Archive for the ‘retaliation’ Category

 

Dear Professor X

Some weeks ago, you asked me why rape culture had become so prevalent, particularly in the university environment. As an ethicist, it seemed you were troubled by an apparent cultural shift that casually denigrated women: you mentioned it several times, and we were both puzzled. I didn’t have a ready answer for you: like any woman, I have been on the receiving end of off-hand sexism, off-colour remarks and a generic insouciance about sexual assault for all of my adult life and much of my childhood. But, beyond reaching for the usual hackneyed explanations of the structural features of phallocentric societies, I could not give you an answer that satisfied me. Now I think I can.

You see, Professor X, one of the key causes of rape culture in the university, and its various nefarious adjuncts (the systematic demeaning of women on the basis of their gender; employment inequality; the evaluation of women on the basis of their appearance or qualities ‘appropriate’ to females), is you. Or, at least, it is people like you: senior academics at the top of their profession, men—usually—who set and maintain the culture in which others work and study.

I have known you for some time, in my capacity as your graduate student. During that time, it is fair to say that we got to know each other fairly well: hours and hours of conversations on everything from movies to food to child-rearing to sexuality, and the malaise of everyday life. I went to your place, met your family, had drinks with you: normal things that adults on good terms do together. I confided in you, you confided in me; you met my husband and professed friendship to us both. But then, as life sometimes does, things started to go a little awry for me. But you were a friend: you gave me advice and hugs and time and I appreciated that. Life is rarely so gentle: in the midst of these few weeks, I had something of a mental health breakdown and, as a friend, I told you about this. And that is where things went wrong.

The day after I told you, you felt it was appropriate to tell me about your own sexual proclivities, your fetishes for bondage and sadism. I was not overly troubled by this, certainly; we are adults and I am no stranger to various subcultures, including this one. Your timing, though, was strange: my husband could not understand why you were offering to teach us bondage techniques at our place. I was perturbed by the fact that you encouraged him to physically chastise me for some innocuous thing. I was also surprised that you felt it appropriate to send us photographs of some items in your house, items associated with torture and bondage. You invited us round to your place to ‘see’ all this stuff; you told me it would be fun to hang out with me like that. And so it went on, hours of messages over two nights, inappropriate comments and information about how you use your domination techniques to persuade students and others.

I do not suggest that any of this explains the prevalence of rape culture in the university. No. You know me better than to expect such gauche naivete: it is not your sexual preferences and bad timing that make you a danger to women in the university environment. Instead, it is this: when, as a friend, I might have expected support, you chose that moment of vulnerability to move in with your sexual fantasies.

Then, you turned on me. When we didn’t go along with your invites, you viciously cut me off. Over the next few days, systematically excluded me from the university, advised colleagues that I was vulnerable, volatile and unsafe to have around. You disclosed personal information about me to various parties in the university, blaming me for your distress. I cannot continue my studies, as has been long agreed, because of your sudden fears about having disclosed things about yourself that you think might damage your reputation. You forbade me from contacting you—but you contacted me several times—and insist that I collaborate with no-one in the department. You have fundamentally destroyed my life plans, disrupted my family life—and justified all this to your colleagues on the grounds that I am distressed, vulnerable and—‘therefore’—too unsettling to have in your department.

And that, Professor X, is why rape culture has become so endemic in the university environment. It is because men like you fundamentally believe that women like me—vulnerable, hurting, susceptible to claims of friendship or not—can be toyed with, dispensed with, and used as means to ends that are intended solely to protect you and your ill-gotten reputation. I would have kept your confidences, not for you but for the protection of your family and because, ultimately, I believe that people’s sexual proclivities are broadly their own business: until today, I resisted all my friends’ advice to protect myself, because I could not bear the thought that your misjudgements might negatively affect your family. But in keeping that silence, I allowed you to portray me to others as the person in the wrong, as the one who (in spite of my lowly status as a student and the supposed ‘high regard’ that you told me people in your centre held me in) was a risk to your department. It is my life that fractured and fell apart, not yours—and none of that mattered to you, because I am simply a disposable woman who deserves not protection, but predation, exclusion and opprobrium to ensure the ‘greater good’ of maintaining a man in his elevated, powerful position.

I wish you well, but I will not maintain my silence any longer. Women deserve better than this.

In my doctoral program, the student who received the largest funding package had been involved in a long-term affair with a married, tenured professor. When she decided to accept a terminal masters degree in order to follow her fiancé to another school, that professor failed her defense. She received a degree from the other school, and doesn’t mention this experience on her cv.

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.

Creepy tutor

Posted: December 19, 2013 by Jender in harassment, retaliation, sexual harassment

Creepy tutor mentioned knowing where I lived (?!) and suggested ‘meeting’ in the area. He received a polite though firm ‘no’ from me.

Couple of months later I submit my dissertation and discover he’ll be marking it. For all the ‘blind marking’ tosh, everyone knows everyone else’s titles and he’ll be able to identify mine. No worries I think – I’m sure he’s professional and I’ve already had two reviews from his colleagues telling me it deserves [a top mark]. When I get my transcript I discover he gave it [a low mark].

Since someone posted a story here about a philosophy department in Scandinavia, here’s another. I send this story because it is important to realize that however bad things are in the U.S., in some European departments things are much worse.

Some 12 years ago I had a falling out with a philosopher in my field, on the basis of ethical issues and also what I saw as a tendency toward sexual objectification of myself and others. A typical incident: once as chairman of the dept., he walked into a class I was teaching 45 minutes late and remarked: “I am here to inspect the merchandise.” There are many other incidents of this kind I could recount. At the time he had been having an affair with a student, who since left philosophy. I decided to base myself in another department, but suffered in the years since by being tarred as difficult, not only in his department, but in others.

Since then he has become a very powerful person in philosophy in this country, in spite of a poor publication record and in spite of continuing to use the graduate students as a dating pool. (So his recent affair with yet another graduate student, this time a very, very talented woman, also ended in her leaving philosophy. ) He also has had conflicts with many other colleagues in the years since his conflict with me. But like me, they always end up leaving the department.

FInally, in his capacity as chairman, he has conducted an open war with feminist philosophy and fields related to it.

Needless to say a female professor has never *ever* been hired in that department, of whatever AOS.

Nobody can do or say anything about this person because he has the administration on his side. If there were anything like a conversation about women in philosophy in this country, maybe his behavior toward female students could be checked, and other areas of philosophy—besides those related to his—could have a chance. But that conversation has not gotten started yet. There is just no way in at the moment.

Not to focus so much on this one person, my point is that because of the general attitude that prevails here, he can pretty much do what he wants. As a person of authority he is always give the benefit of the doubt.

It’s a tragedy.

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.

One of the things I find particularly problematic about being a woman in philosophy is the endless stream of “offers” female philosophers receive to hook up or become sexually or romantically involved with a male philosopher. Most of the time these “offers” are not explicit but they are nonetheless easily identifiable. They naturally make me extremely uncomfortable. But I wanted to point to a different implication. They basically leave you in a lose-lose situation. I strongly suspect that if you “accept,” then the male philosopher will never treat you with respect again (that is, he will never take whatever you have to say as a philosopher seriously). And I know from personal experience that if you reject them, then they will retaliate. On two separate occasions I found myself in a situation where a male philosopher and conference organizer was making various sexual advances at an annual conference that he was organizing–one of those by-invitation-only conferences. I had attended these conferences several consecutive years (by invitation). On both occasions I rejected the male philosopher/conference organizer rather explicitly but without being rude about it. I was never invited to those conferences again! In fact, the male philosophers in question never talked to me again.