“How Are Your Children?”

At the new year’s reception of the faculty, I am telling two female colleagues about repeated personal attacks in public and through the grapevine by a male colleague. All of a sudden one of them asks, out of the blue: “And how are your children?”. Upon which I say: “Fine”.

What to think? Let’s not talk about aggressive behavior by men, too disturbing. Or worse, that behavior is ‘normal’, you’re stressed out because you have care responsibilities…

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This story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. in the year 2013, around an academic institution in Flanders

“The Invisibility Cloak in Meetings”

I went to a meeting. A question was asked to which I knew the answer and so I answered: “yes that is the case, they will start with that soon”, waiting for people to ask me for specifics.The chairman (male) of the meeting ignored my comment and said that he supposed the answer was yes, as that was to be expected as they promised to start soon.

My answer was ignored completely. I sighed, exchanged looks with the only other woman in the room, and than repeated my answer. The only reason people didn’t ignore me the second time was because she asked me a follow up question. I wish this was the first time that this happened. It wasn’t, not the second neither.

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This story happened to me as a PhD student in the year 2014, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“Verder Studeren is voor Jongens?”

In het laatste jaar van mijn master werden een aantal beurzen beschikbaar gemaakt om een extra jaar in het buitenland te studeren. Alle geïnteresseerden moesten zich bij een van de professoren in de faculteit aanmelden. Toen ik op gesprek ging bij de prof, gebeurde er iets vreemds – iets waarop ik niet voorbereid was. Het hele gesprek lang moest ik mij verdedigen tegen het uitgesproken beeld van die prof. dat ik maar beter iets praktisch zou doen. Ik wilde echt wel verder studeren, bleef mijn refrein, maar dat bleek in dovemansoren te vallen. Mijn pogingen om meer te vertellen over mijn theoretische interesses werden telkens onderbroken en de vragen richting ‘praktijk’ geduwd. Toen ik mijn verbazing later deelde met een bevriende student die ook op gesprek geweest was, bleek dat zijn gesprek heel anders verliep: hij had rustig kunnen vertellen over wat hij al dan niet wilde gaan verder studeren en zijn theoretische interesses. Hij kreeg de beurs, ik niet.

Het feit dat ik daarna een beurs kreeg om te doctoreren (niet aan de universiteit in kwestie, meer nog, niet in Belgie), had ik alvast niet aan deze prof, noch aan de hele sfeer in die faculteit, te danken – waar de heersende opvattingen over de tweedeling tussen ‘theorie’ (kennis, wetenschap,…) en ‘praktijk’ duidelijk gegenderd waren. En ik ben er zeker van dat die prof zich van geen vuiltje bewust was, en wellicht over zichzelf dacht in termen van iemand die m/v gelijkheid ter harte neemt.

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This story happened to me as a Master student in the year(s) < 2000, around an academic institution in Flanders

“Females Invisible To Faculty”

The incident began when a very senior member of my faculty interrupted a conversation I was having with several senior members of the administration and he completely ignored me and didn’t shake my hand and then explained he was late because he was doing ‘real work’ (clearly implying that I was doing something else). Then a few minutes later, in conversation with the vice-rector for diversity, another professor (one who publicly groped a female friend of mine my first year in belgium at the x-mas party) made the comment that for a faculty with so few female professors, we were well represented at this particular presentation on gender at the university. I thought yes that’s true there are three of us here. What he said was “we should be proud that two of us are here'”, clearly forgetting I was in the faculty. I have never felt more invisible and less at home in the faculty.

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This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2014, around an academic institution in Flanders

“Academic Life and Family”

I work in a research group of seven people as the only woman. The leader of the group, my boss, frequently starts our meetings by expressing his surprise that I, a mother, manage to be present and by asking who is taking care of my children while I am away. None of the male colleagues who have families gets similar attention. Their family life is not a topic of our research meetings. This well known professor has set a terrible example for his junior colleagues, because when he is away someone else from the group will pose me “the family question” thinking it is a friendly way to acknowledge my presence.

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This story happened to me as a PhD in the year 2013, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“Are You Pregnant?”

During the last trimester of my pregnancy, at work I attend a research seminar with some 30 colleagues and, after the presentation, during which I make some critical remarks on the adopted theoretical perspective.

While leaving the room all together, a newly appointed male colleague of about my same age, to break the ice says, loudly and in front of everybody: “So, you are pregnant?”.

A couple of weeks later, same situation, and the guy goes again: “So, you are pregnant?” Upon which I answer: “Yes, that’s what happens when you are loose :-)”. The guy could clearly not conceive that somebody making interesting remarks could also procreate.

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This story happened to me as a Prof. Dr. in the year(s) 2005-2009, around an academic institution not in Belgium.