Being a Woman · Departmental Politics · Nature of Academia

Do Women Support Women?

CAR: In the famous words of Taylor Swift, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”  What do we think about her statement?

MT: I do think there is a general problem of women not supporting each other, even when it’s not costly to do so.

CAR: Do you feel like you’ve generally been supported by other women during your career as a political scientist?

MT: There have been women who supported me, and women who actively did not. What about you?

CAR: I absolutely feel that I’ve been supported by other women. When I was pregnant during graduate school, a female faculty member took me out for coffee (half-caf for me!) and helped me navigate how to stay on target to finish while still taking time for myself and my baby. I’ve also had so many positive experiences with women at conferences:  whether it’s going to each other’s panels, nominating each other for awards, or even just having drinks (no boys allowed!).

MT: I’ve had some of those experiences, but I’ve also had a woman tell me, “You won’t succeed as a serious academic if you have children.” I’ve had another woman tell me to “Back off her research agenda.” My favorite, though, was at a conference. I was the only woman on the panel, and afterward, a female journal editor approached every man on the panel to talk to them about submitting something to her journal. But she skipped over me, telling me my outfit was cute.

CAR: Ugh. I did once watch two women in one department argue over which one of them was the one who studied Eastern Europe. They both studied Eastern Europe!

MT:  It’s artificial competition.  I think women perceive a finite number of jobs/achievements/awards available to us, so we feel the need to be competitive rather than supportive.  I see women all the time who get jealous when their friend gets a promotion, even if they’re in completely different fields or places in their careers.

CAR: I definitely think there is a perception that there isn’t enough room for more than a couple of women. Think back to our post about the 7 people in every political science department. Even WE wrote that there is “The Woman,” as though there’s only room for one.  I know we WANT there to be plenty of room for women, but maybe there simply isn’t yet, so we’re defensive about our little corner of political science.  So I think that’s one reason woman fail to support each other. What are others?

MT: I know this sounds petty and shallow, but I think women are hard on very pretty women. Beauty standards in our society have been discussed other places, so for our purposes, let’s acknowledge that they exist.

CAR: I think there’s something to that.  I mean, how many times have you heard something like, “She only got the job because she’s pretty/skinny/has big boobs/etc.?”  If women are even unintentionally buying into that perception, then we’re going to get even more defensive about our corner of political science.

MT: It’s hard just to know you’re not as pretty as someone else, or not perceived as being pretty. Because then you feel like you’re failing at what (society says) a woman is supposed to be there for. You’re right, it plays into defensiveness.  If people already say you got your job because you’re a woman, and then a prettier one comes along, it’s no leap to worry you’re going to be replaced.  That can’t feel good.

CAR: Conversely, knowing someone might be dismissing your hard work and contributions to the discipline because, “You only got the job based on your looks,” can’t feel good either!

MT: Of course not. So, all kinds of women end up feeling defensive and, thus, less supportive.

CAR: Exactly. So maybe we aren’t as supportive of each other as we should be. Maybe we all need to recalibrate our thinking. How can we change our behavior to be more supportive? How can we make Taylor Swift happy?

MT: I think we can focus on “make sure you’re doing your stuff right,” versus, “make sure that other woman isn’t doing better than you.”

CAR: I like that. It’s not a competition.  I have a couple of things I try to do personally to keep myself in a pro-women mindset. First, I consciously try to make sure that some of my professional role models are women. I think it helps me keep away from the mindset that successful people are men/masculine, and helps me try to emulate successful women and feminine behaviors.  Second, I try to build individual relationships with women in my discipline/department/university. I think the defensive instinct is easy to overcome if you just get to know that women who’s way prettier than you are. She’s probably struggling just as much as you. 😉

MT: I love the idea of consciously seeking out female role models and building supportive relationships. My number one reminder to myself is that this is not a zero-sum game. Parts of it are, sure (only one person can get a job) but most of this career isn’t.  We can all succeed at the same time!

CAR: Agreed! And we haven’t even started talking about the differences in experience between women of different backgrounds (ethnicity, socioeconomic, etc).

MT: That’s an important conversation, too.  Women, tell us your experiences! Have you been supported by other women? Undermined by other women? What are your strategies for being supportive?  What do you do when faced with an unsupportive female colleague?

CAR: As Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.”  Keep up the great work, women in Political Science (and every other field)! You rock!



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