Gendered Expectations of Women Academics

A new study establishes gendered expectations imposed on academics. “Students with high academic entitlement were more inclined to be irritated or disappointed when a female professor denied their requests, and more likely to then persist in asking for favors after being denied. They were also more likely to conclude, if the professor was female, that a request denial meant that the professor disliked them.

“Aside from contributing to burnout and taking time away from career-enhancing activities, greater demands and special requests from students may affect female professors’ career advancement by causing them to get less favorable course evaluations or even more complaints filed against them.

"Students may perceive female professors as less fair than their male counterparts if female professors are expected to expend exceptional effort to help out their students in unrealistic ways, thus resulting in worse evaluations.” – Professor Amani El-Alayli on her new study.”

Young Archie 2017

For the past three years, I’ve written about the gender and race dynamics of the chosen portraits, painted by children up to the age of 18 for the The Young Archibald Prize (the “Young Archie”). Most of the subjects are women, especially mothers. Few artists and subjects are people of colour. This year, while mothers, grandmothers and sisters feature, described for their caring qualities, I was delighted to see a handful of works by and about Asian Australians. Remarkably, two of these paintings, one by a nine year old and another by a 16 year old, explicitly depicted themes of death in terms of acceptance and wonder. Truly wonderful.

Interview: Many Women Of Colour Feel Unsafe Working In Science

Excuse me while I migrate various content to a central place on my blog! This post was first published on 11 July 2017.

I was interviewed by Buzzfeed, about a new study by Professor Kate Clancy and colleagues, showing women of colour scientists are more likely to experience race and gender harassment. Women of colour scientists are also excessively critiqued for being either too feminine or masculine enough, they have their physical abilities questioned, and they are more likely to miss professional opportunities like conferences, fieldwork, classes and meetings because their workplaces are unsafe. My comments from the interview:

“The study really reinforces a lot of what the literature already tells us — that women of colour are more likely to experience multiple forms of harassment and feel more acutely the impact of a hostile work environment in the sciences,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News.

Although this isn’t the first study to show evidence of the “double bind” of racial- and gender-based harassment, some critics continue to deny that the effect is real.

“A lot of the pushback that we see in the individual scientific communities —astronomy or any other science — is that scientists want data,” Zevallos said. “And even though there’s a plethora of data, it’s like they need to see more data for themselves.”

In their study, Clancy and colleagues surveyed women and men from various racial backgrounds, focusing on academics working in the field of astronomy and planetary science. The study finds that 88% of their respondents heard negative language from peers at their current job, 52% from supervisors, and 88% from other people at work. Thirty-nine percent report experiencing verbal harassment at their current position and a further 9% experienced physical harassment. Around a third of the overall sample feel unsafe at their current role (27%), however, women of colour were the most likely group to feel unsafe in their place of work due to their race, gender, and religion (although the latter was not statistically significant).

Breaking this figure down by race, 40% women of colour and 27% of White women, feel unsafe in their current role due to gender. Further, 28% of women of colour feel unsafe due to race.

Clancy and colleagues note a meta-analysis of 343 studies has established that people are less likely to participate in counterproductive workplace research. This suggests that, despite their stark findings, people are likely to underreport negative experiences for fear of professional repercussions. So experiences may be far worse in reality.

The study concludes that astronomy creates an hostile environment with profound impact on junior scholars, White women, and the greatest problems for women of colour.

The study proposes four solutions to workplace inequity.

  1. A code of conduct/education for all trainees and employees at all levels;
  2. Diversity and cultural awareness training on challenges faced by women of colour and underrepresented minorities;
  3. Leaders need to model appropriate behaviour;
  4. Swift, just and consistent sanctioning for perpetrators of harassment in the workplace.

Moreover the study concludes that better support networks for women of colour are needed.

Both in the academic literature and in my professional equity and diversity work, experts see a reticence in equity programs to deal with racism alongside gender imbalance. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, the astronomy community, along with other disciplines, deals with sexual harassment and gender inequity in haphazard ways, but still ignores racism. The present study by Clancy and colleagues might be used to better shape policy and programs. Bias awareness training is the bare minimum needed; to make positive changes to attract, retain and promote women of colour, structural reform is necessary.

Too many scientific societies feel that tackling gender equity is “a good start” but still see diversity and inclusion of people of colour and other underrepresented minorities is the “next step.” Some leaders perceive that diversity work undermines gender equity programs. This study, and many others before it, show that intersectionality is pivotal in making lasting change. Intersectionality describes how gender inequality is impacted by racial inequality and other forms of disadvantage like sexuality, disability, class and beyond. We cannot address gender inequity separate from racial inequity as both issues impact one another, as well as increase other problems for minority groups.

Read about the study and comments by lead author Professor Clancy on Buzzfeed.

Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, CC 2.0 via Flickr. Adapated by Z. Zevallos.

Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:

“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together…  At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”

Copolla makes two points in this interview:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

Royal Society, Gender Equity and Science in Aotearoa New Zealand

Why do academic institutions continue to replicate inequity? The Royal Society Te Apārangi in New Zealand has named their keynote speakers for their 150th Anniversary. All of them are White men. This seems additionally shocking because the organisation has recently rebranded and changed their name and misison to be focused explictly on diversity. This is a great thing! But clearly there’s a disconnect between their mandate and their event planning. Their response has been that the speakers were independently chosen by 10 autonomous branches who each nominated a candidate. They say acknowledge they have some work to do but don’t really give much detail to what this might entail. Perhaps it really is as they say- an unfortunate coincide that all ten panels chose White men? No, actually. What’s happened is not new.

Continue reading Royal Society, Gender Equity and Science in Aotearoa New Zealand

Whiteness in Childfree Academic Discourse

In a typical example of whiteness, the process by which White people leave their racial position unexamined, a psychologist draws “parallels between my research [on racism &sexism] and my experience as a childfree woman.” The researcher argues that she faces social stigma as a childless woman that is akin to racial discrimination.

As soon as I read that line, I knew this researcher was a White woman. Continue reading Whiteness in Childfree Academic Discourse

Sociology of Abortion Politics

Women protesting, with a sign that reads "My body. My choice."

This week, on 11 May 2017, a bill two-years-in-the-making to decriminalise abortion in the state of New South Wales, Australia, was defeated 14 to 25, meaning abortion remains a crime under the Criminal Act. Greens MP and Spokesperson for the Status of Women, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who led the campaign to decriminalise said: “This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”

Another separate bill to establish 150 metre safe zones to protect abortion clinics has been introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe. This bill works to eliminate harassment and intimidation by anti-choice lobbyists who film and degrade women who walk into clinics.

In NSW, women can access abortions only with their doctor’s consent that there are “reasonable grounds” for the abortion, linked to physical and mental danger. Otherwise abortion is punishable by five years in jail.

This law has been in place since the 1970s, but stems back to 1900. Counter to national myths of our egalitarianism, abortion laws unearth how gender inequality is maintained by White, conservative Christian patriarchal ideology that seeks to control women’s autonomy. Sociological studies show how medical professionals have long been at the vanguard of change, by shifting understandings of abortion from moral arguments, to a medical choice.

Christian lobby groups, who hold strong political power, push back against medical and community views, using emotional imagery to influence abortion laws. This has proven effective over time, and continues to hold back progress in New South Wales (and Queensland, another conservative stronghold). Despite this recent set-back, momentum towards progressive change continues. A better sociological understanding of religiously conservative ideology and tactics may hold the key towards the next legal breakthrough.

 

Continue reading Sociology of Abortion Politics

Gender Equity Among Conference Speakers

Dr Carly Rosewarne was excited about the Environmental and Human Microbiomes conference, hosted by the prestigious publisher, Nature. As a specialist in the field of gastrointestinal research, the global conference was an important scientific event. Dr Rosewarne’s joy was short-lived when she looked at the program: with hardly any women speakers, it was a YAMMM: Yet Another Mostly Male Meeting.

Dr Rosewarne provides an analogy about the importance of diversity in her field of study, which is not reflected in the conference practices in her discipline. She writes:

“Improving gender representation on invited speaker panels at scientific conferences is not difficult. The most effective method is to use guidelines that specify a minimum target threshold, most preferably for each session but at least across the whole event. In the microbiome field there are no reasons why this is impractical since there is no shortage of highly qualified women who would be delighted to be asked! Additional consideration may be required in order to provide extra support (financial or otherwise) to those who have caring responsibilities. If diversity is also present amongst the organising committee these needs will be more readily identified.”

Dr Rosewarne has decided not to attend the conference in protest and urges other prominent scientists to speak up on gender inequality and to boycott YAMMM events to amplify the message

Continue reading Gender Equity Among Conference Speakers

Sociology of Gender in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Work

The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, made some interesting comments on gender.

Gaultier’s evolving style blends ideas of masculinity and femininity, but at the same time is still centred on mainstream ideas of heterosexual women: showing off curves on (mostly) slender bodies.

JPG has used gender non-conforming models throughout his career, including transgender women, and other body types and femininities seldom seen in high fashion, such as “plus sized” models. This is referenced as part of the exhibition, but it would have been more interesting to see this displayed via the mannequins.

The room dedicated to the artist’s punk roots was an absolute delight, and I spent way too much time in the futuristic-themed room displaying his film designs. I was ecstatic to see the designs from Peter Greenaway’s The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover.

The stories of the designer’s life were my favourite aspects of the exhibition, giving context for his lifelong interest for evoking traditional Western styles of femininity using corsets.

JPG is a fascinating figure that has commanded much academic attention, due to his contradictory reflection of art and commercialism and for speaking out on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) issues; and not without controversy.

Negotiating Equality in Domestic Partnerships

In his classic study of marriage, Dempsey shows the level of work required to negotiate power and inequality within heterosexual relationships. While both men and women noted that marriage has some specific advantages for men and women, overall, the participants noted that men’s power was more overt when it came to doing unpaid work, personal autonomy, and how they managed their leisure time outside the home. Different patterns emerge in studies of homosexual couples.

"Even if a wife can get a husband to the negotiating table, achieving change in key facets of marital relationships will often prove very difficult. Both partners have important resources that can deliver power but, up to this point in time, males are far more advantaged than females structurally and ideologically." - Ken Dempsey.
Ken Dempsey on gender inequality in heterosexual marriage

Continue reading Negotiating Equality in Domestic Partnerships