Workplace bullies and the academy

potter.jpgCheck out this brief article in the New York Times about bullies in the workplace, their strategies and the toll they take on individuals and the productivity of the organizations they work for.  In response to this article’s request to hear stories of workplace bullying, there are 466 comments, and they’re still being posted this morning as I write.  (Don’t miss comment #53 from Liz, an attorney and Army Reservist who said she has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder not from her tour of duty in Iraq, but rather from her civililan job!)  I read the first one hundred comments, and have noticed some interesting themes:

  1. While careers in medicine and the law are heavily represented in the incidents reported here, the academic workplace is specifically mentioned in ten out of the first 100 complaints:  see comments 2, 17, 25, 30, 44, 55, 64, 70, 86, and 96.  Yep, folks, read ’em and weep:  Chairs bullying junior faculty, Deans bullying tenured faculty, professors bullying students, and in one case, students bullying a professor, so there’s something for everyone.
  2. The article notes that “a large share of the problem involves women victimizing women. The Zogby survey showed that 40 percent of workplace bullies are women,” and the comments bear this out.  Comment 55 from Dana, a graduate student, writes that the faculty member making her life miserable “was awarded her doctorate in the late 1960s, when women had a tougher go of it in higher education. I’m convinced through my experience with her and others that that generation of feminists approach their careers with a grand chip on their shoulders – and take it out on those of us who came in through the next feminist wave of a decade later.”
  3. Just looking at the syntax and writing style of the comments, you can see the toll that workplace bullying takes on people.  So many of the comments are in all lower-case letters (people reporting bullying seem to refer to themselves as “i” instead of “I”), and they are full of run-on sentences.  I couldn’t read more than 100–my guts were churning and bile was rising in my throat, and there’s only so much rank injustice that a girl can take on a sunny, spring morning!
  4. There are a few commenters who try to jolly the others out of their misery (“try making friends!”), and others who claim that bullying victims are just whiners who can’t take criticism.  But, those reactions seem naive on the one hand, and cruel on the other.  The clear lesson is that people who are being bullied need to leave those jobs in order to preserve whatever’s left of their health and sanity.

On the question of women bullying other women:  I don’t think it’s fair at all to tar a whole generation with that brush–after all, some of the most supportive, nurturing people who have mentored me and many other junior women are from that generation.  Until fairly recently, it was only that generation of women faculty who were senior enough to engage in bullying.  Sadly, Historiann is familiar with women bullying women–it was considered not a bug, but rather a feature of her former department.  The bullying women were “useful idiots” who could be relied on to police junior women; the senior men could then hide behind their skirts and deny that gender bias was an issue.  I don’t think this kind of behavior can be pinned on the generation of women who earned their degrees in the 60s and 70s–I’ve seen it in people whose degrees are from the 1980s and 1990s, too.  The critical issue is power, not generation, and most regular faculty with 1990s Ph.D.’s are tenured now and therefore have at least a small purchase on power and influence in their departments.

The one advantage that academics have over people in other lines of work is that bullies aren’t as able to affect our prospects for other employment the way that bullying bosses in private industry can.  If we keep publishing and maintain connections with supportive scholars outside of our institutions, we can get out of a bad job.  We don’t need letters of recommendation from our department chairs–if you’re an Assistant Professor, a letter from a supportive Associate Professor will do nicely to testify implicitly, if not explicitly, that you’re not a troublemaking malcontent but rather an excellent colleage with limitless potential.  The only exception to this is if your bully happens to be someone of importance in your field–but this is probably unusual:  by definition, people who are important in their field spend their time writing books, working with students, and hobnobbing at conferences with other people important in their field.  In general, they don’t have the time, let alone the inclination, to try to mess with someone else’s career.  In my experience, the bullies weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, to put it charitably.  They weren’t terribly productive scholars or successful teachers, which is probably why they felt so intimidated by smart young things who were clearly going places.  So, they chose to make their post-tenure careers as hall monitors rather than as scholars.

Et vous, mes amis?  Any thoughts as to why the groves of academe are such fertile fields for bullies?  (Or, conversely, why academics are such thin-skinned, overly sensistive complainers?)  Do you have your own stories to share?  Discuss.

Brother, can you spare $100K? (Oops–$220K?)

Inside Higher Ed reports today on a major study on gender and the pay gap between faculty women and men by Paul D. Umbach, an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Iowa.  It concludes that “even using the most sophisticated possible approach to take into consideration non-sexist reasons for pay differentials–a pay gap remains, based on gender. And while this can’t be definitively tied to sexism, there aren’t a lot of likely alternative explanations.”  That’s an average gap of $3,200 per year, every year–or (Historiann’s arithmetic here, multiplying $3,200 by 30 years, which is dodgy because the gap would almost certainly increase over time) at least a $96,000 career deficit for women compared to their male colleagues.  (UPDATE:  See Susan’s and Nathan’s corrections in the comments below.  The news is even worse than I had been able to comprehend with my tiny deficient non-economist brain!  It looks like at least one man–if Nathan is in fact a man–is earning his unjustly inflated salary!) 

litebrite-tits.jpgPull up a chair and a box of Kleenex, girls and boys, because there’s something for everyone here (but as usual, the bad news is mostly for us girls!)

  1. Controlling for all factors, there is a 4% gap between the salaries of female and male faculty.  (The pay gap goes up to 14% when controlling only discipline and institution type.)
  2. Men as well as women working in the fields that feature more women faculty have lower salaries than those working in male-dominated fields, but even in those fields men are earning 4% more than their female colleagues.
  3. Quoting from the story directly, “Those disciplines [mentioned in #2 above] also tend to be teaching-oriented disciplines. Similarly women were disproportionately employed at teaching-oriented institutions, which also pay less. So professors who are women, teach in a field that cares about teaching and work at a college that really cares about teaching face a ‘triple hit’ on salary, [Umbach] said, ‘and it adds up to real money.'”

Read the whole thing–it’s brief, and the author, Scott Jaschik, has done a remarkably good job analyzing a lot of complex information and squeezing it into a readable article.  Professor Umbach raises some interesting questions for how we assign merit pay, and politely asks us to consider how those “fair rubrics” might perpetuate the pay gap.  Is it really “fair” to effectively penalize Art Historians or Philosophy professors because they aren’t eligible to compete for $500,000 grants from the National Science Foundation?  Since Corporate University (TM) is all about the money, honey, why haven’t colleges and universities figured out that it’s a lot cheaper to have/be an outstanding Liberal Arts college?  Historians and people in English and French departments don’t need half a million dollar labs to do our research–just a little time off, a library card, and perhaps some extra dough for research trips out of town.  That $500,000 for one lab could buy 10 humanities scholars a year of leave to go write their books and burnish their national and international reputations.)

One caveat:  the first comments on the article suggest that this pay gap arises because women allegedly don’t bargain for higher salaries when they’re hired.  False!  Trust me–Historiann has tried, but there’s that icky gender thing that happens then, too.  Whereas men are respected for being assertive and having a high opinion of themselves, women who take the same approach get less, because, well, who the hell do those pushy and obnoxious broads they think they are, anyway?  Mary Ward’s research demonstrates that in some cases, it does hurt to ask for more.  This is all of a piece with Historiann’s theory that across time and space women are expected to volunteer their labor, and only (some) men can expect to get paid for their work.

Somerby: incomparable! Ehrenreich: now comparable to Dowd.

Very foolishly, I posted today before reading Bob Somerby’s The Daily Howler.  Go read now.  Money quote:  “Eight years ago, [Barbara] Ehrenreich was getting good solid laughs with her comments about how wooden Gore was. Today, Gore holds the Nobel Peace Prize, and the dead of Iraq stare up from the ground. And Ehrenreich has moved on-to talk about Clinton’s vile haircuts.”

What a disappointment that Ehrenreich, a feminist who has written some very intelligent and important books, has typed up a screed so full of cliches about Hillary Clinton that I would have deemed it worthy only of Maureen Dowd.  Despite the troubling prayer meetings and hairdos (both of which were no doubt carefully designed to conceal her sprouting devil horns), Clinton appears to be up 1215 points in Pennsylvania, and a whopping 28 points in West Virginia.  It must be witchcraft, or something.  Poor deluded fools–I guess they don’t spend enough time reading the prestigious, peer-reviewed internets, otherwise they would know that “that stupid bitch” doesn’t have a chance!  She should quit now, before Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Oregon, and Montana hold their primaries.

Democracy is so divisive!  We should just all unite now behind St. John McCain, because the Republicans are threatening to vote for him instead of the Democratic nominee.

Free publicity for women's history bloggers!

pat-steir-1981.jpgAs one of the Program Committee co-Chairs of the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, along with Peg Strobel and Susan Amussen, I sent out the following call for blogs (a CFB?) a few months ago:

“We on the 2008 Program Committee are assembling a links page for blogs that deal substantially with women’s history (both pedagogy as well as research and publications) and professional issues of interest to feminists both inside and outside of the historical profession.  While blogging is a free-form genre, and we understand that they will frequently offer a mixture of both serious concerns and humorous commentary, we cannot include blogs that focus predominantly on hobbies or other personal interests outside of women’s history and/or the aforementioned professional issues.”

Please let me know, in the comments below, if you have a blog you’d like us to list.  Just pop the link in your comment, and include a short list of the topics that you write about most frequently.  (You may also e-mail me if you have any questions.)  You do not have to be a professional historian or studying to become one in order to be listed–you just have to write a good blog that’s on point.  Also, I’d really appreciate recommendations for other people’s blogs you’d like to see on our links pages, which will appear on both this year’s conference website (www.berks.umn.edu) and on our main website (www.berksconference.org).  For those of you with blogs, I’d appreciate it if you’d help me spread the message–please link to this post with abandon, and encourage your friends to contribute.

As we approach the conference on June 12-15, I’ll be doing more blogging about the Berks, and highlighting some of the sessions that I think will be standouts, perhaps some “liveblogging” at the conference, and follow-up through the summer.  (Did you know that one of the fun things this academic conference offers is a dance?  F’real!  Check out the program, page 88, at the bottom.) 

Simply perfect!

Let’s pretend that there are two women who might potentially be the next First Lady of the United States.

Lady A is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, and until her husband started running for president, she had a successful career as a corporate lawyer and a hospital vice-president.  She has never had a drug problem, is her husband’s first wife, and to all appearances, looks pretty much perfect.  Lady B, the heir to a beer distributor fortune, took up with her husband (18 years her senior) when he was still married to his first wife.  (Oops!)    Lady B attended the University of Southern California and has a degree in teaching, and had a drug problem.  (Double oops!)  She used her inherited money to set her husband up in his political career.

One lady is profiled in a high-profile magazine whose reputation as either interesting or authoritative has, well, slipped in recent years, to put it charitably.  In this article, the author writes that her “lack of pretense has made her popular with the portion of the electorate.”  However, she also points to her “tendency toward deflation” and “dismissiveness” of other people and their efforts.  She quotes a local newspaper columnist who said he [heard] “rumbles a mink coat reportedly belonging to [this lady], wife of [this candidate], may have gone missing following [a local politician’s] birthday bash.”  The author also notes that because in her job this lady made $121,910 four years ago then made $316,962 three years ago, a random letter-writer to a local newspaper complained that “Mrs. X is extremely overpaid.”  In sum, the author writes, “Some observers have detected in [this lady] an air of entitlement.”  Which lady was it, Lady A or Lady B?  Answer here.

The other lady is profiled on a cable news program in a segment called “Can [this lady] really be that perfect?”  The lede of the summary on the web reads, “She’s always dressed in a killer suit and never has a hair out of place.”  A friend and former local official in her home state describes her as a “fun down to earth person with a great sense of humor.”  Which lady was it, Lady A or Lady B?  Answer here.

Your thoughts?

(p.s.  Here’s the full quote from the last part of the summary of the The New Yorker article linked above:  “Some observers have detected in Obama an air of entitlement. Her defenders attribute these charges of arrogance to racist fears about uppity black women. While it’s a stretch to call the suggestion that Obama projects an air of self-satisfaction bigoted, it may at least reflect a culture gap: last April, after Maureen Dowd wrote a column criticizing Obama for undermining her husband’s mystique, a blog riposte, circulated widely on the Internet, was titled ‘The White Lady Just Doesn’t Get It.'”  Does anyone understand how the last sentence describing a supposed “culture gap” refutes the earlier “charges of arrogance” due to “racist fears about uppity black women?”  How does refuting a dumb Dowd hit-piece make one “uppity?”  Why do successful African American women seem to make people totally insane when trying to write or talk about them?)

UPDATE, 3/7/08:  I should remember never to publish a post after 9 p.m., when it’s sleepytime for Historiann!  I think I understand better now what that writer was suggesting in that paragraph–not that I think she’s correct.  She’s still insane, but for different reasons than I thought.  The writer insists that it’s legitimate and not “bigoted” to say that Michelle Obama “projects an air of self-satisfaction,” but acknowledges that there may be a “culture gap” (although I think she really means, black people and white people seem to have different reads of this accusation.)  Well, how many Princeton and Harvard Law grads do you know who are very successful professionally and personally at the age of 44 and who don’t “project an air of self-satisfaction.”  Why isn’t that allowed, as Susan points out in the comments below, if you earn your own money instead of inheriting it from a rich daddy?

Identity politics and presidential politics

future-president.JPG

This post is just a brief follow-up to a comment by David to the Ay-O Way to go, Ohio post below.  In it, he writes that while talking to an older woman colleague who has a granddaughter, “she started talking about how proud she is that she has a granddaughter who can play Little League, about how when she was a kid she was never allowed to play. And then she added: And now we could have a woman president, now that Hillary has won Texas and Ohio!”  David then writes, “When I hear comments like these, I think I understand better why so many women support Hillary.”

Related to this, I wanted to share a story about something that happened to me and a four-year old girl of my very close acquaintance.  I was out grocery shopping with her last week, and she was wearing a tee-shirt from the Henry Ford Museum that says, “FUTURE PRESIDENT” (see the image above–sorry it’s such a blurry photo.  You can see a clearer image here.)  Now, she doesn’t have long hair, and is often called “he” by people who don’t look beyond the haircut.  But that day, despite also wearing a skirt on top of pink tights and shoes with pink and orange flowers on them, she was called “he” by three different people who noticed “him” or made a comment about “him.”  I’d like to think it was just the short-hair mistake, but getting called “he” or “him” three times in twenty minutes suggests that it’s not just the haircut, but an avoidance of the category mistake that a “she” might be a “future president.” 

This is an exciting time for Democrats, because whomever we select as our candidate will help enlarge our vision of who can be president, and what a president looks like.  I think that’s one thing that unites all of us, whomever we support in the primary. 

What we talk about when we talk about misogyny, religion, racism, and teh funny

While we wait to see the results of today’s primary that will surely force the end of Hillary Clinton’s campaign even if she wins, let’s tour the non-peer reviewed internets, shall we?by Anne Taintor

  • Bob Somerby has a really interesting ethnographic analysis today at The Daily Howler, arguing that the press corps’ dominant Hillary hatred can be traced to middle-aged “East Coast Irish Catholics” prominent at NBC and the New York Times, and the particular stew of “psychosexual lunacies” that their mid-twentieth century upbringing has wrought.  Check it out:  he writes that “[Maureen] Dowd and [Chris] Matthews are the press corps’ leading psychosexual nut-cases.”  Somerby (an East Coast Irish Catholic himself) also enlists the assitance of Gene Lyons, another East Coast Irish Catholic who affirms that it’s all part of the culture:  “Having basically grown up in a Maureen Dowd column, albeit with less wit and more profanity, I’ve known this variety of Irish Catholic misogyny forever. My sainted mother warned me against the cunning and duplicity of women almost to her dying breath. It’s a sorrowful remnant of sexual Puritanism.”  (We’ll just let that adjective “puritanism” used to describe Catholicism go this time, m’kay?  No one likes a pedant…)  Is the press corps–and possibly the nation–being driven by Irish Catholic psychosexual anxieties?  (Or does that question creep you out too much to consider writing a comment?)
  • In any case, you’d think the Irish Catholic luminaries listed above might have a few questions for John McCain and his endorsement by Pastor Hagee, who is just as insanely anti-Catholic as Cotton Mather, instead of pestering Barack Obama about his pastor, who might once have said something nice about Louis Farakkhan.  (Do you really think a white congregant from that church would have to answer those questions?  Think, people!)
  • I posted this in a comments thread below, but it deserves a promotion:  a clear-eyed analysis of the nefarious, dirty-trickster Hillary Clinton and her plan to win the White House by winning the Democratic Primary!  Who does she think she is?  It’s not like she’s also rebounding in the national pollsOh noooooo!  Quick!  Everyone, STOP VOTING NOW!  Your voting is disruptive of party unity and the democratic process!  (H/t to Correntewire, which also has a good roundup of people hating’ on the Hillary.)

UPDATE, March 5:  Dowd’s latest hairball is mind-alteringly stupid.  She writes that in the Democratic primary, “All the victimizations go tripping over each other and colliding, a competition of historical guilts. People will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first. Is misogyny worse than racism, or is racism worse than misogyny?”  That’s right–I guess if you’re a rich, white New York Times columnist, you can pick either/or on this question!  (Intersectionality, much?)  And the winner of the Democratic primary means that his or her single “oppression” will be erased for all Americans, as though with a StainStick!  Does anyone else find it, um, interesting, that the fifty-six year old Dowd sniffs at the support HRC has from older women, and tries to align herself with the views of a “post-feminist” nineteen-year old college student?  As patronizing as her comments are about African Americans (“vicim lock”, anyone?  What does that even mean?), she outdoes herself by furnishing further evidence of what Somerby (above) called “psychosexual lunacies.”  In her parting shot she ventriloquizes a putative college student, who shouts at President Clinton, “‘We love you, Bill!’ yelled one boy. ‘You did a good job, except for Monica.'”  Historiann votes for Professorblackwoman to get the big bucks at the grey lady to brain the place up.