Leveling up: does sexism get worse as you advance?

Editor’s note: Tenure, She Wrote is back! If you’re just joining us, we were a pretty happenin’ blog space a few years back. I started this collaborative blog with Dr. Mellivora the summer before we both started faculty positions. Then pre-tenure life caught up, we all got busy, and TSW went dark, except for an occasional post. There was a part of me that thought that maybe we didn’t need this space anymore, too. That we had made strides towards gender equality in academia, and things were on the uptick, and that we’d outgrown the need for this content.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, #MeToo, the National Academy’s failure to address convicted sexual predators in its own ranks, and heck, my own lived experience, I’ve realized that I was so, so wrong. We need these spaces — outspoken, intersectional, unapologetically feminist spaces — more than ever. So I’m excited to announce that we’re back, with a mix of fresh voices and seasoned (salty?) veterans. Stay tuned for their posts in the coming weeks. 

Anniversaries are always good times to reflect. Our first post, on July 1st, 2013, was about mentoring — I was just starting to think seriously about what it would mean to lead my own lab. This was before I’d even stepped foot on campus; before I’d met many of my colleagues, before I’d really seen my lab space, ordered equipment, or even met one of my chairs. Five years later, I’m in the last push before tenure; I’ll submit my package later this year. So much has happened since I wrote that first post: students have defended, papers have been published, grants have been acquired, classes developed and taught. I’m really confident in my performance, despite a lot of hardships — some of which I’ve written about here, and many things I haven’t yet been able to write about.

It’s really striking, though, to think of who I am, and my relationship to this job, as I approach tenure, in comparison to who I was when I started this blog. One of the biggest things is that sexism and harassment in STEM were largely intellectual ideas for me, then. I’d experienced micro-aggressions, sure. But the worst offenses were ones I’d seen my friends and colleagues go through, not me. And while I’ve still been spared some of the worst experiences, my experience of sexism in academia as institutional, rather than personal (i.e., something that has affected me personally), has changed.  Continue reading

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But what about the collaborations? Going forward after an allegation of sexual misconduct

Today’s post is a follow-up to a recent post by Dr. Rebecca Rogers Ackermann, a Biological Anthropologist at the University of Cape Town. You can read the original post by Dr. Ackermann, detailing her personal experience with harassment in anthropology, here

Since the recent news story broke about sexual misconduct in my discipline, I have been in many conversations with colleagues and students about both this specific case and the issue of sexual misconduct and gender bias more generally.  In one extended email exchange with my colleagues – some of whom are collaborators with the recently accused – we were discussing the best way to move forward with collaborations with someone who has a demonstrated history of sexual misconduct. All agreed that they would not begin new collaborations with such a person.   But the question of what to do with current collaborations – ones where the work is in progress, or the research is completed but remains to be disseminated – raised a diversity of opinions. The primary concern raised by some was a need to keep the science separate from the behaviour, and resist the slippery slope that might result from mixing the two (e.g. do you take action for more minor transgressions or disagreements, or for other misdemeanours?). In this light, one possible route forward has been outlined in a recent blog post by Bernard Wood. Our conversation, and that blog post, resulted in me writing the email that I have copied below.  I have left it in its original form, only making minor edits for clarification and to protect people’s identities. I hope this helps to stimulate further discussion going forward (see also this post by anthropologist Katie Hinde).  This isn’t a settled matter, and we all need to keep talking about it.

Continue reading

Guest Post: How to Not Listen to Women

Today’s post is by a guest author:

It’s happened again. A woman tried to show how bad people are at listening to women, and instead of listening to her, her words got twisted and used to attack women.

In her article, “Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting”, Alexandra Petri describes how “Woman in a Meeting” language is unique. In order to avoid being seen as aggressive (or bitchy), and to be heard and taken seriously, women frequently police their at-work language. If they don’t do this and instead speak assertively, women are often perceived as being aggressive, and angry women aren’t taken seriously. Petri shared the example of Jennifer Lawrence being accused of being angry and aggressive by one of her male employees when after she spoke to him assertively (i.e., not using “Woman in a Meeting” language). It turns out, men frequently mishear assertion as aggression when women speak. Continue reading

Nobody wins microaggression Bingo

I was recently at a workshop where I was one of two women (out of ten).  I’ve generally had a really great experience in working groups, but this once quickly morphed into a Bingo card of sexist microaggressions. With the plethora of recent articles on how there is no sexism problem in science, and how talking about microaggressions is the greatest threat to our universities (and not, say, funding or the adjunct crisis), I think it’s worth sharing this experience.

This workshop had it all. My female colleague and I were routinely interrupted, talked over, and ignored. One senior male participant stood up and gave a spontaneous presentation on something that “he’s never seen anyone mention before,” despite the fact that I had just shown the exact slide and mentioned the very point he did, not ten minutes before. Participants in very different fields mansplained our research to both of us, or in some cases dismissed our entire fields outright. They responded with hostility or patronizing tones to our questions or contrary points, but accepted the same criticisms with good nature from their male colleagues. The men asked one another questions that the women were better-suited to answer based on what we do, but we were talked over. During meals and coffee breaks, the men clustered together in groups and didn’t socialize with us.  Continue reading

Collaborations, Slurs, and Being Heard

TW: Discussion of homophobic slurs

There have been plenty of times in life when I’ve had men assume that I don’t know what I’m doing or saying, and treat me accordingly. I’m mostly used to it when I go to a car shop to pick up oil, but have recently had it happen in one of the most egregious manners I’ve ever experienced within academia. Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

Dress for Success

Ever since I started going to conferences, I’ve been at a loss for what to wear. The men in my field pride themselves in the aloof state of their dress when presenting their results, and it’s not uncommon to see them presenting in jeans, a t-shirt, and flip flops. But for women, there is an unspoken rule that to be taken seriously, jeans and a t-shirt just aren’t going to cut it. Continue reading