Gendered Double Imbalances in Higher Education

Some of you might have seen the Tweets and blogs making the rounds regarding the sexual harassment and exploitation (sexual and not) of female academics.

I read them with a profound sense of knowing sadness: whilst I have been lucky to not be in these women’s places, the misogyny and gendered power imbalances are evident everywhere I look in the academy.

They were evident in the disdain with which a very senior colleague treated me at one institution – on the basis of, I have to assume as we never really spoke, my sex and age (I was approximately half his age). Indeed, he was only ever civil with me once he knew I was leaving. It was also evident in the problematic, unethical behaviour of a senior professor at another institution who started a relationship with someone freshly graduated from a PhD despite the fact that he was her line manager. In most of these, the imbalance created by gendered relations of power are further distorted by the imbalances connected to seniority.

Sadly the academy still views seniority as something that is connected to masculine behaviour. Thus, essentially, seniority itself is gendered, thus creating a double barrier for women and enabling the continued imbalances that exists.

What do I mean by all this?

Seniority is still all too often awarded on research achievement – the number of publications, the number of international collaborations, the number of funding bids completed. All of these take time, and it’s time that women, if they behave in gendered ways, rarely have. Research has shown that women, again and again, take on more pastoral care and also find themselves contributing more to institutional work on student support more generally. Several initiatives have been started that are meant to support women, such as the Aurora leadership programme. But what that means is that often women have to do extra work in order to fit in better, rather than the academy better fitting in with women.

Also women, already have less time – something that has been exacerbated by Covid-19. The Guardian recently reported on the inequalities exposed by the pandemic. Oxford University ran a webinar on the 24 June to talk about how female academics, and mothers in particular, are affected by the crisis. Of course I, as other mothers, couldn’t attend because we were too busy juggling home schooling with holding down the job. So the question arises: how will the academy support women in the future?

How will it recognise how women are exploited in many different ways by the gendered double-imbalances described above? And will it finally address these imbalances, or will it ask us to do more work?

Dr Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film in the Department of Creative Arts at Edge Hill University. Her research is focused on television, transnational relations, and gender and the media.


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