Friday, June 24, 2011

A Manly Problem for Manly Men to Solve (Except, Not)

Okay, I've posted here from time to time. I pretty much only show up once everyone's forgotten about me again, so - carrying on that tradition - I have a question for all you CMers.

(Note: Normally, I hate "professional" posts. I prefer Smackdown on Students and venting in general. I embrace my hypocrisy.)

Anyway, I have a problem, and - for whatever reason - I'm seeking your advice. My field is overwhelmingly dominated by men, and while my department is a bit ahead of the curve on gender balance among the faculty, we still have some problems.

(One of the worst is the lack of ethnic diversity, but that's not what we're discussing here. One thing at a time.)

We're lucky enough to have a nice departmental lounge where a good bit of socialization, wool-gathering, and even a little professional discussion gets done. It's a nice place for graduate students and faculty members to hang out and display a little collegiality, and we all appreciate it. It is one of the things that contributes to the friendly, collegial atmosphere in the department, a prized attribute of our program. The problem is this: there are few - sometimes no - gals around. In short, there's still a bit of a "locker-room" feel to the departmental public spaces, as more than one faculty member, grad student, and even undergrad major have noted.

We have female faculty members. Heck, women make up something like a quarter of our permanent faculty, and a woman is perhaps our highest profile and most accomplished faculty member. This is either right at or slightly ahead of the average, depending on what numbers you're looking at, so it's not that as a department, we're unusually tilted in a male-ward direction. It's just that the female faculty members don't usually hang out in the department's public spaces. One of the female grad students is making a game try to spend time in the lounge and be a part of the department's social life, but without any of the female authority figures there to interact with or support her efforts, she seems to be struggling.

Look, I get there are good reasons why that might be the case. In the first place, not all the male faculty members like to hang out in the lounge - some of them just aren't that convivial, you know? And of course, the very "locker-room" atmosphere of the place might be a reason why the females in the department don't want to hang out there - I get that, too. Mind you, I think calling the atmosphere "locker-room" is an exaggeration - a number of the "regulars" are ardently feminist males - but the general point still holds, and I get it. Points are gotten. By me.

The problem is, it's not going to get better unless the women show up and make themselves a part of the life of the department. I have two reasons for thinking this.

First, as I said, I don't think there's much in the way of even unconscious sexism (still less the conscious stuff - that wouldn't be tolerated in these parts), but without someone on hand who has personal insight into suffering from sexism, it can be hard for even the most enlightened of my own gender to know when a line has been crossed. I think we behave pretty well on the whole, but we could certainly do better, and having women more prominently integrated into the life of the department in that way could only, I think, help on the whole consciousness-raising angle.

Second, women entering my field need all the face-time they can get from what few women there are already established. It's hard out there for them - some departments really ARE like high school locker rooms. The horror stories I've heard... heck, the things I've seen and heard myself... it's tough for a lot of the women in the discipline because some of the guys out there aren't that enlightened and will do whatever they can to drive them out or make them feel objectified. As many women already in the game have said, women newly entering the field need to know that it can be done; they need to have contact and get mentoring from women already out there, doing the work.

So here's my problem. What do I say? I'm a guy, and, frankly, I'm not sure it's really my place to go up to the female faculty members and tell them they need to be spending more time in the department's public spaces. Who am I to lecture them on their feminist responsibilities? I'm pretty sure most of them are committed to some form of feminism, by the way, but I've read and accepted the arguments about why the various social revolutions by oppressed groups (women, gays, blacks, etc.) must be led from within - so, again, who am I to tell them how it should be done, what they ought to be doing, no matter how much I think the department as a whole is hurting from their lack of more sustained involvement?

It's a mystery, Shaggy, and a good one. Our department is, overall, very female friendly. The female faculty members are all smart, accomplished, and well-intentioned. I have no doubt that there's no lack of commitment to the general principle - it's just that, you know, life happens. Kids, personal projects, and - in some cases - just a lack of the right kind of extroverted, convivial personality that it takes to be a department-lounge lizard can all conspire to keep certain faculty members at home, in the library, or just cloistered in their offices. Still, there's so much riding on it when it comes to the female faculty members, dig? When half the males in the department would rather be somewhere else, who cares? There's still the other half to loiter around the coffee machine and make stupid jokes and trade YouTube recommendations. But when all the women in the department would rather be somewhere else, even if just for completely personal reasons, unrelated to any assessment of the atmosphere of the department itself? Yeeks.

I'm stumped, y'all. Help a brother (who's trying to do his part to help the sisters) out. 

51 comments:

  1. This is kind of a hard one, since Regenal Studies isn't exactly a female-laden field—we're pretty much dead last in our general division. We used to ask why there weren't more women in RS; after hearing some of the answers, and the attempts to justify blatant sexism as being the right and obvious thing, we stopped asking. It was just too disappointing to listen to bright people spouting such misogynist "women don't like to think" bullshit.

    We've tried to help as much as we can, but Wylod's right—when the culture is entrenched, you can't even be sure how or what to change. When you conduct a poll of the grad students for a teaching award and find out that the three eligible female faculty members occupy the bottom three positions, you begin to have suspicions. When women are always chosen for heading department social events, even with the occasional gung-ho "why is this place so stiff?" male assisting, you have more. When you realize that most of the female grad students don't talk about their research quite as readily as many of the male ones . . . well, you get the picture. "Evidence" may not be the plural of "anecdote" or "vague suspicion," but there's something there. We do our best to watch our assumptions, engage our female colleagues as much as possible, and seek out less uptight males for organizing events that can't be put on a CV, but it's hard.
    Doesn't mean it ain't necessary, though.

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  3. (This would be the very lounge where your students couldn't find you last September despite the sign on your office door? That was a funny mini-smackdown, and I wish I could add the link in this puny comments box.)

    Two points and a suggestion:

    1. Minorities in the academy (including women) face high expectations that they will mentor every student and junior faculty who shares their "outsider" identity. This increases their service load and cuts into their time for the research and writing that actually counts towards promotion. I'm not saying that you are asking your female colleagues to take on a heavier burden than your male colleagues -- but are you?

    2. Your analysis of the complexities shows you to be a very humane person. It's great that you're understanding about "it's just that, you know, life happens. Kids, personal projects, . . . personality. . . "

    For some of your colleagues, you probably could add "elder care" -- a responsibility that falls disproportionately on women. Some may be in the "sandwich generation" of women who are both raising children and managing their parents' households and medical care.

    As an example of what it's like to be "sandwiched," here's a typical day from my most sandwiched years. My arrival time at work (community college) depended on the time my kids' school would accept kids. I tried to get as much work done between classes as possible, because a second 5 to 6 -hour workday awaited. I left work in time to pick up the kids before the after-school care closed; visited the folks; handled whatever minor crisis they had that day (Curse you, Publishers Clearinghouse! Curse you, HMO appointment-confirmation robocalls to confused, hard-of-hearing people!); got home; fixed dinner; supervised homework and baths; and read stories to wiggly little people in pajamas (best best best part of the day). Inevitably there would still be grading. Not to mention dishes.

    When colleagues wanted to shoot the breeze, I'd think, "there goes an hour of sleep tonight."

    Suggestion: start a new tradition. AA has a point about how women are often asked to run department social events. You can be the exception. And your timing is good -- a new academic year is right around the corner.

    Could you invite your whole department (including grad students) to a monthly late-afternoon 90 minutes with refreshments? Not a potluck, which would add to the burden of attending. YOU would make the coffee; provide a selection of tea (for the microwave or electric kettle); and buy the creamer, cookies or crackers, fruit and/or veggies, and paper plates, cups, and napkins.

    This lounge event would be voluntary and scheduled, so that colleagues could plan for alternate kid wrangling and elder visits for that one day. It would have a professional reason such as an informal seminar theme with a colleague talking about a current project or journal article. You could ask that high-profile, accomplished proffie to be the inaugural focus.

    And then be patient. Let it develop naturally. Keep it going for a semester or two and see if that increases the gender diversity in the lounge.

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  4. I can't help wondering if your female colleagues are very busy working and simply don't have time to be social in the lounge.

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  5. Think for a minute how problematic the phrase "it's not going to get better unless the women show up and make themselves a part of the life of the department." In other words, it's the minority groups' problem that they are left out of the "inner circle" - not a problem with the institutional culture of the department. The underlying expectation here is that it's the minority group that needs to change, not the majority; if "they" acted more like "us" there wouldn't be a problem.

    That attitude does nothing to address the problem of sexism in any meaningful way. I realize you're not seeing much in the way of "even unconscious sexism" here, but frankly, I do. It's screaming out of this post.

    While you're right that lecturing the female faculty on their "feminist responsibilities" is not appropriate, how about taking on some of those feminist responsibilities yourself? What would you expect the female faculty to do if they *were* present? Presumably you expect them to help the female graduate student to make connections and join in. Presumably they would shift the conversation away from the locker room to something more becoming to adult academics. You can do this, too. In fact you're in a better position to do so, since you are already included in the conversation.

    And if you do have a collegial relationship with some of the female faculty, why not mention the trend you've seen? Ask here what YOU could do about it - don't tell her what you think should be done.

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  6. I think that a good amount of what has been said above is true. It often comes to this: If you want to be considered "good" you have to be the BEST. If you aren't the best you might as well be the worst.

    But that aside for a moment. I few months ago I ranted on non-academic forum about a man from another department who ALWAYS used the single-seater women's room on my floor and how pissed I was about it. Turns out most Europeans and men thought I was being stupid but a few voices gave me an idea what is really going on (assuming he isn't a perv that is).

    Men are, as a class, messy peers (which is why I was so irate in the first place). Apparently men's rooms are a lot dirtier than the ladies. And apparently, lots of women do things to make the ladies room they use often more hospitable (plants, perfume, lotion, fish, comfy chairs, air fresheners, fancy soaps, nice communal feminine products, and many other nice things). And finally, many women were equally insensed by poor aim and no flushies but the men were like "whatever."

    My point is that just because you guys feel like the room is fine enough doesn't mean that the women would be comfortable there. I'd start with a good clean. Clear out all the old papers, disinfect all the surfaces (weekly), clean out the fridge (weekly), use disinfectant wipes in and on the fridge (weekly), arrange the furnishings in a way condusive to conversation. Then add a plant (that you take care of and dust), some nice soap by the sink, perhaps some nice hand lotion, keep a bottomless bowl of individually wrapped candy in the fridge or a hidden area (to keep the snowflakes out). Then have a social hour with nice goodies and announce the new changes.

    If you make these changes, I'd bet you anything that everyone would make it into the lounge during the first week. Then all you have engage with them and make them feel welcome (and keep the place clean and nice looking).

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  7. My suggestion is kind of a dumb one: Free food.

    Bring food in and specifically tell the ladies it's there. Maybe give your lone female grad student advanced notice so she can tell her peers.

    If you provide food in an on-campus location, people will be there.

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  8. @ CMP -- I agree with your post but beg to differ on the "men's rooms are a lot dirtier than the ladies" part. My pre-academic employment required dabbling in the custodial arts, and while I agree that men's rooms can be kind grungy, what with the splashing pee-pee and all, the women's restrooms were all far, far dirtier, messier, and more difficult to clean.

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  9. Thanks for all the feedback, y'all. A general comment, followed by three more specific ones:

    Generally: The female faculty members are very productive members of the department, just like the men. They mentor, as do the men, and they have strong publishing records and research agendas, as do the men. There's no workload differential - as noted, most of the men are ardent feminists and such matters are considered carefully to avoid any discrimination. The problem isn't at the "basic" level - there's a high degree of feminist awareness in the department already. The problem is, as mentioned, that there's only so much that can be done on that front without more involvement from the female members of the department. For instance...

    @Barb: As noted, there are plenty of strongly feminist males in the department, but if feminism has taught me anything it's that male support for the cause can only go so far. There are some things that only women can do - there are certain aspects of male behavior that only someone who's actually experienced misogyny (i.e., a woman) can reasonably be expected to spot as problematic, there is mentoring for female students that only a female faculty member can provide, etc. We literally NEED minority involvement in order to improve things past a certain level. We can do some of it on our own, but the rest is literally beyond our ken.

    I should also have made more clear that the women faculty are perfectly well involved in the inner circle of the department, the leadership. They are, as noted, very accomplished - driving forces, professionally. What I'm referring to here is the social life of the department; not the WORK we do, but the life that goes along with it. That social element of the discipline is important, and that's something feminist males can't help female grad students with at all. We can review our hiring and admissions practices for known problematic elements, we can ensure that everyone knows that hostile discourse will not be tolerated, we can try to balance our syllabuses, etc. We cannot, however, tell a female grad student what it's like to be a woman in the profession, nor can we give a female grad student hope or comfort her when she faces difficulties because she's a woman. Some things just require deeper involvement from female faculty.

    @CMP: Well, good instinct, but we keep the lounge very nice and clean already. Some of us are kind of neat freaks. I honestly think we're just in a sort of unlucky but "nobody's fault" kind of situation where the female faculty we have just aren't that social. Some people - especially academics - aren't.

    @C: The female faculty work very hard... as do the men. This is not about whether they should be taking on an "extra" job, but about a fact of the profession, like it or not - it won't get better for women in the profession if the women ALREADY there don't get more involved with mentoring female grad students. I make no representations about whether it's fair or whether it involves extra commitments from the female faculty... no, scratch that, I will make such representations - it DOES involve extra work. And, sadly, no one else can do that work. It's the only way things are going to improve. We've done all we can as feminist men, but, as repeatedly noted, feminist men cannot do it all - some elements of this are simply beyond our understanding or capacity to address. Our female faculty are committed feminists; I'm just noting that if they want to actualize on those principles, they need to get more socially involved.

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  10. Long-time reader, first time commenter (grad student fan!). Just thought I'd share an article I read yesterday that seems pertinent to the issue discussed: http://hbr.org/2011/06/defend-your-research-what-makes-a-team-smarter-more-women/ar/1

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  11. @Wylodmayer - I'm not entirely sure why you are bringing up the issue of professional mentorship. I'm going to assume that such mentorship is taking place where you don't see it - in an office, other personal meetings, etc.

    What your original post addressed was an issue of the social life of the department, where an at least mildly exclusionary, if not directly hostile environment, was being created - not by the WOMEN in the department, but by the MEN. The MEN in the department are the ones hanging around shooting the breeze. Since the women aren't coming - and when they do come are seen to be "struggling" - it's the responsibility of the people creating the environment to review what it is about their behavior that might be making these women uncomfortable.

    Who knows - maybe the women in your department have actually mentored the female graduate students to not bother with hanging out in the lounge, because it will get them nowhere and simply make the women feel even more like outsiders.

    These women are your colleagues and your students. It is your responsibility to help create a good environment for everyone, regardless of gender. What have you done for the female graduate student who comes and struggles? Have you tried to make sure she is included? Examine your own behavior before you start going out to tell others what they need to do.

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  12. I just want to say that I'm an undergrad in this same department. A female undergrad. Let me correct a few misapprehensions about what's going on here. The men are friendly. Many of them are feminist, and quick to point out if something is sexist. The lounge is clean and an inviting place to be. The female instructors are brilliant and wonderful teachers. They simply *aren't there* socially. I don't know what the female grad student has been told, but no one has told me not to hang in the lounge. It's actually been encouraged by at least one female professor. The lounge is not a place to make one feel like an outsider *except* for the pure fact that one tends to be the only female there. The simple solution to that is a higher female presence. Hanging out in the lounge is a *great* way to spend time, make friends, and learn tons from professors, graduate students, and everyone. Again, Barb, let me stress what has already been stressed. The men are not creating a hostile environment. No hostile environment exists. I don't know where you got the idea that one did. What does exist is an environment that consists almost entirely of men. The men cannot fix this. The women have to fix this. It's just that simple.

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  13. @Barb: I've repeatedly stressed that the atmosphere of the social areas of the department is as female-friendly as we feminist males of the department know how to make it. Any further progress can only be made through the input of actual female faculty who can (a) point out to us any lingering sexism that we, as men, are simply not in a position to detect (the mechanisms of oppression being more clearly seen by the oppressed, after all) and (b) creating an atmosphere that is more genuinely diverse, gender-wise. I'm not really sure how much more clearly I can put that. Your suggestions are appreciated, but - again - not really pertinent. Perhaps you're talking to someone else and you don't realize it.

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  14. If your discipline is very quantitative, I'm a female jr. faculty member in it. While your heart is in the right place, I think it's a bit misguided.

    1) What makes you think those mentoring conversations aren't already happening in offices? Most female grad students (and faculty) prefer to have those personal conversations 1:1 in private Note: it's up to the female grad students to ask.

    2) Related to #1, they may be avoiding the "social hour" because they already get inundated with students wanting non-research advice (in their offices). Grads and undergrads (male and female and ones I've never met) are constantly coming by "to talk."

    3) My best mentors have been senior men (and they've given some of the best advice about how to deal with gender things - it was awkward, but based on our relationship I felt I could ask them when things came up). The senior female faculty I know often have a lot of battle scars and aren't the best to have the conversations with b/c it's too close to home.

    4) No matter how enlightened your dept is, the field isn't and the female grad students need to figure out how to be the only woman in the room and how to deal with well meaning (or not so well meaning) out of line sr. colleagues.

    5) Even if the women were there, they'd pick their battles. Social corrections are much more effective coming from male colleagues. I have a male colleague who never laughs along at "funny" unprofessional comments. His silence is more effective than any female colleague's comment. Also, knowing there are male faculty who are unamused also makes me feel more welcome and more a part of the group (my presence isn't ruining e'one else's "fun").

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  15. Maybe the female faculty actually found a hangout better than a faculty lounge full of physicists. Crazy, I know.

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  16. I'm sorry, but this a lounge. People (including a majority of the women) are choosing not to go there. Am I truly the only one who doesn't see this as a problem?

    Do the women attend departmental parties? If yes, they why obsess over a crummy lounge? Maybe it smells. Or, as Ben suggests, the women have found a better place to chill. Or just don't like chilling on campus.

    I am left wondering if you're making up a problem when none really exists.

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  17. I have your answer.

    W: "One of the female grad students is making a game try to spend time in the lounge...but... without any of the female authority figures there to interact with or support her efforts, she seems to be struggling."

    You then move on to put the onus on women to be in the lounge. If you see this woman is struggling, why don't you go over there and talk to her? Why don't you suggest to your male buddies that they offer her a conversation? You make it seem like everyone just gawks at the lone woman in the room. Without another woman to talk to, she fails.

    You have taken the first step in noticing the problem. Now take the second step. Don't wait for women to move in -- they may have other duties. DO it yourself. Extend a hand. Make it your goal to talk to the people in the lounge regardless of gender. INVITE WOMEN to functions there! Buy a cake a whole foods and pretend it's a holiday or birthday and then invite all the women to that function. The men will show up as they usually do.

    This can be YOU, erasing the Boys Club feel and replacing it with an all-inclusive, no genders barred atmosphere.

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  18. Look, statistically women end up doing the vast majority of the work at home: child care, organization, and cleaning and cooking. I don't know if this is true for your colleagues or not, but I suspect they may just not have as much time in the day as many of the men because they start their "second shift" when they get home. In addition, I agree that they are probably doing a great deal of mentoring in a one on one setting, where they and their students may feel more comfortable discussing what is like to be a woman in a male dominated field.

    Furthermore, I hope that it is true that they do not have higher service and/or scholarship demands placed on them, but statistically that is unlikely. In addition, course evaluations are statistically proven to be harder on women, who must work that much harder to succeed in the classroom. This is even more the case if they are teaching any large lecture or introductory classes.

    I also don't know, exactly, why such a priority is being placed on the social life of the department. If they're doing every thing they're supposed to be doing, but not just hanging out enough with people, why not let it go? I don't see the problem here. Perhaps you are fixated on a culturally male form of relationship building and mentoring, and you are simply missing the women doing it in their own way. Or even those particular individuals, some prefer to socialize one on one or in small settings and that's just how it is.

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  19. Okay, I gave it my best shot, but reading comprehension seems to be at an all time low on this thread.

    1) We DO talk to the female grad student - I'm talking about the fact that there's a value both to the department and to the discipline in having the female faculty involved in the life of the department rather than just it's research. I never said we weren't doing ANYTHING on this front, only that we've DONE ALL WE CAN... and there's still this bit that's out of our hands. THAT'S the concern.

    2) Faculty functions come but a few times a year, while the real life of the department is in the lounge. This is the social sphere of the job-place, the locale in which the grad students of both genders get a glimpse as to what the next thirty to forty years are going to be like once they get a TT job. And, right now, it's sorely lacking in gender diversity. I view that as a problem.

    3) A female undergrad FROM THIS VERY PROGRAM I'M TALKING ABOUT (I know who she is, but it's not my place to identify her) has posted in this thread about these issues, and not one person has addressed her comments.

    I'm out. I give up. When my students stubbornly refuse to address the prompt I've given, I just fail them. My only option when the people to whom I've addressed a sincere question won't respond to the point at hand, rather talking at right angles to all the facts laid out, is to throw up my hands and walk away.

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  20. @Wylodmayer: There is obviously a problem, if the majority of the women in the department choose to not "engage in the social life" of the department. If you want the women to be more involved, take your socially-given privilege and encourage the involvement. Investigate what's going on, rather than jumping to the conclusion that the women are the problem.

    @Kimmy: I'm pleased you feel you have not experienced sexism in your studies. But you should understand that your experience is just that: *your* experience. There is something going on that is, for whatever reason, resulting in the men in the department having one experience and the women another. That indicates that there is an underlying issue in the department.

    @Both of you: Sexism is not always, or even most often, guys telling sexist jokes. It's a small change in attitude; an uncomfortable silence; a tendency to shut up suddenly when someone different comes into the room. Both of your posts take the attitude "If THEY would just do THIS, the problem wouldn't exist." Try that construction with something else: "If gays just wouldn't kiss in public, there wouldn't be a problem." "If immigrants just spoke English, there wouldn't be a problem." "If the women just came to the lounge, there wouldn't be a problem."

    Do you see the problem now?

    There is something keeping the women from the lounge. Wylodmayer, you framed this as an issue of sexism; so having recognized the problem, start trying to fix it.

    Or, you know, maybe it's just that the women have more essential things to focus on than casual chatter.

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  21. Oh, and also Wylodmayer? Just because you're not getting the answer you want doesn't mean we're wrong. Nice way to throw your toys out of the pram.

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  22. Some people are offering you reasons women aren't there (you seem kind of like a jerk is my latest one). Some people are asking why the hell it matters if they're there. Some people are pointing out your very premise is just as sexist as you think it isn't. You're not keen on listening to any of those people. Really: everybody here is the problem? "Feminist" dudes can be really damn exhausting, but I guess once you wear the t-shirt as a dude, you no longer have to think about your own privilege and blind spots. Here's my thought: quit trying to turn the female professors in your department into men. They do things differently. All of them. And they're the ones who are wrong?

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  23. Again, let me try this one more time. I am a woman student in this department. I would like to be able to interact with the female professors in a social way. I am unable to do this because they are not available. They are not choosing other methods of interaction. They are choosing not to interact. They may have valid reasons for this. In fact, they probably do. However, that doesn't solve the problem of myself and other female students, which is a desire for a female presence alongside that of the males (who, again, are stellar individuals who are not sexist and who do not shut up when we walk into the room and who do not do any of the things people here keep assuming they do). If I want a female presence, the only solution is for there to be a female presence. Otherwise, my desire (or need, if you wish to put it that way) will remain unmet. Those of you who are jumping on Wylodmayer for saying the women need to do something different, please notice that you are all assuming without (and in fact against) evidence that the men are doing something wrong or objectionable that keeps the women out. If you wish to offer actual useful advice, rather than accusing Wylodmayer and the other men in the department of being annoying fucks, please absorb what I am telling you. Any other woman in the department would back me up on this (and yes, it's been discussed). The men are not a problem. The men are a joy. The only problem is the men are not women, and we would like to interact professionally and socially with the women as well as with the men. Period. End of story. Please, for the love of all that's holy, stop trying to make this into "The department is full of sexist men who are jerks and who don't know they are because they're blind to privilege." That's not what's happening, and you've been told that often enough now that you ought to be able to understand it.

    And don't tell me that we must both be wrong. I guarantee you that we both know more about this department and how it operates than you do. If we say it works a certain way, coming from our two very different perspectives, then you have no logical reason to assume we are lying, confused, or incapable of seeing the truth.

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  24. Let me try again: it is not in their job description to socialize with you. As a grad student, I was in a department with essentially only women professors, and there was no expectation they hang out with us in lounges. We saw them twice a year at departmental parties and occasionally at happy hours for "socializing." That was it. They were very busy people. We understood that. We were not friends, they were our mentors. Our professional mentors. It is clear that the men in your department have one idea about their job, and the women other. THIS DOES NOT MAKE THE WOMEN WRONG. Your desire to shoot the shit with the women also DOES NOT MAKE THEM WRONG. If you want female friendships, make friends. What you want is literally not their jobs.

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  26. Kimmy: You want to interact with your professors, Kimmy? I'm sure they have these things called "office hours." If those aren't convenient, make an appointment. Then, you may begin to develop a relationship with your professor. Perhaps if the professor begins to respect you, you may be able to interact with them "socially."

    And, hey, in the process of developing that relationship? You may develop the kind of interaction where you could find out why it is the female faculty in the department don't choose to hang out in the lounge. Which seems to be the missing factor here: you're not faculty, and Wylodmayer is not a woman. Maybe you should try asking someone who is both why they don't hang out around the water cooler with all you cool kids.

    (I'd like to nominate Kimmy's comment for the Snowflake of the Year award, given that she brought such a high level of entitlement not to one professor, but to dozens.)

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  27. @noriver

    Thank you for discussing the actual issue at hand. The question isn't really one of friendship. It's one of collegiality. The grad students in this department are treated as junior colleagues, more or less. That's the relationship. And it's difficult to build that kind of relationship with people who aren't there. The lounge isn't just about "hanging out." As I've mentioned before, a lot of work in the field gets done there. Issues are discussed, ideas are tossed around, and lots of useful things happen. In some sense, the lounge is part of the students' education in how to be a good colleague and how to work well with others. Our point is that it would be helpful if the female professors were also involved in this, lending their unique perspectives, and helping the students to develop a view of their professional world that involves gender balance in more than the classroom and office assignments. Now, it may be that this isn't as big a deal as we think it is. That's a possibility. But I know that, as a female, it would be helpful to me to have a greater female professional presence in these situations. I also know (as I'm sure you do) that a great deal of mentoring can and does take place in these more casual "no one made an appointment to be here" sorts of settings. I can benefit from the mentoring of the male professors, of course. And I have. But I would also like (and the other women would to) to benefit from the perspective of women in the field, which is likely to be different, especially from those who have gone to school or worked in less gender-balanced and gender-friendly departments. I feel that there is benefit to be gained there. It may be that, as you say, it is not their job to provide that for me. But I think that guiding the students in a myriad of ways is a large part of professors' jobs, and regardless I still feel (rightly, I think) that I am missing something in not receiving that kind of interaction from the female professors the way I do the male professors.

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  28. Kimmy, if you are truly an undergraduate, stop critiquing your professor's interaction and mentorship. You're not qualified.

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  29. @Barb

    Actually, since I met most of these professors as an adult before I even enrolled in school (much less became a major) I already have a basic level of relationship with them. We are all friendly and on a first name basis. Most of them, including the women, are quite happy to pass the time of day when we pass in the halls, and I've had lovely discussions with the female professors at the few yearly departmental events as well as during and after classes. Even during office hours. Again, you're making an enormous number of unwarranted assumptions about me, about my relationship with the professors in this department, and the connection between the two.

    And, once again, as I've said before: the female professors see the value in hanging out in the lounge. I have been encouraged to do so directly by one of them and indirectly by others. If they think it's a good idea for me, why do you assume they have some ideological stance against doing so themselves?

    Finally, nobody said anything about the "cool kids." This is entirely about what professors and students (grad and otherwise) can do to help each other grow professionally and academically.

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  30. @Barb

    I am an undergraduate. I am also in my thirties and have been involved in universities and colleges both as a student and as an employee for over ten years. As an adult of no small experience, I feel qualified in stating what kind of mentoring I would like to receive. I also feel qualified as a human being to talk about what kind of interactions have been helpful for me in the past, and which I think might be helpful in the future. What is it about me that you think makes me incapable of determining these things for myself?

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  31. Kimmy, if your relationship with the professors in question is so good, why don't you ask THEM why they don't hang out there? And then you could actually have some real information regarding why they make the choice to not hang out there. Maybe it is an issue of sexism (which is how the issue was framed originally, by Wylodaver.)

    Maybe it's that these professors feel it's a waste of their personal and professional time, and that while hanging out in the lounge might be useful for students, it's really not something that they need to do. Maybe it's that the female professors in your department happen to not have particularly outgoing personality types. All sorts of explanations, not one of which involves the female professors being wrong - which is the way that you continue to frame this issue.

    Also take a look at the archives on this site about professors dealing with nontraditional students, and see how your expectations that you can assess the professor's responsibilities and competency is inappropriate. You are *not* a professor. You are *not* faculty. You are not in a position to make these judgments.

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  32. Frankly, I'm starting to wonder if it's simply a matter of what kinds of departments varying professors got their degrees from. Like I said, male or female, students in my department had zero expectation that they would socialize with students outside of a few standard activities. And these were grad students, not undergrads. I cannot imagine them socializing with undergrads. Based on that training, I also would not socialize with undergrads. It is inappropriate and a poor use of my resources. I do not think, as you mistakenly attribute to me, that anything vital or important comes out of regularly socializing with professors. I never did, and here I am a genuine PhD with the nearly mythical tenure track job. I did that with zero socializing with my advisor and frankly, no help with my job materials and other things I thought an advisor's job. I came out fine. I formed relationships with peers and with those slightly ahead of me. Those were useful contacts. At conferences, many times junior scholars are organizing the panels while the established scholars are at the bar. We've been over this on this website.

    Just because you want certain kinds of interactions and find them valuable for you does not mean you deserve them or are entitled to them. This is why you are a snowflake. Your male professor who wrote this post is also a snowflake, because he thinks it's his job to determine whether or not the female profs he works with are doing their job correctly, and finds that they aren't because they aren't spending their free time hanging out with him and you. I would not want that man deciding about my tenure. I understand he framed this in terms of helping these women be better feminists, but his subsequent comments revealed what's really going on. I'm glad he's a peach and a joy to hang out with. Many of us don't think that's what makes a really good professor.

    I would like to receive a million dollars. You'd like your female profs to drop the important stuff they're doing, or even, frankly, the fifteen minutes they steal for themselves to post on College Misery and hang out with you. Neither of us are getting these things, but I'm not whining about it.

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  33. Small correction: "Like I said, male or female, students in my department had zero expectation that they would socialize with professors outside of a few standard activities."

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  34. @Barb

    I haven't asked because it's summer and most of them are gone. These are issues that, while felt continuously for some time, have only recently been fully articulated. Wylodmayer's post helped me to crystallize some of my feelings on the matter.

    Secondly, the issue wasn't framed one of sexism but one of gender. The students are in a gender-balanced department, but are not having a fully gender-balanced experience, most especially the graduate students. The issue is whether or not this sort of interaction is beneficial to the students, and if it is, how it might best be encouraged without stepping on anyone's toes. You can argue the benefits of these types of interactions if you like, but my personal feeling (having seen the benefits of what we already have) is that adding the female perspective can only help and not hurt.

    Thirdly, no one has said that the female professors are wrong. It has been said several times that they almost certainly have very good reasons for making the choices that they make. The question is whether or not it is possible to get further benefit to the students (and, I think, to the professors as well) through a more gender-balanced interaction and educational experience.

    Finally, other post about non-traditional students are irrelevant. I have stated that I have benefited from particular forms of interaction and mentoring when received from male professors. I have further stated that I believe I would benefit from these types of mentoring and interactions received from female professors, and that I would like to do so and believe that it would benefit other students (again, particularly the grad students) to receive it as well. If you find some fault with that statement, please point it out to me and explain why I am incapable of determining my own past experiences and future desires.

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  35. It looks like commenters have assigned fault to every possible person (Wylodmayer, male faculty, female students, cleanliness) but one. Is there any chance that the female faculty are at fault for not showing up to mentor?

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  36. @noriver

    This is just another good example of the vast differences between departments. Just by the by, I think your adviser did kind of screw you. I'm glad you managed to get by without the help, though.

    One of the big selling points of our department (and some of the others on this campus) is the friendly atmosphere and the way that professors and students interact on a daily basis, including casual discussion, professional discussion, discussion of coursework, and hands-on mentoring of students (including teaching, grading, research, thesis work and the job search). It's something that is often put forth when courting both potential incoming graduate students and potential hires. I doubt it's part of any of the official job descriptions, but it is nonetheless something that we're very proud of having. I think that it's extremely helpful. I know that several others who have passed through the department on their way to the wider world of academia have thought so as well.

    Obviously, that's not the only way to run a railroad and other methods can turn out students of just as high a quality. That doesn't mean that additional interaction beyond the classroom and thesis defense has no benefit, as I believe it does. Particularly in a discipline where so much can be gained from bouncing ideas off of other people and other forms of professional interaction.

    Again, the assumption here seems to be that someone is suggesting the female professors shouldn't be allowed to get any work done or to have any home life so they can be in the lounge. No one has suggested that. Again, it's been stated clearly that there are other obligations and damned good reasons for not being there. However, it is possible that some of the female professors might enjoy it, might profit from it (I've heard many a published paper topic born in the lounge), and might give some benefit to their students. If that is so, there's no reason not to explore ways that this might happen without unduly inconveniencing anyone.

    Quite frankly, I'm a little surprised at the willingness, and indeed eagerness, of everyone here to assume the worst possible motivations and behavior for my, Wylodmayer, and the other people in the department. I suppose it must be just because anything gender-related is bound to push people's buttons. But a lot of assumptions are being made that aren't actually based on what's being said.

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  37. People have suggested many a time that maybe actual mentoring is going on in private, in the female faculty's office. There's been no arguing with this. What Kimmy wants is not professional mentoring, but rather for the faculty to socialize with her. Explicitly, this is what she's said. The OP seems to think this is part of his job. How often do you chum around with your students?

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  38. Typos abound in that last post. My apologies. My allergy medicine is kicking in.

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  39. @noriver

    *I* argued that the mentoring isn't happening behind closed doors. I said it straight out. Unless a female faculty member is someone's thesis adviser (which I believe two of them are). I have received no mentoring from the female professors. Neither have the fellow students I've discussed this with. The male faculty mentor frequently. The female faculty seem to do so far less frequently, if at all.

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  40. Kimmy, what did you say to the person who asked you if you've ever gone to a professor's office hours and asked them questions about the profession or the field? I didn't see you answer that question.

    I'll say it again, I'm happy to provide professional mentoring. I am not happy to waste time sitting in a lounge talking about television or general "social stuff" with you. I need clarification on which you're talking about at this point. And again, you are an undergraduate. Until you're in grad school, I'm really not concerned that you know how to be a good professor. I am not callous or indifferent to my students, but I was not taught that what you want is acceptable or a good way to earn tenure and keep my job. I have an open door policy to discuss academics or the field at large with my students. What you want is outside of that.

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  41. @noriver

    I said that I've had lovely discussions with my professors during their office hours as well as some other times (like the few yearly departmental events). However, a great deal of mentoring takes place in this department in other types of settings, as well as input into discussions of various topics (some serious, some less so). Having the women involved in these things as well would be beneficial, inasmuch as it has already been beneficial to have the men doing it.

    And, again, what I want is no more or less than what is already happening. I'm not requesting a new type of interaction. Our department values these types of interactions. One of the professors who spends the most time in the lounge just received tenure, so that's clearly not a problem. All I'm saying is that it would be beneficial to me (as well as many others) for the women to be involved in the same things that are already happening.

    Finally, I would point out that some of our graduate students are only graduate students heading on to be college instructors (cross your fingers and knock wood the job market gets better) because of interactions with professors as undergraduates. Someone has to tell the undergraduates what it really means to be a professor, has to talk to us about how the job works, what the pros and cons are, and other such things. At least, that's the way things are often done at our department. And, as stated, much of that kind of talking in our department gets done in the lounge without appointments.

    Making appointments to talk to someone is very helpful. Being able to say, "Hey, Dr. Suzy, Joe the grad student just made what sounds like a good point about that. But don't you think something different? Could you explain?" during a conversation about video games that morphed into a discussion about a professional topic is also very helpful. Seeing female professors interacting as colleagues with the other professors and with the grad students in a more casual setting, without appointments and agendas, is a good way for both male and female students of all levels to learn and grow (if you'll pardon the phrase).

    To put it simply: it's one thing to know that there are females in the profession and in the department. It's another to see them teaching. And it's yet another to have them actually interacting with everyone in the same manner that the males do. Lounge discussion, as I've stated, ranges from the trivial to the deeply universal to the professional to the scholarly. The time I've spent with professors and grad students there has been invaluable to my development as a student, as an academic, and as a future professional. I can't help but think that having the additional perspective of an entire other gender (their experiences, views, etc.) would provide further benefit. And I know that the few occasions where a female professor does spend some time in the lounge have been a lot of fun and sometimes quite enlightening.

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  42. Look, I understand what you want. And I guess it would be great if you had a female prof with the time and interest to do that. But you don't. And what you want, though lovely sounding, is not a part of their job. So you can resent them for not doing this additional thing that is outside of their job description, or you can appreciate what they do provide and understand you are not entitled to anything more. Sort of like how if your free amuse bouche at a restaurant is not outstanding, only a jerk would complain about it.

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  43. I suspect that personality may, indeed, play a role here; the department may simply have an unusual proportion of female introverts, and a quick walk around campus or an early departure for some quiet time at home may simply be restorative to them in the same way that shooting the breeze in the lounge for an hour or so is to their colleagues; it's really hard to explain to extroverts, who gain energy from interacting with people, but social interaction has the exact opposite effect on introverts, and is often the last thing they/we want to do after a day of teaching and office hours). Still, I'd vote for the second-shift explanation: women, on average, simply have (and often accept having) more on their plates than men. Kimmy, I understand your desire to have more personal, informal, interaction with your female professors, but you may be learning as much about the realities of their personal lives (and how they balance the professional and the personal) from their absence from the department lounge as you would from their presence. It also sounds like you're getting some pretty good mentoring via the formal avenues provided for that purpose -- i.e. office hours. You may have to rely on that avenue for professional mentoring, and turn elsewhere -- church, community groups, older female relatives and friends -- for the personal mentoring you seem to be craving. College is a great experience at any age, but you may be expecting the experience to feed more areas of your life than you can reasonably expect. Learning to seek and combine guidance from a variety of sources is also a valuable skill.

    I'd also note that, especially in the early years of women in the academy, and still, I suspect, in many departments, many women's tenure bids foundered on the shoals of ill-defined "collegiality" requirements (enough so that I believe such requirements have been the subject of gender- and also race-discrimination lawsuits, and have in some cases been eliminated for that reason). From the perspective, *not* pressuring or even expecting women to be "collegial" in the same way that men are is a feminist act.

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  44. I also note the Wylodmayer says that women are very active/visible in positions of power in the department. Is there any chance that they're doing much of the time-consuming "housekeeping" kind of service, and/or being the "female voice" on more than their fair share of committees? My field is fairly gender-balanced, but I still see women taking on more of the time-consuming, detail-ridden thankless tasks, and I've seen major problems with faculty of both genders who are members of underrepresented minority groups being run ragged serving as the "representative" of some group or another on too many committees, working groups, etc., etc. -- something that happens to women, too, in less gender-balanced disciplines (which, by your own account, you have. Are the women by any chance serving on twice as many committees in order to achieve better gender balance in each committee?)

    Sometimes there's a "second shift" effect at work, too, which may be evident in the number of committees on which someone serves, but may also show up in harder-to-detect ways: the kind of service positions different faculty members take on, or even the way they do those jobs. I've seen plenty of committees where the scut work is done by the chair if the chair is female, but the vice-chair or secretary if the chair is male. First she is asked to take the minutes, then it's suggested that she might as well send out the minutes with the notice of the next meeting, then that she might extract the agenda from the minutes of the last meeting (and, of course, the minutes of the last department meeting), and before you know it all the committee chair has to do is show up and "run" the meeting, with frequent consultation of his female helper. Of course not all male chairs do this, but I've seen it happen often enough, in enough different organization, to suggest that you might want to take a close look for evidence of such a pattern, especially since you've already observed evidence that the female members of the department may, for some reason, have less free time than the male members.

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  45. Kimmy--You seem to want a particular kind of mentoring that many profs are going to be unwilling to provide you, especially at the undergraduate level.

    Here are some of your observations that I might be able to counter with reasonable explanations:

    Seeing female professors interacting as colleagues with the other professors and with the grad students in a more casual setting, without appointments and agendas, is a good way for both male and female students of all levels to learn and grow (if you'll pardon the phrase).

    I don't see how me chatting with my female colleagues with you and in front of you is going to help you learn and grow. And truthfully, when I'm chatting with my female colleagues, we really don't want you (in the general sense) around. Because we're often saying things you shouldn't hear. We're talking about a son with a drug problem. Or what our church is going to do about our priest. Or what bullshit some student has pulled. Or what we need to do about that asshole dean. We don't feel the need to put ourselves professionally on display for students. If you want mentoring, come to my office. I'll mentor the hell out of you. But don't expect me to chat informally in the lounge with you and with my female colleagues. That's not my job.

    Hanging out in the lounge is a *great* way to spend time, make friends, and learn tons from professors, graduate students, and everyone.

    Not for me.

    I would like to be able to interact with the female professors in a social way. I am unable to do this because they are not available. They are not choosing other methods of interaction. They are choosing not to interact.

    Okay, but I really don't want to interact much with students in a social way. I generally don't like socializing with students. I don't mind a student/faculty mixer, and we have a couple a year. But I'm not going to hang out in a lounge for any length of time and shoot the shit with students, female or no.

    In my mind I also have to keep a very clear distance from my students, so that I can treat them equally and professionally. Many professors like to keep that line between student and professor very solid, for a variety of reasons. Spending lots of time in the lounge, chatting with students, blurs that line for me.

    In addition I have found that mostly what students want to talk about (you perhaps are not like this, but most undergraduates are) are themselves. In the most personal sorts of ways. Just like professors like to talk about themselves, to their friends. I'm really not interested in the personal lives of students.

    If you want to talk to me, about your future career or the profession or anything student-related, come see me during my office hours. I will go out of my way to write you an incredible recommendation, and make calls to people I know in grad programs where you might be applying. I'll spend hours with you if you need advising, or need me to look over your grad school application essay.

    But please, please don't ask me to be your friend, or put myself on display so you can feel that you have a professional cohort, before you are really a professional.

    I have enough friends, and enough peers, and I have shit to do.

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  46. I understand the points that have been made in the last few posts. It's clear that there are simply different expectations between different departments. As I said, I am receiving exactly the kind of interaction I've described from male professors, so it's not that my expectations for types of interaction are out of line for the norm in my department. I hope that much is clear. I don't want y'all thinking that I've just suddenly come up with this weird idea of what professors ought to do out of the blue. I've gotten this from my actual interactions with the male professors. This is just what the relationships are like. Social, professional, formal and informal are all mixed together. My relationship with the professors is more like that of the graduate students, but that's probably because I'm older than many of the grad students.

    I will say that, no matter what the responsibilities of female professors, it is hard to be the only woman in the room. Not because of poor behavior or attitudes. Just because it's always hard to be the only one. I imagine it would be similarly uncomfortable to almost always the the only man in a room full of women, or the only Earthling in a room full of Martians, or the only dog in a room full of cats, etc. So I'm sure anyone here can understand how someone might hope that there would be more people like them around.

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  47. I don't want y'all thinking that I've just suddenly come up with this weird idea of what professors ought to do out of the blue.

    I don't think you are inventing things out of the blue. I think because of your somewhat limited perspective you're identifying a "problem" that most faculty members, male and female, would not define as such.

    You have what might be considered an out-of-the ordinary social and personal relationship with several of the male professors. This is not necessarily the norm with professors, male or female. The vast majority of the professors I know have little interest in hanging out with students, and when they hang out with colleagues, what they do first is talk about students, which the presence of students would obviously impede. In other words: you should not be expecting this sort of response from the male professors either. If the situation works for everyone, that's great. But it's not necessarily the norm.

    I've gotten this from my actual interactions with the male professors. This is just what the relationships are like. Social, professional, formal and informal are all mixed together.

    These days especially, it can be dangerous for professors to buddy around with students. I'm not even supposed to close my door during my office hours. And though I often become friends with students after they have graduated, I don't encourage any sort of true friendship to form (with all that entails) until the student is no longer under my aegis. I don't "friend" current students on facebook. I don't share personal details about my life. I don't particularly care about the personal aspects of theirs. Husband leave you? Don't care. History of drug abuse? Don't care. Big fan of Stargate? Really, seriously don't care. I don't care because I can't care. I'm middle-aged and I have a dozen friends and family members with bad marriages, or just out of rehab. I need to talk my brother down from a ledge later. I've got to stop my own damned self from chewing out my husband for no reason.

    Bring me two vicodin and we'll talk. Seriously. Drop them in my hand. The xanax that my doctor gave me for stress just won't do it. Otherwise I really don't have the energy to extend my professional relationship with students to the personal.

    I'm just telling you this to explain why some possible female mentors might be avoiding doing what you so want them to do, and to explain why some might consider your expectation unreasonable.

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  48. One other possibility here...perhaps, Kimmy, you are one of the reasons the female faculty stay away. I've had my share of female 'flakes who have felt that their age, work and life experience make them my equals. They have also been a bit misguided about the role of a mentor, and maybe you are, too.

    I put in between 50 and 60 hours a week, between teaching, advising, and committee work. I don't have time for conversational headlocks and forced socializing and faux sisterhood, and have found one of my flakes so effing exhausting that I will avoid her in situations where avoidance is an option. She (and you) won't be my equal until she (and you) get about six more years of education and a few years of teaching under your collective belts. As has been said numerous times, make an appointment, come to office hours, but get over it if people don't want to socialize.

    My field is predominantly male, and I got hired into an entirely male department. You may very well face that possibility in a few years. You're going to be SOL if you can't get past your sense of entitlement to a female mentor. Frankly, a mentor in any form is a blessing. So count yourself fortunate that you have one. And think long and hard about what you're projecting onto the female faculty in your department, and consider what you might be contributing to the problem, if there is one.

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  49. You know what I want to know? How "lounge hours," since they apparently include student contact and mentoring, are viewed in the review of faculty activity. Faculty in this department presumably have formal teaching time, office hours, a required service workload, and the ever-present requirement to produce tangible evidence of scholarly activity.

    How are lounge hours weighed in this calculation? Is a lounge hour equivalent to an office hour? Worth 1/3 of a seminar hour? What?

    JFC, I hate this notion that socializing at work is this fabulous jolly thing and not a bullshit requirement that means people get judged on "collegiality". I hate being collegial, but I DO it, and I DO it well because I know it's important to departmental culture. But I am not fooling myself it's not work, and that I have actual friends if I feel like going for coffee or drinks.

    Maybe all the women in your department are introverts. Maybe they have better things to do than listen to you blowhards wank on about how non-sexist you are.

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  50. Early on in this thread some smart person pointed out the second shift issue, and I notice that in all the back and forth, Wlodythinger hasn't addressed the issue of WHEN, exactly, this lounge activity is taking place. Is it after 3pm? Who picks your kids up from school?

    Is it at noon? Are the female faculty all teaching at that time?

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