Archive for the ‘sexual comments’ 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.

I graduated with a double major in philosophy and a STEM field from a top-20 university a few years back, and then I spent a year working full-time while deciding if I wanted to apply to law school, grad school in philosophy, or grad school in my scientific field. I concluded that I missed philosophy too much to stay away, so I began putting together my application.

Unsatisfied with any of my undergraduate papers, I decided to start afresh, and I wrote something entirely new. I sent it to the head of the department of my alma mater, with whom I had taken several classes, asking if he might give me some feedback on my new paper and write me a rec. He agreed, and to ensure that I could get the best possible feedback (and recommendation, because I wasn’t 100% sure he remembered me), I drove 3 hours from my home to meet him in his office in person.

All was fine until he decided to use an example to explain how the wills of two individuals could come into conflict (I have no idea why he thought I needed that explained to me). His example of choice? Him raping me.

At the time, I was just too shocked to respond, and I was young enough (22 years old) that I couldn’t even decide if it was inappropriate or I was being overly sensitive. But he was also writing my recommendation letters, so even if I had realized how gross (and vaguely threatening) it was to casually discuss raping someone 40 years his junior, I’m not sure I’d have felt like I could have said anything. He was basically BFFs with the department head AND the DGS of my favorite program, and I knew it.

So we finished our meeting, and I drove home. I eventually got into the school of my choice, where I have NOT had a professor mention raping me, and since I have grown older, I’ve stopped feeling icky about the incident and just started mentally giving the old creepster the middle finger whenever I think about it. I’ve still dealt with the garden-variety paternalism and pet names (sweetie, honey, etc) from our department dinosaurs like most of the female graduate students here, but I’ve also had supportive, conscientious male professors who are lovely human beings.

That being said, I’m finishing my dissertation in 6 months and blowing this popsicle stand. I can’t even with these dudes. Shit’s toxic.

A sampling of “minor” incidents that occurred while completing my Ph.D. at a top 25 program:

grad students loudly discussing at a quasi-official departmental event which prominent female philosophers they would sleep with and why

a visiting faculty giving a talk on the topic of cognitive penetrability being asked by the moderator whether a particular case would count as “double penetrability .. uh oh… *planned pause for comic effect* … *uproarious laughter by everyone except for the speaker who looks annoyed*”

a faculty stopping his lecturing to turn and look at me and say (in response to my adjusting my cardigan) “Did you just flash me?” *everyone laughs expect me, I blush purple*. He continues “Because it looked like you just flashed me.” I sit in stunned and embarrassed silence and don’t attend that class again.

a very major, famous philosopher in my department being asked what he thought of a (young, pretty, femme) philosopher’s colloquium talk. Apparently her work can be summed up in a *single word*: “lightweight”

one tenured, famous professor discussing with straight male grad students which female grad students are “hot”; describes some as “dogs”

myself having to carefully plan where I am standing at a party because a *very* drunk grad student is being handsy with everyone in the room (men and women alike). this is an official department party and no faculty seem to notice or care the obvious discomfort this student is causing others. (nor do they seem concerned that the grad student is himself *this drunk* at an official function, and might himself benefit from support or help).

in response to my asking one or two clarificatory questions in a grad seminar, the instructor’s responding (with extreme annoyance): “does someone want to explain it to her?” (a male grad student later contacts me about the incident, saying he felt bad for not calling out the faculty’s bad behavior in the moment)

there being 2-3 all-male entering classes; this is not considered a problem

a faculty member chatting me up at a department event, asking me why I entered philosophy. the tone isn’t curiosity, it’s sheer bewilderment. (I cannot *imagine* him asking my male peers this, in this tone)

the general style of interactions at colloquium and seminars being combative, unprofessional, dismissive, and uncomfortable

other grad students rolling their eyes and loudly sighing at questions they perceive to be obvious or confused (and faculty failing to call out such behavior)

A highly abridged list of incidents:

I got excellent teaching evaluations from my students. But the Chair discounted the report citing the my “good looks” and NOT my “teaching” as the explanation for the high marks.

I was repeatedly denied a raise and told among other reasons that I didn’t need one because I didn’t have “a family” or “children” and that I just thought that I was “better than everyone else.”

I was initially denied an office and told that I shouldn’t have expected one because I “failed to negotiate for it” and I shouldn’t complain because I was “lucky to have a job” despite turning down several other offers. Then they tried to put my office in Women’s Studies.

I was repeatedly the subject of discussions about the fit of my clothing and general appearance. I was told that I need to “dress” like “an adult” “behave like an adult,” but probably cannot/will not until I have “real responsibilities” (i.e. children).

I arrived on campus and met with several undergraduates who report sexual harassment and discrimination by a certain professor in my department. I report the incident to the Chair with substantiating documentation and it is ignored. The offender is then given emeritus status so he can retain his office on campus to meet with students.

I was required to meet with faculty assistance center social worker and eventually ADA officer for special permissions to have my dog on campus (which was agreed to prior to accepting the position) while no male faculty member with a dog (of which there are several on our floor) was required to do so.

I go up for tenure and I am told by the Chair that my friends cannot write letters for me. When I explain that my area is very small and that my colleagues in the area of expertise are all friends, the Chair says “you know what I mean….” intimating that my relationship with these colleagues was sexual.

Ok here goes. I was doing my MA at [a university in country X], and the language spoken there was not my native tongue, even if I was fluent in the language of instruction. Naturally I felt a bit isolated and insecure. But also, both the general approach to philosophy that the department was engaged in, and its pedagogical methods were new to me. I was trying to be very open to this new way of doing things philosophical, even if I did not like it very much.

Instead of teaching us for the whole term, professors required that from the 4th week of class, students– each in turn– take on the weekly 3-hour seminar, and present their work. This was all terribly tedious, as the 95% male students, as well as we 5%, were either 1) fresh from undergrad and unable to really talk intelligently about their subject, or 2) long term graduate students who knew how to talk about philosophy without actually saying anything. We all wore black clothes, smoked camel cigarettes and felt existential 🙂

When it was my turn to present on a philosopher that we had not covered at all in class, but who I was supposed to research all on my own and present to the class (for three hours) as expert, I felt a bit freaked out. I asked my prof. (weeks ahead) if I could meet him to get some help. He was so busy, it seemed… always traveling or something.

In the end, the only time he could meet me was in the evening… a few days before I was due to give my presentation in class (upon which my entire grade depended). So sorry, but would I mind coming around to his house? We really did need to discuss things before I presented this major philosopher’s work to the class. I had literally started from scratch in trying to read and understand his writings, had had no instruction at all on his thought, and now I was supposed to do a 3 hour seminar presentation to the 15 other slightly hostile students. And was supposed to do this in a language that was foreign to me.

All this to explain how easy it was for me to accept the prof’s invitation to come to his house three days before my presentation, in order to “discuss the work of X philosopher”. It was too cold to get my car started, and I had to take a cab to his house. When I got there 1/2 hour late, he already had a big whiskey poured for me. I had to climb over the various children’s fisher-price toys for 4 year olds, and big lego sets to enter the room. It was all so uncomfortable, and he carefully explained that he was now single.

He was drunk, though I was too naive to see this right away.He kept insisting– INSISTING that I drink more whiskey, and pouring me huge amounts. I tried to comply … but didn’t fall for the liquor or the conversation. It was all so juvenile! I was a grad. student, not some 17 year old… and he just got progressively more drunk. I was naive enough to think that we would talk about Wittgenstein, but after he flopped over me a few times, telling me that I had to have sex with him– he needed it so badly, etc.–..and then beginning to force me to lie down…. well, I made my escape. Caught a bus home. Got home really late and tired and felt filthy for having let him go as far as he had.

Well a few days later I gave my presentation to the class, with the prof watching, editing, intervening, just as a good teacher would do. I thought the grade he gave me overall for the course was fair. Later, I contacted the University and tried to register an anonymous complaint, but met too many roadblocks. I tried to spread the word among my fellow students, but most were uninterested. Finally, I just moved on.

I am a junior member of a Philosophy department. Recently at a faculty meeting we were discussing the application of a philosopher to teach at our program for a short term. The applicant crashed a party I threw a while ago, arrived somewhat drunk, and hit on me incessantly even as I tried to maintain a professional distance (and I wear a wedding ring.) I explained this, including how uncomfortable I felt. A senior male professor said, ‘I don’t understand…is this positive or negative?” That was followed by heartfelt chuckles from some of my other colleagues. Somehow I found it in me to respond to that and say that it was negative, and that I did not appreciate the remark at all, since I had already stated it had been uncomfortable. To this the response of the senior member was, “I see.” After which, a senior female member of the department went on to tell me that not everyone, e.g. not her, would find it wrong to flirt with a married woman.

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’ve been relatively lucky, in that I never found myself in a dangerous or exceedingly difficult situation in all my years as a graduate students. That’s the saddest thing, perhaps: that the little vexations, inappropriate comments and other unpleasant situations are not even considered worthy of attention. Professors get to make female students uncomfortable through all kinds of inappropriate comments they would never dare make to a male student, and we just have to deal with it.

During my years as a graduate student, I got treated to a number of remarks from my supervisor, like “Ok, I’m staring at your chest right now, but that’s because I’m wondering what’s written on your pendant” (couldn’t he just ASK, instead of staring AND pointing out to the fact that he was staring?), or “Did you manage to speak to X? So, was he sensitive to your charms?”, or on one occasion, by e-mail, after he had sent me back something I had written with a LOT of very scathing comments in the margins: “You’ll see, I’ve been a bit harsh, but that’s because you have a habit of walking around naked begging to be disciplined” (aside from being utterly inappropriate, that’s just not the sort of comment I was looking forward to after having had my work lambasted in a completely not tactful way).

Sad thing is, I know I’ve been quite lucky compared to other women, and I didn’t want to speak up as I knew for a fact either none of this would be taken seriously, or the department would turn against me. Like my friend who was propositioned by her supervisor as they stayed in the same conference hotel, I’m far from the stage when I could actually sue, or even ask for an apology; in fact, my supervisor was known in some circles as a womaniser, and his relationships with female students seemed to make people giggle instead of react. I’m thankful it never got past the inappropriate comment stage. But is it too much to ask of our male professors that they help us go through our curriculum without having to put up with gratuitous moments of humiliation?

1. I got engaged, and a senior male professor jokingly tells me not to “go getting pregnant now,” thinking he’s giving me good career advice. I’m pregnant the next year and have two kids before I finish my PhD, which I do in 6 years (earning two masters degrees along the way).

2. I’m at an international conference, out to drinks with some other students. One student goes on about how women can never be good at logic. I tell him he’s just plain wrong (telling him how I tutored two male students in my logic class because they couldn’t keep up as well as I could) and that ridiculous opinions like his do keep people from pursuing his specialty, to its detriment. As great as some of us ladies are, some of us would prefer never want to have to regularly socialize with asshats like him, even if it meant not pursuing logic as a specialty.

3. Same international conference, a senior person in my field casually tells me that I must be sleeping with my advisor. When I get angry and say hell-no, he tells me I protest too much, and that it must be true. I do not tell anyone about this for 3+ years, not even my spouse, because I am so upset that anyone would have the nerve to say something like this and, worse yet, that, if this douchebag has the nerve to say it, then others must think it is also true and believe that my only worth to my advisor is in my pants and not in my work or intellectual worth.

Thanks for the vent.

On sexualised metaphors

Posted: August 28, 2013 by Jender in sexual comments

Editor’s note: we can actually publish whatever phrase was omitted, and we would do so, but we have been unable to contact the author to find out what it was.

A recent discussion on the Leiter reports about the pervasiveness of certain sorts of banter among philosophers inspired me to point out a common sort of banter I’ve encountered (at conferences, colloquia, etc.). This sort of banter involves using certain colorful phrases and sexual metaphors to refer to argumentative moves.

For instance, at one recent conference, a male presenter repeatedly used the phrase, “the money shot” to refer to an elegant argumentative move, which inspired snickering (among some of the men) and uncomfortable shuffling (among the few women). It’s also commonplace to hear people use phrases associated with the male sexual climax (which probably can’t be published here) to indicate the significant point of a paper.

I’ve found that indicating your discomfort with this kind of alienating language has the effect of making people think that you are rather dull-witted — that you are someone who not only can’t take a joke, but someone who takes everything literally. When I voice my discomfort, people sometimes react as though I missed the obvious point that they were using a sexual phrase to refer to something other than the sexual act itself.

The lesson then seems to be: don’t voice your discomfort, unless you want people to think you lack the capacity for non-literal thought.

These happened quite a long time ago: 1981 or 1982, but the word is that the department in question remains notoriously sexist.

1. I was at a party talking to my dissertation adviser and several other grad students in which I said “Can you imagine me taking that position?”(about having had the opposite of my well known views attributed to me) to which he replied, very unctuously, “I have imagined you in many positions over the years.” The conversation in the small circle of people came to a screeching halt, and I just walked away. I was far enough along on the diss that switching advisers at the point would have been very hard. But I did everything I could to avoid being in the same room with him from then on, leaving my work in his mailbox.

2.A senior person in the department who’d been on my MA thesis committee offered to write me a rec when I was putting together my job apps. The grad student adviser was a woman rightly famous then and now for her fierce defense of women in the profession (how I wish I could name her) read the letter in my file, and asked the writer why he’d written such a short,weak letter, especially since he’d offered to write it. His reply was seriously too weird to believe, but here it is: he said that he’d thought my work was good, but had trouble paying attention to anything but my…wrists. He said this to her! Insane! All she could do was have the letter pulled from the file.

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 am a graduate student at a top university. It has taken me over a year to decide to write this. These events have not only hurt me on a deep personal level,compromised my chances in the field, and most importantly have made me question my philosophical abilities. I will recount not a single incident, but an series of incidents.
Two years ago, as a visiting perspective student I met the leading expert in my area and the most famous philosopher in the department at a welcoming party. As I approached with another male prospective student, he launched into a rant about how female philosophy students just tend to be weaker students and that he had a mind to start a tutoring team for female students in this department. When I suggested that the team should be available for anyone seeking help, either male or female, he emphatically replied that it is the female population that needs help not dropping out. When I met him in his office the next day, he continued on his point. Weeks later I was about to take another offer when the department secretary emailed me letting me know that an additional sum has been added to my package. I took this as a sign that that professor felt apologetic and really did want me to join the department and accepted their offer.
A couple of months into the semester, at a conference after party he leaned towards me and half asked, half suggested that my main adviser and letter writer at my undergraduate department (a famous philosopher) gets “chummy” with his female students. I firmly replied that has never been the case (and after 5 years at that department and many friendships with grad students, I know that that professor is a decent and good human being). He went on to insist that he is in the know and then put his arm around me. I just slid away and later told myself that the whole night was probably just a fluke and that he had too much to drink and probably doesn’t even remember it.
An uneventful year later, I was doing an independent study with him when he expressed enthusiasm about my idea and even said that it was publishable. Later, he placed himself very close to me and then touched my hand as I was handing him an article. I pretended that it didn’t happen and finished the meeting as usual. Later that day, I brought my fiance to the department party and introduced him around. He glared at me but didn’t make contact. After that evening, everything started to change. He started ignoring my hand during seminar, screaming at me in public, calling me incomprehensible to other grad students at bars and so forth. In the middle of the night on Valentine’s Day he emailed me saying that I have no future in philosophy and that “others agree” with him and so forth. I asked the chair whether there was an ongoing consensus on my philosophical potential amongst the faculty and he denied it to be the case. He then told me in reply to my complaint that he “cannot make a professor like a student” and that was that.(Incidentally, the chair was good friends with that professor and was also the one who put his hand on my lower stomach at a party and told me “don’t get knocked up” when I entered in on a conversation about preschools between him and another male grad student). Grad students started treating me differently. I remained in that seminar to stand my ground and show that I cannot be bullied. He was co-teaching this seminar with another elderly, well respected philosopher. One day this elderly gentleman asked this professor to give him a case of ‘X wants some Y’. That professor looked at me and said “He wants some young mail-order bride [from country Z]” and laughed (everyone knew, including him, that I was [from country Z]). Everyone started to laugh with him, including the elderly professor. I raised my hand and said “isn’t this example sort of inappropriate?” and the elderly professor replied through his laughing tears “oh excuse me” and continued laughing.

I was hired into a department in which I was the only woman, and also the only contingent full-time faculty member. Eager to prove myself (since it had been strongly suggested that my position could become permanent if I did so), I threw myself into departmental duties, in addition to research and teaching. Among other things, I cultivated a relationship with another larger department in the area, whose resources would be useful to ours. I was delighted when I learned that this department was bringing a very important, senior woman philosopher to give a talk that year, and I organized a trip to bring our students, and students from other related departments, to the lecture (which was some distance away).

On the day of the lecture and our trip, the chair (who had hitherto said nothing about my efforts, nor the unique opportunity this posed for our students to see such a prominent philosopher speak) said to me in passing, “So, you’re going to see [Senior Woman Philosopher]?” “Yes,” I replied, “it’s very exciting!” He smiled. “Yeah, a friend of mine met her once,” he said. “He says she’s a real bitch. Hahaha!” I replied that I hoped he’d told his friend he was being sexist, which only elicited more laughter.

On other occasions, my chair told a gleeful story about visiting a famous pornographer’s home, full of scantily-clad women, and made joking comments in a department meeting about the importance of secretaries having good legs.

This person, I am fairly certain, has no idea that such behaviors are alienating, or feel hostile to women. But they are, and they do. It was impossible to go to work without thinking “if this is how he thinks about other women–if this is how he thinks about Senior women in our profession–then what does he think about me?” And unfortunately, because he was chair, and I was contingent, I felt I had nowhere to turn. Making an official complaint with HR would have made daily life worse, and I feared losing my job.

Fortunately, I was able to find another position. If I had been forced to stay much longer, I believe I would have given up academic philosophy.

The stories on this blog suggest that being hit on at conferences is a nearly universal experience (for young women in philosophy). It’s certainly been mine.

At a recent conference in a relatively technical area in which I work, I was reminded (by the presence of the hitters-on) of the incidents. This brought out in me not (only) irritation and disgust, but anxiety, which seemed strange. I don’t have anything to fear from these people–except perhaps being objectified or trivialized, which isn’t to be feared anymore, since it’s already happened. (Of course, I can continue to worry about my reputation, but I have reached a point my career at which I can trade on my record of work.)

On reflection, I am beginning to think that these sexualized interactions primed stereotype threat. They served powerfully to highlight the things about me which, according to the stereotype, don’t go with doing good technical work.

You can take this as an answer to the question posed by an earlier post: what’s wrong with being hit on?

I was just filling out a survey for philosophical society X. It includes this question:

“What changes would you like to see in future X meetings to improve the overall climate?”

While trying to answer the question I realized just how subtle but persistent, ubiquitous, and discouraging my experience of discrimination at conferences has been. Here’s what I ended up writing:

“Sorry, I really don’t know how to fix this stuff institutionally. All I can really say is, I wish the people in my field were less sexist. I am an advanced graduate student at the top of my class, in a prestigious program, with several first-rate publications. And I’m quite well-networked, so I get invited to all the dinners and parties and such. But I can’t think of a time, at this or any other conference, that I’ve gotten asked about my work, or for my assessment of others’ work, by a male prof in one of the many social-professional settings offered by such meetings. I do, however, get hit on extensively by these supposed mentors. And after presenting I have been asked, on more than one occasion, if I really made all my slides myself. I’m sure most of the misogyny is unintentional, the academic neglect accidental, and that the kind of attention I do get is supposed to be flattering. But really it’s all incredibly demoralizing. I feel seriously disadvantaged by my gender.”

I have been thinking for awhile now about sending in my own experiences of harassment and discrimination. There are actually too many to list in detail, but here are a few:

1. As an undergraduate I was invited to be a TA. Very soon, the sixty-something professor I was working with started inviting me to his house to discuss philosophy and when I accepted, he asked me if I would pose nude for his art (I was actually quite surprised to see a similar story posted here since I imagined that such a thing would be rare.) He then professed his love for me- making things very uncomfortable since we had to finish out the semester together. I was young and naive (17) and let the whole thing slide.

2. I had just completed my first year at a top graduate program and was excited to receive an excellent evaluation by the graduate adviser that I had been perceived to be a very good student- at the top of my incoming class. Shortly after that, I was approached by a very influential (married) member of the department to be his RA. I had never had a class with him so I thought that this was because I was doing so well in the program. One month into working with this man, as I was pointing out some of the flaws in one of his arguments, he put his hand on my knee and said “I can’t concentrate on what you are saying because you are just so beautiful.” I was stunned and asked him if we could get back to work. Later, I learned that this sort of thing was common- that he treated many women philosophy grad students the same way, but that it was unwise to report him because he was so famous the department would never really punish him and I would get pegged as a trouble maker.

3.I have heard other male grad student deriding female grad students in a way that makes it clear that they were taking their perceived shortcomings as representative of all female philosophers. These fellow grad students also were much more interested in my sex life than in hearing my ideas. I have had it implied by these fellow grad students that I and other women were at this top philosophy program, not because of their abilities but because of some sort of affirmative action. (I do not mean to suggest that all the male grad students in my department were this way, but the few that were made it really uncomfortable to be a women philosopher.)

4. I have been ignored, talked over, and talked down to on may occasions. When I gave an objection to a view in a philosophy seminar, just ten minutes later, the teacher credited and praised a male student for having come up with the objection. The male student had not even spoken. After conference talks and elsewhere, I have had speakers talk to the other men in a group, but ignore my comments and questions or give cursory, dumbed-down responses.

5. I have been asked, after receiving favorable reports from professors, if I am sure that it this was not just because I am pretty that I was getting such good reviews.

6. I have been told that women are not cut out for philosophy and that they are not as gifted in math and logic and this is why they should probably stay away from ‘hard philosophy’ like metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of mind (the areas I work in.)

On the bright side, I have experienced many ‘enlightened’ men who have been nothing but gracious and supportive- giving me hope that the tides are changing.

I am one of those ‘junior scholars’, a woman at that, who are more often than not mistaken by students as ‘one of them’ (which, in many ways, I am). My work is in social and political philosophy, a male-dominated discipline, and I write on questions of power, sovereignty, and violence, themes that are traditionally regarded as masculine. As a consequence, I feel like my age, gender, and appearance put me at a comparative disadvantage with regard to my academic career. In order to compensate for these ‘deficits’, I experience more pressure to produce solid scholarship than most of my more senior or male colleagues. (This is by no means an objection to working hard and doing good research. In fact, I believe that the discipline would benefit immensely if everyone felt the same need to ‘prove themselves’.)

At conferences, in particular, people usually show interest in my work only after they hear my papers. I am, therefore, a big fan of presenting on the first day of a conference, and I dread being on the graveyard shift and having meaningful conversations in a general atmosphere of departure. This cannot always be avoided, and so I often struggle to be recognized and respected as a peer in the profession.

Now, I’m not saying that none of this is my fault. Even though I think of myself as an open and outgoing person, I might have to be more obnoxious and less uncomfortable cornering people. Or I might have to do more advance research about each and every conference participant to have something impressive to say. (Unfortunately, my 6/6 teaching load this year is preventing me from doing this.) However, another possibility suggested itself at a conference I recently attended, and it would entail using what I see as my comparative disadvantage – age, gender, appearance – to my benefit.

The national conference makes a point of gender equality in membership and acceptance rates of papers. This year, 48% of the papers selected through double-blind peer review were written and presented by women. Many panels engaged with questions of gender, equality, justice, representation, and exclusion in incredibly nuanced, critical, and productive ways. I met some great people on the first two days, and even more great people after my presentation on the penultimate panel of the last day. The response to my paper was surprisingly positive, I received measured, generous, and extremely helpful feedback, and some colleagues even said that my paper changed their pretty firm position on the topic.

I do not say this to brag, but in order to give reasons for why I felt like I had succeeded in ‘proving myself’ as a scholar with intellectual merit who deserves to be taken seriously by her peers. Even though I find it unfair that I had to work harder and give a better paper than many colleagues in order to be recognized, at least it paid off.

Or so I thought.

When I returned home, the following email was waiting in my inbox:

Hi [X],
This is [….] from the […] conference. I found your email by googling you. It was nice meeting you. Unfortunately you are married.
Hope to see you soon.

‘Unfortunately you are married?’ Well, it is indeed unfortunate that I have to participate in an unjust, unequal, and historically oppressive institution to be able to be with my partner. But surely the sender of this presumptuous message did not email me to express his discomfort with the institution of marriage and his sympathy with my unfortunate situation of being part of an unjust tradition. What was unfortunate, in the eyes of the sender, was the fact that, because I was married, he and I could not hook up.

It is bad enough to have to accept that being a good scholar is not enough to be taken seriously, that I have to be better than others to get the same recognition. Knowing that, no matter how hard I work, I will only be judged as a potential sexual partner makes me sad, angry, and hopeless. What do I have to do to be visible as an equal member of the profession rather than an object of sexual desire?

I do not know. What I do know, however, is that telling someone that unfortunately they are married, is never a good idea. It is not a clumsy, maybe backhanded, compliment. It is an inappropriate, unprofessional, offensive, and – to be honest – incredibly dumb statement. Knowing that it came from someone who works on normative ethics and global justice only makes it all the more inappropriate, offensive, and dumb. It also makes me wonder about the state of a discipline that is concerned with the kinds of questions that arise when philosophers think about right actions. And it brings into sharp view the glaring disconnect between theory and practice. Lastly, I wonder if the sender thinks it would have been nicer to meet me if I was not married. Clearly, it never crossed his mind that I might not be available to him even if I were single (be it because I might not be interested in him in particular or in men more generally), or that I might actually be available despite being in a relationship (not just because people cheat, but also because people live in all sorts of alternative and, yes, open relationships).

I might be overthinking this. Unprofessional and obnoxious creeps might ultimately be the exception. But I do not want to end up at the next conference, suspicious and guarded, finding it even more difficult to have meaningful conversations with people who take a sincere and professional interest in me and my work.

I recently attended a conference in Asia. Over the three day period, there were something like sixty talks. It was not a small conference. I was one of three or four women in attendance.On the way home, I noted that I felt good and that it had been an excellent conference. I found this odd, given the maleness and foreignness of the conference (this point about foreignness is supposed to pick up on the thought that one is more likely to feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments/groups etc.) I quickly realised that it had been the first conference I had been to where no one tried to have sex with me, or involve me in something, in some way, inappropriate.
Every single conference I have ever been to has invariably involved some guy (often older and more established) trying to get me to go home with him; some guy telling me about how lonely and sad his life is in some far off department a million miles from home – and I must feel the same way too (so we should go home together); some guy telling me that he noticed my figure, or my outfit whilst I was giving a talk; some guy asking me if I am sleeping with my advisor (because isn’t that what girls do?); some guy telling me I *should* be sleeping with my advisor; some guy explaining to me that the new female appointment in the department only got the job (over him) because she was a woman; some guy crying into his cocktail over the fact that his wife finally found out about the graduate student he’d been sleeping with (and now that the marriage was clearly over maybe I wouldn’t mind some too); some guy explaining to me that the only reason he goes to conferences is to pick up. The list goes on.

At the conference in Asia, no one seemed to be interested in the fact that I was wearing a skirt. And no one felt compelled to tell me about their romantic tragedies and personal problems. And no one tried to get me to go home with them. In fact, no one really tried to talk to me at all – and if they did it was about my work or the political situation in some Asian country, or something of the like. And this was a relief.
I left the conference feeling smart, confident and like a human being. I got good feedback on my talk, attended some good talks and met some nice people (that’s what conferences are for, isn’t it?) Instead of the usual ‘post conference blues’ where I feel disgusted, inadequate, dumb and convinced that if I were actually even vaguely capable someone would talk me to about something other than the fact that their wife wants to leave them.

While in undergrad at a prestigious University, my TA hit on me and kept this going for the whole term. When I got my papers back, I noticed I was marked more harshly than my peers, female and male. I received an email from him that following summer explaining he has a lot of regrets about how he ran that TA-ship, including the treatment of me…

Next, I attended a party where analytic philosophers (all men) got together and talked analytic philosophy all night. No one spoke to me. I ended up falling asleep at the party (far from home in the room where the host said I could stay and leave in the morning) One of the analytics came into the room and masturbated while watching me. I was woken up by the noise, but felt afraid, so stayed silent.

The next day, I told him he was inappropriate and he proceeded in an analytic argument about if I don’t want to that to happen, I shouldn’t leave the opportunity open by falling asleep at a party.

In 4th year undergrad, my short undergraduate thesis paper was directed by a male. He said disparaging things to me so loudly and said, “just because a student is good looking, do you think it’s ethical to just give them a mark?” I dropped the course.

Finally, in graduate school, I was interrogated by a male in the department about an award for which I was nominated. He proceeded to say that all philosophy students should abandon philosophy “it’s time to grow up” and go to law school. He also indicated that awards are not given to those who are simply cute. I retorted that I didn’t think I was cute and I didn’t think he would think I was either.

These are main experiences of harassment I have endured. There is much more. Ladies, beware. Hold strong, be confident, and never get into affairs with these men. Why give them more power than they already have.