You know that woman. That woman who doesn't like other women. That woman who claims that she'd rather work for a man than deal with the supposedly high-maintenance emotional work required of a female boss. Just last year, an informal poll of ForbesWomen's Facebook group confirmed what the latest Gallup data had revealed; women - more so than their male counterparts - prefer men in leadership.
This phenomenon has implications beyond the professional world. It is noticeable in the church but perhaps especially in the academy where mentorship plays a pivotal role in the training of young Christian minds. According to the ethnographic data from Living on the Boundaries: Evangelical Women, Feminism, and the Theological Academy (InterVarsity Press, 2005), most women identified male professors as their most significant mentors. Female role models continue to be inaccessible or scarce.
The non-conformist in me works hard to go against the grain of what collective statistics and experience prescribe. I was determined to find a female faculty member to work with who would be riveted by my interest in Christian feminism, who would gush over my brilliant intellect, and who would invite me over for dinner and a glass of wine, followed by an artsy documentary on the couch.
I tried. I promise. The first female professor I attempted to connect with had to reschedule our first meeting - and then didn't get back to me until three months later. The next one referred me to her office-hour schedule. Two weeks later and a whirlwind thirty minute time slot and I still I felt more disconnected than ever. Another with whom I wanted to work on my thesis over the next year asked me to wait until she returned to campus in the fall before even beginning a real conversation.
Perhaps this was just the rigamarole of a larger university. My liberal arts education had lulled me into the belief that real, live academic adults wanted to spend time with me, a simultaneously over-confident yet under-prepared young adult.
My experience was beginning to fit the collective pattern. Women in the theological academy were too scattered, too busy, too inaccessible to get to know me. And ironically, every man I emailed to meet wrote back within an hour.
It's not that I was without female mentors all together; The founder of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South proved to be one of my best allies, as did her fellow board member and my spiritual formation guide. A couple of local female authors who hired me for publicity consultation became some of my biggest cheerleaders
However, I was struck that the majority of women who offered me their time were without children in the home. Questions haunt me; are female leaders and professors juggling the infamous "second shift" at home and thus more limited at work? Are the boundaries they set between their personal and professional lives a wise safeguard or a savvy survival tactic? Are the pressures they experience both self-imposed and institutionally-enforced? Or are women academics ages 35-55 just plain harder to connect with their male counterparts?
I love my "men"tors. But I'd like to give a few female faculty a stab at my impressionable mind.
I'll even babysit.