Friday, May 20, 2011

Men running women's spaces

We recently had a "Women in my Department" dinner, organized by the university's chapter of "Association for Women in my Field". Attendance was low, and towards the end, discussion turned to how to get more undergrads to attend.

A visiting graduate student suggested that we open the meeting up to all undergraduates. After all, it was the Association for Women in my Field, not Association of Women in my Field. It turns out that in her department, the AWmF has a male faculty mentor. (This is because there are no female tenured faculty at her department).

There's a part of my brain that started screaming "BAD IDEA!" at the top of it's lungs. But then I stopped to think about it. As an undergraduate, there was 1 tenured female faculty member in my two majors combined, 2 my last year. There was a "Graduate Student Women in My Field" group that did not get money from any outside agency, and was not aimed at undergrads (though we were welcome), and thus did not need a faculty sponsor. Would it have been fair in my undergrad institution to put the responsibility/burden of running such a group on the 1 female? Is it a fair responsibility to shuffle off onto a junior faculty member? Does that change if the school has a low rate of offering tenure?

There were 2 tenured female faculty members in my graduate department, neither of whom really wanted to spend time on an "Association for Women in My Field" chapter. One department chair tried to foist it onto one of them, and created a bit of resentment in the process.

In some ways, I'm glad the male faculty member at the visiting student's school is sponsoring a chapter of Association for Women in My Field, broken as this problem is.


  1. As much as we want to do everything on our own, women will not make significant progress without male allies. If a male professor wants to make clear his support of women in his field by being faculty advisor, I view this as a very positive thing.

    One way to destroy a ceiling is to start taking down walls...

  2. I know that I am (emotionally) much more willing to accept a female having a possibly hostile point of view about issues of two body problems, or families, or sexist comments made by colleagues as "just her opinion", but a male colleague making a similar comment can intimidate me if it catches me off guard. My main concern about a male sponsoring such a group is regarding how freely women will be willing/able to discuss possible discrimination they face in the presence of a male professors who may have power over them.

    All the same, I'm glad that such a group exists at this university.

  3. It will also depend on how active faculty advisors are expected to be at that university. I've been involved in several organization where the faculty advisor met with the executive board once a semester, but otherwise left us to our own devices.

  4. Having a male ally who is interested in hearing about the problems of women, and making strides to fix those problems, is powerful, and necessary. See this post from DrugMonkey:

  5. Very true. Although, cynically, I have to wonder, if this faculty member cared so much about the problems women face in this field, why hasn't he done more to hire women in his (not small) department?

    We need male allies, and I'm not railing against male allies. I'm not opposed to men attending these meetings. I'm questioning males actively running (MSE has a good point, the faculty mentor at this university may be very hands off) a group for women.