I was, like all too many of our young women, a college rape victim. Now, I have to say that people’s reaction to the actual event was fully supportive of me. But what struck me is what I deal with 5 years later, as a new graduate student.
I face the constant suggestion that my “baggage” makes me unsuitable for graduate school. It’s often the very kindly put suggestion that perhaps I should “find something less stressful to do.” It’s also stuff like finding myself passed over for recommendations because I’ve been labelled as not being able to handle things. It’s a constant little irritation, being seen as “weaker” because I still deal with the effects of rape.
What strikes me is how often the things I struggle with are not even related to my philosophical capability, but to the academic environment. I freak out when I have to deal with men being excessively loud and aggressive or invading my personal space. I strongly dislike people using examples about rape or sexual assault, especially when another would do just as well. Or my needing time off to go to therapy or try a medication. It’s almost never a problem with, you know, my actual academic ability.
After transitioning and changing my name about a year ago, I asked a colleague to change the name under which he thanked me in a forthcoming work. This simple request turned into a friendship-ending email correspondence in which he insisted that he wasn’t wrong and failed to understand how hurtful this response was even after I explained. Moreover, although all of my correspondences were polite and understanding, his were increasingly aggressive and accusatory. All this from someone whom I’ve worked with closely, and who used to be one of my most important professional references.
A positive story about women supporting women: I received news this week that I was granted tenure. My department chair (a woman) made a point of coming by my class and telling the students (I probably wouldn’t have told them). My class (feminist philosophy) which is all women (we are a women’s college) cheered and whooped. I proceeded to tell them stories for 10 minutes about the crap I’ve had to put up with as a woman in philosophy, from undergrad days through to the present. The next class I walked in find a bouquet of flowers on the desk and a lovely card about surmounting challenges, signed by all of them. I was brought to tears and told them how lucky I am to be surrounded by women like them. And I am.
There are so many negative stories to be told, but here is a (somewhat?) positive one. Not too long ago I attended a meeting for women in philosophy (women only). We met to discuss various issues that women deal with in the profession and the pursuit of it, and what might be done to mitigate some of the problems that arise. I was so impressed by how supportive the environment was and how much everyone who was there really cared about making things better. It was the first time that I wasn’t met with a dismissive attitude when I mentioned things that had happened to make me (as a woman and as a person) feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I was actually being listened to, and it was great. Having my concerns taken seriously made it easier to believe that I’m not the one who needs to change or “get over it” when faced with discrimination. Yes, things can be pretty awful sometimes, but on the other hand we can support each other, and we need to do so. I didn’t think it would make such a big impact on me to sit in a room with a group of other women for a few hours, but it did–it was the first time in a while that I felt like my voice was truly important.
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.