Around 1997 I was a Ph.D. student in the philosophy program at an Ivy League school. One male professor was rumoured to give female students a hard time. I heard numerous stories about all the students who had bad experiences with this professor: coincidentally or not, all of their names ended in “a.”
In the early weeks of the semester I staunchly defended this professor, telling other students that he was scrupulously respectful to women in the classroom and gave me no reason to suspect gender bias.
One day in class, he mentioned the due date for our midterm papers and said that he would be holding extended office hours so that we could meet with him to review early drafts. After that class he called me into office hours, and told me that since I wasn’t doing well in the course, I might as well withdraw. I was surprised as I had only submitted two one-page assignments so far, and asked whether my grade could be improved if I worked hard on the midterm.
He said, “I’m just trying to warn you that you will not do well in my class. It would be better for you to withdraw now. If you fail the course this will bring down your average.” I then pointed out that those first two assignments were worth less than 10% of the final and asked if he would consider reading an early draft of my midterm paper so I could improve my work. His reply: “Oh, I’m very busy. I won’t have time to give you comments on your paper before I grade it.”
Remembering that he had promised to hold extended office hours less than one hour ago but was now telling me he would not see me during those hours, I decided to withdraw from the course. I ended up qualifying in a different field instead.
Good news: I found a strong female mentor at another university, attended feminist-friendly conferences where I met more role models and supportive female faculty. Today I am a tenured professor even though my name still ends with “a”.