So first, let me give a very reductive summary of some of the assertions in the comments that are inspiring this post. In hiring situations, as well as in advancement along the tenure-track:
- Women are punished for appearing too ambitious, too prepared, or too qualified. (Bitches)
- Women are punished for any sign of lack of preparedness, lack of qualification, lack of focus, or lack of a penis. (Ok, I added that last part because I'm being funny. Nobody said that, but it really is the bottom line, isn't it?) (Lightweights or Incompetents)
Ambition, Preparedness, and Qualification for Female Candidates at My Institution
I think that at my institution, female candidates or faculty who appear to be ambitious, prepared, and qualified often do better than male candidates or faculty with those same qualities, or at least can be regarded more favorably. I think that this has to do with the fact that as women, they are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as not threatening the Old Guard with their ambitions, preparation, or qualifications. I mean, they're just women, after all. Instead, they are perceived as people who will be good work-horses within the department and university, and as people (especially if they are married or have children) who will never leave. This, at least, is what I have felt about how (some) colleagues have regarded me, as well as how I perceive the ways in which other of my female colleagues, both senior to me and junior, are regarded.
Now. There are benefits to this. It means that we've hired many awesome women in my department (4 women fairly recently before me, 4 women including me - though two of them have left - in the year that I was hired, and 6 women since I was hired, including those hired in this year's searches [so 12-14 women]; compared with only 5 hires who were men over the same period of time). It means that it's fairly easy for an awesome woman in my department to go about her business and to Achieve Great Things without anybody retaliating or being an asshole to her.
But, there are also fucked up things about this situation. There is a pervasive sense that it doesn't MATTER what you achieve if you're a woman in my department, that all that really matters is that you do more than your share of the service and that you keep your mouth shut about any accomplishments that you might manage in addition to that. (Or at least this is what I've felt, when I'm feeling less than generous and positive.) In other words, the fact that I was a really strong candidate did work in my favor here and has done throughout my time here, but it's only after 7 years here that I feel like I really have any sort of real respect. And honestly, I think that what respect I've gained is not about the fact that I published a freaking book before tenure with a 4-4 load, or even that I've been an amazing teacher, but rather that I slaved revising not only our major's curriculum but also the university's general education curriculum over the course of the past 18 or so months. And nobody gives a shit that it's been my students who have won our department's Outstanding Major award in the majority of the years since I've been here, or that it's my students who are winning our Outstanding Writing award, or winning any of the other book awards or other awards that we give each year. What people care about is that I will do committee work that is miserable. (Of course, their blindness to my Total Domination contributes to My Grand Plan to Rule the Universe, so they are stupid, but whatever.)
This culture of not giving a shit about what women faculty do other than "serve" contributes to many of my colleagues just giving up on doing anything other than serving. I mean, research isn't rewarded, and teaching isn't rewarded, so why not just slave away at service, because at least people seem to like it if you do that, right? Except of course, the majority of our male colleagues don't fall into that particular trap, even if they're not achieving anything of note in research or teaching either. The men in my department can be mediocre in all areas. That's just the way of it. And nobody blinks. The women in my department? This is much less the case. But still, nobody (at least as far as I'm aware) thinks I'm a bitch because I'm ambitious, because I'm prepared, because I'm qualified, and because I produce. No, they see me as their meal ticket. Because I exist, the men can slack, and nobody will be the wiser. (This is totally ungenerous of me, but it is how I feel in regard to many of my male colleagues. I want to note, though, that this is totally not universal, and I have many great male colleagues - it's just that they are not in the majority.)
Lack of Preparedness, Lack of Qualifications, Lack of Focus, and Lack of a Penis at My Institution
In this area, women here are perceived positively as well. You're not prepared? Students will connect with you! You're not qualified? But you're so enthusiastic! You're not focused? Well, it's hard to focus with a family, but at least you'll never leave! You don't have a penis? Well, then your penis cannot be bigger than any of ours!
I know this section is much less thoughtful and expository than the one preceding it, but that pretty much says it all. And even if (or especially if?) you lack all of those things? You are Woman and you shall be a workhorse for the department and the university! You will serve - on search committees and task forces and whatever - oh my! And even better - you'll never even try to leave, and you'll never try to get promoted to Full Professor or to wield any real power at this institution! And you'll be stuck in terms of salary for the rest of your professional career, which is a real money-saver in these tough budgetary times! AND you'll just be grateful to have a job - any job! And that's just fine with us!
So heres' the thing. Sexism. Institutionalized sexism. It works in lots of different ways. At many institutions, and in many departments, it shuts women out almost entirely, and it doesn't even give them a fair shot at a bite at the apple. Whatever they do, they are bitches or incompetents. But at an institution like mine, we let women in. Maybe even more frequently than we let men in. We like letting women in, because they'll take one for the team when a comparable male person wouldn't. And part of that is about the kind of institution I'm at (non-research university, regional, known in the area for its lack of rigor, high teaching load for faculty).
On the other hand, at an institution like mine, it is possible for a woman to do really important and powerful work without facing any fucked up retribution for doing so. It is possible to achieve, to thrive, to produce without that being held against her. It is possible that she will even have a better chance than a male colleague of the same caliber or pedigree, if only because nobody really takes her very seriously or pays very much attention to her. You won't be labeled a bitch or an incompetent. You'll just get screwed.
Is that better? Is that less sexist? No. But it doesn't corroborate the narrative of women's lives in the academy that we see over at Historiann's either.