Mothers Are Apparently Not Scholars

After serving for two years on an important national committee, the Chair of the committee forgot my contributions at the committee’s annual meeting. Why? Well, as he told me privately after the meeting, he had become accustomed to thinking of me as a mother and not as an academic despite the facts that my work on the committee was exemplary and that I am an established scholar.

Story signed by : CHCF

The story happened to me as a Dr. Prof. in the year 2014 at an academic institution in Not in Belgium

Stop Asking Questions We Can’t Answer Honestly

I’ve had enough of being asked questions I either can’t answer honestly or don’t feel comfortable even being asked. Yes I realize I can answer honestly but not without it affecting the power dynamics that are already suffocating or without being defined as a ‘difficult person’.

Why do so many of my colleagues, basking in white male priviledge, think its acceptable to make sexist or racist jokes with me – as if they were so beyond reproach (which they are certainly not). After such terrible inappropriate jokes and moments they ask: “that was ok right? – you know I was just kidding”. What am I suppose to say? These jokes are often very disrespectful and make me terribly uncomfortable but since you are my superior I can’t really say anything without repercussions.

Why do you always ask me – in public which makes it harder to say no – to take notes at a meeting or to get coffee or to organize the next social events? I don’t want to do these things and yet I always do, has nobody noticed this odd pattern? Why doesn’t anyone else speak up for me. As the minority – most junior, female and foreign … I need someone else to challenge this pattern.

The worst though is when I am approached with the following “everyone else agrees with X, hopefully you don’t have a problem with it.” Why even bother ask if you frame something this way especially since you know I have children and X is not compatible with children.

Story signed by: Forced to Fib

The story happened to me in the year(s) 2012-2014 at an academic institution in Flanders

Merry Sexist Christmas

As a young unmarried woman with a child, it must have greatly surprised my new all male colleague members, at a relatively conservative institution and faculty, that I was hired as a professor. They made it quite clear to me from the beginning that my ‘marital/parental’ status was not acceptable. This implicit bias was made very explicit one year at our Christmas dinner. This dinner like all other staff meetings was held in the evening and involved consuming lots of alcohol. As I was not married it was hinted at that it was not appropriate to bring my partner (the father of my child). When I explicitly requested permission, it was approved but begrudgingly. When we were already at the dinner, the head of my department raised a glass to all the members of staff and ‘their stay-at-home-wives who made it possible for them to important work’. This excluded my partner both for his gender and was an explicit criticism of our status. It also suggested that one could not be successful in a two-career household and that stay-at-home partners did not do important work. What a beautiful Christmas message.

Story Signed by: Nemesis

The story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. at an academic institution in Wallonia

Sexist harassment by a University Professor in a well-known Belgian University

I started a new job in a Belgian University, so happy to have found a research position in an institution that was famous for its outstanding quality in research. Very soon after I started the new job, the male academic professor who had received the grant for the research project I was working for, started to act in a weird way with me. He would ask from me to greet him in a way that was inappropriate, and then would react aggressively when I would refuse to play his sexist games.

He kept saying I was an excellent researcher – and being actually more intelligent then what he had first imagine. (He suggested I looked silly when I was opening my mouth and behaved surprised to see I could actually write!) Of course that was all about manipulation, he would never have hired me had he thought I was silly. He suggested insidiously on how strong as a researcher I was, but not “warm enough with him”.

As I was starting to be more and more scared by his changing and aggressive behaviours, and told my director about it, a lady who I thought was clever and supportive. She insisted I had to change my behaviour and be “warmer with him”…. To her, the only problem came from the fact that I was not being warm enough with him. “If I wanted things to work out better… I had to act differently”, she advised me. Then she also gave me examples…. of what kind of behaviours she had with him so that he would “appreciate” her.

A little bit later, and despite the stated outstanding qualities as a researcher, I was fired without me being even explained why. As I was crying after being fired… this director told me: Don’t say I did not warn you… I was so traumatized and humiliated by this event that I just left, silently, and without even daring to put a complaint for harrassement.

I think that is a perfect example of a Belgian University professor feeling above the law and obviously knowing it is safe for him to act as such.

Story signed by : Alice

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Wallonia

Story header : Sexist harassment by a University Professor in a well-known Belgian University

My/my friends story :

«Academic Vocation»: A Gendered Construction

As a young professor I was the first female member of staff in my faculty. The rector of our university decided to come to a faculty meeting to present his ideas for the future of our university. He began by explaining that there was a need to offer a wider range of courses to the students and he had decided that the best way to do this was to increase the hours during which courses could be taught. Instead of offering courses from 9 am to 6 pm, he wanted to start courses at 8am and have courses go until 10 pm. I decided to raise my hand to ask a question. As a single mother this educational reform would make my life impossible. I tried to politely suggest that this reform meant that all faculty members would have less and less time with their partners and families. His response was very clear, ‘you are here by vocation’. As most of the other faculty members were single men or men of the cloth, it was very clear that anyone who was not 100% committed to academia didn’t belong. Since that moment it has been even harder to feel at home in my faculty.

Story signed by : You don’t belong here.

The story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. at an academic institution in Wallonia

Academic Cover Ups of Domestic Violence

My ex-husband, a faculty member at the same institution, was abusive to me and received a resulting criminal conviction, which counts as a misdemeanor in my state but a felony in other states. He continues to be employed, although administrators are aware of his conviction. I have to face him at faculty meetings, and I also have to face his male colleagues, who “sheltered” him and helped him during the separation process. He spread rumors that I am crazy and attempted to win custody of our child, which the court denied him.

The administration has supported him. One senior administrator to whom I went after all this transpired told me to separate the personal from the professional. Another senior administrator, who had earlier persuaded me to stay in the relationship, even though it showed signs of abuse, just shrugged her shoulders.

It bothers me that an institution of higher education has constructed such an incredible silence around an abuser. I wonder how many faculty are abusers and are tacitly protected by their institutions. Their faculty spouses probably move to other institutions or leave academia altogether. I know of at least one other case of a tenured professor at a nearby, smaller college who was convicted of a felony assault after chasing his then-wife (a faculty member at a different institution) while holding a knife. The man continues to teach and do research. How many more are out there?

Story signed by : Alice in Wonderland

Maternity is not an option, even in gender studies

I work in gender studies, a highly feminised domain that question sexism most of the time and even there, pregnancy during Phd is not an option (no matter your age and how long last your research contract). I hesitated a long time to point it out here because I didn’t want to criticize a domain that already challenge university in so many ways about sexism. But now that many stories have shown that the refusal of maternity is rooted in the university, I can say that a lot of teachers and researchers in gender studies I work with transmit it.

Maternity and research are opposed. And you can see it the most clearly in the reactions of many professors and researchers about the rare women who go over it and are pregnant during the Phd. Many time, I assisted at conversation that said ” What a bad idea, what was she thinking?” as if having a baby was not a conscious decision but the result of a moment of madness (does it remind you the way medicine conceived the woman as irresponsible and overwhelmed by her body in the nineteenth? Me, yes.)

A baby is only considered as a danger for the Phd, diverting the researcher from its goal and life: science. When gender studies investigate every other professions or history, the incompatibility between work and maternity is denounced. But research is not the same. It is an apart world. Making science is a much bigger job. But can I say that the highly flattering and positive image of the researcher giving his/her life to research etc transcended by her/his job is not neutral? It is a gendered and dated representation of the researcher from the time when university, science and researchers was only male and the question of private life and, more, the question of pregnancy, was simply absent. Unfortunately, this image is active for a lot of people, even for researchers working on women’s rights everyday.

This climate is aggravated by the sexism in the university. I remember a meeting when my research group had to choose the theme of the next colloquium. By strategy (and I agreed with), we deliberately didn’t choose subject like maternity and things that could be considered as “woman stuff” to avoid being “ghettoized”. As feminist researchers facing all this years of glorification of maternity in history, maternity is a subject of “bons mots” that show our distance with essentialism (above all, be sure not to be taken as a maternalist), not a subject of colloquium (or only in a roundabout way). I’m not saying that feminist are against maternity. It is a cliché. I’m saying that all this things put together reduce to silence the question of maternity at work even if this question is not closed, especially at university.

Because of this illegitimate “not now” climate, I spent many years convincing me that I didn’t want to have kids, that I will see later. And it took me so long (with a lot of personal pain) to go over this climate when I realized that in fact, I want kids now. Now that I’m facing the eventuality of a foreign post-doc and its practical issues, I regret not having done it before (besides, the “not now” discourse has been extended). Because of this and for other reasons, I want to take a time to ask myself what I want: continue research or not. And how to do it.

But, even if I stop, it will not be the end of the story. At the coffee break during the colloquium (this one not about “woman stuff”), a female professor in gender studies talked about a woman who decided to not continue in the university after her Phd and at the same time had her first kid. “What a pity”, she said “she abandonned”, clearly disappointed about her lack of feminist tenacity in a men’s world and talking about her as she has made the choice to be a stay-at-home mum (while she began a job in her domain. Just not at university). At the time a rapport was published about woman in research, these persons are the first to ask authorities about what they are doing to keep women in university, and I sincerely think it is wonderful. But I want to ask :

What are YOU doing to keep women in university ? Perhaps considering pregnancy as an eventuality (university has dispositions for that, I checked, finally) in place of a dangerous incongruity of a woman usually quite intellectual who has temporarily lost her mind could be a logical way to interact with all those women around thirty (and over) and a good way to start.

Story signed by : S.D.

The story happened to me as a PhD student in the year 2014 at an academic institution in Brussels

Boys born with natural ability to succeed, said my teacher

At the Arabic class, half of the students were male and half female. Some of them were truly brilliant, others less. One day, our male teacher told us, that if a male student succeeded, it was due to his natural abilities. But don’t worry ladies, with assiduity, you can succeed too, even if it is less likely.

Story signed by: Repulo

The story happened to me as a Bachelor student in the year 2005-2009 at an academic institution in Hungary.


Als vrouwelijke professor in één van de meest mannelijke disciplines (ingenieurswetenschappen) ben ik volledig vóór de gelijke behandeling van mannen en vrouwen. Ook is het voor diegenen die met sexisme te maken hebben wellicht een opluchting om hun verhalen ergens kwijt te kunnen. Nochtans vrees ik wel dat een website zoals deze nogal een negatief beeld geeft. Het is zeker NIET zo dat vrouwonvriendelijkheid heerst in alle academische faculteiten en alle instellingen. Ikzelf heb tijdens mijn loopbaan nooit rechtstreeks te maken gekregen met enige vorm van sexisme en zie ronddom mij dat het maken van sexistische opmerkingen eerder een geïsoleerd fenomeen is bij sommige collega’s. Ik zou het dan ook mooi vinden als jullie in jullie analyse ook verhalen zoals het mijne zouden opnemen. Momenteel worden veel inspanningen gedaan om meer vrouwen en meisjes aan te trekken naar de academische wereld in traditioneel eerder ‘mannelijk’ getinte richtingen. Door enkel negatieve verhalen te tonen schrik je meisjes eerder af, terwijl het volgens mij juist nodig is om ze een realistisch beeld te geven en ze te wijzen op de kracht van vrouwen.

Story Signed by: Tegenwind

The story happened to me as a professor at an academic institution in Flanders

Wil je deze academische loopbaan wel echt?

Toen mijn proefschrift klaar was, en ik op mijn 28e aarzelde of ik door zou gaan met een academische loopbaan (ik had niet veel voorgangers, de meeste vrouwelijke doctoraatsstudenten die ik kende, verlieten de academische wereld na hun verdediging), legde ik de vraag voor aan mijn promotor. Hij merkte duidelijk mijn onzekerheid. Hij voedde die en zei dat het inderdaad een grote beslissing was en dat ik die niet lichtzinnig mocht nemen, dat ik ook dringend eens moest nadenken over welk leven ik wilde, en het feit of ik kinderen wou. Ik denk dat het vaderlijk goedbedoeld was. Maar er sprak de ondermijnende suggestie uit dat ik tot dan toe nog niet echt had nagedacht over mijn leven, dat ik geen echte keuze voor onderzoek gemaakt had, dat ik gewoon dat doctoraat ‘per ongeluk’ was begonnen en ‘per ongeluk’ had afgemaakt, en dat de vraag of ik een loopbaan als academicus wilde verstrengeld was met de vraag of ik kinderen wilde. Aan geen mannelijke collega van mij zou hij dat ooit zo voorgesteld hebben. Een beetje radeloos heb ik toen contact gezocht met een vrouwelijke hoogleraar in Amsterdam (in België kon ik er geen vinden in mijn discipline). Zij was gelukkig heel vriendelijk en wist wat ze moest zeggen: dat ik zelf de keuze mocht maken, en geen bevestiging nodig had van mannelijke professoren. En dat ik zo veel kinderen kon krijgen als ik wou. Ik heb bij het FWO een post-doc aangevraagd en die ook gekregen. Ik heb ondertussen een loopbaan in de academie, en word nog af en toe gekweld door de gedachte dat ik geen echte onderzoeker ben, het gevoel dat ik hier niet op mijn plaats ben. Maar ondertussen heb ik gelezen over de werking van implicit biases, en de interiorisatie van vooroordelen. En ik besef dat zowel mijn promotor als ik er het slachtoffer van waren. Zoals de verhalen op deze website getuigen, wordt er nog ontstellend vaak expliciet gediscrimineerd, waar ik persoonlijk tot dusver gelukkig weinig van gemerkt heb. Maar de impliciete discriminatie en de impliciete vooroordelen doen minstens evenveel schade die onopgemerkt blijft.

Story signed by : K

The story happened to me as a PhD student in the year(s) 2005-2009 at an academic institution in Flanders