Things Senior Male Faculty Might Want to Know

>>NOVEMBER 2022: If you have a question you’d like me to answer during Nov 2022 daily blogging, please leave a comment to this post.<< 

Another question by Profdirector, originally posted here:

What not obvious thing do you wish the old fully promoted men in your department knew?

I’m going to assume this question ends with “about the lives of their female colleagues” and not about, say, fantasy football. ‘Cause if it’s about fantasy football, I’ll be the first to admit my own cluelessness.

Seriously now, this is a question that I often mull over, and my answers have changed over time. I will say that most men I work with, and those in my broader technical community, really don’t hate women and don’t want to exclude them from the profession. I am sure this wasn’t the case decades ago (although, seriously, I was hired two decades ago, which blows my mind, so maybe whenever I want to say twenty years ago, I should start saying fifty years ago). I believe that most of them believe they are enlightened and supportive and treat women as equals. And if you are a well-performing woman, especially of some professional note, senior men (at least in my field) will generally support you.

However, there are many issues that I feel like they could and should know about, but typically don’t. And part of this lack of knowledge is philosophical, in that people are fundamentally unknowable and those of different genders have really different everyday lives, so how much can senior male professors really ever know about the realities of their female colleagues? Sure,  there are fundamental barriers to knowing, but I fell we are nowhere near them, and most men could definitely know much more than they typically seem to.

For one, most senior faculty men have “civilian” wives (I know there exist single men and gay men, but a majority in my field are married to women), i.e., wives who aren’t faculty and who either don’t work at all or work, often part time, in a career that is less well paid that the husband’s. These women are focused on the family and on supporting their husband’s career, and if they are happy with their choices, more power to them. But the husbands don’t understand that their female colleagues lead very different lives from them (the men), because, in a vast majority of marriages, women are still the household managers and spend a ton of time and energy on family and home regardless of what they do outside the home. These men don’t really understand their female professional colleague’s reality because they are not very knowledgeable about (or interested in) the workings of their own household.

I am not saying that women faculty’s husbands are lazy layabouts, not in the least. What I am saying is that they are more often than not employed in a career that is as demanding as a faculty career, or even more so; that when two people work full time in demanding jobs (in contrast to one of them not working or working part time), each one of them is going to be stretched thin in a way the employed spouse in a single-income household typically isn’t.

I know plenty of male faculty with kids and they seldom say they can’t meet at 8 am or at 6 pm because of kid pickup/dropoff, so clearly the other parent is doing the kid handling. Well, I am the one who can’t make these meetings. In a vast majority of marriages, women spend more time and energy on kids. That seems like it won’t change anytime soon. I personally don’t want to not take kids to school just because someone wants to meet at the crack of dawn.

I wish my male colleagues knew that female faculty do their (the men’s) exact job plus a lion’s share of the men’s wives’ job. I don’t really know what the colleagues would do with that information, but perhaps it might lead to more empathy.

The most supportive colleagues are those who are either married to a woman faculty member or to a woman in another demanding career. Even if they don’t have kids, these folks see first-hand how busy their spouses are, the shit they are likely put through in a career that’s coveted (and thus likely full of men), and it really opens their eyes.

I can see a difference between my husband now and when we first met in terms of how much he knows and understands the issues women face. He used to be supportive in an abstract sense, but after seeing real issues and hearing about them from the horse’s mouth for two decades, he now gets more incensed about gender-related injustices and ready to fuck someone up than I do. Alas, there aren’t enough women in highly paid careers to educate every man through marriage.

Now, as for young faculty women versus old faculty men. Honestly, with my pregnancies during the tenure track (baby No 2, a.k.a. Middle Boy, now 15) and after tenure (baby No 3, a.k.a. Smurf, now 11), several of my male colleagues were extremely supportive and genuinely excited for me, much more so than the two senior women (we have many more women now, but they’re all junior to me). However, there were also two men who I remember making comments that were supposed to be jokes but were, in the one case, indicating the colleague was resentful that a woman having a baby might get teaching release (and someone else picking up the teaching slack) and, in the other case, that using a tenure-clock extension (actually getting it automatic, but actually using it is not) means the woman is a “weak link” (direct quote). I don’t think this is happening very much anymore, in part because we’ve had more women since then, but, for example, in the case of the newest announced pregnancy, it turned out that many men had no idea whether or not we had any formal university-level pregnancy/birth accommodations (we don’t; it’s left to the departments to handle, and our department has been great about it). I’ve had this information for years, but I guess people only seek and retain information that’s directly relevant to them. Given that a lot of young women are mentored (formally or informally) by older men, it sounds like men should really make an effort to learn about how the faculty life looks from the standpoint of their female colleagues (hint: it’s not the same as the men’s), which includes knowing about the accommodations for birth and adoption that are relevant to all people of procreation age, regardless of gender.

I sometimes wish dudes could get a movie-type body swap with women, for like a month, just to see what a different world it is. For instance, I’d like male faculty to see how much emotional handholding for students female faculty have to do on the regular, and how it skyrocketed during the pandemic; how we had to keep our shit together for students and our families and be everyone’s rock, knowing that we ourselves didn’t and wouldn’t have much of an outlet or help from anywhere. I wish they saw and could really understand the amount of emotional labor we all do for the benefit  of the all the different people in our lives. This labor is huge but mostly invisible to men, because people don’t expect men to do it and don’t even approach men with demands for it.  And this labor is on top of, not instead of, everything else that men do in their jobs as faculty.

I wish they could see that women faculty are so fucking awesome, it’s actually pretty scary.

What say you, blogosphere? What not obvious thing do you wish the old fully promoted men in your department knew?


  1. Two things… Literally the majority of the men in my department 1) have kids, 2) have their wife at home and 3) those wives have PhDs. It is mind-blowing to me that that many women have made that same choice to set their advanced degree and work aside. It makes me wonder if discussion of significant others and what their plans were occurred in the interview process and led to some unconscious bias into deciding who to offer positions.

    On the note of “I wish my male colleagues knew that female faculty do their (the men’s) exact job plus a lion’s share of the men’s wives’ job.” I can’t imaging the childcare on top of what I’m doing in the house now… I’ve been bracing for when my husband wants to discuss having kids … but I guess it brings me back to the point above that maybe I’ll fall in line with our department tradition and see if he wants to stay home, as I’m just absolutely exhausted just thinking about adding anything more to my responsibilities

  2. AsstProfLyfe, I wish this weren’t true, but I know it is. One of my best students ever, a woman, ended up taking an industry job in a tangential field specifically so her husband could go do a postdoc and eventually pursue a professorship. She was amazing. I don’t know how good he was, but it would have been hard to be better than her. I tried and tried to encourage her to pursue academia, and I heard what the husband was telling her. Basically, very nicely and politely he kept convincing her that she wouldn’t be successful, that she had the wrong personality and temper, that it would be bad for their family. It was devastating to witness how not only unsupportive but literally manipulative he was being. It wasn’t my place to sabotage her marriage; I tried to tactfully communicate to her that maybe she should believe her professional colleagues who were all telling her she was awesome and not necessarily her husband who wasn’t in the same technical field; that maybe she should be aware that he was trying to optimize for his own career success over hers. Ultimately, she decided she wanted to take the job for the sake of family. (If I’d married the guy I’d dated for years before my husband, I’d have been in the same situation. That dude always had to be the center of everything. I often think about how lucky I am that I didn’t end up with him.)

    I now have another female student who’s from a country with a very patriarchal culture (think hijab). Her husband is from there, too. She is fully responsible for the house, the kid, everything; all he does is his work. My group members have reportedly witnessed the subtle and not so subtle ways in which the husband puts her down (btw she’ll end up with a PhD, which he doesn’t and won’t have). This is heartbreaking, but all I can do is help her get her PhD and maybe provide her with a role model for how else things could be.

    Women really need to get better partners, but that’s much easier said than done because too often the men don’t reveal their true colors till after marriage and kids, when they simply opt out of the domestic labor they don’t care to do, and the women are left holding the bag.

    Men supportive of their wives’ careers — especially when there are tradeoffs with their own careers to be had — are still very thin on the ground. Way too thin.

    AsstProfLyfe, things won’t always be as crazy as they are now (I assume you’re an assistant professor, based on your handle). I am an example of someone who has multiple kids and is doing well career-wise. Beyond the tenure track you will still be busy, but some of the most stressful parts of the job will go away. And you will get better at refusing to do things, and just overall become more comfortable with the institution and the job. A supportive partner is invaluable, truly; as the great sci-fi writer Ursula LeGuin once said (I’m paraphrasing) — no one person can do the job of two people, but two people together can do the job of three people.

  3. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and your anecdotes. P.S. Looking forward to all the other posts that will come with NaBloPoMo!

  4. I wish they knew about all the microaggressions directed towards us or that witness on a daily basis and how exhausting it is. “It’s just a joke” is not so funny when you’ve heard it for the nth time that day. No I’m not overreacting, I am fed up.

    Maybe I’m naively optimistic but I have hope in academia changing. The department I did my PhD was actually pretty good. Not perfect but it’s always striving to grow. Many of the younger faculty are married to each other, many who seem to share the parenting role pretty equally. I witnessed one professor couple alternate days they went into their labs while their baby was too young for daycare. Also there was one male professor who often had his baby in his office. My program had quite a few grad students give birth while I was there and it seems to be getting to be more of a common occurrence. It helps that the uni protects their leave, provides good health insurance and offers subsidized childcare. Overall, it was just really nice to be in a dept and program that normalized and supported having a family. And it was really freaking cute to see all the babies and them grow into little kids over the years.

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