The Backlash to Gender Equity in Academia?

I’m done with my study section duties… and in my hotel room…. doing something useful, reading the newspaper. And what should I come upon – but this article in the New York Times today- entitled ‘Gains, and Drawbacks for Female Professors’ by Kate Zernike. In the article the gains in gender equity among faculty at MIT after a decade of intensive effort on the part of the university, set into motion after female professors there did such things as crawl around on the floor measuring out lab spaces of men and women documenting the lesser resources provided to women faculty, are described.

I’m alternately delighted and pissed off at what is described in the article. On the one hand I’m delighted that policies set in motion to level the playing field for women in science at MIT have paid off so nicely. I mean this is a good thing, right:

“An array of prizes and professional accolades among female professors has provided a powerful rebuttal to critics who suggested after the earlier report that women simply lacked the aptitude for science — most infamously, Lawrence H. Summers, whose remarks set off his downfall as the president of Harvard.”

I mean we all knew that women had the same aptitude as men do for these subjects- and that women were excluded by systematic, and “subtle and pervasive” ways. This correction is right.

I’m pissed off though- I mean:

“But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.”

Really- is this where we are now? I’ve got a great answer for that- Boys- since the dawn of time blatant favoritism has been practiced to your benefit. In fact it has been practiced to such an extent that us girls had to be BETTER than you academically… and then most of the time we were still ignored. To think anything else is just ignorant of the facts. Now, at least, the playing field is somewhat level, and now us with the double XX chromosomes just have to be equal.

And here is the second thing that irritates me about this article:

“While women on the tenure track 12 years ago feared that having a child would derail their careers, today’s generous policies have made families the norm: the university provides a yearlong pause in the tenure clock, and everyone gets a term-long leave after the arrival of a child. There is day care on campus and subsidies for child care while traveling on business.”

Wonderful that things have changed at MIT. I’m beside myself to see that this is possible. I don’t, however, want anyone to have the impression that because so much headway has been made in these areas at MIT, that means we no longer have a problem with these issues in academia in general.  It is WONDERFUL that everyone gets a term-long leave at MIT after a child is born- but at many U.S. universities- there is NO PAID MATERNITY LEAVE. While there may be day care on campus in some places, this is patchy at best and non-existent at worst. And, that last part has my mouth hanging open- subsidies for child care while traveling on business!!! Seriously, that’s awesome but I have never ever ever seen this kind of help. For someone who traveled 12,000 miles in January DrMrA and I could surely use that. I’ve no idea who even to request… or demand… this from….

And finally:

“Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, “Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.”

Administrators say some men use family leave to do outside work, instead of to be their children’s primary care giver — creating more professional inequity. “”

Yes. Quite. Work-life balance is a family issue. Until it is seen as a family issue, until care of children is seen as a family issue… I fear we are stuck where we are. Men have families as well and let’s hear what they have to say. Men have families, let’s see them take an equal share of parental leave.


12 thoughts on “The Backlash to Gender Equity in Academia?

  1. Pingback: MIT does well by its TT female faculty. Now, how about the rest of us? | cackleofradness

  2. Brava! Brava! This is *exactly* my reaction to the article. Thank you so much for writing this post!

  3. Totally agree. “Family” issues seems to just be code for “women’s” issues. I know in my family, I’m not the only one seeking balance. My husband is the executive director – the boss – and even he doesn’t get any paid paternity leave. I’m a professor at the University of Illinois and I get two weeks paid leave and have to max out my accumulated sick leave to get 6 weeks off. I’ve heard a rumor that there is a teaching reduction for the year back after leave, but you have to know it exists to be able to request it, and thus far nobody in my department has uttered a word about it. It’s also true that while tenure rollbacks are available, many women (and men) don’t take them for fear of recriminations later on. We are assured here that the reason for the rollback is not revealed to the tenure committees, but who knows for sure? I’m taking the year and am grateful for it, but when it comes to “balancing” the rest of my life as an academic parent, I am most definitely on my own. Our campus has two daycare centers for faculty, staff, and students – with a total of only 95 slots for kids 2 yrs 9 mos and up.

    The NIH has an official policy whereby grant funds can be used to to hire additional technical support for faculty on parental leave, as well as reimburse some childcare costs incurred due to research-related travel (e.g. conferences). However, there’s no mandate; they bow to your institution’s policies so you still might be screwed:

  4. I got (not so little) annoyed that it seemed like “since MIT has this it is true for every uni”. There is no maternety leave, let anlone even a thought abuot paternaty leave where I am. And paid? Allow me to have a hysterical giggle.

    Until there is some change overall about this, I fear that it will never move forward….

  5. Yes, agreed on all accounts! But you know, this isn’t just an issue in academia…this is an issue for all professional women! In a way, I think women at some unis have it better than many women in the private sector (at least from what I know from a small pool of friends…). So, they commented in the article that this is a cultural or societal issue, and I completely agree! We need to change society’s perception that childcare is not a woman’s issue, but a family issue! It’s happened elsewhere, in other countries women AND men get much longer leave (sometimes for A YEAR) after a kid and get to come back to their job!!! Imagine that!

  6. Q – if you were asked to be on a panel to discuss work-life balance and you asked the organizer whether men with children will also be on the panel, would it be well received?

  7. @Science Geek- I have no idea what the answer to your question is, but I will say that the best “work-life balance” panel discussion I ever attended had couples as the panel members. So I think including some men is a good idea- if you include men who actually struggle with the issues as much as the women do. Sadly, some do not. I cannot comprehend how their wives stay sane, but that isn’t my business.

    I was also going to say what @Worm Pilot said- the lack of maternity leave is not an academia-specific issue by a long shot. I only got more than 6 weeks (with disability pay, which is not full pay) because I live in California and worked for companies with more than 50 employees at the time I gave birth. It is not like those of us in the corporate world are enjoying awesome maternity benefits. For the most part, we aren’t.

  8. “Q – if you were asked to be on a panel to discuss work-life balance and you asked the organizer whether men with children will also be on the panel, would it be well received?”

    I was on a panel talking about academic careers with a male colleague of mine. He is a terrific scientist and nice guy, as well as a husband and father of 2 children. Upon the panel being asked how we manage work-life balance, he admitted that he was not a very good resource since his wife stays at home. Most of us women faculty could not say that. Even with more time and resources made available to all faculty for parenting issues, it’s hard to equalize when men are more likely to have a full time stay at home spouse taking care of things.

  9. Did the article say maternity leave was PAID? I work at one of MIT’s labs; we have the same benefits as faculty at MIT. Maternity leave is UNPAID.

  10. I see policies are changing, at the same time our statistics show women still quite disadvantaged compared with men in scientific achievement. You are a great role model when you continue to practice the profession trained for, but it’s difficult to overcome deep seated belief systems that underlie inequalities. I appreciate your analysis here so much and thanks for sharing it.

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