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

A female professor is apparently not real!

A student who I had supervised for his Master thesis, came to visit after his graduation and stood waiting at my (male) colleague’s office. I asked him what he was doing now and he told me of his plans to study further for which he needed a recommendation letter ‘from a real professor’ which is what he came to see my colleague for. 🙂

Story signed by: DKL

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

Why can’t a non-white male research feminist philosophy?

I am a non-white male philosophy graduate student working on feminism. I thoroughly enjoy my studies and find feminism important and existentially relevant on many levels. However, thus far I’ve found my work with feminism to be a difficult and alienating experience where male peers either dismiss my personal interests and philosophical work or neglect my personhood altogether. In this way I’m beginning to learn what it’s like for women to feel dismissed within philosophy, something that I’ve realized that I’ve been guilty of myself in the past. As a male working on feminism, I’ve become more and more aware of how philosophical discourse is utterly co-opted by male heteronormative culture.

I have women friends who hesitate to speak up in class because they don’t want to be “talked down to” by their male peers. Personally, I am still unsure of how to voice a feminist position as a male. While I feel compelled to speak up during class discussions on behalf of feminist thought, at the same time I feel uneasy about perhaps taking opportunities away from women to speak up for themselves. Especially when so many professors are prone to preface certain lectures by saying that sex has nothing to do with the content they’re about to speak on. But of course, as we know, everything is sexed.

Feeling my way through all of this has been a challenging yet beneficial experience. I just wanted to share this small snapshot of my experience of working on feminist philosophy within a dominant masculine culture.

Story signed by: queering masculinity

The story happened to me as in the year 2014 at an academic institution in Flanders

Professor in Hypocrisy and Arrogance

The professor I would like to call a master in hypocrisy and arrogance, is respected everywhere except on his own workfloor. Spit out by his colleagues, male and female, but especially by the female. His improper behavior more than once had sexual connotations, going from calling women ‘pussy cats’ to real sexual intimidation and assault. He’s getting promotion soon.

Story signed by: Anna

My language preference : English

The story happened to me as a PhD in the year 2013 at an academic institution in Flanders

Write your own text? No no, women can’t do that, if you want, you can correct mine!

In the master thesis writing course, I was confronted by our professor’s strong preference for male students. As a group of 4 students (2M/2F) both girls have noticed that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the proposals of the boys are, they are always applauded by the professor, while the proposals of the girls hardly get any attention. When we ask a question or express our ideas, we don’t even get a blink of interest. As well as the 2 male students as the professor try to force the ‘silly’ tasks upon us such as writing emails, maintaining the social relations with other partners, correcting their texts (we should not write texts ourselves since we are of course uncapable of doing so), and all the other ‘dirty jobs’ you can imagine … It was already in their roots, but I believe it has been encouraged by the behavious of the professor. This whole situation is extremely discouraging for the thesis, for continuing an academic education as a woman and in general for really stepping into the architectural world.

Story signed by: Fee

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

seksism among students

In the second year of my Bachelor in Civil Engineering and Architecture, we had lectures about women and their role in architecture during an architecture theory course. In fact, they were very interesting and realistically presented by a female professor, just with facts, nothing more. But when a male professor continued the lectures later on, he made sarcastic and offensive remarks towards this female professor about being rediculous and extremely feminist, followed by laughter of (nearly) all the male students.

From this moment on, it was clear that the idea of “women in architecture” was not taken seriously and this became even more obvious later that year.

During a collaborative design, I worked with a male student-collegue, who didn’t trust my skills at all. Whenever certain decisions needed to be made, he would deride my opinion and my ideas and made comments like “you can draw if you want to” or during deadlines “why don’t you cook for me” or “just go shopping”.

Story signed by : Julia

The story happened to me as a Bachelor student in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Flanders