Saturday, December 18, 2004

Women, Academics, and Blogs, Oh My

First, there was the Chronicle article (found via 11D) about the lack of women in academia. Then, there was the discussion about the lack of female academic bloggers on Crooked Timber. The originals of both of these are pretty tame on their surface, simply trying to analyze an observable fact. In the comments, however, is where all the action is. In those comments, people say things like women aren't interested in politics or their politics are more related to domestic issues or they're more interested in domestic issues. I hate it when people speak for me. So I'm not going to speak for other women, just for me, but maybe my specific example will give some of those "women are only interested in . . ." commenters some information.

First, my blog contains a variety of topics, from the mundane to the esoteric. If I had to blog about politics all the time, I'd be bored. That does not mean I'm not interested in politics. It means I'm interested in a lot of different things including politics. My blogroll is reflective of those interests. Of the 71 links I have on my blogroll, 41 are women bloggers, mostly academics, 22 are men, 4 are unknown and 4 are group blogs. I have blogs that are more personal in nature, some related to my work, some political, and some parenting blogs. I have a gender gap the other way. Where these people get the idea that there are fewer women bloggers, I don't know. Near as I can tell, there aren't any definitive numbers on this yet. Perhaps when I teach my blog class, this is something we will try to quantify.

Now the politics. Nearly everyone in the Crooked Timber post assumed that women were most interested in the work/family divide issue. I admit that this is often a big issue for me as it's the most immediate. The fact that I live in a society that values work over mothering, that values production over service, that creates a culture where men don't feel compelled to contribute to domestic life, that does absolutely nothing to reward women who stay at home, and that does very little to help women balance work and family life directly affects how I live on a day-to-day basis. When I think about why it is that I'm cooking and grocery shopping and doing the laundry, there certainly are personal and relationship-related reasons that the burden falls to me, but there are also cultural reasons. For example, if Mr. Geeky doesn't spend a little extra time on that article while I'm working on dinner, he might not have a job in a couple of years. That is an attitude and work habit he has that has been cultivated by the environment he finds himself in. He once said to me that his male colleagues who have stay-at-home wives seem to be so much more productive that he is. He followed that up quickly by letting me know he did not want me to quit my job so that he could be more productive. It just seemed an unfair balance to him, that the system he found himself in was basically built upon the notion that someone was at home dealing with the mundane details of life, upon female oppression perhaps.

So while the work/family issue might be the most pressing because it affects me every day, I'm interested in many, many other political issues: abortion, civil rights/liberties, copyright, the war in Iraq, Social Security. I may not blog about those as much because they are further removed from my daily life (although I have a Social Security post in my head right now).

On the women in academics issue, I think it is an issue no matter what the commenters on the Chronicle article say. When I was getting my degree, I read Women of Academe which was an interesting but scary read. Plus there was plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that women had a difficult time in academe. When I started looking for an academic position at either a community college or in a non-tenure-track position, I realized very quickly that the work load would be too much for me (4 classes of 20-25 students each). I would likely be working a minimum of 60 hours a week. With my husband already in a tenure-track position and with two children, that just wasn't going to work for me. Maybe someone else can juggle all of that, but I knew I couldn't. And that's just the practical side of things. In certain fields, there are all kinds of subtle ways women are kept at bay, often beginning in undergrad. Although most of the women academic bloggers I read do not post much about the gender issues in their fields, there is the occasional post--about male academics sleeping with female students--that suggest that there are issues related to gender that continue.

I noted in counting up my blog links that all the blogs related to my work are by men. I have a link to my professional blog, but that's the only one I know of that's by a woman. I haven't run into them very often. I'm happy to be corrected on that point. It's interesting to me that here we are in 2004, almost 2005, and we still have problems dealing with gender in many realms of our lives. And it seems the current administration is taking a few strides backwards in this regard, so I expect it to be an issue for years to come. I don't plan on being complacent.