Surprise, Surprise

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Female Academics Less Satisfied Than Male Counterparts”.

I love when studies tell us what we already know.  Maybe I know this because I am a female academic.  I’m in the liberal arts/humanities section of higher education and I have witnessed multiple times as a graduate student the “old boys’ club” crap that is everywhere in academics.  I can’t imagine being in the hard sciences.

I have taken classes where I am the only female in the room.  I know plenty of women who have had the same experience and, though I haven’t had this happen to me (yet), they have been asked to answer for or explain anything in a text or whatnot that involves women (this is also true for other minorities, I should add).

I have been sexually harassed, not only by a visiting scholar (his hugging went one step too far and I had to report him to the chair of the department, then tried to avoid the guy for the rest of the time he was in Austin) but also by one of my professors: “Well, xx, if you wear that top while you teach, none of the boys will pay any attention to what you are saying.”  I immediately put on a jacket, zipped it up, and have since obsessed (still obsess) over every outfit I wear when I teach.

I have been told that my child is a “hurdle” to my career, that marrying my husband would take away my focus from my work, that coming back so quickly after my kid was born was good, but that I didn’t move fast enough and therefore had wasted department resources.

I have had a professor dislike me from the beginning seemingly because I was female (of course, there’s no “evidence” of this but even my guy friend in the same class who was fawned over by the professor readily admits that this is definitely a huge part of the reason that I struggled so much that semester).

I’m not a guy so I can’t say what experiences like this guys face in academics.  But their gender, their experience as men doesn’t often seem to be part of their story.  This seems especially true when it comes to kids (duh).  Having children is, of course, stressful and I KNOW that male academics have to be creative with their resources when they expand their families.  In fact, I believe that they face stress and pressure in ways that I can’t imagine since I am not the primary money maker in my family nor am I expected to be (and I feel for them that they have no outlet or space where they can effectively address these issues).

The thing is, though, you can know a guy for months or years before you find out that he has a kid.  It normally takes about, oh, 30 seconds for someone to bring up my child whenever I show up for anything remotely academic.  And it is always, “Where is your kid?”, as if I have left him in the car.  [Side note: my husband has confirmed that this question is never asked of him unless I am there with him.]  I am that woman in the department who has had a kid.  There are others, I know of a few (out of like the 200 to 250 to maybe even 300 graduate students that I have met in my time in graduate school).  Of the female professors in the two departments I have worked in, the ones I know have children I can count on a single hand.  These women, these mothers, are full-on rock stars to me.  I have to actively seek out mentors when it comes to family and work balance because there just aren’t that many.

Academics and personal life (especially children) often mix like oil and water.  For me, I almost always choose my personal life, which just makes my academic situation more stressful, more tenuous, less desirable.

So, when the WSJ says things like this:

Whereas those in the humanities were most satisfied with their work, men rated four survey dimensions — clarity of the sense of achieving tenure; number of hours worked as a faculty member; amount of time given to conduct research; and ability to balance between professional and personal time — significantly higher than women. Women, on the other hand, only rated one survey dimension — effectiveness of stop-the-clock — significantly higher than men.

I am not surprised.

[And as a final note, in case people think that I am completely ignorant of the position from which I am voicing my complaint please know these things.  I am constantly grateful, don’t get me wrong.  Being an academic is cushy in lots of ways – you have a flexible schedule, you get to choose exactly what you are passionate about and focus in on it.  And I, personally, have an amazing emotional and financial support system in my husband.  I know this.  I recognize the privilege that this gives me.  But that does not neglect the fact that, as a woman, I am constantly reminded of my gender while being a part of academia.

Unlike the men around me, my gender follows me around, a neon sign flashing above my head, an unending tapping on the shoulder.  “Don’t forget,” it says, “this system wasn’t created for you.”  To succeed, I feel that I am asked to shed the aspects of my life that show that I am a woman – I need to be more like a man (this is an old story, isn’t it?).  I often don’t want to tell scholars that I have a child if I can avoid it.  I wear my wedding ring but I try not to bring up my husband.  And I make sure to never, ever wear a top that would take all the attention away from my brain and place it on my chest.  I have learned that lesson.  From a male professor.  In front of a class of my peers.]

For the view from a “Female Science Professor”, check out this post at the Chronicle for Higher Education.  The end of her post says,

I am not sure why I am here and so many other women who have similar or superior skills and scientific interests are not. I do not fit the stereotype of the single, childless monomaniac who succeeds in science by acting like a man. I am married, I have a child, and I am not particularly aggressive (although I can be assertive, a handy trait).

Nevertheless, here I am: a somewhat rare beast—a midcareer female professor of the physical sciences at a major research university, wishing that I were not still so “different” from most science professors. But I’m still enjoying my job and determined to advertise my differences if doing so helps increase, in some small way, awareness of the magnitude of the problem, and thereby helps solve it.

Also, see this interesting post about Edward Said, colonialism, and working women in America: “In Praise of Women Who Don’t Know Their Place.”


One thought on “Surprise, Surprise

  1. Pingback: Discrimination Against and Humiliation of a Student – who happens to be female and a new mom « Speaker's Corner

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