Boys Don’t Cry (or at least the shouldn’t when they are interviewing you for a job) by Natalie Weaver

Natalie Weaver

I want to begin by saying that I am grateful for my work.  It is no small thing to have a relatively secure academic position, especially in a climate when tenured and full-time appointments represent a disgracefully small percentage of all teaching positions throughout the country.  Nevertheless, a certain degree of professional movement is welcome for the purposes of growth and renewal if and when opportunity arises.  It is on this basis that I have been receptive on a few occasions to apply for appointments at the invitation of search committee chairpersons.  When I have been solicited for an application, I have in turn applied.

It is a curious thing because when you are contacted out of the blue you think something like… “ah, they must like me… they must know something about my work.”  And, it is true that on the occasions when I was asked to apply for something, I was invited to come in for an interview.  This furthers, of course, thoughts like… “great, this is going somewhere.”  And, in my case anyway, I start thinking about and even planning in a tentative way for what a move would constitute, the logistics of change, the impact on my family, the disruption of my current obligations, and so on.  Showing up for an academic interview midcareer involves much more than preparing a research presentation, which is also no small task.  The whole affair is psycho-socially weighty, and that reality is intensified by the fact that it drags on for months.  It can take more than six months from the time of the initial contact to the interview to receiving news of the final outcome.

Despite the challenges and in good faith, as a professional and productive teacher/scholar, I have girded myself for the process and taken the bait, twice on the basis of an invitation and once at my own solicitation.  Here I would like to share a collection of things that happened to me during my interviews.

  1. Once, my resume had never been fully circulated among search committee members.
  2. Once, I learned after the fact, I had not been given the benefit of a full interview.  That is, I did not meet with all the same people that the other candidates met.
  3. Once, a voting member of the search committee did not attend my research presentation and told me in my individual meeting with him that he had no questions for me.
  4. Twice, an electronic research portfolio I had sent with my resume was never reviewed or circulated.
  5. Twice, I did not meet with the whole convened search committee.
  6. Three times, at two institutions, men who interviewed me shed tears during my one-on-one interview sessions.  One man told me about his wife and child issues; one man told me about his beloved student; one man told me about his fatigue. During these experiences, I was not asked about my work.

The first time I experienced the crying phenomenon, I thought, “Geez, I have really made some kind of impact here.  They must really like me.”  The second time, I thought, “Here we go again.”  The first time, I was sure I would be offered the position.  The second time, I was sure I would not be.

I have a hard time speaking about these experiences.   On the one hand, I always feel a little guilty that I interviewed in the first place, like I’m cheating.  On the other, the processes have cost me cumulatively weeks of productive mental energy and focus.   I hate wasting any more time on them than has already been spent, so even this post is a bit odd for me to entertain.  This writing comes at the behest of my husband, who made the simple observation to me that he would never have been so treated in the same interviews.  He queried whether I thought the men who eventually took the aforesaid positions had met with a convened committee; had their resumes reviewed fully; had met with all search committee members individually; or been cried to during intimate personal disclosures.  It occurred to me that the answer to each of these queries was likely “no!”  Indeed, it seems preposterous to imagine any one male theologian wiping away his tears in an academic interview with another, especially two of senior rank!

I have never inclined to interpret my circumstances in terms of systemic sexism, even when the situation warranted it.  I did not complain, for example, when a creepy history teacher in summer school lied to me about giving me a book to lure me into his office and then blocked my egress.  I got out of there eventually, thinking he was fool, so I let it go, even when he called me for the rest of the summer.  I let it go when an old priest inexplicably would call me Madame Bovary in class and recite original poetry to me about tulips opening in the sun. The male novices, who made up the other class members, were horrified, but I just thought he was senile.  I ignored the jesting of a “frenemy,” who misrepresented me in front of a mutual publishing contact, as he contrived elaborate and false descriptions of me as a wild-child in graduate school.  He remembered that I had lived in a hotel for a week while I was waiting for my apartment to be ready and imagined me, so it seemed, as something of a woman-of-the-night.  I was merely confused by the vitriol of a male professor who wrote scathing words on my papers while weekly telling me how good I smelled. Even now, I have a hard time connecting the dots. Why? Because anecdotes are murky and murkily remembered.  Because, on the whole, I have worked with outstanding male educators, colleagues, and publishers, whom I respect and often cherish.  Because I do not anticipate malfeasance and believe that I am regarded foremost as a professional.  Because I demand excellence from myself and will not cede to structural problems as though they cannot be changed by the self-evidence of excellence itself.

I cannot say whether I was the right person for any position other than the one I hold.  I can say that I have brought my personal best to every interview I have had.  I will even say that my personal best may well not compare with the personal best of my fellow candidates.  I can and do wish them all genuine success.   But, if someone ever cries at me in an interview again, I will know I am being negated as a serious candidate.  I will know I am being related to as a gentle woman with a warm smile and an accessible personality.  I will understand that even if these qualities had not compromised my candidacy up front, they will after the fact. (Amnon, of course, hated Tamar even more than he loved her after he had taken advantage of her.)  I will be suspicious of invitations that smell of “invitations-to-be-a woman-candidate” rather than invitations to be candidate-in-fact.

So, if or when the tears come again in some closed office tête-à-tête, I will say, “I am a pastorally oriented, practical theologian interviewing for a job, but I am not your d**n therapist!” right before I get the hell out of there too.

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

Categories: Academy, Activism, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Patriarchy, power, Sexism

Tags: , , ,

5 replies

  1. Oh Natalie, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry! The situations read familiar even tho I’m not a professional academic. Seems we all come into contact with this type of billshut, if we are female. Would love to be there and cheer you on if you ever have to use that last line.


  2. Thanks for this, Natalie. I have loved all of your posts.


  3. I’m not even a professional of any sort, yet I have also been given too much information by males in conversation — not always with tears — and then shunned as they recoil in embarrassment. It stinks!


  4. Natalie, you have indeed had your share of obnoxious men. I doubt that there is a single one of us who hasn’t had at least one “I can’t believe it happened” moment, and that is tragic. One of my most memorable is when I was a grad student. I was the last person to give my oral presentation in my lit class, which I presented on the next to the last day of class. At the end of it, the professor (a male, naturally) shouted out, “Where have you been all semester? We could have been having an affair!” Everyone laughed. I blushed outrageously and left the classroom as quickly as I could. No one (not even I) thought to report it as any type of discrimination. As I say, the tragic part is that each and every one of us has stories like this to tell. My guess is that many young women in college still have these stories to tell.


  5. Like most women, I had experiences like this when I was young and “pretty” and “on the market,” etc. In fact, my first boss hit on me and hit on me until I told him I was engaged (I wasn’t, but my relationship was actually more solid than an engagement. I was living with my boyfriend, now my husband). But that was 1969. What’s horrifying about your story is the way that patriarchal academia has configured itself to outmaneuver women — as you speculate — by inviting female candidates so their “numbers” look good (something they didn’t have to do in 1969 when they all “knew” that women were inferior and didn’t have to make themselves look like they weren’t sexist). They’ve learned how to work the system, because, of course, it’s their system.

    It’s also horrifying that you were subjected to unwanted divulging of tearful experiences. If this happened in an appropriate situation, it would be a wonderful affirmation of your pastoral or counseling skills. But with someone who is supposed to be interviewing you for a job? Whew! It’s a crossing of the line that’s extremely disrespectful. My mother used to say that you can either get love or respect, not both. I think in an interview situation that is true (but not in the rest of life, thank goodness).


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