I am a woman who recently started a job in a department with a long history of being all more mostly male. I don’t know most of my colleagues very well yet but they seem nice and well intentioned. Still it feels strange to be the only woman at some meetings, in those contexts, my gender is something that I am aware of. Recently a man I’ve never interacted with who works in another area of campus (though has some affiliation with my department) contacted me electronically to ask me for coffee. I thought it was a collegial invitation, perhaps to welcome me or get to know the new hire but after I accepted he wrote back referring to his positive thoughts about my appearance. I told him that any coffee meeting would be just friendly and his response suggested that he didn’t really take my clarification all that seriously. Some people suggested to me that they thought he might just be very awkward or going through a tough time. But is there any excuse for this?
Archive for the ‘why did they have to say that?’ Category
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.
My Junior year of undergrad I took a Feminism and Philosophy class which, for the most part, was a safe haven for me. I have to note, it was taught by a male professor. However, he also went to great lengths to cultivate a love of philosophy in the many women that were drawn to the class and allow us space to speak. On the first day he spoke about the lack of women in philosophy. There were also guys in my class, quite a few. One day, after reading a piece on oppression that spoke about micro aggressions, my class got into a discussion about catcalling and street harassment. I shared a personal experience in which a man on the street told me to smile and escalated to vulgarity and verbal violence when I rejected him. He called me slurs and threatened me with physical violence. One of the boys in my class subsequently attacked me. He told me that he did not believe me, that kind of thing didn’t happen in real life, he had never seen something like that happen so it couldn’t be real, and that it was my fault, I should have just smiled when he asked. We went back and forth for a while and he so vehemently denied my experiences that I got very upset and ended up crying in class (which was extremely embarrassing for me). My professor intervened where he could, but this guy was aggressive. After class, a bunch of my male classmates came up to me and told me he was a really nice guy just having a bad day. That isn’t as awful as many of the stories shared on this website but this guy is a fairly typical philosophy major at my school, unfortunately, and I will never forget that day.
I have graduated from a Master in Philosophy recently and intend to go on with pursuing my philosophical ambitions. I must say I feel lucky that I haven’t experienced half the things that are reported on this blog (should it feel lucky or normal?). However, facing the perspective of going on with philosophy, I wonder if these things will repeat themselves often:
– When discussing utilitarianism, why do I have to hear my professor refer to “my beauty” as an example of a good that ought to be promoted?
– How many times must I be someone’s girlfriend in thought experiments, for the sake of argument?
I don’t think it is acceptable that my attributes (being a woman, being pretty, etc) should find themselves caught up in examples used in philosophical conversations. I experience this kind of practice very destabilising: every time, my train of thought was interrupted because of how intrusive it felt and I couldn’t continue arguing properly.
During the early part of the year, I attended a philosophy talk at a well known west-coast university. This talk was given by a famous philosopher, and was thoroughly enjoyable. During the talk, the philosopher made a claim along the lines of the following: that social structures are organised around sex. One well known male philosopher from this university who was in the audience then blurted out “I arrange my life around sex too!”
While some people laughed, I am quite sure that many did out of being uncomfortable with the comment. I did not laugh, and noticed that a number of the women who were in attendance looked at each other with a “WTF” face. I am appalled by the behaviour of this philosopher, and really didn’t know what to do or think given the circumstance. Ironically, the famous philosopher’s talk was on social structures, and how group dynamics are really important sites where injustice is prevalent.
As someone who self-identifies as male, I just don’t understand why commentary like this is acceptable. Given my place in the hierarchy in academia, I unfortunately feel like I would be retaliated against for speaking up. What is someone in my position (whether it be a graduate student, staff member, or faculty member) supposed to do in a situation like this? The comment given by the faculty member in the audience completely caught me off guard, and as I reflect upon this episode, I feel like I should have done something, even though I felt completely frozen when this comment was uttered. Seriously, something needs to be done about this – I just wish (A) I knew what to do then and (B) that I would avoid retaliatory action for doing the right thing.
If you have ideas about what to do, go over to FP and leave them in comments!
When I was an undergraduate in philosophy, some of my friends and I started a philosophy undergraduate group. Naturally, amount the ten or so of us, there were only two women, myself included.
Most of the time, this was not a problem for me – I was used to hanging out with the boys, and I could argue just as hardheadedly as the rest of them. My male professors were probably the most supportive mentors I could have ever hoped to find; they were encouraging and always very generous with their time. For the most part, the sexism I did encounter straight on was from my male peers toward my female professors. They would challenge them to unrelated logic questions, complain that their subject matters were less worthwhile and (quite wrongly – many of them were top in their field) accuse them of being worse professors than my male professors. I contested them hotly on each point after class, knowing how badly women professors tend to do on subject evaluations, and how this hurts their chances at tenure.
Nonetheless, fearing ostracism by my peers, I never took any courses in feminist philosophy, nor actively discussed feminist issues with my peers.
I did, however, on one occasion feel personally insulted by my peers. We would host public talks, debates, or movie screenings fortnightly. One week one of my closest male friends suggested discussing autonomy and alcohol consumption. He wanted us to debate whether or not a drunk or ‘impaired’ person should be found at fault for rape, given various scenarios (a drunk victim, or ambiguous consent, for instance). My heart still races and I still get hot in the face remembering this topic being brought up. I have to admit I went a little hysterical at the suggestion – I told them I would boycott the group if they chose to discuss that subject. Having been the subject of sexual assault, (although no alcohol was involved), it seemed ridiculous to me to even ask whether someone who had willingly gotten drunk could possibly be found innocent of sexual assault due to their ‘impaired’ state. My friends laughed at me and told me to calm down, that it was a serious philosophical question.
I left the meeting in a huff, slamming the door.
Now I am in grad school, and the friend who brought the topic up claims to be a serious feminist (although he himself is not an academic). I have trouble believing him since he still doesn’t understand what was wrong the many times he has brought up the above scenario since.
Another friend who was in the group has visited me recently, and he confided to me that our mutual friends used to think that I was not very good at philosophy, and that they were surprised I did so well on my graduate school applications, despite the fact that I was always one of the most active members of the philosophy group, and despite the fact that I graduated as one of the top students in the major. Now they say that I am very good, and that they misjudged me (only a couple of them ever went on to grad school themselves).
I am still pretty sure the only reason they ever thought that I wasn’t good because they were sexists, and confused my anger at their continued offenses for philosophical incompetence. And now I feel guilty that I constantly excused them anyway. Maybe we should never have been friends. I feel I have indirectly contributed to the bad climate for women by never bringing up any of the issues as feminist issues, and by avoiding feminist subjects as philosophically illegitimate. Nonetheless, if I had not remained friends with them and cut my teeth in debates with them, I would probably only be half as good a philosopher as I am.
I have been lucky to study at an institution where while the majority of professors were male, they were encouraging and supportive of their students. I barely even thought of my professors as sexist in the slightest sense exactly because they showed a lot of support for the students who were interested in the subjects they taught. However, there was one occasion on which I felt really unsettled and to this day cannot quite understand why this event occurred. I was at a lecture by a male professor who was talking to us about rational thinking and he used the most disgusting analogy to illustrate the point he was trying to make. What he said to us, a classroom with plenty female students, was “for example, if you were to be raped and you cannot do anything about it, you better sit down and enjoy it”. To this day I cannot believe that this sentence was uttered at an undergraduate lecture at a philosophy department. Despite intended as a joke, and despite the reaction of most of the male students being to laugh at it, I wanted to leave the room and never come back.