Early Career Academia is a strange place. It occupies a between space. An end and a beginning. Ascribed status without standing. Deep with precarity, shallow with connectedness. This means you are always working.
Working to have work. Working to have future work. Working to gain standing. Working to connect. Working to be seen, believed, respected. Working to eat, sleep, breathe. This means you need, perhaps more than ever before, the ‘together with’ at the root of ‘colleague.’
By accident of location and timing, I happen to be the lone woman amongst my current early career academic philosophy colleagues. The last time I was genuinely the lone woman in the room, was in extension maths class in high school. 20 years ago.
Unexpectedly, my lone-ness exaggerates the strangeness of the space. What came before is not allowed to end, so what comes after never really begins. I am constantly being pulled down, whilst having to pull myself up. One hand is pushed back by the philosophy men at the same stage, the other hand is dragged down by the philosophy women at the stage below. Pulled in these ways, it is the first time my woman-hood has completely isolated me in a philosophy environment.
For the graduate-stage women philosophers, I make for a safe ally, confidant, and guide, which is disproportionate to my own safety (i.e., lack thereof) and resources. The additional burden is that I represent a channel, a connection, a voice to advocate for the space and support that these women rightly need to flourish. But this overdetermines my standing. No matter how well-respected I am by my senior colleagues (and that is very well, thank you), as the institutionally new, most junior, non-permanent woman faculty member, my lone voice cannot bring to light the potential structural problems and solutions you are asking me to. I understand. And want to help. But I need you to understand that calling on the lone woman philosopher to informally represent all women philosophers only further risks her safety, making her The Problem. Instead, you must use the existing channels available to you, especially, where you can act as a unified voice (that is, after all, what students reps are for). It is not my job, and it is not my job to teach you that it is not my job.
For the early career-stage men philosophers, I represent an object, an obstacle. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, I have had the good fortune of receiving exceptional academic mentorship from the most senior of philosophy men, without the all too common suggestion of sexual object. And also enough of the ‘together with’ of similar-stage colleagues, both philosophy women and men, to off-set the attitude that women are an obstacle to the goings on of proper philosophy. So it came to me as a sharp shock that my efforts to create the ‘together with’ of my between-space same-stage colleagues was mistaken for me wanting to receive philosophy mens’ cock. My efforts have been seen either to be asking them on a date (explicitly to receive actual cock), or asking them for help (implicitly to receive metaphorical cock from he who crowed his superior philosophical bollocks). Either way, and with true understatement, this undermines my status. I learnt the true extent of this undermining, this complete disregard, of my current status on the singular occasion I have made reference to it.
I am not going to go into details, no recreation of actual words, as it is the shape of the incident that is important. At social drinks, post-philosophy event, I happened to be in a one-to-one conversation with a graduate-stage philosophy woman. I was sharing my view on her particular concern, which due to my career stage and specific circumstances I had direct experience of and expertise in, when one of the graduate-stage philosophy boys interrupted and overtook the conversation to tell her she should listen to what I was saying. In this act, he appropriated and presented my view as if it required his validation. Rightly or wrongly (and my right or wrong is actually not important here) I countered that I am part of faculty and I doubted that he would interrupt and act toward any of my male faculty colleagues in the same way. He responded by accusing me of pulling rank. All my attempts to explain myself — that my claim was that his actions disavowed me of my own expertise, invalidating my status, denied my so-called ‘rank’, and was in no way an appeal to its authority, etc — only escalated his aggression to the point that it could not be defused (not by me, at least).
Although in that moment I was under genuine threat from this philosophy boy, the real harm to me was the response of the early career philosophy men throughout the rest of the evening. The boy ran himself out of steam, but not before one of these (same-stage as me) philosophy men was alerted to him being on the boil. That forced me to explain the incident to this philosophy man, unexpectedly releasing it to be a talking-point that the similar-stage philosophy men could pick up with me at any time. Turning what, for me, should have been a casual pint and chat into a night long enquiry, with the protracted, relentless demand that I consider the ways that I was mistaken. It was my mistake to appeal to my status, to ‘pull rank’. It was my mistake to make assumptions about the boy’s intent — how did I know he was a misogynist arsehole, and not just an arsehole? Now I can learn from my mistake. Avoid being The Problem.
At no point did these early career philosophy men grasp the brute fact that my claim was that the boy denied me the ‘rank’ that this same boy would never question in these very men. Rather these men fixated on my apparent lack of judgment, significantly, my failure to imagine the boy’s point of view.
But it is not my job to imagine the point of view of the philosophy boys that undermine, insult, and abuse me. It is not my job to explain, justify, and dispel the misogyny I receive from philosophy men. It is not my job to walk away, turn the other cheek, miss out because I happen to be a woman occupying this between-space of early career academia. Yet it has become my work. And it is exhausting.
I am just so fucking tired of having to teach philosophers how to treat me as a philosopher.
I am just so fucking tired of teaching people how to treat me as a person.
I am just so fucking tired.