Sexism in Academia II: Specific Issues in Academia

In the last post, I gave some thoughts on sexism in Academia which I have come up with during the last few years experiencing Academia.

My conclusions were that only breaking the silence will make things better in the long term. This means persistently speaking up, even and espeically, about minor incidents because they give a good picture of what’s really going on, they make perpetrators lose their anonymity and they are relatively easy to talk about for the victims. Speaking up and owning your story often results in victim blaming, de-validation of your experiences or down-playing (in German, we have the very fitting word of “verharmlosen”, meaning pretend as though no harm had been done). Regular compulsory educational workshops for bosses and strict company policies are promising initiatives to counter this systematized phenomenon that is discrimination based on gender. Because this discrimination often happens in so-called “non events”. So, it can be difficult to complain about it because, essentially, “nothing happened”. 

Today, I wanted to expand on this and also talk about some points even more specific to Academia. So let’s begin:

 

Why did I give the incentive for this workshop? My own experiences leading up to this activism

First, I want to take a few paragraphs to illustrate some of the things which have happened to me. This is by no means a complete collection but these incidents mostly suffice to surprise people about how many things like this happen to a womxn on a regular basis.

Disbelief that a womxen can be more successul or qualified than a man: How do you mean you are about to grade a Bachelor’s thesis?

Not so long ago it happened to me that I was asked repeatedly “Which bachelor’s thesis? Your bachelor’s thesis?” after I had stated I had to turn in early because I had some BA thesis corrections to do. The person in question (a man, however not from Academia) really couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I was advising a bachelor’s thesis and he didn’t even have a degree. By which I don’t mean to say that it’s bad to not have a degree. But it also indicates a strong reluctance to believe that a womxn is able to accomplish something, and most importantly, to be more accomplished than a man.

Groping during a panel at a conference

I had my worst instance of sexism in Academia at DH-Budapest in 2018. It was an extremely hot day in a small room. Seats were very close together. It was my first “bigger” conference I had specifically travelled abroad to. My poster presentation had already gone well, people were nice, all was good. It was my last day at the conference, during a panel focusing on Classics, so probably the one which was most relevant to me. We went in talking as group of people who got on really well but had only met eachother at this conference. I sat beside this guy who was weird. But I have I bias that all weird people must be really nice because people thought I was really weird at school and ever since I have a – probably stronger than healthy – understanding for the exclusion and stereotypes these people have to live with on a daily basis. 

This time, however, it would probably have been better to react with more distance since the guy got really close to my during the panel. He sat in weird ways but I explained this with his general awkwardness and the fact that it really was extremely warm and packed in the room. There really was hardly any room to move. So I tried not to interpret anything into the fact that he casually started to touch my leg at some point. I honestly wanted to believe that it was just so cramped in the room that no other sitting position was possible for him. And since he was an extremely awkward guy, I though he might not even have realized. I still tried to shift around in my seat to avoid his touch. After he changed positions multiple times and subsequently shifted away multiple times, at an increasingly fast rate, I started to suspect something. There weren’t any more positions for me to sit without touching him that I hadn’t tried yet.

I silently gesticulated to him that he should not touch me. He wrote “Sorry” on his phone and showed me, so I thought it would be ok now. But after a few minutes, the touching restarted and more aggressively than before. In the end, he ended up touching my ass and I told him to stop again. Then he finally stopped. I avoided him afterwards but he actually had the insolence to want to share his contact info with me. 

When I recounted this story to friends, they asked why I hadn’t reacted quicker and more vigorously. I really don’t know. I think I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t want to believe this was happening. I didn’t want to make a fuss. But since the seats and rows were cramped so tightly together, I wouldn’t have been able to leave without making quite a fuss. Maybe I should have done. Maybe I should have screamed. But I didn’t. I was angry at myself for a long time for not reacting faster and more vigorously. 

But I also didn’t want to miss the panel because of the guy. I don’t know if nobody noticed what had happened, but I am quite sure that the people around us must have realized I was shifting around in my seat like a freak. Should the bystanders have said something? I don’t know. 

All I know is that I have never felt fully safe at conferences ever since. And for good reason, because things like these kept happening. Many were just casual hints to follow someone up their room, but phrased in ways which were hardly clear. So had you complained, they would say that you had misunderstood them. Things like these happen quite frequently. Mostly, they are deliberatly circling ‘grey areas’, in my opinion, deliberately phrasing what they want ambiguously. So you have to spend nights wondering whether this was a sexist moment or whether you’d just made it all up. This is also victim blaming, in a way, making the victim so confused about where the boundaries are and making it hard to identify if they were crossed so that the victim seems like they are not in their right mind.

Verbal harrassement when traveling to conferences

It happens to me a lot to get sexist comments when I travel from and to conferences by public means of transport, like trains. Often, these comments come from elderly people who don’t seem to realize their ‘compliments’ are uncomfortable and not really compliments. All sorts of weird things have been said to me on the train (“A reservation in your heart is not as cheap has this 1€ train seat reservation, right?”). I will also not go into detail too much here because the post is already so long.

Non-events

Since this post is already getting really long again, I will just point you to this brilliant and important article on non-events for now:

 

Liisa Husu, Recognize hidden roadblocks

In researching women in science and academia, I have found that it is not only the things that happen to women — such as recruitment discrimination or belittling remarks — that affect them in pursuing a career in science or that slow their career development. It is also the things that do not happen: what I call ‘non-events’ (L. Husu Adv. Gender Res. 9, 161–199; 2005).

Non-events are about not being seen, heard, supported, encouraged, taken into account, validated, invited, included, welcomed, greeted or simply asked along. They are a powerful way to subtly discourage, sideline or exclude women from science. A single non-event — for example, failing to cite a relevant report from a female colleague — might seem almost harmless. But the accumulation of such slights over time can have a deep impact.

Non-events can be manifold. Superiors or colleagues might ignore or bypass women’s research and performance; fail to invite or welcome them to important informal and formal networks; bypass them for awards, prizes or invitations; fail to give them merit-advancing tasks such as representing the research group in public forums; not ask them to design or participate in scientific meetings, conferences, panels or as keynote speakers; or simply stay silent when it comes to career support, advice and mentoring. Even supposedly small non-events can send a powerful message, such as when a female postdoc publishes a high-profile article that generates no reaction from senior local colleagues, while her male counterpart’s parallel article is celebrated with high-fives all round.

Non-events are challenging to recognize and often difficult to respond to. Nothing happened, so why the fuss? Often, non-events are perceived only in hindsight or when comparing experiences with peers. Learning to recognize various non-events would help women scientists to respond to them, individually or collectively, with confidence and without embarrassment. Anonymous pooling of non-event experiences would be an eye-opener and a good start to understanding how non-events work in various scientific settings.

All scientists — leaders, gatekeepers, rank and file — need to be aware of how they might inadvertently exclude women from crucial collegiality. Monitoring the practices of support, encouragement, inclusion and exclusion in research groups, projects, networks, conferences and science institutions from a gender perspective would be a first step forward. Addressing this issue in management and supervisor training and early-career coaching is key.

 

A postive example?

Once during a after work event, my boss sat beside me. He then asked me whether I could change places with a male doctoral student because it’s less weird if their legs touch accidentally than ours. While this is a very heteronormative view of matters, I think it was weird, but also quite thoughtful of him. I am his doctoral student and I appreciate that he was so ‘proactive’ since there are many small situations where you’re not sure “Is this sexism or am I making this up?”. By stating this good intent, he made it all clear. It was still a little bit weird and also, a form of rejection of a student of the opposite gender compared to the acceptance of the own gender.

We discussed this particular situation during the workshop and like me, most others also can’t decide whether this was a brilliant or an extremely awkward  and over-the-top thing to do. In the end, I am grateful. This behaviour would probably be weird between boss and ‘normal’ colleague. But the PhD phase is a very vulnerable one. The advisor has a lot of power over the advisee, even though this might not be visible so much at all times. I appreciate the fact that he keeps some personal distance during this qualification period.

It’s protecting me. It’s a nice change in a world where I ask myself so many times whether someone is just generally a touchy person or whether they just ‘accidentally’ touch me more often than other people. But it’s also a case which shows some of the potentially strange consequences this process of banning sexism might have. Like one participant said at our workshop, this newly won ‘safe space’ might cost us some of the “more natural” way of going about social life.

 

Why I think a lot of womxn feel sympathetic to a workshop like this but don’t actually sign up for it because they feel it doesn’t concern them

When talking to womxn about sexism, I am sure that all of them have had their sexist moments. I can’t believe there are actually womxn out there who have never experienced sexism. Yet so many say that they feel sympathetic but they won’t come to a workshop because it just “doesn’t really concern them”. Why is that, I wonder?

Maybe you are not dominant enough to be perceived as a threat. Maybe you are too early in your career and people just don’t take you seriously. Which is not a judgement about you but rather, about the society you live in. It is highly likely that they don’t trust you to ever accomplish anything at all. You are just a nice girl who knows her place and has no ambitions (no matter whether that’s the case or not). But once you step out in the limelight, once you want to be respected and treated in the same way as you male peer, I think it very unlikely you’ll still feel that sexism in Academia doesn’t concern you.

 

Manthologies and Manels

Terms to know in the context of academic sexism are ‘manthology’ and ‘manel’, that is to say an anthology or a panel which only consists of male contributions. This is a problem because it causes men to even more be perceived as overly competent, whereas it makes women seem like the don’t contribute or aren’t as important.

An easy #heforshe thing to do for all those wanting to be allies: Don’t participate in such all-male displays of competence.

If they “really couldn’t find a female contributer even though they looked very hard” they must be a pretty shitty organizational team anyway, right? Research is only good when as many perspectives as possible have been taken into account.

So let’s not accept shitty excuses anymore.

Also, if you’re interested, a brilliant article about the subject is the following: Mara Benjamin, On the Uses of Academic Privilege (@theTable: “Manthologies”), in: Feminist Studies in Religion, May 27, 2019. Let me cite her definition of the ‘manthology’:

man·thol·o·gy · noun · /manˈTHäləjē/: 1. A collection of writings by different authors, the vast majority of whom are men. 2. a popular form of scholarly production, produced by an intellectually myopic volume editor, an insufficiently critical publishing house editor, and the passive complicity of contributors.

This is her advice:

First, to would-be editors of volumes and publishing houses: you’re on notice. We are watching the choices you make.  We are uninterested in hearing I asked many women but they all declined.  If your volumes aren’t representative, they are not worth publishing.  Women and other underrepresented minorities don’t want to be tokens; we want to do our work.  You can support us by reading it, publishing it, and engaging in serious and constructive conversation with it.  Your failure to acknowledge and engage our work is a methodological error on your part that is now being called out publicly in more and more subfields of Jewish studies.

Second, to senior scholars:  Share the spotlight.  Lift up the work of scholars who are in more precarious positions.  Call out editors.  Ask your friends and colleagues who organize conferences about how they came up with the list of invitees or contributors.  If you’re at an R1, reflect on how you admit graduate students. To what extent are your decisions guided by the implicit aim of replicating yourself?  How can you bring underrepresented voices and topics into the scholarly conversation?  Make your position on these issues known to junior and contingent colleagues who may want to call on you for support. 

 

What we learned during the workshop

The workshop was held by Mag. Dr.in Lisa Kristina Horvath (Dr. Lisa Horvath. Universitäts- und Organisationsberatung) and Mag. (FH) Stefan Pawlata (Verein für Männer- und Geschlechterthemen Steiermark). As a guest speaker, Seunghyn Song presented her work with the EGERA.eu project.

As one of my biggest takeaways, Seunghyn Song pointed out:
It’s not just about you being a womxn, it’s also about how you are a womxn. And (that’s what I want to add): It’s about how you claim your space as well.
 
 
But let’s start from the beginning.
 

What counts as sexualized harrassement?

Basically anthing from cat-calling to comments on when you are planning to have your children or overhearing informal talk that womxn XY is probably not a good fit for a job because you can’t believe she will be able to handle authority while caring for two small children. Or mean comments that a womxn has gained weight with age or stress. Which actually, most man do. In my personal opinion even more so than womxn because they are less societally required to look good. And most people do not have magazine cover ready bodies. Yet when you are a womxn, there is the implicit expectation that you should. That you should look permanently fuckable, an expectation which dehumanizes and objectifies you. Which takes the focus away from your (academic and other) strenghts to your superficial appearances.

So basically in sexualised harrassment, there is non-verbal (staring, gesturing, unwanted presents, etc.), verbal (cat-calling, remarks, annoying and inappropriate questions, unwanted invitations) and physical (unwanted closeness or touch, sexual assault). This term stands as a broader form to ‘sexual harrassment’ which really only covers the ‘extreme stuff’, yet fails to encompass the far more common daily problems with sexism. Not taking into account the small stuff which leads to the big stuff is a mistake, I think.

Sexualized harrassment can also be on the base of sexual orientation. And it is by no means reduced to womxn only. But since our workshop was a pilot workshop and we wanted to reduce complexity, this time the focus was only on womxn.

 

Silence, victim-blaming and rewarding the prepetrators

As I said in the last post, they need your silence. Song brought this topic up in her talk as well: If you’re not silent, they will try to silence you by punishing you (if only implicitly) for speaking up. 

Prepetrators actually get implictly rewarded for sexist behaviours: It is the victims who will be blamed and/or shamed (victim-blaming, victim-shaming). It is the victims who get asked to just avoid the prepetrator or who just don’t get invited to events anymore, whereas the perpetrator still gets invited. They subsequently profit from the absence of the victims who could be competition for them. They alone are there at events to profit from networking, recommendations, introductions and the like.

This is not pure conjecture either, this has been proven in a study examining this problem Europe-wide. Because sexism causes Academia to lose so many talented people and because sexism seems to be so deeply ingrained to the Academia field that the EU thought they had to address the issue.

Sexism and promised rewards

With sexism in Academia, we learned, often come promised rewards or threats of negative consequences. Prepetrators in a position of power over the victim abuse this power for getting closer than the victim likes.

This could be the abuse of an exam situation to make inappropriate comments, only allowing to discuss a dissertation in uncomfortable narrow or private places (such as at your advisor’s place). Forcing employees in precarious situations to share a hotel room “to save costs” without asking them first or without really asking them (i.e. giving the opportunity to decline without offending anyone). And of course nagging questions about relationship status, etc. But always accompanied with the threat of negative consequences should you decline. Sometimes you are even offered help that you really need – like the introduction to a famous person – but only in return for sexual favours.

 

Spotting and handling those sexist moments

Often, you will not know rightaway you ended up in a sexist moment. It often happens so fast. People actively use grey areas to make you unsure of what’s going on, to blur lines which they are about to cross, etc. But mostly, you will feel that something’s off.

Get a sense of what is normal by asking simple questions

In order to find out what you really feel, use some psychological methods like: asking “How do I feel right now?”, “What would I like to say right now?”, “Would they be saying this to a man? Would it sound ridiculous to say this to a man?”.

Start documenting as soon as possible

If something happens and you’re not sure whether you’re making this up, start a diary. Always write down exactly what happened and how you felt, what lead up to the situation, etc. Since our memory plays tricks on you, people might not believe you that you experienced what you did if you only speak up years later. Our memories are susceptible to manipulation. But if you have written accounts of how you felt that day, right after it happened, this will be much more believeable should you decide to sue one day.

Also, if you were raped, definitely go get a forensic checkup to secure the evidence. In many places, there will be the possibility to do these tests and they will save the evidence and results for you until you are ready to act. So even if you are sure that you don’t want to file a complaint right now, secure the evidence! 

Make a fuss if you can

Other ways of handling sexist situations include: making as much noise and fuss as possible. Prepetrators only continute to harrass people because it’s easy (most of the time). Speaking up, getting them into embarassing uncomfortable  situations is exactly what they need to stop. But also of course you need to be careful if you’re in a precarious job situation. The one day workshop wasn’t really enough to work all this out. 

 

So, this is it for now. The problem is in no way solved or talked through completely. But hey, it’s a start.

Best,
S

Resources

https://www.egera.eu/workpackages/no-3.html

https://www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/

 

Platforms on the internet

I just wanted to quickly mention a sexism support network on Twitter (and Facebook?) #wiasn: womxn in academia support network.

If you follow some of the hashtags like this one, it can be depressing, I know. But hearing about other’s experiences can also be a big relief that you’re not “making this up”, like people often urge you to believe. So think about it.

Typical tips you will get on how to deal with sexism include those: Find likeminded people. Get a support network. So if you can’t find anyone in your analog life, try #wiasn (women in academia support network)

 

 

 

Sexism in Academia, Part I: Breaking the Silence

This was supposed to be a blog post recounting our experiences at the “Sexism in Academia” workshop we initiated and that finally took place around two weeks ago. But since it got really long, it will come as a two-part piece now. And it’s not only what we learned during the workshop but also, kind of in a condensed way, all the opinions I have come to collect on this topic over the last years. I’m afraid that even two blog posts can’t really do this huge thing justice. But well, at least it’s something.

 

Intro

We often think that in our generation, sexism is not an issue anymore. I think we couldn’t be more wrong. Of course, some progress has been made. But we haven’t achieved equality yet at all. Just look at the gender pay gap and tell me you really think that’s ok?

Just think about the number of times you as a womxn have experienced some sort of weird situation because of your gender. Then look how many times it has happened in the work place. If you can’t come up with anything – I am a quite firm believer that you will have experienced sexism in Academia already, even if nothing comes to mind at first. Not because I want to make you paranoid. But because I see more and more in womxen around me that certain sexist behaviours are so normal for us that we don’t even get offened anymore. But we should.

It starts with the assumption that girls just aren’t good at math but rather prefer languages and typical Humanities subjects. Or that men are the ones to whom computer capabilities are constantly attributed. When someone asks “Who is the technician in your project?” in German they usually would give a male pronoun. Or people who ask whether you know a ‘good man for the job’. Or the 500 times you have not protested non-inclusive language or inappropriate comments on your looks. This post will examine the situation and give some first suggestions for how things could get better.

Throughout this article, I will use the term ‘womxn’ as an inclusive form which includes trans, lgbtq+, all sorts of womxn imaginable, in short. The focus in womxn is not meant to exclude men or de-validate their struggles, but because as a womxn myself, I am most familiar with this perspective and also, to reduce complexity (a little bit at least) in this incredibly complex topic.

 

It’s not about sex, it’s about the struggle for compentence and power

Like they say with sexual harrassment in general, it’s mostly not about sex. It’s about power. And in Academia, competence is power. You become vulnerable to sexism in Academia especially once you try to climb the stage and are confident enough to claim your space. To claim the authority you should have. To get the respect your competence deserves. To make your competence visible and to get the acknowledgement for your achievements and compensations for your efforts.

Sadly, so far womxn often don’t just get these, while man do. As a womxn, it often happens that you get overlooked. That you don’t get that praise you deserve. That a man just states all sorts of skills in their CVs with confidence when you know that they barely passed the class in which they would have been supposed to acquire this skill – that is coincidentally your principal skill, yet you as a womxen don’t actually feel confident enough claiming to possess this skill in your CV.

Because as womxn, we have been raised to not stand out. To not make anyone feel bad. Most man really couldn’t care less how their presence makes others feel. As a womxn, you often feel insolent even for asking to take part in this workshop which will be an important formation to advance your specialty skills. Insolent to ask for what you want because you think you have no right. Or you are afraid to ask for help when you need it because you are afraid it will make you look weak.

 

So, no. It’s not about sex. It’s about competence. And with competence comes power in Academia. Yet competence mostly is something which needs to be acknowledged by other people in order for it to be valid. It’s not enough that you have a skill. Other people need to know about it, need to praise you publicly for it and acknowledge that you have it. How many times do womxn have to prove they actually possess certain skills when those same skills are never questioned in a man? Like the ability to lead, for example. And how often does it actually help to prove you have a skill?  If they don’t want to believe you, they just don’t.

It’s happened to me many times that I had proven to have some skill and I was just ignored. People pretended like it hadn’t happened and still treated me as though as I didn’t have the skill. Even though I was objectively better, more advanced, had a (provable) greater level of mastery of the skill than the men present who were acknowledged to actually have the skill.

 

 

The importance of not remaining silent

I have learnt in many conversations that men who I think should be allies often lack understanding for my experiences or, mostly, general comments about how womxen often suffer from sexism. Sometimes I was quite surprised with these comments coming from lgptq+ friends very much into inclusive language and so on. Then I realized that men often really don’t have much of a clue about some of the blatant sexism womxn encounter quite regularly, maybe even on a daily basis. Some of these things are so common that they don’t even stand out for womxn anymore. At the same time, such situations are completely unknown to men.

Also things like the hearfelt advice to “just put on whatever you want – your outfit doesn’t matter”. For a long time I tried to believe this. But it’s just not true. As a womxn, if you’re not dressed in a certain way, this reflects much stronger on as how competent you are perceived. (If I’m not mistaken, there even was a study which proved this objectively – you see, as a women you often need to offer proof for your everyday statements if you want to be taken seriously. Sometimes people just plainly refuse to believe me even when I cite a resource proving my statements…) If a male programmer just shows up unwashed,  people often still respect them on the sole base of their extraordinary skill. But if you did that as a womxn, it just wouldn’t work. When has anybody ever based their judgement on you as a womxen on skill alone? Do you remember one single time?

Men can’t understand when we complain about these incidents because they just don’t happen to them. This is because a lot of sexism is silent and invisible. And so ingrained into our culture that it takes extra attention to become aware of it and notice it again.

So speak up whenever something happens to you (and you feel up to it), especially when it’s “just a small thing”. These things are good practice for not being shut up by non-believers. Start talking about small, less hurtful instances of sexism and work yourself up to bigger things or at least up to what you’re comfortable with. Apart from being good practice, they help raise awareness of common sexism. With womxen, a problem is that we often don’t report or even recount the small stuff because we think it’s just normal or not such a big deal. Then, when somebody comes out with a big complaint, nobody believes them.

People will say that something like this doesn’t come out of nowhere. And it doesn’t. That’s why you should speak up early, if you can. It only becomes more difficult, the stronger the harrassment gets.

Don’t think about how people will make fun of you or call you a ‘feminazi’ if you speak up. Yes, of course I have received my share of stupid comments. Heck, a friend even gave me a door sign along the lines of “It’s so difficult to be a woman” to mock me. It’s not worth avoiding to speak up just to avoid these little nuisances. You have to be stronger than that. But also, if you feel actively endangered, be careful and stay silent if you feel like you need that to protect yourself. You know your own situation and when to take what I write with a grain of salt, I assume.

 

Special problems with sexism in Academia

Speaking out without wrecking havoc

In Academia, a big problem is that you often can’t speak out without hurting a big ego. And one who is in a position of power over you, whom you need or whatever. So even a bystander’s comment which puts attention on the misbehaviour can be detrimental to your career. Thus, we need try to find ways of handeling situations in a non-offensive way. Even though I really don’t like it, but I have to advise you to react in ways which do not cause the perpetrator to lose their face in front of other people. Though I think they should. But we’re probably not there yet. But hey, nothing’s more powerful than an idea whose time has come. So maybe we be able to do that some time so.

In order to protect yourself from a horrible situation, you might have to extract yourself from it. Often, this means that victims will leave Academia while the perpetrators stay. Do things to heal the trauma. Dare to ask for help (professional and friends / family). 

 

The power (and necessity) of “saying something”

If you are a bystander, you should definitely do something. Often just acknowledging in a clearly audible voice that you do not agree or don’t share this opinion can throw perpetrators off and helps victims feel validated.

We need to give perpetrators devalidating responses to their behaviour and opinions. A study, which I sadly can’t find anymore, has shown that rapists think that everybody thinks like them and that their behaviour is normal. This is why sexist jokes are not actually harmless, like it is often stated by people who do have valid moral judgement. Everybody knows it’s just a joke, right?

No, it’s not ok and it’s not funny, because in fact, a rapist does not know it’s just a joke. Rapists often tell rape jokes in their circles of friends. Most people brush it off saying that the person is awkward. So they laugh along and forget about it. But to the rapist, this means validation. To them, it’s not a joke. They feel validated in their opinions. So this is a call to people experiencing a situation like this. Everybody has this one creep in their circle of friends. Educate everyone why sexist jokes are not fun. Even if they are not rape jokes, they still serve to socialize people subconsciously with long outdated concepts of womxenhood. They still cement patriarchal, misogynistic thinking into subconscious thinking and thus, perpetuate it to another generation.

 

Silence reinforces the stigma, obscures the size of the problem and makes people “becomes accomplices”

Many womxn also become accomplices in sexism rather than being allies for the victims because they are afraid it will affect their own standing if they say something. This is even more hurtful because it reinforces the silencing. Also, it’s often the same with the ‘good guys’ who officially are on your side but also “become accomplices” when they are afraid to speak up because of potential risks for their careers. This  reinforces the system and makes me more and more determined that silence really is the key problem. If we can break this silence and education against sexism is all around, something will have to change for the better at some point.

Often, I also wonder whether people who don’t say anything “because they fear consequences” would actually suffer consequenes for their behaviour. Or whether it’s just a lazy excuse. Pretending to be an ally has become fashionable in our time. But I think that you really need to prove yourself if you want me to believe you. Pretending to care is a way of preserving the status quo too. The only thing which really makes a difference is action.

And you can only call someone a real friend and ally if they stand up to you despite the consequences. Standing up when it doesn’t hurt you is not an act of courage.

 

Getting over it is unavoidable. But how to repair the (pluridimensional) damage to your career?

Many instances of sexism are hurtful, but you can get over them with the right psycho hygiene regimen. Meditate, release your anger, workout (and no, not so you look good in a bikini because that’s what’s expected of womxn). Also, it’s not like you had another choice than to get over them. As long as it’s not sexual violence (and even then), you probably have no choice but to get over it anyway. You can improve your psycho hygiene and help the movement once you decide to speak up: Join an initiative, go to womxn’s marches. Let it all out and help with the activism.

But there is one other problem in Academia: Like it’s not about sex in sexual violence, but about power, in Academia it’s largely about competence. Because (acknowledged) competence is power in Academia. So when someone makes a sexist comment or you suffer from a non-event (not) happening to you, this will be a dent in your perceived and acknowledged competence.

The assholes-are-part-of-life part of sexism I can live with. Or, at least, I have to. But in Academia – which is the field where I am trying to have a career – I really can’t have the fact that sexism hurts my chances in the job market.

Many instances of sexism and non-events are, largely, “not that bad”, like everybody around you is going to assure you. But they are. Because they add up to what is going to be perceived as the difference in competence which will cause your male colleague to get the job. Unless there is a womxn quota. Then, of course, you only got the job because of that quota and not because of your genuine superior competence.

Step 1 is acknowledging the damage done on a daily basis by sexism

I think, the first step to solving this, is to acknowledge that there are non-events happening and that sexist structures hurt the perceived competence as well as the credibility of womxn. Here, the perpretrators may be a large anonymous mass. It’s not really anybody’s fault. You can’t point a finger at one single responsible person. But in the end, this disease which befalls all of us womxn, feeds on silence.

The more we speak up, the more we take away it’s fuel. So let’s speak up. Be open about what sexism has happened to you if you feel up to it. Don’t ever be ashamed of something that was done to you. It’s always the perpetrator’s fault, never the victim’s. No, you didn’t “ask for it” by being the way you are or wearning certain items of clothing.

Like somebody said in our workshop, it’s still sexism if you walk around naked. Not even being naked is an invitation for sexual advances or sexism, unless the naked subject clearly states their wish and consent to engage in sexual behaviours or to receive sexual comments. And no, this does not mean “you can’t do anything anymore nowadays.” It just means you can’t be a sexist asshole without having me pointing it out publicly.

 

Step 2: Don’t remain silent

I hereby vow to never be silent again. Not only for myself but because I know that many cannot speak up for themselves due to trauma or because they don’t dare to. This workshop, in fact, was created because experiencing sexism made me aware of the fact that probably this happens to a lot of people who are less outspoken and angry and impolite than me. Who speaks up for them?

So if you are not sure whether or not to speak up, but you do feel up to it mentally – do. If not for yourself, then to support others and join the fight. It doesn’t take much but our united voices will have some effect. Don’t feel like your case was not “dramatic” enough. Or that it “doesn’t really count” as sexism. Everything counts if it made you feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Sharing the small stuff with likeminded people can be an extremely helpful and validating experience for someone who has experienced sexism but kept it a secret. For people who had this weird situation that bothers them but they are not sure whether it was, in fact, sexism they experienced or whether their feeling is valid. 

 

Step 3: Biannual compulsory educational workshops for bosses

Our guest speaker at the workshop, Seunghyn Song, said that it is already practice at many universities to have binannul compulsory educational workshops for bosses. While those bosses often sit in these workshops behind their laptops without paying attention, I believe that it will help the message to trickle down. It shows the bosses that, even if they don’t care about the topic themselves, it is important to their institution for which they are representatives. At some point, this gentle but frequent form of education will do something

These workshops should concern sexism as well as other forms of discrimination, like non-events. Bosses should be educated so they know that these seemingly inconscipuous actions already constitute sexism, learn how to spot them and how to react. This will at least raise awareness and help womxen who want to speak up: If bosses have already heard about it from some authority, they are more likely to believe a womxn who claims to have suffered from sexism in their institution.

So this is it for this time. Stay tuned for the rest of the post with more concrete info on the actual contents of the workshop.

Best,

S

 

And for the PS a little quote from an article on gender bias and perceived incompetence in womxn:

One assumption is that women are first assumed incompetent until proven otherwise. It’s the opposite for men.  So right from the start women are not perceived as leaders. If a woman is successful it’s because she’s a hard worker […}, or was lucky; if she fails it’s because she’s incompetent. If a male succeeds, it’s because he’s competent; if he fails it’s because of bad luck or a scandal […].

Consequently, cultural biases consistently overrate men and underrate women. Self-assessment studies show that men and women do the same to themselves. Women tend to evaluate themselves two points lower than reality, while men will evaluate themselves two points higher.

Assumed incompetence puts women on the defensive and their struggle to prove themselves keeps them on a never-ending treadmill. So if you as a woman have felt held to a higher standard, it’s not your imagination, you have been. It’s the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers syndrome: Ginger has to do everything Fred does, except in high heels and backwards.

It’s not just men assuming women are incompetent; women also fall prey to assuming incompetence in women. A woman may feel that she’s competent but she won’t assume that of other women. In one global experiment called the “Goldberg paradigm,”  […]

Some women use the negative gender schemas against them to their advantage. These women play along as if they don’t know what’s going on, when in reality they are five steps ahead of the guys. As Mae West put it, “Brains are an asset, if you hide them.”

Being under-estimated can work to women’s advantage when she is covertly outsmarting him, but that’s a short-term benefit. In the end, feigning ignorance only helps perpetuate a misperception. […]

So let’s be conscious of this unconscious assumption. If your comments are overlooked, don’t assume you have nothing to contribute or are not a leader. Rather assume an unconscious assumption has kicked in. If you agree with what a woman might be offering to the discussion, don’t tell her at the water cooler. Speak up and stand beside her and giving her credit.  If someone takes your idea and claims it as their own, do as one woman scientist who did research on cancer told me. Tell that person, “Thanks, I’m so glad you love my idea!” (Birute Regine, Forbes)

Resources

 

 

https://www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/

 

Gender Bias Sways How We Perceive Competence in Faces, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/gender-competence-faces.html

 

 

Networking as a “Humanities youngster”

Okay, the term “Humanities youngster” is not from me, it was used from a professor to describe what I am – young, early career stage, PhD candidate, devoted to Humanities. Well, actually, he called me first a Classics youngster, but then admitted that there are some things that are correct for all Humanities people – not just us classicists.

We sat down, had a cup of decent coffee (I am sorry, Great Britain, coffee is not your strength – I love tea, yes, but sometimes, it has to be coffee)… Okay, the coffee was decent enough, actually, the best to find near campus and the conference location. We talked about – yes, the bad coffee, but hey, the Congress Ale was great – and the talks we have heard so far and what we found interesting and what was rather awkward or really bad, because of the poor speaker’s nervosity. There are really bad talks out there, so, don’t you worry, dear Conference-Newbies (if you want, check my post on Conferencing!), a lot of people don’t like to talk in front of a group.

But this is not our topic here – we are going to talk about networking. Actually, what I just described – the professor, the coffee, the talking – is considered as one form of networking. When you are going to conferences, and you give a paper or a talk, you will get questions in a discussion round, some of your listeners will even want to chat with you in the coffee break (no matter how horrible the so-called coffee is, it is always called coffee break… a mystery).

So, you see, some networking things are just easy going. But, You know of course that at the same conference there are really famous scholars of your very own field. And yes, you will certainly go to their talks and just experience them live on stage. Next step: Talk to them. Sure, you can do that.

If not in discussion, try to ask one question in the coffee break. You have a lot of them, am I right? And believe me, people at conferences are used to the fact that a lot of people just come by and talk to them, asking them questions of their current as well as on published research. Conferences are an enormously important part in research. Research and new ideas function with the element of talking about it: the problems, the possible solutions, the results.

I know that it is not easy to just go to a very famous researcher and just start to talk. How to do it right? We had this question in one of our seminars for early career researchers: How to start smalltalk at a conference?

And… suprisingly, our coach came up with this meme:

via MEME

This one has actually gone viral, but – the 4-step-process is quite clear. (By the way, if you do not know the movie or the book, shame on you, go watch and/or read it, it is awesome! And yes, there is a book!)

So, let’s imagine a situation with your absolute idol in your field of study.

Coffee break, a lot of people.

You: Excuse me, you are Mr./Ms./Prof./Dr. Famous?  –> polite greeting

F(amous): Yes, I am. Nice to meet you, Mr./Ms. …?

You: My name is Archaeogirl, I am working/studying at the University of Pure Awesomeness. –> name

F: Oh, I have never been there, but they say it is a lovely city.

You: It is, indeed. (Never forget to smile!) I have read your recent book “Famous stuff”/article “How to find famous stuff with a very famous method/theory”. I am working on “the other famous method” for my PhD thesis and I am wondering if you will answer me some questions? –> personal link and manage expectations

F: Oh, that is very interesting. I certainly will. Let’s grab a cup of coffee… Or maybe a glass of water, the coffee is not drinkable at all.

You: I have found a coffee shop near campus where they actually serve decent coffee. (And now you have certainly made a new friend!)

As with all the things you do the first time, you will be nervous as hell. It will get better with the times you tried, I promise. And if you knew some people and you are maybe attending always the same conferences as they are, they will remember you, introduce you to their colleagues etc. That is how the network starts.

But also your colleagues back home who started with you, are an important network. These people you have studied with, maybe be friends with, will be your first peers, e.g. for proof-reading your thesis or articles. You see, a network has different stages and positions, all of them are important and you have to cultivate them. Trust me, people who are going only for the big fish will make themselves very unpopular with their other colleagues and once in a while this will come back to them. Karma is a bitch – in academia too.

Conferences or wokshops are like a market place for us early career researchers of “Humanities youngsters”. We can win our first academic spurs, we can present our research, we can meet new and interesting people.

Your network will grow in time. Some people are very closely linked to you, others not that closely, and some are dealing even with different things from a nearby research area, but nontheless they are part of your network – and one day they will need you to introduce them to another famous scholar. Or they will need your own experience for a new interdisciplinary project. Who knows?!

So, gather all your strength, stay calm and where is this nice academic fighting spirit? Go out there to start and cultivate your network!

All the best –

Astrid 🙂

Conferencing – Nightmare vs. Highlight

You have maybe seen it on our social media profiles – Sarah and I are really big in conferencing right now. You know, just see a Call for Papers on the Internet or getting it by a mailing list service, from your professors, … and writing an abstract or a poster proposal, get accepted, prepare your presentation, paper, talk or poster and just get there. Sounds like a very easy thing, right?

So, why do some academics have the one and only big nightmare: presenting their work in a room full of people eagerly listening to their words? You got attention for your work, you will get asked fabulous questions, you can proove the worth of your research – yeah, but talking in a full room, in front of people, all of them eagerly listening, some of them very professionel and skilled in my area, knowing at least everything about my topic, so, no, thank you, I like to remain unknown and never ever want to give a talk.

Afraid of people listening? Do you want to get them to use and read your research? Yes? Well… You have to tell them. And yes, they want to hear it from you. That is why they are here. 🙂 It is that simple. (all the images by Pixabay)

If you want to stay in academia, YOU. HAVE. TO. PRESENT. YOUR. OWN. RESEARCH. Now, head for the mirror, give yourself a big smile and say these words over and over again! Until you believe them with your very heart! Go, now!

But I cannot talk that good.
You can learn it. Do you think, we just got this mighty skill of conference talking mode by sheer dumb luck? This is no sudden and frightening exam you had no idea was going to happen, this is a task you can prepare. You are allowed to prepare the best topic, in your own way, you know the amount of time you have to speak. You just have to prepare it well.

But I have nothing to present.
You are writing on a thesis, right? So, you are really devoted to one topic or field? You think that it is probably the most important field you have ever done research in? You have something to present.

But what if I cannot answer a question?
You are no know-it-all genius, you are a human being, so, it is perfectly allright to tell people that you have right now no good answer, but of course you will look it up – just ask the persons asking for their contact, if you want, and write them an e-mail. You know, research works with asking questions.

Yes, by presenting your research, you set yourself to a very vulnerable position, but if you are well prepared, nothing can happen to you at all. Just stay friendly and listen to your audience. You have not to know everything.

But what if someone just tears my research (and me) apart?
Okay, tough one. But, if you are well prepared, you can resist this attack. By the way, you know that there are two different ways of being critical and the destructive way will serve to your best – because the evil critic will be judged by his or her way of criticism and you will have the sympathy of your audience. Especially as a student – you have to think it the other way: Even the people in the audience had at one point in their academic career their very first paper to present. We all started that way.

So, how to practice or prepare?
Ask your peers – talk to your friends, your teachers, your colleagues. Ask them about their conference routine. Remember yourself why you started with your current research. And yes, I know, I am citing now Marie Kondo: Does it spark joy? Of course it does. So, let that joy be visible for your audience.

But I am so nervous!
Practice. Practice your talk. Write the text, read it aloud. Read it while standing in front of a mirror. Read it in front of the mirror with the clothes you are going to wear right on. Get the feeling. Imagine the situation. Who will be there? Focus on the people you may know. When presenting you can look at them in the audience or focus on at least one person to the right, the middle and the left in your audience, always rotating with your eyes – speak to your audience, not to the floor, the ceiling or the paper in front of you.

The use of attending conferences?
Networking. I know, this strange academic habit we have all heard of a lot. But yes. Big conferences are like a marketplace for us youngsters in academia. You can meet important people of your field in a relaxed atmosphere, because after presenting, everybody gets a coffee and the talking, discussing and researching goes on. In fact, networking is quite a big topic, so we will present you one blogpost about it next week.

During conferences you are able to contact important people for your field or for your research. Coffe breaks or conference dinners are a great way to socialize and to discuss your research.

Next to networking, you have the possibility to get all the news in your field and this is important too. You have to stay  up to date, right?

And, last but not least, attending conferences is a very important part of your acadmic CV and it looks good to have some big events in it. You have to start somewhere, so maybe there is the possibility in your department or maybe in your graduate school to attend smaller conferences or workshops. Just take the chance to do so. You always have to remember that talks and presentations are some kind of publicity for yourself and for your research. You have to sell yourself – at least a bit. You have something interesting to say, so say it. You will be heard. You will be seen.

So, stay tuned – I shout out to you, brave warriors of academia. Whereever you are, have a good start in your hopefully relaxed summer and keep on reading our blog for new posts!

We would be happy, if you share your conference experiences with us! So, leave a comment! 🙂

All the best,

Astrid

Book Review: Essentialism

This time, I wanted to share with you another book from my quest to regain some work-life-balance: Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, NY 2011. McKeown mainly challenges one quite fundamental assumption about our time: the illusion that we could just do it all.

 

Have you ever found yourself struggling with information overload? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilised? Do you ever feel busy but not productive?

Priorities

The word priority used to be singular only. Which makes sense because actually, it is not possible for two things to be “the most important thing” at the same time. It is this introduction of a plural for priorities which shows how we use language to lie to ourselves.  It means not acknowledgeing the fundamental truth that you just can’t have it all. This is especially revelevant for myself because I am really bad at accepting this. When asked to choose something, I always decide to do both. But this is not ‘being super-human’. This is acutally being stupid and naive.

We perceive countless things around us. Yet our greatest power is the power to focus, which means of making the choice to ignore most of the noise in order to get to the message. This is what ‘essentialism’ is about. To not ‘do more’, but to do ‘less but better’. To ignore most things in order to value the important things.

 

Trade-Offs

We often think that we’re just not good at saying no. But saying yes to something always means saying no to something else. So ultimately, we are constantly saying no by saying yes. We might as well choose which thing to say no to directly. Because you just can’t have it all.  Yet, it is understandable why people have difficulty saying no in a society which encourages you to say yes. Saying no is not the nice thing to do. It is uncomfortable. Saying yes is what is praised in the moment. People who say yes seem productive, seem like they ‘have it all’ and ultimately, most bosses do actually expect you to say yes to everything. Even if this massively hurts your overall productivity. 

Another hallmark of the subconscious unability to say no is the act of constantly cramming in “just one more thing”. Like I do. McKeown even makes the example of this one annoying colleague who foolishly doesn’t accept they just can’t have it all and thus ends up answering “just one more” email before they leave for a meeting they would already have been late to before they even started writing that last email. Let me introduce you to this colleague. It is me.

Essentialism is the deliberate pursuit of ‘less but better’.

Delusional thinking

Like I said, McKeown brings the example of people who know they have 10 minutes left to get somewhere, it takes 10 minutes to get there and yet they still sit down to answer an email before they go – thinking they could just “fit it all in”. The result is that they are guaranteed to be late and thus, still miss one of the two things. Or, at worst, both. All because they are afraid to make conscious decisions to reject something. If you don’t know this from personal experience, you have just gotten to know me. This is who I am. I am not proud, but that’s the way it is. If you don’t make this choice (of what to do with the time you have), somebody else will make it for you. This is kind of like with digital addiction.

We are ever only aware of the decisions we actively make. That these imply that we also automatically (and perhaps unwillingly) say no to other things, we often don’t want to see. At least I don’t. Before saying yes, we should ask ‘What would I give up to do this?’ rather than ‘Can I fit it in?’ which is what societal pressure tells us we should do. McKeown introduces the concept of trade-offs, i.e. the fact that when you decide to do something, you simultanesouly also reject something else. Because you just can’t have it all. When you meet person A, you secretly have rejected spending your time with person B. Only that you are not aware of this fact. Essentialism means becoming aware and accepting of this reality of trade-offs.

 

The unimportance of practically everything

Essentialism is about the unimportance of practically everything. By that, McKeown means that not all actions are useful or effective. Many are a complete waste of time compared to others. He brings the example that bosses feel one really good employee doesn’t create results twice as good as another but 10.000x as good. McKeown learnt in his own childhood that delivering papers was a poor use of his time. He had to trade one hour of his time against one pound. Being able to afford something nice would be a gigantic pursuit with countless hours of toil. He then realized that washing cars on Saturdays would be able to get him a six pound per hour return and thus, was a incomparably more effective use of his time. This is the sort of thinking he suggests we should do when he tells us to do ‘less but better’.

 

Philosophy and practice

The book is splitted in a more ‘theoretical’ part explaining the ‘philosophy’ behind essentialism and some more practical parts. These contain tips not unlike those time management tips from all of the other books I looked at so far, be it in the Digital Detox experiment oder Rest.

  1. Part two (“Explore”) suggests you ‘escape’ and save time by being unavailable (ruthlessly avoid going to useless meetings, etc.); you see what really matters, make time for (serious) play, get enough sleep and select what you spend your time with using ‘extreme criteria’. 
  2. Part III (“Eliminate”) suggests you clarify decision making, dare to say no and learn how to do it gracefully without offending people, uncommit from non-essentials and gain freedom by setting boundaries for carefully ‘edited’ amount of meaningful activities.
  3. Part IV (“Execute”) praises using a “time buffer” between commitments, removing things which hurt your effectiveness most rather than starting some new quick fix technique on top of everything, progressing with small wins, using routine to get in the flow, focusing and being in the moment by asking (“What’s important now?”).

 

So that’s it from me today and from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. And remember: You can’t just “have it all”. Do less, but better.

Best and until next time,

yours,
Sarah