At the beginning of my undergraduate degree I had a routine meeting with the undergraduate advisor for the department. When I entered his office he looked me over quite thoroughly then asked me if I really wanted to major in Philosophy or if perhaps I had made a mistake when choosing my major. My immediate thought was “he doesn’t think I belong here….is there something obvious that he can tell just by looking at me that indicates that I don’t belong here studying philosophy?” I went on to do an MA in Philosophy but that experience epitomized the remainder of my philosophical education and is the main reason I am no longer in the field.
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I am a junior faculty member a few years out from my Ph.D. I graduated from a top institution, have a pretty decent publication list for someone in my position, and consistently receive high scores on my teaching evaluations.
Recently, I decided to leave academia for a variety of personal reasons, none of which were about my ability to be a philosopher. I decided to tell the Head of Department in person first, before formally submitting my resignation.
His reply? “Oh well, some people aren’t cut out for philosophy.”
In 1969 when I was a student at UC Berkeley as a Philosophy Major my faculty adviser told me that Philosophy was no place for a woman. When he met with male students he would sometimes meet with them for an hour. I was lucky if I got 10 or 15 minutes. I had to leave college for personal reasons but I returned to school (Humboldt State University) in 1998 and in 2000 I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree. The philosophy department was so much better with women being treated better. Now I am in a Philosophy discussion group (mostly retirees like myself) and the women are equal to the men. I appreciate being able to read about the experiences of other women. Oh and men saying that women can’t handle their style of debate (aggressive, mean spirited and nasty). Well yeah, maybe these guys could learn something from women as to how to have a civil discussion.
of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy, in the Guardian.
I came across your site from a Twitter link [...]. I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that this conversation if finally happening. I am now a youthful 60 yr. old with an unfinished doctorate in Philosophy: unfinished because of a complicated relationship with my thesis advisor. As a Plato scholar, he loved the dialogue The Phaedrus and its theme of Eros in education. So his year long seduction of me as naive 25 yr. old virgin was, in his mind, an intellectual exercise in “expanding my horizons” and ” helping me break free of the narrow confines of my Christian upbringing”. I was so deeply flattered by the attentions of this urbane and sophisticated older man, that I ignored that inner voice of caution that kept trying to warn me of the danger ahead. At least I resisted the inevitable coupling for almost a year (how I was stoking his love of the seduction game without realizing it!). When I finally became intimate with him, having persuaded myself that he must love me to pay so much attention, I immediately discovered that I was merely a notch on his bedpost.
Even when the very messy relationship ended and I married a fellow grad student (to whom I am still happily married after 30 years), the professor contined to play manipulative games with me until I finally felt so exhausted by the struggle that I just gave up trying to,finish the thesis.
I never pursued action against the man, partly because of my shame at my own stupidity but also because in those days it was so common that such teacher/ student relationships happened and as yet sexual harrasment policies were quite new. Some of,my fellow female students who did complete their doctorates had relationships with male professors but were savvy enough to know how to use the intimacy to their advantage.
The long term outcome for me was a complete undermining of my self- confidence as an intellectual. In spite of having been awarded major graduate scholarships, I kept thinking that my advisor saw me only in sexual terms because I was not a good enough student. That undermining of my already fragile self- confidence stays with me as the sorry legacy of that complicated and confusing time. My deepest sympathies go out to this new generation of smart women having to traverse the minefield of grad school.
When I first got to my undergraduate program, I was hit on by a married grad student that I did not desire. Every time I looked up from my desk, I would find him checking me out. During office hours, he would do things like seductively invade my personal space while staring at my lips and slowly licking his own. This behavior displaced any academics altogether. At one point, when we were in a hallway together, two male grad students went by and laughed when they saw us. One said, “At it again, L?” So, his behavior was not a secret and yet he was still hired for TA work. That’s sad. But what really frightened me is the fact that L wasn’t reading my social cues very well. For instance, all gentlemen retreat when I unnecessarily weasel the words, “my toddler” and “my husband” into the conversation. L did not. In fact, his response to these cues involved a phallic demonstration that I’d never seen before featuring a blue whiteboard marker. My husband asked me to stop attending L’s discussion section and office hours, which I did. My final grade was low so I asked L for a copy of my final exam. The commentary that he gave me on the final paper had a hostile tone and it was sent with a second attachment that turned out to be a spyware program.
The following quarter, L took the same class as me and sat behind me daily to harass me, regardless of where I sat. He pointed at me and said that “that thing” smelled, was irrelevant, and didn’t belong in the field because it wasn’t White. His main focus was my sexual undesirability. To be clear, this was not hazing. It wasn’t even racism. This was obsessive retaliation for sexual rejection. Women should be able to politely decline flirtation without being harassed for three months. Things worsened as it became clear that the class professor, “Friend” and I shared an intense sexual attraction. My husband of ten years, to whom I tell everything, was not concerned. However, the attraction infuriated L and, the more I tried to hide it, the more vicious his comments in class became. He began lurking around when I’d go to Friend’s office hours. I felt physically afraid of him and had trouble sleeping. L then tried to arrange to be the one to grade me, despite not being my TA. Wisely, the gods saved L from himself and denied the bizarre grading proposal. Later, he sidled up to me as I tried to outrun him down the hall. He explained that grad school sure beats having to work in the workforce. And, I’m sure that it does. Outside of academia, sexual harassment is both illegal and illicit.
I have had my share of problems with my work not being cited, but this posting is not about that. It is about women citing others. So I have recently written a paper with ideas in it that I don’t think people have thought about very much. As a woman I feel these ideas will not be taken seriously by my colleagues, so I cite supporting sources in almost every sentence of the paper. This probably gives an appearance of defensiveness, but I feel that what I have to say in the paper will not be taken seriously otherwise. Well, the citations probably won’t change that, but I have to try.
It does feel odd to write a paper in the awareness that the bar for me to prove my case is so much higher that I feel it is for my male colleagues. But that’s the life.