Female prof on top


After 10 years in my professional field, I returned to a major Research University to complete a PhD. At the time, my children were quite young – ages 3 and 4. The professor who interviewed me as part of the admission process said “Well, this is a VERY challenging program. Who will take care of your children? Don’t they need you at home with them?”

I assured him that their FATHER was the stay-at-home parent, all the time thinking “Isn’t this illegal?!?”

18 years later, he is STILL an Associate (mid-level) Professor, on his third marriage, and I hold the rank of tenured Full Professor and am a Dean at a comparable research University in another state.

Oh, and my kids are JUST FINE.




33 Responses to “Female prof on top”

  1. Sig Says:

    That’s great and very encouraging! (Submitting my thesis next week…)

  2. Phil Says:

    This isn’t sexist.

    He knew you had young kids, and simply raised his concerns that your family and professional life might clash. This is a perfectly legitimate question to ask any (relatively) new parent upon commencing a challenging post, irrespective of gender. It is arguable that he was raising concerns that (a) you would be unhappy in your position from lack of contact with your children and (b) he would lose you from his staff if you changed your mind later.

    If I were recruiting for a new PhD student/postdoc for a very time consuming program and I knew they had very young children, this is something I would definitely bring up, whether it was a new father or a new mother; time with your children is important and I would want to make sure the candidate understood that they would be losing that.

    What this story actually does is say more about your own insecurities, which is further evidenced by the end of your story with your bitter gloating over this man’s eventual life choices.

    • Cat Says:

      Phil: Some reading for you – http://www.derailingfordummies.com/#sensitive. You’re welcome.

    • Sally Says:

      “This is a perfectly legitimate question to ask any (relatively) new parent upon commencing a challenging post, irrespective of gender. ”

      Except that, in the UK at least, it’s against the law. Which undermines its legitimacy as an interview question just a smidge, don’t you think?

      And actually, ‘Don’t your children need you at home?’ goes a little bit beyond warning of the demands of the programme and strays quite a long way into gender stereotyping. I cannot imagine a situation where this would be suggested to a father.

  3. Ayla Says:

    Interesting, Phil. So you must have known this professor and talked to him in detail about this interview. Otherwise you would have NO WAY to know whether his question was sexist or not. Certainly you would not have a better idea of whether it was sexist than someone who was, you know, ACTUALLY THERE at the interview. Oh, and in fact, WAS the one who was interviewed.

    YOU as a man do NOT get to decide what is and isn’t sexist towards a woman. See how that works?

  4. ProfKris Says:

    Phil, do you actually know any men who have been asked questions about their personal lives in a job interview? I don’t.

    However, I’ve been asked that question, though in a more subtle manner. Incidentally, the last time I looked, I was female.

    And, I would also assume that the “bitter gloating” you refer to would be “justifiable payback” if the speaker had been male.

    Actually, as a Ph.D. and a dean who hires faculty, I assume that someone who has the intelligence and the motivation to complete a Ph.D. has the intelligence and motivation to make their own decisions about their personal life, as well as the intelligence and motivation to figure out how to balance their personal and professional obligations.

    Further, if I had an applicant that I thought competent enough to bring in for an interview, I would not want to insult that person and run the risk of not being able to hire them.

    PP — in the US, that question would probably be illegal in an employment setting; if women are asked that type of question and men are not, it falls under the category of “disparate treatment,” illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). I don’t know about other jurisdictions.

  5. Kate Says:

    “This is a perfectly legitimate question to ask any (relatively) new parent upon commencing a challenging post, irrespective of gender.”

    Except that men do not get asked that question. It is assumed there is a woman at home to look after the kids.

    It’s also not a legitimate question. What’s the right answer to you? If it was a single woman who said her child would be in day care would she get the job? Would you not hire any parents then? Do you even believe in shared parenting? Because believe it or not there are many parents out there (women too! Shock horror!) who work as well as parent their children.

    I totally agree with Ayla – And I think YOUR insecurities are showing because you don’t want to believe this happens ALL THE TIME. I’ve been asked numerous times during job interviews just ‘who’ will look after my children. My husband has NEVER been asked.

  6. Beany Says:

    Phil, that is a question that would never… never EVER be asked of a man applying for a similar position. Or any position. And there is a massive difference between simply wanting to convey how demanding a program is (so that the applicant can use that information to make an informed decision) and asking “don’t your children need you at home?”

  7. DUH Says:

    I am a woman that agrees with Phil. It’s completely reasonable to inquire about your grad students if they have small kids, and I think appropriate to do so. He was looking out for his livelihood as well as looking out for the OP as a young mom. There’s nothing discriminatory about that. In fact, I wish more people would stop pussyfooting around stuff like this and ask “will this affect your position here?”

    And Ayla, nothing in Phil’s comment implied that he works for the company/school/whatever. You’re being irrational.

    • CAM Says:

      You do realise it’s discrimination to not hire someone based on gender right? And you’re not hiring someone based on gender if you don’t hire a woman because you’re worried her kids might get in the way. And you only think kids get in the way for WOMEN. And not men.

    • ggg_girl Says:

      it’s illegal to ask during an interview

    • Ayla Says:

      I’M being irrational?!


      OK, read my comment again and you will see that I didn’t say that. I was making the exact point that he WASN’T there and therefore COULD NOT know. I know he didn’t mean to imply that he worked there or anything. Which is exactly why he’s an idiot.

      And YOU are defending him.


      HAHAHAHAHA! Have fun being a handmaiden of the patriarchy.

  8. Chitra Nagarajan Says:

    Phil, that question is not only never asked of men, but is also illegal under employment law here. Just a piece of advice – never ask it in a job interview.

  9. Phil Says:

    OK, wow – a lot of responses in a short time. I’ll do my best to answer them (without descending into vitriolic personal attacks).

    The issue here isn’t whether the question is legal. The blog is called ‘My Fault I’m Female’. The claim of the post is that the question unfairly discriminated against the candidate because she is a woman. And this is the point I disagree with.


    Thanks for your blanket accusation of discrimination. That’s been very helpful to me.


    I agree, it undermines its legitimacy from a legal basis. And some may argue that it is discriminatory (I don’t personally think so, but I can understand the other viewpoint). But it doesn’t show sexual discrimination.


    Of course I don’t know him. And I don’t know exactly what he was thinking when he made said remarks, to claim otherwise would be unjust. But this is exactly what the OP is doing when she is accusing him of sexism. She is making inferences as to his intentions toward the area of sexual discrimination.

    I am going on what I heard from the OP about the interview, and making my decisions based on that. If she had said that the interviewer rejected her from the position because she felt that women should be at the home, you would find no argument from me that he was being sexist. I’m saying, based on what I heard from her about the interview, he wasn’t being sexist. At the very most he was being discriminatory toward parents and at the very least careless in his interview technique.

    And I find it interesting that you think hat I, as a man, cannot comment on the issue of sexism? I think you’ll find that that comment, unlike the original story, is definitely sexist.


    I do. Because I have had them. Before heading to university, I interviewed or a standard retail job. I was asked about my commitment to the job given my imminent university placement. The PhD I am currently studying for requires a lot of traveling for experiments; when I applied my supervisor informed me of this and checked it with me.

    I think you’re confusing questions about one’s personal life, and questions about the job relating to one’s personal life.

    “Are you gay?” is an example of an unacceptable question.

    “The job is in Scotland and requires you to live there 3 days a week, will this cause a problem for you?” isn’t an unacceptable question.

    You make evidence for sexual discrimination based on anecdotal evidence that you’re female, you’ve been asked these questions and then assume that men do not. I assure you that men are asked personal questions, context dependent.


    Same thing I said to ProfKris. You don’t know that men aren’t asked this question, and is presumptuous to assume as much.


    Same again. However, I agree with you on this point that the ‘don’t the children need you at home?’ is an unfortunate phrasing, as it implies that he knows better than she does about the care of the children. But there isn’t anything sexist about it.


    Thank you for your support. I see some of the stories on this blog and I am disgusted by the level of sexism displayed in them. But I get equally angry at people attempting to label others as sexist when there isn’t any evidence for it.

    The OP can respond to the question with: “no, no – my children are fine. Their father is more than capable of taking care of them. I am fully committed to this research”. The issue is then closed. If he then pursued the matter and/or rejected you, then that is definitely discriminatory. But still not sexist.


    Your comment isn’t helpful. You’re making blanket assumptions about the gender being an issue is something I rebutted in my first post.

    Ayla (again):

    I’m an idiot, eh? Thanks. Ironic that you feel you can make such assertions about me based on my lack of personal experience of the encounter in question when you are doing exactly the same thing in supporting the OP in her assertions.


    Yes, I am aware that it is illegal. And I disagree with the fact it’s never asked of men. Evidence for this?

    In summary, the important point is there is a clear distinction between discrimination and sexual discrimination. All kinds of discrimination are bad, but it’s important to make a distinction. As far as I understand it, this blog serves to highlight sexism in society and make people aware of it. It is not going to help matters by trying to pass off other incidents as issues arising from gender.

    I think we can all agree that the man interviewing the OP could, with some creative interpretation, be understood to be expressing some levels of discrimination towards her as a mother. But it’s not immediately apparent that he is being sexist.

    If the OP cares to supplement her story with direct references to her being discriminated against as a women, I will immediately agree that the man is sexist. But from what I currently read, he shows no evidence of being so.

    • Kerry Says:

      You’re like king of the mansplainers aren’t you Phil? Telling all the little ladies on this blog what is sexist and what isn’t sexist because YOU KNOW BETTER. You are proof positive of everyday sexism. You are reasons why sites like this exist for women. There will always be men like you out there who will take their time to tell women that they’re being silly and what they experienced wasn’t really sexism.

      Thanks for being such a big man and telling us all how we should feel about every post on this blog.

      • Telemarketer Says:

        Wow, really? From what I’ve read, he seems to understand sexism just as well as most of the intelligent females on the board. Sure he’s pretty damn blunt (maybe thats a little annoying) but I wouldn’t even think of him as some kind of “He-man” or misogynist you make him out to be.

        As a female, and a fan of logic, I can see that he’s basically just pointing out that not every bad thing that happens to a female (cause bad shit happens to everyone, regardless of gender, race, species what have you) is an effect of said status.

        I would rather see sexism seen as it really is(as I feel Phil would), instead of deeming every bad interaction with a male as sexist. Thats just not fair to males(some, not all) that they’re the subject to what is illogically regarded as sexual discrimination. In turn, that becomes sexual discrimination.

        For example: A man cuts a woman in line. Is he sexist because its “your fault you’re female”? Or is it possible he’s just a Mr. Bungle that acts on his own discord, regardless of status.

      • The Heff Says:

        To be fair to Phil on this one (though I don’t always agree with him), I wouldn’t call it mansplaining. I see this kind of point by point pedantry in discussion topics all the time, regardless of gender.

      • Trix Says:

        @The Heff – I’m afraid that most people consider some bloke very patronisingly trying to tell the laydeez what sexism is and is not the very epitome of mansplaining.

        Bloke + patronising explaining something at great pedantic length + to people who will actually know a hell of a lot better about the subject at hand = mansplaining

    • Ayla Says:

      I’m so glad I’m not as irrational and bigoted as you. I really couldn’t stand to make such a fool of myself.

      You don’t get it and obviously are incapable of getting it. No biggie to me, most people are.

  10. CH Says:

    No I completely disagree.

    Phil, I think you lack an understanding of why suck laws were created. Women fought tooth and nail for laws that protected them from questions about children and marital status PRECISELY because WOMEN were asked such questions and then this excuse was used to keep women out of higher level job titles and education. Most likely, this was a continuance of that tradition.

    But you also say “this is not sexist,” not “this might not be sexist” or “I don’t know” any indication that your unsure of what this professor was thinking. That is why we are angry (at least partially). In this statement you assume to know his state of mind. You automatically defended him when his behavior was at the bare minimum left you to question if sexism was present here.

    Also, according to sociological theory (from which the ideas of racism, sexism and homophobia etc arise) a woman cannot BE sexist towards men. Sexism is generally understood as actions and attitudes leading to the oppression of another gender, therefore only those with more power and influence in society can actually be sexist, just as only whites can be racist, and only heterosexuals can be homophobic. Check out “Rigging the game: How social inequality is reproduced in everyday life” if you really want to understand these ideas.

    • DMV Says:

      “Also, according to sociological theory (from which the ideas of racism, sexism and homophobia etc arise) a woman cannot BE sexist towards men. Sexism is generally understood as actions and attitudes leading to the oppression of another gender, therefore only those with more power and influence in society can actually be sexist, just as only whites can be racist, and only heterosexuals can be homophobic. Check out “Rigging the game: How social inequality is reproduced in everyday life” if you really want to understand these ideas.”

      I’m really tired right now, and this paragraph confused the hell out of me.
      Let me try to make a scenario from the information in this paragraph: Suppose 10 african american’s, homosexuals, or females decided to go on a killing spree of only white males, this theory suggests this wouldn’t be classified as a hate crime? Maybe this paragraph hurt a little close to the heart, but MFIWM

    • The Heff Says:

      I think that’s like saying black people can’t be racist.

    • Matt G. Says:

      “a woman cannot BE sexist towards men.”

      You, in so few words, just disproved your own point (assuming you’re a woman). Men can indeed be the victim of sexism. Granted, it’s probably not nearly as common an occurrence as women being the victim of sexism, but it can and does happen, as in your statement that because I have a penis, I can’t be the victim of sexism.

      Come on now. All humans are created equal, right?

    • Pevans Says:

      What you’re discussing is not what “sociological theory” says about sexism and it is both dishonest and vapid to claim otherwise. It’s actually an extension of Critical Race Theory which got its start in Law schools.

      Furthermore, Power is a fluid enterprise. It’s scope and spread changes from interaction to interaction. There are no theories (zilch) which state that an oppressed minority class can not enter a situation in which they become oppressor, even over someone who would normally be in a superior position under more normal circumstances.

      Also, you’re angry at Phil because you’re a reactionary into identity politics; it has nothing to do with the fact that his phrasing didn’t give his position enough wiggle room for minute details like frame of mind that are impossible for anyone here to know and therefor inconsequential to the discussion at hand.


    • CH Says:

      @ Pevans I’m sure its part of political theory. Having spent four years studying this, I can promise its in some texts, particularly ones on inequality as I cited above. The theory I learned about was called social reproduction theory. The idea is that sexism/racism whatever, are actually actions that create definitions of how certain people should be treated, and these definitions are only created by those with more power. But your completely right about what you said in the second paragraph about the fluidity of power, my mistake. In my defense, I didn’t think that applied in this situation.

      @ Everyone else According to this line of thinking I brought up, reverse racism/sexism is referred to “oppositional culture” which includes violent actions towards the oppressor in ways that are unproductive to dismantling inequality. I would say Blacks who are “racist” and the mass murder scenario described above would be part of this. However, I did not mean to imply this is ANYTHING BUT HORRIBLE, and I am sorry for ever giving that impression.

      @ Matt G. I don’t think this is a case of all people being created equal, but all people being treated equal. The reason I was really interested in this theory is because its used as a defense of affirmative action, because white men couldn’t claim that allowing people of color into institutions ahead of this was “racist,” because it was not oppressing whites it was making it more equal. But I did not mean to imply that men can’t be victimized, but that unless the woman has significantly more power than the men around her and has created an environment to keep it that way (which is rare) it wouldn’t constitute sexism itself.

      But I SERIOUSLY sincerely apologize for bringing this up in my comment,
      particularly because I did not mean to minimize anyone’s experience of being victimized and also because it distracted from what I thought was the more important argument (that this is a situation where sexism is applicable). I didn’t mean to belittle discriminatory treatment towards ANYONE, and I truly believe every human being deserves respect.

  11. Dude Says:

    Congratulations on a hugely successful career and successfully raising a family. Life +1

  12. Phil Says:

    Telemarketer: Thank you. This is pretty much what I’m trying to convey. I apologise for being blunt.

    I despise sexism and prejudice in all shapes and forms. That that includes prejudice against an entire gender based on the actions of one individual. I assume, given the title and aim of this blog, that all stories posted here are attempting to provide evidence for ‘continued sexism in our society’.

    I find that most stories on this blog don’t really show evidence for this (in my opinion, let me stress). What most DO show, however, is clear sexism present in many members, case by case, of said society. But I don’t mind these so much; any kind of sexism is worth bringing up and criticising.

    The posts that really get my goat and press me to comment are the ones where there is no clear evidence of sexism at all. In making the claim that this is evidence to demonise the whole social behaviour of the male gender is somewhat insulting.

    My personal experience is that stories like this do not give credibility to the cause of contemporary feminists; they only reinforce the opinions and prejudices of sexists who claim that you aren’t highlighting sexism, just having a whinge. Which I find a real shame because there are cases of real discrimination occurring that need to be highlighted.

    I know people are going to be once again going to ignore what I say and claiming I’m ‘mansplaining’ (a very patronising and sexist term if ever I’ve heard one), but this is a point I really think is worth making.

    And yes, I am being pedantic. But when I get called up on something I like to give a fair and detailed reply to explain my reasoning. If at any point I am shown to be wrong or have a poor foundation, I will be the first to admit it.

    Ayla: Once again, you’re resorting to childish insults. Bigotry is a strong word, you shouldn’t throw it around so carelessly. This kind of attitude is undermining your goals in exactly the way I’m talking about; while I might have been a bit rude and brash (I apologise, tone is so hard to convey in text), I don’t think I’ve been bigoted. I’ve tried to be calm and reasonable.

    By calling someone a bigot who clearly isn’t a bigot, you lose all kind of intellectual credibility.

    Kerry: I hope you appreciate the irony of your extremely sexist comments.

    CH: Thanks for the response. I understand your point (although I disagree with the fact that sexism can only be experienced by women. The very definition of the word shows otherwise, and even from a very creative perspective your assertion would be hard to justify), but as I said before, the legality of the issue is an irrelevance to me in this context.

    You’ll get no argument from me that the question was illegal; you’re absolutely right in that the reason these laws exist is so that people cannot be asked questions that can be discriminatory. But that doesn’t mean that all illegal questions are as such. My point is that even though this question shouldn’t have been asked, it didn’t discriminate against her as a woman, only as a mother.

    And I take on board your point about my language. I will try to phrase things better from now on. ‘I don’t think this is sexist’ is what I meant. And again, you’re right – he might have been a sexist! But I don’t know… and neither do you. That’s the point. I am defending him from an outsider’s point of view. I very much believe people are innocent until proven guilty, and the question by itself definitely is not sexist.

    • CH Says:

      I appreciated your response. I agree with the idea that any negative incident a woman experienced isn’t necessarily sexism and shouldn’t be labeled as such, because it does take away from feminism, and I understand your concern. HOWEVER, I would say that you are a little too rigid in your ideas of sexism, and it is certainly more pervasive than you suggest in your comments. I have come across only one post that I didn’t believe to be sexist.

      In this case, I think this is sexist. I believe she was treated this way because she was a woman, and more specifically because she was a mother. Obviously if you are a mother, you are also a woman; just as when you are a lesbian you are a woman, you can be Black and be a woman. This question is specifically posed to this woman not because she is a parent, but because she is a mother, and mothers are expected to stay home and care for their children while fathers are supposed to be out bringing home the bacon. When men want a promotion or higher education, its seen as being a good parent by being a good provider, but when women want the same its seen as being less of a parent.This has been a constant struggle for women, with the media pitting stay-at-home moms v working moms in battles for the title of who is the best mom. This is a classic case of this battle. By asking “don’t your children need you at home?” suggests sexism. By saying you at home, he implies that any other choice will be dangerous for her children (as she isn’t fulfilling their needs) if they aren’t at home (daycare).

      Also, when I say this is why it became illegal, I am not simply saying this is sexist because its illegal. I was using this as evidence, this is a tactic that was (and is) asked more often of women than of men, dismissing the idea that this is asked equally of men and women.

    • Ayla Says:

      You don’t even know what the words I use actually mean, so I can no longer speak to you.

      Please come back when you have a dictionary.

  13. Dude Says:

    Damn it! Who’s been feeding the troll?

  14. LM Says:

    I think a lot of people embroiled in this discussion are failing to address the condescending “Well, this is a VERY challenging program” comment, which makes it seem like the interviewee may not be competent or serious about her work. But if the person were interviewed in the first place, she would have met minimum qualifications. The subtle dig at her choice to have a career and family is something I agree is sexist, because these things are expected to give men fulfilling lives, but many people see them as presenting too much of a challenge for women.

    I have noticed that, during the campus interview process for professor jobs, I often get subtle attempts to figure out my personal life, whether I am married, kids, etc. Questions like “Most of the single people live in the city but most of the families live in the suburbs: what part of town do you think you’ll live in?” might as well be “are you married or do you have children?” even though they seem well-intentioned on the surface.

    There are so many other ways to learn about a candidate during an interview that this kind of probing isn’t necessary. If you want to know if a person is serious and organized, talk about that, not the person’s family status. If you want to get to know a person, talk about harmless things like hobbies, restaurants, and travel. Women are not defined by their children and marital status.

  15. A Different Sam Says:

    Phil, as a fellow troll, I must commend your trolling ability, but an anti-sexism blog really isn’t the best place to use it. After all, annoying people simply for opposing sexism is supporting sexism. Don’t you have standards? We must use our trolling powers for good, not for evil.

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