Friday, December 21, 2018

The Alpha Female and the Sinister Seven

The Alpha Female and the Sinister Seven

(forthcoming in Presumed Incompetent II: Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, eds. Carmen Gonzalez, Yolanda Niemann, and Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs).

When I decided to contribute to Presumed Incompetent II, a litany of bad experiences came to mind – ranging from outright assaults on my job security to the daily microaggressions that remind you every day that no matter how hard you work, how many awards you receive, and how frequently your work is cited, you are and will remain at the bottom of the gender and racial hierarchy undergirding American society in general, and the legal academy in particular (Carbon and Cahn 2013; Monroe and Chiu 2010). 

Being an academic, I could not resist developing a typology of the various characters and forms of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia I have experienced in the academy. Based on my conversations with other women of color at various law schools coupled with the literature on systemic gender and racial biases in the legal academy, I suspect my proposed typology applies to law schools across the country (Deo 2015). My aim is to theorize why I, and other women like me, have such negative experiences in a profession that purports to be training the next generation of lawyers and leaders to be civil, ethical, and collaborative. In direct contradiction to these values, harms we experience arise from duplicitous, conniving, and dishonest behavior that produce disrespectful and condescending mistreatment. 

In attempting to understand this contradiction between law schools’ stated commitments to civility, ethics and integrity on the one hand and the depraved behavior of some faculty towards (some) female professors of color on the other hand, I realize my situation is unique insofar as I am a particular type of woman — The Alpha Female. Thus, I am marked as a triple outsider (female, racial/ethnic/religious minority, and alpha) in a profession that expects leadership, intelligence, and confidence from its members and yet penalizes women and minorities for possessing such traits (Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins 1989; Moncrief 2015; Aziz 2014). Despite the common usage of the Alpha Male to denote masculinity, leadership, charisma, and social aggressiveness — all traits admired in men — there is no recognition, much less desire, for the female counterpart (Ludmand and Erlandson 2004; Hawley, Little and Card 2008, Ludmand and Erlandson 2006). The dearth of literature about Alpha Females produces a blind spot in socio-legal analysis on gender equality (Popson and Dipaolo 2010; Moncrief 2015). 

As such, this chapter seeks to incorporate the concept of the Alpha Female into my experiences as a woman of color in the legal academy who not only is presumed incompetent because of my immutable racial and ethnic characteristics; but also presumed aggressive (rather than driven and focused) and insolent (rather than confident and competent) because of my alpha personality traits — for which my white male counterparts receive promotions to leadership positions and accolades. I hope this chapter triggers further research on the interplay of alpha personality traits, race, and gender.

To read the chapter, click here.

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