Equality is often on my mind, but it’s particularly salient today. I just left an event with Ruth Bader Ginsberg and it’s Women’s Equality Day. Ginsberg was at my university, receiving an honorary degree, just days after announcing that she completed another round of treatment for cancer. It was a moving presentation, and I was honored to be in the same room with her (it was a big room, an arena, so it wasn’t like I was even close enough to shake her hand, but it was still great). If the audience were allowed to ask questions, and I had more courage than I have, there’s something that’s been gnawing at me lately. It would have been nice to know what she thought. Instead, I’ll just ruminate and use this thing like I have so many times, as a hybrid diary sounding board that doesn’t talk back to me.
As an aside, I was really conflicted about Ginsberg coming to speak on campus. It was a great way to start the academic year (today was the start of the semester), but, does she really need to go outside and face all the risks of life? Can’t she just live in a small very safe cocoon until this whole Trump thing is over? Of course I’m being mostly facetious, and I would never want to imprison anybody for no good reason…but isn’t keeping her safe and on the bench a good reason. Kidding…sort of.
But here’s what’s really bothering me today. Possibly on my mind more than it’s been over the past few months, but particularly salient today given that I was in the presence of Ginsberg and that it’s Women’s Equality Day, what should my role, as an advocate be? What steps can I take, and what sacrifices should I make, to help achieve equality?
There are obvious ones. I can work to fight implicit biases (for earlier Hitting Bregma stuff about implicit biases, check here and here). I can continue to wear the “feminist” and “equalist” badges proudly (check Life as a male feminist and A feminist by any other name…). But here’s where I’m torn. I’m a relatively successful guy in my university. I’ve directed stuff, I’ve built stuff, I’ve won teaching awards, I get elected to positions of leadership. I enjoy this stuff, and as much as I love the science side of what I do, I’ve been tilting a bit in the administrator direction over the past few years. I know that, as a white man, there are things about me that people will see as strengths, that won’t be considered strengths if demonstrated by a woman in the same position. I know that there are qualified women for jobs that I want, but I want the jobs too. I know that there are efforts to seek out qualified women (and minorities) for these jobs, and I think that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t change the fact that I want the job myself. So, do I sacrifice my career goals so that an equally qualified woman has a better chance to get the job I want? It’s not an unreasonable ask, and it could be better for society in the long run (making it a professional sacrifice, but a personal gain, because I like the goodness it would do for society). Do I not apply for the job in the first place? Do I apply for the job, but not complain if a woman gets it? Do I apply for the job and use the application to promote women who might have applied? Do I apply for the job and compete for it with every bone in my body knowing that once in the position I would make choices that benefit women overall (perhaps being more supportive of women in the field than the other options)? It’s impossible to be completely self-sacrificing, at least for me. I have goals. I aspire to things. I want to advance in my career.
These are not easy questions, and I know plenty of women (including my wife) who say I’m being silly and of course I should fight for the job I want, but at the same time, I know several of those women who think it’s bad form that men are running for the democratic nomination instead of working to select a woman nominee and then fighting to elect the first woman president. Maybe it’s because the stakes are lower in my world, but shouldn’t the same ideas apply?
As much as I want this particular job…perhaps I can sit comfortably and be happy if I lose the competition to a qualified woman. Maybe that’s the best way to handle it. Maybe that’s a win-win possibility. Maybe.