A friend recently asked me which posts on this blog were mine. In looking for them, I came across this one, http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/the-biggest-obstacle-is-having-some-faith-that-i-belong-here/ which I had forgotten about.

The way I had written it at the time, one might think that whatever problems I was facing were entirely in my head. Looking back, I phrased it as I did because I was afraid to say more. I didn’t have faith that I belonged in graduate school, but not because I was imagining that I didn’t nor because I was unjustifiably anxious. It was because my first day on campus the professor who I had intended to work with told me that after seeing my application, he wouldn’t be surprised if I performed so poorly that I failed out and that I didn’t have the right ‘pedigree’ for students at a program of this caliber. Waiting in the hall outside my first seminar, I overheard a group of male students in my cohort discussing that the women in our cohort might have been admitted because of affirmative action rather than merit. And this was just what happened before classes actually began.

I was worried that if I told anyone (even anonymously) why, exactly, I felt so out of place, the people who had behaved inappropriately might recognize themselves in the stories and hold it against me for sharing them here. I am still afraid of that actually, but I’m also now of the view that if speaking the truth about my own experiences costs me relationships, those aren’t relationships worth protecting.

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.

Unnecessary triggering

Posted: April 15, 2014 by jennysaul in triggering

One of my undergraduate philosophy professors used to use the example that maybe he is a creep who uses one of his hobbies to lure children to his garage. It was awhile ago, so I can’t remember the context except that maybe it had to do with knowledge and being able to know the truth about someone. I think that it probably just didn’t cross his mind that this example might have the strong potential to trigger child sexual abuse survivors.

Misguided diversity efforts

Posted: April 13, 2014 by Jender in women are tokens

I was moved to send this anecdote by seeing this on FP, on misguided diversity efforts:


About 6 or 7 years ago I was asked to serve on a thesis committee for a thesis submitted to a Swedish University. Apparently there are quotas, so some percentage of women are required for these committees. The thesis had a nontrivial overlap with my own work. Anyway, on the day, the candidate gave their presentation and then there was a break, when one of the other committee members came up to me and said “Thanks for doing this! I hope you didn’t spend time actually reading the thesis?”

Not sure what the fellow meant there…

I came very close to getting a tenure-track job this year, but ultimately I didn’t get it. It’s always incredibly frustrating and depressing to come so close to a TT job and then not get it, but this most recent time, I got an extra special kick of sorrow. You see, I’m not just someone stuck in an NTT position, I’m also a 31 year old woman. I’m a 31 year-old woman who wants a family. I want children. And I’m starting to notice, I’m running out of time.

The prospect of a TT job, for me, is the prospect of job security. It means the possibility of maternity leave — being able to get pregnant, have a baby, and recover, without having to give up my job for it. That’s not something I have, currently. I love philosophy, and I love this profession. I feel the motivation to keep suffering through the horrible job market, year after year, even if by the skin of my teeth, so I have a chance of contributing significantly to the world of professional philosophy. And yet, I grow increasingly worried that continuing to stay in this profession will come to imply the sacrifice of the chance to have children.

Importantly, as a student, not once did someone suggest that motherhood should be a larger priority for me than philosophy. This is most definitely a good thing. I feel quite lucky, to have avoided any such insulting, alienating comments as a student. It wouldn’t have done me any good: as a 21 year-old woman, I didn’t feel time-sensitive pressure to procreate. It is just now, as a 31 year-old, after having struggled and failed so often already to secure a permanent job, that I feel a deep anxiety growing.

And then there’s the fact that I am currently a sexually active 31 year-old woman. We use protection, but there is always the chance of failure. What would I do then, if I were to become pregnant accidentally? What could I do, with a much-wanted but unexpected pregnancy and without a permanent job from which I can take maternity leave? I don’t have the answers, and my anxiety grows deeper.

I come from a country that is very poorly represented in the English-speaking academic world to the extent that I myself have never met another academic doing my subject from my country of origin. I completely understand when people seem surprised I do philosophy given my nationality. However, I continue to be surprised how much my nationality gets in the way of being integrated in the profession and how much it affects where the conversations go. Once after a philosophy talk a male professor asked where I was from. After I responded he started counting how many women from my country he had slept with. He also made comments on the appearance of women from my country, which I suppose I was meant to take as a compliment. On another occasion someone introduced me by stating my name and where I come from. Not that I was a philosopher, what I worked on or any work-relevant information. The worse experience was definitely when one of my colleagues used an insulting phrase, which represented all women from my country in the most derogatory sense imaginable. After I confronted him about it he said he was unaware I came from that country. I guess the argument there was that I have no right to be offended at this insult since I did not state prior to that where I came from. This happened over and over again, I would hear this insulting phrase from other people who were unaware of my nationality. When I was a student I was being referred to as ‘the foreign girl’, as my department did not have any other international students. I was often asked why I was studying abroad, why I do not just study where I was born. On many occasions people jokingly asked if I came to their country to find someone to marry. When I started my doctoral degree I was the only woman from that geographical area in my department. One of the professors once laughed at me when I proposed to read a paper by a female philosopher who comes from a country that is also not very well represented in English-speaking academia (although much better represented than my own country). That made me realise how much my name and nationality were going to influence people’s decisions to read my work and take me as an authority on my subject. From my experience at conferences and seminar talks I can see that many people have had an overly dismissive attitude towards me. I am not sure whether simply being a junior female academic is sufficient to allow men to feel free to talk over me and patronise me, or whether it is also the fact they have never seen another person from my country in philosophy. It is probably a mixture of both. While these experiences are incredibly demoralising and have often made me think I should quit, I have also had sufficient evidence to think I should say in the profession. The most wonderful experience for me in this career was the first time I received comments from referees on the very first paper I submitted to a journal (which was blindly refereed and was the most significant journal for me to publish my work in). Until I read the reports I was not used to people giving me constructive criticism without being patronising; I was not used to someone actually showing respect for my ideas and treating me as an authority. In the years since I became a professional philosopher, I can say that the majority of times that my work is treated with respect is when my work is evaluated blindly. I am thankful that the profession endorsed this kind of evaluation for publications otherwise people like me would hardly get the chance to publish their ideas. I only wish that soon the same kind of blind process will be adopted when departments select candidates for academic positions. It is on this front that I continue to struggle.