Being a Woman · Nature of Academia · Teaching Political Science

Why Should I Care?

I got a student evaluation comment this term that really made me think. Not about my teaching or courses, but about my students and what my role is to them vs. what they perceive it should be. The eval was something to the effect of:

“She is passionate about the content and subject matter, but she doesn’t seem to really care about her students.”

At first, I kind of shrugged and thought, yes, that sounds accurate. I care about the content and what my students learn, but I’m not sure I care about my students. Well, let’s get specific here.  I care that they all receive the same equal opportunity to learn the content in my course. I care that they are provided with all the information they need to understand how to succeed.  I care that they are exposed to the material that I need them to learn.

But do I care about THEM?  I don’t know.  Is it my job to care about them?

We see that women in academia are penalized when they don’t exhibit nurturing behavior toward their students in a way that men aren’t.  Students are, perhaps, looking for their women professors to act more like mothers than professors/bosses/authority figures.

I have always held the firm and well-thought-out belief that there are other institutions both on campus and in their personal lives who exist to “care” about them.  Their families or friends. College counseling centers or Student Life offices.  And I do think part of my responsibility is to guide them to those resources if they need someone who can provide the “care” that I feel is beyond the scope of my profession.  The kind of “care” that could, perhaps, require someone more personally invested or professionally trained. The “care” that is absolutely never reflected back toward me (imagine me complaining to them that they don’t care enough about me!)

And also, the “care” that I am certainly never being rewarded for when I’m working toward tenure.

A recent Chronicle piece was slammed pretty heavily because the author seems so nonchalant and annoyed at what could potentially have been a real tragedy in a student’s life.  I understood that this was written in sarcasm/hyperbole.  I also understood the criticism:  that this woman was far too callous and “didn’t care about her students.”  But I also understood where she was coming from.

There are some students, those who have sought and created a mentoring relationship with me, about whom I care on a more personal level.  After many office hours visits or semesters in class, through voluntary independent study courses in which they write lengthy papers under my guidance, these students have shown that they really DO care about the course content, the information, and the discipline.  When those students have a work/life balance question or a personal crisis, I have certainly offered a listening ear or advice that would certainly fall under “caring.”

But there are students who would try to take advantage of the “caring,” like the student the author describes in her article.  So when a student that I have seen in class just a handful of times approaches me, asking for some sort of extension on an assignment, etc., either because of a personal crisis or just for no reason at all, my response is always the same:  I guide them to the university/community resources that can help them with whatever problem they’re experiencing, and I remind them of the very specific policies laid out in the syllabus for how extensions or late work will be handled. No judgement call on my part. No unfairness. No . . . caring.

Maybe it’s true.  Maybe I don’t care enough about them.  Our students are adults who are learning to navigate a world independently, where they must deal with adversity and learn how to find resources to overcome it.  My job is to teach them political science.  And while I certainly don’t mind providing information on resources available to my students, caring and nurturing students is a burden, sometimes a futile one or one that students will take advantage of.  It is a burden that is expected from women far moreso than men, and we aren’t rewarded for it.  So why should I care?

Being a Woman · Nature of Academia · Tenure

What’s the Deal with Service?

jerry-seinfeld-whats-the-deal

 

I am not teaching this summer.  You’d think that would mean time for research and maybe even some well deserved R&R.  But no.  I said yes to one too many committees.  Committees that exist for a purpose in the university or department but still provide essentially zero personal benefit for me.

Research exists that shows that women do more service than men and get less credit, and from my experience, this is absolutely on the nose.  And I think it’s worth taking a moment to think about both parts of that statement (do more, and get less) and how they relate to our experiences in political science.

1.Women do more service than men.  

In my department, administrative and service requirements are disproportionately left to women.  There are, of course, men who hold administrative positions in the department and serve on committees, but those are the “sexy” committees that do things people care about:  research, graduate education, maybe faculty senate if they like being in the spotlight and/or want to run for real office one day.  The boring jobs, like assessment, undergraduate curriculum, or scholarship committees are left to the small number of women in the department.

Research has also shown this is true of student groups and graduate advising, so-called “care work.” When I look around at who advises Pi Sigma Alpha, or who advises the College Republicans, I see a lot of women in those roles. A lot of times they’re just handed to people- “oh, hey, so-and-so retired so now we need someone to advise PSA”- but also a lot of  times, students approach female faculty to advise their groups because they think female faculty are more likely to say yes. Additionally, graduate students tend to drop by female faculty’s office hours more often to discuss issues they’re running into, again because they believe the female faculty are more likely to take the time to talk to them.

Why is this the case?  Some of it is probably due to subtle sexism, where women are expected to do the “chores” at work just like they’re expected to do them at home.  Also, women need to be more available and nicer to students than men do, or they’ll get shitty student evaluations. But I’m not going to shirk all of the responsibility for this; I say “yes” far too often, when I should say “no.”  We are more likely to be asked to be on the university Beautification Committee, and we should say, “No, I am spending my summer on research, not on selecting art for the library.”  But we don’t.  Or at least, I don’t.  I say yes.  And why do I say yes?

Well, I don’t want to be a Problem.  The Unhelpful One.  That’s not a good reputation to have.  In addition, this work needs to get done. Somehow, we have to decide what art hangs in the library, and nothing at a university can be accomplished with a Working Group. Also, while we’re being honest, part of my type A personality enjoys being a part of big decisions affecting general education, or knowing that everyone is going to see a painting that I chose- I feel a sense of (small) power that is rare to feel in higher education. And, of course, I say yes because I want to get the credit for it.

But wait…

2.Women get less credit than men.

I put my service on my C.V.  Maybe not the Beautification Committee, but the university strategic planning committee? Sure! Of course!  I’m spending my summer in biweekly meetings for that committee, you better believe I’m putting it on my C.V.

But no one actually looks at my C.V., and I get the sneaking suspicion that no one in my department actually knows I’m on the committee at all.  I’m representing our department at the university level, making decisions that will absolutely affect our recruitment and advising internally, but no one even knows or cares that it’s happening. It’s that classic problem the hospitality industry has- if you do a good job, no one says anything. It’s when you mess up someone’s order (get known as the Woman Who Said No) that people leave scathing reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor (say you can’t be tenured because you aren’t “collegial”).

When you get a publication and tell your colleagues, you might get some recognition, a congratulations, a mention on the department’s social media page.  When you make a decision on the QEP Committee, you might tell your colleagues. And they’ll go, “Oh, there’s a QEP Committee? What does that stand for?”

3. If we count service, where should it count?

Like I said before, these decisions have to be made- someone has to serve on these committees, and someone has to make sure student groups don’t run amok.  This is a mandatory part of higher ed.  But these things aren’t valued.  I’m not arguing that it should be as much a part of a tenure decision at a major research university as research, obviously, but it should count for something. We’ve started a culture of “Cite Yoself!”  Can we work on a culture of “Brag On Your Committee Achievements?” (Maybe someone can make it more catchy, though…?)

Someone has to be on committees and do administrative work. Women do more service, and we aren’t getting credit for it.  I’m going to try to say NO more often.  And when I do pick the library art, I’m going to email it to every member of my department. YES, in fact, I DID select that lovely lighthouse print.

You’re welcome.

Being a Woman · Nature of Academia

A Day in the Life of (One) Academic Mom

Americanist Bitch is an academic — and a mom. Here, she gives a window into what that’s like in her individual day-to-day.

Because The Bitches really love that this important conversation was started. However, we felt it important to point out that the original description, while amusing and true for the author and for many mothers in academia, was a very specific and, honestly, quite privileged* point of view.  Different institutions and family situations make for very different days!

5:30 a.m. I wake up early, before the kids, to try and answer a few emails I received over night. The more emails I answer now, the more time I have later for class prep and maybe even- dare I dream it- research!

7:00 a.m. The kids are awake and getting fed and dressed. Man, I will be excited when the baby can change his own clothes and isn’t drinking bottles anymore. It’s hard to get dressed myself when he wants to latch onto my leg like a leech, which is most mornings. I need to find a nicer dress, because I’ll be seeing the President of the college at that reception thing later…

8:00 a.m. I take the kids to school, because my hours are more lenient than my full time, regular office-working husband’s. I get asked for the 14th time why I don’t come to more of their morning coffee socials, and could I please remember to bring more changes of clothes for the older one.

9:00 a.m. I’m finally in my office, a glorious hour of uninterrupted work time ahead- just kidding, my door is immediately slammed with student after student. I work at an LAC, where office doors are always open and students are ALWAYS around. Can I advise them which classes to take next semester? Can I sign these forms? Hey, you missed class yesterday, but NO I will not re-teach the entire hour just for you right here in my office.

10:00 a.m. I’m in a committee meeting. We’re deciding which faculty will get sabbaticals next year. I haven’t been here long enough to catch all the references from the old timers, but supposedly that guy in English has been waiting for years so it’s his turn. Hey, if I get tenure, maybe I’ll get a sabbatical! Does sleeping count as scholarly work? I have like, 5 years to catch up on. While they fight over who has contributed to the college longest, I squeeze in 3 extra slides on my PSCI 100 lecture about executive orders.

11:00 a.m. I’m meeting with more undergraduate students. Forget research- they still don’t understand the difference between federal courts and state courts. They really do want to learn (most of them, anyway), but geniuses these kids are not. Remember when I got to do original research on courts? No, I can’t either.

12:00 p.m. I’m teaching, lecturing, guiding, discussing. Classes are small enough that I can call on students by name. This is nice for building an atmosphere of fear, which I need because I’m a young woman in a male-dominated field.

1:00 p.m. Still teaching. In fact, I’ll be teaching for the next 2 hours as well, because my MWF are back-to-back and this is my 4 class load semester.

4:00 p.m. Another committee meeting, or more meetings with students. I MIGHT have five minutes to chat (bitch) with a colleague in the hallway about how the administration might be taking away our free parking spaces. Like I have more room in my paycheck for $50/year parking passes at my place of work?! Shit, we missed that reception thing with the President. We’re going to pay for that later, when they talk about our “collegiality.”

5:00 p.m. I retrieve the kids, and try to remember if we have food to cook in the fridge. Eh, better stop at Wal-Mart anyway because I KNOW I’m out of wine and it’s already been a long week. Is it a bath night? Can I convince my husband to let me work on a conference paper for an hour after dinner? It’s “due” in a week and I haven’t even started.

6:00 p.m. I’m too tired to cook dinner and my husband isn’t home yet, so McDonald’s it is. Those Happy Meals must have addictive properties, because to my kid no other restaurant exists. I get a McDouble with no cheese and that’s it, because I haven’t had time to work out in 6 years so I need to watch the intake. Did I remember to buy an apple to go on the side? Shit, did we have enough money in the account for what I just spent at Wal-Mart?! I think we got paid last Friday…

7:00 p.m. Nick Jr. for the kids because I need time to answer more student emails. They get really touchy if it takes too long (read: longer than 3 hours) for a faculty member to answer, and I have to be sensitive to that because we’re a tuition-driven institution. What time is my husband getting home again? Guess I’m not working on that conference paper until MUCH later. Hmm, I can’t remember what I’m teaching in theory tomorrow… No, theory is not my field, but everyone at my institution has to teach a little bit of everything.

8:00 p.m. Hubby is finally home, exhausted. But glad he’s around, because sometimes he travels for days at a time.  It’s a bath night so to the bathroom we go. We exchange pleasantries about our day while the kids splash. I have my tenure review coming up, so he tells jokes to get my mind off the million ways that could go wrong. He doesn’t really get why academia is so weird, and why I’d work this hard when I don’t even get to do that much research.

9:00 p.m. The kids are put in bed. They won’t be asleep for awhile, but I need to work on that conference paper like, yestermonth. Many faculty members at my institution no longer go to conferences, but I have dreams about moving up so I need to stay up in the field and network my ass off. Is there a conference going somewhere cool next year? I could add a couple days and make it a vacation…. hahahaha just kidding what’s a vacation?

10:00 p.m. Still writing. Still getting student emails.  Also trying to catch up on bill paying, because I have hospital bills from 4 years ago that we’re still paying off.  The constant thrum of bank account balances and bills is always running through my head.

11:00 p.m. I get in bed, mind whirling. I think about picking up a fiction book to read but no, I need to pull out Rousseau and brush up on Emile for tomorrow (God, I hope it’s Emile tomorrow). I finally fall asleep 30 minutes later, without having read much. Let’s be honest, the students haven’t either.

2:00 a.m. The older one needs to pee, and her yelling wakes up the baby. Fantastic!

5:30 a.m. I’m yanked from sleep by my alarm, so I can try to get another 30 minutes of email writing. A new day begins. I hope I have time for research today! Eventually, I will catch up on emails and student meetings and committee meetings and that new pre-law program the administration wants me to start…

*Americanist Bitch also acknowledges that the above description also entails certain privileges, like the tenure track, and a supportive husband. Non-tenure track or adjuncting moms, single moms in academia- what’s YOUR day like?

Being a Woman · Sexual Harassment

On Protecting Men’s Feelings

Totally, 100% true conversation the Bitches had today.

 

CAR: I have an older student, nontraditional, who comes by my office often. Sometimes he has actual class questions to ask, but most of the time he just wants to chat about life. I can’t put my finger on why, but he creeps me out.

MT: Did he do something?

CAR: Well, first, he asked me if I was married. I refused to answer, so he guessed. I tried to laugh it off, and he said, “You can’t be married, you’re too-” and stopped. But it was all over his face- he was going to say something like I’m too young, or too pretty, or something. Then, another time, he said he appreciated my looks.

MT: And you don’t feel comfortable telling him to stop?

CAR: I don’t. I don’t really know why- I don’t think he’ll physically attack me or anything- but I don’t like that he clearly doesn’t respect me or my position or authority.

MT: I have a kind of similar situation at my institution. I have an older colleague, very kind gentleman, who compliments me on my outfits/hair/shoes nearly every day. I know he’s trying to be nice, but I don’t like how it makes me feel.

CAR: I don’t think there are many ways a man can possibly comment on a woman’s appearance at work.

MT: I know! But I just say, “Thank you!” and let him go on his way. I don’t have the heart to correct him. He’d listen to me, apologize profusely, and I’d feel so guilty. Why do women feel guilty for telling a man he’s being inappropriate?

CAR: I know why I’m not telling the student in my office that he’s inappropriate. I’m afraid to. What will he do? How will he react? What consequences would that have for me? He’d be so defensive, I know it.

MT: Oh I’m not afraid at all, I just don’t want to hurt my colleague’s feelings. It’s nice to be complimented, and I know he means well, but it’s still sexualizing me in the workplace. The place no one should be sexualized.

CAR: Exactly. You know, we’re both accommodating men here. You don’t want to say anything because “he’d be embarrassed, and I want to protect his feelings.” I don’t want to say anything because “he scares me a little, and I’m afraid of what he’ll do.” Why are we doing this?

MT: WHY indeed?

CAR: This reminds me of an article I found on Buzzfeed. The whole thing is about her feeling uncomfortable but having to be nice about it. It totally resonated with me.

MT: Oh, wow, that is SO true. There is so much pressure on women to make things comfortable or easier for men. We feel pressured to act a certain way to protect men’s feelings, when in our cases the man is the one who is in the wrong.

CAR:  And I know this, but I still just smile and laugh so he’ll go away without incident.

MT: And I just say, “Thank you!”

CAR: whomp whomp

 

Being a Woman · Departmental Politics · Hilarious But True

If You Give a Man a Meeting…

If you give a man a meeting, he’s going to want to change the location. His office. Always his office. NEVER yours.

When you change the location, he’ll probably make you change the time, too.  So, you’ll have to work it out with the Assistant Dean’s secretary so that everyone can be there.

When the meeting is finished, he’ll ask you for an executive summary of everything you talked about. In Power Point form.

Then, he’ll want to look through the Power Point on his computer to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

When he looks at his computer, he might notice the Excel spreadsheet you sent him last week. The one he was supposed to review and suggest changes but never did and is just now remembering it.

So he’ll probably email it back to you with some proposed additions (one of which is actually already on there but he didn’t see it) so he can send it to the Provost’s office.

When he’s finished sending the spreadsheet to the Provost’s office, he’ll want to be sure the new catalog copy reflects the changes in the spreadsheet.

He might get carried away and want to check the catalog copy for every course and program your department offers.

He may even end up checking the website as well!

When he’s done, he’ll probably want to go to happy hour with the visiting scholar while you make all of the corrections.

You’ll have to call and make the reservation for him.

He’ll start to head out to happy hour, but he won’t have the visiting scholar’s CV, so he’ll probably ask you to remind him what she’s presenting about.

So you’ll take a look, and you’ll tell him what she studies, and he’ll get so excited, he’ll want to work on a whole new research project. He’ll ask you to help him get some data.

He’ll write an abstract.  When the abstract is finished, he’ll want to submit it to MPSA.

Then, he’ll want to create a new selected topics course around this research agenda, which means he’ll need a course approval form.

You’ll finish the course approval form for him, and he’ll sit at his desk and look at it.

Looking at the course approval form will remind him that he needs to get the Assistant Dean’s approval to teach this course as an overload.

So…

He’ll ask you to send the paperwork to the Assistant Dean’s office.

And chances are, if he asks you to send the paperwork to the Assistant Dean’s office…

He’s going to want a meeting to go with it.

 

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Being a Woman · This Week in Bad Journalism

This Week in Bad Journalism: Sex Sells, We Know.

An article was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that got picked up by the Guardian.  The Guardian provides a lot of cute charts and, in short, concludes that lesbian women are having a lot more orgasms than other women, and that women need a “Golden Trio” of deep kissing, oral sex, and genital stimulation to orgasm.

Well, first of all, let’s start by getting it out of the way: #notallwomen

Right? But beyond that, we can dig into the actual article a bit more to see where the cute charts and Golden Trio advice might not quite match up with the research itself.  Because all the cute charts in the world are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

solo

First, let’s take a look at the study itself, because there are some methodological issues that the authors do, in their defense, mostly acknowledge.

  • The N is massive.  Yes, a large N is good, but with 52,000 observations, everything is going to be significant. Because of this, the authors select a cutoff point for the coefficient size: any coefficient less than 0.09 is not reported as significant. I’m not sure this makes much  methodological sense, but at least they’ve acknowledged that sometimes, there IS such a thing as too big.
  • They run three (six) models when I think they should have run one (two).  Rather than controlling for, or even better, creating interaction terms for, the authors run three separate models for straight, gay/lesbian, and bisexual individuals.  I’d rather see a model of all women with some indication of how (straight * oral sex) affects the likelihood of orgasm.
  • Their causal arrow might go the wrong way.  I know. I KNOW. Always my critique. But is it the case that the number of orgasms is caused by how long you’ve been together, or do you stay together longer because you’re getting lots of orgasms?  The authors partially acknowledge this by running a model in which they take out relationship satisfaction as a variable (because it might be circular, in the sense that satisfaction causes orgasms which causes more satisfaction), but at the end of the day, we’re not proving that orgasms are actually caused by any of this.

The Guardian article, however, decides not to take a very nuanced approach to reporting on this. Sex sells and talking about orgasms is a great way to get likes and shares (it worked, obviously, because we’re talking about it here), but this article makes some pretty strong claims about what’s happening in the bedroom that aren’t backed up by the data.

The cute chart with the waterworks?  Percentage who saw they “Always” orgasm? Is that really the appropriate level of comparison? ALWAYS? Always is a lot.  The article itself does include information comparisons between groups on whether they “usually/always” orgasm, but the chart is what you look at, and it’s not really telling a good story about how heterosexual and bisexual women are enjoying their sex lives.

There is a bit of a throwaway statement that another question might be to find out whether women are happy with the frequency with which they orgasm. Actually, I think that’s a much BETTER question!  It’s quality, not quantity, folks (I haven’t got any data on that).

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the problems with asking people to report on their own sex lives.

Overall, I think Dr. Lloyd’s hope that women will “talk about [the Golden Trio] with their partners” is a great one, because we can probably all agree that more communication about what we want in order to be sexually satisfied is probably a good thing (yes, I know, where’s the data?).  But this is Bad Journalism. It’s making strong claims about sexual behavior that result in lots of clicks, without enough support to back it up.

Let’s be honest:  if Sociologists aren’t careful, we’re going to lower them in the Social Science rankings. Watch it, Sociology!

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!

wild-tutu-shaking