned what it is like to work closely with men who cannot seem to visually acknowledge your head up there above the breasts. I learned to deal with male students who tried to intimidate me about grades or come on to me. (Specifically, I learned to keep my office door open, and to inform someone else as soon as a student started behaving strangely toward me.) I do not work in feminist philosophy myself, and apparently that has encouraged several male professors to share with me their view that feminist philosophy is junk and not really philosophy. For a while another single female worked in my department. Some male professors hoped that I might be able to report on her sex life, about which they knew nothing but suspected everything. I have had to listen, in the department office, to my colleagues’ descriptions of escapades at strip clubs.

Though all of the aforementioned events were annoying, they did not intimidate me. The sexism that nearly shook my resolve came later, in the form of having my research devalued because I was female, being judged according to different standards from men in pre-tenure reviews, being pressured to take on more teaching and advising duties than others, and eventually being treated unfairly with respect to family/medical leave. Luckily, my resolve is fairly stout. In the hiring process, I have seen numerous female candidates ignored either because their cvs mention the word feminism, or because they are perceived to do “soft” work in ethics. In awarding scholarship funds to our own students, my colleagues consistently downplay females who have stronger records on paper in favor of males with whom they are friendly. My teaching evaluations are good, but male faculty have often commented (in direct contradiction to the facts) that this is probably because I am not a rigorous teacher or strict grader. I am treated like a secretary whenever menial tasks like note-taking must be done, and one of my colleagues (who happened to vote unsuccessfully against tenuring me) told me in all sincerity that I would make a good secretary.

I’m now past worrying about what my colleagues say to or about me. However, I want to create a terrific climate for our students, insofar as it is in my power. I have had to choose my battles for the sake of preserving both job and sanity, but in the long run I’m winning the war. To all the women and men who want to change things: don’t lose heart!

Willy jokes

Posted: March 13, 2012 by Jender in sexual innuendos

This is absolutely minor in comparison to some of the horror stories I have read on this blog, but I think it speaks to some of the subtle ways in which philosophy can still be a man’s game.

Last summer, I presented at a prestigious conference in my field. The conference organizer (who is known for his strange sense of humor) wore a t-shirt with a slogan on it each day of the conference.

This would have seemed unprofessional enough in and of itself, even at a conference with a laid-back atmosphere. But two of the shirts he wore were extremely inappropriate, especially in a field in which women are underrepresented and often (inadvertently or even intentionally) made to feel uncomfortable.

One shirt read “That’s What She Said.” The other had a picture of a killer whale leaping over a wall while a boy stood underneath it (like in the movie Free Willy) with a speech bubble that said “Look at the size of that willy!”

I was amazed that this organizer showed such poor judgment. I am not easily offended, but it bothered me that the conference organizer, who was setting the tone for the entire conference, did so by wearing t-shirts with male-dominated sexually innuendo.

I’m a first year grad student on a philosophy programme where only 4 out of the 28 first year graduates are female. I studied Physics as an undergraduate, which had a similar gender-ratio so I’m very used to male-dominated environments. I have never previously felt judged, discriminated against or intimidated based on gender.

However, in the five months I have been a grad student, I’ve become peculiarly sensitive to the reaction of my male peers, who have frequently indicated that, first and foremost, I’m a girl.

To list some of my experiences:

1. At the end of a particularly challenging class on the history of modern logic, in which I was the only woman, a male student I had never met before approached me and began to explain some of the concepts that had been touched on. I had made absolutely no indication that I needed help, and certainly looked no more puzzled than anyone else in that class.

2. At our regular socials, the conversation is generally focused on philosophy or whatever people are specifically working on. We are primarily research students, and since we rarely attend class, do not know each other well. At these events, one of my male peers only ever talks to me about his romantic or sexual experiences. He talks to everyone else about Wittgenstein.

3. A male peer, who I also count as a good friend, never engages me in any academic conversation. Whilst he asks the men for their academic opinions on a talk we all attended together, he quizes me only on my love-life and my attitude towards sex. When I initiate a philosophical discussion, he patronises me and quotes Aristotle (for example) at me, even if we are discussing a subject that I specialise in, and he does not. The same ‘friend’ regularly flatters me with ‘you’re one of the smartest girls I’ve met, and you’re hot’, and has tried to kiss me, though he has admitted that he does not harbour any romantic feelings towards me. (To give some context to the attempted kiss: he was offering me essay advice at the time. Unfortunately, it is not possible to pass of the incident as a mistake at a party.)

4. Another male peer is in two classes with me, and yet he has never acknowledged me, either in a personal or academic capacity. I struggle to get my voice heard amongst the group of very confident and articulate men. Last week, I managed to make a few original points and actually engage with the discussion. This coursemate finally noticed me, and proceeded to initiate some small talk after the class. I then received an email from him inviting me out on a date. Clearly, if I am worthy of attention at all, it is in a romantic, rather than academic setting.

I am left with the overriding impression that to them, I represent a rare opportunity for a romantic dalliance with someone who at least approaches their intellectual capacity. I’m just intelligent enough to be good company, but not quite intelligent enough to be worthy of a rigorous philosophical discussion. To them, I am not their peer, an individual with individual interests, both academically and personally, but rather a symbol: a young woman in academic philosophy.

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.

I am about to start my PhD at an excellent Leiter ranked program. I have a BA and and MA from excellent schools. I have worked closely with ground breaking philosophers in my field. I have published, I have an excellent teaching resume, phenomenal letters of recommendation, and moreover I love my job. I am a good philosopher, and I am thinking about leaving philosophy.

I have been a secretary and a chauffeur. I have been disingenuously promised research assistantships and letters of recommendation, in return for dinner dates and car rides. I have been asked if I was married while my colleagues have been asked what they think. I have been told that I’m both cute and idiotic. I have passed on professional opportunities because I am a woman, and no one would believe that I deserved those opportunities — accepting would make me seem like a slut, since men make it on merit, and women make it in bed. So, ironically, I have been praised as professional for having passed on professional opportunities. I have been the lone woman presenting at the conference, and I have been the woman called a bitch for declining sexual relations with one of the institutions of hosts. I think I have just about covered the gamut of truly egregiously atrocious sexist behaviour. So I just have this one question that I think I need answered: Is the choice between doing philosophy, and living under these conditions, or saving yourself, and leaving the discipline?

This is an open call for reasons to stay.

Because this blog does not allow comments, I’m cross-posting to Feminist Philosophers, where you can reply.

As a graduate student finishing up her PhD, I went on the job market this last year. As if this wasn’t hard enough, my advisor made it even worse. I was speaking with some of the female faculty members in my department, asking what I should wear to my interviews and job talks and upon hearing this my advisor came out of his office and said I should just “wear a bikini and heels” to the interviews, and that would get me a job. I could tell the other faculty members were offended too, but none of us really knew how to handle it. He continued and said I could also wear dominatrix boots at which point one of the female faculty members joked that if he didn’t stop he would get fired. I then said I had to go and left. Every time I meet with him he comments on my clothing, which is really just female work attire, though I do like to wear heels. I don’t know if he does this because he’s just awkward about how to relate to women or if he really does find women’s clothing and my body interesting enough to comment on all the time.

Rather than share a specific story, I just wanted to say *ditto* regarding many of the anecdotes that have already been posted. I am a female professor. Over the course of my graduate education and the years I have been employed as a faculty member, I have experienced the following at least once (though in most cases, quite more than once): students behaving especially confrontational in a way that they do not with my male colleagues; referees addressing me as “he/him” in their comments on my journal submissions; male faculty making salacious comments to me; being ignored/dismissed at conferences and in other professional contexts; general behavior/comments that suggest to me that I am not respected as my male colleagues are by administrators, philosophers, graduate students, secretaries, students; being on the short end of unequal distribution of department resources. I also sometimes get the sense that when I invite a male to discuss philosophy that either they or their partner assume that I am taking more than a professional or collegial interest. This can be an obstacle to networking. I have, on account of these experiences, considered leaving the field.

This happened fairly recently.

I did my undergraduate degree in a small philosophy department. The only female lecturer was temporary and filling in until a permanent, as it turned out male, lecturer could be hired. Early in my 1st year there was a department meal out. Towards the end of the meal, and after I’d had a couple of drinks for Dutch courage (I’m quite a shy person), I went over to the table all the male lecturers were sitting at to chat to them. We started talking about party tricks and out of the blue, he hadn’t spoken to me before that point (in fact I’d never met him before), the head of the department told me “a real party trick would be if I could drip hot wax on your nipples”! All the other lecturers at the table laughed loudly. I was absolutely stunned and utterly humiliated. I went bright red and didn’t say anything. As soon as I could (without it being obvious why) I went back to my own table. From that point onwards I avoided him as much as I could and would go red and get embarrassed every
time I saw him. As a result the two mandatory courses of his I took were my lowest grades… ever.

No-one I have ever told that story to has thought it was inappropriate for a head of department to say that to a timid first year he’s only just met. They’ve all found it hilarious and told me to lighten-up.

On a more positive note: My time at that University did get better and I ended up getting on quite well with three of the lecturers… plus the head of department moved to a different university.

I am a philosopher who has worked for years in university higher administration. I’m writing now to encourage students to record and/or report incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior. (Male students can do so as well as female students, because such behavior constitutes a hostile work environment and is illegal.) Report the behavior you are concerned about to the chair, the dean, the Affirmative Action Officer, an associate or assistant dean, an ombudsperson, a Women’s Center director, a Women’s Studies professor, or directly to your university president. Anyone in a position of authority in a university who receives such notification is required to act; if not they become legally liable at a later date.

You may not need to “go public” or demand official redress; should you choose not to do so for whatever reason, it is still useful and important to report the behavior because a record will be made, and in any future case the existence of a written record documenting claims about a person’s inappropriate behavior will prove useful. Harassers are generally repeat offenders and their behavior may increase in seriousness over time. Do not tolerate behavior that is uncomfortable, demeaning, unfair, or inappropriate. At the very least keep a written record of such behavior, with specifics and dates, and show the record to someone else as you compile it. Most competent university administrators are far more aware of and concerned about stopping this sort of behavior than are most philosophy department chairs, I regret to say.