Sexism in Political Science, part II: The Very Least One Can Do

10 July 2015, 1415 EDT

Last night, I posted this about sexism in political science.  It has gotten a pretty strong response getting 10x as many hits (so far) as my usual post, lots of retweets by female political scientists, and some sharing on facebook.  The sharing on facebook came with props as my female political science friends were happy to see a senior male political scientist talk bluntly about this.  

These props/kudos made me feel squishy because it is not that hard to blog and notice on occasion that there is sexism in the poli sci business (as it is everywhere as one FB friend noted).  My female friends and former students (who I also consider to be friends) have put up with all kinds of crap over the years.  Indeed, the conversations sparked by last night’s post as revealed a bit more of that stuff.  

So, besides from regularly posting about this stuff, which is pretty much the definition of the least one can do (unless one is doing nothing at all), what can a male political scientist do? 

First, obviously, is to be professional in professional settings.  Treat women with respect (and men, too).  The most obvious application of this rule:  the women who are grad students (or undergrads) in one’s program are not targets of one’s affection/lust.  If one is attracted, wait until they graduate or find some other person or object for one’s fascination.  When professors hit on students in their program, little good can come from it.  Yes, our mentors might have done it (my old grad program had several married couples consisting of mentors/former mentorees), but we don’t drunk drive as much either.  Norms have changed as we have learned about the damage the previously accepted behavior has caused.  Speaking of the less one could do, refraining from preying upon students is pretty damned easy.

Second, in semi-professional settings, treat the women as you would treat the men.  Include/exclude by the same rules–I don’t invite strange men to the semi-annual poker games and I would not invite strange women. I do invite my male and female friends to the poker games.  The gender representation is still skewed but not as much as it once was.  There is much reported fear about socializing with women outside of work as there is much fear about sexual harassment accusations/lawsuits.  There are two obvious answers to that:  (1) go out in mixed groups; (2) trust the people you hang out with.  I have had beers with individual students and junior faculty, male and female, at conferences and have thought nothing of it.  I have not gotten exceedingly drunk while hanging out with women who are not my wife.  Not really that hard.  On the other hand, I did not let the accused plagiarist close the door to my office when she wanted to speak to me about her case (which I was not allowed to speak about anyway) since I had reason to distrust that individual.

Third, listen.  I said something silly once and my student reminded me of the larger context, and I made sure not to make the same kind of remark again.  My learning curve may be shallow, but it exists–we can all learn if we listen.  Oh, and listen to the men, too, and either call out or distance from men who do bad stuff.  There are limits due to concerns about slander/libel (I always forget the distinction), but if anyone asks me about the conditions about the places I used to work, I will tell them.  And if I find out about problems where I am currently working, I will work up the chain of command to find a way to deal with such issues. 

Fourth, include.  Given the number of sharp women in political science, it does not take that much thought to come up with a panel proposal that includes women, a syllabus that includes work by women, a list of favorite books that includes women, to cite the work of women in one’s lit review. 

Fifth, listen.  It bears repeating (like deja vu does in Inside Out).  Women are often put in difficult spots when they encounter a problem since many of the powerful people are male and because a public process by which they might lodge a complaint could do them more career harm than the perpetrators.  

Sixth, support women when they have proposals to improve the profession.  The debate this year has been the timing of APSA–that the conference is family- and women-unfriendly by being over Labor Day weekend.  My kid is in college, so it does not matter to me.  But it matters, so I should support their efforts. 

Seventh, when put in positions to do stuff, do the right thing.  Most academics end up cycling into various decision-making positions–chair, director of graduate studies, whatever.  When in the those positions, do all of the above and figure out ways to help the women in your area of responsibility mitigate the burdens of the past as well as limit the damage done by the lousy folks who are still around (the men who committed sexual harassment who I know about are still political science professors).

Since I saw Inside Out before I finished this post, I am now thinking about emotions, and I guess the one to emphasize here is: empathy.  Have some empathy for others–women as well as others who are less represented in political science.  It is the very least one can do, I think.

And, readers, please let me know what else we can do to improve things.  I am thinking more about personal behavior and less about policy changes, but I am open to suggestions.  My list here is not very deep, so any suggestions would be most helpful.  As always, my imagination is pretty narrow.  I tend to generalize from my experience, and I have not experienced being without privilege in this business.  So, more feedback here is more welcome.