Archive for the ‘failure to challenge sexism’ Category

Quitting teaching philosophy in my department is on my mind:

Every time my male colleague laughs at me behind my back with our students.

Every time my male colleague ridicules me in front of our students.

Every time my male colleague asks our students to discuss my teaching style with him behind my back.

Every time my male colleague dismisses a point I make in a meeting without good reason, and expects that his mere dismissal of my point is sufficient for others, and myself, to accept his position.

Every time my male colleague treats me with utter contempt, then turns around and asks for my advice on student issues/publishing/the job market/life in general.

Every time my male colleagues pretend they are not on campus so they don’t have to meet with me to discuss departmental business, and sit laughing together about the fact that I am on my own in my office trying to run a meeting effectively through google chat instead of meeting with them in person.

Every time one male colleague, who claims to be a feminist, follows the lead of the other male colleague in demeaning or marginalizing me, presumably because it’s easier for him to fall in line than to challenge oppression.

Recent mention of ‘golden boys’ reminded me of an experience I had in grad school. One year, my department had an opportunity to nominate a single PhD student to contend for a substantial dissertation research grant from the University. Unbeknownst to me, my ‘golden boy’ status led to my nomination; in doing so, the department passed over another extremely well-qualified female student. But, one of the department’s few female faculty members took it upon herself to nominate the female student in addition to me.

As it turns out the selection committee got it right, and the better candidate won. When the winner was announced, a senior (male) faculty member took it upon himself to inform me of the situation. He told me that, I was the department’s “unanimous top choice”; that female faculty member X was “being insubordinate” by going “behind the department’s back”; and that the winner “wouldn’t have won had she not been a female”.

It would take far too long to list every aspect of implicit and explicit bias, subtle and blatant sexism in this brief conversation. I was simply shocked, particularly since I wouldn’t have known any different had this faculty member not pulled me aside. All I could manage to say was that I was happy my fellow student had won, and that I was convinced she really deserved it more than I did.

Looking back, I wish I had taken the opportunity to call out the sexism on this occasion (and in particular to stand up for the actions of the female faculty member). It still bothers me, and makes me question whether the other benefits I received in grad school were merited, or were merely the result of gender bias in my favor.

In one recent post a philosopher claimed that she is in a department with a wonderful climate for women, which is nevertheless listed as “Needs Improvement” in this category in the Pluralists’ Guide. My own department is, bewilderingly, listed as “Strongly Recommended” in this category in spite of the presence of known harrassers and openly sexist profs who hold senior positions and/or positions of power over graduate students. Their words and actions are certainly surreptitiously mocked, but these individuals are never challenged in any meaningful way. I don’t want to say anything identifying, but I could provide you with countless stories of situations that have broken my heart and stories also of how complaints of graduate and undergraduate students – when brought even to “feminist” faculty members – are dismissed as things that we are powerless to change.

Message: Now a full professor (in an enlightened department of three women and one man), who teaches feminist philosophy, I’ve been sitting on this one since it happened: In 2000 I was interviewing for jobs for the first time. I visited the University of X for an on campus interview – met with students, taught a class and gave my talk to the dept. I was sitting at the head of the table looking out at all the men – there was one female graduate student there,that’s it. I finished my talk and the questions began. The professor who I would have been replacing raised his hand and said “So…we haven’t had a woman teach fulltime in the department for 40 years, why should we hire one now?” Absolute silence, no one said a word. Rather than saying something clever like, “you clearly shouldn’t as you are not ready” and leaving the interview, I stammered something about perhaps this would help their enrollment,as I would have liked to have had a female role model when I was an undergrad. To this he replied “Well, if we want to recruit more female students why shouldn’t we just hire some hot, young guy?” I was totally flummoxed by this point and just trying not to a)yell or b) cry as I knew either of these actions would reinforce his ideas about women – and I was quite convinced this was the action he was trying to provoke. Again, NO ONE at the table said a word. Needless to say, I did not get the job, and to add insult to injury, they made that distinguished professor drive me back to my hotel where he told me “you did okay, kiddo”. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if the guy they hired was young and hot.

Just a reminder, there are philosophy departments out there that are a nightmare for women. No woman professors ever hired, professors (male of course) sleeping with graduate students, humiliating, sexist remarks made to women researchers on public occasions, and of course, last but not least: a war on the field of women’s studies and any and all related fields. (This means you, phenomenology.)

People crack alot of jokes about gender balance, and question whether people go too far with this kind of sensitivity. But there are alot of demoralized women out there. The women at the department I am talking about are probably too afraid to post on this blog.

When I was on a job interview at a small college a decade and a half ago, I gave a paper on sexual harassment. Things were going well until the dinner, when one male professor who was quiet up until that time, spoke up and said, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with feminists: they need to be dominated by a man.” The other department members (all male) remained silent. I engaged this fellow for a short time, but realized quickly that his character was not one that could be changed. I didn’t get the job. I didn’t want it. I reported the incident to the APA Committee on the Status for Women, and I believe I saw the department listed on the “censured list” a few years later.

I am a philosopher who has worked for years in university higher administration. I’m writing now to encourage students to record and/or report incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior. (Male students can do so as well as female students, because such behavior constitutes a hostile work environment and is illegal.) Report the behavior you are concerned about to the chair, the dean, the Affirmative Action Officer, an associate or assistant dean, an ombudsperson, a Women’s Center director, a Women’s Studies professor, or directly to your university president. Anyone in a position of authority in a university who receives such notification is required to act; if not they become legally liable at a later date.

You may not need to “go public” or demand official redress; should you choose not to do so for whatever reason, it is still useful and important to report the behavior because a record will be made, and in any future case the existence of a written record documenting claims about a person’s inappropriate behavior will prove useful. Harassers are generally repeat offenders and their behavior may increase in seriousness over time. Do not tolerate behavior that is uncomfortable, demeaning, unfair, or inappropriate. At the very least keep a written record of such behavior, with specifics and dates, and show the record to someone else as you compile it. Most competent university administrators are far more aware of and concerned about stopping this sort of behavior than are most philosophy department chairs, I regret to say.