Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'd like the Daring Bitch, Please


Why is your book still in production?
She is an aggressive supporter of colleagues, a confident, daring team player, and a nurturing bitch.

According to an Inside Higher Ed news piece published yesterday, "Too Nice to Land a Job", when referees write letters in support of A.B.Ds and Ph.D.s applying for tenure-track academic positions, they better not make the mistake of describing their former students in gendered, communal (i.e. feminized) terms, such as "supportive," "caring" or "sensitive." In the minds of the search committee members surveyed by a research team at an unidentified research university, it's far better for a potential colleague to be described in active terms as "aggressive," "assertive" and "daring," even if the candidate in question boasts academic credentials similar to those of an applicant characterized as talented and "caring." (The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.)

"She's as sweet as ooey, gooey cherry pie, a feel-good lecturer, and a multitasking, yet sensitive, workaholic." 

"He's amazingly productive and totally dedicated to his work yet always sensitive to the needs of his colleagues, a real team player."

NO NO NO. Cast these two applicants into the bin!! We will not have them in our nest of vipers.

No one, apparently, wants to let a warm and fuzzy house mom, or a sensitive house dad, into the awaiting halls of academe. Instead, search committees are looking to fill their coveted faculty slots with cold, hard bitches. Or, rather, to be more precise, they're looking for both men and women who act, and sound, like dominant, masculine types. Team players be damned. We want cocky high achievers; daring and independent bastards. If you're a woman, you better be willing to do the dirty work necessary to be a successful academic, otherwise we want nothing to do with you. Are you listening? You better be, bitch.

If you can't get your tenure file in on time, no more Mr. Nice Guy.
"The research found no difference between men and women as letter writers -- both are more likely to describe women with communal words than they are to describe men that way. And the bias appears to act against male candidates who are praised for traits people associate with women. But a much higher proportion of female candidates -- regardless of their overall qualifications -- are praised with these words that appear to hurt their chances of being hired for faculty jobs.

In the scholars' analysis of the words that appeared in the letters of recommendation, they found clear patterns of word use for women's and men's letters. Women were more likely to be described . . . as "nurturing," "kind," "agreeable" and "warm." Men, in contrast, were much more likely to be described in words classified as "agentive" -- words such as "assertive," "confident," "aggressive," "ambitious," "independent" and "daring."

"When you use communal terminology, it is linking people to a feminine type, and they are not seen as credible and they don't get hired', said Michelle Hebl, a professor of psychology at Rice University and one of the authors of the study . . ."'

(Editor's note: In case you missed that last point, please let me spell it out again: Feminine types are NOT credible and don't get hired.)

"Hebl said that women in academe face a dilemma. Hiring committees appear to devalue women who are identified as people who would be nice or supportive colleagues. But women who aren't seen as nice and supportive "get called bitches," she said. So the solution for women is "to have both sets of qualities" -- the communal and the agentive."

(Editor's Note: Being called a "bitch" is a very bad thing in academe. But so is being a sensitive Suzy. What's a girl to do?)

I could write more here about the injustice of it all. By why bother? I'm too busy putting on spandex and coiling my whip about my hip, you know, in case I get called in for a preliminary interview. I want to make it crystal clear that, while I'm not a bitch, per se, I do in fact belong in that nasty viper nest and am fully prepared to whip those other sensitive and caring tenure-track weaklings into shape if need be. Bring it on.

I'm not a bitch, you sensitive thing, just a confident & daring academic.

6 comments:

WorstProfEver said...

Oh, Catalyst Inc. already has loads of depressing studies documenting this bind: 'feminine' behavior is considered poor leadership, but when women are aggressive and ambitious (i.e. perceived as strong leaders) there's a negative backlash anyway. Why should academia be any different? (Oh, right, it's because we're in a magical Neverland where meritocracy actually works. How could I forget?)

It sucks, but hell yeah I'm going for the leadership.

To be honest, though, I tell my female students to stay the hell away from academia, teaching, and other low-paying/exploitative fields if they really care about empowerment. I mean, if you're going to be called a bitch you might as well make the money to go along with it.

Eliza Woolf said...

I would probably tell my female students the same thing (if I ever have any). Even though it's not supposed to relate to the professional world, the Madonna-Whore dichotomy is still hard for women (in almost any field) to shake. We're just not perceived as holistic beings, unfortunately. If we're productive yet also appear as "sensitive" or "caring," then we must be lacking in some other, more crucial department and are thus not as capable as our more masculine (i.e. active and independent) department members/co-workers.
*But, you're right, it would be nice to at least make some $$ at the end of the day irrespective.

Marie Marshall said...

A wry smile escaped. I was always "that bitch form Internal Audit" until I came out at work. Now I'm "that dyke from Internal Audit". Just saying.

Eliza Woolf said...

Bitch, dyke, either way, Marie, you're obviously a force to be reckoned with in the workplace. Keep it up! Wear leather on Fridays, too, if you really want to freak them out!

Marie Marshall said...

Only on Fridays? :(

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