I expect many of you will be aware of the very amusing yet, at the same time, incredibly scary twitter account @academic male. If you haven’t come across this account start following it now (you may also want to follow @sarahthesheepu as well of course!). When I discovered this account I found it extremely funny, it highlighted what many of us have heard over the years within Departments across the UK and I expect across the world. I sympathised for the people who had to work with those who talked like this. I was worried that they may all be in one Department somewhere and wondered what the culture of that institution was like. I even joked that if you attend a Christmas party where someone suggests playing ‘pin the tweet on the academic’ you may well be in the presence of academic male, or a group of them, as horrifying as that sounds.
However, the more I thought about it, the less flippant I became and the more genuine concern I felt about this attitude that obviously still exists with UK Higher Education. Lets face it, whoever academic male is (and don’t ask me as I don’t know, its not me mores the pity as I would be exploiting my new found fame) they aren’t making these comments up. I suspect academic male’s real life persona is female, although that doesn’t actually matters what does matter is why 84% of professors are male and why is there still such obvious inequality between the way male and female academics are treated and most importantly for this blog, what does this mean for female ECRS?
The statistics often quoted in relation to ECRs is that only 1 in 10 post-docs will get their own lab (what the equivalent is for social scientists I don’t know, in fact what would be the alternative; Permanent lecturing position?). How would that change if we added a gendered dimension?
I’ve never been a hugely militant feminist; in fact I’ve often played my being a girl down significantly. Feeling that by talking about how we get treated differently etc. is just perpetuating the problem by highlighting it, making us look like we are asking for special treatment. Personally I dislike positive discrimination just as much as negative. This combined with the fact that, from my experience, there are some fierce, unscrupulous women in HE who spout the equality and sisterhood mantra to your face but the moment you turn your back they are viciously sticking the knife in. Thus I have always been wary BUT if academic male is a snap shot of some of the beliefs still held within the academy then there needs to be something constructive done about it. Its hard enough being an ECR within academia let alone with the odds stacked against you because you are female.
I think my attitude towards academic male and what those tweets represent has changed since I left HE. I now work in the not-for-profit sector doing applied research. My skills, experience and qualifications are valued, even 2 years post-PhD I’m viewed as an expert. There are significantly more women working in the organisation than men. Women are also equally distributed across the senior management positions, I’m not sure but there may actually be more women on the senior management team than men! I am very well paid (its not all about money but its 10k + more than I was on as a post doc) and I enjoy what I do and am making a tangible difference. I now see the world of HE through a different lens. I see my female friends struggling to keep up with teaching, marking and at this time of year MA dissertation students while still ensuring they have published enough to be REF-able and we all know that discriminates against female ECRs. At the same time I see mainly male staff with less teaching commitments, refusing to supervise students because they ‘don’t like their ideas’ thus enabling them to focus, almost exclusively on research! The end result, the male post-doc gets the lecturer position quicker than his female colleague. I know this is a sweeping generalisations and that all ECRs work hard, but it seems that maybe, if you believe academic male, the girls have to work harder.
I look at academia from the outside and consider how things will be when I return; I do intend to return and am working on developing a proposal as we speak. Yet, at the same time, I look at where I am now and think do I really want to go back to this? In the end only time will tell where I end up but the gender divide in academia is unhealthy and seems to show no signs of stopping. Next time one of academic males tweets appears on your time line don’t just laugh and roll your eyes think about what it means. If we all stop laughing and start doing something things may change.
I’d be interested in hearing from female ECRs who have experienced some of the discrimination academic male has to offer …