A misunderstanding

Posted: August 8, 2012 by Jender in difficulty of problems, good intentions gone awry

I am married, and keep myself out of the departmental affairs. On one occasion, I did have a conversation with another male graduate student in the group office. A female graduate student was working on her computer and then burst out of the common office (to which we all had keys). Later on, I heard that she had accused me and another male colleague of not including her in on the conversation, even though she stared at her computer screen most of time. She cited your blog and thought of our conversation as just another instance of male-dominance in philosophy even when she made no attempt to be part of the conversation. At the time, she didn’t really know me, but nobody needs an invitation to talk to me. Perhaps, she does now, though I wouldn’t know it. I feel like she avoids me.

After the incident, I went home really upset and discussed this at length with my wife. My wife told me that if she truly knew me she would never have thought what she did, and she also suggested that I should avoid her, not be involved in controversy and get my funding from the department. I am still really bothered by this incident.

So, I have attempted to build bridges and she has not been receptive. I have offered blanket statements about interest in whatever work anyone might want to share. I have made subtler gestures. I have attempted to discuss what she found fascinating in a particular seminar. I have tried my best to treat her like a colleague.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are real problems in philosophy, and I have been rather oblivious to them. I don’t drink nor hang out with other grads. I have been married all throughout graduate school. I never saw a leading philosopher of said-sub-specialty as anything but a scholar. I regularly read both women and men; very often I am concerned more about the argument than I am about the author that wrote the piece. I love Nussbaum, Wolf and Korsgaard’s work in moral philosophy, and I have even tried to adapt some of the thoughts about Marilyn Friedman’s work on autonomy and community in my own work. My colleague would never know this because she would never discuss philosophy with me. Isn’t this how it is supposed to work? You read something that honestly is fascinating, and sometimes it is written by a man and other times a woman.

My colleague is forever turned off by me, this incident or both (I honestly can’t tell). In the long run, it might not matter as I am moving on, and she is remaining in the department. I just wish that in this incident the misconstrued intentions can be as harmful in nuanced ways than if there was a legitimate point made. I am always aware of the incident every time I see her. Perhaps, there were implicit body cues that did unwittingly make her uncomfortable. I did talk to a male colleague I had known for about two years prior to her entrance, and perhaps she already felt like an outsider completely moving to a new place from far away. I honestly don’t know and I wish my colleague all the best. I hope she reads this, knows how much I respect her, and I hope she recognizes that our politics are more in sync than she and her partner could ever truly know.

To the Specific Party,

Hopefully, you do read this. I do not know if ever want to talk to me. Perhaps, I too am reading way too much into this little incident. Perhaps, this is not even on your radar of concerns. I would just like to start this new year with you as the colleague I think you are, and not have any weirdness between us. I respect all the thinkers you engage with, and if you read this, again, the offer stands that I will read anything you write given my interests in your field. I am sorry for this weirdness and any part I unwittingly played in making you feel estranged; it was never my intention.

All the very best,

A colleague and potential friend

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