with intense eagerness since 2012! a channel of the los angeles review of books

Things That Male Academics Have Said To Me

Are you familiar with Foucault?

I think it’s really great, professionally, that you don’t want to have kids.

You’re always so dressed up.

Sometimes you come across as a little abrupt.

Can you afford to go on research leave for a full year?

Do you know Rancière? You should read him.

I just don’t have time to worry about what I wear.

You come across as sort of masculine, both in your scholarship and your demeanor.

You can’t really understand monarchy because you’re American.

I like your summer outfit.

You’re so energetic all the time.

Do you know who Adam Gopnik is?

Don’t wear yourself out.

I had this amazing professor when I was in college, and he couldn’t have cared less what he looked like. It was great.

You always come across as so cheery.

Do you know The Arcades Project?

Of course I consider myself a feminist.


Susan Harlan: Road-tripper and collector of things she doesn’t need. @nostalgicbroad

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  1. * Are you always this hysterical or is it again that time of the month? [In class, when questioning the professor’s view of the reading].
    * We don’t need a Margaret Tatcher in this room. [Colleague, when asking if we could agree about the date for the next meeting].
    * You can’t violate my sovereignty as a researcher. [Colleague, when asking to include at least one woman in the 5 male research team].
    * Well we’re not exempt from those things happening to us. [When reporting to colleagues a case of alleged sexual abuse from an investigator while carrying fieldwork].
    * This is a personal attack! [Colleague, when asking for less salary gap between female and male investigators].

  2. To continue the list:

    I don’t know how you make time for everything you’re doing! I couldn’t handle everything you do.

    Students *never* come to my office hours!

    Can you send me your ______? (Insert: successful grant proposal, syllabus, assignments, etc.)

  3. 1. (Because I didn’t show my arms on principle and would wear T-shirts under sleeveless dresses) “Why are you dressed like its winter?”

    2. (Because you have a beard): Is your husband conservative?

    3. “Finishing the PhD is possible, but you’d want to have a serious plan with a lot of time set aside to commit to it.”

    4. “This is a tough moment, and for young women and especially mothers the tradeoffs are brutal. You can be successful (at your PhD) but it probably requires a restructuring of your life, such that you have a lot more time for school.”

    The person who said 3 and 4 had no empirical knowledge of the actual time I spent / committed / set aside for my Ph.D. but felt entitled to give me this advice just the same

  4. (Older male professor, looks me up and down, first meeting, in the photocopy room)
    “How are you?”
    (Me, having a shitty day) “Oh, not bad, thanks”
    “Well that’s not very positive, is it?”

    (Older male professor giving a lecture)
    In response to my question about whether women *really* love shopping more than men, as he had just asserted:
    “Is your PhD on gender?” (suspiciously)

  5. I’m at the Omni, Room 712. You should come by.

    Students really seem to confide in you.

    It must be so nice to be single and free (*said leeringly).

  6. Why don’t you try majoring in “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll this semester? (my academic advisor in college after I discussed my interest in doing research on the politics of minority languages in France)

  7. “We should have Maura represent us in that meeting – she is always very distracting.” (Said in full department faculty meeting by male senior colleague. When I was a VAP)

    • Of course is sexist to assume that a female colleague would not be familiar with extremely well-known theoretical work. The monarchy comment is not sexist in and of itself, but would the speaker have said the same thing to a man? I really doubt it. It’s demeaning to be told you don’t understand something in any professional context, but especially so when knowledge/understanding is the entire point of your profession.

      • Adam Gopnik, from The New Yorker? “Extremely well-known theoretical work”? Come on. Some statements are sexist in and of themselves, but others are context dependent. And please don’t say context doesn’t matter – in fact, it’s all that matters: a lot of superficially “innocent” comments, when put in context, reveal themselves deeply sexist and bygoted. A list like this only fuels the perception that US liberal feminism has lost all touch with emancipatory struggles to become a mere complaint form.

        • Foucault, Rancière and Benjamin are all extremely well-known theorists that anyone working in the humanities would need to have read by the end of a doctorate, so yes, it is patronising (and sexist) to recommend them to a colleague as though she had never heard of them. Their work is assumed knowledge in my field. The inclusion of Gopnik on the list just suggests that the professor making these “kind” suggestions thinks the woman he is talking to can’t even manage to read a newspaper on her own.

          Of course this is all context dependent. Context makes these comments sexist. I guarantee that no male academic would ever say these things to a male colleague.

          Also (and I realise you’re probably trolling but this shit is important) – tackling institutionalised sexism in academia is not “mere complaint”. These micro-aggressions might seem trivial, but they exhausting to navigate on a day-to-day basis. They accumulate and gradually chip away at your sense of self-worth. They are also part of a continuum that ends with sexual harassment and assault, with powerful predatory men being quietly shuffled from one university to another instead of being held accountable for their actions. They are symptomatic of a much wider problem in academia.

  8. “Now that you’re married, you should be careful how much time you spend away from home on research trips.”

    “It’s good you won just a one-semester fellowship; you need to establish yourself around here.”

  9. 1.“Oh so you’re one of [extremely distinguished senior female supervisor’s] ~~girls~~, are you?”

    2.“You’re a weak-ass!!” (Bellowed at me out of the front door as I left a house party he was hosting at 9pm because I felt uncomfortable)

    3. “She was so fucking boring, I’m sorry she even spoke, I didn’t invite her” (of another distinguished female professor’s keynote address)

    (These were all the same man)

  10. From my MFA prof: “Writing always comes first.” I was a single mother of a toddler; he had grown kids and a wife who didn’t work outside the home.

    • Sounds like my MFA director. He couldn’t comprehend that anyone had responsibilities outside of his courses. He also couldn’t spell the word “menstrual.” He spelled it “minstral blood.” He is the reason I dropped down to the B.A.

  11. Why should I give you an ‘A’ when everything was correct (when questioning a ‘C’ grade)? You’re just going to go get married.
    Someone like you can’t understand St. Augustine, re-read the Bible first.
    You’re not a conservative, are you? Shall we explore our mutual interest in Subject X, say, over a picnic lunch?
    Isn’t that wonderful you completed your PhD, your husband must be so proud of you.

  12. “That’s a beautiful blouse you’re wearing. I had to walk by your office twice to admire it. Do you mind my saying that?”
    “How was your sabbatical?” Among other things, I described a feminist conference I had attended in Europe and my contribution to the resulting book . “With a title like that, I’m sure it’ll be flying off the shelves.”

  13. Male senior professor in the field: “My wife went back to work this year and now I have so much more I have to do at home. I don’t know how you do it! I would never have gotten tenure if my wife didn’t stay home.”…to me junior professor in the field with 3 children under the age of 7 in a dual career academic family.

    • What am I not getting here? Where is the sexism? He is openly admiring you for a difficult achievement, no? Am i missing some sort of context?

      • you are missing the forest for the trees here. Is this guy sexist? dunno. Is his description of the real life situation for him(man) vs her(woman) clearly demonstrating a situation where social structures have given him(older man) an extreme advantage over her(woman)? Yes. Furthermore his complete ignorance up to this point of his total advantage is also typical and telling. Your problem is you are focused on whether or not to blame the guy. Instead just try to imagine and understand an experience that you are being allowed in to see. Its not about that guy see, this forum is for women to share experiences that affected them with each other. So they don’t feel so all alone. And so people like me, considering an academic life path, can make an informed choice about entering a toxic culture.

  14. You remind me of my ex-wife.

    You could never do [x semi-administrative job] because you’re too direct and you’d get fired.

    That outfit looks really cute.

    It’s great you’re [advising that student organization]. I wouldn’t ever do it because it would take me away from my research.

    Why aren’t you married? You don’t look like there’s anything wrong with you.

  15. “Someone should tell you to shut up.” A fellow tenured faculty member in a faculty meeting when asking him for clarification of a point.

  16. “I’m recruiting you,” said by a dean who was on the visiting committee. Found out later that the rest of the sentence was “to be the mother of my 8 orphaned children.”

    “You look so young. How could you have had so many jobs?” (Same guy)

  17. “Just show rhem that beautiful smile and you’re sure to get the job,” response from a 65+ year old academic when I shared my excitement about an upcoming job interview– I was 45 years old.

  18. How can I teach women writers when I don’t even have time for the good ones?
    Did your husband write your article?
    I would hire a wife, but she would always agree with her husband.
    I don’t do housework, as I find it demeaning.
    Feminists don’t wear high heels.
    There are no sexual harassers at our _OU; other women professors say you hate men.
    Maybe you should come sit closer to me.

  19. + “You should really consider whether you want to do that.” ( when I arrived on campus about my impending marriage that summer).
    + “I don’t think that you’re committed enough to the program. It was your choice to live there.” (Same person when I indicated that I might need to take a second job on, after my car was totaled— I commuted from about 80 miles away).

  20. “You should really consider using real scholars and not these feeeeeemale scholars of color you depend so heavily on. It cripples your scholarship.”

    “If I advise you on this thesis research and it’s good, because you’re a blank woman and I’m a white man, you could potentially take jobs I may want, so no, I won’t advise this project” (said by the only professor in my research area during my masters program)

  21. I heard the grad students invited you to be the keynote speaker at their annual conference. Have you ever spoken before a crowd before?

  22. From a fellow (male) grad student while leaning over my desk in a menacing way referring to what would happen after we graduated: “Don’t think you’re going to take my job”

  23. When asked a question about why he didn’t use feminist philosophy in his work on the body: “A lot of my friends are women, who are dancers”

  24. “In 40 years we’ve never had a woman teaching full time in the department. Why should we hire one now?”

    “Are you sure you want to do a Ph.D.? Don’t you just want to have babies?”

  25. After telling a senior professor that I would prefer to talk about a grad student we had in common instead of listen to his complaints about other people in the department: “If there were hidden cameras in this room and people watched the footage, they would see that you have a very hostile attitude.”

    When I told a senior professor I would not take sides in a dispute he was having with an assistant (and therefore untenured) professor: “How can you not take sides in this? You must know from the history of social justice movements that being neutral is the same as being on the side of injustice. I can’t believe you think you can stay out of this. It’s so selfish.”

    After telling a senior colleague that, due to my already established childcare schedule, I could not take on an additional semester-long course on one day’s notice due to another faculty member’s illness: “I wish you’d be a team player.”

  26. (about starting a family in grad school) “Well I’d advise against it, but really I can’t say anything, but, If you get pregnant, I’ll drop your supervision.” 3 Month old daughter now, and he’s not my supervisor anymore…

  27. “Did they teach you [about arcane subject matter] in Catholic school?” – my MFA thesis advisor, very snidely, after reading a short story I’d set in a Catholic school.


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