I am one of approximately…I don’t know…most women who are entirely unsurprised by the seemingly sudden realization that men in positions of power (wealthy cis white men, mostly) have been sexually harassing/assaulting people and getting away with it for a very long time. I don’t understand how this is a surprise. At all. Am I grateful that finally, wealthy cis white men are acknowledging the problem and experiencing consequences for it? Absolutely!
You know what has been a surprise for me? The realization of how many people are complicit in allowing this behavior to continue…and this includes women, especially women who hold positions of power (at least, relative to my position).
I’ve written on this blog before about sexual harassment in academia here and here. Reflecting on my graduate school career over the past month or so, I’ve had several moments where I’ve had to pause and say to myself, “Oh my god, [insert female tenured professor’s name here] just left me to deal with it. She knew it was happening and that it was not ok, but she told me to buck up and deal.” A few things I was told by tenured women:
- Oh he’s European, you know how they are.
- He’s really old school, but he won’t do anything. He’s harmless.
- He has to be on your committee.
- He will retire soon.
- We all have to deal with it. It’s not just you.
I’m not surprised by any of this. ANY of it. But what has been a total surprise, personally, is realizing how EXHAUSTING all of this was. The extra emotional work that I and other female grads in the department had to do to just get our jobs done, work male members of our cohort did not have to do? It was a lot. Avoiding uncomfortable one-on-one interactions at University events, then maintaining enough contact and interaction so as to secure academic support while avoiding harassment, etc. We were all active participants in our local version of the whisper network which extended to conference and fieldwork environments. When we arrived at the University we were quietly told who to avoid, and when the next cohort came, we passed this information along.
I’ve been wrestling with trying to understand why female senior faculty remain complicit, refusing to speak out after watching harassment happen for years and years. Maybe some of them feel like there will still be repercussions for it, despite tenured status. She may not lose her job or chance at further promotion, but maybe she will be shut out of important conversations in the Department, or badmouthed to her colleagues. Just because you have tenure status does not mean you have the same actual status as other people with tenure.
There’s also a more cynical hypothesis, but I think it’s probably the case: I had to endure this crap, and so do you. Nothing was easy for me, and you’ll be stronger in the long run if you have to deal with it as well.
Are tenured women doing this intentionally with malice? Absolutely not. I feel like it’s probably internalized, and there’s a lack of self-reflection on the implications of this complicity.
I hope Hollywood’s new momentum extends into academia, that those who are in positions of power finally start naming names, and that those who are guilty experience real consequences. Maybe we can all ride that tide into a healthier environment. Nothing was easy for me, and I’m still not in a position of power, but I don’t want to keep passing this buck.