The importance of small things

Posted: February 22, 2016 by Jender in Uncategorized

As an undergrad in a program where there is a lot of interaction with grad students, I have a number of frustrations with the attitude of the male grad students. At this point it is just another thing keeping me from finishing my degree and moving on in the field. I find that I don’t stand up for myself and if I keep finding excuses for other people then I wont be able to hold my own convictions or justify my own ideas.

In the past I, along with many of my other woman colleagues had problems with a particular male grad student. He is incredibly lecherous. But smart enough not to get into any trouble. While he is not “dangerous” it is very disrespectful and discouraging if you find that the people that you should in a sense look up to as mentors as well as fellow students are interested in you in so far as you are a potential sexual conquest.

I was actually able to call this person out for “booty calling me” by telling him that he is everything that is wrong with philosophy and he did eventually apologize. Although he had the gall to suggest that his behavior had nothing to do with the fact that I am no longer involved in the philosophy department.

But is still sucks that he thought that it was appropriate to treat me like that. Especially because he does consider himself a feminist and he is given a lot of intellectual credit for that title by faculty and students alike.

I also had problems with another male grad student who as a self proclaimed feminist would sarcastically interrupt me and show physical signs of annoyance whenever I had anything to say which was counter to any of his claims. Many of which as more than subtly misogynist.

I feel like I finally have “rational grounds” to complain about him because he accidentally messaged me to ” shut the fuck up”.
This was a response to some comments that I made to something that he posted on facebook. All the while publicly continuing the conversation suggesting that I had nothing to add. Clearly,  pretending to listen and take into account people who disagree with you confirms your status as a progressive or a radical. The level of hypocrite that one has to be to silence their opponent so that they can publicly look justified in a view boggles my mind.

At first glance, when I am being hard on myself, these sound like small personal issues. The fact that the examples that I gave took place via text and on facebook makes them easy to dismiss as personal issues that have nothing to do with philosophy.

It is also easy to argue that I was somehow soliciting that treatment. Why do those men have my cell phone number and why are they connected to me on facebook? Because these are men I should be able to trust and respect as allies. It is also difficult to do philosophy if you can’t participate freely in social life.

It it is also difficult because these men claim to be allies and are, I think, well respected by their peers as radical and progressive.

I have more stories about these individuals. (There are actually a ton of inside jokes among me and many of my friends about the first grad student I described and the
things that he thought it was appropriate to say and do. Humor works great up to a point in order to cope. But I don’t have the energy to find humor in this kind of thing anymore.

I also know that there are other people that women close to me had problems with. But I can’t speak for them.

This does not feel entirely coherent. There are lots of small things that feel easy to put up with. It is scary to realize that those are the things keeping you from where you want to be and keeping everyone else where they feel entitled to be.

 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?

I am a Ph.D. student in philosophy. My research interests are in a subfield that is mostly male dominated. In the graduate seminars I am enrolled in, I am the only woman student. This week I e-mailed a classmate a paper I had found online, that look interesting and was related to my research, but that I knew was also related to his. I wrote that he hoped he would find it helpful. The next day he thanked me for the paper. I told him I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet, but would like to talk about it in the next few days.

Later that afternoon I found out he had sent out a draft of a paper he was working on that was a response to some of our other peers. All male, and all of whose research interests were less relevant than mine. I can’t help feeling hurt. Similar things (not being sent drafts of papers being circulated to other students) have happened in the past, and I was able to brush it off. But this is the first time it has been a paper that a) would not have been written (at least not as soon) if it weren’t for my input, and b) is directly related to my research. The climate in my department is quite amiable, but because we are friends I don’t want to confront him about why he didn’t think to send me a draft. I don’t want to be labeled as overly sensitive, I can’t help but feel like this is because he believes that I will not have anything relevant to say, despite the fact it is on a topic directly related to my research.

I’m scared. I’ve been told by many that one of the best things about graduate school is having peers willing to discuss topics you are interested in, and I feel like I am missing out. I am also worried that without this, I will not do as well in my studies as others.

I fear for my career if I speak up

Posted: January 29, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

After graduating from undergraduate in a very big US city, I slept with my mentor and philosophy professor. He confessed to me that he had done this to dozens of times in his years as a professor, luring girls in his undergraduate classes to bars for drinks and conversation and eventually moving the conversation to hotel rooms. (I tried to think of a more value-neutral word here than “luring,” but that truly describes it. He planned out the drinks date weeks in advance and had a hotel room booked the night of, just in case.) He openly bragged about this to me, mentioning that the youngest student he had slept with was 19, but made me swear to absolute secrecy. He also insisted that it was consensual in all cases and that he rarely did this with students who were still enrolled with him. My case was consensual but now that I’ve had successful relationships, I realize the strange and unequal power dynamic that resulted in that night happening. Tonight I told my partner of 5 years about it for the first time. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It is also hard to think about all of the girls who are still in his classes, that he still looks to prey on. I realize now that although my case felt different at the time, this professor is systematically preying on young women. I am immensely guilty and feel complicit in my silence, but am in the field of philosophy now and fear for my career if I were to speak up.

I am stuck in an awful place

Posted: January 25, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I joined my current department as a graduate student to work with a specific professor.  I was very excited.

About two years in, this same professor screamed at me twice.  The second time, he also threatened me.  Both times, he was quite loud, and I know that a number of people overheard it.

After being threatened, I went to the co-chair.  I was told that he just does that to women, and that I just shouldn’t work with him.  I was also told not to worry about him screaming at me again, since he would know that he had done wrong.  But, of course, he screamed at me twice (but only threatened me once?).  He does not scream at any of the males in the department.

Why was I not told of this when I visited the campus?  The co-chair, among others, knew I planned to work with this guy.  Why did NOT ONE PERSON give me a word of warning?

Why is a guy who regularly screams at female, and only female, students still working here?  He isn’t tenured yet.  They could fire him, right?  It’s an acknowledged pattern, but no one does anything.  Why?

And, really, what am I supposed to do now?  He was the only professor working in my area at this school.  Who do I do my dissertation work through?  And, if I don’t do it through the one scholar in that area at our school, how will that look to search committees?

I want to quit.  But I don’t want to be forced out.  I love philosophy.  I have always loved philosophy.  But I feel like I’m stuck in this awful place, where I will never, ever, ever graduate, but just keep going to school and pretending like something will happen until my funding runs out.

Oh, you mean you have arguments?

Posted: January 16, 2016 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

I’m an undergraduate student in Philosophy, and reading this blog made me think about an experience I had a while ago. I was having a discussion with another undergraduate student, who is male, about a priori truths, which I said I didn’t believe in (not sure I believe that now though!) He responded quite dismissively, but the conversation moved on; later on I was talking to him again we returned to the topic and when I began giving arguments as to why I didn’t believe in them he stopped me and said that he didn’t either, but earlier didn’t think I had actual reasons which was why he responded the way that he had.

I feel that had he been talking to a male peer he wouldn’t have been as dismissive and patronising, and how deep the problem really goes.

I recently attended an interdisciplinary conference and had a quite revealing experience with a fellow male philosopher. Most of the students at the conference were computer scientists, mathematicians, or linguists. There were some philosophers, but they were in the minority of attendees.

It was break time and I was near these two male students who were introducing themselves to each other. One of them was a philosopher (P) and the other was a mathematician (M). P says to M, “so, you must be a computer scientist or a mathematician, right? Which one?” M says, “I’m a mathematician. That’s a good guess! Haha.” P tells M that he is a philosopher and that there aren’t a lot of them there. I was excited that there was another philosopher there and was excited to introduce myself to them and to the other philosopher so we could talk philosophy.

I walk up to them and say hello. P says to me, “I could probably guess what you are. You’re a linguist, right?” I said, “No, I’m actually a philosopher, just like you. Why would you assume that I’m a linguist?” He said I look like one and that philosophers are in the minority. I was baffled and walked away.

I felt sick the rest of that day. P assumed that M was a computer scientist or a mathematician, but for me, the only option was a linguist. Was it because I was a female and a minority and the male student was male and white? I’m not sure. Even if philosophers were in the minority, why couldn’t I be one of them? What does a linguist look like? Sure, a lot of linguists at this conference were female (and based on statistics, there are more women than men studying linguistics), but I didn’t think that his assumption of me was fair.

That interaction left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t let it ruin the rest of my time at the conference, but I was upset and angry that he judged me before he learned anything about me. What was more alarming  was that he made his judgment so effortlessly and with a bit of enthusiasm. Although I didn’t let that experience ruin my time at the conference, it was hard not to feel “othered” during talks where I was one of the few women and underrepresented minorities in the crowd. Also, I felt that if he saw me as a linguist, then maybe other students (male and female) saw me as a linguist, instead of as a computer scientist, mathematician, or philosopher. There’s nothing wrong with being a linguist. What is messed up is if the assumption is that one is a linguist (rather than one of the other labels above) because one is a woman, minority, or both. It was a moment that highlighted my “otherness” in academic philosophy.