Television’s day may be waning, but it served me well in the late 1990s – both generating attention to issues I cared about, and enhancing my status among the students I taught.
Hired to teach writing and presentation skills to recalcitrant turf management and accounting students (who had chosen their career paths in part so they could avoid having to write and speak), I had to work overtime to convince them that the skills were valuable. They were skeptical and frequently unmotivated.
But one day I entered the classroom to an excited chorus of “Ms. Graydon, we saw you on TV!” Suddenly I had new cred.
I was still serving as the President of Media Action (then called MediaWatch), Informed Opinions’ parent organization. And occasionally I’d give media interviews on some aspect of the portrayal and representation of women in the media. Such appearances elevated me considerably in the eyes of my students, counting for much more than my graduate degree, corporate experience or list of speaking engagements.
I was reminded of this today reading a blog post by former tenure-track prof, Julie Clarenbach, who writes about some of the challenges that female scholars still face.
Because academia relies on a narrative of merit, there is often a cultural assumption that academia is an equal playing field. And because of this, lots of smart, talented women have blamed themselves for the ways the system has undermined and devalued them.
She then lists a number of tendencies and conditions that contribute to women feeling unequal in universities, including the observation that
Women have a more difficult time projecting and owning authority in the classroom.
I don’t know if this is, in fact, true (never having taught as a male, I didn’t have a basis of comparison), but I do know that media exposure definitely enhanced my authority with my students. The implied endorsement by a source that also delivered MTV, hockey games and their favourite sit com was pretty powerful.
Giving media interviews or writing op eds (that sometimes lead to media interviews) won’t address all of the barriers that Clarenbach cites on her blog, but such activities don’t hurt. (In fact, I sometimes joke that I owe the past 20 years of a varied and interesting career to the profile I’ve gained as a result of commentary writing and the exposure it inspired.)
Something to think about…