Saturday, April 26, 2008

Privilege is difficult to see, especially when you have it.

Check out this post from YoungFemaleScientist: Insidious, hard to quantify, Gender Discrimination. (It's long.)

I don't know why we keep expecting men to get it. Seriously, it's rare for a white man in a position of power, even those who are supposedly enlightened to get their privilege. It does happen, for example, my current boss is an awesome mentor to graduate students of all genders, races, and so on, but it's rare. In some sense I don't blame them, privilege is difficult to see. As a white woman I rarely notice my white privilege, except when a person of color talks about their experiences of discrimination.

It really isn't that mysterious. Imagine older, male mentor and young, somewhat geeky, but still "nubile"(I hate that word) female grad student working long hours together in the lab or slaving over ancient tombs. If this was a movie, what happens next? William Deresiewicz knows.

If you were an older male professor faced with uncomfortably attractive young grad students, what would your reaction be? Make sure the office door stays open. Whatever you do, don't go out to drinks after work. Keep things professional. Would the same be true with your male grad students?

I know, I'm being hetero-normative, but it's not a question of actual impropriety, it's just appearances. The point is the privilege is invisible. You are a male grad student and you "hang out" with your adviser. Your adviser thinks of you as a younger version of himself, people who are different, who think differently make him uncomfortable. Most likely he doesn't realize this. He can't help his feelings, but they affect his attitude towards his students, how much time he spends with them, how enthusiastic he is.

I happens, even when there is no conscious intention to discriminate. Networking opportunities become limited. Older faculty are uncomfortable. Young men and women don't see what's going wrong.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...


And, my department wonders why women don't finish dissertations.... Until recently, the faculty was 100% male.

Anonymous said...

"Make sure the office door stays open. Whatever you do, don't go out to drinks after work. Keep things professional."

that about covers the behavior of my first diss director and the continuing behavior of my department chair. and no, the same isn't true for lesbians or for male students.

Breena Ronan said...

Right, because it's not about reality, it's about appearances. Strangely, I think most people wouldn't assume that there was something untoward going on if a lesbian professor went out for coffee with a female advisee. I guess that is good, but it says something about our ideas about men, that collectively we seem to think that men can't control their urges. It's insulting really. It's insulting to men, because we know that most of them can and do act better than that and it's insulting to women because we are assuming that young women can't deal with unwanted advances.