Our head of department has a habit of not noticing women. In fact, most women seem invisible to him — and, particularly, intellectually invisible. There are worse things. For example, noticing young women too much, and not for intellectual reasons.
It took years for him to learn to recognize me. I took his class, he taught me in seminar, I spoke to him at department functions. Nearly every time he asked me if I were German. Nearly every time he was shocked to find out I was not. The conversation repeated. It was clear there was nothing about me that was worthy of his attention in his mind. My work didn’t matter, my contributions to seminar, my writing, the conferences and publications I organised in the department. I was a girl who, well, did I look familiar? Was I perhaps in the department? Was I maybe German? No? Wow! Really, no?!
And then, after years of this, he realised I was the partner of one of his favorite students. A male. A white, Oxbridge-educated male. The sort of person, in other words, who had his attention — who deserved it. The sort of person who was “smart.” Unlike me. Now our exchanges went a little differently. Now he said, “You. Don’t I know you? Yes! I do know you! You’re XX’s girlfriend.”
No, that is not who I am. I am my own person. And I have a name.