Archive for the ‘bullying’ Category

I am fortunate to have suffered relatively little sexism. Interestingly, however, the reason I suffered so little is because my advisor was overtly sexist.

I had my children during graduate school. Many professors questioned whether I was really going to “stay in philosophy.” One senior woman looked at me thoughtfully and said a department might be okay hiring me because I’d already had my kids and therefore (presumably) would not go having kids on their time.

My advisor, who until I’d started having children had been reasonably supportive, absolutely turned on me. He would ask sneering questions such as “When are you going to give birth to a paper?” He made it clear that he thought by having children, I’d shown I wasn’t serious.

Finally, I got sick of it, and switched advisors. My new advisor couldn’t have been more supportive. He was awesome. I know I wouldn’t have written nearly as good a dissertation as I would have otherwise, nor would I have gotten as much career help and advice.

I was employed as a feminist philosopher in a department where I was the only woman; that is to say, I was employed to teach feminist theory in philosophy. From the beginning there were questions about my competency, about the nature of my work, and with that, very little support from my male colleagues. I felt very undermined, and this did not help my profound lack of confidence. I was given no mentoring, and the one senior woman in a cognate discipline, was an anti-philosopher. She had no sympathy or understanding for what I was doing. One of my colleagues came and shouted at me in front of a grad student when I sent him an email in which I mis-spelt his name. As a result, I moved my office. No-one came to invite me back to the department; no-one tried to sort the issue out. No-one apologised. To this day the former colleague has never acknowledged his role in my moving office. I eventually returned to another office in the department but the whole event was ignored and never spoken of. When I unsuccessfully applied for a promotion at the very same time my first book with a first rate publisher was published, no-one helped me out or suggested I lodge an appeal. Yet there were clearly politics involved in my lack of success. When I was head of the department, my male colleagues basically ignored me or undermined any of my efforts to secure pedagogical changes that would benefit the discipline. I resigned in frustration and everything went back to as it was. I left suddenly, without any goodbyes after giving appropriate notice. No-one seemed to care that I left, or why. I became a philosopher because I love ideas and their exploration. That has not changed, but I feel emotionally and intellectually abused by my whole experience.

A professor of mine–who is refreshingly mindful of gender issues–brought up to me that most of the gender issues discussed within the philosophical community are issues at the graduate and professional levels. This is weird, as the first drop-off concerning women pursuing philosophy occurs at the undergraduate level. And I can assure you, that those of us women who survive the drop off, are experiencing amazing amounts of sexism from our undergraduate peers. I am at one of the top undergraduate programs for philosophy in the states, here are two of many experiences with sexism I’ve encountered: A male peer and I help opposing views on some metaphysical topic, excited to learn from each other I welcomed his criticism after I had argued my view; to my disgust he responded “I have no fucks to give about your view, can I have some?” A horny and disgusting comment which brought laughter from the rest of our peers sitting with us (all of whom are male). The comment was a joke, yes, but it would never have been said to a male peer, and I felt more than objectified. Another experience was similar; I had dabbled in feminist philosophy (a topic nobody at my school was interested in) and shared some of the questions and theories with some peers–again, they are male–rather than asking any philosophically relevant questions, one responded “We’re supposed to learn about feminist philosophy from the girl wearing red lipstick?” The most unfortunate part of all of this is these are male peers with whom I’ve spoken about sexism within academia, and many of whom claim to be on my side.

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.

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.

Let me preface this by saying that I am truly grateful to all of the women and men who have made, and who continue to make, our discipline a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable discipline. I consider myself honored to know and work with some amazing, supportive, philosophers. That said, we are not there yet. Things are not changing quickly enough. We, as philosophers and as human beings, should not tolerate anything less than equity any longer.

Ever since its inception, I have found this blog therapeutic. Many of the stories here comport all too well with my own experience. There is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I have been amazed, time and again, when colleagues and friends express surprise at the stories they find here. I am amazed that they do not realize similar things are happening in such close proximity to themselves. I am amazed that some of my colleagues—some of whom have, at times, behaved horrifically themselves—fail to recognize the inequality that is right in front of them.

I note this because I have myself been discriminated against, harassed, propositioned, excluded, talked over, disparaged, and so on. Many of my own colleagues either don’t know the details, or haven’t noticed events that have taken place right in front of them. They don’t realize that what might seem like one-off bad jokes, disrespectful comments, and offers of romantic and sexual interaction are just small pieces of a much larger pattern. They don’t realize the extent to which harassment, discrimination, and even assault take place within our discipline.

We tend to think the problems are someplace else. We tend to think our friends cannot possibly be part of the problem. We cannot possibly be part of the problem. Often, we are mistaken.

Philosophers: Take notice. Listen. Act. Please. These are not just anonymous stories on a blog. These are real people. Real lives. Real suffering. Sometimes your colleagues, and sometimes your friends.

I’m new faculty and just out of grad school. I’ve been in the town in which my university is located for about two weeks. Tonight, I (and other new faculty) was invited by the grad students to meet and have some casual drinks before the semester started.

It started out okay, but quickly turned for the worse. One second-year grad student mistook me for an incoming grad student, and proceeded to talk to me as though I was such. I pointed out that I was incoming faculty, but that did not seem to make much difference. He belittled what I said and made inane jokes about my background. At first I laughed it off but as the night wore on, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with comments that were being made at the table. None of these were overtly or maliciously racist or sexist, but they all certainly pointed to my obvious “otherness” while I was sitting at a table of white male philosophers. Every comment, every joke at my expense just made me feel more alienated from the group. (Remember, these are people I will have to teach in a week or so, and I have not met them before, and they have been at the university longer than I.) When I made responses, I was interrupted or talked over more frequently than other people at the table. (I actually pointed this out later and it was apparently not noticed at all.)

I imagine that some of the teasing was definitely meant to be in good humor, but it was furiously frustrating to have to politely and good-naturedly respond to them when they couldn’t see that I was finding their comments offensive and hurtful. At the same time, I don’t want to be cast as the oversensitive non-white, non-male person in the department who takes everything too seriously and everyone has to tiptoe delicately around.

Of course, I want to be able to be friends with these people–after all, I do have to work with them and possibly advise them for the foreseeable future. However, at the same time, I do not see how I can do this if they do not take me seriously. Eventually, I made my excuses to leave, because I was frankly sick of defending myself. At that point, one of the students even said “Yes, I think that you should go,” while several others laughed. I felt like I had been undermined, both personally and professionally. I felt humiliated, and definitely not comfortable socializing with them again. I’m sorry to say this, but I cried pretty much all the way home.