Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blogging dilemmas

I’m emotionally exhausted out of frustration from a work issue that is very much about equity, professionalism, process, and fairness. But I can’t write about it! Even though it foregrounds issues that are pretty high on the agenda around these parts, there is no way that I could possibly discuss the details (at least online) without getting in deep s#@!

This particular episode follows upon at least two other instances this past semester of egregious sexism that I can’t blog about because of confidentiality. I am okay with that, on one level. Confidentiality exists for a reason: there are many instances in academia when people have to be comfortable to express difficult opinions on sensitive and important matters. Moreover, having agreed to confidentiality, I consider it unethical to then break that agreement. So my lips are sealed. 

But I’m also not okay with that because that sexism nevertheless hangs in the air, at least in my atmosphere, shaping and colouring my work life. And I know that people take advantage of the protection of a confidential setting to express things that they could not get away with otherwise. So I find it problematic that I’m bound by confidentiality, when that works to perpetuate a sexist, chauvinist work culture. 

With regards to my current situation (which actually reaches back 2 years), there is nothing confidential about it. But to discuss it would only stand to hurt me professionally more than I stand to gain by sharing with you folks. And that is incredibly disheartening because, when combined with the aforementioned sexism, it makes me wonder where can change come from? The hierarchies in my institution make it clear that I have no means to address the issue head on. I could raise a grievance with my faculty association, but that is putting myself out there again in a way that will likely do more harm to me then it will actually realize substantive change. If I put my head down and protect my self-interest, then of course nothing will change. 

I grew up thinking that you always fought back. Every time you saw something that was wrong, you called it out, and you kept calling it out until you got a response. But in our culture broadly, and narrowly within academia, sexism and inequity can be so pervasive that I have to "pick my battles." So my question to you folks, given that I can’t ask for specific assistance on the matter in question, when you pick your battles, what criteria do you use to decide?

8 comments:

  1. I don't have an immediate answer to the question Liza asks at the end of her very interesting piece. Instead I have a related question. How, when or where do we locate or demarcate a 'personal' life that is separate from our professional life where we can talk or write about what is going on in our work lives? I don't mean with regard to violating confidentiality agreements or protocols of the workplace of course, but with regard to talking, writing or blogging about our life circumstances or situations which may include or be related to our work. Is our work life totally out-of-bounds? Can we say that after 5:00 p.m. we can engage in activist projects? Do we need to maintain a rigorous separation between our work email address and an other email address? If my U is heavily invested in oil and gas industry money, and I attend a weekend workshop that is about the hazards of fracking, could I land in boiling oil? How do others conceive of the separation of work and the rest of life, which sometimes seems especially challenging given that most of us work all hours of the day and evening.

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  2. I wish I could say something more, but I do really appreciate this post. I will keep checking back to see what advice you receive. I could not imagine having to deal with something for two years, that is just awful.

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  3. You know, there's something wrong with the fact we ALL have more to say, but just can't. Maybe it's high time we pooled our considerable intelligences together to figure out a way to expose these egregious instances of sexism. Something must be done! We can't just keep whispering in the shadows, and winking knowingly while also feeling helpless.

    So, I'm proposing we revive "This month in sexism." Send us the gist of your encounter with sexism, and we will publish it anonymously. You're also more than welcome to submit anonymously (heck, it's not that difficult to set up a dummy email account). Do it! We want to hear it. Solidarity!

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    2. I wish, but I still wouldn't dare. I used to be so vibrant and feisty. The more determined I am to become an academic the quieter I am--I care way too much about the long term consequences for my career. ugh I hate new me.

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  4. Stephanie, I wouldn't be so hard on yourself! After all, none of us are exactly outspoken here, or at least not to the extent of exposing anything particular.

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    1. Thanks :) I do admire all of you bloggers. I think I'm just getting used to the transition into being a professional graduate student (being an M.A. student is very different, I think) and all that entails in terms of behavior and etiquette.

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  5. It's a tricky business offering advice about something like criteria for picking battles, because after all, who the heck do you think you are, thinking you're expert enough to offer advice on a topic like that? But for what it's worth, I think you need to ask two questions at once --- not just "is this a battle worth fighting?" but also "how is this battle worth fighting?" An obvious first step is to think whether the battle is winnable, but winning in the short term often burns bridges and does more harm in the long run if you end up publicly shaming someone who might have been a long term ally. And a short term loss often pays off long term if you either put ideas into circulation that people (i.e., decision makers) might not have thought of before, or if you show that the consequences of speaking up are not catastrophic and so someone else is willing to speak with you next time.

    So, one opinion: pick your battles with the long game in mind. There's always the issue of "can I live with myself if I don't do something?" But if the answer to that is "no", the something doesn't have to be setting yourself on fire in the quad when nobody is going to pay attention. And knowing that you've thought through the long term payoffs makes it easier to live with having been measured in response to something that's actually outrageous ... . That's not necessarily just a matter of putting self-interest before the general interest; it is often a matter of effectively pursing the general interest.

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