Posted on: May 14, 2021
Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 2
The status of women in academia has changed considerably over the last few decades, with more opportunities and careers contributing to a more level playing field. But there remain obstacles, and the situation varies from subject to subject, from institution to institution. We spoke to a range of women from across the world about their perspectives on academia, how the situation in higher education for women has changed over the years, and the issues they still face.
This week's interviewee has PhD in Human Sexuality, and has asked to remain anonymous.
What would you consider your primary motivations for entering academia?
I want to contribute valued research and I want to impart the importance of sexuality to those I teach.
What, if anything, made you reluctant to enter academia?
The politics, the residual connection to the medical model of care (i.e. "me = the expert"), and the isolation.
Could you briefly describe the route you took to arrive at your present position?
My journey to academia was extremely by happenstance, in that I was invited to teach instead of actively looking for an opportunity to do so. I exclusively teach Sexuality courses. After that first semester, I thought to myself, "I did good work! I exposed people to the importance of an undervalued area of work and they walked away more equipped for the clinical work they plan to do."
For many courses, men make up the majority – or even entirety – of the staff, while even for some subjects that are generally more popular amongst women, such as literature, men tend to be overrepresented in the faculty staff. Do you think that men are, on the whole, more attracted to a profession in academia than women are?
I find there is very much a social layer to this. When we think of elementary school educators, we envision a female bodied person and even question why a male bodied person would want such a job. At the university level, we assume white older males are the best and only possible educators. Is it because there is an aura of prestige at this level due to academia's contribution to empirical research, and as such, that prestige is reserved only for men? Is it because our society sees men as the movers and shakers, the ones who define history and therefore are qualified as critical thinkers? Is it that there is inherent power in academia, that allows access to other institutions and spaces and that is not attenable at elementary or grade school, which attracts more men? Or do we value the spaces where males dominate, more than we value the spaces that are more women-dominated, and that's why elementary educators are seen as less than?
Do you feel that there are any challenges you have faced that your male counterparts have not?
I do wonder if my male counterparts experience less resistance and pushback from students. Oftentimes, I find that the students challenge aspects of my lecture, not in a way that facilitates discussion (which is welcomed!) but in a way that seems as if they are questioning my skill, competence, and ability to teach.
In your time as an academic, have you noticed any changes in women’s roles in the university environment?
I'm a very new educator in academia so I cannot speak to changes from a staff perspective. However, I have noticed a difference from when I was in undergrad in the early 2000s to now being an educator. My department then was predominately male, and nearly all white. The school and department I am a part of now is headed by female bodied/presenting people and a diversity of races, cultures and backgrounds.
Many universities have recently proposed to diversify their curricula by prescribing books and articles from a more diverse range of authors. Do you think it’s important to include a variety of male and female authors on the reading list for your course?
It's extremely important that the tools used in academia are reflective of the society and the culture. I would go further and stress the importance of diversifying by race, gender, and orientation as well! Academia, as an institution, has been dominated by misogyny and whiteness, pushing the narrative that only white men are our teachers, researchers, and historians. Moving away from this paternalistic idea and towards diversity and inclusion helps to ensure all voices are seen as valuable within academia.
What advice would you give to women entering academia today?
You belong here. You are meant to be here. You can succeed here!