I just got an email about an upcoming panel discussion regarding female scientists in academia. My first thought was, great, I could use this! And the topics it will cover - various paths to an academic career, the "two body" problem, interviewing tips, job negotiation, and balancing family and work life - are definitely relevant to me, right?
But there's something about this panel being targeted to women that just feels incomplete to me. These things aren't only relevant to me; all of them are also relevant to J. (To be fair, the email (but not the attached flyer) says that the discussion will be "from a female perspective (but not to the exclusion of males!)".)
I assume that the point of the panel is to help women in academia deal with issues that continue to affect women more negatively than men. But I can't help but think that these issues would be shared more fairly between women and men if they were treated more like problems that both sexes have to deal with.
My reaction to this isn't coming from any concerns/issues I have with J. I do think he is just as concerned about these things as I am and he is just willing to consider alternative paths, continually attempt to balance work and family, etc. We talk openly about what we want for ourselves career-wise, what our individual goals are, what we are (or may be) willing to sacrifice for parenting and for dealing with the two-body problem, etc. The extent that I single-handedly take on certain parenting responsibilties (e.g., I make all of Squeakles' food myself) is coming from within myself - there are things I want for Squeakles, things I am willing to take time to do, and things I personally enjoy doing. But otherwise, J and I split the things that I don't take on as personal missives but yet which need to be done, and we are constantly negotiating the balance of time we spend with Squeakles versus work.
So my reaction is not about how J and I personally handle these issues, but about how these issues are perceived in academia (as well as more broadly). The fact that this panel is being targeted toward women (and not just this panel in particular of course, but panels like this) make me nervous about my academic future (or I guess, the immediate future academia itself), that these issues tend to be considered of particular concern to women but, what, not to men? It makes me worry about how men are regarded who want to consider alternative paths to an academic career (and thus whether they are as likely to consider them). And about whether similar assumptions are made about women and men needing to balance family and work life, and what accommodations may or may not be available. Or about the assumptions made when sacrifices have to be made because of the two body problem. Don't these issues become more relevant to only women's lives the less they are considered problems equally relevant to men's lives?