Enough is enough

One of the first things my (former) chair said to me when I started my tenure track job was to protect my research time. “Just do the basic service necessary. Review manuscripts, be panel discussants, the usual,” he advised. And, for years, that’s what I did. Post-tenure women are still advised to say no. While we excel at service, it is to the detriment of our research. And while it is important for us to increase our service post-tenure (in tune with our department and college/university expectations), research-focused schools do not reward service with promotions. However, how can you balance these guidelines with the impulse to get involved in this post-election period? I was in a meeting last week for one of my service projects (helping to start up the new Women’s Resource Center on my campus) and I found myself starting to apologize for not being involved in one of the new multi-generational feminist groups that started in the fall. I mean, when it started, I was on parental leave and then the meeting time didn’t mesh with my kids’ daycare pickup, and… I’m sorry.

I found myself apologizing to others for making the decision not to march in January. Two of my very good (local) friends were going, my university was sponsoring a bus to DC, and a few of my (non-local) friends were meeting up to spend the weekend together. Plus… it was my spouse’s birthday. It wasn’t a milestone birthday, but I didn’t want to be out of town without him that weekend. I confessed to one of my friends that I met through a campus women’s group that I was worried that people were judging me for not going to the march. I felt a lot better when she said that she struggled with the decision too. Crowds aren’t her thing (they aren’t mine either) and not going to DC didn’t mean that she (or I) had any less of an effect on the political process.

About a month later, I got a Facebook invite to attend an organizational meeting of a local NOW chapter that some colleagues and acquaintances had helped to initiate. This was exciting! This was activism at its finest! This was… not going to fit into my calendar at all. My weekends are reserved for my family (as are most evenings). I know that there are plenty of other women who are involved in this type of activism that have partners and kids and aging parents but… they aren’t me. The first NOW meeting passed with me feeling an immense sense of guilt. I convinced myself that I would make it to the next one.

I have a friend who is doing some local organizing to help find a challenger to run against her local congressman, all while raising two kids, teaching music lessons, and being a member in her local orchestra. The women who organized the local chapter of NOW are all professional women who have partners and kids and careers. The women who marched in DC are from all different backgrounds and ages and locales and they found time to march. Are all these people more dedicated than I am? Am I being lazy?

rest not quit

As I found myself apologizing at that meeting last week, I quickly stopped myself before the words “I’m sorry” ever made it out of my mouth. I do enough. I can’t be everything to everyone. I am involved in a number of women’s groups already, albeit concentrated in my campus service and my service to the discipline. I like that service. To me (and to others), it’s service that matters. And yet, I feel guilt for not doing more, especially in this political climate. However, what more women need to realize is that we do enough already. There is plenty of evidence for that.Those of us who struggle or feel guilt about not doing enough are probably doing more than others already… and I guarantee that we are making a difference to someone. And, while it rests on our shoulders to protect our rights and the rights of other underrepresented groups (because we have seen time and again that we can’t leave it to others to do the work for us), a division of labor is necessary to avoid burnout.


Going through the motions

Since learning about Will Moore‘s death, I’ve been going through the motions. It’s odd because I wasn’t particularly close to Will. We were at Florida State at the same time in the early 2000s, where he was a professor and I was a PhD student. He taught my research design course in Fall 2001, which was my very first graduate class. Will was interested in pushing students to be the best they could be. I wish, that as a 21 year old graduate student, I had been able to recognize what he was doing. Instead, he intimidated the crap out of me. He called me into his office after class one day to encourage me to contribute more. I remember him telling me that my male counterparts were just blowing hot air (I think he actually said that they like to hear the sounds of their own voices) and that he knew I had something more to add than what was already being said. It made me speak up more, but my horrible imposter syndrome made me shrink back from any mentoring by Will. Clearly, he was a fantastic mentor to many of my contemporaries at Florida State and beyond. But, Florida State being what it was/is, we were truly a community of scholars. While I never took another class with Will, he was at every one of my practice conference presentations and job talks. The faculty at Florida State set the bar high for having a supportive community of scholars in the workplace. I still haven’t found a place that comes close to that level of community since I left Tallahassee ten and a half years ago.

And yet, I find myself grieving. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. Cullen Hendrix’s recent post and Christian Davenport’s blog post summarizes a lot of why I am feeling this way. It’s fantastic that we’re having these conversations about mental health in academia, especially in political science, but how long will these conversations go on? Will they just be conversations? Will they lead to action? How long until we just go back to the same old, same old?

I’ve had a lot of regrets, a lot of things I wish I could do again: I wish I had travelled more while I was in grad school. I wish I had gone to more happy hours. I wish that I didn’t question myself at every turn. I wish that I knew how to relax and enjoy myself with my contemporaries. I know now that a lot of what held me back was depression and anxiety. Sometimes we call it imposter syndrome, but, as time has gone on, I realize that it’s my anxiety manifesting itself into some succinct “acceptable” term we use in academia. It’s that little voice that makes you wonder if you’re ever going to be found out, if you’re not as smart as others in the room, if you’re researching the right thing.


(Tien Frogget, 2015)


I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’ve experienced things that have reinforced what I see through my anxiety . For instance, a short interview at APSA while I was on the market played out like this: two senior men, very well known in the discipline, looking through me to see what else was going on in the room while I was answering their questions. (My anxiety says “They only agreed to this short interview because of who you know and who is on your committee. You’re not good enough to end up at University of X.”) Or the number of times I’ve been at conferences talking to friends who then introduce me to their friends, only for them to look at my name tag, see my large state school under my name, and then continue a conversation like I am not there. (My anxiety says “You aren’t worth knowing since you work at a large state school that is better known for its football team than its academic rigor.”) Or a conference discussant giving you advice in a “break you down to build you up” sort of way… or not giving comments to you at all because they felt another paper was that much more important. (My anxiety says “Your paper was crap. Throw it out. It will never be published. Don’t even try.”)

Maybe I need a thicker skin, which is the advice that many people have given to me over the years. Maybe academia isn’t for me. Except, I know that isn’t the solution either, as I truly love what I do. Or maybe, just maybe, there are more of us that have these feelings than not. On the flip side of the posturing that goes on at conferences, there is also an opportunity to find a space for yourself. After a very tumultuous time in my career, I began searching out new opportunities at ISA. I remember going to panels sponsored by the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section where they discussed “circles of niceness” and “academic assholery”. This clicked for me. I don’t want to be an asshole. Assholes make me crawl deep into my shell. I give criticism, but in a constructive way. Particularly, because I want people to succeed. I want to value people for what they bring to the discipline, because we are not cookie cutter academics. I want to value people and their work, not based on what school they are at, their pedigree, or where they publish, but because we excel at different things and we bring a different perspective to these topics. I also want people to know that they are not alone in these feelings.

The unfortunate truth is that those who need to check their privilege (and/or academic jerk status) are probably never going to read this post. Or, if they do, they’ll write it off to me being bitter or sad that I am [insert whatever insult here]. I’ve been a part of a number of discussions over the past few years about changing our professional culture, and the truth is that change can only come when we start convincing those in power positions that change can benefit them too. And, why would they? Like Cullen said, as long as we continue to reward those behaviors that allow this culture to dominate, there is no incentive to change.

Last month, in Baltimore, I had organized a panel on self-care that, because of a few mix-ups, had been left off the original ISA program. I pushed back and, luckily, the program chair was able to find a spot for us albeit at 8AM on Saturday morning. Four people were on the panel (due to the scheduling mix-up, some others had to step down to present their substantive research) and two people in the audience. Two. And, honestly, it was one of the best conversations I’ve had at an ISA because it was a space for us to know we weren’t alone in our struggles in the discipline, whether it was due to stress, anxiety, departmental cultures, or chronic illnesses. I don’t say this to self-promote, but for others to realize that there are those of us who have been working towards changing our professional culture prior to Will’s untimely death. And we will continue to do so. Please join us in our efforts so this conversation does not become a soft hum once again.