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Good girl

The real reasons why four out of five Norwegian professors are men.


[academia] The gender distribution in scientific positions at universities is still skewed, startlingly skewed, considering that girls have long been in the majority among students. In 2006, four out of five Norwegian professors are men. This bias is not because men are so much nicer than women, if anyone would believe it.

And there are those who believe it, too, unfortunately, in the male-dominated professor position. But there is also another explanation that I think has such a great support. And it assumes that women are probably just as good or as good as men. The problem is that they are just good, or even too good. And it may be difficult for outsiders to understand, but such good girls should not be too many of the academy's top positions.

We are here on the trail of the stereotypical ideas of femininity and masculinity that still permeate academic culture. Despite official gender equality rhetoric, despite gender equality law and gender equality plans, such ideas live on, in no way completely undisturbed or unaltered, but at best prosperous.

I'm doing a little study of this culture, a little randomly and by the way, it must be said, but still. I recently acquired a notebook. Here I write down small episodes. Let me give you a taste of the study – and first return to the slightly too good girl.

Episode 1: "It was a good post." I was to give a talk at a seminar at a Norwegian university. I was the only woman on the program. During the break after the post, one of the other presenters, a middle-aged man, approached me and said, “Congratulations, Cathrine. It was a good post ». It was not meant as a compliment. He might as well have said, "You have probably worked and struggled, Cathrine, but you will never rise above the ordinary." And this is what some people think applies in general to women who make academic careers. They are diligent, accurate, orderly, conscientious, thorough, hardworking – good. But they never get really interesting, and far less original, groundbreaking, outstanding. Such qualities are still intimately linked to masculinity in our culture.

Now it is very conceivable that the post I gave at the seminar that day was not further innovative. Probably I was not dazzling – most of us are just exceptionally so. But I also did not notice others who dazzled that day. The man who had commented on my post as "nice", had not even said anything that struck me as groundbreaking. His post had been blurry, uninspired and poorly prepared. He is one of the mediocre men who have risen in the ranks at the university, without even being particularly good. If I had been good, but not excellent, he would in his usual way have been neither good nor excellent.

And it is not least those like him, strictly speaking neither good nor outstanding, who mock the good girls – even when the good girls dazzle with their intellect. Even then, the skill is used against them. "She's good, but there is no more." This is how I have heard men talk about outstanding female thinkers. Even Hannah Arendt I have heard reduced to a good girl. Then I was furious.

There, at the genius Arendt, the limit went for me, it turned out. In fact, I should have said from much earlier, far more often. «Congratulations, Cathrine. It was a good post ", he said. And I replied, 'Thank you. That was nice to say ». Later, when the seminar was over and everyone had gone home – that is, far too late – the rage came.

Episode 2: "You're Quotated, You." This comment I've heard fall several times. The first time I heard it was after I received a doctoral scholarship, as the only woman on a new research program. He who said it, of course, said it in a joking tone.

I have heard many women say that they are proud to be quoted where they are. They believe that today's hiring procedures at universities actually favor men, and they regard the use of quotas as an expression of feminism having won through with its understanding of reality.

I admire those who manage to carry their quota status with pride. I do not know if I could have done it. For feminism has not won through with its understanding of reality, at least not in academia. Most men do not think there is any point in being a man at university. Rather, some believe that it is an advantage to be a woman, because we are "quoted in". And if we are not formally quoted, then we are informal. Too striking male dominance is politically incorrect. That is why these solitary female swallows are found in the professorship. Only good or too good – and shamelessly quoted – they strive up and forward, with their simple heads and thoughts.

"You're well quoted, you". He meant it, but not very seriously, he said it jokingly, as I said, disarming. I laughed a little, nervous and unhelpful, and said, "Yes, I am." Yes, I am. That's what I was able to say.

Episode 3: "I did not want to write about his women's stories." This was said by a biographer who introduced at a seminar on how to write good biographies. Again, I was the only woman present. In the discussion this came up, how should one relate to the biographer's privacy? Shouldn't one be too good at digging into his "ladies' stories"? Or should not the women's stories also be included, if one wants to give the most complete picture possible of a person's life? The discussion about the women's stories was heated between the men. They all assumed, it was quite striking, that biographies are something you – and not least men – write first and foremost about (other) men who have "stories" with "ladies". And nothing women write about women who have stories with women. Or about women or men who have stories with men. They also took it for granted that women's stories are not stories that are important for the biographer's intellectual and artistic development. Here, instead, a contrast was set up: Should we as cinemas concentrate on the author's intellectual and artistic development, or should we also include a bit about his women's stories? This is what their universe looked like.

This time I actually managed to say something proper, far too elaborate, but still. I said I did not fully understand the problem. It is extremely rare for male intellectuals or artists – as biographies are often written about – to be discredited intellectually or artistically if their women's stories should come to light one day. For female intellectuals and artists, things have always been different. If their erotic excesses and love life come for a day, the result is recipe-wise either that attention is drawn from their intellect to their body (we in our culture have had a hard time accepting that women can think, even if they enjoy sex), or from their intellect to the intellect of their male partners. As is well known, Simone de Beauvoir experienced both. To be reduced to a pale copy by Jean Paul Sarte. Before she was further reduced by stories of an extravagant sex life.

Episode 4: "She's in love with the head of the institute." This is a regular. I have heard Norway's leading female scientists being talked about in this way. Before anything else is said about them, this comes up, who their girlfriends are, who they are married to, who they have had sex with. And is this a male academic, a professor, such as "the head of the institute," need not be said much more. Because it is as clear as ink between the lines: "She has been lying to it". Either the underlying idea is that women are not good enough or that they are too good, the conclusion is the same: The fact that they have made their way up and forth in academia must be explained by something other than that they are interesting, intelligent, significant. One annoying favorite is sex.

I have sometimes managed to object to the "she has been lying to it" stories. They are often told in festive layers. And after a couple of pills I get calmer and braver.

Episode 5: "Oh, oh, yes, now she got angry". The comment fell on a seminar when I had allowed myself to disagree with one of the other participants. Men rarely hear this. And if they hear it, it's because they're really angry, because they're really going over the line. The threshold is far lower for women. I know this may seem like a small thing. But in reality it is not. In academia, not least if you are a woman, your authority stands and falls that you largely manage to hold people's attention to the content of what you say, the views you make, the arguments. If there is too much focus on your mood, your mood, your facts and whims, then you can easily be ignored. Being weird, half crazy, rude and behaving dresses a Georg Johannesen. Women get so easily hysterical about this.

I still could. It's all part of my writing book.

Episode 6: "Aren't you tired of being so sensible all the time, Cathrine?" Comment from a male speaker after a female colleague pointed out a contradiction in his argument.

Episode 7: "I miss the female element of your thinking." Comment from a male seminar participant after I posted about something that bothered me.

Episode 8: "As Fredrik and Harald and several others have emphasized." This is how a male seminar participant began his speech, before referring to a reasoning a female seminar participant had put forward, and which Fredrik and Harald – let's call them – had later in the discussion agreed to.

Episode 9: "You look at her that she's not happy." Said by a female colleague about an outstanding Norwegian female professor none of us know personally.

Episode 10: "Woman is woman worst – isn't that what it's called?" Said by a male colleague, when I told him I had an argument with a female colleague.

And so on. In fact, my everyday life in academia will be free of such episodes, I do not actually believe. My goal is less ambitious, I want to make the episodes less. They can be if I become braver, less conflict-shy, more beatific, say from then on. And if we become more who say, we must become more. I can't stand breaking barriers in solitude. First and foremost because I can't do it.

Cathrine Holst is a sociologist and associate professor at the Center for Science Theory, uib.

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