Archive for the ‘being afraid to speak’ Category

Fear of internet attacks

Posted: November 7, 2014 by Jender in being afraid to speak, bullying, harassment

I don’t know if I will make things worse by sending this story (probably it will, and perhaps utilitarian concerns would make it better if you don’t publish this), but here goes:
Recently, there have been several unmoderated blogs (which I won’t link to here) which have as purported aim to comment on other philosophy blogs, bypassing their moderation restrictions, and complaining about the huge influence of feminists on our profession (yeah…). However, recently, several of the commenters have taken to making personal attacks on some other philosophers. Whereas some of the attacks are directed at men, the attacks directed at women are of a more personal nature, including speculations about their private relationships, revelations about non-public parts of their earlier life, and even posting selections of their Facebook wall (with are set as “friends only” and are thus not meant for public viewing).
I have not yet been attacked on these blogs. I’ve found myself wondering lately though, whenever I write something on social media or on blogs whether these writers on the meta-metablog or whatever the latest iteration is won’t find this a good occasion to attack me. This is an effective way to silence vocal female members of the profession. I am very sorry this is happening. It reflects poorly on our profession.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be a graduate student or a female faculty member to have negative experiences. You also don’t have to attend an elite institution, either. As a female undergraduate in a small department, I’ve experienced problems as well.

One night a large group of philosophers (all male, of course- except for me) went out for food and drinks. These are people that are aware of the problems for women in philosophy, and have claimed to support feminist concerns. A few of them have actually read this blog in some depth. And yet, after a few drinks, one of the guys claimed that rape is a biological urge, so a rapist shouldn’t be hated or held accountable for his actions. A couple of other people chimed into the discussion, and so it went. I was so uncomfortable at that point that I didn’t speak for the rest of the night.

Another incident happened when I was in a philosophy class giving a presentation on abortion. We were discussing whether or not it was OK to have an abortion in cases of rape, and one student made the comment that if a woman dresses like a “slut” then it would be “her fault” and she is “asking for it”. It was obvious that the class was just as shocked as I was. Of course, he was completely destroyed for that remark by me and others. But nevertheless, it was said, and it stuck with me.

It’s a shame that I still have more stories like this.

During the early part of the year, I attended a philosophy talk at a well known west-coast university. This talk was given by a famous philosopher, and was thoroughly enjoyable. During the talk, the philosopher made a claim along the lines of the following: that social structures are organised around sex. One well known male philosopher from this university who was in the audience then blurted out “I arrange my life around sex too!”

While some people laughed, I am quite sure that many did out of being uncomfortable with the comment. I did not laugh, and noticed that a number of the women who were in attendance looked at each other with a “WTF” face. I am appalled by the behaviour of this philosopher, and really didn’t know what to do or think given the circumstance. Ironically, the famous philosopher’s talk was on social structures, and how group dynamics are really important sites where injustice is prevalent.

As someone who self-identifies as male, I just don’t understand why commentary like this is acceptable. Given my place in the hierarchy in academia, I unfortunately feel like I would be retaliated against for speaking up. What is someone in my position (whether it be a graduate student, staff member, or faculty member) supposed to do in a situation like this? The comment given by the faculty member in the audience completely caught me off guard, and as I reflect upon this episode, I feel like I should have done something, even though I felt completely frozen when this comment was uttered. Seriously, something needs to be done about this – I just wish (A) I knew what to do then and (B) that I would avoid retaliatory action for doing the right thing.

If you have ideas about what to do, go over to FP and leave them in comments!

A friend recently asked me which posts on this blog were mine. In looking for them, I came across this one, https://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/the-biggest-obstacle-is-having-some-faith-that-i-belong-here/ which I had forgotten about.

The way I had written it at the time, one might think that whatever problems I was facing were entirely in my head. Looking back, I phrased it as I did because I was afraid to say more. I didn’t have faith that I belonged in graduate school, but not because I was imagining that I didn’t nor because I was unjustifiably anxious. It was because my first day on campus the professor who I had intended to work with told me that after seeing my application, he wouldn’t be surprised if I performed so poorly that I failed out and that I didn’t have the right ‘pedigree’ for students at a program of this caliber. Waiting in the hall outside my first seminar, I overheard a group of male students in my cohort discussing that the women in our cohort might have been admitted because of affirmative action rather than merit. And this was just what happened before classes actually began.

I was worried that if I told anyone (even anonymously) why, exactly, I felt so out of place, the people who had behaved inappropriately might recognize themselves in the stories and hold it against me for sharing them here. I am still afraid of that actually, but I’m also now of the view that if speaking the truth about my own experiences costs me relationships, those aren’t relationships worth protecting.

Recent events and the on-going dialogue about our discipline have been very difficult for me.

While in graduate school, a colleague attempted to rape me using physical force. He was an advanced, highly-regarded student in our department. He also (so I thought) happened to be, until that point, a close friend.

To this day, I have only told two people. At the time, I consulted my two closest feminist philosopher friends and asked for advice. We went through every conceivable option and all agreed that I shouldn’t take any action. Because I had “escaped”, I had no “evidence” other than my word against his. He had a wife with a baby on the way, and became very outgoing while consuming alcohol. Very few people would believe me and even the few potential advocates would not be able to act in any official capacity. (This is why I don’t think coming forward would protect other women.)

I’m now working in a TT position (which several male philosophers told me I got because I’m a woman.) I honestly think nothing would come of me breaking the silence other than my professional reputation undergoing a public bashing.

When in grad school, I was physically assaulted and raped by a philosopher, call him X. I have never told a single person in philosophy about this. I am confident even now that if I had, it would have ended the possibility of me having a career in philosophy. Not even because X was important or had a good reputation, but because he was a member of a tight-knit group of people in my department who at the time collectively essentially had complete power over what would happen with my career.

Many years later, he was accused of attempted sexual assault by another philosophy graduate student. Many of the faculty rallied around him, loudly claiming that his accuser was crazy, trying to dig up dirt about her past, threatening legal action against her, and so on.

All of those people immediately and without any hint of hesitation took X’s word about what happened the night in question, and immediately discounted his accuser’s story. But there is something else that is incredibly disturbing about the situation. And that was that X’s story, which I heard many times, was pretty damning. Even if his story was true and his accuser’s was false, any outsider could have seen that he had acted in a completely awful way. But I have never heard a single one of his defenders say this.

Nearly every day I kick myself for not speaking up at the time. I would have had a horrible few months, and then I nearly certainly would have ended up leaving philosophy. But, first, maybe, just maybe, X would have suffered some consequences for his actions (though I doubt it), and maybe, even if he didn’t, it would set a precedent such that he might have suffered some consequences in the later case (which he didn’t). And second, I no longer understand why I wanted to stay in philosophy so badly, when it has never gotten any better for me with respect to these kinds of issues. At the time I think I thought I was being strong and proving a point. In fact I think that I was just scared. If I could turn back the clock I would speak up. But not because I think there would have been some fairy tale ending. This is not a call for people to speak up when things happen to them like this. But I do want people to know that at least one person wishes that she had made the choice to stick up for herself even at the expense of the possibility of a future in philosophy.

I remember once, as a female graduate student in philosophy, trying to raise some serious complaints about a senior male philosopher who was making the climate for me and several other junior women in the philosophy department miserable. He was utterly disrespectful of the work of women, regularly making female students cry when alone with him in his office (an achievement of which, I was told by his friends, he was rather proud). He ignored my work and belittled my ideas, and he did the same to other women in front of me. He once lost his temper and yelled at me in front of a group of other philosophers, for pressing a philosophical objection to his view which he did not know how to address. My male philosopher friends said he seemed like “an OK guy” to them although some of them had heard he was “funny about” women.

In response to my complaint, all that happened was that another senior philosopher in the department (a friend and colleague of the person I’d complained about) held a meeting with the two of us. This was terrifying for me. At the meeting, the person I had complained about told me off, saying (and I can still picture his face as he said this) “Don’t just get upset and take it out on me”.

His friend and colleague, the only other person in the room, stood by and said nothing when this remark was made.

It was agreed that I wouldn’t work with him any more, and nothing else was done. The philosopher who arranged the meeting told me explicitly that if I were to try and take things any further it would not go well for my career.

I began suffering from an ongoing panic attack disorder at this time which has had a huge impact on my life ever since and is still not entirely resolved after ten years. I very nearly quit philosophy. (I’m glad I didn’t; I’m good at it, and as soon as I was away from that environment I was very successful in the profession.)

At a careers advice meeting for aspiring academics, the senior philosopher who had organised that meeting announced to the audience that, in professional philosophy, things are no different for women than they are for men.

The man I complained about was then promoted. He currently holds a top-rank position at an elite university.