When confrontation leads to retaliation

Posted: August 22, 2013 by Jender in bullying, failure to take women seriously, retaliation

I am a biological scientist rather than a philosopher, but as someone who works in a male dominated field I thought my comments might be of interest. In the wake of [a recent high-profile] resignation I have heard comments that the graduate student in question should have confronted him personally rather than taking the matter up with the administration. These comments arise out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. I know because I was once a graduate student with just such a misunderstanding.

My first year in graduate school all the entering students were required to take an introductory class taught by the department chair. He routinely made comments belittling women and our ideas. I talked a lot in class and many of his comments were directed at me. I had dealt with this kind of jerk before and I didn’t let it bother me, especially since my fellow graduate students were supportive. However, as the semester went on my female classmates stopped speaking in class and asked me how I could put up with it. I thought that since I was older (26) and not afraid of this man, it was my responsibility to address this situation so I marched into his office and explained to him that, although I was sure it was unintentional, he was having a negative effect on the free exchange of ideas in his class. I gave clear examples. I explained my position. As I am sure all the women reading this already know, this had exactly zero effect on his behavior in class. What I didn’t understand was that a man who does not respect women is not going to change his mind because a women presents him with a strong logical argument.

The point is that a man who disrespects a woman enough to send her sexually suggestive emails is not going to listen to anything she has to say. Confronting such a man personally is not going to make him reassess his position. It will make him retaliate.

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