What it’s like doing philosophy in another department

Posted: July 25, 2013 by Jender in bullying, failure to take women seriously, insults

I am working in a discipline that uses philosophy. I think it is it helpful to offer vignettes from the “territories” abroad. My job is solely on research in philosophy of this discipline. I am in a research team who are all, also, similarly inclined. The other all-male (tenured) colleagues just don’t seem to get it and never challenge that my work is not chosen to read whilst theirs is (chosen by each other). One in particular thinks that laughing about my work in public is both cool, funny and scholarly. Recently it started to go beyond a joke and is – I believe – a factor in a situation where I do not feel taken seriously as a scholar in my department and have been really unhappy in some ways in higher education and thought about leaving. I asked him if he would like to go for a drink as there was something I wanted to bring up with him. My private attitude was “do this or I’m making a formal complaint”. We went for a drink. I probed him about his attitude to my work. He proceeded to explain to me that he thought I did “not deserve to be in the academy” and that my work was ridiculous. I explained to him what a cold climate is and that women get badly treated by men in philosophy and that they need to be conscious of their jokes and the drip drip detrimental effects they might have. A heated exchange ensued but for the sake of GETTING HIM TO STOP denigrating my work in public I continued with the pleasant tone. I had a clear objective. I pointed out to him that he had only read drafts of my work and had not read my book (or the second one – he has none) or any of my published/in press articles. He said that he knew enough to form his opinion. I had read one of his papers and thought it very derivative of the thought of others but it made a reasonable final point – not mind-blowing but useful. At the end of the drink event he graciously condescended to tell me that actually my work wasn’t that bad. I told him I didn’t care what he thought of my work. A few days later, we were scheduled to read a further article of his at a meeting and discuss it. So I read his paper. We discussed it. At a certain point in the meeting – a key site where he used to regularly laugh at my work in front of my colleagues – he laughed again at my work. One of the other male colleagues suggested we run a conference on sexual desire, and then moved to joke that I should do a keynote (yes, indeed but contextually there are some mitigating factors). The “drinks” colleague made a laughing comment that my work could not possibly be included as it would bring the academy and the conference down. In the paper under discussion, he had the gall to speak of the importance of iterability and the arrivant (again that paper was a highly derivative presentation of another’s thought, with no original philosophy being done). I pointed out to him after the meeting and after reading his paper that I no longer could respect the HYPOCRISY and saw now the comment that I didn’t belong in the academy in a new and more difficult light. I said I thought HIS work was bad and took his way in dealing with me and his lack of change of attitude and continued humiliating laughter about my work very seriously. He told me that if I communicated with him in such a disrespectful way again he would make a formal complaint against me! At which point I (roughly speaking) said – I have two years of history of you being sexist towards me and I’m trying to discuss it with you firstly privately to avoid trouble for you (and difficulty for me as I’m looking for a tenured job right now) and rather than listen and change, you threaten me! You escalate this and I tell you BRING IT ON! It will be a relief to take this finally to our HoD and beyond.
As a coda – we at present do not talk except for strictly professional matters and I feel much better. It is only sites like this one that have raised my awareness and confidence to tackle such things. My new book comes out with a good press at the end of the year! My career is enjoyable and thriving, although I worry that as a woman it is harder for me than a man to get a permanent post as a lecturer. It’s a shame there are young men in the strong position of a tenured post who do not examine their attitudes to female (contracted and soon to be made redundant) colleagues more closely.

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