After reading the “Being a Woman in Philosophy” blog, I never thought of sharing my story until I came across the post “Harassment and How One Man Helped”. Growing up, I suffered from abuse and neglect, as well as coming from a volatile family situation. Living in constant fear, I knew that moving to a different city for college was one way of escaping my terrible home life. I genuinely thought that things would be different in college. My first semester, my RA for our dormitory was changed from a female to a male RA, who had access to all the dorms he was in charge of using an electronic key card. He let himself into my dorm room and bedroom several times while my other roommates were out. I won’t go into details. I eventually told the head office what was happening, and he was released from his job and removed from the dorms. I still saw him on campus sometimes, but he never approached me. I thought, “Ok, finally, things are going to be different. Things have changed, and that’s never going to happen again.”
My third year of undergrad, I got sick at the same time as a friend’s roommate, who I also had a class with a certain professor, Prof. B, a classics and philosophy professor. I asked her what happened about an in class quiz we both missed, and she said she visited him after class and he told her to come to his office, where he gave her a handout for an essay to write to make up for the missed quiz. I went to Prof. B after class, explained I had been sick too, and he took out a piece of paper. He wrote his cell phone number down on it, and told me to meet him in a common meeting place at five o’clock and ‘we’d go from there’. I was shocked, afraid, and horrified. His mobile number was for a different city (he commuted between the two cities for work) and I remember the disgust I felt at him. I called my best friend’s mom, which sounds weird, but we were actually really close. I never told anyone else about it at the time. She told me not to go, that something bad would happen, and to try and drop the class. I called the number, thinking maybe it wasn’t like that, but when he answered, I felt so terrible I hung up. It was too late to drop the class, and he failed me. He still works at the university, in the Philosophy department. I found out everyone knew he has a thing for breasts, and one of my friends actually wore low cut shirts to class intentionally to get higher grades. She still doesn’t know about what happened, and she’s one of my best friends.
In my senior year of undergrad, I had a male philosophy professor, Prof. A, who, initially I thought was gay, and so I felt quite comfortable around him because he wasn’t interested in me as a woman. I later found out that he was in fact straight, which then made me more stand-off-ish. I thought, though, that if we had been so comfortable around each other and he hadn’t hit on me, then he wouldn’t hit on me in the future. I felt proud of myself, for having the respect of a man and it not being about my body or any possible gratification he might receive. Then, I found out commuted from the same town that Prof. B did, and I felt like I had been betrayed. I began to dislike him, to not talk to him as much, and I think I damage our relationship. Throughout the rest of the semester, he never once hit on me, and in fact, he never touched me. I don’t know if he knows I was afraid of him, or if he just really felt like maintaining his professional attitude, but I stopped grouping him (mentally) with Prof. B and began to look at him as Prof. A again. And it made the biggest impact on me in my entire life. It made me want to do philosophy at the graduate level, it made me feel more comfortable in the department, and it made me feel like other men might be able to look at me as a philosopher instead of a just a woman in the future. I have never told him exactly what he’s done for me and why I respect him so much. I’ve never told him how he’s changed my life. At the end of the semester, right before graduation, I went to my academic advisor and told him about my harassment by Prof. B. He was shocked and surprised, and when he asked me why I never told anyone sooner, or told the Chair, I replied, “Because I didn’t think the Chair would do anything about it.” To this day, I’m still on good terms with the chair, but I’ve never brought it up, and I don’t know if he knows.
I try to tell Prof. A about how much I appreciate his communication and his contributions, but I’m ashamed I can’t tell him the truth about why he changed my life. He restored my faith in some male philosophy professors, he gave me confidence, and he saw me as someone, not an object or a body. I know I’ll never be strong enough to tell him the truth, to tell him how he emotionally negated a lot of the negativity I associated with male philosophers, and men in general. I’m still afraid of most men, and still very leery of being alone in a male professors office, but now, I have the confidence to participate in academia in a room full of men, where as before, I couldn’t have set foot in that room. I wish I could tell him what happened, but I can’t. I just silently thank him everyday.