Beki Grinter

Woman@GT: Reflecting on Identities

In academia, academic management, women on August 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Recently I received an invitation to join the Georgia Tech Faculty Women’s Club. Ultimately I have decided not to, but the process of thinking the decision though caused me to reflect a lot on the multiple identities that I manage, and on how perhaps Georgia Tech (and other places) might consider women, and in particular, their multiple identities.

When I first got interested in Computer Science, I was the sole woman (girl) in the classes I took. At that time, recruiting any other woman to join me through female focused outreach mattered to me. But in deciding what to do about the faculty wives club, I was forced into a very valuable reflection on what matters to me now.

The history of the Faculty Women’s club is that it started as an association for the wives of GT faculty, although more recently it has replace the wives with women as part of a shift in their recruiting. I think there is an important role for the group in supporting women who do move with their husband’s career (whether they work or not, it is an adjustment to a new place, and the club seems to provide an important outreach, a place to make friendships). Further they do a variety of really important philanthropic work for the campus, raising money to support students and so forth.

But, while I qualify for the GT Faculty Women’s Club, I find that it conflicts with an identity I am trying very hard to manage in an entirely different way. And it’s the part of my identity which is that I am also a Faculty wife, as part of a dual body hire. At  work (i.e. Georgia Tech), I believe that it is my responsibility as a dual body to ensure (to the best of my ability) that my colleagues feel that they have hired two individuals.I also want to be treated as an individual professional actor (and I am). There is one time when I want the duality to be considered, and that’s when it could be a conflict of interest (I haven’t encountered any others yet). My challenge with the GTFWC is that its history (and I think to some degree its current membership composition) collides with how I want to manage my workplace identity. I realized that I was not willing to join the club because it would be a workplace-based identification with a piece of my biography that I mostly want to keep out of the workplace!

And its not the only identity conflict I’ve seen. For example, when faculty women’s groups take up issues related to childcare they equate woman with mother. And there are important discussions for parents to have, like about access to resources for child raising as part of employment. But Fathers are parents too, and there are many more of them on campus than their are women.

In other words what I am saying is that “woman” is very broad category, too broad. And, OK, this is not terribly surprising, but why don’t I see an explosion of other sorts of groups promoting categories, like say parenthood? Why don’t we continue to focus more particularly on groups within a single category, like wives?

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