Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where are all the women?

After my gender stereotyping rant on Tuesday, I should say that this wasn't meant to be Feminist Week, but recently all sorts of gender gap issues seem to keep coming up in my mind.

There's a lot of talk around the blogosphere and beyond about "mummy guilt"- all to do with the awful consequences of not doling out to your children the right mix of proteins and fats, love and discipline, structure and unstructure, complex and simple carbohydrates, independence and support, socialisation and solitude....... Then there's the subspecialty, working mummy guilt, where you get to feel bad for not committing enough time to your paid work and not enough time to your children (and throw in neglect of your partner and friends for some extra side dishes of guilt). And within the working mummy guilt comes the feeling of "how can I do better?" which can morph its way to "what are women doing wrong?"

In my case I work in academia. Lots of well educated, reasonable, wonderful, enlightened people, lots of enthusiastic students and recent graduates- and a lot of people (half or more) at this early career stage are women. And then something happens and all the women stagnate or retreat or relocate or resign or die OR SOMETHING and beyond a certain point women become unusual and the ones that make it feel the need to run seminars and lunches about the issues women in academia face. I've attended plenty and read plenty on the topic, and have picked up some useful tips for success as a woman in academia:

- don't take maternity leave (from an Australian academic who brought her children to work from birth until they were old enough to attend daycare)
- don't have children (admittedly this is paraphrased by me, but from an interview with the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrum, aged 77, who said that in her youth she "had a clear decision and made a decision not to have a family because in earlier times that would have been a very, very difficult thing to accomplish.")
- learn to play poker (this is from a US academic who said she needed this skill to network via the weekly poker gatherings), or otherwise pretend to be a man (this from a NYT article on the topic)

Suffice to say, I fail in all areas.

So why is this getting to me today? Yesterday I attended a panel discussion seminar and there was an exclusively male panel. No big deal- I've been noticing this a lot recently at seminars and conferences. But the presenter wasn't so accepting and, slightly embarrassed, said "Oh... we didn't intend for it to be an all male panel given [the program in question] has more females than males in its intake." No need for embarrassment- it happens all the time without anyone realising....

Then on the way home I was listening to 774 ABC radio, and heard Stephen Mayne discussing the issue of gender inequity at upper levels of corporate life, which he has also written about in today's Age. He puts it down to "issues such as networking, perceived experience, blokey headhunters and the old boys' network." Perusal of the comments is fairly depressing- presumably in the potential anonymity plenty of people feel free to speak their mind, and I'm left with the feeling that whatever women lack to get to the higher levels of academia- whether it's intrinsic or extrinsic- is probably the same in many other professions.

And where does that leave me? Gloomy, I think. Resigned to my fate, whatever that is. I do what I can and at the end of the day I can hope people say about me, "she did well for a woman."

On a side note, on the topic of men-vs-women, I concur with Maxabella that very few blog readers are male, especially round here, and in the process of procrastinating over researching this I discovered that, at least in the field of entomology, women tend to blog anonymously (hell-o) much more than men.

1 comment:

ANB said...

The more-men-than-women thing is depressingly true in law. More than 50% of law students are female and women are fairly well represented at lower levels. However at upper levels it is far different. Pretty much as soon as a female lawyer gets made Queens Counsel (a title appointed by the State Attorney General that is supposed to signify/recognise a certain degree of seniority/competence/respect) they get made a Judge/Magistrate. It's nice that there are inrcreasing numbers of women on the Bench, but it's at the expense of their representation in the upper echelons of the profession. Like you I feel resigned to the whole situation.

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