Monday, June 6, 2011

To all the men

Right now, I'm on my sixth conference / presentation / workshop trip of the last nine weeks. Let me just say that if I never get on an airplane again for another year (barring the flight home from here of course) it will still be too soon.

Still, traveling and conferencing and workshopping is great, and one of the reasons  is the opportunity to catch up with old friends, with mentors, with former students, and to make new contacts. This latest round of travel for me has felt really strange and wonderful because, for me, it feels a little like a victory lap: I got on my first plane right around the time my tenure was confirmed, and as I had tweeted and facebooked and emailed my friends about it, word spread. Every where I went, people congratulated me, sincerely and joyfully. People I knew well, and people I hardly knew at all. That really made it real for me, and even when Air Canada lost my Congress-bound luggage and I had to present in yesterday's traveling clothes (hilariously, on a social media panel, wearing a t-shirt that reads "I have tenure and I blog"), I still felt supported and comfortable. Well, as comfortable you can be in a yoga bra in public, without a belt to hold your pants up. (I don't like to set off the metal detector at the airport …)

What were we talking about? Oh, right. Men and why I'm thanking them particularly, today.

What has really struck me, this spring, is how much of my career and its success I owe to, well, men. Men who have supported me, even when I told them our field was dominated by middle-aged white guys. Men who held a plum gig for me even when I bowed up one year, to give birth, and plenty of others would have been happy to take my spot, and keep it. Men who wrote letters explaining what I contributed to a collaboration. Men who happily agreed to explain how work in my field doesn't look like regular English professing, and what it's worth. Men--high-profile, senior, busy men--wrote obviously very supportive reviews of my tenure file.

I knew that the colleagues I had solicited to write support letters for me were awesome. But as I travelled around this spring, tenure assessors came out of the woodwork, eager to know what had happened and very eager to wish me well. Other interested parties made a point of welcoming me to the next stage of my career, expressing genuine support for my work.

We talk a lot here about women moving up the ranks and taking positions of power and influence as chairs or deans or full professors or even vocal members of hiring committees. But for a moment I want to recognize the men who've made my climb a little smoother, my ascent a little higher than it might otherwise have been. Starting even with the man who emailed me to solicit my application for the job at which I've just been tenured.

Thanks, guys. I'm impressed by your caring, and by your outreach, and humbled by your support. Now, let's tenure and promote some more women so they can share some of this avuncular glory ;-)

2 comments:

  1. Comment from Stephen Slemon, that got eaten by blogger


    Lost luggage: the perfect metaphor for what we all strive for – men and women alike – in relation to patriarchy’s cultural baggage. We really are all in this together. And there’s a lesson, too, in Air Canada’s curiously generative contribution to your conference panel – that corporate failure may at some level be necessary to our collective project of imagining an equitable and inclusive future. You could not have chosen a better outfit for your paper.

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  2. Here's something to consider ... why not ask some senior women colleagues to get their applications for full professor in the works. A lot of the time, it's a matter of convincing yourself that you're ready and taking a bit of a chance, and notoriously men are more likely to overestimate their readiness while women tend to underestimate theirs. A few brave souls in large departments who take the chance and find themselves promoted will grease the skids for all the women only a few years behind them on the promotion trail. And perhaps encouragement from the women coming up behind will be as useful for them as you've found the encouragement from some white haired males ahead of you.

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