1) At a conference: was included as the token female on an otherwise all-male panel about music criticism; one of the other panelists announced ‘I’ve tried in the past to recruit female contributors but it seems they just don’t want to write about music.’
2) Was talked out of taking a course I wanted to take by a white male student who convinced me that I wouldn’t be able to handle the heavy reading load.
3) In seminar: a discussion about sexuality revolving entirely around dead gay white male composers; irritation (from white male students) when I suggested the discussion could be more gender inclusive (because btw, lesbian & queer women & nonbinary folks exist).
4) ‘You’re reading Judith Butler? What does that have to do with musicology?’
5) Graded a paper on censorship in the 1990s in which a student argued that Madonna shouldn’t be so sexual in her music videos because a woman’s worth hinges on her ‘purity’. (I could correct his grammar but not his misogyny!)
6) At multiple conferences: asked questions about gender/sexuality during the Q&A. Several different times, the paper-giver would answer briefly (as in, significantly shorter answers than they gave in response to other questions) and then pull me aside during coffee breaks to discuss the issue more fully, as if gender/sexuality are issues that might bore the general conference audience (but that evidently people still want to talk at length about!).
7) In seminar: white male student claimed that Diana Ross sang ‘Love to Love You Baby’ (as part of a larger argument about Diana Ross and vaporwave). I said, ‘Actually Donna Summer sang that song.’ Nobody believed me. So powerful is the force of white male confidence that I began to doubt myself. ‘Maybe I’m remembering wrong,’ I mumbled. A different white male student googled the song and said, reluctantly, ‘Well it does seem that the first version popping up on google is by Donna Summer.’
8) In seminar: a syllabus consisting of 100% white male authors.
9) At a conference: the announcement that women in our field submit to major journals at a significantly lower rate than men; people wondering why that could possibly be. (See item #2.)
10) Experienced + witnessed sexual harassment. In the latter case (after coming forward to back up women who had reported their experiences), went through psychological and emotional hell, convincing me I should not come forward about the former.
It doesn’t matter where any of this happened because it happens everywhere.
And by pointing out a problem, we are made to feel to be the problem. Sara Ahmed spells this out beautifully in her post ‘Sexual Harassment’:
The problem remains. And then those who talk about how the problem remains become the problem because they become reminders of that problem. To remind is to show how sexual harassment is enabled by an institution. It is to show how sexual harassment is reproduced by an institution. It is to show how sexual harassment becomes a culture; how it works as a network, a web of influences; a set of practices that we are supposed to accept as how things are because that is the way they were.
And so institutions get away with protecting their ‘good name’, the privileged, the powerful—but not those who are vulnerable or might need their protection the most.
I am returning to academia after a semester-long leave of absence (unrelated to any of the above) and this time around, I refuse to be a silent observer of gender discrimination or harassment. I understand that I am just a graduate student and I am in a precarious position.
However, rather than grinding my teeth into nubs, I pledge to pipe up every time I hear the tired words ‘This is just how things work in academia.’ It won’t be fun or easy, because nobody wants to hear any of this—but they can only plug their ears against reality for so long.
I might have only one small voice but I intend to use it.