Improvement over time (?)

Posted: October 27, 2010 by Jender in harassment, sexual harassment

When I was a graduate student (post-2000), our department hosted a conference for alumni of the philosophy program. On the final day of the conference I found myself sitting at a dinner table with five other women, alumnae who had finished the PhD between 1940 and 1990. As we listened to speaker after speaker extol the virtues of the University and Program, one of the older women leaned over to me and whispered, “So, have things gotten any better for women in the department? Have you slept with your adviser?”

“No,” I whispered back, “I’m married.” She snorted. “I have kids,” I added, as she leaned over to whisper something to the woman on the other side. The whispering quickly grew into a full-volume comparison of the challenges for women in the program over the years. We all agreed things have improved. In the 1940s, female students in the department (there were only a couple) were “expected to have intimate relations” with their advisers, married or not. In the 1960s, women were “chased around the table” by certain faculty members who liked to “fondle rear ends” after seminars. In the 1980s, at least one professor in the department subjected female students to a barrage of “lewd jokes and rude remarks designed to shock and offend” in order to gauge whether they’d likely to entertain invitations to “play.” In the post-2000s, I know of only one member of the department who had sexual relationships with students. Sure, one of these was allegedly non-consensual and another was rumored to be quid pro quo, but it is an improvement, right? (Right?)

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