While this topic is near and dear to me, I have been very tempered in blogging about it because I'm supposed to be "behaving"* at work until I get tenure. Let's just say that it's getting increasingly difficult to keep quiet -- not because of things happening in the external environment, but because it is so counter to the essence of my personality that my self-censoring is becoming a psychological burden.
Since coming to Albany I have been involved in more "women's groups" than ever before. I greatly miss the progressive social environment of the University of Michigan where there was generally a heightened awareness of gender (and other) inequalities and where there were a lot of institutional mechanisms in place to address those issues, albeit imperfectly.** I didn't belong to any such groups there because I didn't need to in order to advocate for my own interests, nor did I feel the need to represent women more generally because others were already doing so. That's simply not the case at Albany, so I feel obliged to participate in these groups, despite the fact that I often don't find them personally gratifying.
One reason why I find them dissatisfying is because I often don't understand their purpose or see any concrete actions coming from them. I agree that one positive function of such groups is to create a comfortable environment for networking, socialization, and support. I have nothing against that in principle, but too often these turn into occasions to bitch and gossip, activities best left to friendship networks than professional relationships. I'd much rather spend my "free" time (since many of these activities take place after official work hours) doing things that are more action-oriented, either with respect to personal goals or more organized institutional changes.
I'm not sure what that means for me, yet, in terms of my participation in these groups, but one action
that I'm taking is breaking the silence on the blog. Honestly, I doubt that anything I write here would be that incendiary. And quite frankly, if my personal opinions about gender dynamics prevent me from getting tenure, then it really just wasn't meant to be. Thus, there are likely to be more posts on this topic. One in particular is brewing and was the spark for this prelude. However, I'm currently supposed to be working on a manuscript, so I have to stop procrastinating now.
*Part of "behaving" in this context is not overtly challenging the existing power structure, which just so happens to be male-dominated.
**I certainly had my share of "gender issues" working at Michigan, too, including a very opaque glass ceiling, blatant wage discrimination, and inappropriate behaviors among male supervisors and their staff. Nonetheless, the overall environment there was more positive than most.