11 April 2006

'make friends and influence people'

so, it turns out that i spend a lot of time hanging out with boys. sorry, "men." a LOT. there are the boys with whom i work on game theory; the boys with whom i go to movies and hang out at bars; the boys with whom i cook and converse and brainstorm and whatnot.

this is odd. i am worried that it may also be unfeminist. no, strike that. i know it's unfeminist; the question is what i, personally, should do. after all, on the level of consciousness i know who i want to hang out with and who i am satisfied to 'just run into' once in a while. i need the friends that i have, and i'm not certain that i have the energy to develop new friendships with women i don't naturally seek out. but i'm aware that this sort of thinking is precisely the kind of free-riding that i often decry from 'pretty girls.' relatedly: academic friendships are not just friendships. they are mechanisms of information-gathering, opportunity-sharing, professional solidarity -- and they are vital to one's success in this institution.

my class is relatively evenly divided between men and women. my program is relatively evenly divided between men and women. but my second-level friend circle? not so evenly divided. this may have something to do with the fact that my first-level friend circle is almost entirely female. the people i call in the middle of the night are female. the people i call on a whim are female. the people i go to visit because i love them and miss them, you guessed it, female. does that mean that i've filled my female-togetherness quota and that the grad-school-friends inequity is just some sort of equilibration?

maybe a little. but truly, i think that what it really means is that academia -- the context in which all my second-level friendships take place -- pushes women apart from one another. not inevitably, and not overtly. but in lots of ways [that i am about to try and describe], my department and my discipline make 'only girl in the boys' club' the ultimate marker of success. in ways that men do not, women denigrate other women and their work. the support networks that are necessary to survival in grad school seem to develop between men and women; between men; and between women who are lucky enough to know each other in a non-departmental (i.e., only abstractly academic) way.

this sucks: if 'only girl in the boys' club' is somehow the thing to be, then girls' clubs lose their value and women continue indefinitely to constitute 1/n of The Successful.

i can imagine several mechanisms contributing to, and acting in concert with, this phenomenon. or rather, "these phenomena," because i'm relatively certain that [my grad school friend circle being predominantly male] and [the more general male-normed-ness of academia] aren't exactly the same. in no particular order:

1. elective affinity. two related forms: (1) women who choose graduate school are not women i prefer to hang out with. (2) women who choose grad school are women who are comfortable playing by the rules of the academic game. either or both of these leads to some sort of disconnect between me and many of the women i encounter here. we may share academic interests, but they don't want to sit on washing machines and explore the nature of friendship. they don't want to rock the boat if it means not getting a job. of course, all that is true of the men around here as well. [which leads to the even stranger question "what if i have different standards about friendship with males than about friendship with females?"

and, um... i am *also* a woman who chose grad school. not wanting to hang out with myself could probably lead to some serious Issues.

2. norm of machismo. it is not ok, in many academic settings, to worry aloud that you are getting screwed because the culture is mean instead of nice, or because the culture supports no balance in life. you are not supposed to want nice! you are not supposed to want balance! it is evident that 'rigorous' and 'masochistic' have become inextricably entwined in a lot of book-learnin'-type institutions -- and that the only acceptable way of dealing with that is to grin and bear it. the problem, of course, is that "nice" and "balance" are in many respects things that are associated with having been socialized as female. somehow, this does an excellent job of getting in the way of a lot of the topics over which women in academic settings might bond. (more so, perhaps, because many women are particularly vigilant about policing themselves for signs of [inherently girl-like] wussiness.)

3. male = meritorious. presently i am confronting the fact that it's easier for me to see the men around me as competent-and-cool. and of course, i want to be hanging out with competent cool people, people whose intellectual work is exciting and whose social worlds are intriguing. of course. but...the results are predictable, cf. the seemingly dubious academic status of many fields dominated by women and minorities.

4. networking matters. this is an easy one to explain: you want to be friends with men because men often know what's up. (you should totally go read megan's post.) obviously, it's seldom as cut and dried as "men know and women don't" or "nobody tells women," but i believe there's an aggregate-level argument to be made that, when men are the majority of power-holders in a given environment, it pays to be friends with them whether or not there is any overt, conscious or systematic exclusion going on.

5. fundamental attribution error. this goes to a more general problem with elite social scientists, and it has much more to do with politics as a "science" than with problems of gender. i state it this way: people who end up in the higher reaches of higher education often believe that they are The Shit, and that their success is due to their own merit rather than any privilege that might have accrued to them along the way. paralleling this sense of self is a particularly individualist idea about choice. the result is a politics, that while often nominally leftist, tends to say "i made it; why can't you?" to any and all claims about disadvantage that do not rest on overt acts of hindrance. all of which is to say: there's not a lot of room for movement feminism in positivist social science.

ok. i appear to have wandered fairly far afield from why-my-friends-are-boys. but there is some connection there, no?