Sexism in the history department at West Point alleged

Historians in the News
tags: West Point, sexism



Peggy O’Donnell is a postdoctoral instructor in the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights at the University of Chicago.

... The sexism that I saw and experienced in my year of teaching history at West Point was at turns quiet and glaring, insidious and overt, exhausting and breathtaking. There were, of course, the momentary jabs any professional woman in a male-dominated field has learned to shrug off. I was talked over so repeatedly and egregiously by a male colleague in front of a distinguished guest that even the guest was made uncomfortable, and he intervened several times. I was corrected in front of my class by a junior male colleague.

Then there were interactions that were harder to shrug off. When a senior faculty member apologized to me for coarse language used in a meeting, he told me, "I wouldn’t want my wife to hear that language." Another professor regularly commented on my choice of clothing and manner of walking, sometimes calling those observations down the hallway at a 100-foot distance. There was the baby ceremony, which made it clear that the department would more readily celebrate women for their uteruses than for their brains. Monthly social events were held for the female professors to socialize with the wives of the male professors — events designed, it seemed, to remind us who our true peers should be.

Past events provided context for more concern. In 2013, a former history-department chair resigned after an investigation into allegations that he had sexually harassed female subordinates in the department, as well as subordinate officers’ wives. We discussed this case during new faculty orientation as a surprise, a one-off, a bad apple. Who would have suspected? There was no connection made between casual sexism and more threatening, even dangerous, behavior; between a culture of machismo and an actually hostile working environment.

Sexism in higher education, of course, is not unique to West Point. Less than a third of tenure or tenure-track positions in the hard and social sciences are women; women make up less than a quarter of the full professors in those disciplines. The Survey of Doctoral Recipients’ national data show that married mothers of young children are 33 percent less likely to get tenure-track jobs than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, women are vastly more likely to serve in adjunct positions. ...




comments powered by Disqus