By Amanda Bittner
*I’d like to thank the Women Writers at MUN (WWAM) writing group and the Gender and Political Psychology Writing Group and especially Sarah Martin and Erin Cassese for their careful reading of an early draft of this blog post.
There has been a lot of attention given to women and persons of color (POC) in the academy lately, in political science and in other disciplines. The incredibly useful and powerful womenalsoknowstuff.com movement highlights women’s expertise in political science and provides resources to ensure that we are able to find experts on a wide variety of topics, to interview, invite to speak, or assign on a syllabus. @womenalsoknowstuff (and the related hashtag #womenalsoknowstuff) has become a movement, spreading to groups in other areas of research (e.g. @womnknowhistory and @AWPARocks) as well as other traditionally marginalized groups (e.g. @POCalsoknow and @LGBTalsoknow). #womenalsoknowstuff has begun to help shape the profession, by drawing attention to various problems, including the underrepresentation of women on panels at conferences (you can follow the #allmalepanel hashtag to see lots of examples), the underrepresentation of women in academic citations, in publication counts, as well as raising awareness of the different ways that we tend to write reference letters for women and evaluate women instructors, differences in research chairs and in our curriculum and course syllabi (you can check your syllabus to see how well you do on this front with this tool).
Learning about the status of women in the profession through #womenalsoknowstuff has had a significant effect on my own work. In the past, I organized “manels”, I assigned course syllabi with very few women on them, and I have certainly written papers that undercite the contributions of my female colleagues. I didn’t do these things on purpose, I did them because these issues were not on my radar and I wasn’t thinking about them at all. Now that I’m more aware of the issues women face and the strategies that can address them, I have a more consistent and committed approach to ensuring that my work provides a better representation of scholarship in political science.
It’s important to be sensitive to gender, to race and ethnicity, and in particular, sensitive to the structure of academic “jobs” for different groups of people. Plenty of research shows, for example, that women tend to bear the brunt of “care” and service in comparison to their male colleagues. Not only are they more often the “default parents” for their own children and “default caregivers” for other sick or aging family members, but they are also more likely to have heavier teaching and service loads in their departments. This increased load is usually to the detriment of their research productivity: there are only so many hours in the day, and individual research tends to get punted to the side because of these other demands on our time.
One solution to this problem is to do as much as we can to look after our junior (female) colleagues and ensure that they do not receive additional teaching and service responsibilities, and another is to prioritize research activities as a group, carving out time and space dedicated solely to research and writing. In my department at Memorial, we began to do just this: me and my female colleagues began to meet every Friday morning (we booked a seminar room from 9-12 for the entire year), to focus on research. We arrive at 9, we spend the first 15-20 minutes talking about the project we’re working on that day, and then we sit in silence, together, working on our research. This “experiment” has been a total game changer. Not only is it wonderful to sit with my female colleagues once a week (the guys are great too, don’t get me wrong, but this feels different), it is also wonderful to know that even in a busy week (our normal teaching load at Memorial is 5, and because we’re a small department, our service load is also high), I have Friday mornings where I am guaranteed to work on my research. Some weeks this is the only time I end up doing any research at all. Other weeks, it’s one of multiple writing sessions.
More recently, we’ve managed to convince senior administration at Memorial University to support similar types of activities on a larger scale. With my colleagues, we’ve organized a couple of three-day “bootcamps,” where women from across the university come together in a single room, and spend three days together: sharing goals, writing, networking, drinking coffee, discussing methodological and theoretical problems, and troubleshooting shared problems and challenges at the university.
I can honestly and truly say that everyone should get a writing group. There has been no more rewarding service activity in my career than helping to support the research and writing of my female colleagues, in political science, and across the university. Not only has productivity soared as a result of these bootcamps, but many of my colleagues have brought the idea of a writing group back to their own departments, and a few new research/writing groups have popped up across the university, building on a network that supports successful scholarship.
Perhaps the best part of all of this “bootcamp” activity has been the increased social capital we’ve gained by sitting in a room together for a few days. In a world where the “crazy/bitch narrative” hits home far too much, it’s incredibly rewarding to create a space that respects, appreciates, supports, and encourages the hard work of female academics.