Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sex Discrimination on the Brain

Pay gapThis is going to be another one of those lists of things I've been meaning to post but haven't got around to yet kinds of posts. The good news is, though, there's actually a unifying theme, and that is sex discrimination.

  • A couple of years ago, I ran across this study that suggested recommendation letters for women were written in different language than recommendation letters for men, and that these differences led to disparities for women applicants. The study looked at applicants for tenure track university teaching positions. 
  • But apparently, we've had yet another study reaffirm that it's not just the recommendation letters, it's sex all by itself that's a problem. The researchers did a randomized double blind study in which the same resume was evaluated, but sometimes the applicant had a male name, and sometimes a female name. Both women and men were likely to evaluate the female applicant lower on competence, hireability, or mentor-ability (would they be a good mentee) than the male applicant.
  • Finally, also in an academic setting, it's apparently newsworthy that female professors have nipples--or at least one nipple. I speculated not blogging about this one because the main point of the professor involved was that breastfeeding a baby for a couple of minutes during a class -- a feminist anthropology class -- was not newsworthy. But then the professor went public with the story and her frustration about it all. The story is basically this. It was the first day of the new semester, the class had a new TA, the professor was untenured and a single parent, and the baby was sick. Given her own status, the unfairness of shifting the work to the TA, the unfairness to the students of cancelling, and the lack of other options, the professor brought her daughter, who had a slight fever, to class. During the class, the baby grew a bit fussy, and the professor nursed her for a minute or two, continuing to conduct the class. A reporter for the school paper asked the professor about it and pushed for additional comments, but the professor objected (over time) that the event wasn't newsworthy and shouldn't be covered.

The comments highlighted in the Washington Post story and that the professor herself reports show that people seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that she brought the baby at all. There are implications that she was not a good parent because she allowed the child to crawl around on the floor or even had her there in the first place. Certainly there is stronger discomfort over the notion of her feeding her child in this context, but that seems to be just a part of the same reaction to the concern about the baby being there at all.

The situation and its coverage raise a lot of interesting points, particularly because of the nature of the subject matter: it was a FEMINIST ANTHROPOLOGY course. I've been in situations where I've had to bring a baby or an older kid to class, and where I've had to nurse a baby in front of students (not in class, as it happened), so you might guess that I agree that this shouldn't be considered a big deal. At the same time, I would understand the dissonance students might feel in the stuffy context of law to see a professor be human. But even if it's not ok in other contexts, in the context of a course about the study of human behavior from a feminist perspective, it seems entirely appropriate.

The professor also resists taking any sort of political stand about breastfeeding, and in fact this denial of the political-ness seems to be what the student reporter and external reporters can't get their brains around. Finally, it highlights both the problems of the workplace and childcare options, that sometimes, there aren't any real (or really good) choices available when the slightest thing goes wrong.

All three of these stories show that we've got a lot to think about still whenever we think about sex equality in the workplace, and this doesn't even get into non-conforming gender-linked behaviors.

MM

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Comments

Sex Discrimination can be seen at all ages and stages of development for women even in this modern world of today...its very important to take action to stop discrimination and violence against women.

Posted by: criticism of socialist feminism | Nov 6, 2012 1:32:46 AM

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