Archive for the ‘harassment’ Category

All the following events happened to me, a woman in philosophy, with different people (some women), at different stages of my career as an undergraduate and graduate student.

I once found myself hugged by one of the professors I worked with, in his office. He wanted to be empathized with for the troubles he was having in his personal life: he said he needed “some love”. I was paralyzed by the surprise and embarrassment. Fortunately another student knocked on the (closed) door and he let me go.

Another professor frequently looked at my body when talking to me during office hours. I never knew how to deal with it, and it made me extremely uncomfortable, mostly because I suspected he was not paying attention to what I was saying.

I was at a conference with my partner, also a philosophy student. My advisor made sure to introduce my partner, who is not one of his advisees, to all the members of the admissions committee of a very good department to which my partner was applying. At the same conference there was a famous philosopher, with whom my advisor was on friendly terms. I was writing my undergraduate thesis on the work of this famous philosopher. I thought my advisor would introduce me, given how he behaved with my partner who wasn’t even his advisee, but I waited in vain. I therefore introduced myself to the famous philosopher and talked to him about my work (the famous philosopher—also, guess what, a man—did not really engage in the conversation, but answered politely to my questions with, more or less, yes or no). When I told to my advisor that I had introduced myself, he merely said “good job!” My partner was a man.

A different advisor often remarked on my outfits (in the presence of other students) and declared he was in love with me in an email. He was married and he sort of made clear it was a form of Platonic love. He did always engage me philosophically, but I refrained from seeing him as much as I would have wanted because I feared he would take it as a sign of romantic interest.

At a conference once I wore a summer dress that left my shoulders and part of my back bare. I later found out that some women graduate students and a woman faculty member berated me because of my “skimpy clothes”, through which I “debased the entire category of women”. They wondered how women could be taken seriously if they dressed like that. Admittedly, these quotes are second-hand. The faculty member works on feminist philosophy.

A male colleague once told me laughingly that a bunch of male graduate students were exchanging emails about my dissertation topic, which was so “feminine”. He did not seem to think for a moment that there was anything wrong with that behavior, or with expecting me to share his amusement.

Another male colleague, who had been hitting on me constantly and who had talked about my “boobs” in front of other male students, once asked me—again in front of other colleagues—why I presented myself like a “whore”. In the past, I had always acquiesced and tried to go along with the jokes (because they are only jokes, right, and you don’t want to come out as one of those party poopers without sense of humor). This time I coldly replied: “I don’t present myself as a whore at all, why do you see me that way?”. To my surprise, he shut up!

When I was at another department as a visiting student, one of the students there, with whom I had a fling, boasted to prospective students that among the benefits of the program there was being able to sleep with visiting students. I was right there.

I was once at a dinner with faculty members and graduate students, and during what I thought was a philosophical conversation, I made the mistake of mentioning, as a philosophical example, a detail of my personal life that routinely gives the impression to men that a woman is “easy”. After that, a faculty member started to mildly flirt with me, to my surprise and dismay. He stopped after I stopped saying hi to him in the halls, or acknowledging him in any way. For all that time, I felt guilty, as if I was the one who did something wrong.

Later on, in a seminar discussion, I made sure to make a similar point without using my personal life, but by using a sociological generalization. Still, what the men present in the seminar took home was that I was “easy”, and another faculty, during an evening out, made a joke about me that gave the impression that I had relaxed sexual morals. Other male students felt entitled to make similar jokes. I wrote an email to the professor, explaining why his joke was inappropriate. He apologized profusely. So that one went well! (It goes without saying that whether or not I am actually “easy” is irrelevant here.)

Once I was visiting my partner who was in a different PhD program. Prospective students were also visiting that department at the time and I joined them for a night out. I kept asking people about their research interests. Nobody ever asked me about mine. I was just his girlfriend, after all.

There have been many more events similar to this last one, which, more than sexual harassment in its various forms, arguably constitute the most damaging way of undermining women’s academic self-esteem: instances of subtle, widespread, and often unconscious forms of sexism. I personally experienced what so many women reported experiencing on this blog: a woman makes a point, sees it fall flat, and then hears the same point being repeated by a man and acknowledged; a woman is paralyzed by stereotype threat; a woman is rarely, if ever, asked to read or discuss a male colleague’s work; and so forth.

A final meta-reflection: it took me a long time—in fact, more than a year—to finish writing this submission. It was not because I had a hard time putting together anecdotes. (In fact, I left some out.) It was because I spent a long time worrying about being identified, and subsequently worked on making the submission as anonymous as possible.

My preoccupation with anonymity was not only due to the fear of backlashes in the professional sphere, but mainly due to the fear of disrupting some friendships that I still hold with some people mentioned in the post. After all, some of the offenders are still my friends, and this is absolutely unsurprising. Human beings are weak-willed, opaque to themselves, inconsistent, and prone to error. All human beings, men and women (and people who refuse to identify with one gender) alike! Many men who say something offensive and who slip into sexist behavior don’t mean it, don’t realize it, or can’t help it. They may regret it afterwards, but are unable to apologize. They may apologize, but then do it again.

My aim in submitting this post is, like everybody else on this blog, to share my experience as a woman in philosophy, and to highlight sins but not to point my finger against the sinners. Some sinners deserve to be pointed at, of course. Unfortunately, the worst offenders, in virtue of the gravity of their crimes, often go unreported and hence unpunished. But in my case, my main aim is to contribute to make my male and female colleagues aware of things that happen to women in philosophy, hoping that this will bring about awareness and change.

Blogs like this one should not be seen by men as a self-righteous “J’accuse” to specific (mostly male) individuals, but as an appeal to all people of good faith who want to improve the profession. As a post on the Feminist Philosophers blog recently reminded us, the status of women in the profession (and of all minorities, if I may add) is everyone’s business.

We’re anti-sausage fest.

Posted: July 1, 2012 by Jender in harassment

 if someone harasses you, but you don’t want to report it to the authorities for whatever reason, at least tell some of the feminist men in the dept.  Some of us are good at untraceable mild public shaming, and wish the field weren’t such a sausage fest.

My account brings not much new to the shocking posts I read on this blog, but mainly confirms that they are part of a wider structural problem. I did half of my first degree in philosophy. Prior to commencing my studies there, a female friend and previous graduate recommended the department to me, but warned me that I need to watch out for Dr X and Dr Y as they’d come onto female students. I never experienced any form of sexual advances myself, but during my time there I learned about several sexual encounters, affairs and occasional relationships between male lecturers/ tutors and female students. Generally (perhaps not in every case) I think this is an abuse of power from the side of the lecturers who are in charge of students’ grades and future prospects.

My former philosophy department had a similar set-up as many of the departments mentioned on this blog – exclusively male leadership, and out of the whole staff team only a couple of staff members were female. I was fortunate enough to at some point be taught by an excellent female lecturer, who had left the department due to department-internal conflicts (unknown to me, but they were between her and apparently several male colleagues) and ran her courses from a different department. Courses run by that lecturer are my best memories of my time in philosophy – I suspected that she never fully received the recognition she deserves.

In my final year or so, I asked on a department-internal online forum why there was no course offered on a prominent female or non-white philosopher – indeed, these were generally found only sparsely on our reading lists. On the same forum, several male student ‘colleagues’ posted some ‘jokes’ along the lines of ‘women to the kitchen!’. Then a prominent lecturer responded to my post, saying that it ‘doesn’t matter’ whether a philosopher was male or female, white or black – all that mattered what the philosophical theories produced by them. He overlooked that his assertion was informed by a particular epistemological bias and completely unacceptable as a generalised statement. Furthermore, even in more maths-based philosophy as in the area he worked in, there is a case to be made for making sure that there is a women-friendly climate in general and women get the same recognition as men, so they feel supported to produce the best work they can. I was disappointed. As some others on here said, the most depressing thing is that these are supposedly people who are educated in equality & diversity, and highly educated in general.

As a graduate student, I changed subject and never looked back. I’m now often in strongly female-dominated working constellations – even though recently my (female, self-proclaimed feminist) supervisor told me half-jokingly, ‘Don’t get pregnant while in graduate school!’. This comes at a time when one of my colleagues is struggling with her department being unsafe for her pregnancy, and there are huge delays in making it safe despite repeated pleas from her (male) supervisor. Not that I’m planning to get pregnant anytime soon, but – ouch!

I am writing this to tell any potentially discouraged readers to hang in there. I have experienced sexual harassment, dismissiveness, discrimination on the job, and other offensive behavior throughout my time as a grad student and professor in philosophy. Yet I love doing philosophy and teaching so much that none of this can dissuade me from my purpose. I feel lucky to have this rare opportunity to be a philosopher, and nobody’s sexist crap is going to stop me. Don’t let it stop you either if you love philosophy.

As an undergrad philosophy major, I cannot count the number of times I made a point that was dismissed or ignored by the professor, only to have a male student make the same point and receive praise. All of my male undergraduate professors actively discouraged me from applying to grad school on the grounds that my abilities were not up to par. Nevertheless, I was accepted by four top-20 programs.

My grad school mentors were wonderful, supportive, and egalitarian. Unfortunately, from other faculty I witnessed several instances of both physical and verbal sexual harassment of female grad students. For three years, I was the only romantically unattached, heterosexual female grad student in my program. I was pestered and harassed almost daily by the male students, including everything from offensive sexual comments made in the middle of class to relentless efforts to hook up. The specific physical attributes of female students who took philosophy grad courses were enthusiastically discussed in our dept. lounge. Every time the department sought student input into a hiring process, my preference for a candidate was attributed by the other students, in front of the faculty, to my supposed romantic attraction to him. I was frequently quizzed by fellow students about which faculty member(s) or student(s) I would be willing to have sex with, hypothetically, despite my refusal to respond.

When I began attending conferences and APA events, my trusted mentors had to tell me which male professors I should avoid being alone with. Sometimes they accompanied me to parties so that I wouldn’t be harassed. While this may seem like a negative story about the prevalance of sexism, it’s just as much a positive account of the other guys who had my back and wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. Eventually I received many interviews and a few job offers, and all of my success on the job market was directly attributed by my fellow male students to the fact that I am female.

Once I became a professor, I learned what it is like to work closely with men who cannot seem to visually acknowledge your head up there above the breasts. I learned to deal with male students who tried to intimidate me about grades or come on to me. (Specifically, I learned to keep my office door open, and to inform someone else as soon as a student started behaving strangely toward me.) I do not work in feminist philosophy myself, and apparently that has encouraged several male professors to share with me their view that feminist philosophy is junk and not really philosophy. For a while another single female worked in my department. Some male professors hoped that I might be able to report on her sex life, about which they knew nothing but suspected everything. I have had to listen, in the department office, to my colleagues’ descriptions of escapades at strip clubs.

Though all of the aforementioned events were annoying, they did not intimidate me. The sexism that nearly shook my resolve came later, in the form of having my research devalued because I was female, being judged according to different standards from men in pre-tenure reviews, being pressured to take on more teaching and advising duties than others, and eventually being treated unfairly with respect to family/medical leave. Luckily, my resolve is fairly stout. In the hiring process, I have seen numerous female candidates ignored either because their cvs mention the word feminism, or because they are perceived to do “soft” work in ethics. In awarding scholarship funds to our own students, my colleagues consistently downplay females who have stronger records on paper in favor of males with whom they are friendly. My teaching evaluations are good, but male faculty have often commented (in direct contradiction to the facts) that this is probably because I am not a rigorous teacher or strict grader. I am treated like a secretary whenever menial tasks like note-taking must be done, and one of my colleagues (who happened to vote unsuccessfully against tenuring me) told me in all sincerity that I would make a good secretary.

I’m now past worrying about what my colleagues say to or about me. However, I want to create a terrific climate for our students, insofar as it is in my power. I have had to choose my battles for the sake of preserving both job and sanity, but in the long run I’m winning the war. To all the women and men who want to change things: don’t lose heart!

I’m a first year grad student on a philosophy programme where only 4 out of the 28 first year graduates are female. I studied Physics as an undergraduate, which had a similar gender-ratio so I’m very used to male-dominated environments. I have never previously felt judged, discriminated against or intimidated based on gender.

However, in the five months I have been a grad student, I’ve become peculiarly sensitive to the reaction of my male peers, who have frequently indicated that, first and foremost, I’m a girl.

To list some of my experiences:

1. At the end of a particularly challenging class on the history of modern logic, in which I was the only woman, a male student I had never met before approached me and began to explain some of the concepts that had been touched on. I had made absolutely no indication that I needed help, and certainly looked no more puzzled than anyone else in that class.

2. At our regular socials, the conversation is generally focused on philosophy or whatever people are specifically working on. We are primarily research students, and since we rarely attend class, do not know each other well. At these events, one of my male peers only ever talks to me about his romantic or sexual experiences. He talks to everyone else about Wittgenstein.

3. A male peer, who I also count as a good friend, never engages me in any academic conversation. Whilst he asks the men for their academic opinions on a talk we all attended together, he quizes me only on my love-life and my attitude towards sex. When I initiate a philosophical discussion, he patronises me and quotes Aristotle (for example) at me, even if we are discussing a subject that I specialise in, and he does not. The same ‘friend’ regularly flatters me with ‘you’re one of the smartest girls I’ve met, and you’re hot’, and has tried to kiss me, though he has admitted that he does not harbour any romantic feelings towards me. (To give some context to the attempted kiss: he was offering me essay advice at the time. Unfortunately, it is not possible to pass of the incident as a mistake at a party.)

4. Another male peer is in two classes with me, and yet he has never acknowledged me, either in a personal or academic capacity. I struggle to get my voice heard amongst the group of very confident and articulate men. Last week, I managed to make a few original points and actually engage with the discussion. This coursemate finally noticed me, and proceeded to initiate some small talk after the class. I then received an email from him inviting me out on a date. Clearly, if I am worthy of attention at all, it is in a romantic, rather than academic setting.

I am left with the overriding impression that to them, I represent a rare opportunity for a romantic dalliance with someone who at least approaches their intellectual capacity. I’m just intelligent enough to be good company, but not quite intelligent enough to be worthy of a rigorous philosophical discussion. To them, I am not their peer, an individual with individual interests, both academically and personally, but rather a symbol: a young woman in academic philosophy.

My experiences as a graduate student in philosophy range from having been hit on relentlessly by one of the tenured faculty to being considered obviously second rate. The males, it seems, were automatically considered to have an advantage irrespective of their philosophical talent. Whereas, the females were looked upon with dubiousness. Being called “fresh meat” by that same tenured faculty to one of my male colleagues which was later reported to me privately. That same “fresh meat” professor had pursued other female graduate students and was known to ‘be on the prowl.’ Other factors in the department included the golden-boy phenomenon reported by other women at this site. There was one or two males thought to be brilliant and despite all of us being accepted into the program, we had to withstand the endless admiration of these individuals. And no women were considered “golden.”

I have two small children and am pregnant with my third, and will be “on the market” for the first time this year. This means traveling to APA with my husband and two children (one is still breastfeeding), working out child care for several days of interviewing, and trying to find clothing that calls as little attention as possible to my pregnant belly.

All this is frustrating enough. But APA interviewing also means spending several nights up late, standing in uncomfortable shoes in a hotel ballroom, sipping cranberry juice while talking to tipsy prospective employers at that monstrosity we call the “smoker.” Has the injustice of this been sufficiently remarked-upon? All the literature on interviewing suggests that it is best done in a structured setting where each candidate gets an equal chance to speak and the effects of bias are kept to a minimum, so what do we think is going to happen when we conduct a second round of “informal” interviews, now late at night, over drinks, and in a dimly lit room? Those of us with small children or heavy sleep needs just need to deal with it, I guess. While I know that there are plenty of men who face these challenges as well, it is hard to imagine a better piece of evidence of the maleness of our profession.

But hey, look at the bright side: the only other time I’ve attended the smoker, I was hit on. This time around, my pregnant figure is likely to keep me from being subjected to that.

Protecting a serial harasser

Posted: November 5, 2011 by jennysaul in harassment, sexual harassment

My department houses a distinguished sexual harasser who is relentless in his retaliation if confronted about his behavior. I have have witnessed and experienced his harassment first-hand and have heard numerous female gradate students tell of his hitting on them, even sticking his tongue down one’s throat at a party. His inappropriate behavior extends to staff and undergraduate students as well.

There exists a clear university policy stating that such behavior will not be tolerated and there also exist the trappings of procedure for reporting. However, because of the protection that tenure and stature in the field afford him, there is no true recourse and anyone who lodges a complaint becomes a target for a relentless and insidious defamation campaign.

When I approached my current chair to explain that this man’s endless complaints about me proceeded from past sexual harassment, he explained that the harasser’s professional reputation was an asset to the department and therefore a certain amount of collateral damage was acceptable.

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.

During my first two years as a graduate student I was the only female PhD student in a department with a single female on the tenure track (who also happened to be on maternity/sabbatical for two semesters during my first two years). In my second year a male student arrived who demonstrated a lot of negative and demeaning attitudes toward women, often objectifying them by relating information about the identity of their porn star twin. Perhaps the incident that made me most uncomfortable during this time occurred when he walked into a room full of our fellow graduate students (all male), and me, and loudly asked, “So, who’s ready for the gang bang?”

Not wanting to make any waves, I took to rolling my eyes and avoiding engagements (both social and professional) where he would be present. However, toward the end of that year I discovered that our incoming class of graduate students would include a few women. While I had put up with his behaviour to that point, I felt it would be irresponsible to knowingly allow other women to enter this environment without at least trying to protect them.

I worked up a little courage (the real kind, not the whiskey-induced kind ;)), and approached the chair of our department with a request that none of the new women be placed into an office that would be shared with this particular graduate student. I explained the situation in a rather vague manner, not wanting to get anyone in trouble, but still wanting to get my point across. When he pressed me for details I shared the “gang bang” incident with him, hoping that combined with my general description of his attitude would be enough.

In response the chair asked if there was anyone else in the department who could provide more details. Fortunately, a few of my fellow graduate students had assured me that they would back me up if I needed it.

I suspect the chair’s motivation came from some sort of desire to provide protection against baseless accusations. However, I do wonder what would have happened if I didn’t have these friends in the department. Would my set of stories have been enough to warrant any intervention? Further, what would his attitude be if I came to him with another concern, about another individual in the department? I clearly do not have much in the way of power here.

In the end, after a male colleague of mine went to him and insisted, the chair not only protected our new women’s office space, but he pulled this graduate student aside for a little chat. He framed the discussion in terms of “professional behaviour in a professional setting”, and while he did not name any names, it is difficult to believe it wasn’t abundantly clear that I (the only female graduate student around) was the complainant.

Regardless, that graduate student’s behaviour underwent a transformation, and he has since managed to constrain his baser instinct most of the time.

Freedom. After dealing with direct sexual harassment, rumors spread by a male colleague that I slept with him to receive attention at a conference – I was in a deeply committed relationship and rather disgusted by the colleague – then having to deal with the fallout of other male figures making sexual jokes about me at the conference, listening to comments about my breasts, weight, face and ‘f@ckabilty’ accusations that I received scholarships because I am a woman – not due to any skill on my part – and the general apathy of my graduate adviser as well as the majority of my professors…. I am free. I have left my department and am changing my career (despite having to earn a new bachelors/MA in my new career).

I can study philosophy on my own, if I so choose. My new career fits well enough with the topics I was studying in philosophy. And, having worked in other places than a philosophy department, I know that I will rarely experience anything near the level of harassment and apathy that I did in my last department. In fact, the men I work with are generally extremely excited to work with a woman who is interested in the same things they are.

Call me weak, call me half-hearted, but sometimes one needs to know when to get out. Judging from the similarities between an abusive relationship and my ex-department – other things shall remain unmentioned – I know better than to think that my department will change anytime in the next 10 years.

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.

I’m about to write my MA thesis, and will be applying Phd programs this fall. With a BA and half way through an MA program, here’s what I’ve gone through (so far):
1. I’ve been offered a mistress position.
2. Right after a colloquium at a prestigious philosophy conference, I was asked out from across the room, in front of 40 or so people, by a man old enough to be my dad … . And worse, I was asked out by him again the next day at the same conference.
3. I was given a card with a phone number on it by a philosopher old enough to be my grandfather at a philosophy conference, which he then said: “call me some time.”
All of this happened during the last two years of my BA.

Now, for year 1 of my MA:
4. A faculty member tried to kiss me in my office.
5. While at a pub after a workshop, one of the (philosophy) speakers kept trying to play footsies with me. When it didn’t work, he put his hand on my thigh. I took the hand off and asked about his wife and kids.

I have been really discouraged by these experiences. I think they have put a nice dent in my confidence to be able to do good work in philosophy. I already feel super insecure about my intelligence as it is, coming from a working-class family and being the first to obtain a university degree and the first to attend grad school.

That said, I’m still going to apply to the top schools of my choice and hope that I get into one. I don’t doubt that more shit will happen but it’s a battle that I’m willing to fight. AND, if I ever make it, my voice will be heard loud and clear!

I had had many years of experiences with extreme sexism before I got a Ph.D in philosophy in my forties, but that doesn’t make sexism in the refined circles of academia any less humiliating and undermining.

I took philosophy courses in a master’s program at a well-respected state university. One of my master’s thesis advisors harassed me into a affair using quid pro quo pressures; I was desperately afraid this advisor would not sign my thesis if I broke off the relationship, so I waited to end it until after it was signed. I knew I should report this behavior, but others informed me it was a well-known pattern of this professor and nothing would be done. Also, I was old enough to have known better, I thought.

Later, when I was a graduate student in an Ivy League Ph.D. program in philosophy, a male professor used the following example in class to distinguish between two persons: “Smith beats his wife, while Jones doesn’t.” This was intended to be a funny example, and had apparently gotten laughs from earlier generations of students when the university was all male, but no one laughed in the late 1980s with both men and women in the class. Finally the professor noticed the glares coming from many of the students and said, “Perhaps I should have chosen a more sensitive example.” Even old dogs can learn new tricks.

In my first year in that doctoral program, I helped to organize a student colloquium series and gave the first presentation, in which I presented as my own work what was in fact my own reconstruction of an argument from one of Plato’s dialogues. A fellow graduate student, male, asked me if I had done the argument reconstructions myself, despite its being clearly presented as my own work. This was an insulting question which I believe he probably would not have asked of a male graduate student.

Also in my first year of graduate school, after a visiting speaker finished his talk, a male professor invited him and some of us graduate students to his house for refreshments. I was the only female graduate student who attended, and the only female at the gathering except for the host’s wife. I was wondering how I would fit in, when someone started the conversation with the question of which university had the best combination of football team and philosophy department. The men present began to engage in an intense and exhaustive comparison of football teams and philosophy departments, with an eye to ranking them. Not following sports and not being interested in such a ranking, I felt conspicuously female, excluded, incapable of participating, and marginalized. So I decided to talk with my host’s wife, which was much more interesting. This incident is only statistically sexist and was probably entirely unintentional; if I had been a female football fan, I could have held my own.
Still, what proportion of football fans are female? How considerate was it to choose a question that a female graduate student would be less likely, given the average relative frequency of male to female football fans, to be able to relate to?

Later that year, at the annual department party, a senior male professor cornered me and tried at length to persuade me to marry another one of the senior male professors, who was lonely and needed a wife. This conversation made me feel reduced to my reproductive and nurturing function, and quite invisible as a beginning philosopher.

Later in my time there, a fellow graduate student, a male, asked to sit in on my pre-arranged independent study with my male dissertation advisor, and I agreed. However, the advisor spoke almost exclusively to him rather than me, and I felt I had to fight to get a word in edgewise all semester. From this I learned that the practice of philosophy, as many males see it, is not about cooperating to discover the truth, but rather about competing to get the approval of the – mostly male – authority figures.

The way to get this approval was to fight, conceptually, in an agonistic way. One of my professors encouraged me to get more “ammunition” against a philosopher I was writing about. This military analogy turned me off and set me back, as I wanted to see philosophy as a cooperative enterprise in search of truth.

Another fellow graduate student (a married male) was heard in the student lounge bragging about how many female undergraduates he planned to sleep with now that he was going to be a teaching assistant.

In seminars the same thing happened to me as has happened to many other female graduate students in philosophy – my point would be ignored, but when a male made the same point, it was recognized as valuable.

At my first job, in the mid-1990s, a one-year at a midwestern state university, one of my colleagues in the Philosophy Department had a pornographic picture on his office wall. I went into his office and told him that this constituted a hostile atmosphere for his female students and advisees, not to mention his colleagues. When he told me it had “sentimental value” (!) for him, I suggested he remove it and hang it up at home. He replied that his wife wouldn’t allow it in the house. Shouldn’t that have been a clue as to its inappropriateness? Another male colleague, when told of this exchange, explained that the first colleague had actually improved over time, as he no longer displayed his collection of Playboy and Penthouse magazines on the coffee table in his office! So things must be getting better, as many on this blog have argued.

While I had been a feminist activist for many years before pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy, and I had taken many courses in feminist thought, I had not studied feminist philosophy as an AOS or AOC for my Ph.D. degree, so it did not appear on my CV. While I was searching for a tenure track job, the chair of a hiring department asked me to add “philosophy and feminism” to my CV. I found out later that the line had been given to the Philosophy Department on the condition they hire a woman who could teach in the Women’s Studies program. I reflected that I had the background and experience to teach in a Women’s Studies program, so I agreed to change my CV. That is how I was hired into my present position – the male philosophers apparently tried to hire a non-feminist female philosopher who could teach Women’s Studies from a non-feminist perspective. So they got a little surprise when I turned out to be a radical feminist!

Many of the entries on this blog refer to affirmative action, as if there is some stigma attached to being an affirmative action hire. I think women and minorities should worry about the so-called ‘unfair’ advantage given by affirmative action exactly when the white males start worrying about the unfair advantage given by white male privilege. Instead, look to your own achievements and do your best work. If the white males ever start apologizing to you about their white male privilege giving them an unfair advantage, then, and only then, should you even consider mentioning the countervailing “advantage” given to you by affirmative action. Affirmative action exists to help counteract the pervasive unconscious and conscious sexist biases which this blog documents, and we shouldn’t undermine that very important function.

Now that I have tenure and have served as chair of my department at my state university, I find I love my job as a philosophy professor. We have hired new colleagues who are feminist, or at least who try their best not to be sexist, and I have published quite a few articles, often in journals edited by women, and feel freer than ever to study and think and write about what I want to study and think and write about. I enjoy teaching and continually revamping my courses and pedagogy, only seldom receiving openly sexist treatment from students, though I can relate to many of the comments of others about expectations that, as a female, I should be more lenient and understanding. Leniency should be limited to justified circumstances, but instead of some women professors trying to be less understanding, I think some male professors should work to become more understanding! Students need and deserve understanding and respectful teachers.

Recently, I served as an outside evaluator for a nearby philosophy department which had just previously hired a fifth philosopher, their first woman, who was then serving as chair. The senior philosopher in her department would only refer to her as their “fifth man,” even though she is a woman! Some old dogs have trouble with the new tricks.

It is disheartening to think that philosophy as a discipline runs on status competition among males, but that is the picture that emerges from this blog and from a book called “The Sociology of Philosophy” by Randall Collins. Also, I recommend C.P. Snow’s old novel “Strangers and Brothers,” in which he tries to describe in detail the operations of what he calls “private power,” or power as it is used behind the scenes by men. This novel is particularly relevant as it features men jockeying for power in an academic setting.

Thanks for this blog. It has given me encouragement to once again propose that our university prohibit even consensual relations between faculty and students. Currently we prohibit sex between faculty and students during the semester when the student is in the faculty member’s class, the strongest policy we could get through the governance process. Some faculty are apparently very worried about the rights of the accused and the probabilities of false accusations. And I shall try with renewed energy to integrate my feminist values into my own work by more diligently calling sexist assumptions into question in my classes, by including more work by women and feminist philosophers, and by working to create a more egalitarian and supportive environment within the discipline of philosophy.

I’m in a tenure-track position in a department where I experience discrimination and harassment. Although the situation could be a lot worse, I’ve decided that I would like to start looking for a better job (though one still in philosophy, hopefully). But when I ask my old letter writers if they will update my letters, when they do respond, they respond by saying that I should just be happy with what I have. I don’t want to have to explain the details about my reasons for wanting to leave my position, especially because I am not sure that those people would be terribly sympathetic about them.

I am about to start my PhD at an excellent Leiter ranked program. I have a BA and and MA from excellent schools. I have worked closely with ground breaking philosophers in my field. I have published, I have an excellent teaching resume, phenomenal letters of recommendation, and moreover I love my job. I am a good philosopher, and I am thinking about leaving philosophy.

I have been a secretary and a chauffeur. I have been disingenuously promised research assistantships and letters of recommendation, in return for dinner dates and car rides. I have been asked if I was married while my colleagues have been asked what they think. I have been told that I’m both cute and idiotic. I have passed on professional opportunities because I am a woman, and no one would believe that I deserved those opportunities — accepting would make me seem like a slut, since men make it on merit, and women make it in bed. So, ironically, I have been praised as professional for having passed on professional opportunities. I have been the lone woman presenting at the conference, and I have been the woman called a bitch for declining sexual relations with one of the institutions of hosts. I think I have just about covered the gamut of truly egregiously atrocious sexist behaviour. So I just have this one question that I think I need answered: Is the choice between doing philosophy, and living under these conditions, or saving yourself, and leaving the discipline?

This is an open call for reasons to stay.

Because this blog does not allow comments, I’m cross-posting to Feminist Philosophers, where you can reply.

Perhaps not so friendly

Posted: June 7, 2011 by Jender in harassment

At some point I came across a list of departments that are supposed to be woman friendly, but “woman friendly” is not how I would describe at least some of the departments that were on that list. I have both first and second hand knowledge of both harassment and discrimination in some of the so-called woman friendly departments. The offenders range from graduate students to tenure-track assistants, and some full professors as well. This is just something to keep in mind.

Surrounded by child-colleagues

Posted: May 27, 2011 by Jender in harassment

I have a good number of male colleagues. A few of them seem to get a real boost out of saying naughty things when at least some of the females are around. By “naughty” I mean things that I gather they assume that they are not supposed to say (now that there are women around). It can get pretty performative in fact. One colleague likes to step out of his office to say forbidden words very loudly in the hallway. I have tried to figure out what is behind these performances. Is it about trying to make the women around feel uncomfortable? Is it about staking their territory? I really cannot say. But it doesn’t have these effects on me. For me it has the consequence of making me annoyed to be surrounded by people who are so sadly juvenile. I wonder whether they would stop if they knew this?

During my first year of grad school at a Leiter-ranked department, I was politically and verbally attacked by another grad student, and then publicly attacked by that student and a full professor. As best as I can tell, I was attacked for refusing to look the other way while they bullied and scapegoated a female classmate. At the time, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing (I’m male). I’d recently returned to philosophy from a career in a corporate world where such things simply aren’t tolerated.

In hindsight, the worst part wasn’t the attacks, although they became increasingly bizarre, and because they were bizarre, scary. Rather, the worst part was the response of the faculty and administration of the university. I was receiving a steady stream of disparaging email, full of vague accusations. For reasons that were never clearly articulated, I was threatened with removal from my position as TA. Much of this email was cc’d to my classmates, the chair of my department, and eventually even a lower-level Dean. Despite the fact that I never responded in kind, no one on the faculty seemed able to register the significance of what was happening. Even prominent feminist (and feminist-friendly) philosophers seemed to interpret the situation as a personality conflict, or perhaps a ‘he said/she said’ case. It was neither. My first year ended with my physician advising me to take a medical leave of absence from the program, based on the ongoing harassment. I felt isolated and betrayed.

In the end, I took the pile of email to the Dean’s office, with legal options in hand. Very little was actually done, though the harassment did come to an end. That fall, the offending professor told me that—due to my behavior the previous year—I could never work for him again. He appeared earnest and sincere. I had to laugh (and did).

I wish I knew why no one was willing to stick up for me. Most likely, there was some kind of double-think going on. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but *everybody* implicitly knew about the professor in question. He was like some carefully kept open secret no one felt equipped to deal with it. In hindsight, that more than anything is what made the experience so terribly destructive.

I’d like to think the denial and passivity I encountered wouldn’t be there if it happened today … or at least, not to the same degree.

When I was an undergraduate student, my father, who is a professor (not philosophy), was accused of harassing a female colleague. He taught at a small school in the Midwest. Although, there was enough evidence to prove he did not harass his colleague, my father didn’t fight the accusations because the damage had already been done. The rumors and injury to his reputation were enough to drive our family out of town. The impact was huge. Not only did this woman’s finger pointing devastate and hurt my father and mother, but it took everything away from our family. We were forced to hear rumors about our family, sell our home at a loss, relocate, and I lost my tuition remission and had to take large sums of student loans to finish my education at the same school.

Because of what happened to my family, I am very sensitive to persons claiming harassment without evidence. The accusation alone is enough to ruin the lives of many people. Perhaps it is this sensitivity that keeps me from openly telling my own story and possibly hurting innocent people in the family of a particular professor, so I am thankful for this blog.

I am not a graduate student at a top university, and the person who affected me is hardly an influential or well-known philosopher, well, you might have heard his name. The sad thing is at the time he was just some professor flexing his power over someone like me who was forced to have him as an advisor in order to finish a simple master’s program.

I won’t go into the details of things that were said that were so painful to me and stripped me of all confidence I might have had in my abilities. I won’t describe the awkward situations he put me and other female graduate students in with his wife present or conveniently not present. I won’t tell you what this professor said to another male professor with whom I had to work that completely changed his rapport with me, because I still don’t know what was said. Rather, I want to talk about a chance I had to work with a male professor at a different school years later.

I didn’t even realize how heavy the burden of my advisor’s words was until another professor at this other school took the time to listen to my ideas and concerns about continuing on in philosophy. At one point this professor told me something that was completely opposite from what my advisor had said-essentially he said that I have a place in this field. Although I somewhat compartmentalized what my advisor had said to me at the time, I guess I never truly realized how much it had hurt every part of me until I heard another professor tell me the opposite case. I left this professor’s office and as soon as I was outside I started crying and I couldn’t stop until I reached the other side of campus.

I suppose my point is that as a professor, one may not realize how a few simple, sincere, and encouraging words might be undoing something that is really hindering a student-something you have no idea about, something the student might not be able to share. Although I think efforts must be made in both directions-we should have systems in place to help weed out the true harassers-let us not forget to keep sincerely encouraging the students, particularly the female ones, who have to deal with all of this. And though I am not saying that female students receive their self-worth and validation from their male professors, when a student has to hear that she is “less than” from a male professor, it sometimes takes hearing from another male professor that this is not the case for the damage of those words to be undone.