Ask the grumpies: Classroom gender resources

Grad Adviser asks:

I’m hoping that you have some ideas for resources that might help the graduate students in my department.  First, a little background.

The female graduate students in my department are in the process of raising the issue of an uncomfortable (I don’t know that they would say hostile) climate – there isn’t one specific incident that strikes anyone as completely outrageous but there is a pattern of behavior that they find dispiriting. Hopefully this will lead to a discussion among the faculty about what to do – including changing what we do in the classroom to foster a better climate and what we can do to help the graduate students be aware of these issues (so that they behave more professionally while students and then be a part of the solution, rather than the problem, once they are faculty members themselves).  But, when we get to that point – assuming we can convince my colleagues that there is a problem – the question is what to do.  The female students say that they are interrupted more, and talked over more, than the male students, and that this leads to them not speaking up as much in seminars.  Then they get criticized by the faculty members for not talking enough. (Some of them also feel uncomfortable during seminars because of inappropriate sexual statements from male graduate students, though I heard about this third-hand so don’t know that it is appropriate for me to bring it up, or to whom, or in what context. It’s a problem, though.) The female graduate students say that they are not encouraged to pursue [important mathy stuff] as much as the male students are, and that if they express any doubt about their abilities (which women are more apt to do), it changes how the faculty see them (in ways that does not seem to occur with the male students). Classroom dynamics seem particularly bad in the [mathy] classes, except for the one that I teach.

Do you have suggestions of books/articles/online resources that address managing the graduate classroom in a gender neutral way? (I’m not even sure that ‘gender neutral’ is the best phrase to use.)  Or that address advising and mentoring as well, now that I think about it?

It might help if we had a more diverse department, as well – one of you mentioned, in one of your posts or in a comment somewhere, that search committees in your department follow some kind of ‘best practices’ that allow you to mitigate problems of implicit bias etc. somewhat – we don’t do anything like that but I would like to suggest it as something we ought to be doing.  Do you have  suggestions of good sources of information about this?

I have tried to look for material on these issues, but most of the classroom-related content I’ve found is about primary or secondary education, and I’ve seen a few outdated (or, pretty old) websites about hiring.  I was hoping that you would have better suggestions.

Some initial thoughts.  We’ve found that things that work in secondary education also tend to work in collegiate education.  20-somethings aren’t that different than teens, even the motivated ones.  And, several of the studies from the 1980s+ are actually still valid today, at least the ones that you’re likely to have come across are still valid.  So don’t completely discount them.

The hiring stuff we do is to a priori decide what the important things we’re looking for in the search are– Research fit, Scholarly publications, Teaching, Diversity, or whatever you want (it doesn’t actually matter so long as it isn’t something that has disparate impact!).  Then each faculty member ranks each resume (or each resume that makes the initial cut) on a Likert (1-5 or whatever) scale for each of these items.  This ranking serves as a check to each faculty member’s implicit biases– you don’t put the numbers together and average them or anything.  It’s just a way for people to see how they’re stacking up the candidates against each other and they can notice when they’re giving someone (usually a guy) with 5 top articles a higher score on research than someone (usually a woman) with 7 top articles.  It’s a little extra paperwork but pretty eye-opening.  (There’s mixed research on whether or not asking people to justify their answers helps or hurts– I would not add that step in here.)  And I should have citations for you, but unfortunately I refereed that paper when home on house arrest and it didn’t end up getting accepted to the AER or wherever I was reviewing it for, even though it was really good.  So I can’t find it.  :(

The other step is that after you’ve made a short list, you simply look at the highest ranked woman and the highest ranked targeted minority groups and compare them to the lowest ranked person on your short list.  Sometimes you’ve accidentally overlooked someone good because of implicit bias.  Sometimes the pool just isn’t very good and the next highest ranked woman or minority is a standard deviation below.  That’s ok, the point is just to make that check.  If it turns out that the woman or minority is equal or better, then you replace someone or add another person to the short list.

Since you are in an NSF-defined STEM field (for readers at home, NSF includes several social sciences in their definition of STEM along with engineering and sciences, but does not include most interdisciplinary departments like B-schools, Med schools, etc.), one good place to start looking for more up-to-date information is from ADVANCE.  ADVANCE is an NSF-funded program to transform the climate for women in academia in the STEM fields. They’ve funded many colleges and universities around the country to study and fix these issues. Check out their list of who they’ve funded and see if there are any schools whose ADVANCE centers you’d feel comfortable asking for information, particularly if there are any that are geographically close to you that could send someone out to do training.  You may even some day want to put forward your own ADVANCE grant, though that would be a university-wide thing, not just for your department.  In addition, they have some resources through their webpage, including this one from VT.  Best hiring practices can be found here and here.  Here’s a pamphlet for your chair.  There’s lots more.

I’m not finding much on teaching, though, possibly graduate students are not ADVANCE’s main focus.  There was recently a study on Harvard business school that made a lot of news…

#2 should have some information on this though… except I don’t.  My suggestions involve things like asking people to read and discuss articles about the effects of subtle biases (e.g., this one), especially this one, and Virginia Valian’s book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.  There are pedagogical techniques for working with classrooms where some students dominate and interrupt other students and so those other students don’t get to contribute; you can find out about these things from places like teaching websites or even maybe google how to run a good meeting as a manager.  Strong role models of female full professors who can prepare students of all genders for the challenges of science and academia are what really helped me, and you may have to be proactive in seeking out speakers and getting students connected with positive mentoring through their professional organizations.

Come to think of it, seek out the professional organization(s) for your area and see what resources they have for students and early-career faculty.  Often sciencey orgs will have some sort of gender program with resources (e.g., Society of Women Engineers).  You should check out whether AAAS has programs — if they don’t, they should.  Their publications sure have put their foot in it enough!  This article has a bunch of links to resources that may help you.

Do our readers have any suggestions on literature about how to run a gender neutral classroom?  How about best practices in hiring?

Feminism ahoy! (part eleventy, and reading)

In handy-dandy bullet-point form because the month is squirrelly…

  • why do they have to be bullet-point?  Why can’t they be, like, gumdrops or something?  Pennies?  Give us suggestions in the comments for what we should call them instead.  Maybe bonbon-point.  Mmmm, bonbons.  (Random bonbons of crap!  on second thought…)
  • Man telling women they are fighting misogyny in the wrong way: ally FAIL.
  • keep on reading YO, is this racist?  Never stop.  (Unless racism and etc. all stop, ha ha)
  • Why are we feminists?  Why not just say ‘humanist’?  (Word to the wise: don’t read the comments.  Don’t.)  Maybe it depends on what type of feminist you are.
  • To hell with ‘skinny’ recipes.  Also, I would really like to eat “Rocket Scientist Macaroni and Cheese” or “Excellent Pal and Confidante Apple Pie”.  Giant middle finger to all body-shame.  ETA:  Down with fat-shaming, and once again don’t read the comments.
  • I’m making an effort to read more women of color in speculative fiction.  I like to read a lot of fantasy but other kinds of specfic are good too.  Suggestions appreciated!  I mostly want novels, not short stories, and I’m not heavily into horror.  (Though a million years ago I read “The House of Dies Drear,” by Virginia Hamilton.)  YA stuff is good, too.
  • For context, I love Lauren Beukes (Zoo City) and totally love N K Jemisin a lot.  I of course have read and appreciated Toni Morrison.  I like some but not all of Michelle Sagara.  I found Nalo Hopkinson to be okay.  I loved Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson!  Perhaps one day I’ll check out L.M. Davis and her Shifters series.  I have read some Dia Reeves and have more on my to-read list.  Also on my to-read list: Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler (should have read her before, mea culpa).
    Things I own, in addition to the above, include:

  • Ooh, here’s a link about global women of color.  Here’s AfroFantasy.
  • Ok, your turn!
  • Update:  See comments for what should have been a separate ranty blog post on PBS Kids.

Radical Self-Love: the feels.

I have feelings about this.

In this society, loving yourself is a radical act (for a woman).

I don’t have to have a flat tummy in order to love my body!  Rubens would love me.

The Three Graces

I used to have hangups, for a long long time, about not having a body that is sexy.  You know who to blame.  (#2 notes that, according to some popular science studies she’s read and chosen to believe, men either prefer meaty, or they really don’t care one way or the other.  I would be seriously surprised if #1’s SO didn’t find #1 incredibly sexy.  And that’s the only person who matters in a monogamous relationship.)  Shout out to my partner for always saying nice things about my body!

Now I’m too old for self-loathing or really any other shame.  I’m ready to change my mind.

I am thinking, NOT: “I am awesome anyway,” but rather: “I am awesome, yeah I am!”

I don’t have to have my stuff together in order to be awesome.  I am awesome independently of my career.

Also, this blog post resonated with me.  Don’t forget that The F-Off Fairy can help you, too!

#2 had a brief bout with imposter syndrome in grad school.  She didn’t like it.  Yay for therapy and for being unapologetically awesome.  I have occasionally wondered if it’s better to err on the side of Dunning-Kruger or the side of imposter syndrome and refer myself to the literature on how over-confidence helps people get ahead.  So I figure there’s no need to check my ego, thank you very much.  I probably deserve to have a much bigger one, what with being female and having society against me and all.  I credit my mother for my healthy self-esteem.  I would also credit my awesomeness, but I know plenty of people at least equally awesome who do not have the self-esteems they deserve.  For them, I blame the patriarchy.  (Also with weight I focus on health rather than body image, and with make-up and hair, I find that ‘frumpy’ helps people take me more seriously in my specific profession.  Also I am incredibly lazy.)

#1 again:  I decided to feel sorry for people who fat-shame (Mom…), rather than angry at them, because their words are a reflection of feeling terrifyingly out-of-control when someone’s body appears to be out of control.  Don’t contradict me on this point, I’m just sayin’.

Various messages are coming from the universe that it’s time to be done with the emotional drain of not thinking I’m awesome.

(#2:  SRSLY.  Because why think sucky things that aren’t true when you can think awesome things that are?)

Tell us in the comments what is totally awesome about you!

Patriarchy fatigue

I just can’t even.

With patriarchy.



#1 wrote the above BEFORE this latest Henry Gee thing.  But I think after the latest Nature editor letter thing.  We were gonna run it next week, but decided to move it up because…

Turns out the patriarchy doesn’t like being ignored.  Whodathunkit?

We cannot imagine an editor at the top social science journals of our fields going on a twitter account rampage. But then, what do you expect from an evolutionary biologist?  It’s not like they do real science.  It’s sad how evolution is so cool and yet the people who study it are TEH WORST.  [UPDATE:  Our readers inform us that we are getting Evolutionary Biology mixed up with Evolutionary Social Science and that Evolutionary Biology is totally legit.  We apologize.  Henry Gee is a poor representative of your discipline.]  I think it’s because it’s so hard to do actual science in that field, so all they can do is compare penis length at each other (and feel better about themselves because the average is low).  But it might just be like theoretical physics and it’s hysteresis– it’s always been that way and nobody wants to hang out with them because the rewards are so small for the amount of harassment one has to put up with.  [Update:  It appears that Henry Gee doesn’t actually do any science, real or pseudo.  The irony.  Truly inconsequential!  Except that he has this power over publication at Nature that he should not have.  Maybe the blackmail theory has something to it.]

It’s almost comical how he’s threatening dissenting (female and minority) tweeters now.  He’s got some sort of “list” that he’s put them on.  He’s strongly hinting it’s a blacklist because he’s got the PWR.  [#1:  I wanna be on THE LIST.  I HOPE YOU KNOW THAT THIS WILL GO DOWN ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD.]

He shouldn’t have that power.  But he does.  He still does.  Two years after Womanspace.

I sure hope this time Nature takes the complaints seriously and fires him.  Because if they don’t, then two years from now [or sooner!] he’s going to do something even worse and crazier. Because we keep teaching him that he can.

I’d say it’s like he’s daring Nature to fire him, but I don’t think he even thinks that’s a remote possibility.  Initially I’d thought maybe he’s got blackmail dirt on someone, but no, I really think that Nature is just THAT clueless.  [#1:  evidence from the past seems to show…]

Anyway, as much as we’d like to ignore the patriarchy this semester while we’re teaching it, it seems like that’s not gonna be an option.  Sorry, #1.


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Do the holidays stress you out?

I have a confession to make.  They totally don’t stress me out.  I find them to be totally relaxing.  Holidays are awesome.

And yes, I’m the one with kids.  And yes, we celebrate Christmas.

Now, the end of the semester is a bit stressful.  Finishing up classes, then the final exam, then grading.  Also the OMG everybody is about to disappear we must have these last 50 faculty meetings to discuss urgent business.  Oh, and the 20 referee reports that are due right in the beginning of December.  And the 30 letters of recommendation.  That part is kind of stressful.  When all of that is over and the students are gone, it’s hugely peaceful.  So our Christmas season doesn’t really start until classes end (sometime in the late teens or early 20s of December, depending on the year).  The kids don’t seem to mind an abbreviated season at home even if school and stores start at Thanksgiving.

Do we make Christmas cookies?  Sometimes.  If we feel like it.  Ditto Christmas breads.  I like buying a little live rosemary tree a week or so before Christmas and we decorate that.  Christmas shopping mostly happens online.  Stocking stuffers (the only thing “Santa” brings) get bought at Target when we pick up gift cards for the teachers.  We’ve taken the oldest to see the Nutcracker.

Having the kids home 24/7 can be a little stressful, whether it’s Christmas or not.  (At least until DC2 learns to read like DC1.)  We try to arrange family visits so they overlap at least a little with kids’ vacation so that they can burn some of their energy off on the relatives.  Spread it out, so to speak.  We definitely use daycare as much as it’s open, and DC1 goes to daycamp for one of the weeks that ze is off (same place ze goes in the summer).

This time of year articles start popping up about the Elf on the Shelf and all sorts of crafty etc. time-consuming holiday traditions that moms can do to make things magical.  And that’s great for the parents who get utility out of doing stuff like that.  We love that DC1’s best friend’s mom is doing another gingerbread house party this year.

But what about people who feel compelled to do all the Christmas stuff even though they hate it?  The folks who are totally stressed out because they have to remember to move the elf every night, or they would rather watch a movie than make cookies, or they have a racist uncle Mike that they hate seeing every year at Christmas dinner?

Think about your sources of holiday stress (if any).

What happens if you:

1.  Don’t do them?  Would the world end if you just didn’t visit your racist relatives and stayed at home with the family you chose and you love instead?  If you don’t do outdoor lights?  Will the children be scarred for life if the elf moves to another house and never returns?

2.  Pay someone else to do them instead?  I learned this year that I will never adopt a family and go shopping for them again– instead I’ll just give money for someone else to shop with.

3.  Get someone else in the family to do them?  Why is it always mom’s job to bring holiday cheer?  Maybe another family member can step in and take the kids to see the lights or bake cookies and clean up the kitchen etc.

4.  Change them so they’re less stressful?  Maybe instead of getting a big cut tree you can get something that’s more manageable.  Maybe you can change a tradition so it’s more chill.  Instead of 12 different batches of cookies, maybe one or two.  Maybe it’s time for Santa to drop off the packages early and to leave them with some assembly required after they’re unwrapped.

5.  Reframe them so they’re not as stressful?  Sometimes you can just will yourself to enjoy a long drive (in the snow) to see the grandparents.  It’s an adventure instead of a chore.  Sometimes that’s not possible, but if you can’t get out of doing something, might as well make the best of it.

Do you have holiday stress?  What tips do you have for avoiding holiday stress?  What have you tried that’s worked for you?

Strong women make things happen

My aunts are amazing and strong women.  They are at or near the top of their respective fields– one of them runs a hospital system, the other is a high-level bureaucrat.  They both drop names of politicians that the rest of us just read about.

They’re not necessarily universally liked.  They, like most of the women in my family, have very strong personalities (and well-deserved egos almost commensurate with their abilities).  They tend to be right about things.  They tend to make decisions and to boss people around.  They don’t mince words, and they don’t worry about how other people feel about them.  They worry about results.  I’m sure many people refer to them as bitches behind their backs, even though that characterization would be “leaders” were they born my uncles instead of my aunts.  (My actual uncles are all pretty milquetoast.  Nice guys, except the jerk, but not so much with the ambition.)

It turns out that people like to be told what to do.  It’s hard to make decisions and nobody wants to be held responsible if the wrong decision is made.  A person with a take-charge attitude, some ambition, and enough confidence can go pretty far in life.  Especially if she’s usually right.  (But even if he’s not!)

My partner was wonderful recently at a party.    It was a vegan Canadian Thanksgiving in one of the blue coastal cities.  Full of upper-middle class folk.

There was a little girl there who was bossing around all the other kids.  She was telling them what to do and making up stories and games that they were characters in and telling them what their parts were and so on.  But they didn’t mind.  Most kids seem to like to be told what to do too, contrary to what children’s literature might suggest.

Unfortunately her mom was fretting and fussing and apologizing to anybody who would listen about her little girl’s behavior.  “She always does this,” her mom told DH.

And DH told her that her daughter would grow up to be a strong woman.  And she would change the world for the better.

It’s not always the most likeable people who make changes.  Conformists don’t tend to become leaders– they tend to be the led.

We can push people into quiet, feminine boxes.  We can force them to go against their nature.  We can add doubts and uncertainty.  We can marginalize them and take away any threat of them ever making more than small ripples.  Indoctrinate them into the patriarchy’s whispering campaigns where they reinforce the idea that no woman can do everything, or anything really.  We can break them.

Or we can train them up.  Teach them math and science and medicine and politics and economics and programming and communication and management and everything else under the sun.  Give them the education they need so that they first do no harm, and then can do some good.  Let them know about the problems in the world.  Give them the tools they need to protect themselves, and do our best to change society so they have less to be protected from.  Tell them that the haters are fools, though sometimes fools must be suffered (and ultimately educated, deflected, or manipulated for the greater good).

Let’s stop apologizing for our daughters.  Let’s  encourage them instead.  Let’s help them change the world for the better.

Because strong women make things happen.

On privilege and patriarchy and Gwyenth Paltrow

The media has it out for Gwyneth Paltrow.  They’ve got a thing going where she’s out of touch and too-perfect and privileged and whatever.  She doesn’t help it with the things she posts on her blog.  After reading this post by Family Building with a Twist, I had to see what the latest thing was.  Turns out she’s suggested hundred dollar hostess gifts and stocking stuffers (cynically, I would not be surprised if some of the items on that list were sponsored or put down as favors for someone invested in their sale).  Useless over-priced crap that rich people give to each other even though they don’t need more stuff.  Because they can.

It actually reminded me of this recent CNN article on the huge amounts being spent on art and jewelry.  Money that is definitely not “trickling down” to the little people.

This is what wealth inequality does.  It makes useless luxury items more expensive and it moves wealth around amongst the wealthy.  It doesn’t feed kids.

But that doesn’t make me hate Gwyneth Paltrow.   Infinitely worse are people like the Koch brothers or Roger Ailes and other extremely wealthy people who are against higher marginal taxes for the 1% or for cutting food-stamps.  If Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t realize that not everybody can afford organic foods, personal trainers, or $200 hostess gifts, then she should be educated on that.  Maybe a little mingling with the hoi poloi could spark some social activism on her part, though she doesn’t have to become an activist.  Pretension isn’t worth worrying about unless it harms others.  She’s not actually doing real harm, just providing media fodder for fun little let’s hate the privileged rich girl stories.  (Now that Paris Hilton has dropped out of the public eye.)

And why do we have the privileged little rich girl stories instead of stories about people who are actually doing harm?  Well, Gwyenth Paltrow is harmless.  She’s a side-show.  She can’t harm us.  She can’t harm a media organization.  She’s probably even well-intentioned.  And she’s female.

People love to put down “perfect” women.  Paltrow is thin, pretty, rich, and self-confident.  Crabs in a bucket like to pull people like that down.  It provides circus entertainment to distract us from real problems, like unemployment, failing education systems, or children going hungry while the top 1% gets wealthier and wealthier.  It is her very irrelevance that makes her the perfect sacrifice.   Attack the perfect woman and we’ll feel better about ourselves and we’ll be less likely to riot in the streets.  We’ve dealt our blows to the system by making fun of an actress who doesn’t know any better.   And that isn’t going to fix a damn thing.  It’s just sending yet another signal that women shouldn’t get too uppity or other women will hate them.  That’s a stupid signal.

The patriarchy is insidious in its divide and conquer strategies.  It’s great at distracting us from real problems, because those real problems are caused by people we can’t be catty about.  Those people are dangerous and powerful.  They’re not writing up silly over-priced gift lists on their blogs.  Much easier to channel that ire against women.   The patriarchy is good at this stuff.  It’s had lots of practice.


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