Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kalamazoo Katie Returns. "Is Your College Run By a Boy's Club?"

I don't know how you decide on your topics, but one thing I think you would benefit from is more focus on gender politics within the academy. Let me offer a recent experience to get things started.

I was recently asked to take part on a major campus committee, and as I walked to our first meeting last week, I realized that for the first time I was going to be the only woman in the group. Now, I must say that I've been on a number of committees in the past, within my department and outside, and my contributions have always been respected - if not lauded. If I may, I'm a bit of a rock start committee member. But in those cases the committees were often made up of a majority of women.

What I was sometimes told about the college when I first arrived here, though, was that the "big" meetings, the "real" work of the college often got decided by the "boys club," a powerful committee that included a rotating group of male faculty members.

But until I poked my head into this meeting, I'd not quite understood what it would mean to join the "boys club."

Now, I want to say that I knew the people involved, at least enough to say hello to. Some of them are from my division, and we've broken bread and tipped some wine. And I can say without equivocation that I liked all of them.

As the meeting got going, it became clear to me that the "boys club" was operating on its own, pushing things through, making decisions, and not at all involving me in the discussion. I felt a bit like a non-entity, and that was not going to stand with me. When I did finally speak up about an essential oversight in their plans, they looked at me with amusement, as if I'd just burped a bubble.

I continued, making a strong point that I knew would benefit not just my department but the whole college, but one that would involve some sacrifice and change elsewhere. The leader of this particular gathering of the "boys club" smiled condescendingly at me and said, "Katie, you understand what you're doing, right? Do you realize that all of what you've just said is going to be on the record, and that these changes are going to make a lot of people angry?"

I couldn't believe he had the gall to say it; it was clearly a threat against me. As if I didn't understand my own words! As if I was just a pretty petunia supposed to sit alongside them as they did the real work.

"Put it on the record," I said. "I'll stand by it."

What angered me the most about the "boys club" was that I could tell they wanted me to cave in, to just let them do what they always did, arrange things that best suited them, without a thought to me and my suggestions.

I think they expected that the first "girl" in their "boys club" would understand her place and bow submissively to their wishes. When it became clear I was not going to be pushed around, the faces in the room went from bemusement to real confusion. I had gotten to them, and the meeting was dismissed with a promise to come back and to revisit some issues - the very issues *I* brought up.

It was a quiet bunch who left the room, and as they did, I suspected this battle would rage on for a long while, but that the first round went to me!

So, is your college or department run by a bunch of boys? And what are you going to do about it?