Too often, stories of sexism in academia are kept quiet, or whispered between colleagues and friends.
We are cataloguing instances of academic sexism so that we can highlight the challenges women face and publicly advocate for change. Write as much or as little as you like. We will be posting stories on this page – let us know if you’d prefer us not to share.
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We also encourage you to submit your story to the totally badass Everyday Sexism project.
Country or Region: UK
Story: At my first time ever presesting at an academic conference, one of the panel organisers came over to me about 5 minutes before I was due to start, and told me that I should ‘cover up’ to be respected as an academic. I was so mortified and rushed to find a cardigan, but I always regret not speaking back to him.
Country or Region: USA
Story: During undergraduate I was selected as an ‘honors’ student in my senior year. Concretely, this meant that I was going to be able to do a year’s worth of independent research, followed by a thesis, under the tutelage of a professor in the department. The professor that wanted to work with me hadn’t taken an honors student in 10 years, so of course I felt very honored.
I had the distinct feeling, during the year working together, that he was testing the waters, trying to determine if I would be open to a sexual relationship. I would feel nervous every time I’d have to go to his office for meetings, which were frequent. In part, this was due to the fact that he would wait for me to sit down – and then close the door to his office. He never touched or directly solicited me, but the tension created by his obvious interest was extremely uncomfortable.
Years later, a bumped into another former student who told me that this same professor had been involved in quite the scandal. Apparently, he’d started a relationship with a student – the woman in question, I should add, was a year younger than me and I knew her well. It was considered quite sordid and there was a lot of talk about the professor having been known for soliciting students, as well as for giving preference to pretty young women.
There are two things that make me frustrated and sad about this. First, it angered me that this man clearly had a reputation and none of the other professors felt it was appropriate to warn me. I was close with several of them and they had ample opportunity to do so. Instead I spent a year feeling like I had to very carefully regulate myself, my behavior, my appearance, my body language, so as not to ‘give him the wrong signal’, whilst also questioning my own sanity. The feeling of uncertainty that this kind of behaviour – and the silence around it – breeds when the relationship is one that has to be based on trust to function, only serves to make women feel they can’t trust their own intuition. Second, I always wonder now if people assume that I was also involved with him, or that he selected me as his honors student because of my appearance. Something that should have been a capstone of my undergraduate experience instead makes me feel implicated in something shameful. I’m so uncomfortable with it I don’t even mention it on my CV any more, despite the blood, sweat, and tears I put into the thesis.
Ultimately, my understanding of the way women in these kind of circumstances are gossiped about is just as bad as a 50-something professor spending a year trying to work out if I’d let him into my pants. As I get older, I’m almost more angry about the former than the later.