Three Strikes and I’m Stereotyped

This was a three strike, 24 hour period.  Today, I posted a tweet.  It simply said:

“Gendered stereotypes make me sad.”

There was a reason for this statement.  The tweet was in response to incidents that have occurred solely in the past 24 hours.  Let me provide you with a rundown:

Yesterday, I was leaving a meeting at its conclusion and was walking out with two male colleagues.  The three of us discussed that we needed to meet separately to talk about an additional issue.  One of the men looked at me and said, “Julie, would you like to set up the meeting for us?”  Now, mind you, I have two director positions to balance – and this person knows it – so the idea that I would have time to coordinate our schedules is laughable.  This individual blissfully has one role on campus, and he has an administrative assistant.  I responded by saying, “No, I think the administrative assistant in our office can handle this.”   I am forced to conclude that this was a gendered response – the woman in the group can take on the job of coordinating schedules.  That’s my gendered role anyway, right?  Wrong.

Strike one.

Today, I was in a conversation with two male colleagues.  As I was attempting to explain something, they began a conversation about a different subject.  I had to literally say, “Excuse me, I’d like to finish my statement, please” so that I could get the rest of my explanation out.  Both of the men apologized, but about five minutes later, the same thing happened again.  I again asked to finish.  Another apology.  And then – you guessed it – it happened again.  I called them out a third time to which one of them responded, “I guess we really need to get better at this with you women.”  Seriously?  Both of these men have Ph.D.s and are strong advocates for social justice, and I was just put into the category of “you women”.  Sexist, hegemonic and gendered doesn’t even begin to describe several of the problems with this interaction.

Strike two.

This evening, I read a post by a colleague I respect that was intended to emulate a comedic post about women who post profiles on on-line dating sites.  The post outlined the different things “white women” claim to like, and how they are translated by the author.  An example:

         “cookbooks – can you actually cook or do you just like cookbooks?  Winner.  At least she’s trying to cook. I think this may be one of those things women say bc they think it sounds good.”

You know – it actually may be because the person likes to cook.  I’m just putting it out there. 

Needless to say this was only one of the many items cited by the individual.  The post was an attempt at humor, and I personally do not believe that the individual was attempting to be malicious.  I do, however, feel that this statement, along with dozens more on the post, were misguided and gendered, and that the poster doesn’t truly understand (or chooses not to believe) the harm these types of statements inflict upon women.  These very statements continue to perpetuate gendered stereotypes and belittle women by making assumptions about us simply based on things we state we like.  The attempt was to poke fun at how people lie or stretch the truth on their dating profiles; instead, it ended up as an example of how deeply rooted stereotypes of women are in our society. 

Strike three.

As I reflected back over the past 24 hours, I realized there were even more micro-inequities to which I had been exposed – anything from being referred to as “Mrs. Payne-Kirchmeier” instead of the title I have earned of ‘Dr. Payne-Kirchmeier”, to people dropping half of my last name because pronouncing both sides of the hyphen evidently is just too difficult to do.  I am frustrated, and continue to be frustrated, with how ingrained stereotypes about women infiltrate our daily lives – even in venues and with people who are supposed to understand and champion social justice, equality and fairness – and how we all continue to contribute to these stereotypes either through our statements, actions or silence.

The person who made the aforementioned post was challenged both openly and via DM on Twitter about their post and the intent behind it by other colleagues, and I did challenge the men in the first two situations directly, but for every one of these confrontations, how many go unchallenged? How many times do we as women let things slide simply because we think the person “didn’t mean it” , “it was supposed to be funny”, that “it was harmless” or, worse yet, simply don’t even notice because we’re so used to the behaviors, statements and actions happening on a daily basis?  How frequently do we allow ourselves or others to be devalued in this manner?

So I ask each of you – think twice, even three times, before you begin some of these types of discussions.  Treat everyone with equal respect.  If you doubt – even for a second – that what you are about to say may be misinterpreted – just stop.  Think about how your words may sound, how they represent you, and how they may be construed by others.  Be true to yourself, but never forget how you impact all those around you, and about the role model you continue to be to others.  And if you hear these things – say something.  Stand up for others and for yourself.  Sexism and stereotyping hurts everyone – including you.

 To that end, I leave you with this:

 “Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

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The Artistry of Juggling

Editors Note:  This is the fourth in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences  and perspectives of women.  Laurie A. Berry, a professional in university housing and residence life, and a new Ph.D. student, discusses what it takes for her to keep it all in balance.

The Artistry of Juggling

Juggling when done well is an art form.   Masterfully keeping perfect rhythm using multiple objects that seemingly float up and over then into the juggler’s hands again can be mesmerizing to watch.  When the objects juggled are not the same size, or as more and more objects are added and the juggler does not appear to miss a beat, my awe and amazement grows. 

Juggling is the perfect metaphor for what many of us do with our personal life, careers and academic lives as well as the myriad of other interests we have.  I struggle to be that artful juggler who can take on more and more objects with ease and keep the perfect rhythm and grace.  Over the years I have learned to find a good balance with my professional and personal life.   As I reflect on my own development as a juggler, I have always done my best when I had one large area and then several smaller areas to juggle.  When I can define or order my roles into one major and several minor then I found that getting in a good rhythm as easier.  Juggling was easy when I had a singular focus.  When the smaller balls fell, as long as that large one was still in the air I felt successful.  For example when I was in college as an undergraduate – completing my degree was my primary goal and everything else was secondary.  Those were the easy days.  I had a life plan mapped out to include getting a bachelor’s degree, followed a master’s degree and ultimately a PhD all by the time I was 27. Juggling was easy then.

Well, life has a way of changing your role as juggler – and it just gets harder. At times you have to make decisions to put all but one or two of those balls down at a time.  It took 5 ½ years for me to get my bachelor’s degree, as I completed three quarters of a marketing degree as well as becoming certified to teach English in secondary schools before finding what would ultimately be my career in a part time job I took in the residence halls. Through a night clerk job I found a love for student affairs. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I decided to start a Student Personnel Services degree.  I then met and married my husband, and three semesters later graduated with my master’s degree.

As I matured, I found balance in my personal life.  I dropped the academic ball from my juggling to make room for the professional one.  As I grew in my professional role, more balls began to come my way.  It took me a while to get into the rhythm that worked for me, but I found it, and the juggling was on.  I was cruising along thinking, “I have mastered this juggling act.  I can keep personal and professional life balanced even when adding in other interests!”  And as life would have it – more balls then floated my way:  leadership in professional organizations, helping with elderly family members, taking time off to assist my husband with recovery from major surgery, working with my daughter’s ADD and cognitive issues as well my mental and physical health.  My skills were continuously tested, but I managed to keep things floating.

Fast forward 20 years. At 44 years old, I am now beginning that PhD program.  To say I am anxious and overwhelmed is an understatement.  I have a goal of completing my PhD before I turn 50. I now had three larger balls to juggle:  my personal life, my professional life, and my academic life.  I have many smaller balls that represent my interests as well as my obligations, but I can’t let these three large ones fall.

What I have found is that through my support network, I can keep all of these priorities alive.  I have a supportive family and friends.  I am a part of an amazing cohort.  I have already formed close bonds with these new classmates who no doubt will become a part of my extended family.   I have the support of my supervisors and colleagues.  And I have a confidante that I have shared much of this journey with to this point.  But what motivates me the most is the knowledge that I am serving as a role model for my daughter.  I can, by learning how to balance, juggle and prioritize, teach her that dreams are worth hanging on to, and goals can be achieved.

I am not sure how long it will take me to once again find that rhythm of a master juggler.   I know there will be days when one or more of the balls hit the ground.  When they fall, I will do what all good performers do.  I will pick up the ball, dust it off and toss it back into the air confident that with enough practice, I will always find my rhythm and dazzle with my artistry.