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

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

Tegenwind

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

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

Al die blonde miekes …

Naast zijn gebruikelijke andere opmerkingen over de inferioriteit van vrouwelijke studenten, zei de professor aan de aula 1e jaars rechtenstudenten: ‘Al die blonde miekes, die zie je hier volgend jaar niet meer terug’. Geen woord over (al dan niet blonde) mannelijke medestudenten.

Story signed by : afgestudeerde rechtenstudent

The story happened to me as a Bachelor student in the year 2010 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