Awkward Academic Moments: The Woman Issue, Red Herrings, and Other Nonsense
Although this post is written informally and seasoned with irony, humor, and sardonic flare, it is nonetheless substantive and speaks to issues of which I care deeply, assumptions that need challenging, and claims that ought to be deconstructed. As a female in a (white) male-dominant profession, viz. philosophy, I often find myself in the company of my (white) male colleagues in the workplace, at conferences, etc., engaged for the most part in intense, intellectually stimulating conversation. However, there are those awkward moments, which, honestly speaking, baffle, and, truth be told, frustrate me completely. For example, my otherwise savvy, thoughtful male counterparts somehow believe that being a woman or being a person of color gives one a free pass when it comes to academic positions, interviews, and the like. Here are some common assertions that I encounter on a regular basis: (WM= white, male colleague) (WTF?= I assume that this is fairly clear. If not, google it.)
- WM: “I didn’t get the job because they gave it to some woman, and these days the women, African Americans, and other minorities get all the jobs.” Me: “And where did this ‘woman’ earn her Ph.D.?” WM: Notre Dame. Me: “That is, after all, an excellent institution. Has she published anything?” WM: “She’s published 5 or so journal articles in peer-reviewed journals.” Me: “And have you published anything?” WM: “I’ve been working on this piece for 3 or so years; it’s just not ready for submission yet.” Me: “Perhaps this ‘woman’ was given the job because she earned it and not simply because she is a woman.” WM: “Look, I know that you get upset with the whole ‘woman’ issue and that you are a feminist. So let’s just talk about something else.” Me: (Baffled, but silently thinking—is this not a classic example of a red herring?)
- WM: “If my last name were ‘Sanchez’ or ‘Hernandez,’ then maybe I’d have a chance on the academic market.” Me: (Silently thinking, “I can’t believe he just said that. That’s incredibly racist.”)
- WM: “This is my friend, Cynthia Nielsen. She recently accepted a position at Villanova. Being a woman and all, she was kind of a shoe-in.” Me: (Baffled, but silently thinking, WTF does that mean?)
- Me: How’s the job hunting lately? WM: It’s not going well. How about you? Me: I submitted 50 applications and had 4 interviews. WM: “Wow, you had four interviews this year. Well, I guess that makes sense given that you are a woman and all.” Me: “Could it be that the institutions actually value my work and have a genuine interest in my past and current research projects? Would you say to your African American or Latino colleague, ‘you got the job/interview only because you are black/Latino?’ WM: “Oh, I forgot that you are really hypersensitive about these kinds of issues. Just calm down.” ME: (Baffled, but silently thinking, WTF?)
I would love to hear from my female colleagues and from people of color in the academy who have had similar experiences. I would especially like to hear how you respond to awkward moments of this sort and whether any of your critical conversations with male colleagues have had positive results.