Archive for the ‘Why else….?’ Category

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.

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.

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.

There’s always the booty question

Posted: September 1, 2011 by Jender in Why else....?

When my freshman/sophomore year professor asked if I would be interested in taking a class he was teaching this semester because it would involve more discussion (something new to him), my boyfriend’s first thought was that the teacher wanted in my pants. He asked what grades I’d received in the previous classes, how old the teacher was, and if I was “really” that great of a student. When you’re female it’s basically assumed that any success or offers are simply a result of being sexy to a man. It couldn’t be because I was actually a good student. Even I questioned my professor’s motivations instead of assuming that maybe I was being contacted because my professor knew I would contribute to the class. However, I was recommended for a philosophy major and have kept up with the other men in my degree. It’s just sad to know that even those closest to me will hesitate to assign me the credit I’m due. There’s always the booty question floating over women’s heads.

When I was in graduate school, one of our female faculty members was dating a (white male) rising star at another university. A group of senior ranked (white male) faculty spilled this news to a few graduate students, adding that she “must be a good philosopher if he is f*cking her”.

“It must be the tits”

Posted: May 13, 2011 by Jender in objectifying women, Why else....?

I am a female philosophy professor, newly tenured. And I have large breasts. Last year, a colleague of mine found out about a certain honor I had received for my work and his response was “It must be the tits.”

During your first round of story-gathering, I sent a story about my experiences as a graduate student in the 80s. In light of the discussion that is taking place in the blogs about the Lance et al Proposal of Shunning, I wanted to tell another story. (FYI Mark Lance is an old friend.)

Here’s the story:

For those who doubt the lingering effects of harassment or who think it might be difficult to ascertain who the serial harassers are, let me offer this. I spent three hellish years being harassed and finally driven out of a highly ranked department. Two years later I applied to another graduate program in the same institution, in the social sciences. After I submitted my application, I had a meeting with the department chair who said “Wow. You have some pretty decent academic credentials.” I answered with something like, “Um, you sound surprised?” He said, “Well, you were a graduate student in [that department] and you’re a woman… I’m sorry, I just assumed you slept with someone.”

Yeah. I didn’t enroll in that department either. The twenty-eight-year-old me didn’t have the strength or confidence to confront what I assumed would be a widespread presumption about my abilities. I gave up on an academic career.

Rather than share a specific story, I just wanted to say *ditto* regarding many of the anecdotes that have already been posted. I am a female professor. Over the course of my graduate education and the years I have been employed as a faculty member, I have experienced the following at least once (though in most cases, quite more than once): students behaving especially confrontational in a way that they do not with my male colleagues; referees addressing me as “he/him” in their comments on my journal submissions; male faculty making salacious comments to me; being ignored/dismissed at conferences and in other professional contexts; general behavior/comments that suggest to me that I am not respected as my male colleagues are by administrators, philosophers, graduate students, secretaries, students; being on the short end of unequal distribution of department resources. I also sometimes get the sense that when I invite a male to discuss philosophy that either they or their partner assume that I am taking more than a professional or collegial interest. This can be an obstacle to networking. I have, on account of these experiences, considered leaving the field.

Most of us have probably been complicit in this

Posted: December 9, 2010 by Jender in Why else....?

The first two points aren’t so positive, but the last one is.

First, though this has improved quite a bit, many people in my department have either never spoken to me at all, or spoken to me to tell me that I’m anti-feminist, either because of the area of philosophy I work on or because I’m friends with certain faculty members (who are generally incorrectly viewed as anti-feminist) in the department. My first year here almost none of the women in the department would talk to me at all. Even when I tried to explain to people that I came to philosophy through feminism, that I was committed to certain feminist principles, etc., I got written off. Without revealing too much, it was also (incorrectly) assumed by many people (and directly stated to me a few times) that I was only here because I had slept with one of the male faculty members. I think this completely off-base piece of gossip was probably a large part of the cause of the women (and some of the men) in the department treating me badly. What was especially hard about this is that I (until recently) felt like I didn’t have any other women to talk to about these issues, because for the most part they were alienating me.

Second, I’ve recently been given some opportunities/encouraged by certain philosophers to do some things that others have not been so encouraged to do. Lots of people have simply expressed happiness and congratulations and encouragement for me, but others have suggested that I have only received this attention/these opportunities either because someone in charge wanted to sleep with me, or because they simply needed more women at conference X or in special journal edition Y, etc. Needless to say, the above two issues have had a major negative impact on my confidence as a philosopher, but I’ve noticed, also, on my personality in general– I tend to be much more reserved and intimidated in all sorts of situations, not just philosophical ones.

Third, I just wanted to say that others in the profession– both in departments I am or have been affiliated with, and people that I meet professionally, both women and men– have been extremely supportive of me, and it has very clearly not had anything to do with the fact that I am a woman. Of course, when it is men, I often get the this-person-is-only-supportive-of-you-because-he-wants-to-get-in-your-pants talk from others, so the support is bittersweet in a way.

I know there have been a lot of comments in this vein on the blog, but I really hope that people realize how prevalent this is in philosophy– I’ve heard all sorts of similar things said about other young (and not-so-young) female philosophers, not just about myself, and it’s really damaging in so many different ways. I also really want to be clear that it comes from all sorts of people– feminists, anti-feminists, women, men, etc., and that most of us (myself included) have probably been complicit in this sort of behaviour without realizing it at some point.

How else could a woman be so successful?

Posted: November 17, 2010 by Jender in Why else....?

I spent four years as an undergraduate student and one as a graduate student taking philosophy courses in a department where I was one of very few female students (often the only one in a particular class). The department has a fairly high number of female faculty members and I always felt that all the faculty members I encountered supported and encouraged me. I took several classes from a certain (male) professor in the department who was known for being a particularly harsh grader. I put extra time and effort into his classes, sought his advice on papers and eventually learned to think and write in a way that won his approval. This experience was invaluable for me, and the hard work I put into these classes was what made me want to become a philosopher. Several times, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student male colleagues of mine suggested that the only reason I was doing well when so many others were not was that I must be sleeping with the professor. The (always male) students who said this to me felt it was perfectly acceptable to do so in front of large groups. No one ever came to my defense (or that of the professor). My eventual transfer to another department was in part motivated by a desire to escape the offensive comments of my fellow students.

I (male) publish with prof. x (female). We have also taught joint seminars, and given quite a few joint talks. On at least four occasions (including one formal solicitation to apply for a job) people have assumed we are married. (It would be remarkably easy to determine that we are not; in fact that we are both married to other people. There is no evidence beyond the joint work to suggest that we ever had any relationship beyond the professional, which indeed we have not.) None of this had sexist intent, indeed was in some ways friendly and generous (offering to create a second position). But we all need to think about the climate we create for students or junior faculty who are considering joint work if they get the idea that the default assumption among the community is that a man and a woman working together must be having sex.

In graduate school (late 80s) and first T-T job (early 90s) I certainly experienced any number of ham-fisted attempts by professors and other grad students (all male) to let me know that if I wanted to play with big boys I couldn’t go screaming “sexism” every time one of them made an untoward comment (“you need to be more submissive”) or worse (conducted the job interview on all fours on the bed in the hotel suite).

But it’s not just men with a problem. When I came up for tenure, one of my senior colleagues, female, 10 years older, refused to sign off on the tenure bid (I had been reappointed unproblematically at every level every year beforehand). In her view, the only reason the rest of my colleagues were supporting me for tenure was that “they all wanted to sleep with me” and “that she reminded them of their first wives, which is why they were ignoring her”. She admitted *in writing* that she hadn’t read any of my research, but insisted that “I had no research program” (2 books, 5 articles). She insisted that I get external reviews of my research (policy forbidden at tenure level at my school) and when it came in very positive, tried to have it removed from my file. She never once observed me teaching a class for my file in any year prior–but insisted she had to, the day after my mother died, the day before the file was due.

I’m a relatively recent entrant to the profession (Ph.D. within the last few years). I won’t waste time now on egregious behavior I’ve witnessed from men in the profession (ranging from salacious remarks to putting hands on me in an empty classroom), because it so obviously violates the norm. What bothers me more is that it is consistently intimated that young women owe the attention they receive to their attractiveness. This typically comes by way of the suggestion that were I not young and female, I would not have received the same treatment from older scholars (male, of course). I have also heard plenty of gratuitous remarks, from men and women, about the physical attributes of various women making their way in the profession: for instance, that a woman was offered her job (at a Leiter-top-10 department) because she was “pretty”. This kind of discounting of women’s contributions invites us to think that what we have to say is of less interest than how we look. The institution of anonymous review takes on tremendous importance in this context, as an antidote to that kind of doubt.

A few years ago, when I was a student, I had developed a close (completely nonsexual) relationship with a male professor, who was my mentor and advisor. We would work together on a lot of things and consequently, hang out together frequently, although never outside of school. It apparently got to a point where the other male faculty felt uneasy as if something would happen, that the department chair would intentionally go out of his way to make sure that my professor and I weren’t in close proximity of each other. Because of this, nothing ever got done and I ended up extremely distraught to a point where I was close to quitting philosophy all together.

Why else would he invite you?

Posted: October 13, 2010 by Jender in sexual assumptions, Why else....?

I was a female philosophy graduate student. A (male) friend and I met two male philosophers at an APA and had a long philosophical conversation with them. They later emailed us both and invited us to their small invitation-only conference. I told my mother and she said “a man you met at a conference invited you to his small conference? He just wants to sleep with you.” Ouch.
(Sometimes the sexism that affects women in philosophy is sexism in the wider world.)

When I was offered my job four years ago, I negotiated a spousal hire for my husband. I was the only one of us who applied for a job at that institution, the job opening was in my area, not his, and the department was resourceful and enthusiastic enough that they managed to create a brand new position for my husband.

Near the end of my first year, in a coffee shop (that was, incidentally, nowhere near the women’s studies department), I ran into a philosophy grad student that I had seen around the department but hadn’t formally met. He said to me that he had seen me around and wondered if I was a new grad student. (I was/am a middle-aged full professor.) I told him no, I was a professor. He said: “In what, women’s studies?” I said no, in philosophy. He looked confused and said he didn’t know who I was. Just to make small talk (even though I was royally annoyed by now) I told him that I knew who he was because he was taking my husband’s seminar that term. He said, “Oh, you’re xxx’s wife? So THAT’S why you’re here!”

A junior friend went to a conference where she met a Big Name. The Big Name was impressed by her work, and offered to write her a reference. My friend was recently writing an application, and was going to put Big Name as one of her referees. But a colleague suggested it would work against her because people would wonder why Big Name was writing her a reference, and assume it could only be because she’d slept with him. A further poll of colleagues revealed this was highly unlikely. But my friend’s confidence was knocked by the whole incident.

When I was a junior faculty member, I returned from a trip to another university to give a talk.  I entered the lounge where faculty and grad students gathered and a colleague asked me how the talk went.  I conveyed my positive experience and added that a physicist came to the talk (it was on metaphysics) and after the discussion came up to ask further questions.  I was surprised and pleased by this.  My colleague replied: “Are you sure he was really interested in your talk and not something else…[hint, hint]?” I was shocked, but everyone else in the lounge (all male) had a good laugh.