I went to a lecture today by a visiting professor who I’d heard practiced “feminist law” (also I thought there might be free snacks. There weren’t.) The subject of the lecture was about the gender gap in academia–not the gender ACHIEVEMENT gap, which has received quite a bit of popular press recently, but your good old-fashioned gender gap: pay, benefits, promotion, etc. I wasn’t expecting to get as angry as I did. For one thing, although I consider myself–or at least, others consider me–a pretty radical Marxist-feminist who sees gender discrimination and a heterosexist paradigm where other people see an engagement party. Yet I’m also aware that I’ve had the immense privilege of spending most of my adult life working in largely supportive, female-dominated non-profits or sheltered by the four walls of a graduate school. By and large, these are both places where there are women in all kinds of roles–leadership, supporting, middle management, you name it–as well as the sort of liberal-humanist mindset that leads to recycling and yoga practice. As such, I have rarely felt as though I have been the victim of direct, institutionalized, plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face sex discrimination. If anything, Title IX has done me proud. However…
I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS SHIT!!!
Dig, if you will:
1. Men are 23% more likely to get tenure.
2. Men are 35% more likely to be full professors.
3. Men constitute 85% of department chairs.
4. Only 18% of the top leadership at 4-year colleges are female.
5. Women on the tenure track are two-thirds less likely to have children, less likely to be married and twice as likely to be divorced. (There were some fascinating reasons for this which I plan to enumerate in future, and more coherent, posts. Plus I have my own opinions.) MEANWHILE…
6. Male professors are two-thirds MORE likely than men in other professions to be married to a stay-at-home wife/mother.
According to the lecturer–who has made this research her life’s work (after she was granted tenure, of course)–this “gender bias” takes on several properties which are slightly distinct but all have in common, at minimum, their institutional nature and, frustratingly, a seeming intangible quality that make discrimination lawsuits difficult to prosecute. These four properties are:
1. The glass ceiling bias of “Prove it again”: Women’s ability to perform the same tasks as men, or their very professional credibility, is called into question.
2. The glass ceiling of “tightrope”: Women have to walk a fine line between appearing overly masculine (”she’s so assertive“) and too feminine (”she’s so emotional“). If you’re a young, attractive woman? God help you. If you are a butch lesbian? God help you exponentiated.
3. The maternal wall: There’s a lot of talk now about Generations X and Y having these more sensitive men who want to take daddy leave after the birth of their children and participate fully in rearing and parenting tasks. That’s how it should be. However, it’s still women who take the hit on their career–not to mention, the hit on their bodies. (And I’m not talking about stretch marks–I’m talking about bedrest, post-birth recovery time, leaking nipples, etc.) Furthermore, when men leave work early to take their kid to the doctor, he gets “father of the year” accolades; when women do it, they are not “serious scholars” (the implication being, I assume, that they shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place if they wanted that full professorship).
4. Gender wars: This is the most heartbreaking, and unfortunately, one with which I have some experience. If there are only a few slots for women at the top, then women are going to fight each other tooth and nail to get or stay at those top slots. In academia, that often translates to a generational divide which I find very disheartening. The older women who have had to fight and claw their way through the boys’ club have an almost visceral reaction to my generation (and younger) of women who have a different take on femininity and work-life balance than they do. This is not always the case–sometimes older women are really supportive and invested in mentoring younger women and helping them advance. Among younger women who were told we were living in a post-sexist world where feminism was outdated and unsexy, there is no real sense of collective action, so it’s difficult to organize and call out discrimination when it occurs.
Sitting in this huge, near-empty auditorium (with ONLY OTHER WOMEN present), I felt very angry*. It’s almost unbelievable how much gender discrimination and coded gender bias continues to exist–even in the hallowed, relatively progressive little bubble of the academy. As I was walking back through the park I thought about all the ways in which women around the world suffer, and how far the United States has come, and how lucky I am to live in a country where a lecturer visits to give these kinds of presentations and it’s taken seriously. But then I thought, that is not enough. These options are untenable. I am not willing to structure my life around these sexist codes, and I am not willing to live in the alternative for obvious reasons.
*A potential contributing factor to my righteous anger probably had something to do the street harassment I experienced en route to the lecture, and which is a fixture of the daily life of any woman who dares to step outside her apartment without a man at her side.