I had a Thing happen this weekend, with the usual conditions in play: very nice, well-intentioned men who outrank me making decisions on my behalf, trying to be helpful, and, in the end, sending both me and all the young women involved the message: women can’t lead.
So it involved a voluntary service task whereby I and another senior, male faculty were assigned to lead PhD students. It was a three-day commitment, and my faculty partner was unable to come the second day, and so I went in, thinking that I would handle the students on my own, only to walk in to find the leader of the effort had, simply, reassigned the students to different groups and taken all responsibility out of my hands.
The message: you can’t be trusted with students on your own. You can’t lead. I was annoyed. I could have slept an hour longer, dude!! UUUUUH???
But I just went to my office and worked on my own stuff. It’s my standard response to the Planning Patriarchy when it rejects my attempts to Do Things and Participate: Look, if you aren’t going to use my human capital for your benefit, I shall use it for mine.
I’m sure the person in question thought he was being nice–he apologized later, and said he intended to save me work, and truth be told, I think students should ideally work with multiple groups of faculty and fellow students. And I got a lot of work done. So for all practical purposes, it was fine.
It did, however, demonstrate a pretty bad model for all the young women in the room. I should, I guess, have been more assertive in saying that no, I can lead a group on my own, and stood up for my right to have been included in the decision involving my own efforts. Had the guy asked, I would said, sure, no problem, I’ll stay home and work, reassign the groups.
But I was flustered, and I am shy to begin with, and to be dismissed like that in front of an entire room of students was…awful.
There comes a point where, when you say to somebody “you can’t lead” enough times, that they begin to believe you.