Come visit Montreal, an amazing Canadian city, and home of next year’s annual meeting of the Canadian Philosophical Association, May 30-June 2, 2010. It’s also, I think, a much more woman friendly event than the APA. I suppose that’s in part because the CPA meets along with other disciplines as part of the annual congress hosted by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. This means that there isn’t the same feeling of being part of a very small group of women, even if many of the women are English professors! For those of us with interdisciplinary interests, you can also go to talks that are part of other academic societies’ conference programs. Often there are feminist philosophy papers on the main CPA program as well as on the panels hosted by the Canadian Society of Women in Philosophy. The call for papers is here.
Yesterday I had the experience of hearing a familiar narrative in a different context. The result was that I understood it in a radically different way. This was painful because it involved at some point seriously misunderstanding someone, not one of one’s fun things to do. Worse, misunderstanding a tale of woe will probably add to the hurt already experienced. But the switch in understanding is utterly germane to this blog.
So here’s a young (white, quite well educated) man in NY City who is working for a large company. It isn’t the sort of job he wants eventually, but it might be an entry point into a decent area. As his job progresses he feels, he relates, that his bosses are against him. They don’t want him to excel, and they are constantly giving him tasks well below what he could do that would enable him to get ahead in the company. Other people are gossiping about him, and he suspects they are reading his email. Any mistake he makes, even if it is very typical for the crew at his level, somehow gets assigned a significance that others’ transgressions don’t. In short, he feels persecuted. He feels watched, the subject of plotting and speculation.
Now it starts to sound as though he has a fairly serious problem. Could a whole level of a company really start to get organized against one of its junior people? Are they really thinking about him all that much? He’s a cog in a wheel, for goodness sakes.
To my credit, I will say that I asked him several times if he thought it could be prejudice. He is gay. He said he didn’t think it was; after all, one of the bosses is gay, other workers are gay, and so on. So I started to worry about why he was experiencing the job this way.
Yesterday that all changed, largely because I spent about an hour talking to a friend about how her department was treating her. Her chair, also a woman, had written saying she should resign from being director of undergrad studies, since the job was too much for a woman with children. The department had false documents claiming she had skipped out for 3 weeks, someone had shouted at her in the hall that she always looked so unhappy, etc, etc. Of course, when that male professor just disappeared when he became a grandfather, that was just as should be. [She was tempted to ask whether he was nursing the baby, but didn’t. The office staff, all women, who supported him were unsympathetic to her during her pregnancies.]
So later in the day I was talking to my young friend and we got onto the topic of his unhappy past experience. He was eventually fired, of course. And suddenly I realized that his narrative was very close to that of my woman friend. At least it reminded me vividly of these truths:
- The world of bigotry and prejudice is a terrible and disturbing place, and it can make one seems as if one is the one who is disturbed.
- It just doesn’t matter if others are not getting it. My young friend did feel he was somehow noticeable: very tall, well educated, a strong entrepreneurial arts background and parents who give him too much money for clothes. He thought his bosses thought he was too uppity in some way, which may have been a large factor.
- Do not expect others (women, members of the glbt community, people of the same ethnicity) to oppose your treatment. They may well be putting a high priority on being a good girl, one of the guys’, someone who is at least safer than you, and so on.
So who knows what the truth really is. Perhaps he really didn’t try hard enough, but perhaps also he couldn’t succeed even if he had been perfect.
And in case you guessed, he is jj-son, and I feel really bad about all this. But at the same time, I saw from a fresh perspective how insane making a bigoted environment can be.
And now I’m going to go away and worry about my blitheful assumption that this all hasn’t really made any of us very disturbed.