I was genuinely excited when I got my timetable this term, because it looked like one of my lecturers might be a woman. I had never had a female lecturer in that subject before. In fact, I had never had a female lecturer in most subjects before. When it turned out that the timetable was wrong and that all of my lecturers for this term are men, I was disappointed – but only mutedly so.
After all, this isn’t a particularly exciting feminist issue. It’s not visceral, it’s not immediately scary. Attending a lecture being delivered by a man is not inherently degrading. Ridiculously unequal ratios of men to women is not even unique to academia: it’s a problem pervading the highest ranks of every institution in our society. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to be aware of the issue but still accept it as an unfortunate fact of college life. But often it’s the somewhat boring manifestations of patriarchy that so insidiously inform our expectations of the world, forcing us to internalise these disparities not necessarily as insurmountable, but as pointless to even complain about.
Maybe the tedious ubiquity of these patriarchal narratives is what erodes the outrage, and the humanity of those who notice them, and makes us feel so powerless over them. There’s a monotony that makes it difficult to care about this type of issue, especially when there are so many other battles to pick.
Our teaching staff shape our understanding of the institution we’re in, but also our place in it. Like many women, I walked into college the same way I would anywhere else: with a severe case of imposter syndrome. Not to say that male students are never nervous coming to college, but the amount of times I’ve seen male students reap the benefits of being under-qualified but overconfident can’t be a coincidence.
I was genuinely excited when I got my timetable this term, because it looked like one of my lecturers might be a woman
Whether it’s academic projects, scholarships, or even society positions, it’s unsettling how often men apply for and are accepted into these positions at the expense of female candidates. Sometimes female students are hesitant even to put ourselves up for opportunities we think we’re not qualified for. There are endless factors completely unrelated to college that teach us these gendered behaviours (who ever said learning doesn’t happen outside of the classroom?), but the absence of female teaching staff throughout our time in college may have something to do with how they manifest in academia.
When a male student spends the majority of his days, weeks and years at college being taught by other men, no matter how astute he is in noticing lack of women, how much he condemns it, or how much of a feminist he is, the message that he is internalising with every hour is: “You belong. There is a place for you here. People like you do well here.”
Conversely, no matter how much we affirm to ourselves that we’re smart enough, hard working enough or that our gender doesn’t matter, female students are aware – even if unconsciously – that this is a place we are allowed to be in, but the place itself is not ours. I’m lucky only to have to experience these kinds of disparities through the lens of gender. I’ve had fewer lecturers of colour than female lecturers, and there are obviously far fewer students of colour than there are female students in Trinity, further exacerbating this structural exclusion for ethnic minority students in ways that white students like me never have to think about.
While men continue to dominate the teaching staff at this university and others, the women in teaching positions are not just success stories, or even just anomalies, they are the faces on to which we students project our understanding of women’s place in academia. When submitting our module evaluations, school senior executive officers have to remind students that female lecturers receive disproportionately negative feedback than their male counterparts. It’s no surprise. Even I have sat silently allowing other students to complain about the first female lecturer any of us had ever had and how ‘difficult’ it was to listen to fifty minutes of her “grating” voice – I didn’t want them to think similarly of me.
When a male student spends the majority of his days, weeks and years at college being taught by other men… the message that he is internalising with every hour is: ‘You belong’
Often, when a male student offers his “not a question, more of a comment really” in a tutorial, I find myself wondering if he really thinks no one else was capable of coming to the same conclusion he did, that we needed him to spell it out for us. I find myself thinking the same thing about this article: surely everyone else is equally aware of this easily observable phenomenon, right? Maybe even equally unhappy with it?
The male teaching staff I’ve interacted with in Trinity have ranged from decent academics to excellent, engaging educators, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that they are exclusively qualified to fill their positions in ways no women are. I want to be able to say with confidence that the institution responsible for my education is a meritocracy. I’m not sure it’s even attempting to be one.