I love going to MPSA. I love seeing all my colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. I LOVE Chicago. And Margarita and I always try to go to at least one professional social event together (as opposed to the unprofessional ones, where we just get very drunk and stay up until 3am).
Get a group of women in political science in a room together and we will inevitably start talking about the unique challenges faced by women in the field. Thus we find our heroes at a subfield dinner (not MY subfield) with about 6 women and 2 men, and after some general chit-chat and some subfield related discussion, we started talking about the ways it can be difficult to be a woman, and specifically a mother, in the field of political science.
For the most part, the two men, rightfully, tried to stay out of the discussion and let the women speak our experiences without being mansplained. But one of the men did keep interjecting with comments, weird jokes, and poorly delivered sarcasm. It got to the point where we were just very obviously speaking over him. So, lesson one here: when women are speaking about how it’s difficult to be a woman, listen and let them speak. Ask questions and believe their answers. And don’t be funny unless you’re absolutely sure you’re funny (this is a good general rule to follow in all scenarios).
We probably had a 15 minute discussion of sexism at the conclusion of our dinner, and I feel like all of the women present felt recharged by being able to interact with each other and share these very real experiences we have and how we might stop them.
A bit of context: I have two young kids, and through a mixed blessing of good genes, regular exercise, and a mild eating disorder, I am quite thin. Nearly underweight on the BMI scale thin. I do have a virulent streak of vanity, so I’m pleased with the way I look and I’m well aware that I fit into a conventional definition of what’s considered attractive in current American society (a post later on all the problems with that).
So, as we are leaving the dinner, a few glasses of wine in, and just after our discussion of sexism in the field, one of the men comes up to me:
“You know, you really look amazing for having two kids.”
There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to begin. First and foremost being that I didn’t immediately punch him in the face. But honestly, at a professional work event, commenting on a woman’s body or appearance is NEVER APPROPRIATE.
And also, what do you mean “for having two kids?” You have to put qualifiers on my amazing looks? (See above, virulent streak of vanity).
Come on, man. We had JUST finished discussing sexism against women and the challenges of being a mother in academia. Can you pretend for five seconds that women are people and not objects?
Compliment my work. Compliment my insights. Compliment my humor, or even my god damned shoes, if you MUST mention my appearance. But even though I work hard to be thin and I like to be thin, please don’t compliment me on it at work.
-Candy Ann Richards