I frequently offer the workshop: “Yes You Can! Women and Graduate School.” It’s a workshop I led quite a few times in different forms, formally and informally, over the course of my years in academia. Sometimes it just informed the way I advised individual female graduate students.
I created it because I just can’t bear to watch all the ways that women shoot themselves in their collective feet in academia (and other professional settings too).
Starting with myself. I made a lot of mistakes on my path through graduate school, my first job, tenure, move to a new institution, and departmental headship. And I watched my female colleagues make them too. And then I watched my students make them–most especially the graduate students I mentored personally through their Ph.D.s.
The mistakes arise from a single source: Women’s lifelong training, in our culture, toward various forms of self-effacement, both obvious and subtle, that undermine their authority in the institution, handicap their effectiveness in speaking and acting in the institution, and block their feelings of entitlement to claim the rewards of the institution.
I work with some powerful and fierce women. Heck, I am a powerful and fierce woman. But even so, one after another of us falls prey to patterns of speech and thought that position us as “less than,” “secondary to,” “less deserving than,” “less intelligent than,” “in service to” the professors, administrators, and colleagues we encounter in the university.
Let me be clear: At this point in feminist time, it’s not likely that any woman in the American academy would consider herself less intelligent or capable or deserving than an equivalent man, simply by virtue of her gender.
And for sure I’m not claiming that women are to blame for sexism and institutional gender discrimination, which persists in large and small ways! (the topic of other posts).
What happens is subtler. What I am claiming is that women are frequently far from their own best advocates. Women tend to speak and behave in patterns, usually unconsciously and derived from their socialization from childhood, that through their repetition, “perform” a “role” of being less intelligent and capable and deserving than some imagined peer or competitor. These same patterns are ones that men, by and large, because of their socialization from childhood (and of course with some exceptions), avoid.
Here are the top five ways that women undermine their own authority.
I definitely do some of the things on this list, like using language that may show that I don’t know everything about something, but on the other had I feel like some of these behaviors are associated with being impolite, like butting/asserting in with a point instead of waiting your turn. Ugh, maybe there is no best way to act…But this blog seems cool, I will try to follow it more often!