Baby-free women posts answered

Totally stolen from The Hermitage.  Please see the original post for other answers across the internet.

1. How do you command the attention, and respect, of men in academic settings (e.g. classroom, conferences, faculty meetings)?

#1:  My academic training is such that I mirror stereotypically masculine communication styles.  This tends to bother some of my quieter female and male minority colleagues who feel that I am silencing them (it does not bother said colleagues with similar training to mine).  I don’t understand why they don’t speak up!  So I make an effort to ask what they think, just like I would do in class.  I don’t allow myself to be talked over, I remind folks when they are repeating what I have said before, “Exactly, that’s what I was trying to get at earlier” and I make sure to point out, “Yes, that’s what (quiet female colleague) was saying earlier as well.”  After a few years of that, people listen to me.

With students, I tend to get a bit more respect if I impress upon them “proof by authority,” again, just as a man would.  I have a PhD in a very difficult subject from a legendary school.  I am well-published.  I am a media darling.  I have awards.  When one of these things comes out in a departmental newsletter, my formerly skeptical male students tend to behave better.  And, like my mother, I’m quite good with the skeptical single eyebrow raise.  “Really?  You’re trying sh*t with me?  I don’t think so.”  Also a little public peer humiliation, “Who can explain this to Mr. X?”

I do take their subject-matter questions seriously, even if phrased incredulously, as if they’re playing devil’s advocate so that they can get a deeper understanding of the material (which means I get the respect of a certain type of masculine problem student), but if they behave inappropriately, I point out that their behavior is inappropriate.  This was especially a problem with emails in the past, so now when I get an inappropriate email, I respond saying that the email is inappropriate and we cannot allow our graduates to embarrass our program with unprofessional communications.  Then I give them the contact information of the writing center and tell them that I can answer their question after they have learned how to write a professional email.  That so far has always resulted in an abject apology rather than escalation of inappropriate behavior, as had happened in the past.  I have also learned (through harsh experience) that women are not allowed to show negative emotion in the classroom, even if deserved.  They can be enthusiastic and excited, but they cannot be angry, even about something like plagiarism.  Men can.  Disappointment is the best we can do, and even that can come back to bite us.

#2:  I don’t have much problem with colleagues and bosses, fortunately.  I deal with asshat students by invoking authority, much like #1 said.  Thanks for saying all that, #1.

2. How should women dealing with a two-body problem handle assumptions that their career is secondary to their partner’s?

#1:  I Blame The Patriarchy, and we should smash it.  Failing that, I just don’t know.  I’m in a different field than my partner; he’s smarter than I am (#2  Not true!  You’re just differently abled) and has a high-powered job, but he’s not an academic.  So far, my career has driven us as a couple.  He followed me to grad school and now is finally following me to Blighted Town.  I think our friends and acquaintances and coworkers understand that my career is important.  His is, too.  So far, we have (somehow, barely) managed to both have careers as well as our relationship.  We don’t have kids, though, so we were able to live apart for years at a time (grumpily!).  The first time I was seriously on the job market, I kept my relationship status on the down-low.  The second time, I didn’t bring it up, but I was in more of a eff-you mood: anyone who doesn’t want to hire me because of my marital status is a place I can’t survive working in, anyway.  Even though I’m now stuck in a red state, it hasn’t been too much of an issue in most areas — rental housing aside.  (Grr.)

#2:  I don’t know a good answer to this.  On the one hand, I was severely hit by these assumptions on the job market and before.  I’m still digging out of that prestige hole (the old-fashioned way, through high-quality publications that are slightly underplaced).  On the other hand, I did get a trailing spouse position for my spouse.  Anecdotally,  I know stories of women who did not wear their wedding rings on the market who did much better without the ring than those who wore them, and of one woman who took her engagement ring off for the second half of her interviews after it derailed one of her earlier interviews by moving the topic of discussion to weddings rather than her work.  She did much better after.  Not a perfect experiment, but somewhat informative.

My advisers all recommended marrying a computer programmer or a freelance writer/novelist, if marrying at all.  Or, another graduate of the same prestigious program, as places like being able to get two hot-shots when they might not have a chance at either.  I do, however, know people married to English professors who managed to get dual positions for both spouses at top places you’ve heard of.  So, if you’re both hot-shots maybe it’s not so bad.

On the hiring side, our school (in a small town in rural nowhere) is VERY good at placing dual career partners.  That’s how they get all the good people.  My department is full of amazing spousal hires and hires whose spouses are spousal hires.  (#2’s place hates doing this.)  So when you tell us you have a spouse with career needs, we do not hold that against you and we put the machinery to work right away, because the machinery often takes longer than the 2-3 weeks we have after we give you the offer.  For us it’s a selling point (though we also do not hold single folks’ status against them– single folks often meet someone in the city and convince them to move to the small town).  But I do not believe most schools are quite so friendly.  #2’s school claims it is, but it’s a lie.  A lie, I tell you.

As to whether or not you should say something, it’s difficult to say.  In some places even mentioning things like family (parents) and spouse could make you seem less serious.  In other places that helps partner placement move along.  Some places it’s even a selling point.  We do tend to look more fondly on people who have extended family living a few hours drive from our town (“They’re more likely to accept us”).  But don’t say you won’t go someplace unless a placement can be found for your spouse… we’d still like to think we’re special.  You can say it would help, but you don’t want to say you’re not actually interested in us as a department even if it’s true.

3. What would you like to see from tenure-track and not-yet-tenure-track menfolk? How can they pitch in?

#1:  Our chair is really wonderful in respect to these issues.  He comes at everything with an underlying belief that discrimination is real, that things are more difficult for women and minorities, that there are past injustices that have not been paid for, that diversity has positive spillover effects on everybody, and so on.  He listens to people, he takes EEOC guidelines seriously, and he questions things like, “are we discounting this person’s research because it is in the area of -ist studies?”  It makes it a very supportive environment to work in.

Also, I think if there’s a rule we’re applying to a situation, that rule needs to be applied equally to everybody.  If we have a rule that we’re only looking at applicants with at least two publications, then just because a friend is pushing white-guy new grad with no publications, we shouldn’t look at him separately unless we change the rule and go through and re-look at all the applications.  People seem to want to make exceptions for young white guys more than other folks, in my limited search committee experience.  Showing “promise” is a way that white guys in a male-dominated field are more likely to get ahead.

#2:  They can pitch in by taking some of my damn teaching load so I can do more research.  Except, in my department, the loads really are pretty equal.  I’m not sure I want specifically male T-T help so much as I want change from all males in society, about such a huge variety of things.  Ow, my brain.

4. How do you deal with insinuations that you were only chosen for a position/award/etc because of affirmative action?

#1:  With that eyebrow raised, and proof by authority.  I don’t actually get that much because I really am superior quality (by pedigree and accomplishments) and they are lucky to have me (and I’m lucky to be there precisely because I am valued and the department is so supportive and not batshit crazy).  The junior hires in our department are primarily female though, probably because the university is very family friendly, so it’s not much an issue.

In one of our subfields we hired an amazing woman, and part of the reason we liked her over the other candidates was because she filled a huge hole in that area and the students have never seen a woman working in that area.  The student responses to her job talk were harsh and frankly, embarrassing for everyone to read.  The men in that subfield said that that was proof that our students NEED someone like her providing that viewpoint and filling that hole.  Is that affirmative action?  No.  Diversity is a real need.

#2:  Diversity is a real need here, too, and fortunately the people in charge mostly recognize that, even if students don’t.  So far, I haven’t gotten that particular insinuation, though I know women who have.  Mostly I deal with things like that with the old raised eyebrow and “Do you hear yourself?” look.

Well, commenters?  What makes you grind your teeth here?

19 Responses to “Baby-free women posts answered”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Is it wrong that I’m picturing you as the female “The Rock” in the classroom. Eyebrow raise, that’s too funny. My husband also has his own characteristic look that somehow I managed not to notice for years until one of his technicians and I were chatting and he was like “and then, did he give you the stupid look?” As a matter of fact, yes, yes he did.

    When I was first starting my career in corporate america at fortune 100 company, I had a minority boss who also became an awesome mentor for me. He would give me the scoop on all kinds of things. He actually told me that when he got married and had kids, his promote-ability went WAY UP. He said he got promoted almost immediately after he got married, and again after he had his first kid, so I think for men, wearing a ring is a big plus, because you’re less of a flight risk. For men, they assume having a family means you need a job more and you’re more tied down to a company. It’s also harder to make spontaneous decisions. If you have school aged kids, you’re less likely to take a new job during the school year, etc.

    For women, I think it’s a mixed bag. Generally at my level, the hiring managers are executives and most of them do not have spouses that work. It would just be impossible with the crazy schedules they keep, so sometimes they assume that you do all the home/kid stuff just like their own spouses do (things I currently share with my spouse like doctor’s appointments, kids practices, school meetings, etc). It’s more of an ignorance thing than a blatant discrimination thing. I’d say at lower levels I saw less of that. Even our level, our peers who work with us both often have no idea how we manage to do it all. (Some days I don’t either). Due to the amount of travel at our level, most couples have at the very least a part time spouse and most of the time, it’s a SAH one. Sometimes it’s the man, sometimes it’s the woman.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. You have some really good tips. PS. You sound just like my High School Chemistry teacher. She was one of my favorites, hence my profession in that field. She also had a sign above her clock that said “time will pass, however you may not”

  2. Perpetua Says:

    I think the best way to deal with assumptions that your career is secondary to your (male) partner’s is to not have that be true. *Living* true professional partnership is the best way to silence skeptics. I have to say, though, my husband gets a lot more of that than I do – people may harbor assumptions about me and my career, but they generally keep it to themselves. (And I was on the market visibly pregnant.) Hubby on the other hand gets all kind of inferences from people around him that perhaps I should just give up so we can live in the same place, and wouldn’t it be great if I stayed home with kids, maybe homeschooling them. Yes, we’re one of the couples your advisor warned you about! I didn’t marry a freelance writer and we’ve been commuting for 5+ years. We have done everything “right” in terms of negotiating. The most important thing to realize if confronted with this situation is that institutions are unbelievably dishonest about their willingness to find a solution to a partner situation. If you don’t get a spousal with the initial offer (like #1), it probably ain’t going to happen, until you become a tenured super star. (My institution makes lots of spousal offers – but only at the rank of full professor.) For women especially – don’t accept initial offers, don’t let anyone take advantage of you, always always always remember that your institution does not “care” about you no matter how nice and wonderful your chair might be – it’s out for itself, and you need to be out for yourself too. Learn how to be ruthless.

    In addition to what #1 and #2 said about men I would add one more thing for menfolk: Please be aware of *how much space you take up.* Are you talking too much in meetings? Talking over women and people of color? Maybe try being quiet and see who speaks up. Many academic men have a kind of entitled authority that they are not aware of. Because, you know, they were born with it. Resisting that – and making space for others – beings with awareness. (FWIW, I kind of take up a lot of space myself, so I also work on this.) Be aware of inequities and refuse to participate in them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Actually we got the spousal offer after I’d accepted the position (but before we started work). The plan had been to stay here for a couple of years and then move on, but with the spousal hire that hasn’t happened.

  3. Cloud Says:

    Well, I married a computer programmer. And he did move for me (all the way from a different country! It was very romantic.) I recommend it highly, but must warn that he tends to put things like “write new system for managing photos” on his chores list.

    OK, I will shut up now, since this post really isn’t about me!

  4. Zee Says:

    I had the mom look of disdain down, long before I was a mom. It is highly effective for demanding respect. Then I got my first pair of glasses as a post-doc and the ability to do a look of disdain over my glasses is even more awesome! I wish I could do the one eyebrow thing though.

    I have never had problems commanding respect, I am loud and confident and probably obnoxious at times. I try to use my super powers to take up lots of space and then step to the side to let quieter people enter the space more gently. Sort of like a one of those ice breaking boats that opens a path for the more delicately hulled boats to sail through.

  5. MutantSupermodel Says:

    *blink, blink*

    You make academics sound very scary and political and secret and ancient. Like Freemasons.

    No me gusta.

  6. hush Says:

    Your tales of wedding-ringless female interviewees reminded me of an old career services head from my grad school days who used to advise against the practice – “Do you really want to be working somewhere where you have to hide part of your identity in order to be accepted?” She had a point, but as this is not a Perfect World, I think it is an excellent strategy in certain fields.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It all depends on how desperate you are for the job.

      • Debbie M Says:

        I think it also depends what part of your identity you’re hiding. Lots of identity parts don’t participate much in the workplace anyway, so I don’t mind hiding those. Plus, sometimes you’re just helping your interviewer get past their idiocy quickly enough to get a decent picture of you at the interview; you can give them more time to get used to you once you are on the job. (My brother wisely used to wear short-hair wigs to interviews back when he had long hair. If they had insisted, he would have kept wearing them after he started the job, but no one made him.)

  7. Link love (Powered by nasty surprises and retail therapy) | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander Says:

    […] Some thoughts by Nicole and Maggie on being a woman in the workforce. […]


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