What should I tell my junior colleagues?

Posted: February 8, 2014 by Jender in difficulty of problems, failure to perceive problem, good mentoring

Now that I’m a mid-career woman in philosophy, I’m facing a new problem: how to talk to my junior female colleagues about gender issues. I want to give them what I didn’t have: an older woman who can reassure them that they’re not imagining things, commiserate about disrespectful behavior from students and colleagues, and brainstorm solutions. I want to warn them about the extra service work they’ll be pressured to take on and the few colleagues from whom it’s best to keep one’s distance. But when I’ve tentatively broached these topics, my junior colleagues have reassured me that they’ve never experienced sexism in the profession, from students or colleagues, and that this department is wonderful and egalitarian. They almost seem to resent my raising gender issues, as if it’s patronizing for me to worry about them. Perhaps it is. But, having participated in hiring and personnel discussions for my junior colleagues, I know full well that they have experienced sexism. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Yet I don’t think I should tell them that. They need to find their own place in the department, form their own relationships. I certainly won’t be helping them by getting them to feel hostile or wary towards the department. And maybe I’ve been wrong about things. Maybe I interpret everything through a gender lens, and if I had just been a more optimistic and forgiving person from the beginning, my first years in the profession would have been happier and more productive. So I’ve taken to just giving generic advice that’s appropriate for all: keep writing, show your work around, don’t let service and teaching work drain you. And inside I wonder if maybe I’ve just been imagining things all along.

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