No space for women

In my department there has been so much ongoing sexual harassment for such a long time. It became entirely normalised; invisible exactly because, it seems, it was absolutely everywhere.

What happens to women when they live and work for long periods of time in environments that are, frankly, hostile to women? One of the things that was so impressive about the report written for CU Boulder was the description of how women disappeared. Women disappear from my department, too. They interrupt, delay, transfer, suspend, give up.

How does negotiating sexual harassment change the way you occupy academic space as a woman?

I asked my supervisor for a supervision. He said there was a book launch in town later that night, and maybe I would come. We could have dinner beforehand and talk about my work. Having already learned the hard way, I knew that this was not casual friendliness. I said I wasn’t able to that night, and maybe there was a time during the day when we could meet on campus. But, in the end, I went without supervision. Supervision was tied to a date, and I wasn’t willing to trade romantic or sexual access for academic attention.

Receding from space, receding from academic life.

Conferences were followed with boozy nights at the pub. I enjoy drinks with friends and the collegiality of it. I don’t enjoy having to be constantly on my guard. I don’t enjoy being constantly vigilant of his location and his wandering hands and eyes. When I walk alone on the street late at night, I walk fast and aware. I know where everyone on the street is, especially those who are behind me. I’m keeping track of their movements and watching their intentions, ready to react if they reach for me. Department functions became like that: exhausting because of the tension of paying attention. It became easier to be absent.

Occupying less and less space.

And then? The years tick by, women absent, women unattended to. Women who are negotiating harassment, even those who are managing to avoid the direct experience of it, are paying a high price. Money runs out, support is non-existent. The internalization of the pressure: the pressure to finish, the sense of failure, the doom of debt and a collapsing job market and no support, none at all.

How can we ask women to exist in that sort of space? How can we accept that as a condition of their scholarship? How does that leave any possibility of women’s scholarship at all?

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