I’ve been thinking a lot about unrecognized and institutional sexism…

Especially in Academia…

In a community in which outright sexism is now taboo, it still happens with shocking frequency.  Part of the problem is simply one of socialization, men have historically dominated academia — and they tend to hire people the perceive as similar to themselves — male.  Part of it is probably about communication styles, comfort and directions of research — but no matter what the cause, the effect is the same… and it sucks.

It goes beyond hiring — even when women are hired into tenure-track positions, they tend to do more service and get paid less.  Because they do more service, they publish less and are promoted less often.  They are also less likely to be invited to do “key note” presentations, because they tend to have less time to do the mountains of research and publishing necessary to catch the attention of the folks who make those decisions…

I think the roots of this are very deep — girls internalize the idea that being smart isn’t something boys like.  They tend to go for “soft” majors in college and thus are a large percentage of some fields and a minority in others… philosophy is one of the fields in which women are a minority.

I think that, in the end, girls turn into women who sell themselves intellectually short.  This makes me sad– mostly because I see so much of it in my younger self.  I also think that women are more likely to take school/life considerations into account when choosing both undergraduate and graduate schools.  Men, on the other hand, are given reasons to believe in and pursue their academic goals, and considerations of life are simply less important to them.

I suppose what’s really bothering me about this is the fact that a male academic I know well had many advantages — support of his department, a great committee, time to write and lots of encouragement from his family and faculty — and he still hasn’t finished his dissertation.

When he went on the academic job market, part of his frustration was that women in his field seemed to get hired and he didn’t… but — he didn’t have a completed dissertation either… hmmm…

I contrast his circumstances with my own.  I made the best academic choices I could, within the set of limited choices I had.  I went to an affordable undergraduate school and only really had one choice in terms of grad school.  Partially because of the perception that they wouldn’t lose me if they didn’t give me funding, I also got very little financial support from my grad school.  I took out loans, worked / taught the whole time and finished my courses.

Two months after finishing my coursework, I moved back to Minnesota because Hubby was accepted to grad school.  I was happy to move back here, no question — but, I left Nebraska with only an idea about what my dissertation would look like — having not even passed my Ph.D. candidacy qualifying papers (at my grad school, in my discipline, we don’t do comps — we write papers that have to be passed by a committee).

It took several years for me to reach “Doctoral Candidate” status.  I’m sure it took longer because I was 400 miles away AND because I was teaching full-time, most of it at Century.  My dissertation took equally long to complete, for many of the same reasons.  The one summer I took off of teaching to write, I had cancer…

The thing is,  I still finished — AND I have a tenured teaching position.  In order to do it, I spent much of my available free time writing, revising, researching and traveling back to Nebraska for meetings with my advisor.  In other words, I worked my ass off…

I can’t say for sure — but, I think I’m as smart or smarter than my male colleague.  I know that my work is as interesting as his — and in retrospect, because I finished, I was a better “bet” for the support I didn’t get, partially because of my gender and geographical limitations.

The male colleague hasn’t finished and still complains of sexism in academia… pal, don’t talk to me about sexism until you’ve walked the halls of academia in my heels.


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