I’ve thought for awhile about posting, about how to describe what it feels like to be a woman grad student in my department. There is splintering among the students in my department. I have seen and witnessed much of the usual sexist bull shit in my department: boundary violations, denigration of feminist philosophy, backhanded compliments, objectification of female faculty, male domination of discussion in a few classes, and rape jokes made in communal spaces.
Some of the splintering is the result of sexism; much of it is subtler and more complex: interpersonal differences, romantic mishaps, mistakes in responding to people, misunderstandings. But I guess instead of focusing on placing blame on the people who I see as some of the more aggressive and dysfunctional instigators–though I think there is a time and place for blame–I wanted to write about some of the effects of this splintering that I think are really sad.
I have seen men in our department, both faculty and students, drive wedges between women in our department, either by putting women in the middle of issues they shouldn’t be in the middle of, by unfairly defaming the character of women in our department, by misrepresenting disagreements, excluding people, etc. I have seen women faculty avoid women grad students while explaining the reasons for their avoidance to other grad students instead of the students themselves.
The sad part is that the tendency has been to blame the women for being in the middle, to accept the negative characterizations of women uncritically, and to create rifts between women in our department that are sometimes spoken about and sometimes not. I have seen a lack of accountability for men’s actions in our department. I have seen this lack of accountability, the various kinds of splintering, and exhaustion from unhealthy departmental dynamics cause some women to withdraw from social events in the department, myself included.* And as a result, I have missed opportunities to get to know newer faculty and students, many of whom are probably wonderful, bright, feminist women and men with whom solid, healthy, and positive communities and friendships might be built.
*I will say that I have not noticed men withdraw from social events for the reasons but I may have a limited perspective.