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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.

    • Thank you, Louise M. These are microaggressions that accumulate to create workplaces that undermine integrity at the institution. I can add this, said to me when I alerted a male administrator to (later verified) claims of extreme sexual harassment against X: “We have to be very careful about proceeding on this report. X is potentially a very big donor. I’ll talk to him.”

  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.

  28. “You are an Americanist. You know nothing about Europe. There is no racism in France!”

    “I am reassigning you to teach more classes for next semester because we have made revisions to the methods course you had planned to teach. I am protecting your time while you are on sabbatical. This way you won’t have to plan to teach a newly revised course.” (no, I’ll just be teaching 100 more students)

    “You need to assign written work in your classes. If you want to deviate from that requirement, you need to speak with our colleagues.” (as a humanities scholar, not assigning writing would be akin to a mathematician not assigning equations or proofs, and in fact, my students completed four essays in the course)

    “Why didn’t you use your release time next semester, when I told you to?” (the book deadline was due this semester and I received the award to finish the book)

    “I’ve been told that you . . . [insert any number of unverified rumors, none of them true]”

  29. “It’s so nice to see a female academic with long hair,” and also, to a visiting speaker, “I saw Aimée smooching her husband on the mouth in the hallway! I almost had to put up a no kissing sign!” (the smooch in question never happened). “Wow, you’re very opinionated!”

  30. My sister had to cancel a wildlife research trip when she found that it was just going to be her and the lead researcher, and he was planning on them sharing a tent.

  31. As a male graduate student – I’ve had around 75% of these things said to me by male and female Professors. Nothing about Foucault, Rancière or Gopnik, but this is not my field. I’ve been told I look “cute” and “adorable” and that I’m a “Teddy Bear” by my project directors. I’ve been told that by being male I was unable to take part fully in theoretical debates because I couldn’t fully understand. I’ve overheard female grad students talking about what they would like to do to male undergraduates we were supervising and I was laughed at when I told them that wasn’t appropriate.

    • I agree that there are glaring double standards in this sort of discussion (that focuses on the bad things *they* do to *us*, where the two groups are defined in reigning terms of collective identity). From my vantage point, American academia is indistinguishable from other contemporary workplaces in its competitive zero-sum game mentality. In that milieu, people will use whatever incremental advantage falls their way, in order to advance their interests and shove aside their competitors. The prime motive is personal advance, but that gets mystified in myriad ways. Some hide their ambition in rhetorics of moral virtue and progressive politics. Others hide it in fond invocations of the “good old days”. Most people eagerly marginalize their competitors by joining up with a numerically larger, and politically favored, faction (although of course, mutatis mutandis, different groups are favored over time). So please don’t expect any academic worker to have a solid ethical core, when it comes to workplace politics.

    • Yet, men get most of the academic jobs, as you know. I’m surprised, since you’ve seen so much, that you’ve never seen female grad students grope the undergraduates, proposition them, mark them down because they won’t have sex. In short: You don’t know the struggle. You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman and experience the constant hits, from gradeschool on through graduate school and then into the workforce, if we’re lucky enough to get hired.

      Next time, don’t be the guy who goes What about the men!

      Listen harder. That’s your job.

  32. -“You’ll get a job. You’re a woman, and with affirmative action, it’s much easier than you for men.”

    -“Can I have your syllabi and can you tell me everything about that field I have no background in but think I’m entitled to on the basis of a volunteer job in my first year of college?”

    -Tells me about all the undergrads he slept with. “I think we’d be sexually compatible.” And when I declined “you’re such a f**king puritan.”

    -“You research too much.”

  33. “The one bad thing about when women lose weight, their boobs get smaller.” Said during a faculty meeting, completely unprompted and completely unrelated to the conversation at hand.

  34. Me: “I published the first feminist dissertation in marketing!”
    Him: “and probably the last.”

    Me: “why am I getting a 3% raise and he’s getting 8%?”
    Him: “he published an article and you didn’t. When you do, your salary will catch up to his.”
    Fast forward 20 years later, many more publications in better quality journals, still making less money.

    I could go on and on….

  35. “You look weak, tell anyone I said that and you’ll never work in an Ivy League school again hahaha”, ugh I’m literally shaking right now

  36. “Just do everything you learned in dancing school.” (Sage advice from my original dissertation director about how to ace an academic job interview.)
    “I think the graduate students like to work with you because you aren’t too tough on them.” (Older male colleague who has never been asked to direct a dissertation; I’ve directed more than a dozen.)
    “So, do you work on women writers?” (Various male academics and search committees; I don’t.)
    “You’re very aggressive.” (Former chair, responding to my pleas to have an attorney look over the letters of acceptance we send out to incoming doctoral students.)

  37. [After a failed internal promotion application] You should be grateful that in your early 40s you’re an Associate Professor.

    [At a meeting to discuss alumni of the year, circa 2014] Women will have their time, but just not yet.

  38. At a conference: “They accidentally booked me in a ‘Love hotel’” – perhaps you would like to change hotels and join me?”

    From a grad school professor: “my marriage is very unhappy. I’d like to get to know you better.”

    From male PhD student in a seminar: “Eric Foner’s ‘Reconstruction’ is really hard- are you sure you can handle reading it?’

  39. “Maybe your cousin Guido can take care of that.” I am Italian and this remark was made by the chair of my department at a faculty meeting, in front of all my colleagues.

  40. A male professor explained that the university has many holidays because “we have too many women professors, and they all want to be with their families.”
    A male professor told a female colleague that he was “very impressed that she didn’t adhere to any of those feminisms.”
    A male professor, discussing the possibility of a course on women in business that would cover the glass ceiling (among other topics), interrupted discussion to explain that there are more women in college than men. (A student at the meeting asked, “So, women are the problem?”)
    A male professor told a female professor she would “never be professor of the practice.” Many years later, when she was needed to run a major program, he agreed to the appointment.
    A male professor, informed by a colleague of overt gender bias that had long been unreported, responded that his interlocutor should get over it.

  41. “Everyone knows babies sleep most of the time in their first year. There’s a feeling that the tenure clock extension should produce some research progress.” (Male & childless dept head, as we ‘negotiated’ a maternity leave during my first pregnancy).

    “Now is really when you have to start separating your personal life, and especially your family obligations, from your professional work.” (Male member of PTR committee, dropping by a few weeks before I submitted my tenure file)

    • I’ve come to the conclusion people of both genders say shitty things. “Do you know X” is pretty common, as is “As a X you can never understand Y.” I’m a guy and guys often say shitty things to other guys: my favorite being the “of course you should know X” line.

      (Auto mechanics are the worst here: my wife will often get “oh, honey; I don’t expect you to understand that”–um, I met my wife when she was in the Ph.D. program at Caltech in theoretical physics, I think she can understand. But me, I get a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo: baffling me with bullshit–and sometimes it is complete bullshit. And the “but of course you know that” capper, which is supposed to intimidate me by forcing me to confess my ignorance.)

      But women can also be pretty mean. I have a leather satchel I bought from Saddleback Leather, and I’ve had more than one woman come up to me and say “wow, what a great purse, you’re so brave to carry one.” (Um, it’s a laptop bag. See the laptop? Yes, a man can spend more than 30 bucks for a bag.) Any guy who spends more than two cents on personal care products is “vain”, get your hair cut anywhere other than a cheap hair cut chain and “wow, you’re just like one of the girls!” And yes, I’ve had one woman ask if I had a vagina. (I’m a 5’10 250 pound man with a beard. What the hell?)

      And I’m ignoring the general comments classified in the original article as “micro-agressions”, such as “you seem happy all the time,” and “you’re always smiling.” I take those comments (given to me at various times) as a complement, mostly because I try very hard to be pleasant around people. (It’s in part a defense mechanism, working as a software developer but being built like a night club bouncer. Because I’ve noticed the moment I stop smiling people seem intimidated by me, even though I would never hurt a fly.)

  42. From a female phd student, telling me about her troubles with a male advisor, my colleague: I almost left grad school and I couldn’t come into the building for months because my (male) advisor asked me in exasperation: “Why can’t you be like other girls [of your ethnicity] and do as you’re told?” The student had pissed off another faculty member, who’d kept the student waiting literally for hours – a regular pattern with many students and at least the third time with this particular student. So the keep-them-waiting professor called the student’s advisor to have the student properly chastised, and this is how he decided to do it.

  43. Creepiest thing a female professor said to me as she gave me an unsolicited hug at a Holiday Party – “You feel better than you look”.

  44. I had just told the department I was pregnant. The following semester the department screwed up and had NO seminars appropriate to my (and 3 others’) geographic fields of study, I asked the Director of Graduate Study if -instead of taking the seminar not related to my fields- I take a course by a visiting professor who was an expert in a theoretical field that WAS relevant to my work and work out a seminar level paper or a reading group. I said that I wanted to read more theoretical literature before doing my proposal. He replied “I am sure what you really want to do is knit baby booties. We don’t lower standards for your poor choices.”

  45. I definitely see how many, many of these are inappropriate. But I have to admit I’m kind of baffled by the appearance of book/author recommendations on this list. I recommend books to people all the time, and am grateful when others recommend books to me. In my mind, it’s just one way that academics talk shop. It’s really hard for me to see how engaging in that kind of conversation with a woman colleague would be sexist. Unless the man were recommending Foucault to her after she gave a talk on him, or something similar.

  46. Most of these things on this list aren’t even insulting. The person who created this list sounds overly sensitive. In spite of that, comments from the readers are actually derogatory towards women and worth being upset about.

  47. on the day I was being hired as a tenure track professor with a research specialization in feminist thought: being told by my new superior a story about a female professor in his country being beaten by her husband and him explaining that he could not help her because she had lost all traditional cultural protections because she had chosen to become an academic. This was framed by a 35 explanation / lecture of why feminism was an illegitimate scholarly endeavor. My heart was in my throat – what was I getting into?

  48. “That’s right, keep that stick up your ass.” (Senior colleague, when I asked him to please not call me “baby” at work–on my first day of work.)

  49. On an academic interview, at the DH’s house for an evening party, where I was the only female academic in the room (the other women were wives). The DH asks if anyone wants to step outside to see the new gazebo he just had built. Two male faculty and I agree to go with him to see it. An old male professor says, “Well, we all know what’s going to happen now. The young female applicant going off into the dark with the men of the search committee”. … I wish I were making that up. Later that night, another old man kept asking me “you haven’t told us if you’re married?”

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