Monday, April 09, 2007

Gender trouble...

Well, after more than 7 schools (UG, Grad in Other Major, 2nd Grad, and 3 jobs), I can honestly say that the program where I now work is the first where there is not a "gender divide" (not counting the one with only women faculty). Just like Tenured Radical mentioned in her recent post on hiring committee woes, so many places wind up with a split between the "boys" and the "girls."** Sometimes this has played out in terms of a rejection of research topics (queers, anyone?) or methods (qualitative is for girls) by the boys, and other times it becomes an in-group/out-group division of resources issues. I am sure there could be a place where the girls hold court, but I have not seen it yet.

A few examples from my past...

When I was in Other Major in 1st Grad program, we actually had male faculty who told us lesbian students that at least it was worth their time to teach us, because unlike the heterosexual women students, we weren't going to waste their effort by getting married and having babies. (It was the first and only time being a lesbian was a plus... and this logic didn't carry over to the gay guys, who would be seen as not butch enough for the major.)

In 2nd Grad program, typically pursued by more women than men, the boys on faculty grew weary of the many women enrolled in the program and made a concerted effort to recruit men, so "they would have someone to mentor." This need for men carried over into hiring, as well.

I remember watching a hiring process similar to the one TR wrote about during my 2nd grad program. The faculty guys had fallen for Trent, a hale, young, white, good-looking, personable, male candidate. The candidate was actually not that impressive, at least not to us grad students, and he had not completed his dissertation. His competition was all female, several of whom were women of color, and most had defended successfully and presented well. Yet, the male faculty and male dean were just enamored of Trent. The women faculty couldn't quite get it, until they realized that the dean and some male faculty had played golf with him--during the interview weekend. Really.

The women faculty were incensed. They had no similar opportunity to get to know Trent, nor had the male faculty provided that opportunity for any of the female candidates. Their complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears... "I mean, really," the men argued, "What is the problem?" Eventually, I got the impression that the women coordinated with one another, made a stink that put the Dean on notice, and basically nixed the candidate. I found out later that the candidate didn't finish his doctorate for several years.

In one of my jobs, I watched as men received more goodies, like grad assistants, research opportunities with colleagues, dinner invitations, etc., while the women had to make due and work on their own. Men seemed to be more protected from service, while women were approached to do everything. And this doesn't even add the layers of problems linked to race, class, and sexuality.

Why do we have such an obvious male/female split in our academic settings? What is the cause of the persistence of this link between "serious academics" and masculinity? Are we really a glorified club sport, and the girls are seen as not real players? And what is it about my current setting that keeps this from happening?

There are some factors that may influence the outcome here: we have several heterosexual couples on faculty, leadership by a woman, scholars of different genders who use varied methods of research, mentoring by interest and not by gender... I rejoice in my current setting and its equitable treatment of men and women, and the relative absence of tension between us (at least as pertains to gender). I hope it remains this way.

** I use the terms boys, guys, and men interchangeably to some extent, but I choose boys when the men in question are behaving in a way I find objectionable and petty. Hope you don't find it offensive. But, since this is my blog, I get to do what I want.


Emily said...

i had this crazy moment in the fall where i looked around my methods class (one of those classes that is a good barometer for how a department looks, since we all take it at one point or another) and realized it was 2/3 guys, 1/3 girls. this is my second year in the program, and i've just started noticing a) that the program is disproportionately male 2) that there are differences in male and female behavior in class. i think it took me this long because i had a rough transition in, and was too concerned about getting head together and not paying attention to classroom dynamics.

in any case, i had never realized there was a gender problem in my department until now. and it occurs to me that it's probably like this for the rest of the way--i'll be in that 1/3 of women who have to figure out what to do with their kids so they can go golfing on the weekends. (luckily the Wife is pretty on board for such occasions. but still.) because i feel most grounded in women's studies, and not my home discipline (poli sci), i don't ever think of these things. also, i go to a really politically radical school, so the possibilities for diaster are lower than elsewhere.

but some day, i'll be the only feminist in the room. ouch.

Sisyphus said...

Ick. 2nd Grad Program sounds eerily similar to mine --- where, a few years ago, some faculty decided there were too many women (we had gotten up over 50% at the grad level) and let in a cohort that was pretty much all married young white males with wives taking care of the toddlers. Now I like a lot of them personally, but watching that come in like it was planned --- ick.

Otherwise, I'm not sure --- perhaps my department is schizophrenic, but depending on which factions you look at, it could be women in charge and sympathetic to issues of race and gender, or an old boy's club that can talk the talk without actually understanding what they're saying. How this can be so, I don't know.

TenureTrackNewbie said...

Well, chauvinism is still prevalent in industry and academia, even after years of emancipation. I recently read a study (can't seem to find the link right now) that even within the gender bias towards male faculty there is another bias: Taller males are rated to be more qualified, regardless of whether the job has a height requirement.