Feminist Philosophers

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Here’s how it goes: a real tale from academia June 29, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — jj @ 6:01 pm

First of all, you need to know that I created a PRETTY GOOD THING. My close male colleague, MN, and I also run A JOLLY NICE GROUP.  And they are connected in that MN helped me  with the PGT and it benefits the JNG, though in fact it helps a lot of others too.

So MN was at a conference and asked me to send him an email flyer about the  PGT, which I did.  PGT, we all agreed, should be open to everyone and I didn’t want it to look like it would have a dominating administrative structure or anything.  The long and the short of it is that I referred faculty to myself (“Contact Dr. jj if you are interested”) but put in an unassuming title, like ‘university coordinator.’  BIG MISTAKE, because MN also sent the  email flyer to our faculty listserv with his return address and everyone who didn’t recognize my name assumed I was a secretary.  “Dear Ms. jj….”

But that’s not a huge deal and I just started to use a more authoritative title, so people could understand why I was actually making some of the decisions.

However, last week MN revealed that he received a letter when the notice went out.  The letter congratulated him on building the PGT, and went onto the issue of his appointing me to the position.  The letter actually vents a lot of academic ill will and slams my character and accomplishments, from publications to promotions, claims I used female charms (e.g., wooed the provost) to get some things, and so on and so forth.  Wow!  I certainly was amazed that anyone would think that wooing would win me anything.  Even if I were inclined to use that, I’m far past the age where that’s a very promising strategy.  But there it is.  And maybe “wooing” was a metaphor?  For paying them money?!?!?

The letter was anonymous, of course.

The interesting question is who is upset about what.  MN is very upset about the letter, and revealed it only because someone else was attacking the PGT.  (A “I don’t know who you all think you are” sort of attack from a department chair in an unpleasantly public way.) 

I reckon that  if  the flyer  had gone out to the faculty under my name with MN as the coordinator, I would have been still assumed to be the secretary.   It’s the sexism, from the assumption that MN gets all the credit, to the idea that I was wooing people to get privileges that is what’s gotten to me.  The hate is hopefully fairly localized; I know the sexism is not.

Mind you, I haven’t actually read the full anonymous hate letter. 

So is this sort of experience typical for women when they get visible power in their society?  Gosh!  Whatever would make one think that?!?

 

 

 

3 Responses to “Here’s how it goes: a real tale from academia”

  1. Jender Says:

    Yikes! Related to part of your story: There was a time when I had to put a sign on my door saying “This is not the department office”. Once I did that I only got about one person a day thinking I was a secretary. Related to another part: I have heard of mainstream journals getting vile letters after they publish a piece of feminist philosophy.

  2. jj Says:

    Jender: Just so.

    I think there are two further features that are much more ubiquitous than we might like to think:
    1. Discounting of a woman’s abilities and accomplishments. Either a man really did it, or it isn’t so great, or somehow luck, trickery played a role. There’s a lot of evidence that women’s accomplishments in general count for less than a man’s. This is certainly one way (or 3 ways) that happens.
    2. Something Martin-Alcoff notes in Visible Identities, the resulting environment takes energy to cope with. It’s energizing to have a supportive environment and costly to have a non-supportive one.

  3. [...] I have acted appropriately. The initial comment was a pretty thorough going attack on me. Unlike another recent one, it was signed. However, it was extremely negative. To wit: JJ: … I think that you should [...]


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