Very often abusive conduct leaves one without any good alternatives. A kind of abuse described in an earlier post can at least prompt two responses that may well make things worse.
Two reactions are: getting angry, and dropping out as much as possible.
1. Anger can lead its recipients to reflect on and reassess their actions. But insiders, when faced with an angry outsider, may take her reactions to show they were right and she is an awful person. Her actions may even be cited as part of the department’s recruiting new members of the department into the boys’ club. I think this is one way that disrespect is taught, and neophytes come to believe that yes, some women, people of color, etc., have a great deal of difficulty fitting into the department culture.
2. The second reaction is dropping out, at least to the point of avoiding the insiders as much as possible. This reaction is recommended by a lot of “how to cope with an awful boss” books. This alternative has been chosen by some women faculty; it is recommended as a way of preserving one’s health and sanity. However, dropping out presents the abusers with a great opportunity for gossip and conjecture which may well be promulgated all the way to the upper administration. Think of all those people who think feminists are just trying to get special treatment; they really believe that. A department’s account of an outsider dropping out may get similarly off-base explanations.
I think that it is actually very significant that these two routes are very problematic. Foregoing them both has the victim having to hang around being nice and sweet. That sounds like something an oppressor would like.
So what to do? I think that this is a big question for our community. I do not have any easy answers. Right now I’ve started to look at books on autonomy. I hope that philosophers can find ways for people in oppressive situations to have autonomy and self-respect.
Legal action of one sort or another is possible, but it can also be quite destructive. People can have a lot of trouble quelling their desire to retaliate, and trying to work one’s way through such situations can consume one’s life. (Right now even people who write about the law as it applies to the Ludlow case may receive a threat of legal action from his lawyers.) In addition, I do think that it is difficult to get far without a lawyer, and that easily becomes very expensive.
Though I have spoken about women, anyone who may be in an outsider role can be targeted.
In trying to understand why a group in a department might target someone, I found the following very useful:
“Pluralism in ‘Academic Politics’: The Collateral Damage of
Cronyism and Legal Aspects of Common Misconduct”
APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, Spring 2013.