In the past, I've written disparaging comments about people who denigrate committees comprised entirely of women, as if the findings of a Committee of Women (COW) were somehow less valid and more biased than those of a committee comprised mostly or entirely of men. Well, maybe I'm a hypocrite, but I'm thinking of turning down an opportunity to be on a COW that is charged with improving the situation for women faculty at my university.
This COW seems to exist mostly so that administrators can say they are doing something about women's 'issues'. In the collective administrative mind of my university, women's 'issues' are things like childcare; for some reason, this is not an issue for male faculty, and requires a COW to come up with the finding, which is then ignored, that faculty (and staff and students) need more quality childcare. I have talked to some women on this committee, and been to one open meeting. Although I think the committee is not taken very seriously by the powers-that-be, the women are impressive, and I think that on a personal level it would be interesting to interact with them.
One reason to be on the COW would be to work to make the committee a more visible and major player in changing the academic culture of the university. I don't think I need to be convinced as to whether that is a realistic goal or not in terms of deciding if I want to be on this committee. The theoretical mission of the committee appeals to me.
Even so, when my department Chair said he wanted to nominate me for this committee, my initial reaction was negative. My department Chair and my department as a whole do not even think I am qualified to lead a department committee or be on a college-level committee that focuses on general issues, but they think I could probably handle a committee focused on women's issues. If I had a leadership position in my department, I think I would happily do both that and the COW. As it is, I'd be spending my time on something no one in my department values or respects. I know that I should set aside my intra-departmental grievances and focus on the larger issue of how I can be most effective (and happy), and not make decisions based on whether my more primitive colleagues will respect my choice of professional service activities.
9 months ago