Things you learn in your first job

I’m a recently tenured professor at an institution in the global south. Since taking up my first proper academic position, I have discovered the following:

– No one will bat an eyelid in an academic senate meeting when the head of the university tells you to ‘not be cheeky’ after you question the decision to introduce bonuses for management during a time of budget austerity
– No one will bat an eyelid when an older male superstar professor writes an email to your entire division accusing you of arrogance and impertinence after you follow your boss’ suggestion and ask for help from colleagues
– No one will bat an eyelid when another older male professor comments in a meeting that your ‘tone’ is ‘hysterical’ when you suggest that bullying is a problem
– No one will bat an eyelid when an older female professor, who is supposed to be your mentor, intentionally sullies your reputation so she can take credit for your work; apparently this is just ‘what women do’
– The privilege of whiteness, class, status, tenure and accent mean nothing when you’re trapped in a lift with a male undergrad who wants to give a ‘compliment’

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A tale of two (very different) misogynists

As a 35 year old woman, my flirtations with UK academia and two of its male protagonists led me into situations for which I was ill-prepared. Whilst academics aren’t known for their understatements, to say I got more than I bargained for is a huge understatement I feel necessary to underline publicly. I have decided to keep this piece vague and relatively brief as to not identify people. Despite the fact calling them out is probably something that needs to be done and should be done, and I hope it is done before long. In the interim, this short account might make some junior academics or students think again before they swoon at (or get sucked in by) the advances of a more senior man or woman in their field.

A number of years ago I was in the middle of my PhD studies. My supervisor and I were getting on well. I didn’t have much to compare it to but he had been absent due to ill health when I first enrolled at the University. After months of limping along with what felt like a lack of direction, I was feeling very glad and grateful he was well enough to come back to work. Admittedly, he had an unconventional style of supervision which regularly involved the pub and a bottle of wine. It was a venue and a method I was not averse to in the beginning. In fact, I thought I had hit the jackpot. The conversations were good, thought provoking, and relevant, given an obvious mutual interest in an area of research. Not only that, we shared some history relating to some bad stuff that had happened to both of us in our lives in the past. Everything was working well, fieldwork had begun, and then came an incident where I didn’t agree with him over a political point. It ended with him angrily declaring that he could no longer supervise me because I wasn’t the person he thought I was. He proceeded to contact the Head of Postgraduate Research to say so, which shocked all involved. I was beyond anxious, there was no one obvious in the department who could supervise me. Anyone who has been engaged in this sort of work knows how absolutely personal the PhD becomes. Within days it was resolved, my supervisor said sorry, and I took him back. Already the relationship had become awash with toxicity and the warning bells were ringing loudly.

As weeks passed we continued our chats, and our e-mails (which had now moved from work to personal accounts at his suggestion), and somewhere between the quips and philosophical discussions, he professed his love for me. To some degree I knew what I was doing, we were flirting, and I am simplifying the whole thing here for brevity. I did like him for sure, and there was something about him being more knowledgeable which made him more attractive. I admired his work, so I was sort of flattered. All recognisable clichés I shamefully embodied. And I could have said, ‘that’s too much’ or ‘that’s going too far’. And I didn’t. This was partly because I didn’t want to because I was swooning (aka getting sucked in) but also I was a little scared about what would happen if I said no. Would it be like that disagreement we had a month before? Would he refuse to supervise me? So I went along with it, and I enjoyed some parts, but as soon as we had an intimate encounter in a hotel, I realised it was a mistake. I didn’t find him physically attractive and our liaison had made that reality abundantly clear to me.

After the ‘event’ I tried to tell him this couldn’t happen again, but he wailed at the train station because he ‘needed me’. I tried to avoid e-mail conversations and meet ups but I felt compelled to because I taught his seminars and he was still supervising my research. He made it impossible for me just to end it and put it down to a mistake. Every time I tried to leave it, tell him I wasn’t interested, he told me my work was useless, and ‘what do you even mean when you say…?’ quoting directly from my writing and laughing at me. He regularly vehemently claimed that I would never find anyone to supervise me. Of course, this was utter abusive rubbish and he should have been reported and dismissed from his post (or at least suspended under investigation) instantly. But because of the history and feeling a degree of culpability in the ‘affair’ I was too scared to report it. He also ‘made fun’ of the bad stuff I had shared with him about my past. I was so stressed, anxious and ill, that I didn’t know what to do. The stress mounted so much that as a result of him threatening to declare what we had done, I just told him to go for it, tell anyone he wanted to. My imagined shame could be nothing compared to the stress and anxiety I was feeling at the time. It all came to a head when he e-mailed to the Head of Postgraduate Research in the middle of the night to say he could no longer supervise me because he was in love with me. It was humiliating, even though she was understanding. I had to recount the whole sorry story, and then speak to the Head of Department who wasn’t particularly interested in supporting me to pursue any complaint because he was coming to the end of his tenure as Head, and apparently ‘that’s just what this member of staff was like’. The Head said he had experienced problems with him, but it was ‘up to me’ if I wanted to do something about it. It was only his replacement who supported me to do something some months later when he began harassing me again and I had to call the police. She supported me to make a formal complaint, which I did, and as a result he was asked to leave the University. As far as I know he left with a reference and a small pay off. I recognise that perhaps in the early days I had some sort of choice but that choice was structured by the control he had over me by virtue of him being my supervisor. Before I realised, I was in too deep.

My second encounter is circumstantially different. On my way out of academia, completing my PhD and busy with a number of temporary teaching and consultancy jobs, I was also experiencing the breakdown of a personal relationship. I had known this (once again, older, more senior, male) professor for a year or so before, mainly from Twitter and conferences. He always seemed kind, nice and helpful enough, offering career advice and help where he could. We would meet up for a coffee every few months to catch up and occasionally exchange messages/memes/jokes on Twitter. Nothing wrong with that you might think. During one of our coffee meet-ups, he disclosed that he was having marital problems. My relationship was at breaking point too, and he took me in by providing a shoulder to cry on, and I fondly reciprocated. An intense relationship ensued in the wake of our former relationships ending. Apparently no one else had ever quite ‘got him’ like I did. It was romantic, intense, and I ‘fell in love’. Nothing like experience number 1.

As months passed (and I was no longer working or studying in academia at this point), the intensity developed into a bad pattern of make-up and break-up. Until now, I guess you could say these are the symptoms of any rebound relationship going wrong. However, getting to know him properly I came to understand that his previous long term partner (and the mother of his 3 children) who also works in a similar academic field blamed me for having an affair with him. It turned out he had indeed been having an affair when he was married, but not with me. Before he and I got together, he had an affair with a younger researcher he met after examining her PhD (I know, I know, I didn’t heed the warning bells there either). It further transpired years before that he had an affair with a junior co-worker, who he previously supervised and went on to work with on research projects and publications. And there were others. Whilst I wasn’t an ‘affair’ I realised that the pattern was the same – him telling them that they are the only people to understand him, lengthy e-mails demonstrating how sensitive he is, and offering the world. (And credit goes to a good friend for making the following astute remarks.). However, this pattern is one of a self-absorbed predator and just because he does a good job of packaging it in a cute, caring, friendly case doesn’t make it any less true. The dramatic affairs were always about him and cultivated via the relative power his position afforded him.

I know he is now chatting again to more junior academics who may have something going on in their lives – relationship breakdowns, PhD woes he could ‘help with’, the death of a parent etc. It worries me. It worries me that although I also had choice in this situation too, that I see from his behaviour (and also, conversations with others) that this is what he seeks out and has sought out, with me and those he has had affairs with before me. This professor uses his work status to seek out these sorts of relationships and uses his position as a vantage point for easy pickings.

From my professional perspective I don’t get it. When I have taught, supervised, managed staff, people or projects, inside or outside of academia, I would always consider more junior people ‘off limits’. I respect professional boundaries when it’s me with the power and feel that to use that power to flirt and embark upon an intimate relationship is an abuse of that power.

It shouldn’t be our responsibility to guard against men with predatory patterns, but I want to put my story out there for junior academics and postgraduate students so that they can be wise to this sort of behaviour. I do take some responsibility for the bad decisions I made, but I also feel like if these men had any sense of professional boundaries themselves, I wouldn’t have gotten into such awful life changing messes. And so, if you are reading this, and you know a more senior male or female who promises to help, has e-mail conversations on Twitter and/or moves your conversation to non-institutional e-mail accounts, you begin exchanging lengthy e-mails about your personal life or emotions, flirtatious innuendos, and if he says you are the only person who really understands him, PLEASE listen to the warning bells, even if they are muffled by tweed, and CLOSE IT DOWN. It’s the best advice I can offer for now.

Sexual Violence at XX

  • We have removed identifying information from this story submission: this information has been replaced with XXX and in some cases initials have been changed to pronouns.

This is a story about sexual abuse, harassment and bullying of female students in XXX. The problem lies in the hierarchy of power among the male tutors and tolerance to sexual relationships with students within the educational institution. As this continues to exist, numerous victims are silenced and live in fear of the crushing effects of the local media attention and social judgement on the insufficiency of proof in their accusations for crimes that were done to them in the past.

For at least two years (2008-2010) I’ve been sexually abused, shamed and bullied by a locally known XXX.

As a nineteen-year old high school student I attended to the preparatory courses for the exams at the XXX, where he was teaching xx. He was exceptionally praising my works and told me I was talented, and this motivated me to work more. I used to stay up after classes to finish xxx. He would stay with me and a few other students, talk about our etudes and art and sometimes offer us alcohol. In the preparatory course, he created a hierarchy among the students and specifically trained the ones he was in favour of to pass the entry exams. Throughout the year, he grew up to be an authoritative figure I looked up to.

I finished high school and passed the entry exams for the Bachelor at XXX. I met him to celebrate my attendance and he invited me to visit a summer school plain-air with the second years in September. I accepted the invitation and took an easel-case with me, eager to work. The students and staff stayed in the former territory of XX. Back then there stood a concrete building with a ramp that previously was used for fish-smoking production. In the living quarters, he had his room with two separate beds.

I didn’t know the older students back then, therefore most of the time was spent with him. He was drinking daily and heavily, and so did I in his company. During the movie screenings at the ramp, he put his hand around my shoulder, when other students were around. It felt strange as I grew to trust him and expected it to be nothing but a friendly gesture. On the last evening of my visit, I was nauseous. He made me soup for dinner and gave me vodka. We were eating in his room as he was going through a pile of old papers, images and publications. He was talking in abstract phrases like “an artist is a fighter, not a kinder garden teacher”. Then he sat down next to me on the bed, and started kissing me and undressing me. All I remember was that suddenly I wanted to escape him and leave the room at that moment, but I was too drunk and dizzy to resist.

Next morning I felt like I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore. He said this should stay only between the two of us. After that day, I lost my ability to speak up to him. I started drinking heavily and kept silent for hours as he stayed in my presence, asking me to sit on his lap so he could tell me how unique he is to the local art world and others are not. He would talk down and shame other students, give examples of “bad cases” and “degradation”. After his monologue, he would satisfy himself on me and I would go home from the university.

He gave me excellent grades and took me along to all of the field trips that only best selected students would go while leaving the rest unaware. Telling someone about this was unthinkable firstly because he was considered the best tutor in the painting department, and his students – the most perspective and talented. It seemed then that opposing him would affect studies, my future career or have me expelled from the academy. Secondly, it was useless to resist because most of the staff silently knew or suspected what was going on, but no one questioned his behaviour. Rumours of his previous student-girlfriends began to appeared, while I was socially isolated from other students and gossiped about. I felt highly self-destructive as it seemed like the only way to make him suffer.

He was jealous and suspicious while I didn’t have had any awareness of his sexual life, marriage and children. After he discovered that I was attracted to a boy my age, he took me to a bar, made me confess and called me every dirty word he could think of. After that he said it’s all over, asked me to leave and sat down on the table with other tutors, bragging and humiliating women. Intellectually manipulating students into having sex was considered to be normal among the tutors, having an affair with one – even prestige.

Next morning I was painting in the studio. He came in, grabbed me on my behind and said: “Once you’re my age, you will understand why I still want to be with you”. After that day, he continued to be my tutor, but the relationship between us became even more distorted and asymmetric. He was entitled to manipulate me by making me stay with him, drink with him, have sex with him, because he was my teacher and knew “what’s better for me”. Several times I cried during sexual intercourse with him that took place in the studios of the academy. Once he took out his penis and said: “Look at it. It’s curved. It didn’t use to be like that before you”. He convinced me that I was mentally disabled as he constantly belittled my attempts to be good in my studies, caricatured my personality, shamed me for being too stupid, helpless and pathetic to paint.

Slowly, I managed to take distance from him, which affected my grades. I was diagnosed with depression, felt constant nausea and hyperventilation in public. I went for therapy that year (2009), but I was too terrified to tell what happened even to the psychologist. My parents saw the symptoms of my depression but they were completely unaware what was happening and thought that it was stress from intense studies. It took me two years so I could tell this story to my mother, six years to tell it to my father. Their advice was to forget this experience and they still do not support my decision to talk about it.

After graduating, I chose to leave the country to avoid any possible infliction with him and the community that surrounds him. People may ask why I didn’t contact the police immediately after it happened and say that it’s my own fault that I let him do this to me the entire time. I accept these accusations and do not negate them. Nevertheless this experience closed any career perspectives in my own country and cost a lot of time to recover from a trauma, caused social and confidence problems and insecurities. Back then I felt like I was guilty for everything he did to me, because I was completely under his power. He is a respected figure in XX and the XXX scene. For some time, he was the chief of the XXX and still (informally) is a decision maker in hiring the staff, admissions and evaluation. I kept silent because an attack on a person of his status would require legal attention and expenses, while writing about it and remembering it is already painful enough. I am sharing my story to raise awareness among other possible victims of such abuse in educational institutions. Say NO to sexual harassment from tutors. It’s not worth it.

Sexual Harassment at Yale: Thomas Pogge

A number of recent complaints describe the way “Pogge uses his fame and influence to manipulate much younger women in his field into sexual relationships. One former student said she was punished professionally after resisting his advances.”

Here is the article.

Female staff subjected to misogyny

I work as an administrative assistant/project coordinator in a science department that consists of 18 male faculty – 4 of whom are non-white (2 Hispanic, 1 Asian, 1 Black) – and 1 white female professor who is thought of as a bitch by everyone because she isn’t warm and fuzzy. All of the Facilities staff are men, all of the administrative staff are women (all white save 1 Black female admin staff).

There is no acknowledgement of the female staff in any way in our department: not in the annual 12-page self-congratulatory department newsletter, there are no staff meetings, there are no flowers on Admin Asst Day. I just had a 10 year anniversary in the same job and received nothing from anyone, including my very misogynist boss.

Most of the female grad students are treated worse than the males; more often than not they are reduced to tears by their advisors and they are not encouraged as women to reach higher.

I work tirelessly to get the faculty to acknowledge that we exist and actually do most of the work but it falls on deaf ears and I am known as the troublemaker in the department simply because I am asking to be treated equally.

I know that female students also are treated badly by the department as many come by to talk to me about it, but there seems to be nothing that will change this chest-pounding atmosphere.

We are ignored.

The consequences of resisting

I have my own story to tell. You might call it a story of blurred lines, perhaps, but the lines weren’t blurry to me. I was terrified that I would be kicked out of my graduate program because a professor wanted a sexual relationship with me and I turned him down. After I turned him down, after his wife found out he was after me, after rumors started in the department that I was trying to seduce him—I thought for sure that my career was over.

from The Consequences of Resisting a Professor’s Advances

The man who attempted to rape me a few months ago received a teaching fellowship from the Gender Studies program at my university. When I filed my complaint this spring, he was literally teaching undergrads about feminism and gender theory. And he was paid extra for it.

Double edged sword

I get the double edged sword – I’m non-white and a woman. Invisible – I’m non existent in this place. They always see right through me – I say things and then some claim them or articulate better and as the ‘face fits’ mine doesn’t it looks better from them. I get talked down to, talked over, and the vibes of ‘what you doing here’ – and then they harp on about equality and diversity. When attending a meeting with a male colleague I was seen as ‘admin’ and  then not even hardly looked in the ‘eye’ in conversations. Everyday can be a battle coming into a place like this, I have no purpose here, I’m just there. ‘Just’ is important to me here in this sense as it shrugs off importance, value.

Your teacher and you

This excerpt is taken from a student publication (c.2012) and discusses the relationship between that student and their teacher. The essay is titled Your Teacher and You . The author describes feeling that the professor’s interest in students is only based on interest in their bodies. The excerpt also points to the institutional structures of hierarchy which inform the professor student relationship as well as the physical interest.

The text reads: Professors have to read a great deal and have very good opinions. Because of this, it is very hard for them to listen to you. They moved beyond your opinions a long time ago. You are naive, ill informed, in poor taste. They want to listen, but you are boring, mildly irritating at best. Although your flesh is young and firm, interesting to them. ‘How very fucking interesting! You must come to one of my dinner parties. Here, have some more wine.’

your teacher and you

Surrounded

I went for drinks after a conference with one of my lecturers and some of the PhD students. At some point in the night one of the male PhD students started stroking my leg under the table and at about the same time the lecturer put his hand on my thigh. I felt quite scared, but also frozen. I was in public surrounded by other people, and yet I didn’t feel like I could tell both of them to stop touching me. Why didn’t anyone else react? I was surrounded by people who taught me and people with whom I studied. Did they think this was ok?

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