Day 22: Obligation or Opportunity?

Authors Note:  This is the 22nd entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

ImageDuring this time of the year, chances are many of us have been traveling around to visit family, friends, and others with whom we have a chance to connect as we travel back to our childhood and/or family homes.  As we do this – and as we wind down our travel time – consider this:

21. Spending time with people out of obligation. Just because you spent every waking moment of your elementary school days with someone doesn’t mean you have anything in common with her now. There’s no need to see every old friend and third cousin who passes through your city. Be intentional about who you spend your time with and allow yourself to let some relationships fade away naturally.

This one goes hand in hand with the post relating to entry number 20 – “Day 17: Albatross or Songbird” – when we talked about cutting off/banishing toxic friendships/relationships with your life – and entry number 2 – “Day 2: Affirmative Action” – where we discuss saying “yes” to everyone even when you don’t want to do something.  However, this one goes in a little bit of a different direction – in this case, what we’re really talking about is a sense of obligation.

When was the last time you went back to visit your family, and you heard that one of your old elementary or high school friends was in town?  Or better yet – someone’s first cousin, three times removed, was visiting, and they’d really “love it if you’d stop by” (even though the last time you saw this person was in 3rd grade and you have zero contact with them now)?  Unlike saying “yes” to everything because you don’t want to – in these instances, I tend to have this feeling that goes something like this – “I really don’t want to go – but I SHOULD go – because it’s (family/friend/etc.).  If I don’t, (fill in the name of relative or other friend) will be really upset with me.”

Talk about issues colliding!  Here we have a situation in which you DON’T want to do something, that you are possibly connecting with people who add zero value to you at the present moment (or who maybe never did except when you were FIVE), and the “good girl syndrome” all blending together in an obligation casserole.  I mean – how much guilt, regret, disappointment, etc., can you handle all at once?  

Evidently – quite a bit.

These moments happen to us all.  At these times, I tend to focus on what is important to me.  Do I really need to/want to connect with this person? Maybe or maybe not.  Is this a possible relationship that I can reconnect with and really learn from? Could be.  Is this a relationship that – when I was active in it before – brought me joy and/or something more, or that I contributed positively to?  Possibly.

When I consider these things – I come back to what fulfills me and brings me joy.  But I also consider the joy of the other person as well.  I end up splitting these moments at about 50/50.  Sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes – I’m just too tired to function and I know that I’d be a horrible companion/company for the evening, so I spare my grade school friend and/or relative the bear of dealing with a grumpy JPK.  Other times – I change my mindset and embrace the possible.  I’ve rekindled some amazing connections this way.  

The point of all of this rambling is simple – you have to do what is best for you at that moment.  Go if you want to – or if you feel ready to go . Don’t if you don’t want to.  Never let the lone sentiment of obligation rule your decision, for if you do, you will become a slave to it, and that will never bring you or anyone else around you joy.

How do you handle situations like this?



Day 18: Let’s Talk About Sex

Time for a little Salt-n-Pepa moment:

11. Judging other women’s sex lives. No woman deserves to be put down for who she sleeps with, how many people she sleeps with or how she chooses to express her sexuality. Next time you’re about to call another woman a “prude” or a “slut” just zip your lips. Even Miley Cyrus and her twerking shouldn’t be slut-shamed.

When it comes to the subject of sex – we are often simultaneously self-righteous and self-conscious.  On the one hand, we won’t talk about sex because it makes us feel uncomfortable. “That’s a private matter” we say in our own heads, all the while squirming in our chairs and outwardly giggling like goofballs.  On the other hand, when we look at other people being sexual in a manner that is different from our own, or talking about their own sex lives, or acting out their own sensuality in their own way, we default to judgement mode, at which point we begin censoring people and intentionally trying to make them feel as if they are doing something “wrong”.

Wrong according to whom?  You?  Some general “moral code” out there?  For those of you unfamiliar with slut-shaming – check out this link.  In general, slut-shaming is the act of making anyone feel guilty or inferior for having certain sexual desires or behaviors that differ from traditional gender expectations.  I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty subjective to me.  What is traditional?  How is your sexual behavior or desire any “better” or “more right” than mine?  And whose morals are we talking about ?

I’m right there with you.  This is not a subject that is comfortable to discuss, and anything that seems strange or weird makes me feel weird and sometimes uncomfortable.  But guess what?  That’s my issue – not anyone else’s.  Miley Cyrus?  Yep – that business on the MTV Video Music Awards was really uncomfortable for me to watch.  So was Robin Thicke’s performance – but if I’m being honest – I was more uncomfortable watching Miley.  The difference is that Miley’s a woman – so she gets held to a different standard that Robin, who continues to sing about women in his misogynistic, sexist way – and unfortunately I fall victim to the double-standard as it’s been reinforced in me for a very long time (thanks so much, society).  It’s something I have to continually work on – and it’s not easy.

Long story short – if you find yourself feeling this way – it’s more about you than it is about them.  Stop for a moment and think about the why behind your reaction.  Are you uncomfortable?  Think about the “why” behind your comfort level.  Are you angry?  Try and think about why you might be angry.  Are you with your child and she’s asking questions about something she sees?  Chances are you’re probably anxious.  Simply by pausing before responding, and reflecting on why you feel the way you do, might help stop you from saying something you may later regret.

Everybody has different sexual desires – and who are we to judge if they are “right” or “moral” or “appropriate”?  I doubt you want someone judging your own behaviors – I know I wouldn’t.

Everything I Have Learned About IT Began With My Mother

by Eric Stoller
This post is dedicated to my mom and every woman who has had to fight to be recognized as an expert with technology.

I read a tweet this morning that immediately caught my attention: “Hey, #highered technologists — Can you explain #IT to your mom?” It was posted to the IHEtech account. The tweet asked the same question as the title of a new post on the Digital Tweed blog: “Can You Explain IT to Your Mom?

My response via Twitter was that my mom totally gets Information Technology (IT). In fact, she’s the reason why “I” get IT. My mom taught me to be fearless when it came to tackling technology. I learned how to troubleshoot from watching her troubleshoot technology issues. I am a student affairs techie today because of everything that my mom taught me.

There are not enough women who are in technology leadership positions. Every time someone frames women (especially moms) as being less than tech experts, it adds to the heaping pile of patriarchy that brings women down. It is not okay to ask if my mom gets IT. It is not okay to ask if anyone’s mom gets IT. The underlying assumption that your dad would understand IT while your mom would not is flawed. I get that Digital Tweed is trying to make the point that technology is complicated and that we need to do a better job of communicating what it is that we do. However, I think that Christina Dulude nailed it when she tweeted: “Using “your mom” as the de facto example of a non-tech savvy person makes me cringe.

We all should cringe. Our moms deserve better.

My mom showed me how to program on the Commodore 64. How cool is that? Thanks Mom! Now if we could only get Dad to stop printing off his emails.

Do you tweet? Follow me on Twitter.

Cross posted from Inside Higher Ed.

(Many thanks to Eric Stoller for allowing his entry to be cross posted on ‘The Feminist Lattice’.  And my mom thanks you, too.  – Julie)

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.”

The Shape of the Table

Today, I had an interesting conversation with some colleagues. We were discussing the recent decision made by the US Navy that now allows women to serve on submarines. This rule had been in effect for years, and the military had cited the “close quarters” and eminent dangers to women in this type of environment (no doubt rooted in the damage it could do to our ‘delicate sensibilities’) as rational to keep women from this type of service. When the new policy was sent out on a social media network, two of my male allies responded in disbelief. They had no idea that women had not been allowed to serve in this capacity (i.e. on the submarines).

I admire these men for openly admitting that they didn’t know about this discriminatory practice. I furthermore admire these men for acknowledging through further discussion how this practice was wrong, unnecessary and to some extent, ridiculous. But what I admire the most about these two men is that they have openly committed themselves to advancing the message that equality for women is important, educating other colleagues about the same, and have identified the need to ensure women are afforded access, or a place at the table. Allies like this are hard to come by, and I personally make a commitment right now to provide them with as much information as possible to continue to advance this cause.

However, something about this conversation stuck with me. The more I thought about the concept of access – I began to wonder if it really was the answer. For years, women have been told that if they simply had a “place at the table”, we would achieve equity. Simply by being “in the room”, “part of the team”, or “part of the leadership”, women would somehow right all the wrongs of gender discrimination, topple the hegemonic structures that perpetuate overt and micro inequities, and equality would be achieved. By sheer force of will and the vastness of our numbers at the “upper levels”, we would finally realize equity.

This creates a problem. Recall that women have not been involved in the development of processes, policies and structures currently in place. Simply amassing critical numbers of women in key positions will not solve this problem. Granted, it will change the conversation considerably; however, we have to acknowledge that patriarchal structures implemented centuries ago have not just prevented access for women, but have altered the way women behave, think about and believe what our role and place in society should be. This is internalized sexism – whether we as women believe it or not – and we have to remove our blinders before we can begin to imagine what true equity and equality for women really looks like.

Because of these structures, many women feel the need to emulate the leadership style of successful men in order to get ahead (for you fledgling feminist scholars out there, that’s called acting as an ‘amateur male’). Taken to an extreme, this can rob a woman of her identity, and perpetuate an even more horrific situation – that of women intentionally sabotaging other women in order to get ahead (a.k.a. acting as a female misogynist). In situations like this, women are playing by rules set by men long ago – and we’re losing.

Anna Quindlen said, “You’re less wedded to the shape of the table if you haven’t been permitted to sit at it.” However, I’d take that statement one step further. I counter Ms. Quindlen with this, “You’re less wedded to the shape of the table if you haven’t been permitted to design it.” This captures both the innovative, inclusive and equal role women should be taking in designing policies, laws, structures, processes, and values that shape our world.

As women have been victim to these power structures, we are better equipped to identify and challenge them. We can take an active role and work to end the inequities that we see. We can express our concern individually when things happen with which we do not agree.  We can moblize and champion change.  We can identify our male feminist allies to walk with us, talk with us, advocate with us and stand with us as we work to effect this change for women.  We all have a role to play, but I will assert women have the stronger role, for as Dr. Johnetta Cole, President Emeritus of Spelman College stated, “If we do nothing to change the world, then we cannot call ourselves educated women.”

For real change – we have to shake off what we know. For real change – we have to take off our provided sunglasses. For real change – we have to challenge what we ourselves believe and how we ourselves behave. For in that moment of rebirth – we will find a way to walk with each other as equals, and design one hell of a great table together.

The Five Stages of Disbelief

Recently, I read a “Brainstorm” column by Diane Auer Jones in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “Are Women Partly to Blame for the Gender Gap in STEM Fields?” a response to the AAUW’s research publication, Why so Few? Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Immediately upon finishing this column, I began to experience intense emotions with which I was unfamiliar. Surely a simple opinion piece outlining perceived flaws in a research publication shouldn’t send me off the deep end, should it?

Through the haze of red that was clouding both my eyes and brain, I began to search for answers. In my research, I rediscovered Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on grief and loss. As many of you know, Dr. Kubler-Ross developed the stages of grief model, which she outlined in her 1969 book entitled On Death and Dying. As a result of her work, millions of people trying to cope with a profound loss were able to define what they were feeling. In short, people began to realize that their feelings were normal.

After brushing up on my Kubler-Ross, I realized that even though I had not experienced a death or major personal loss, I was nonetheless experiencing a similar phenomenon. After considerable reflection and significant deep breathing, I came to the conclusion I was exhibiting a variation of Kubler-Ross’ model, which I have named the Five Stages of Disbelief. Let me explain.

Stage 1: Denial – As I was reading Ms. Auer Jones’ article, I found myself initially in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe that a woman of Ms. Auer Jones’s standing was stating publically that the research conducted by the AAUW research team on the gap found in STEM fields between men and women was somehow the fault of women. Sure she discussed the issue of female misogynists –women who intentionally sabotage or hold back other women for their own gain – but her continued use of anecdotal information in an attempt to undermine valid research was astonishing to me. “This cannot be true,” I told myself. “Is it April 1st already? There has to be some mistake.” Sadly, it wasn’t a mistake. Now that I could no longer deny the column’s message, I was forced to move to the next stage.

Stage 2: Anger – Remember that red I was speaking about earlier? When I finally realized that Ms. Auer Jones truly meant what she said and gone the extra mile to share this belief with the rest of us, I was mad. I don’t just mean I was a “you-cut-me-off-in-traffic-so-I’m-a-bit-grumpy” mad. No – I was livid. Not only was this Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education lambasting the authors of the AAUW report for their conclusions, she managed to devalue both a thoroughly researched report and the unique experiences of the women involved in this study at the same time. While on the one hand I marveled at this feat, my anger was all consuming. It took me a considerable amount of time to work through my anger so I could move on to Stage 3 without hurting myself or others.

Stage 3: Bargaining – At this point, I entered into what I like to call “internal bargaining”. I began thinking, “You know, perhaps she’s just bringing up the counter point of view in an attempt to spark discussion on the subject. Or maybe she’s pointing out cracks or flaws in the study that truly do need further study. I’ll read it again, and I’m sure I’ll be able to make sense out of this post.” Wrong. I read it again, and the words were still there, in the same order, and conveying the same message. Women had perpetuated this gap. There was no acknowledgement of the systemic issues perpetuating this phenomenon; rather, Ms. Auer Jones states that the report “serves only to regurgitate age-old accusations and assumptions”. Could it be that these accusations are “age-old” because they have persisted for so long? How could a woman such as Ms. Jones – a scientist! – not see these issues for what they are? I was no longer angry. I was sad.

Stage 4: Depression – Scratch that – I wasn’t just sad. I was depressed. I was depressed that a well educated, successful woman professional from the science field would consider ignoring the long-standing systemic privilege afforded men in the STEM fields. I was saddened that a woman trained in scientific analysis not only based her conclusions on her own singular experiences, but chose to convey her opinion in an attempt to undermine a well-researched study by the original champions of equity for women and girls, the AAUW. And I was depressed that in her column Ms. Auer Jones legitimized decades of discriminatory practices, systems of microexclusions and structures of patriarchal power. I was stuck in my sadness. I couldn’t pull myself out of my downward spiral.

Stage 5: Acceptance – This stage was challenging for me. Even in my depression, I knew acceptance of Ms. Auer Jones’ work wasn’t an option. Her column contained too many statements of fact based on anecdotal information. She not only contradicted but failed to reference reams of additional research in academe, government and the corporate world about the existence of environmental and structural factors that continued to preserve and widen the STEM gap for women. I had to accept something – but it wouldn’t be Ms. Auer Jones’ opinion.

What I have decided to accept is some level of responsibility, but not in the manner to which Ms. Auer Jones’ suggests. I accept responsibility for speaking out against opinion pieces such as this. To that end, here and now I publically support the AAUW and their findings. I support the countless studies conducted by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and in the science, technological, engineering, education and mathematical fields all supporting the causes, existence and persistence of this gap. I support the development and implementation of early support for girls in math and science, and of mentor programs for women in college who choose to enter the STEM fields. In short, I acknowledge the existence of the gap, accept that there are multiple factors causing the gap, and I accept my responsibility as an educator to help close it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have to confess something. There is one area on which Ms. Auer Jones and I do agree. Women do have some role in the perpetuation of this inequity – but only when we sit idly by and allow columns and ideas like Ms. Auer Jones’s to remain unchallenged. That is something I will never accept.