How misogyny keeps women down

I just wandered onto econjobrumors because a prominent female economist who I like a lot was quoted on a blog post with school designation different from the one I last knew her to be at and I wondered about it.  So I googled.  Big mistake.  Now I feel really really dirty.  It reminds me how horrid and misogynistic most of economics is, at least when people are allowed to post anonymously.  Jeez.

The thoughts through my mind as I first read through the thread about her tenure denial and everybody bashing her were, gee, I’m glad this mob doesn’t know I even exist.  I’m glad I wasn’t working at a top 5 school.  I’m glad I didn’t write that popular press book that she wrote (that I could have written, but probably could not have published, and was very glad that I didn’t based on the backlash I read just on the Amazon reviews).

I don’t want to stick my neck out because I don’t want the mob to find me.  I’m happy being less than the top because I see what happens to outspoken women at the top.  I’m glad I’m not at a top 15 school where I would have been punished for having a baby before tenure.  (The things I hear from my friends at those schools always make me glad to be someplace more supportive.)

But as happy as I am with my non-star status, I wish it weren’t that way too.  I wish I could be more like her… I mean, I’d rather be more like Amy Finklestein, who I hope that nobody says anything bad about ever, but my true self is a bit more like this other woman.  If I hadn’t had self-confidence beaten out of me or had that extremely scary brush with infamy in middle school and if I’d had more privilege (and if I were a little smarter and more organized and a little less careful), I might also have the opportunity to stick my neck out and have internet mobs come after me because they didn’t like my opinions or attitude or my success.  I would be even more brash and more self-confident and more willing to tell people what’s right or wrong than I am now.  Things we aren’t allowed as women, when men with those characteristics get early tenure at Harvard.

If I were less weak.  If the world were a better place.  If I were male.  Then I would be less scared of true success.  Less scared of being a big fish in a big pond.  My ambition would have no limits.

But given my constraints and the way the world is… I’m pretty happy where I am now.  Valued by my colleagues and administration.  Making a small name for myself in my area of study.  Answering interesting questions.  Reading the occasional romance novel.  Having time for an anonymous blog that isn’t usually about economics (except that it sort of always is).

But wouldn’t it be nice if men and women had the same opportunities for success and balancing life?  And women didn’t have to be thankful that their mediocrity protects them from the mob?

29 Responses to “How misogyny keeps women down”

  1. Linda Welling Says:

    Every now and then I look at econjobrumors, and come away disgusted and confused. Would be nice to have some data on how many people actually post there, and who they are – are we interviewing any of them?

  2. CG Says:

    A woman in my field, who I thought was well-regarded, failed to get tenure at fancy east coast U. At a conference I expressed surprise at this and one of the senior men I was talking to said, “Can ANY woman get tenure at fancy east coast U?” I don’t know the particulars of her tenure case, but fancy east coast U either has a misogyny problem or a PR problem, or both. Sometimes I wish I taught at a more high powered place with better students, but like you I’ve also pretty much stayed out of the fray–kept my head down, did my work, had lots of kids. We’ll see what they say regarding tenure next year but I have no regrets about how I’ve managed the process. And I think that would have been a lot harder at a more high powered place.

  3. Leigh Says:

    Two friends who are the same age and have the same undergrad degree from the same institution and number of internships. The guy started working right away after undergrad and the woman did a Master’s degree. In the same promotion cycle, got his promotion to Senior (second promotion), as the woman got her first promotion. I hate the system sometimes. He is a good guy and definitely deserves his promotion, but I’m pissed at the system. We’ve been working for the same length of time, but I’ve had crap managers and teams and he’s had awesome managers. Ah well, I really like my new job! :D And liking your job is more important than promotions.

  4. Leah Says:

    Most frustrating for me about the patriarchy is that it always makes me second guess how I’m treated. Am I not doing something “right,” or is it because I’m female?

    Also an issue with student discipline issues. Fairly sure I’ve had some behavior issues purely because I’m female. It’s hard when male higher ups brush it off and say I must be doing something wrong because those boys don’t act up in their classes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is 100% the patriarchy, we have both had this experience. We recommend an iron-clad and very strict syllabus, strong boundaries, and getting older as fast as possible.

      • Leah Says:

        Would love it if an iron-clad syllabus would solve stuff. Unfortunately, in HS, I can be told my terms are too strict and that I need to allow XYZ.

        I had an issue earlier this year where I got chided, somewhat, for enforcing a rule we have here. Granted, I chose to enforce this strictly one day . . . after having warned a number of kids that I was planning to crack down. I continue to maintain that we shouldn’t have said rule if we don’t want to bother enforcing it. And it’s stuff like that which makes me ask: patriarchy? or am I missing unwritten social/work cues?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The unwritten social/work cues might be related to patriarchy

  5. jane Says:

    70 years of experience being female and 50 working in male dominated fields~ yes, Leah, the discrimination and lack of opportunities and less helpful managers is because you are female. That is what you did ‘not right’. You cannot change it. And this will become worse as clearly more women these days are going for more education than men are, and the backlash is only getting worse. Think carefully before voting, and encourage every single intelligent person of voting age to please vote.

    A favorite horrible thing I heard 40 years ago: “Well, we are certain we didn’t discriminate against ms.x in promotions for being female because we (all men) sat and talked about her gender not being part of our decision.” I called ‘foul’ and two weeks later the promotion, out of cycle, went through for her.

  6. becca Says:

    On the one hand, yes, this. 100X.
    On the other hand, I define “true success” as self-actualization across multiple domains. People who are talented at being happy can always post-hoc rationalize that they are successful according to the standard they actually hit (regardless of what would have seemed to be success when they were starting out). On the other hand, I *personally* value the skills of fostering constructive dialog, educating people, sharing unabashed awesomeness and encouraging awesomeness in others as much as I value the skills that get someone early tenure at Harvard. I mean, given a baseline lively and engaged intellect. So by that standard, you *would* be a true success.
    Still, I realize that’s different from being accorded the respect others of similar intellect get as their supposed birthright. *shakes tiny fist on your behalf*

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s nice of you, but I really don’t like that women have options closed off or face a steeper climb whatever their preferences are just because they fear retaliation.

      (Also: Carolyn Hoxby is a wonderful mentory person *and* got tenure at Harvard. Though I heard she wasn’t able to indulge in her mentory-side until after tenure even though she had way more expectations to be mentory while she was junior than her male colleagues did. So unfair.)

  7. Cloud Says:

    I straight up fear the backlash that might well hit if I achieve the goals I really want to achieve. And my goals don’t even involve being outspoken about controversial topics! But I can see that any woman who achieves any prominence whatsoever gets grief, more so than the men. I just tell myself that if I reach my goals, I’ll have grown to the point that I’m ready for the backlash and/or will have prospered to the point that I can hire someone to filter out some of the crap.

    I have taken to advising ambitious younger women I meet to read What Works for Women at Work or something similar. Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Also, maybe if you know what is happening when things start getting harder and harder as you advance up the chain it is less demoralizing? I don’t know.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    Could men just be better at ignoring criticism which then makes people criticize less, because if your words are being ignored, then what’s the point of criticizing? If I look at the male vs femaie executives in my world, the males tend to take criticism as “noise” and the females are more likely to take things to heart and try to act on the feedback. Or maybe men are better at hiding that it affects them. I definitely see the guys at high levels blow off criticism way more easily than women. Their confidence in themselves is so high (whether earned or unfounded), that comments from the peanut gallery is irrelevant to many of them as they know best.

    I have no desire to be famous. Rich yes, famous, no..for all the reasons you mention. The idea of having complete strangers judging and criticizing you without even knowing you is such BS. I don’t need that kind of negative energy in my life. I am glad there are people out there who want the fame but it’s not worth the cost for me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No. What you are doing is called gas-lighting. Read some research before trying to blame women. What works for women is a good place to start. Do you also say rape victims were responsible because of how they dress or it wasn’t “real” rape?

      Women get more and different criticism. Far less constructive criticism, more dangerous criticism (scalzi has an article on the kind of criticism he doesn’t get— also women are far more likely to get rape threats), and criticism for doing things that get praise in men (huge literature on this).

      So, no. And suggesting that just makes things worse. Women aren’t stupid. They are reacting to different constraints.

      • Thisbe Says:

        Not sure that equating this question (“Could men just be….”) with rape apologia is constructive. And no, I’m not being a concern troll. I’m saying that when you respond to a potentially interesting point about gendered social differences in responding to criticism by saying “you are gaslighting and you might as well be a rape victim-blamer”, that is so obviously false that it makes me (and potentially others, but who knows) think that the rest of what you’re saying in this post might be equally unreliable.

        …Which I have no way of knowing, misogyny obviously presents very differently in my field than in yours, since I don’t recognize my own experience in what academic bloggers have to say.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No, it is not saying you might as well be a rape victim blamer, but it is still the same underlying process. Victim blaming and gas lighting. And the opposite of what actual research that has been reported on this very blog many times actually says. Unhelpful.

        You don’t have to take our word. There are randomized controlled trials you can read about in what works for women. Feel free to not trust research or us, but don’t come here and gaslight.

      • Leigh Says:

        +1 on the gaslighting response. The criticism I get on my reviews at work have been things like “She talks over people too much” (hello the men do that all the time – that’s how they get their point across) and “She doesn’t participate in team activities” (hello they’re going drinking at a bar – WTF would I want to do that with my coworkers when I’m a lightweight?! – or they’re playing video games as the team activity and what does that have to do with my productivity at work?!) I’ve never seen men get comments like that on their reviews and that’s just two items from my many reviews. I see women get tons of non-constructive criticism and that is absolutely gaslighting.

      • First Gen American Says:

        Are you saying that my observations are made up?

        There are a lot of things women do in a work environment that can be self sabotaging and I don’t feel that some self reflection to identify gender differences in how some women react to things is gas lighting. (And lots of books have been written about things like imposter syndrome, over apologizing, taking on extra work without asking for resources, not negotiating pay increases, not posting for jobs that are a stretch when men do it all the time)….Just blaming it all on the patriarchy isn’t the whole story. It may be the biggest factor in some industries but it is by no means the only factor.

        I guess the main reason I don’t like just shoving it all on the patriarchy is because that makes me feel out of control. I Refuse to be a victim. Sometimes I like to be blissfully ignorant because the negative energy that comes with being In-tune to every unfair act is just too soul sucking. Focussing on doing my job well solves 99% of my problems. It’s just simpler that way. I can still be an activist/mentor without internalizing all the negative crap that can be found if I am looking hard enough.

        As time goes on, more and more of those sexists are seen as ignorant dinosaurs and frankly most younger men don’t want their wives and daughters treated this way so they often set an example at work by not being douchebags. Change is happening and I think focussing on your own awesomeness and ignoring the noise is a good thing to learn.

        I also feel strongly about this topic but I think the solution starts within each of us by commanding the respect of the patriarchy one individual at a time. End rant.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I am saying that until you read some of the research on this topic, and it isn’t like we don’t post about it REGULARLY on Saturdays, that you should stop with these gaslighting speculations.

        It is fairly clear FROM RESEARCH that women and men behave the same way when they’re given the same circumstances and same incentive. It’s also clear FROM RESEARCH that women get a LOT more shit and very GENDERED shit. And it’s clear FROM RESEARCH that being gaslighted makes people (not just women, but for some reason it happens mostly to women) feel incompetent.

        That Lise Vesterlund talk we’ve posted twice covers this. That What Works For Women book discusses it.

        So I don’t know what your observations are, but either you’re not seeing that those women you’re calling “sensitive” are actually covered under a ton of feathers rather than just a few feathers, or you’re not seeing that there are men who are IDENTICAL in underlying propensities to not take shit, but you’ve never seen them at their breaking point, because people don’t push them to it. Or, you’re letting confirmation bias, the representativeness heuristic, etc. extrapolate your observations into confirming your theory.

        You’re also still living in a “Nice girls don’t get the corner office” world when it’s been shown since then that their recommendations actually HURT, rather than help women. Again, read What works for Women for the latest. Women are working under different constraints. Women can both know that they are awesome and fight the patriarchy, and knowing that they have to work harder to get half as far means that they less likely to think they’re crazy and incompetent when they do face those very different constraints.

        In any case, victim blaming and gaslighting are unhelpful and dangerous.

        Here’s that experiment we’ve posted twice about why women take on more service work:

  9. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Jeezus fucke that econnjobrumors place is fucked up. I couldn’t find whatever thread is discussing the tenure denial that you referred to, but just clicking on a few it sounds like the posters are all frustrated male graduate student bros trying to outdo each other with what cool bros they are. Terrible sign of all the terrible misogynistic shittio you are talking about.

  10. moom Says:

    Most posters on econjobrumors are PhD students or trolls. I do post there now and then. Some of my posts are trolls.

  11. becca Says:

    Hmm. Not sure I read First Gen American as trying to say your perceptions were invalid (which is a key part of gaslighting).
    That said, getting the individual factors vs. systemic factor causality confused is detrimental. Or completely misunderstand what’s actually going on with the individual factors. It’s a bit like certain conservatives lamenting uninvolved black fathers, without realizing A) the data show clearly that for a given type of household, black fathers have superior involvement with their children’s lives B) poverty makes households fragment, and their own household would fragment under sufficient strain.

    Also- I agree with you that it’s extremely problematic women face retaliation when they succeed. It’s just also problematic how we define success.And, for that matter, the harsher consequences for women when they don’t succeed. It’s a bucket of patriarchy turtles all the way down.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “It’s a bucket of patriarchy turtles all the way down.” FTW

      Not that *our* perceptions are invalid, but telling women that they’re playing the same game on the same playing field with the same constraints as men, and if they acted more like men, they’d be treated more like men. That’s just not true. Empirically. That’s where the gas lighting comes from. Implying that the playing field is identical and there’s something wrong with women for saying it isn’t. Even with the addition of a feedback loop. When women act like men they get punished, not rewarded.

      The victim-blaming part is where the women need to act more like men. There’s a lot of new research showing that women managers/leaders are already doing the best practices thing (otherwise they don’t get promoted) whereas men don’t have to. Women leaders use their crucial conversations skillz, but only the best of the best men leaders do. Men succeed more when they behave more like women (in management situations), not the other way around. (Again, What works for women summarizes some of this research.)

  12. Matt Healy Says:

    Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens in other fields as well. A prominent evolutionary biologist recently called out a meeting at which NONE of the speakers is female:

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