I was on the job market in the past few years and had the following experiences on a fly-out. I have never known exactly what to make of them because they don’t seem to have been just about my being a woman, but a mixture of being a woman, being gay, and being young.
While showing me around town, the chair and I engaged in a lot of small talk. At one point he asked me whether I lived in a dorm. At first I thought this was an odd question—do Ph.D. students ever live in dorms?—and I explained that I lived in an apartment a few miles from campus. The next question was about who I lived with, at which point I realized he was probably fishing for information about whether I was married/partnered. I told him who I lived with: my female partner. (I had no problem revealing that I was partnered or that I was gay and had already mentioned my partner in conversation with a different member of the department of my own accord. But in this case I was essentially forced to either offer that information or lie by his question.) His response, after a perceptible pause of surprise?, was that it was nice that I had someone to be support me emotionally while I was finishing graduate school. (I thought this a rather odd comment.)
Later the chair of the department and I were discussing his adult children (after he had mentioned them numerous times). Unprompted by me, he told me that having kids was a great experience and that, “I strongly recommended it if you are interested in having children.” I replied with the noncommittal “probably one day in the future” since I did not particularly want to talk about my reproductive plans at a job interview. He replied—again through no prompting of mine—“But not too soon—give yourself a few years to get your career up and running.”
During the time I was being shown around the chair didn’t seem very interested in talking philosophy and so we talked about hobbies and interests outside of philosophy a lot. He was interested in sports and outdoor activities, but I have no interest in either. In fact, the biggest happening in my life at the time was my upcoming wedding about two months later. Of course, I did not think it appropriate to talk about my (gay!) wedding on a job interview and was worried that doing so might be interpreted as my not being serious about philosophy. So I tried to keep the chit-chat to less personal things. After the fly-out I heard through a member of my graduate department that the department at which I had the fly-out wished that I had “opened up more” and that I had “told them more about myself.”
During discussions with a variety of professors comments about my young age were made numerous times. I had not indicated my age but I suppose I look young and one can get a general sense given when I finished by B.A. At one point, some professors pointed out the “20-something” part of town where young couples without children live and suggested that my partner and I might like to live there. My partner is not in her 20s and at the time we were not planning to be without children for very long.
Finally, at the B&B at which I was staying the manager made small talk with me while I ate. He also commented that I seemed too young to be a professor before moving on to ask whether I had a boyfriend in a somewhat flirty tone. I told him that I had a female partner and, after commenting that “that sort of thing” doesn’t happen where he is from—he began to ask increasingly personal questions about how we would be able to have children, how a woman could be satisfied without a man, and whether we use toys to have sex. Since I seemed to be the only person staying at the B&B and knew I had to spend another night there alone with this man, I decided it was best to politely extricate myself from this creepy conversation, rather than act offended or inform him that he was being creepy. This was about 20 minutes before my first meeting on the day that I was to meet with the dean, meet with the entire department, and teach a class.
At the time that all of this occurred, the creepy B&B owner—who of course is not part of the university or the philosophy department and does not reflect on them in any way—overshadowed all else. Reading about many of the horrendous and overtly sexist things that have happened to other women on this blog also makes me think that none of the other incidents I listed above are anything to care about and mostly I don’t think much about them. But sometimes I wonder—what was the role of gender, sexuality, and age in shaping those incidents? Would a male candidate have been asked who he lives with or offered unsolicited advice about when to have children? Would a straight man have been made to feel potentially unsafe staying in the hotel arranged by the department? Would a candidate who was in his/her mid-30s gotten numerous comments about his/her age during a fly-out? Would a candidate who liked sports, who didn’t have to be prompted to reveal his/her sexuality and
marital status, and who wasn’t avoiding talking about his/her upcoming wedding have been seen as not “opening up” enough? Even though these seem like pretty minor issues, sometimes I wonder.