Being a Woman in the Academy

I really can’t emphasize the importance of these stories enough:

One of my favorite quotes from this pub is: “To succeed, women are often expected to show deference (often euphemized as “team spirit”) and then to jujitsu our way into being the best one for the job without making anyone else feel bad along the way.” That is to say, this quote rings true for me. I’m sure many other quotes in the collected stories at the link above will be favorites for women whose experiences may differ from my own.

Since returning from leave, I’ve been working to do a bit more truth-telling. One thing that’s on my mind right now is that my department is considering a change to our code that has to do with the make-up of a particularly time-intensive committee. Essentially, the powers-that-be want to change the make-up of this committee so that assistant professors no longer have guaranteed representation. (Currently, two seats are reserved for each rank: assistant, associate, full.)

I favor protecting assistant professors’ time, but I also strongly believe that they should have a voice on this particular committee. (And compromises exist that could make both possible.) The problem is the timing of this change. In the last five years, we’ve had 10 assistant professors in my department who were eligible to sit on this committee. Seven of them have served; some of those seven have served more than a single term and some have served despite only being 51% appointed to our department and some have served when they obviously didn’t want to but were pressured into it. Every single one of these seven is female and/or queer and/or a person of color–and every single one of these seven have been recently promoted so as to make them no longer eligible for those assistant professor seats. Of the remaining three assistant professors, every single one is straight, white, and male. The exigence for the department’s consideration of this change is obvious. I don’t need to single anybody out to note that this is an unacceptable pattern.

To be clear, our department is planning to adjust its regulatory rhetorics so as to make more women, queers, and people of color available for labor that the department doesn’t want straight white men to have to do. This, in a department where women, at least, are already demonstrably overtaxed. And, importantly, this proposed change is detrimental to shared governance and thus to all future assistant professors.

I imagine many of my colleagues don’t see it this way. They don’t see it as a big deal; they don’t see code language that doesn’t mention gender as having effects on gendered labor. I realize that my own area of specialization being gender and technical communication probably makes this situation readable to me in ways that it isn’t to others. That lack of vision is part of the problem. I’m so frustrated at the continuing pattern in my department, my university, and my field wherein certain types of people are expected to do so much more labor in order to be considered equal–or, indeed, relevant.

To combat this, we’ve got to be willing to tell our stories–like the brave people in the Chronicle article above, and like I’m beginning to do here. It’s a start.


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