I have a vested interest.

In the fourth grade, I was obsessed with marine science and sonar technology, and I’d spend Saturday afternoons watching The Hunt for Red October instead of Saved by the Bell. That summer, I toured a Navy sub in dry dock– my first time! — and I asked the officer leading the tour when we’d be going to the sonar room. “Sorry, kid. It’s classified,” he said. Masking my disappointment, I replied that it was okay, because I was going to be a sonar technician when I grew up, and I could wait until then. “But they don’t let girls on subs,” was the officer’s surprised reply, as he looked at me as if I’d sprouted horns. When I asked why not, he told me I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a sub with a bunch of smelly guys anyway. My “Then…why aren’t there submarines for just girls?” got no reply.

So, I have a vested interest. 

I grew up with a father who told me that he thought women should stay in the home and that childcare was to blame for social evils, and that women were responsible for the poor economy because we were taking men’s jobs (but, he’s proud of me). I grew up with a mother who hated staying at home so much that she subconsciously took it out on us kids, because she grew up in a time when it was still not really a thing for moms to have careers. And then she got divorced her in her fifties with no retirement plan, no savings, no health insurance, and no marketable skills.

So, I have a vested interest.

In my teens, I learned to freeze when I felt an unwanted touch. I learned to make apologetic excuses to the man on the bus slipping his hand inside my overalls, to give a sassy wisecrack to the drunk pro football player who squeezed my ass while I waited tables, and to walk briskly past the catcalling boy’s basketball team with my head down. In college, I learned never to put my drink down unattended, not to do my laundry alone at night, and that abortions are cheaper if you drive to Canada.

So, I have a vested interest.

I went to graduate school in a department that had tenured two women in a century. I was told to freeze my eggs by one visiting speaker who showed me graphs of fertility rates and instances of Down’s Syndrome after thirty; another speaker told me that I should have kids now, because by the time I got a faculty job it would be too late. And then I saw how the women in my program who did have kids ended up leaving academia because the university system had zero support for them. And because I had no role models of successful faculty women who were also mothers, I put off making a decision about having babies until my reproductive system imploded and now I may never be able to conceive again anyway.

So, I have a vested interest.

I work at my dream job in a department that is majority male, with colleagues who sexually harass job candidates during teaching talks and students who comment on my clothing in evaluations and senior faculty who rub my arm when they ask me to guest lecture for their classes, and introduce me as a “good little girl” to colleagues. I am asked to take notes and coordinate department parties, but not to dinner with the chair, like my male co-hire is. I am mistaken for a secretary by university administrators, FedEx delivery men, graduate students, and sales reps, because I am the only women in the office fishbowl, even though my name says “Dr.” on the door.

So, I have a vested interest.

When I go on the internet to talk about my research, or to comment on how women should be allowed to have opinions on the internet without getting death and rape threats, I get death and rape threats. I have called the police and warned them that someone may try to SWAT me, and I have turned all the lights off in my house when I thought there were people outside circling my block to see if I was home. I have had to tell my (male) chair about why someone might contact him about me, because someone on Twitter said they were going to run me out of my institution for saying that sexual harassment at the workplace was wrong.

So, I have a vested interest.

I don’t walk around looking for sexism as though life were a scavenger hunt and the player who can collect the most grievances wins. When I’m watching a movie, or walking down the street enjoying a beautiful day, or reading read a book or giving a talk or buying toilet paper or drawing on the blackboard or running on the track or sitting in a meeting, I am not looking for sexism. Sexism finds me. It jumps out from behind a bush, or pops up from under the table, or falls like an anvil from the sky. It’s a punch in the gut; a slap in the face; a missing stair.

I am not disappointed by articles claiming sexism is dead because victimization gives me a leg up and I worry that I’m losing my edge. I get upset because those articles are biased and flawed and their authors claim that women are unhappy with their findings because we have a vested interest in maintaining our victimhood. As though pseudo-inequality was a job that came with really cushy benefits and perks and a company car. As though there were no opportunity costs, or emotional costs, or personal costs to a real, tangible thing.

So, I have a vested interest.

I have a vested interest in convincing you that sexism and misogyny are real, because they are.


161 thoughts on “I have a vested interest.

  1. Sadly this article rings true, no matter who you are or where you live, but as an individual (and yes, for the few, we do not stand for this), the world is not made up of just Jerky Football Players, Patriarchal Men and Rapists. I think that a little light and credit should be shone upon the fact that there are people actively trying to make a difference in the world, that many men do not conform to these stereotypes and do nothing but hold women in high regard.

    As a personality trait (and I guess a fault), I am inclined to speak my mind and say that while I agree with every single point in this blog, it is disheartening to see that most of the comments only relate to men being sexist and women being mistreated.

    I took english language as a further part of my education and it taught me about breaking down language for social, legal and gender based areas and what constantly infuriates me about sexism is the fact that it is sexist itself. Men are subject to being mistreated by women (to which there are more than enough examples), the male gender as a whole is subject to ridicule and pre-loaded guilt due to sexism. I am a firm believer in justice, but for me, I think it’s high time that sexism is dealt with as a whole instead of tilting the table at males.

    • I don’t understand what you’re saying Ethan Mitchell. Are you saying this article and the candor of the reader comments are making you feel sad and mistreated?
      Because in truth, no one can make you feel guilty. It’s “a waste of emotion” as the expression goes so you either have empathy and are willing to listen to the personal experiences of others and not take it so personally as a lumped in male with a need for defensive and infuriated emotions, or you fear some kind of responsibility you’re unwilling to take… and so make lists of how women are equally abusive. Which truly evades the entire hierarchy and binary structures that places males into more entitled positions.
      Yes, women can be chauvinist against women and abusive to men. That’s not the point of this article at all. We all hope no one would be ridiculing you… obviously… and hooray compassion for all, truly. But as a firm believer in justice for all, you need to be aware that rape is in fact a “normal” experience in the lives of women globally and that sex trafficking has made rape profitable as well as the laws do not favor rape victims or victims of sexual assault but rather tends to defend the jocks and frats and religious sons etc. first and foremost. If you delve deeper into women’s history and see how they’ve been raped out of the military as well how that’s perpetuated by men on men, the facts add up to being more sad for the mistreatment of females than how you feel in response to our comments.

    • Sure, there are men trying to make a difference. I’m not talking about those men. The reason this post and these comments and this blog focus on how women are treated is because there is systematic bias against women. Men have advantages over women in our institutions and in our societies. There is a ton of data out there on this. Talking about sexism is not sexist; men are in the dominant group. Sexism can hurt men, but overwhelmingly, sexism hurts women. You feeling guilty is not equivalent to the real physical, psychological, and emotional toll that sexism takes on women. You can’t deal with it “as a whole.” You have to deal with it in reality.

      I recommend checking out Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks.

    • I can’t help but think that men who do the right thing want a metaphorical cookie instead of continuing to do the right thing because it is right. This article isn’t about you; feel good that you are doing the right thing. If you need more than that (like recognition that you are different from most men), then you are not doing the right thing for the right reasons.

      • This also applies to everyone else who responded, I don’t want a metaphorical cookie, or some recognition, I’m just a decent guy who wishes women would stop slagging of his entire gender as a whole, it’s never labelled as the “assholes” or “jerks” and targeted and individuals, it’s always “mankind” and “every guy”. The least I would like is for people to stop targeting the gender I was born as.

  2. This is just the sort of thing that makes me really upset. I went on a coding course, and got asked if I was here for the ‘Girls World Minecraft’ course instead, when I asked for directions. Grrrrr!

  3. So is it “everyone” or “Both” ?

    you said: “Moderator here. I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to our comment policy:


    I think you’ve both said your pieces, and now might be a good time to take a step back a bit.”

    Both means TWO… so everyone is who…????

    You feel interrupted in writing your article because “dontaskformyname” decided that a month later he needed to comment/respond to Tabby and me… a whole cold month later… btw… and that was “heated” for you as discussions go? Gotta back off the month-long-responses so you can concentrate on your “productive discussions”???

    Ok, well… you are discouraging readers with “productive” contributions from commenting while enabling a status quo and keeping up with tradition in your “moderation”. Good job.

    • It’s everyone, as in everyone, and in particular the three — not two, that was my mistake — people commenting on that specific thread.

      I didn’t say I felt interrupted, I said that the conversation was a really important one that I unfortunately couldn’t spend a lot of time on at the moment. I’m not enabling a status quo of any kind here. I’m not defending “dontaskformyname,” so I’m not sure why the length of time it took to respond was relevant.

      If you think I’m doing a shitty job moderating my own post, that’s your right– and all I did was gently suggest that at this point, everyone was creating more heat than light. But really, really I don’t want to waste time arguing with someone I don’t even disagree with, especially when, upon reviewing the conversations, it looks like there’s more misunderstanding than anything else going on.

      • There’s actually lots more going on than misunderstandings… if you’re at all analytical… but that’s cool.

        Sorry you feel shitty after this… but I never said you did a “shitty” job and for someone who doesn’t like “projections” and wants your words to be taken as the word you actually used, I’m surprised you used it…

        Please know I never meant to cramp your style or insult you. Peace.

      • I did just want to say one more thing, that I’d never want to discourage anyone from their work or jobs… and I fully support teachers so thank you for allowing my voice and emotions on your blog. You didn’t have to and you have been generous with your time. I’m grateful for your teaching regardless and I’m sorry you got so very little out of our exchange much more than heat.

        • No worries; thanks for taking the time to read and engage. And I’m sorry if I came across as silencing by stepping into your conversation, which was absolutely not my intention.

          • It was best you checked on everyone and moderated to make sure of us, than to let it go completely chaotic. Kudos to you.

            And thanks. Really. Your moderation was far better than random mingling and purposeful abuse allowed to go on and on in a comment thread which happens so frequently on wordpress blogs, particularly when the freshly pressed get too busy to care. I appreciate the respectful forum you do provide, more than you’ll ever know.

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  7. I see that this post is a couple of years old now, but I am glad I came across it, anyway and thought I’d drop a note in case you still check. I share your vested interested in speaking up about the fact that sexism is indeed still a thing – and perhaps even getting worse since you posted this piece. I’ve started writing and thinking more seriously about how to stand up to and attempt to mitigate against sexism as well. I wrote a little about my frustrations back in November, during the build up to the tragic US election, here: https://cognitioneducation.me/2016/10/09/why-im-playing-the-woman-card/. And since then I’ve started working up a concept for an after school club I’m calling the Girl’s Salon, where I am introducing my daughter and handful of her friends to feminism and helping them to see the bias in their worlds and figure out ways to rise above it. I wrote about my initial ideas here, but haven’t written anymore since I am in the midst of developing the curriculum now. Thought I’d share that with you too, in case you are curious: https://cognitioneducation.me/2017/02/14/roses-are-red-violets-are-blue-what-can-you-do-to-promote-gender-equity/.

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