Gender Don’t’s and Do’s

A neighbor recently commented that we should not teach our daughter to do chores, that not knowing how to do chores would help her to do fewer of them in the future.  I have thought about this a lot in terms of day-to-day equity at work and in the home.  After all, chores do have to be done (they do, right?).  My parents assigned chores as evenly as possible to the seven of us, often not along gender lines since there was already such great gender imbalance (two girls and five boys).  This should have taught us all that we were part of a group bigger than ourselves and, therefore, that we had to contribute to ensure the group was taken care of.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I believe this early teaching took root.

Now, though, when I recall the stern speech I delivered a while ago to my daughter (“I want you to be more generous—of your time, labor, material goods, and humor”), I wonder how to strike an equilibrium between teaching her to contribute equitably to group needs and teaching her to give too often or too much.  The same goes for my son, who should probably receive the opposite speech from the one my daughter got.  In a more perfect community or culture or world, our children would simply love themselves and their neighbors and therefore have a built-in sense of labor equity.  Maybe we are working our way in that direction, somewhere, in some way.  You will find this quandary to be threaded through the text below.

Gender mishaps have piled high of late, and so I have compiled a list of do’s and don’t’s.  Some items from the following list can certainly apply to other intersectional points (national origin, race, religion, socioeconomic class, sexual expression, etc.), but I am framing the list through gender. These suggestions appear just to make good sense, but the more I exist in the workplace, the more I wonder what good sense is.

Don’t’s go first, do’s second, so that the post at least appears to end on a positive note.

DON’T:

  • Don’t call a woman Spanish professor “Señora” and a man Spanish professor “Profesor.” While we’re at it, do use the term “professor” (or “doctor,” if you prefer, especially for the science folks, who seem to prefer this title) for all of your professors when you’re addressing them in English.
  • Don’t assume that women co-workers will take care of all the gifts and the cards. If gifts and cards are happening, all department members can figure out how to proceed.
  • Don’t invite a woman to participate on a committee by telling her you need a woman on the committee. Instead, decide what expertise and experience she brings to the group, and ask if she’ll contribute those.
  • Don’t confer with senior women only about the minutiae of the department.
  • When interviewing candidates, don’t have women in the department address only lower-level teaching and men in the department address only research.
  • Don’t leave most or all of the advising to the women. The more women advise, or “nurture,” the less the job is valued, and the more women are doing the undervalued work.
  • Don’t “reply all” to a group of co-workers and write exactly what your woman co-worker just wrote in the previous e-mail.
  • Don’t laugh when a woman negotiates. Don’t ignore women’s negotiations and honor men’s.
  • Don’t tell women job candidates to calm down.
  • Don’t run a meeting, come to consensus, end the meeting, and then visit individual offices to undo the consensus.
  • Don’t reverse departmental decisions. When you reverse departmental decisions, do consider if, by undoing them, you are valuing men’s opinions more than women’s.
  • Don’t touch women co-workers who don’t want to be touched by you. If you assume they do want to be touched by you, you could be wrong.  If you assume they don’t want to be touched by you, you’re on the right path.
  • Don’t assume women are weak. This will bite you on the ass.
  • Don’t overvalue men’s work and undervalue women’s work, especially as value is tied to work performance and remuneration.
  • Don’t tell people what they want to hear and then do something different. Do be honest about how you’re going to proceed, even if people don’t like it.
  • Don’t ignore process.
  • Generally, don’t be an asshole.

DO:

  • Do follow these general process principles.
  • Do plan ahead. This allows for everyone to contribute to the work equally.
  • Do figure out how to share the work. Use a spreadsheet, list the job responsibilities, and fill them equitably.
  • Do think about power and hierarchy. If you have power, why do you have it?  How can you use the power to do the most good for the most people?  If you want power, why do you want it?
  • Do consider representation. How many people of color are in the room when big and small decisions are made?  How many women are in the room?  How many people of color and/or women have the opportunity to speak, vote, and influence the decisions?
  • Do attempt to put aside your own expectations for others’ behaviors and self-expression. If you can’t, then do attempt to be aware of your own biases.
  • Do be honest—with yourself and others.

These two lists should just serve as a mini-refresher.  Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace treats all of these suggestions in more theoretical and more expanded practical ways.

Lady Wildcats

In four months, my partner’s and my 13-year-old daughter will start high school.  She has been on a swim team since she was five, started playing soccer at 9, and has played lacrosse now for four years.  She likes sports.  She likes competition and challenge.  She likes her coaches and teammates.  I think she thrives on the structure, too.  My daughter and her teammates can go to their left as well as to their right, they can catch and throw, and they get the sense of movement on the field, where to be and when.  My daughter and other 8th graders are playing this season for the high school’s junior varsity lacrosse team, and the team is darned good.

When they get to high school in four months, are my daughter and her teammates destined to be the “lady” form of the team mascot?  Athletics teams are still famously divided along binary gender lines, which is complicated to begin with.  Nevertheless, if we work within this binary, then we should question the use of certain terms and how they shape our children’s perception of themselves and others.  While the boys are referred to as “wildcats,” the girls are referred to as “lady wildcats”—not only over the loudspeaker at the games, but also in the local newspapers and even on uniform jerseys.

Check out our local newspaper’s reporting on the performance of boys and girls at a recent high school track and field meet (April, 2018).  The reporting is clear, and I like celebrating the success of our young local athletes, but, once again, the boys are “wildcats” and the girls are “lady wildcats.”  Even the jerseys of the girls’ varsity and junior varsity basketball teams bear the moniker “lady wildcats.”

Readers will likely fall into three categories in their response to this blog post: (1) What’s the big deal?; (2) But, the girl athletes want to be called “lady wildcats”; and (3) Why call the girls “lady wildcats” if you don’t call the boys “gentleman wildcats?”. The following paragraphs should answer all three questions.

I grew up knowing that there were Lady Vols, Lady Huskies, Lady Cavs (and a long etcetera), but never getting the chance to see any of the women’s teams’ games or competitions televised.  “Ladies” trained, worked hard, refined skills, competed fiercely, but did so without visibility or recognition.  “Lady” in front of the name implied “less.”  In the meantime, when you heard about the Vols, Huskies, and Cavs, you asked yourself which of the many men’s teams would be featured on television on that day—football, basketball, baseball, or other higher-visibility sports?  The lack of modifier for the team mascot signaled importance, visibility, success.  They were the main show, the real deal, the ones to watch.  The more we receive this message, the more we believe it—all of us, every single one of us, unless we learn to step back and analyze the effects of the message. This message reinforces that big-money television and stadium contracts will go to men’s team sports and that even the most elite of women athletes—especially in team sports—will have few opportunities to pursue their athletic interests and talents beyond their college years.

Title IX was passed in 1972.  While many people interpreted the legislation as primarily to achieve equality in athletics in educational institutions, of course, it addresses far more than athletics: “Section 1681. Sex: (a) Prohibition against discrimination. No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (with a list of exceptions). The principal punishment for Title IX violation is the removal of federal funding from the particular educational institution.  Since 1972, not one school has lost funds, and so we might question interpretation and enforcement of Title IX across the board, and especially in athletics. (*See this 2014 HuffPost piece; this 2014 MSNBC post; this NCAA Title IX FAQ post).  For as much gender-based discrimination, harassment, and retaliation as exist in our United States schools, the law is still stacked against any individual who comes forward.

The NCAA lists the three ways in which Title IX applies to athletics: participation opportunities; scholarships; and the “laundry list.”  The Women’s Sports Foundation explains these three prongs very clearly here.  On our local landscape, the questions of participation opportunities and the laundry list are the most problematic, as girls’ soccer and lacrosse compete for players, coaches, and practice space in the spring season, instead of being spread across fall and spring.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect this is to protect football practice and game space from the boys’ and girls’ soccer and lacrosse teams.  This becomes a Title IX issue in that football becomes the biggest sports opportunity for fall-sport athletes.

The fall-spring division also has implications for the laundry list prong, which works to ensure equity in locker room, practice, and game spaces and scheduling, equipment allocation, medical training access, travel budgets, coaching, and publicity.  If we did an audit of our local high school, we might well find that locker room spaces are unequal (I don’t know this; I’m just saying that an audit would be welcomed), that practice facilities and game times are squeezed due to the protection of football in the fall, that male coaches are paid more (I don’t know this; I’m just saying that assurances to the contrary would be welcomed), and that publicity efforts might favor boys’ sports teams in a few ways.  Calling the boys “wildcats” and the girls “lady wildcats,” thus making the girls less representative of the whole school, constitutes one signal that not everyone is on the same page about equity in public school athletics and, by extension, public school education.

I have made ample allusion here to boys representing the universal and girls representing the “other,” the difference.  Even if some girl-power ethos has girls and women reinforcing that “lady” mascots are to be cherished, the result brings us back to that message—girl athletes are perceived as other, lesser, and therefore less deserving of proper facilities, scheduling, and publicity.  This becomes universally accepted, or at least tolerated.  My partner teaches and coaches at our local high school.  For many years, he has raised this issue of the girls bearing this other nickname and having game times that are less inviting to fans.  The administration has been more responsive to these issues this year, varying practice and game times to be fairer to all involved, but still can’t seem to eliminate the use of “lady wildcats” over the loudspeaker at games and on jerseys.  This is progress, for sure.  We must keep in mind, though, that the compass north always points to man=universal and woman= other, and certain habits are extremely hard to undo.

No more Lady Whatevers, for whatever it’s worth.