“I’m looking forward to retiring”

Posted: June 5, 2011 by Jender in ignoring women

I got my first job in the 1980s at a top-10 institution. Many of the problems I faced were, for want of a better term, social ones, more than ones of direct discrimination or harassment (though one colleague did tell me I was only hired because I was a woman—this despite the fact that I had had numerous interviews and other flyouts and offers). Three of my male colleagues in the fairly large (15+) department were openly having affairs with students. As one of the few female faculty members, I became an unwilling sort of mother-confessor to the female students. (I think I would know better than to let this happen now.) The faculty members in question would then attempt to negotiate with me about how to handle their student lovers if they got troublesome, e.g., threatened to tell their wives, etc. It was all most unpleasant. Another problem I had was harassment situation involving the husband of one of my two senior female colleagues. He was a professor in another
department and routinely had affairs with grad students. He harassed me very seriously over a long period of time, even to the point of turning up at my house on weekends at midnight and ringing my doorbell — “I saw your light on,” I”m so lonely,” “My wife doesn’t understand me,” etc. My female colleague was reputed to “go after” the women he seduced and so there was no way I wanted any of my colleagues to know about what was going on, because then she would know too. And remember this was long before Anita Hill and the formulation of official policies about sexual harassment. Finally, there were numerous—it now seems in retrospect like dozens—of horrible dinner parties out with invited speakers where I shared the table with the speaker and perhaps three colleagues and their wives. Back then, wives always came along, and they were always completely excluded from the conversation, which focused solely on philosophy and the issues the speaker had discussed. The wives sat
there silent and ignored, for the most part, or at times talked among themselves. I felt awful, as if I was the only one noticing this social disaster. But I was in a double bind. If I joined in with the philosophers, the wives would tell their husbands that I was “a cold bitch” (this was repeated to me later by one of the husbands). If I talked with the wives, the husbands—my colleagues—would judge me not to be serious; not a philosopher, not one of them. To this day, I still experience these incredible social debacles where I go for dinner with visiting speaker X and perhaps professors Y and Z and (female) graduate students P and Q. Professors Y and Z fall all over themselves vying for the speaker’s attention while utterly ignoring me and the women students. Sure I could join in, and in some cases there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have more of interest to the speaker to say than Y and Z do, as I have published on the very topic X spoke on, but I also refuse to
be an asshole. There are already too many philosopher assholes out there, making the world I live in stink. I never thought I’d say this but I’m now looking forward to retiring.

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