Dear Professor X

Some weeks ago, you asked me why rape culture had become so prevalent, particularly in the university environment. As an ethicist, it seemed you were troubled by an apparent cultural shift that casually denigrated women: you mentioned it several times, and we were both puzzled. I didn’t have a ready answer for you: like any woman, I have been on the receiving end of off-hand sexism, off-colour remarks and a generic insouciance about sexual assault for all of my adult life and much of my childhood. But, beyond reaching for the usual hackneyed explanations of the structural features of phallocentric societies, I could not give you an answer that satisfied me. Now I think I can.

You see, Professor X, one of the key causes of rape culture in the university, and its various nefarious adjuncts (the systematic demeaning of women on the basis of their gender; employment inequality; the evaluation of women on the basis of their appearance or qualities ‘appropriate’ to females), is you. Or, at least, it is people like you: senior academics at the top of their profession, men—usually—who set and maintain the culture in which others work and study.

I have known you for some time, in my capacity as your graduate student. During that time, it is fair to say that we got to know each other fairly well: hours and hours of conversations on everything from movies to food to child-rearing to sexuality, and the malaise of everyday life. I went to your place, met your family, had drinks with you: normal things that adults on good terms do together. I confided in you, you confided in me; you met my husband and professed friendship to us both. But then, as life sometimes does, things started to go a little awry for me. But you were a friend: you gave me advice and hugs and time and I appreciated that. Life is rarely so gentle: in the midst of these few weeks, I had something of a mental health breakdown and, as a friend, I told you about this. And that is where things went wrong.

The day after I told you, you felt it was appropriate to tell me about your own sexual proclivities, your fetishes for bondage and sadism. I was not overly troubled by this, certainly; we are adults and I am no stranger to various subcultures, including this one. Your timing, though, was strange: my husband could not understand why you were offering to teach us bondage techniques at our place. I was perturbed by the fact that you encouraged him to physically chastise me for some innocuous thing. I was also surprised that you felt it appropriate to send us photographs of some items in your house, items associated with torture and bondage. You invited us round to your place to ‘see’ all this stuff; you told me it would be fun to hang out with me like that. And so it went on, hours of messages over two nights, inappropriate comments and information about how you use your domination techniques to persuade students and others.

I do not suggest that any of this explains the prevalence of rape culture in the university. No. You know me better than to expect such gauche naivete: it is not your sexual preferences and bad timing that make you a danger to women in the university environment. Instead, it is this: when, as a friend, I might have expected support, you chose that moment of vulnerability to move in with your sexual fantasies.

Then, you turned on me. When we didn’t go along with your invites, you viciously cut me off. Over the next few days, systematically excluded me from the university, advised colleagues that I was vulnerable, volatile and unsafe to have around. You disclosed personal information about me to various parties in the university, blaming me for your distress. I cannot continue my studies, as has been long agreed, because of your sudden fears about having disclosed things about yourself that you think might damage your reputation. You forbade me from contacting you—but you contacted me several times—and insist that I collaborate with no-one in the department. You have fundamentally destroyed my life plans, disrupted my family life—and justified all this to your colleagues on the grounds that I am distressed, vulnerable and—‘therefore’—too unsettling to have in your department.

And that, Professor X, is why rape culture has become so endemic in the university environment. It is because men like you fundamentally believe that women like me—vulnerable, hurting, susceptible to claims of friendship or not—can be toyed with, dispensed with, and used as means to ends that are intended solely to protect you and your ill-gotten reputation. I would have kept your confidences, not for you but for the protection of your family and because, ultimately, I believe that people’s sexual proclivities are broadly their own business: until today, I resisted all my friends’ advice to protect myself, because I could not bear the thought that your misjudgements might negatively affect your family. But in keeping that silence, I allowed you to portray me to others as the person in the wrong, as the one who (in spite of my lowly status as a student and the supposed ‘high regard’ that you told me people in your centre held me in) was a risk to your department. It is my life that fractured and fell apart, not yours—and none of that mattered to you, because I am simply a disposable woman who deserves not protection, but predation, exclusion and opprobrium to ensure the ‘greater good’ of maintaining a man in his elevated, powerful position.

I wish you well, but I will not maintain my silence any longer. Women deserve better than this.

While obtaining my BA in Philosophy, I realized immediately the vastness in the gender gap. It was madly intimidating the first few weeks when you realize that in most of the higher level philosophy classes, you are indeed the ONLY female. I quickly came in embrace my place outside of the boys club. In a positive light, it drove me to become a better writer and harder worker. I cannot tell you how may times I got the under the breath “She’s too pretty to have anything good to say” whispers. Or the slack jawed expression that I would receive when I would have to confirm time and time again to my fellow male students that YES this is my major and YES I am sure. The one that really takes the cake was a sentence from a professor that goes as follows, “It’s really not worth me explaining because you’re attractive and attractive females do not need to be overly educated to get what they want. A man will take care of you.”

So to all of my female philosophers out there, STAY, do not apologize for being yourself, we need you!

I’m just finishing my first year at a ‘top-ranking’ (whatever that means) PhD program. Before starting this program, I studied philosophy in Canada at two distinct institutions. Never, before coming to this program, have I felt so uncomfortable being a woman in philosophy. Even in situations where I was the only woman enrolled in a course, I did not find it to be a problem (other than the fact that there being only one woman enrolled in a grad class of 15 is a problem in itself).

Even though I have had some quite negative experiences at my present program, I gather from the testimony of others that I have actually been treated pretty well and taken somewhat seriously, comparatively. Many of my colleagues have experienced sexism, sexual harassment, and blatant discrimination, which I have been fortunate to have somehow avoided.

What I am struggling the most with are day-to-day microaggressions. Little things like noticing that your professors seem to be much more comfortable with and close to students who are men. Certain professors have groups of students that they converse with, laugh with, and seem to have a genuine report with. Relationships of this sort are not developing for me–nor do I see them existing among any of the graduate students who are women.

Additionally, no one has really shown any interest in the fact that I am there (or any of the women in my year, for that matter). Isn’t that sort of the job of the faculty? Taking interest in the new students? Getting to know them?

Regarding classroom dynamics, I notice that questions and comments are received much more favourably when they are presented by a student who is a man. When a woman asks a question or raises a comment, it tends to be a) misunderstood b) not deemed interesting enough to warrant attention/development, or c) briefly discussed only to be brought up again by one of the men, which somehow changes it into a point worthy of more attention. Rarely do I hear a professor (who is a man) praise any of the women for their contributions to discussion.

And I could go on…

Anyway, I’m so frustrated by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done about issues like these. Overt problems (even though they are hard to deal with too) are a completely different thing–for there are at least usually systems in place for sexual harassment, blatant discrimination, etc. It is frustrating and depressing to think that there may not be anything that can be done about the sorts of problems I have been mentioning. Plus, there is always the worry that my interpretation of what is going on is not correct. I often feel like I might just be looking for things that aren’t there, or seeing patterns where there really aren’t any. I think that, deep down, I know this isn’t true, but I don’t trust my personal experience enough to feel like I have anything solid that would warrant some sort of action. My observations and experiences have been corroborated by many other women in the department, but it still feels so hopeless.

I love philosophy–at least I thought I did–but this whole experience is really making me wonder whether I can continue in such an environment. I’ll never be part of the boys club, and the time I spend in my department is a constant reminder of that.

I did my M.A in philosophy in east Asia, which is more of a Confucian Tradition. When I was interviewed for admission, one of the Confucian professors said that girls are simply not fit for higher education. When I took a Confucian course taught by another professor, I heard him say something like “the contribution females can make to philosophy is to become a supportive wife of a great philosopher.”

I am a female student of philosophy at a German University, writing my master thesis. Over the last years I became more and more aware of male dominance in society in general and in philosophy in particular and this makes it harder for me to bear more and more meetings, seminars, talks, conferences, colloquia etc.

I try to change the situation at our Institute: I talk to my fellow students (male and female alike), organize workshops on women* in philosophy and power structures in seminars, but it won`t change anything.

Now the semester began and I hear man talking, hear man fighting, see man sitting where women should sit and talk and many even fight as well. These man are nice or ok as individuals, but unbearable in groups, because they don`t want to know. They don`t want to know about their priviliges, there status, their society-given right to be wherever they want to be and to say whatever they want to say without being questioned their right to speak at all. And therefore they don`t care.

Their only way to connect to critique of male-oriented behaviour is by re-recognizing situations, for example then they can say: But I am nervous by speaking out loud just as you are! NO! This is not the same! You do not get discriminated because of your gender!

I do love philosophy, I want to do a ph.d., but I really don`t know if I can stand these male environment for a couple of years more. It makes me angry, sad and sick of after each meeting. It preoccupies my mind, keeps me away from work, makes me questioned, if this is worth it.

And in case male readers may wonder: I am nonetheless quite good in what I am doing.

Insinuations

Posted: March 2, 2016 by jennysaul in assumptions about women, sexual innuendos, Uncategorized

A few years ago, I was working with one of my professors to prepare a co-authored paper for publication. This professor was keen on having our meetings over lunch. I didn’t really approve, and I tried several times to convince the professor to have our meetings over coffee, without much success. I was told, however, that there’s nothing wrong with this, unless it turns out that there is. So, I continued to go to lunch with this professor and we talked about the paper, but I always felt uncomfortable (we probably went about 10 times in total).

This story, however, is not about the professor — nothing untoward happened. It’s about one of my fellow students, at the time. One day, this student found himself in the same venue as the professor and me, during lunchtime. We said ‘hello’ and then processed with business as usual. My fellow student was otherwise engaged, so he didn’t sit with us.

Later in the day, when people were gathering for a talk, and while only students were in the room, this fellow student asks me, loud and clear:

X, does your husband know you’re meeting with professor Y over lunch?

I started saying that I resent the implication, although not the one he’s clearly making. And that I won’t dignify such a question with an answer. To which, my fellow student said something to the effect that he made a joke and that I don’t have a sense of humor.

No one else said anything, although other students were holding their breaths to see if this will become a quarrel.

I left the table, went back to a corner and tried hard to focus on the talk.

Thoughts from an Assault Survivor in Philosophy

Posted: February 28, 2016 by Jender in Uncategorized

Cross-posted from Feminist Philosophers.

Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.

But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.

Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.

For the survivors:

The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.

It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, https://rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.

For the speculators:

Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.

So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.

It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.