Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Am I too complacent?

Today I was having lunch with a friend, and I ended up telling her about the harrassing phone call incident. She was horrified. And it was then that the clouds lifted and I had a sudden realization: I think I'm becoming too complacent. I think I'm way too accepting of these ugly things that happen from time to time.

Later in the day, while working out (where I tend to do my best thinking), I had another realization: The only people who have expressed anything close to horror that this incident happened have been people outside my department. There is true outrage when people outside my department find out about this. From my own department, I get sympathy, sure. But outrage? Not so much.

It's true that in this field, in order to get this far, you have to develop a thick skin. Let's face it, you have to put up with a fair amount of subtle and not-so-subtle harrassment. The way you survive is you work hard, you keep a low profile, and you just hope and pray to make it through unscathed, or at least with a minimum of come-ons from professors, TAs, and fellow students. You hope that someone recognizes that you are smart, not just a token or a sex object, but you don't hold out hope. In short, you put up with a lot, because who is gonna stand up for you? The women professors? Nonexistent. The women in authority? Ditto. Your female classmates? They're as powerless as you are, and you don't have critical mass.

I'll be honest. I get outraged every time something like this happens to me, or to any other woman. But then my next instinct is to tone it down, to take care of it quietly, to "not bother the men with my little piddly complaints". I guess because I've learned that the best response is to keep a low profile, to pretend that everything's fine, to not rock the boat. And I do consciously think about whether some battles are worth fighting, how many times I can "go to the well", so to speak.

You know what? I'm tired of keeping a low profile. Where is the outrage from my colleagues? Why can't I demand culture change? Where is it written that it is unacceptable for me to advertise that these things are happening and that they are wrong, wrong, wrong and, most importantly, *won't be tolerated*? Why is that message not getting out? Why are my colleagues not helping me fight this battle? Things are never going to get better if the response to outright sexism is to quietly sweep it under the rug.

I'm angry. Really angry. Now, the question is: how can I use this anger to my advantage, to seed the change I want to see? And most importantly, how can I do this when I am truly an "army of one"?


Ianqui said...

I was horrified by your story at the time. Still am. Who have you told about this at the university? Have you gone to the deans? I think they'd have to be concerned, right? If not because they truly are, then because it's law?

I can understand not wanting to rock the boat, since you're junior faculty. But you can probably turn this into your advantage by telling people that it's affecting your quality of life at your school, and if something isn't done about it, you may have to look elsewhere. I guess that's harsh, but you have to start somewhere. I think that deans actually do fear the discontent of the juniors, because if the school gets a rep as a bad place for jr faculty, they won't be able to attract the best ones.

Hmm. Maybe I'll go ask dean dad about that one.

Jane said...

Yes, WWD^3 (what would Dean Dad do)? :) Unfortunately, I don't think he reads this blog. :(

Thanks for your concern, Ianqui, and your suggestions on what to do about all this. I'm thinking along those same lines: how can I let people know that this *is* affecting my performance, or my comfort, or whatever? And to whom do I go first: my outside-the-department mentor? my inside-the-department mentor? my chair? someone higher up? I need a strategy, and the strategy is unclear right now.

Oh, and I should post an update on the front page since everyone keeps asking, but yes, I've gone to the dean. The administration is involved (more than one dean and various other people), as is telecommunications; not so sure about security at this point. The administration people I've talked to have expressed outrage, to their credit, and seem to be actively working towards figuring out who this was and what to do about it.

Dean Dad said...

Ianqui gave me a heads-up on this, so for what it's worth...

YES, YES, YES, go to the dean, the vp, the union (if any), security, etc. This issue is larger than one department. We've had two incidents along these lines at my college over the last two years; in both cases, female faculty (one youngish, one older) received threatening and very creepy anonymous communications. We circled the wagons -- the admistration (i.e. me), the faculty union, security, and the local police all got involved. One miscreant got busted hard; the other vanished.

I know this may be naive, but don't assume that only female administrators would be responsive to this. Failing to respond to this, in my mind, would be a gross failure of leadership. (Even discounting intentions, can you imagine what would happen to the career of a dean who swept this under the rug if the stalker showed up later and attacked the prof? Game over. Career done. Any competent manager would jump on this post-haste, feminist consciousness or not.

In answer to the larger question about higher-ups caring about junior faculty: it's true that complaints carry varying degrees of validity, and that even some valid complaints fall into the I-agree-but-what-do-you-want-me-to-do-about-it category. That said, the scarcity of opportunities to hire actually works in your favor. It's not at all a given that I can replace people when they leave. That means that every loss hurts. When people retire at the end of a long career, that's one thing; when good junior people leave, that's something else.

At my cc, the killer issue for junior faculty has been the mismatch between salaries and local house prices. It's to the point that we're actually starting to talk about confronting the faculty union with a need to raise the floor. (They don't want to, since the union is dominated by very senior folk, and more for youngsters means less for them.)

Sorry to go on so long. Would you mind if I referred to this discussion over on my blog? I think you've touched on something that affects a lot of people.

Morton T Fogg said...

Perhaps not totally relevant, but after reading your post I was instantly reminded of what Howard Beale said in "Network."

"You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!'

"So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' ...

"Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!"

Go kick some ass. Get those changes made, get your department mad, and go kick some ass!

Jane said...

Dean Dad, thanks for stopping by! Yes, feel free to refer to this on your blog. And thanks for your words of wisdom! I guess the big lesson I'm learning from this is that I shouldn't keep my mouth shut, period. It helps nobody. And for what it's worth, I apparently now have several allies in the dean's office (real, live deans too!) who are paying close attention to my concerns and actively working to either find the "perps" (er, responsible parties) or to get the message out to students that this behavior will not be tolerated and will be strictly dealt with.

MT Fogg, that is one of my favorite movie speeches ever---thanks for the reminder! I may just have to frame that (right next to "20 Ways to Say No"). I'm gonna go kick some ass now! :)

C said...

I agree with what's been said above. To add a further point, I wonder whether the lack of response you might get from some colleagues is because they don't really know what they can do about it?

So my suggestion is that when you approach people, rather than "What are you going to do about it?", it might be more productive to offer some concrete suggestions. I imagine this might be particularly relevant at the department level, rather than at the higher levels where they will have potentially heard about more of these cases. Dept profs I imagine are not experts at dealing with harassment.

AiE said...

I'm sending you thoughts of support and strength, Jane. This is so not ok, and I think you should engage anyone and everyone you can to make it stop!

Jane said...

Thanks, C and AiE! C, I think that you do have a point. I'm planning on having a discussion with my department mentor about this---using this event as a springboard for talking about and thinking about climate issues in our department. I have no idea as to what response I'll get (although I suspect it won't be the response I'm looking for), but at least I'll get it out on the table. That said, I do think it's somewhat telling that people outside the department are reacting differently than people inside the department---and I think that speaks volumes about what sort of behavior is tolerated in this field.

Cheeky Prof said...

I'm late in coming to this topic, but I can empathize and am sorry you have to deal with this. I'm so glad to read you're going to talk to you dept. about it. I've received a couple of these calls, too, and didn't know if I was "supposed" to say anything. When I did, the only person who seemed to think it was as bad as I did was our secretary. Everyone else (inc. campus security) sort of made me feel silly for having called them. Like it was just a phone call. It never crossed my mind how often this happens to other female faculty. Please keep us posted about what happens after your conversation. And good luck.

Mel said...

coming a little late to this, but just wanted support you in your desire to create change in your department & institution -- very often, I've found, once one person starts speaking up, then others feel like they can, too... It's hard to feel like you have to always be that first person, though.