As the only woman in my department, I often find myself in bizarre situations, where the answer is not immediately obvious and it's not like I can run down the hall and ask one of my male colleagues how I should handle the situation. Particularly when my male colleagues are, shall we say, part of the problem---sometimes inadvertently or unknowingly, but still, part of the problem.
One of these bizarre situations is this: I feel like I have to *hide* most of the mentoring that I do when the mentoring is specific to women. I feel like I have to mentor women on the sly.
You may be thinking that this is silly, given that my department apparently considers me to be the resident expert on mentoring. But the truth is there are some members of my department who make me feel paranoid about showing any sort of special treatment to anyone, but particularly women. It's a bit easier to deal with the ones that come right out and say that what I'm doing is wrong-headed and---my favorite---"unfair". But most of them will express their displeasure---perhaps unknowingly, I really don't know what their motives are---in a more subtle way. For instance, saying things like "I was talking to [female major] the other day, and she was saying that she is really uncomfortable about applying to such-and-such a program, because she doesn't want to feel like she's getting an edge because she's a woman." Or comments on how it's so much easier for our women majors to get into grad school, and isn't that a shame for some of our talented male majors. (I can hear Zuska throwing up on someone's shoes right now in response!) These comments seem to crop up with increasing frequency when the subject of mentoring/recruiting women comes up, or when it becomes obvious that I'm doing some sort of mentoring or nice thing for our women majors.
Anyway, whatever the motive or intent, these statements don't exactly make me want to go shout from the rooftops that I'm doing something nice or positive for our women majors. And they do tend to make me sort of paranoid about mentoring in the first place---I second- and third-guess myself before going ahead and doing something. But what this has really done is drove my mentoring almost totally underground. And I think this is a shame, because I think our women students, majors or not, *should* know that there is someone here who can be a resource and ally to them. Even if they decide not to take advantage of that resource, or decide that they don't need to use that resource, I think they should know that there is such a resource out there in case one day they do need it.
The latest example of this came when I decided to give copies of She's Such A Geek to some of our women majors. A nice guesture, right? Well, I thought this thing out to death. To whom should I send the books? Will the students think it's weird? How can I get the books to the students without my colleagues finding out? What sort of flak will I get from my colleagues for this if they do find out? So what started off as a "random act of kindness" turned into something very unnecessarily stressful for me. (In case you're interested, I ended up sending them to the women I took to Grace Hopper and to one of my advisees who's had a rough time of it lately.)
This is not to say that the actions of my colleagues will deter me from mentoring or from doing these things---far from it! I just think it's a shame that I have to feel so guilty about doing things like this and that I can't really have honest and substantive discussions with my colleagues about mentoring women. Because I think all of us---faculty and students---could benefit from open and honest discussions and actions like this.