Millennial Media

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The Rise of the PhDiva

Is it time for a new wave of feminists?

A challenging aspect of feminism is its similarity to political parties and platforms. Just because you may identify as a Republican or Democrat does not mean that you fully endorse all of the party’s viewpoints. Feminism is a similar beast. Some may argue that if you believe women should be paid equal to men, then you are a feminist. If you believe in women’s suffrage, you are feminist. And yet, there are others that identify feminism as affiliated with bra-burning anti-misogyny vigilantes.

As an academic, I certainly see the areas where the battle of feminism has not been won. According to statistics found here, women hold more non-tenure track positions than men and hold fewer percentages of tenure. In 2006, men held 77% of president positions in colleges. Women make up 45% of senior administrators and 38% of chief academic officers, and earn less than male faculty members across all ranks and institution types. Even in psychology, a field that many associate as a “soft science” covering “touchy feely” topics (not actually true), men still rule the playing field. It is unsurprising then that women in clinical and counseling programs are more likely to pursue applied work in areas such as therapy than enter the competition for tenure-track faculty positions. Counseling settings are often less ruthless and likely to promote egalitarian values. Having been on the receiving end of journal feedback ranging from respectful and supportive to condescending and rude, I can certainly empathize.

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But what about another type of academic, and another brand of feminism? Enter what I propose to be the PhDiva. And yes, I just went there. My guess would be that you, the reader, possibly had one of three reactions: cringing, rejoicing, or shaking your head in confusion. That said, I ask, why not? Women are often judged against and in comparison to men—not as an independent entity. Whatever men do, we think about how we measure up, and often are unsatisfied with the result. But it does not have to be about who does it better. Such sentiment stems from cognitive biases such as black and white thinking. What about the notion that women make up their own rules, play by them, and conquer whatever field they choose?

I am often in awe of the lengths that women go to in academia to hide their femininity. Granted, I’m talking about a particular brand, and will fully own that as a bias. I will in no way suggest that all women feel this way and would agree. That said, culturally speaking many women do grow up with this idea and expectation as women being the “fairer sex” to be Victorian for a moment. It is about beauty, poise, desirability, and other such norms. It goes without saying that women are about far more than this. But why does it usually seem to be that women must choose? Be a high-powered executive, top professor, etc. and in a traditionally “masculine” sense, or be the prototypical hyper feminine secretary with the platinum blonde hair and 5 inch heels? What happens if it is a little bit of both? Can we accept that? Think about what happens when a prominent political figure has some style. All of a sudden it is less about her credentials and more about where she shops and her appearance. The choice has been crudely put about being oriented toward looks or books.

Related, why is it that female and male graduate students treat their prospective PhDs so differentially? In counseling both groups, women are so often hesitant and uncertain they will even get their degrees. They are timid, do not assert themselves, and go to great lengths to be appreciative for every and anything while males often have a much greater sense of entitlement. As such, men’s rules and means of interacting and obtaining power and status reign supreme and often mimic a hyper-masculine take-charge ideal. Some women can integrate these aspects within themselves, and become quite successful. But need it be this way?

While there are a certain set of traits associated with professional success that are traditionally “male” oriented, what happens if we see it the opposite? If we plays devil’s advocate and list the traditional “female” traits they might include things like relational ability, communication, negotiation and mediation. Even add a bit of sass and humor. Wouldn’t these traits be equally if not more in demand for professional success in any number of top positions? Let’s time travel back a century and praise women for their artistic achievements, such as home décor. Wouldn’t offices be more aesthetically pleasing and lead to greater productivity? Wouldn’t customers be more likely to shop in these stores and return? In truth, it is all about the perspective that we choose to take.

This leads me to wonder why I have heard my fair share of women anxiously state that they need to dial down the nail polish in case someone at a meeting finds it to be offensive. Frankly, it’s just nail polish, nothing more. Some women like sparkles. Let’s just deal with it. It doesn’t decrease their IQ, ability, or competence in the least. If anything it may be an indicator of being true to themselves and not feeling that they have to fit within a specified mold. PhDiva? Don’t mind if we do.

Follow me on Twitter at MillenialMedia

Goal Auzeen Saedi, Ph.D., received her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Notre Dame.

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