How compliments can isolate

Posted: April 20, 2011 by Jender in trivialising women

I am a female graduate student in a fairly well ranked PhD program in the philosophy of science. My undergraduate institution had a fairly small philosophy program with an even smaller masters program. As an undergraduate, during the time I was just beginning to work seriously as a philosopher of science, I had a somewhat depressing, reoccurring interaction with an older graduate student. Given the size of the program there was a small, yet close group of undergraduates (many of whom are now in graduate programs) who would come to class early and discuss the readings or whatever topic we happened to be interested in at time. About five minutes before class began this particular graduate student would come in. Every time it was the same; he would engage intellectually with the male students (I was the only female in the group at the time) and then make some comment about my appearance. It amazed me that twice a week, for 12 weeks, he would walk into class and have a new superficial but equally insulting comment. “Nice shoes.” “You look good today.” “I really like that scarf.” Now these comments, on their own, many not cause the reader to feel as offended as I was. I did not find the content to be particularly irksome, but it was the context that made these comments hurtful. Every comment reaffirmed that he did not consider me to be a part of the philosophical community, at least not in any meaningful way. I was there, in his eyes, only as an ornament, only as an intellectual outsider (an inferior one at that). It was hurtful. But worst of all, it really did isolate me. Many of my fellow students were sympathetic, but no one could really relate. However, the one positive thing that came out of the loneliness of that situation was that it forced me to be strong and stand up for myself. I shouldn’t have had to, but the skill has proven itself useful over the years.

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