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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Linguistics?

I read this piece in the NYTs last week about sexual harassment of women in various of the sciences.  I've always liked to think that linguistics was a bit of an exception in this regard, but I may have an obvious gender blind spot. So I thought I'd post and ask: how is linguistics as a filed doing with regard to the treatment of women in the field? And if we are not doing particularly well, or not well enough, what can we do about it?

5 comments:

  1. I think there might be a certain amount of 'microaggresion' (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life) floating around. Evidence: I once suggested to a female colleague that about the only aspect of personal appearance suitable for comment was a change in hair color (since this is a sort of dramatic statement ... no clear reason to pretend not to notice it), & she agreed with this very enthusiastically and said something along the lines of "why can't other people figure this out!!??" suggesting to me that unwanted 'complements' were not entirely foreign to her experience.

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  2. I suspect that the field-type harassment the anthropologists have been talking about is less in linguistics, if only because linguists tend to do individual fieldwork rather than group trips. But the other stuff is there, just like elsewhere in universities, particularly the micro-invalidations (from Avery's link) - e.g. using "Mrs" or "Ms" rather than "Dr" or "Prof", commenting on looks, commenting on age ("oh you look so young" reinforcing "you don't look as qualified as you are"), etc. Another common one is making a suggestion, having it ignored, and 5 mins later a man making the same suggestion to great approbation. Underrepresentation on invited panels and as plenary speakers. Assumptions about ability, particularly quantitative ability (for example, every so often I get emails from male linguists pointing out that a database allows you to do neat stuff with statistics and they can take my data and analyze it for me. As if I'd spent 8 years compiling data without any analyses in mind.) And a fair amount of minor harassment (colleagues and students talking to your chest rather than your face, for example...) I suspect that it's not as bad as in some of the sciences, based on talking to colleagues in biology about this. But much of this sort of microinvalidation comes down to socialised behaviors and linguists are by no means immune from that.

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  3. The historical data on SALT invited speakers are worth linking to in connection with the issue of representation by gender at major conferences. There are more men than women on the list (61 to 42), but women are well-represented in the small group of people with three or more invited talks (tab: Speakers). In recent years, the trend is to prevent further imbalance or correct the past imbalance by having at least as many women as men on the invited speaker list.

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  4. having hung out in a lot of linguistics, psychology, and cogsci department, I'd say these issues are alive and well in all of these fields, in every single department I've been in, and not just as microaggressions but as honest-to-goodness sexual harassment on various levels. Just ask any of your students and they'll know about the "creepy *high powered* professor" in department X who tried to (or succeeded in) crossing the line with young women. What can we do about it? Well, having better female representation is certainly a good start but making sure that more senior department members (male and female) call out their inappropriate colleagues, and create a safe space for young women to voice their concerns, is key. On a lighter note, http://www.buzzfeed.com/keithhabersberger/what-men-are-really-saying-when-catcalling-women

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  5. This observation is not completely on topic, but I always found it interesting how typical gender biases are reflected in some linguistics subfields, but not all of them. For instance, mathematical and computational linguistics are huge sausage fests, while formal semantics has a fairly good representation of females (as Chris points out) despite being pretty mathy.

    This might be a function of the fields academic composition: mathling is dominated by researchers in math and CS departments, which have a very low percentage of women, whereas semantics is dominated by linguists nowadays rather than philosophers. But even the linguists in mathling are overwhelmingly male, so... what's up with that? Is the scarcity of prominent female researchers in the field discouraging other women?

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