Implicitly Complicated

Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your gender in the workplace?

(Long pause.) No. No, I have not. But I’ll tell you why I pause. I pause because generally, my experiences at the University of Richmond on the faculty have been terrific. No problems. If there has been anything that even remotely smells like a problem it has nothing to do with gender.

But, I would say I have found it implicitly, not explicitly, complicated that I don’t have children. I have felt that more is sometimes is expected of me or asked of me because I have that freedom. And that annoys me. Because there is no one who is a greater proponent of having women with children and as diverse as humanly possible and male, female, and everything in between on this campus. I don’t want there not to be that. But it can sometimes mean that there is a greater burden, or a perception of a greater burden, on those of us who don’t. But I think my male colleagues could say the same.

Do you feel as though your relationship with your students is different because of your gender?

Yes. This one I say yes to because I think students respond differently to women faculty than men faculty. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as I get older maybe that is less and less the case. But there is also the issue that I have a certain personality where if I see somebody scrape their knee in class or something, and I’m being unbelievably stereotypical and playing on a real gender stereotype here and I’m aware of it, I’ll be concerned. Whereas I can imagine that the stereotypical big tough male professor would tell them to just get up and not care. So I don’t know. I’m a bit of a mushy professor, so students might more willingly say “Oh, come on, why can’t we have an extension?” Notice the stereotypical male voice that I’m imitating there, that was deliberate. But would they push a male professor in the same way? I don’t think so. And there’s been other examples of that sort of thing or ones that I hear anecdotally and that is annoying. I don’t know if I’ve been played and responded to it, because I’m sort of a soft touch. I don’t know.

Do you feel as though your gender has affected your scholarship?

No. No. I wouldn’t let it. I would imagine that answer may change depending on fields, but for me, no.

Do you think you feel pressure as a faculty member to perform or act differently because of your gender?

I don’t think anybody in the university is putting that on me. I might, as a woman, feel that way, in some unbelievably old-fashioned sense, but I know that is something that I am putting on myself. Nobody is asking me to do that. That is purely self-driven or how I was raised.

Did your decision to not have children have anything to do with your work-related aspirations?


Do you think that your experiences as a woman professor are different than the experiences of male professors?

I would say at the University of Richmond, there are still a lot of more old-fashioned faculty who have more traditional ideas of women’s and men’s roles. With a lot of those people still at the university, that can maybe play a role. But again, I’ve had no issues of any substance here.

Do you think that, when we think of a typical professor, it has any gender implications? Do you break the typical professor?

I think I do break the idea of the typical professor, but I do not think it has anything to do with my gender. I think it has to do with my attitude and approach to my discipline.

Have you felt as though your end-of-semester evaluations by students have been influenced by your gender?

Yes, it is. It very much is. And I chalk that up to, well, this is why students are in college. They need to learn that they shouldn’t go around saying, “She’s so bossy” and things like that. They just have to learn that there are very gendered terms and they should stop using them. But yeah, I get “Oh yeah, she’s so nice, she’ll help me with anything.” They don’t say I’m maternal or whatever but that’s the subtext. It would require general education requirements that we have not been able to pass through for students to learn more about this. I think that would be great, but I think it is unrealistic. The best thing, though, is for students to look at all the people in positions of authority and power at this institution: a huge number of them are women. That’s just good modeling. And it really is getting better, both here and in the larger world. It isn’t the fifties anymore. But it always could be better.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

The only other thing I was thinking is to elaborate a little bit on the idea of student perception of their faculty. I think there have been—and this is anecdotal, this has not happened to me—but I know that there are issues, from very close friends of mine at other institutions and also some people here, when you have very youthful, frequently attractive faculty. And repeatedly we have had situations where the youthful woman professor has trouble exercising authority in class. We don’t hear that about the 27-year-old male faculty, but we do about the women. And it’s ridiculous. These are brilliant women—they wouldn’t have been hired if they weren’t top of their game. But they perceive it. Is it the climate here? I am very quick to suspect yes, but that may not be fair. For whatever reason, these are not my experiences, but it quite honestly makes me sick that respect and confidence of a faculty member is affected by their gender. That can affect teacher evaluations, obviously. It can affect how other faculty perceive that person, and that’s unfortunate—“Oh, are they wearing the right things?”—it’s like, go to hell. Your socks matching is the only thing that’s important. (Laughs.) The fact that it’s still happening, not just here but also at a place that would be considered higher on the academic food chain, that happens. And that makes me sad and I worry for those faculty members. And I worry if that can ever be changed.