Women faculty perform more invisible care work than men

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Ed, a professor writing under the pseudonym Myra Green has an important piece up on the care work that female faculty members, particularly women of color, (are expected to) perform for their colleagues and students.

As Green explains, students and junior faculty aren’t relying on these professors for emotional support as friends. They’re not coming for traditional advising of the sort recognized (and sanctioned and compensated) by the university. And though women faculty are “magnets” for these personal conversations, they aren’t asking to be. A (particular kind of) female faculty member has to be brilliant and available/kind/comforting, in order to garner the same respect white male faculty receive for their academic work alone.

We know that women in academe are expected to do more service work, and women and faculty of color often do more advising and mentoring than white male professors do. That is especially true of what my colleague calls ‘warm and fuzzy’ or ‘nice’ women, and I’d add to that list women who are what Susan Cain describes as ‘quiet’ listeners. Such women, however they came to be perceived that way, are understood as empathic helpers, sounding boards, caretakers. They do a lot of the institution’s care-work.

There’s nothing particularly new here — research has demonstrated the stark gender inequities in care work in the academy before — but I appreciate Green’s honesty on a topic that’s hard to talk about without being perceived as an asshole. In my work, I see student anti-rape activists — many of whom are neither acting in rape crisis counselor capacities, nor trained for it — receiving disclosures from survivors at all hours of the day and night (in between classes, in the bathroom, at parties). There’s something distinctly gendered about the expectation that they be readily available, empathetic, and emotionally invested in receiving others’ stories. It’s a responsibility many of us have taken on without question or resentment, but I wonder how we can move toward a space in which it is neither demanded of anyone, nor unrecognized for the labor that it is.

As Green points out, care work is work (invisibilized) — it takes “an enormous amount of time and energy. And there’s no place for any of that on a CV or in an end-of-the-year report.”

That should change.

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Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

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