Archive for the ‘sexual innuendos’ Category


Posted: March 2, 2016 by jennysaul in assumptions about women, sexual innuendos, Uncategorized

A few years ago, I was working with one of my professors to prepare a co-authored paper for publication. This professor was keen on having our meetings over lunch. I didn’t really approve, and I tried several times to convince the professor to have our meetings over coffee, without much success. I was told, however, that there’s nothing wrong with this, unless it turns out that there is. So, I continued to go to lunch with this professor and we talked about the paper, but I always felt uncomfortable (we probably went about 10 times in total).

This story, however, is not about the professor — nothing untoward happened. It’s about one of my fellow students, at the time. One day, this student found himself in the same venue as the professor and me, during lunchtime. We said ‘hello’ and then processed with business as usual. My fellow student was otherwise engaged, so he didn’t sit with us.

Later in the day, when people were gathering for a talk, and while only students were in the room, this fellow student asks me, loud and clear:

X, does your husband know you’re meeting with professor Y over lunch?

I started saying that I resent the implication, although not the one he’s clearly making. And that I won’t dignify such a question with an answer. To which, my fellow student said something to the effect that he made a joke and that I don’t have a sense of humor.

No one else said anything, although other students were holding their breaths to see if this will become a quarrel.

I left the table, went back to a corner and tried hard to focus on the talk.

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)

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?

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.