Many posts on here, and in my life, as about male faculty making unwanted advances. This is disgusting,and creates an awful and violent atmosphere. There are many instances of just horrid comments made in passing. But what I want to address here is the physic and emotional harms that come from accepted wanted advances.
In my MA, I had a supervisor who was I was very excited to be working with. His own work touched on feminist thought, critical race, and politics, so I assumed he knew about the state of the discipline. He recommended this very blog to me. His own background was similar to mine, so we spent a lot of time talking about what it was like to be a first-generation college student, to be from poverty and afraid that any moment someone would take what we had found away. He was vegetarian, and I vegan, so we would talk about that, too (however, he was lying, he eat meat). I really respected him, and I had had so few mentors in my life that I wasn’t always really aware he was flirting with me or treating me differently. I thought we were both friends and academic equals. I thought he cared about my mind and ideas.
He told me I was like the first girl he ever fell in love with, totally insecure and beautiful. The kind of girl that you always feel scared to be with because she doesn’t realize how amazing she is, and one-day will and will be totally out your league. I took that as a compliment, however weird it was. The thing was, I wanted him to like me. I even wanted him to love me. The first night we had sex, I was so drunk that I hardly remember it. I remember making out with him in public, and in our small college town it was certainly not discrete. I remember saying I should go home, and him pulling my arm and wanting to go even though I thought I should say no. After that, we had a one week fling. I was cheating on my boyfriend, and him his wife. He told me many details about other students and faculty, I knew all the department business, which I ought not have known. But I felt wanted, like I was special and that nothing was going to change my place in the department, or my own life. He went away on a fellowship, and wrote me love letters, and sexy letters. He told me he loved me, and wanted me to leave my boyfriend, and he would finish the process of divorce with his wife (from whom he told me he was separated).
Then, abruptly, one day he told me it was over. Not just over, but that I shouldn’t’ contact him. I was supposed to write my thesis over that summer, so I was a little at a loss as to how to write it without him. He didn’t answer me. I moved away, telling my chair I’d work from a different city. My supervisor continued to ignore me, only occasionally asking for chapters.
We ran into each other at a conference, after all this silence, and he held my hand under the table and held a door closed and refused to let me leave a room until I agreed to kiss him. Everyone saw this, and it was all very embarrassing. He told the entire party at the after event that I was a heartbreaker, and ruining his marriage. To this day, one of the participants there still tells people I got to where I am by sleeping my way there (to be clear, I am not at a top 50 school). The day after he told me he was hopelessly in love with me, and couldn’t’ do anything. He missed me and knew we could work it out. I knew it was not the thing to want, but I felt better hearing it.
After that, he texted me and told me from now on never to email him unless it was a chapter, and only to address him as Dr., never by is name, but said he still thought we should work together. Shortly after this, his wife called and harrassed me. She told me I was a bad feminist, and that she would call every school I was applying to for PhD and tell them I was a slut who ruined her marriage. He completely ignored me for a month after that. I finally got him on his office phone. We talked and he nearly cried and begged me not to tell anyone and to stay his student. I did. I should not have. Eventually I finished, but not through his support. I spent the next year so depressed and so full of self-doubt that I had to stop working. I was bed ridden and was so completely unsure of my abilities.
I started a PhD program the next year and was unable to do the work because I had lost confidence in myself. It was only in transferring out of that program and starting again now, four years later, that I have any sense of self-worth. I still think I am a horrible philosopher and have very bad anxiety. I mistrust almost every philosophical intuition I have and am, at times, convinced that maybe I did sleep myself to where I am–no where great. I was sharp and eager, and now I am in a middle of the road school, and don’t try very hard. I refuse to have a male supervisor, which is a little hard to explain without the whole story, which I don’t want to share. I wish so much I could go back to myself four years ago, and tell myself that no matter how much I thought I wanted that attention, that it was so inappropriate of him, and would totally wreck me. I guess this is a story about what it is like to be a woman in philosophy who accepts the invitation, and one way it can go. There are sad lonely male faculty members who prey on insecure female students, maybe never with the intention of harm, but it has to stop.