Where are the Women?

When I was younger, all I wanted to do was teach. I went from wanting to be a high school English teacher to finally deciding I wanted to be a professor. Let me be the first to say that the majority of people I talked to about this decision were supportive of my dreams. They helped me become leaders of clubs and organizations, encouraged me to submit work and ideas, and never told me I could not do it.

 

But the more I pursued this line of study, the more I felt myself being a judge of my own abilities. In the end, I was my biggest critic. Not because of what anyone else was saying to me, but because of what I was expecting of myself. There are numerous reasons why many women feel like imposters in their jobs as professors—they are stereotyped, paid less, and underrepresented. This, among many other things, scared me about the (un)certainty of my future. And I do not even have to worry about race or sexuality, which make the chances of being respected even less. This doubt was just what I felt because of my status as a woman.

The first discouraging sign is blatant. At many institutions, there are simply more male professors than female—approximately 43% men to 35% women. There are even fewer women of color—a combined 9% of total female professors are black, Hispanic, or Asian. In addition to this, a gender gap forms in regard to senior positions. This means that even if women get jobs, men are more likely to rise higher in rank than females.

Women also have many other factors that men do not need to consider when applying for professorships. Though there are infinite socialized reasons for females to doubt themselves, the biggest assumptions I faced were that I would have to work harder to get further, and that I would have to choose between a job and a family. Many women who are already professors think that they are undervalued and denied the opportunity to a balanced life. They said that they were encouraged to work harder than men to prove their equality, as well as choose between having kids and having a professorship.

When we, as the next generation of teachers, hear comments like this, it is discouraging and scary. Obviously, the glass ceiling has taunted women in almost every sector of the professional world since we began working. As a woman who wants to teach and also have a family, I do not want to be shut out from a whole area of work. But when I went to talk to my advisors and faculty about my struggles, I felt compelled to leave out any of my thoughts on family. I made it seem as if I simply doubted my path, instead of panicking at the future task of both raising children and teaching classes. When I stopped to think about what I had done, I could not believe my behavior.

In today’s age, young women should not have to think they are wasting time and money to get our doctorates, only enter the professional world to find that those who run these institutions are not yet ready to hire us. The perpetuated ideas that women need to work harder to prove their worth and need to choose between kids and a profession are outdated and, quite frankly, ridiculous. No matter how scary or daunting the prospect might seem now, we need to rise above the sexism and misogyny and follow the paths we know are right for us.

So, what can we do? In my case, I decided to think about my other options. I could pursue a career that would allow me to stay home, but would not involve teaching. I could take a gap year to do some work and probably end up not going back to school. Or, I could follow my original path and work to change ideas about females in academia. For the first time since 1940, women have finally come to outnumber men in obtaining bachelor’s degrees. That suggests we could eventually equal or even outnumber those getting doctorates, as well. We just have to be patient and know that this is our fight. It might not end in our lifetime, but it will happen eventually.

I looked to my amazing, talented, intelligent female professors and asked them for advice. They told me that though the road was rough, it would be worth it for anyone willing to try. They did not try to sugarcoat it for me, and I was glad they did not. Sometimes handling academia and the “second shift” can be tough. But many of them have children and families that function just as normally as any other. Their “jobs” as women have not barred them from having a career they love—even one as cloaked in patriarchy as college education. Once I stopped to realize that these women are the only ones I should be listening to, the rest of it fell into place. Nothing should stop women from doing what they love to do—especially if that is teaching. Go out and be the next generation of women to inspire those to come. We have a lot of work to do, but with the strength of us, we can help change the view of women in academia.