When it comes to silencing women,” writes Mary Beard, “Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.” Academe is no exception. A recent conference at Stanford University featured 30 speakers — all of them men, all of them white. The incident sparked ridicule and outrage, as well as a sense that higher education is facing a reckoning. Over the past few months, amid mounting revelations of sexual harassment, The Chronicle Review asked presidents and adjuncts, scientists and humanists, senior scholars and junior professors to take on the theme of women and power in academe. Here are their responses.
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"When it comes to silencing women," writes Mary Beard, "Western culture has had thousands of years of practice." Academe is no exception. A recent conference at Stanford University featured 30 speakers — all of them men, all of them white. The incident sparked ridicule and outrage, as well as a sense that higher education is facing a reckoning. Over the past few months, amid mounting revelations of sexual harassment, The Chronicle Review asked presidents and adjuncts, scientists and humanists, senior scholars and junior professors to take on the theme of women and power in academe. Here are their responses.
Something Has to Give
'Professionalism' is gendered — and women lose.
When it comes to "women and power in the academy," my first thought is: "We have none." This has been clear to me for the last 10 years, since the day I entered a doctoral program in English. At the time, the department had only a few female tenured faculty members. I was 22, fresh from undergrad, and, as a child of the "girl power" 1990s, entirely unused to the idea that anyone would take me less seriously simply because I was not a man. I soon learned that being taken seriously depended on style and self-presentation as much as on intelligence and insight.
The male graduate students in my cohort displayed their academic seriousness with an ease that I found impossible to imitate. They knew how to dress for class (blazer, oxfords, a touch of tweed); how to speak forcefully in seminar, without making apologies or soliciting approval; how to shake hands with male faculty members in a way that was both chummy and professional.
Then there were all the social interactions outside the classroom. "Women are welcome," announced the male graduate student who directed the Hegel reading group, as if women needed his permission to think dialectically. My then-boyfriend, five years ahead of me in the graduate program, used to meet with his adviser in a swimming pool. Both clad in bathing trunks, they would discuss my boyfriend's dissertation and job prospects. When I said that there was something exclusionary about this practice — that I quailed at the thought of discussing Wordsworth while wearing a bikini — my boyfriend told me I was overreacting. Besides, he was grateful to his adviser for going to bat for him on the job market.
Meanwhile, rumors about male faculty members harassing female graduate students swirled, and the department didn't exactly leap into action. The old boys' club appeared to be alive and well; it was a befriend-and-defend network that I felt I could never enter.
Anxious and confused about how to establish a suitable academic self, I spent my first few years of graduate school vacillating between girlishness and a kind of steely professionalism. I started wearing dresses, then chopped off all my hair. I spoke with ingratiating, self-effacing "uptalk" one day, and was entirely too strident the next.
As the years went by, and I advanced toward the Ph.D., the rules for women became more numerous, and the box for acceptable behavior grew smaller still. Do be an approachable teacher, but don't be too friendly with your students, or they'll take advantage of you. Don't wear a dress to your MLA interview; you'll be in a hotel room, possibly proximate to a bed, and men won't be able to stop themselves from sexualizing you. At your job talk, be sure to say "thank you" after each question; men shouldn't do this — they would appear obsequious — but women must (or so a female faculty member advised me). Be extremely careful when speaking about partners and families, or you might not get the job.
Part of me wants to say that these behavioral restrictions pale in comparison to the material constraints placed on women in the academy: The persistent and widening academic pay gap, insufficient maternity leave, excessive administrative work, and the fact that stopping the tenure clock during early years of parenting helps men and hurts women. This is to say nothing of sexual harassment and assault.
But, as Foucault said, "power is everywhere" and "comes from everywhere"; it inheres not in institutions themselves, but in the interactions that constitute institutional life. Hierarchies — of gender, race, and class — are established and reinforced through hirings and firings, handshakes and outfits. Receiving a lower salary isn't the same thing as feeling uncomfortable in a pantsuit, but both experiences stem from a power structure that keeps men on top.
As any academic job-placement officer will tell you, fitting yourself to professional standards is simply the cost of doing business. But the cost is higher for some. Can you slip into academic tradition as if it were a tailored coat? How easily does it mold to your body? How much of yourself must you change, or shrink, to make the garment fit?
The historian Joan Wallach Scott once warned that scholars couldn't insert gender into their research as though adding a new room on a house already built; they'd have to begin again from the bottom. If the university is to commit itself to gender equality, if it really wants to redistribute power, then everything must change, from the broadest policies to the smallest habits. Traditions will have to be broken; the past will no longer be perfectly reproduced. Working from a new blueprint can mean challenge and error, but it can produce unexpected success. I have no idea what the new university will look like, but I'm eager to see it take shape.
Maggie Doherty is a lecturer at Harvard University, where she teaches history and literature. The Equivalents, her first book, will be published next year by Knopf.
We're Not Even Close
If the situation were reversed, men would revolt.
What is power?
Power can mean the ability to get things done, especially for others. By that definition, women in the academy have power aplenty. Everyone seems to know how to find a female academic when it comes to requesting a letter of recommendation, finding an adviser for an undergraduate honors thesis, or seeking advice about a thorny situation.
Everyone seems to know how to find a female academic when it comes to requesting a letter of recommendation, finding an adviser, or seeking advice.
Power can also mean strength and capacity, which tend to grow when one's achievements are recognized and valued. By this definition, women in the academy are doing less well. Female faculty receive lower pay, fewer promotions, and fewer honors than their male counterparts. We could argue about why, but those debates would need to take into account a randomized double-blind study in which a man and a woman — call them David and Jennifer — submitted otherwise identical job materials for jobs as university lab managers. The male and female academics evaluating those materials were more likely to rate Jennifer lower for competence and to hire David. (Even greater divergences resulted in similar studies that test for racial bias.)
Finally, the dictionary tells us that power means authority, control, and ascendancy — a form of power most academics would disavow interest in. Nonetheless, all academics inhabit institutions shaped by the hierarchies of professor and student, tenured and untenured. Much as intellectuals prize critical thinking, academe rewards students who respect, admire, and emulate their teachers. Academic structures equate authority with superiority. When one group dominates the ranks of the authoritative — as men and white people still dominate the ranks of full professors, college presidents, provosts, and those receiving the academy's highest honors — then everyone belonging to that group, no matter their actual level of achievement, starts to have superiority attributed to them.
Different as these notions of power are in theory, our practices often entangle them. Because David looks more like those with the most power, people tend to give his flaws a pass and magnify his strengths; not so, Jennifer's. David thus inhabits a flattering penumbra while Jennifer finds herself subjected to a harsh glare even when, in every respect save gender, she is not only David's equal but his clone. (Jennifer will probably do fine if she is twice as good as David, but that is part of the problem.)
These disparities snowball. Men as a group receive more rewards for their efforts than do women as a group. And because we associate the highest forms of authority with men, if a David exercises a bald will to power, we are slow to reprimand him. By contrast, we value a Jennifer most when she cares for others and makes them feel good, although we rarely confer money or honors on her self-sacrifice. Should Jennifer try to exercise power on her own behalf, our response is usually ambivalent at best. Over time and in the aggregate, men feel their capacities increase; women feel theirs run down.
But enough with the abstractions. Let's get pragmatic. Let's make a checklist!
In a world where academic men and women are valued equally, we will know that women have power in the academy when:
- Prominent male scholars are as likely to dismiss Vertigo as a fairy tale based on infantile wish fulfillment as they are to hail Jane Eyre as a masterpiece;
- Not two, not one, but zero professors explain that they can't expect Asian-American women to speak up in class because of their "culture";
- Women win admission to college and graduate school or become finalists for tenure-track jobs at rates that mirror their representation in applicant pools;
- The most brilliant female graduate students are not hobbled by unrealistic self-doubt and their most unremarkable male counterparts are not awash in outsized self-confidence;
- Even scholars who don't focus on gender feel obligated to familiarize themselves with the most important feminist work in their disciplines;
- Women who have met only the minimum requirements for tenure are perceived as having the same promise as equally borderline men;
- Women feel as comfortable as men asking for raises because they have children and partners to support;
- Women in the academy no longer have to waste energy strategizing about how to prevent or fend off unwanted advances from colleagues and supervisors.
But why stop there? If power also means effortlessly benefiting from unmerited attributions of superiority, then women will have achieved power in the academy when:
- Student evaluations credit female instructors with "brilliance" but tell male instructors that they are "intimidating" and should "smile more";
- Male professors in their 40s and 50s are regularly taken for graduate students or staff and female graduate students in their 20s and 30s are routinely addressed as "Professor";
- The words "aggressive," "difficult," and "crazy" get applied to male academics five times as often as to female ones;
- University bookstores showcase far more books by women than by men;
- Scholars cite women as authorities and footnote men mostly to take issue with their claims;
- Tenure committees express corrosive skepticism about the objectivity of white men working exclusively on white men but never even notice when a person working on race and gender is a woman of color;
- Female academics who continue to teach well into their 80s and 90s receive glowing appreciation from the same students who dismiss male professors in their 60s and 70s as the equivalent of "crones" and "hags."
Don't like the way this second world sounds? Reverse the genders and it's the world female academics inhabit now. What are you doing to change that?
Sharon Marcus is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and recently completed a term as dean of humanities.
Motherhood While Black
The hard truth about race and parenthood
As a sociologist, I study racial disparities in health. Statistics on pregnancy and infant health are often cited to illustrate the racial health gap; for example, infant mortality for black women living in Fresno, Calif., is nearly 19 per every 1,000 deaths, three times the national rate for white women.
Ample research has shown that this disparity is not due to genetics or social class but is the result of stress accumulation, based on race and gender, over the life course.
This phenomenon has come to be known as the "weathering hypothesis": Women of color who have babies earlier fare better because their bodies haven't weathered from the storm … yet. The findings resonate with what the legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw describes as intersectional subordination: "the consequence of the imposition of one burden that interacts with pre-existing vulnerabilities to create yet another dimension of disempowerment." David R. Williams, a professor of public health at Harvard, argues that these health disparities "reflect the enduring effects of the institutionalization of inequality for stigmatized social groups."
To me, this research is fascinating, harrowing, and important. It is also personal. As a black woman who became a mother while obtaining expertise in the sociology of health, I am keenly aware that the statistics bear directly on my life. Moreover, I have experienced racism and sexism in plenty of educational spaces, and I believe some of these experiences have created additional burdens for me.
For instance, the year after my son was born, in the third year of my Ph.D. program, I found myself isolated, overwhelmed, and overlooked. I was replaced on projects I had previously worked on and wasn't invited to join others. I couldn't afford the money and time needed to travel to as many conferences. Even though I took no time off, enrolled my son in day care, and spent most days on campus working to meet deadlines, I was told that I wasn't serious about my research. I was instructed to be more like the white male graduate student a cohort below me whose wife had had a baby, advice that erased the many status differences between us. One faculty member later revealed that he hadn't actively mentored me because he thought I was going to "drop out and have more babies." This is how intersectional subordination works — I didn't receive this treatment only because I was a parent; rather, my being a young black mother shaped how others perceived and treated me.
Though I earned my Ph.D. and landed a tenure-track job, it is plausible that my body has suffered an undue amount of wear and tear given my intersectional identities. This could be one reason why, while pregnant with my second son a year and a half into my job, I had what the doctors called a threatened miscarriage.
I have begun new research into the effects of pregnancy on women like me — this time focusing on career outcomes. Most of this research is based on the work of Mary Ann Mason, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who has analyzed data from the national Survey of Doctorate Recipients to explore the implications of babies for academic careers. Mason found that mothers with young children are 21 percent less likely to land a tenure-track job than women without children, and that mothers are 16 percent less likely to end up on the tenure track than fathers. Only 58 percent of mothers who have a baby early on the tenure track receive tenure, compared with 78 percent of fathers.
Her analysis doesn't dissect the statistics by race or ethnicity, but, if it did, I imagine it might paint an even bleaker picture. Given the underrepresentation of black and Latina tenure-track professors, it is easy to imagine that race, gender, and parenthood intersect to create multiple marginalized positions in the academy.
I recently attended a symposium on women's health, gender, and empowerment where students and faculty reported on the reproductive health of their research subjects. Instead, I chose to turn the lens inward and discuss changes we could make to better protect the health and careers of academic mothers. I emphasized interventions that could benefit women across all stages of their careers: instituting family-leave policies that reduce teaching responsibilities for both faculty and graduate students; allowing children in classrooms and creating emergency child-care options; decreasing stigma around stopping the tenure clock; mandating convenient and private lactation rooms; offering training on work-life balance; ensuring that after-hour departmental functions are family friendly; providing additional funding to support child-care expenses incurred during conference or research travel; and engaging in critical conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion that make a space for intersectionality.
After my presentation, a young black female student pulled me aside to thank me personally. She revealed that she hadn't seen herself reflected in the professoriate and had been considering alternative career paths that would be more open to mothers. For her, it was indeed empowering to know it could be done. This experience reinforced the need to both protect and empower mothers, and especially mothers of color, in the academy.
Whitney N. Laster Pirtle is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced.
Power Is Hot. Let's Admit It.
The complicated question of sex and academe
If you observe various tribes of academics — as I have done for 30 years — you will notice that, as a class, they value intelligence in potential mates very highly.
Why is this? I agree with what an esteemed biology professor used to tell freshmen entering the honors college of Indiana University: "The reason to be among smart people like yourself isn't that the classes are better. It's that the sex is better."
Sure, I bedded some dumb guys in my time. But I remember, by contrast, the moment I wanted to hastily undress the man I ultimately married, namely when it became clear he could reliably find the verb in a sentence by Judith Butler. (Swoon.)
So, Premise 1: Smart people are disproportionately attracted to smart people.
Premise 2: Academics work very, very hard.
When you put these two together, it is not too surprising that a lot of academics end up finding their sexual partners at work. Smart people are easier to find in the ivory tower than in the wild, especially when you go into the wild only to get more hummus to eat at your desk.
Now, of course it should not be the case that the places we work are places of dense sexual politics. Of course people should be able to work without being sexually harassed, and certainly without being sexually assaulted. But to suggest that academics should never develop sexual relationships at work would effectively turn universities back into monasteries — you know, places where people pretend never to have sex.
We can tell ourselves that we should not have sexual feelings for people with whom we work (actual and potential mentors, colleagues, students) and that they, in turn, should suppress any they feel for us. The world would surely be better without the chili peppers of "Rate My Professors." But while Freud was wrong about so much, he was right that we are inevitably sexual creatures. And if I may speak particularly to my fellow women for a moment, denying yourself any chance of feeling sexual excitement or pleasure because you're feeling it for someone you work with is ultimately disempowering you. We are entitled to our sexualities.
If we step back for a moment from the many genuinely awful stories of what women have experienced and witnessed in academe, it should be possible to both be outraged by instances of sexual harassment committed by (say) senior men against junior women while still acknowledging that some relationships between (say) senior men and junior women have led to great collaborations, fine marriages and children, and plain old good orgasms. In other words, we shouldn't give up on the idea that sex can still happen with consent and pleasure. Flowers do grow amidst the weeds.
Me, I have been thinking about sexual pleasure a lot lately. Stay with me here; I have a point. I suspect that denying women full acknowledgment of our sexual pleasure — reducing the stories we tell publicly to the horror stories — is a lot of what's gotten us into the mess that has finally given us #MeToo. If girls and women were taught consciously to value our own sexual pleasure, then we would probably be better at noticing when we are not feeling it. We might be much better at naming it — at saying "no" (and "yes") than we often are.
That said, I'm not sure how to deal with one particular pickle except to name it: Coercive sex, including that which arises from power differentials like those often found in academe, while ethically extremely problematic, is also often erotic. Sex researchers find erotic fantasies of being overpowered by men so common among women, many don't bother to conceive of it as a kink. (If you want a citation here, I refer you to sales figures for Fifty Shades of Grey.) That's not to justify or condone predatory behavior. But it might help explain why we see so many relationships that make us, in our advanced civilized state, so squirmy.
We all agree that, in the ivory tower, we're supposed to be running a meritocracy. (Ha, ha, I know, but let's just pretend for now.) So, it is deeply troubling when resources are withheld because someone won't put out. But just as troubling ought to be when resources are given because one does. Saying "go ahead and do whatever you like if there's consent and pleasure" doesn't really fix the problem of sex in academic life. Having watched a colleague get more than me by virtue of her bedding a well-resourced man, I would observe that part of what's so disturbing is that you find yourself in a weird sexual triangle that you didn't mean to enter. Suddenly your professional jealousy is somehow sexual, when you didn't consent to be in this position.
It would therefore appear that — given that academics tend to be attracted to smart people, given that we work all the time, given that we're supposed to be running a meritocracy, given that sex is pleasurable and that coercive sex (while ethically so wrong) is hot for a lot of us — sex in academe is even more complicated than in most professional areas.
Here's where I'm supposed to close with helpful suggestions.
I don't have any.
Alice Dreger is a historian of medicine and science and the author of Galileo’s Middle Finger (Penguin Press, 2015).
Pay Scale by Ellen Weinstein
Ellen Weinstein teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her new book, Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals and Practices of Extraordinary People is out this month from Chronicle Books.
Presidents, Use Your Voice!
Women in power must speak up for progress.
"You're doing great work, but we need a graybeard in charge."
When I was 30 years old, I was an acting department head when a new dean took over. I had never heard the term "graybeard" until the dean told me this devastating piece of news — my inability to grow a beard would thwart my professional advancement.
I bristled; he backtracked and said that of course he wasn't referring to my gender, but my age.
My female colleagues were outraged, but I did not take their advice to sue. Having grown up with brothers, I lived by the code "Don't get mad, get even." And so I did, getting the top job a year later when the "graybeard" didn't work out, though of course at much less pay since, as the dean explained to me, I was still young and did not have a family to support.
As the #MeToo movement has exploded, I've been thinking about that searing period in my life so long ago. I realize I've been fortunate, that so many women have endured much worse incidents of sexual harassment and real physical assault. But the emotional harm of sex discrimination, the repression of professional potential, is also debilitating.
Now, as a college president, I encounter many of the same attitudes that afflicted my younger self, albeit expressed in subtler ways. I have been accused of talking too much at gatherings with other college presidents where the men dominated the conversation and I tried to get one or two words in edgewise. I have stopped being frustrated in meetings when I make a point that gets ignored, only to hear a man say the same thing 10 minutes later and everyone pause to admire his great wisdom. I celebrate the fact that women are now in presidencies at larger and more elite universities than in the past, but I know that most of us are still "allowed" to be presidents only in more fragile or less-prestigious places.
This moment should be a call to action for women who wield power in higher education. We should be more forceful advocates for redress of the discriminatory conditions that women still face — women that include our own students and graduates, and, quite possibly, our own colleagues. We must do more to promote women to positions of authority throughout our own institutions, including on boards. We should be exemplars for hiring women in disciplines where they are seriously underrepresented. Most of all, we must be unequivocal in doing whatever is necessary to ensure that women on our own campuses are not subjected to sexual harassment or assault, that no one — not the star quarterback or revered professor or celebrity dean — gets away with mistreating women.
In advocating more urgently for the rights of women, we also become better advocates for the rights and dignity of others who are marginalized, particularly our African-American, Latino, immigrant, LGBTQ, and Muslim students. As women who have "made it," often by surmounting gender barriers, our power as campus leaders should make us bolder in confronting other barriers including racism, homophobia, and religious bigotry.
Solidarity for justice means that we must step out of the self-protective silence that suppresses the voices of too many college presidents today. Women with power must do more than keep our own positions safe; we must dare to take risks for the sake of others. Our goal should be to turn #MeToo from an urgent rallying cry to a relic informing future generations of the power women exercised in this era to achieve social change.
Patricia McGuire is president of Trinity Washington University.
Tradition and Its Discontents
Change is slow — but inevitable.
When I was preparing my tenure application more than 20 years ago, my department chair said to me, "Perhaps you should be a stay-at-home mom and take care of your children and husband."
Junior female faculty members can easily be discouraged by attitudes like my chair's. Unfortunately, such attitudes persist — especially in the STEM fields. We're mired in years of traditional roles: Men become doctors and women become nurses.
Men become engineers and women become clerical staff. Even today, just 12 percent of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today.
That's why it's up to women with power to be the megaphone for those who can't be heard. Right now only 15 percent of all American deans of engineering are women. We need more female faculty members and more female faculty in leadership positions to serve as role models and mentors and encourage women not to accept glass ceilings. At NYIT, the number of female faculty has tripled over the past five years.
It wasn't until 1837, with the founding of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, that women could earn a college education in the United States — 200 years after Harvard opened its doors. The World Economic Forum predicts that it will take 100 years for the gender gap to disappear. Change is slow but inevitable.
Nada Marie Anid is dean of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology.
A Monumental Reckoning
College is rife with harassment and rape.
Shortly after I was denied tenure at Columbia University, a senior professor approached me in the English department and clapped a friendly hand on my shoulder. "I need to tell you, Anne," he said, "why you lost tenure. You are a cute piece of skirt, and you are a feminist writing about sexuality. And that frightens them."
Why should my writing about sexuality so frighten my male colleagues that they would try to sabotage my career?
Certainly, I was one of the first academics to teach the complexities of pornography. Certainly, I was a queer feminist teaching the libidinal politics of desire. Certainly, I called for sex-worker rights long before it was acceptable to do so. And I insisted that we can only understand gender in relation to race, class, and imperialism. But — all of this frightened them?
Perhaps my colleagues' fear had something to do with a question raised by a male undergraduate during my first lecture at Columbia. "Miss McClintock," the student asked in a tone of offended menace. "Men have always dominated women. Are you telling us you are trying to change history?" "I certainly am," I said.
I never did get an official explanation for being denied tenure. But I got an unofficial one. A Columbia professor explained to a puzzled friend that I lost tenure because I had taken a dildo to class. I have never taken a dildo to any class, but the symbolic specter of the feminist wielding the fictive dildo spoke volumes.
I can't say I wasn't warned. When a senior professor read my critique of Freud, he called me into his office and issued a blunt warning: "I will support you for tenure if you remove what you write about Freud," he said. "If you don't, I wont." I didn't. And he didn't. My notoriously irregular tenure case, based on my book Imperial Leather (Routledge, 1995), collapsed in disarray. Despite this retaliatory attempt to derail my career, I was immediately offered named chairs at Duke and Wisconsin. And Imperial Leather, internationally cited and translated, became a classic.
What did I learn from all this about women and power in the academy? And how has #MeToo changed the world we now inhabit?
I learned that I was not alone in having my career threatened by threatened men. I learned that freedom of speech is not universally bestowed, but a privilege guarded by the anointed (still mostly white and male) gatekeepers of cultural power, who decide whose voices are heard, whose careers founder. And I learned that college life is rife with harassment and rape.
Take the Columbia doctor who raped me when I was a student. He told me I was dying of a terminal illness. (I was perfectly healthy.) He told me I would die "an unhappy death" and that I should not research my illness as it would only depress me. He told me I needed vaginal and anal "tests." He made me lie and face the wall, and took advantage of my frozen shock to rape me. After six months believing I was dying, I told a doctor friend. He was horrified: I was not dying; I was not even sick; the man was a rapist.
Take the political-science professor who invited me to a restaurant to discuss apartheid. He lured me to his apartment pretending to get a Fed Ex package. I sat on his couch. Nothing seemed amiss. Then he launched himself on me, gagging me with his tongue, manhandling my breasts and between my legs. Oh, I fought back. Then … I have no idea what happened next, how I got home. (Neuroscientists show that stress floods the brain with chemically induced amnesia.)
Take the Amherst professor who shared my cab after my first invited lecture. I was shy; we rode in silence. At his hotel, he got out of the cab, then reached in again, as if he had forgotten his bag. He leaned over, shoved his hand under my jacket, roughly pumped my left breast, one, two, three, then withdrew and was gone.
I offer these stories, sampled from countless others, because not one fits the trivializing clichés trotted out by the anti #MeToo troops of murky, alcohol-fueled nights of bad sex, gray sex, regret sex.
How often do we have to say it? Rape and harassment are not sex. Rape is sexualized violence. Rape is about power inflicted on another to enhance the rapist's sense of entitlement, and shore up his fragile masculinity. (Motives for rape are many, and can be just as often about race, ethnicity, and class.)
Masha Gessen warns that #MeToo blurs "the boundaries between rape, nonviolent sexual coercion, and bad, fumbling, drunken sex. The effect is both to criminalize bad sex and trivialize rape." Far from trivializing rape, #MeToo has transformed the landscape of gender power, demanding more successfully than ever before that rape be taken seriously. And "bad sex" is not likely to be "criminalized" any time soon. Nuanced and robust discussions about these differences are taking place every minute across social media, campuses, and workplaces.
The Columbia doctor was not in a manly muddle about consent. The Amherst professor was not bungling a compliment. These men were aggressively claiming their right to be deliberately offensive and get away with it. The power-thrill of an unwanted advance is precisely the knowledge that it is unwanted. The menu of harassments and attacks I have experienced are power-plays that have nothing to do with fumbling sex gone wrong, but flaunt instead men's ancient right to assault and insult with impunity.
We should call this gender harassment, not sexual harassment, because much of this has to do with gender power, not sex. This also allows us to recognize that men, too, are harassed, and that people of color and LGBTQ communities are most vulnerable of all to rape, assault, and abuse.
By telling my stories, I am not writing the obituary of flirtation, nor ruining romance, as some critics of #MeToo warn. (If anything ruins romance, it's being raped.)
By speaking out against sexual violence, I not infantilizing myself, nor abandoning agency, in the perverse logic of anti #MeToo critics. Nor am I "stereotyping men as abusers and women as perpetual victims in need of quasi-Victorian protections," as Cathy Young claims. (And precisely what Victorian "protections" for women does Cathy Young have in mind?)
Rather, as James Baldwin writes: "The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim. He, or she, has become a threat."
We are witnessing a monumental reckoning, a seismic shift in attitudes not only to gender violence, but to gender parity, workplace equity, and demands for sweeping institutional changes.
#MeToo embodies the most magnificent assertion of feminist agency the world has seen. We are witnessing a monumental reckoning, a seismic shift in attitudes not only to gender violence, but to gender parity, workplace equity, alliances across race, class, and gender, and demands for sweeping institutional changes.
It is crucial to recognize that #MeToo rose from the context and courage of the campus antirape movement. Over the years, countless students told me of being raped and assaulted by faculty and students. Then in 2012 something extraordinary happened. Furious with administrators for protecting institutional reputations instead of student rights, undergraduates bypassed obstructionist deans, invented new strategies, and brought more than 200 universities under federal investigation. Using the global mike of social media, the students turned rape and assault into a historic national and international conversation. In 2013, my student Natalie Weill and I won the first expulsion for rape ever at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Critics like Judith Levine, however, see in #MeToo a "looming sex panic." There is a sex panic — a sex panic of privileged men who feel their power slipping. (And we must repeat #NotAllMen.) Panic ignites into violence at the flashpoints of wounded masculinity: in trolls threatening to rape, mutilate, and murder women, in the Gamergate haters, and in revenge porn.
So #MeToo is also about men. It's about the men who need to change. And it's about the courageous, magnificent men who are already changing, the men who are daring to fundamentally rethink what transformative masculinities could be.
Andrew Sullivan predicts darkly that #MeToo is morphing into "a more generalized revolution against the patriarchy."
You got that right. #MeToo is here to stay. And we are many millions strong.
Anne McClintock is a professor of gender and sexuality studies at Princeton University. She is at work on a memoir about #MeToo titled Tongues Untied.
Our Shameful Support of the Status Quo
There are obvious deficiencies. Let's tackle them.
As is the case for race, the impact of gender never plays out in isolation. This is certainly true in academe, where a host of identities are often tied together — whether willingly or unwillingly. I've been assistant dean at an Ivy League institution; dean of a women's college embedded within a large, public university; president of a small liberal-arts college for women; and now, president of a storied liberal-arts college. Along the way, my age, race, and gender all played out in my career, like they have for women in every industry when they are confronted with the "dynamic."
One of the more acute moments in my professional life was when a person to whom I reported said, "You better think long and hard about your future." Given the context, I knew what he meant: Do what I ask, or else. The comment wasn't remotely sexual. It was a power move, pure and simple. How did I respond? I was thoughtful and measured. I was also angry and sad. Sad because of the casualness of the threat, and sad because he and I both knew his behavior would go unchecked. I had a couple of "can you believe he said that" conversations, and then went back to the grindstone.
Power dynamics that disadvantage women, especially women of color, are nothing new. What is new is that we now have an opportunity to make progress because our collective consciousness has been elevated. There is more agreement than ever that we have a problem. And most of our male colleagues want to help, even if they're a bit nervous about it all.
First, we must continue to talk. Remember the foremost principle of sustained dialogue: Listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to respond. This dialogue is required among men and women, and with the institutions to which they belong. It's the only way to gain perspective, and to begin to formulate a collective way forward.
Second, it's past time to ask: Do our structures contribute to the perpetuation of these problematic dynamics? From handbooks that are decades old, processes that are unclear, and a common quasi-judicial review process that asks peers to discipline their colleagues, there are obvious deficiencies. Our unwillingness to tackle them has supported the status quo.
Finally, men have an important role to play. Systems that are broken often have complicit conspirators and unknowing allies. In particular, we need men to become knowing allies to this new collective consciousness.
I have always described myself as an optimistic realist. Although this is not the first time we have confronted the inadequate pace of women's progress in higher education, I believe that we are in a new moment. I am hopeful that we can take advantage of it.
Carmen Twillie Ambar is president of Oberlin College.
Poisoned Ivy by Sandra Dionisi
Sandra Dionisi is an artist, illustrator, and educator based in Toronto. She teaches in the illustration program at Sheridan College and on the faculty of design at OCAD University.
We Need Another Hashtag
The hashtag #MeToo is everything that it ought to be: intimate, authentic, a magical shorthand. Indeed, it has worked like magic, dominating news headlines these past months, toppling powerful men in entertainment, media, politics, and higher education. What's less clear is how well this shorthand sums up the gender inequity faced by women in ordinary circumstances.
After all, while #MeToo might seem all-encompassing, it is in fact narrowly focused on one specific category of misconduct: deviant behavior by predatory men. Nondeviant structural hurdles that go into the making of gender inequity aren't on the front burner.
To gauge those structural hurdles, we have to look for other evidence, other manifestations of power and powerlessness. Sexual misconduct is only one index among others, and it might not even be the most important one. The absence of predatory men doesn't necessarily mean that all is well, just as the presence of such men isn't necessarily a sign that no progress has been made.
The academy is a good test site, and my own field, literature, is a case in point. While there's been no lack of misconduct allegations, progress here is in fact well documented, slow but reliably incremental. Unlike science and engineering, where the gender gap in faculty ratio is projected to last for another century, and unlike several other humanities disciplines, including history and philosophy, which continue to be dominated by men, literature departments seem to have moved on to a different kind of problem.
Female associate professors take longer, by more than a year, to be promoted to full professor.
Female associate professors take longer, by more than a year, to be promoted to full professor. Otherwise, the faculty gender statistics would have been dream statistics to other disciplines and other professions: Women make up 67.4 percent of associate professors and 43.3 percent of full professors. Sure, things aren't perfect yet. There's still more to be done. And sure, the availability of literature jobs to women might have something to do with the declining prestige of the field.
But the gender statistics as they now stand aren't trivial. They represent decades of strategic recruiting, hiring, mentoring, and promoting — perhaps the most important collective action undertaken by literature departments these past decades, action that has borne fruit. And so, for many of my colleagues as for myself, #MeToo isn't quite the right hashtag. We prefer something like #GoodJob. At a time when the humanities are being routinely discounted, this signal achievement comes with the force of declaration, reminding the world just how much can be learned from this dedicated, democratic, and result-producing field, poor in resources but splendid in its human outcomes.
Wai Chee Dimock is a professor of English and American studies at Yale University, and the editor of PMLA.
For five years, I was the only woman in my department.
In three books on 17th-century Anglo-America, I have focused on women who exercised or sought power: Anne Hutchinson, a religious leader in early Massachusetts; Lady Frances Berkeley, the aristocratic wife of the governor of Virginia in the 1670s; and the so-called "afflicted girls" of Salem, Mass., in 1692, who for a few months upended normal hierarchies with their complaints about witchcraft. In the first two instances, the women in question were high status, living in a world in which status was more important than gender, and in which low-status men were expected to defer to high-status women as well as to high-status men. In the third case, the young women were low status, many of them servants, thus making their impact on society so shocking that we still puzzle over how to interpret and explain why their accusations led to such disastrous consequences.
It might seem that academic hierarchies are comparable to the early modern world I have spent so many years studying. Are tenure and a full professorship at a university the equivalent of 17th-century aristocratic standing for women? Superficially the analogy might appear correct, but it ignores the intervening centuries, when — starting in the early 18th century — gender came to override status to such an extent that all women, regardless of their rank, were denied access to the reins of power. That history of the overwhelming effect of gender on one's identity remains relevant for female academics today. But it can be minimized, as my career suggests.
In 1969, I joined the history department at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. I had three female colleagues: two other junior women and a senior chaired professor, a rarity in those days. Yet that pattern was familiar to me from my undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, where the only woman in the history department was a distinguished older scholar. Harvard, my graduate institution, had just one female historian, who was untenured and had been selected from among recent Harvard Ph.D.s. I learned subsequently that both the senior women I knew had experienced significant gender discrimination during their careers.
In 1971 I moved to Cornell, where I was the first woman ever hired in the history department — indeed, the first woman ever interviewed for a position. The department had been training female graduate students for decades but had seemingly never considered hiring any of them. For five years, I remained the only woman in the department.
In those years, my colleagues' attitudes did change somewhat. Every member of the department had attended my job talk. That was repeated the next time a woman was interviewed (she wasn't hired). By then I knew that attendance at job talks by men was erratic at best, and therefore regarded it as an important advance when female candidates no longer attracted unanimous attendance.
My prior experience at UConn helped as I coped with a chair who started department meetings by saying "gentlemen," and who once directed a memo to "Professor X, Professor Y, and Miss Norton." That I didn't fit the customary gender categories of the department did break down one existing hierarchy. Until my arrival, the two longtime female staff people and department members had addressed each other formally, by last names and titles ("Mrs. Z, Professor A"). But the female staff members and I started using first names among ourselves, and over time first names became, and remain, the norm for all.
That transition was amusing to observe and instigate. The bullying I encountered from a now-retired colleague was not. In the 1970s, before the term "sexual harassment" existed, I had no name for what I experienced, and no obvious way to respond without seeming to be nasty and uncollegial, or so I thought. He habitually made sexist comments in social contexts that made it impossible for me to reply in kind. He eventually stopped targeting me but moved on to the other women who slowly joined the department — a second, who stayed only two years, then a third, who became my sole female colleague for another decade. The two of us earned tenure and promotion and finally acquired several more female colleagues. My longtime colleague became a very successful chair. Today, another woman is chair, and there are 14 female and 18 male tenured or tenure-track historians in the department.
As Rosabeth Moss Kanter observed in her 1977 book, Men and Women of the Corporation, the presence of a critical mass of women can be instrumental in changing a work culture. As more women were hired, the department became more welcoming to everyone. More women meant that gender no longer served as an important identifier.
Of the seven endowed chairs now held by department members, five belong to women. Yes, the five of us have the academic equivalent of "aristocratic" status, but the key to our success lies in numbers rather than rank. The chaired female senior professors I knew long ago were high status but isolated. Numbers have made the key difference in our power dynamic.
My own history, coupled with my scholarship on powerful women in the past, suggests to me that the most important way to advance the position of women in academe is to increase their relative share of appointments.
Mary Beth Norton is a professor of American history at Cornell University. She is also president of the American Historical Association.
Power Is Still Too White
All women do not wield power equally.
In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on the increasing influence of women on college campuses. News articles point to a group of highly visible female college presidents to underscore what appears to be the march of progress. One Forbes article profiled 15 such "barrier breakers." There are more leadership opportunities for women on today's college campuses than there were 30 years ago. But how do we measure this progress when women's experiences vary so widely, especially along the lines of race?
For starters, they tend to be white. All women do not wield power on campus equally. For women of color in academe, power is elusive. The dynamics of power in academe reflect the society in which we live — one that is shaped by hierarchies of class, gender, and race. It is not surprising, then, that whites occupy positions of leadership on college campuses at a far greater rate than their nonwhite counterparts. It is also not surprising that as opportunities for women in leadership expand, white women have been the primary beneficiaries. While more white women hold the powerful position of college president, the number of presidents who are racial and ethnic minorities is disproportionately low — a fact that remains unchanged since 1986.
Today, women of color still face barriers when they pursue leadership positions. These barriers include the inability to see women of color as leaders, the refusal to acknowledge women of color's intellectual value and contributions, the rampant discriminatory practices that seek to bar women of color from tenure and promotion, and the presumption of incompetence by those who question their ability to think — let alone lead.
Keisha N. Blain is an assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. Her new book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, is just out from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Seven Theses on Gender and Power
The broad and catastrophic assault on thought is real.
1. It is sublime to discuss ideas and be taken seriously. This happens fairly often to me. Those who came before, who struggled to make this possible, did not mean for the beneficiaries of their efforts to be indebted to them for this gift; they meant it to be self-evident. No monument can match the epic scale of this idea.
2. A lot of people who try to talk about ideas are not taken seriously. Some of those people are my friends. They live in places — Hungary, Turkey, Russia — where universities are being maimed or outright purged, where the zeitgeist is thuggish ("thuggish" is more precise than "manly," which can mean all kinds of things, some of them good). Many of our academic brothers and sisters are in serious trouble.
The governments of their countries wish to render universities and thinkers subordinate and irrelevant. This broad and catastrophic assault on thought is real.
3. Unlikely inhabitants of the academy know very well that we do not deserve to be here. We are also more keenly aware than most that nobody does. The academy is better than anyone, and warrants our greatest exertions in the interest of making certain that the "undeserving" always find their way here.
4. Words like "sexism," "gender bias," and "structural inequality" describe conditions that are hopelessly banal, like a mob town or byzantine bureaucracy: grinding, petty, retrograde. Occasionally one catches oneself longing for a language that imagines a way out, rather than explaining why we are still subject to the ways of the mob.
5. What if something we are doing now, or will do in the future, is considered so reprehensible as to warrant our downfall and humiliation? Like assigning Hitler, or not assigning Hitler; or saying we don't like the president, or not saying we don't like the president; or saying #MeToo, or not saying #MeToo; or giving an A,or not giving an A? The times are indeed interesting when all of these scenarios seem equally plausible.
6. The three "I's" of "responsibility": I have not always used my power well, but know that I have power and take full responsibility for the ways I use it.
7. Many a time has the assertion of power (mine and others') produced the opposite of the intended effect, or achieved precisely the intended effect, but to the ultimate disadvantage or dismay of the power-wielder. There's something quite hilarious about this feature of power. It gives me hope.
Holly Case is an associate professor of history at Brown University.
My Voice Is Heard by Joyce Hesselberth
Joyce Hesselberth teaches illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her next children’s book, Mapping Sam, which she wrote and illustrated, will be published in October by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.
'I Had a Dream About You Last Night — a Sexual Dream'
Women have heard it all.
I believe in the power of stories. And long before the arrival of #MeToo, I quietly told mine to other women. It's been a gesture of solidarity, as in "I've been there too." It's been a cautionary tale, imparted to junior colleagues who wondered aloud about the prospect of boorish encounters. It has been a boast that went something like, "I've known adversity, but I'm still standing."
I was in my earliest weeks of teaching, and eager to make a smooth transition into the professoriate. I paid a courtesy call on a senior university leader, a man with a role in my hiring. I'd asked for the meeting, wanting to demonstrate my enthusiasm for the job and gather advice. I entered his office — aware but not concerned that we were alone. From behind his desk, he welcomed me with a sweep of an arm. His broad smile and warm tones set me at ease. "Have a seat," he said.
And then, in a whiplash-inducing turn: "I had a dream about you last night." "Oh," I cringed. "Yes, I had a dream about you last night, a sexual dream. A fantasy."
At this point in my recounting, I usually remark that I was lucky. I had come to academe after 10 years of practicing law. I had seen a lot of sexism, and worse. I had a lawyer's wit and edge, and experience handling men who overstepped professional boundaries.
My retort was quick. "I only know a bit about dream interpretation," I parried. "What I know suggests that when we dream about someone, they are a stand-in for the true object of our psyches." (Please don't write to me that I misunderstand this aspect of analysis. I was admittedly inventing as a means of deflection.) "So," I said with a slight chuckle while also looking him in the eye, "I realize that you were not in fact dreaming about me at all." With that, I took my seat, pen and pad poised for note taking.
My record of that meeting tells its own story. It is nearly unintelligible. With a shaking hand, I scrawled words that defied the fine blue lines that ordered my paper. I don't readily recognize the handwriting as mine: it is hurried, mixing block letters with cursive, all punctuated with underscores and arrows. I had remained in the room, but I did not take in much that resembled advice. My unsettled frame of mind made that impossible.
Staying was a contest over power, not knowledge. I was crafting a story about whether I would remain in the academy, and on what terms. It went something like this: I was tough enough to make it. I was clever enough to construct a cover of collegiality that would put this university leader's lapse of judgment behind us. I'd get the mentorship I'd come for, and act as if nothing had happened. For a long time, when I retold this story, I believed these things.
And then came #MeToo.
I have been changed by the flood of stories from women about their own encounters with unwelcome advances, from the passing to the persistent. These stories allowed me to recover the full meaning of my own.
When telling my story, I had lapsed into something closer to myth. A myth about my resilience that did not account for the losses that also were mine. I came to recognize the marginalization and missed opportunities that followed my encounter. I had avoided the senior leader's projects, circles, and the moments of sociability that he organized. I could not risk another assault, even of the verbal sort.
Never did I share my experience with the women who also worked with this man, many of whom I considered friends. I never warned them of what they might confront behind closed doors. Nor did I open a door to the solace and solidarity we might have gained from one another. What of women who did not share my wit, my experience, or my brand of luck? I offered them little beyond silent companionship, as they wrestled, perhaps alone, with the ravages of harassment and assault in our workplace. Until today, there is no institutional record of my experience, no way to link it to a pattern or practice.
#MeToo permits us to see more clearly through the murkiness of awkward and painful pasts. It suggests that we are stronger when we tell our stories out loud and in concert with one another. Can it transform how inequalities of gender and power shape academic culture? We don't yet know. Still, I am certain there is power in telling our stories.
Martha S. Jones is a professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University.
What Affirmative Action Didn't Change
By design, it bakes in stigma.
The mass hiring of women into higher education, beginning in the 1970s, is one of the great affirmative-action success stories. Although universities have simultaneously done a remarkably poor job of cultivating, hiring, and promoting scholars of color, and although the natural sciences, economics, and philosophy remain defiantly male, the status of women in higher education has improved dramatically since I entered college as an undergraduate in 1976.
So why do our female students feel as disempowered by predatory sexual behavior as we did decades ago? Why do most women still command significantly lower salaries?
While affirmative action effectively transformed the hiring ethic — recruiting women and people of color was the right thing to do — it did so by tacitly suppressing another conversation: That all-male, all-white faculties were never the natural order of things, but the outcome of decades of exclusion of women and people of color from jobs for which they were qualified. The failure to confront this moral wrong implicitly makes women, and people of color, second-class university citizens to this day.
In the 1960s, even at women's colleges, where a female Ph.D. was most likely to be employed, the faculties were dominated by men. Often highly educated, faculty wives were relegated to serving refreshments to students or hanging out at informal faculty-wives' clubs. Scholars who became leaders in their fields — the historians Marilyn Young and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, the psychologist Naomi Weisstein — began their careers as ill-paid instructors and would have been unemployable had they not been married to other scholars who had been offered tenure-track lines.
However, in 1967 gender was added to the list of categories eligible for affirmative action under federal employment law. Simultaneously, women's liberation and civil-rights activism created pressure to diversify faculties and student bodies. While this was a heady moment, integration by law often carried an unspoken assumption: That discrimination could be rectified without ever coming to terms with how excluding women and people of color had been central to entrenched systems of professional and intellectual prestige.
The irony of affirmative action is that the baggage of being a female member of the faculty, or a professor of color, carried a historical stigma that was baked into these new jobs.
In other words, the irony of affirmative action, as it was practiced, is that the baggage of being a female member of the faculty, or a professor of color, carried a historical stigma that was baked into these new jobs from the beginning. A now-senior female scholar who was the first to be hired on the tenure track by her Ivy League department in the 1970s remembers the instant flood of service demands as her university strove to demonstrate its enthusiasm for diversity. "I was on every committee," she recalls. "They would say, 'We need a woman,' and they would look around the room and there I was."
Paradoxically, then, the persistence of differences preserved women's unequal status even as this newly diverse workplace, and many individual men, celebrated and promoted gender equality. In addition, the traditionally female realm of care work was an unspoken responsibility for these newcomers. At the moment of entry, women and scholars of color had a special task that white men were not expected to perform: serving students who looked like them, and who were perceived as unready for, and unequal to, the challenges of an elite university.
It wasn't always unspoken that such care work was part of a woman's job description. As Nancy Weiss Malkiel notes in her book Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation (Princeton University Press, 2016), the university did not understand itself to be remedying discriminatory hiring practices. Instead, its policies instructed reluctant male hiring committees "that undergraduate women needed access to successful older women who could serve as role models."
As we look at the maldistribution of power along the lines of gender, race, and sexuality that defines this #MeToo moment, we should ponder the possibility that the "add women and stir" hiring practices of the affirmative-action era were not a misunderstanding of what diversity means — but a Faustian bargain that could not, and was never intended to, fully empower its beneficiaries in the first place.
Claire Bond Potter is a professor of history at the New School and executive editor at Public Seminar.
'Well, Girl, What Makes You Think You Can Teach?'
The stresses and intrigues of the glass-ceiling life
Years ago, I sat facing a gray-haired dean whose shoulders barely reached the surface of his enormous desk. I was applying for my first teaching position; power was the least of my considerations as I struggled to find a persuasive answer to his first (and, I feared, final) question: "Well, girl, what makes you think you can teach?" It's possible he interrogated male candidates the same way. But I'm willing to bet he didn't call any of them "boy."
What, realistically, do we mean when we talk about women and power in the academy?
Clearly, in terms of economic standing and authority, female educators have not sufficiently closed the gender gap. In 2016, 30 percent of colleges and universities had female presidents, up just 4 percentage points from 2011. A 2017 report by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources indicates that female administrators earn 80 cents on the dollar compared with male administrators. I worry about the effect those measures of power might have on the women who now make up the majority of college attendees.
Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace: "Power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand." We use "power" and "empowerment" in relation to women without acknowledging the terms' ambiguities. Without context, "power" and "empowerment" are squishy terms that can confuse more than clarify. "Power" for women in higher education has been defined so narrowly as to imply that the most meaningful path must be to join the race to the top, that we are obligated by our gender to break glass ceilings, even if our talents, interests, and commitments lie elsewhere.
To focus on impressive titles as a measure of power is ill-considered and in some respects insulting to those who choose different paths. Not all women have similar aspirations, and the vast majority of female academics feel fulfilled and honored to have the title of "professor."
Ask a typical college student the names of three high-level administrators, even the president, at their institution and you're likely to be met with a blank stare. That's not to disparage those who seek or have achieved high-status positions. I admire these women and their fortitude in following their ambitions. But I have "done time" in lower administrative echelons, and I have not forgotten the stresses and intrigues of the glass-ceiling life. I would not give up one hour with students in my afternoon honors seminar or even my 8 a.m. "Intermediate Composition" class to be a president, provost, or dean.
Like so many other women (and men), I am where I belong; and that is more than enough.
Billie Dziech is a professor of English at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus (Beacon Press, 1984).
Good Choices and Bad Excuses
The danger of self-congratulation
Chopping vegetables for dinner at a family play date, a mom-friend who is also a humanities Ph.D. in her 30s and I were discussing the recent #MeToo revelations in academe. They have made undeniable a fact we all sort of knew: Sexual harassment is as common in the unglamorous halls of universities as in the luxury hotels of the Hollywood set. We exchanged the depressingly predictable "Can you believe it? Well, of course I can" small talk, swapping stories that have their equivalents in every industry. Sleazebag scholars sloppily throwing themselves at women (or worse) at conference hotel bars; senior colleagues informally banned from seeing comely grad students behind closed office doors; and, perhaps worst of all, offenses committed by men of a younger generation who should know better, especially when they touted themselves as feminist allies.
The talk turned personal: So has anything like this ever happened to you? A long pause followed, the kind that often precedes painful confessions. But none issued forth. Rather, our answers spilled out almost in unison: Actually, no. Not really at all. And then, with troubling swiftness, we began explaining why, listing the logical reasons that our emphatic "no's" made perfect sense.
Sitting in that cozy kitchen, we enumerated, first tentatively but more confidently with each nod of agreement, all the good choices we had made over the years that had insulated us from the unfortunate aggressions that befell so many of our female friends and acquaintances. We left hotel bars before the third round of drinks at conferences; refused solo meal invitations with senior male scholars when we were graduate students; suppressed any sign of emotional vulnerability in front of male professors. Of course it wasn't their fault, but if our good choices had served us so well, what could be said about those of our unlucky colleagues?
So intoxicating was the desire to see ourselves as agents rather than victims that we slipped into a kind of self-congratulatory, hushed second-guessing that insidiously undermined the very movement we should instead have been upholding. We are women who teach feminist theory, brought our daughters and sons to the Women's March, and who know on a visceral and intellectual level that #MeToo is about the systemic ways patriarchy seeps into and structures the workplace — weren't we just talking about it two minutes ago? Yet we found ourselves explaining away the ocean of evidence that revealed the urgency of the solidarity we were personally eschewing.
Just like carrying pepper spray and keeping an eye on your cocktail are likely to diminish the chances of sexual assault, our choices probably did have something to do with our avoiding the kind of egregious episodes that #MeToo has laid bare (which is not to say that patriarchy and misogyny haven't affected our professional and intellectual lives in subtler ways). But so did luck, as did our relative privilege as white, cisgendered women who had moved from fully funded elite graduate programs to stable, full-time employment. But how quickly, and dangerously, we set all that aside!
The vigilance we needed in that fragrant New York kitchen was about our own readiness to rationalize bad excuses with the selective evidence of our good choices. Such self-aggrandizing justification only perpetuates the privilege of having been spared (so far), and suggests the tough battle that lies ahead.
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is an associate professor of history at the New School.
Rage Coffee by Martha Rich
Martha Rich is a commercial and fine artist based in Philadelphia. She has taught at several colleges.
Don't Let This Moment Pass
We can't relegate ourselves to helpless victimhood.
When the words "women" and "power" are juxtaposed, my usual reaction is that we don't have much of it. This has historically been true in higher education. Now, however, women make up half or more of the student body at most colleges. Women also occupy positions of power, including the president's office. Our record of gaining and using power is positive and consequential.
Yet even when women have significant authority, they are vulnerable to sexual predation.
The primal difference between men and women in terms of "power," defined as physical strength, does not disappear just because women have gained "power," defined as formal authority. So while we must combat the problem of sexual harassment, we must also avoid relegating ourselves to helpless victimhood. We are not powerless, and we can — and should — do something about it.
What can we do? First, women — and sympathetic men — in authority must create an environment in which claims of harassment are not swept under the carpet, automatically discounted, or settled with monetary payments and confidentiality agreements. Men (or women) who are accused of wrongdoing must have an opportunity to defend themselves. Due process matters. Nonetheless, in cases of "he said, she said," the account of the alleged victim must be given an especially attentive hearing.
Second, we must educate boys and young men to understand the difference between sex that is mutually sought and enjoyed, and sex that is imposed. Those of us who offer residential education have a unique responsibility to combat such unwanted behavior. This is not an easy task, given the ubiquity of alcohol and the age-old practices of late adolescence. But it's not beyond our power to refresh and improve our ways of accomplishing this goal. One promising idea is the creation of a "designated bystander" role, akin to designated driver, in which students take turns staying sober and keeping an eye out for potentially predatory behavior at parties.
Finally, we should recall that power is collective as well as individual. Women — and men — can work together to discourage off-color jokes, call out individuals who are prone to unwanted touching, and protect vulnerable colleagues. Women who are harassed in minor ways can respond with humor or bemusement — "What's that all about?" — instead of accepting or ignoring inappropriate behavior.
The #MeToo movement gives us a rare opportunity to act on such ideas. We must not let this moment pass.
Nannerl O. Keohane, a former president of Wellesley College and Duke University, is a visiting scholar at the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University.
The Trouble With Genius
How personality cults protect predators.
I was lucky, on the whole. While I was a graduate student in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I only had to fend off some clumsy advances and disengage from the unpleasant predations of a crude and brutish professor. You could shrug these things off, laughing with friends afterward, even if you felt an underlying discomfort, and even if you suspected subsequent punishment — being overlooked in discussions, having your ideas curtly dispatched.
Over the years, I would see and hear of much worse things: the supervisor who championed only attractive female students, the one who sent you images of his genitals if you were foolish enough to give him your cell number, the one who had sex with a vulnerable graduate student at the summer lake party.
What strikes me as alarming now was that it never occurred to me to report any of it at the time. The ordinary rules of conduct didn't seem to apply in the privileged space of the university. The institutions were old and esteemed, steeped in tradition and populated by brilliant minds. In these elite places, things were allowed to happen that happened nowhere else in professional life.
The competitive nature of graduate study contributed to this suspension of all ordinary rules. I longed for the approbation of senior academics above all things, and so I could overlook their "solecisms." I could be deaf to the unhappy rumors that circulated about certain scholars, cultivating friendly relationships with them in order to advance.
I feel ashamed of this today, but I have tenure and can afford to feel shame now in a way I couldn't as a lowly graduate student. I wish I'd had the courage to speak up when I overheard explicit comments about a peer or when a successful female professor was dismissed as "a very stupid woman." She was not. Still, I didn't dare protest.
As a student, my relationships with the people who taught me were intense. The one-on-one English-literature tutorials I took were close, confidential experiences. I cherished them. Is it possible to discuss poems, plays, and novels, week in, week out, without developing some degree of intimacy? Teaching is a personal form of engagement — we share ideas but also disclose inclinations, express feelings, exchange glances, read body language, and respond sensitively, sympathetically, sometimes even passionately.
But now, on the other side of the relationship, the stark inequality of teacher and student is piercingly clear. Many students seem to me painfully young, even when they can grasp the most complex ideas. I can see their dependency on our patronage, their susceptibility to our suggestion. A stray word here or there can set a student on a path of inquiry. Sometimes I see them imitate my mannerisms and my language, or follow my intellectual inclinations in their altogether determined efforts to please and flatter. As a supervisor now, I am astonished that any teacher could think to take advantage of that.
Academic cultures have changed since my student years. Institutional regulations about staff-student relationships and training about sexual harassment may seem tiresome, but the university is a workplace like any other, and human beings are faulty. If "snowflake" students are more sensitive, more likely to call out inappropriate behavior, all the better.
But we need to scrutinize our culture more closely still. Last year a supervisor with a cultish reputation (whom I had known only briefly and unhappily in a professional context as a graduate student) was accused and found guilty of terrible crimes. The intellectual community once devoted to him duly expressed its shock and horror, with many swiftly disavowing him and disowning his work. But I wonder how far those people reflected on their own part in creating the environment of privilege and unassailability in which he so safely circulated.
The academy actively encourages cultures of discipleship. Students line up to lionize people who don't always deserve their esteem. We indemnify "brilliant" academics, imbuing them with a deep sense of entitlement, licensing them to do what they wish and be accountable to no one. We build this culture by worshiping academics as gods, inflating their sense of importance, clannishly defending their work against all rebuke, closing doors to critical outsiders, and excusing their troubling behavior as the expression of tortured genius. If you, like me, feel implicated in creating these cultures, then perhaps it's time to think about how to destroy our false idols.
Shahidha Bari is a senior lecturer in English at Queen Mary University of London.
The Academy's Pink Collar
Adjunct issues are women's issues.
I write this from a position within the academy that is still somewhat ill-defined. I am an adjunct, otherwise known as a contract worker, term-limited instructor, or sessional lecturer. Most teaching at postsecondary institutions across North America is now done by contingent faculty members, and the majority of them are women. (A study from the TIAA Institute found that 53 percent of part-time faculty and 45 percent of full-time faculty in 2013 were women, and that fewer than one in 10 women faculty members are full professors.) Faced with a rapidly shrinking tenure-track market, these women may make the equivalent of less than minimum wage at insecure jobs that offer no benefits, no path to permanent employment, and no access to institutional power. The adjunct is fast becoming the academy's pink collar.
I finished my Ph.D. at the University of Toronto at the end of 2016, one year after I, along with 6,000 other graduate-student instructors and teaching assistants, went on strike for three weeks. We were protesting our poverty wages, our lack of parental benefits, our increasing class sizes and workloads, and our funding packages, which fell $8,000 short of the poverty line and $21,000 short of a living wage.
Three years before the strike, I fought Toronto's School of Graduate Studies for months while very pregnant because they were insisting on charging me full tuition while I was on maternity leave. I went to the university ombudsperson, the Status of Women Office, the chair of my department, the graduate chair of my department — no one would help me. Finally, my labor union threatened the university with a gender-based human-rights complaint, and my tuition was promptly reimbursed.
Today I work in an office that I share with three other people on one of two campuses where I teach English courses for a third of what permanent faculty make. There are many like me. We strategize using Marxist terminology; we decry the lack of travel funding, health benefits, and parental leave; we share think piece after think piece on social media; we demand equal pay for equal work; and still we wait dutifully to hear about that contract for next semester. And, while we perform this labor, the work we were trained to do goes undone: writing and thinking about art, philosophy, history, and politics. When was it, exactly, that this other labor became so impossible for so many of us?
In his 2016 acceptance speech for the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, Kevin Birmingham courageously argued that "we tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings. … And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent." The academy's dependence on (predominantly women's) precarious labor is what he rightly calls "the great shame of our profession."
What is to be done? Permanent faculty must recognize that none of us can do intellectual work without addressing the inequities that are inside this house. We must end the sexual harassment that is rampant in our universities. We must end the stigma that women face when they have children. We must give graduate students and contingent faculty access to paid parental leave, better funding packages, quality affordable child care, and comprehensive health benefits.
We need those with institutional power to stand with those of us who have none.
We need permanent faculty to do the work of holding our institutions to account — to use whatever power they have left to stand strongly against the inflation of administrators' salaries, the erosion of permanent jobs, and the inexcusable justifications for impoverishing educators while enrollments and tuition fees continue to rise. We need those with institutional power to stand with those of us who have none. We need the institutionally powerful to demand the gender equality you've been writing and lecturing about for decades. This means labor action, and this means unionizing if you're not already unionized. Better yet: Unionize with your precarious colleagues and make their fight your fight.
It means walking off the job and refusing to teach your classes until your colleagues are paid a living wage and have a path to permanent employment. It means speaking up in that meeting that is closed to contract faculty members, agitating on their behalf. Why do all this? Because if your work is produced under the conditions of someone else's exploitation, your work is unethical. And if we do not want to abandon the university altogether, then we all have a moral obligation to improve it.
Alyson Brickey is a sessional instructor of English at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba. This essay is adapted from her MLA 2018 panel talk on "Precarity and Activism."
Secondhand Smoke From College Presidents
Lessons from my proximity to power
Let's start with the obvious. Women have, to varying degrees, been systematically excluded from leadership positions. To this day, only a tiny fraction of Fortune 500 CEOs are women — just over 6 percent. Women fare slightly better in political life, where they constitute 21 percent of the Senate, 19 percent of the House of Representatives, 25 percent of state legislatures, and 8 percent of governors.
Higher education has a stronger record of women's leadership than either politics or business, but the gains are recent, and women have spent far more time on the outside looking in than on the inside exercising power themselves.
In that time, we have figured out how to be effective without the benefit of explicit authority, and, like all outsiders, we have become keen observers of how others exercise power. Lessons learned on the outside can serve as powerful tools when women do gain power.
Before becoming president of Bates College, in 2012, I had experienced an unusual amount of "secondhand smoke" from college presidents. My father was a college president for 25 years, and later I worked closely with four Harvard presidents, all with different leadership styles — Neil Rudenstine, Larry Summers, Derek Bok, and Drew Faust. By the time I came to Bates, I had developed numerous theories about academic leadership.
For one thing, effective leadership depends less on positional authority than on persuasion. Academic work is defined by inquiry, standards of evidence and argument, and inviting disparate points of view. Decisions must be explained, reasons must be given, and they will stand only if the logic behind them is persuasive. "I'm president and you're not" does not get you very far.
Also, empathy — by which I mean being mindful of the impact that decisions have on individuals — is essential. If you've always expected to exercise power and have built your career through well-established channels, you might not realize what it feels like to have things "done to you" or have decisions "land on you." This blind spot is particularly dangerous in an academic leader, because colleges succeed to the extent that they enable faculty members to do their best work. A leader who lacks empathy risks eroding morale in the short term and diminishing the quality of an institution over time.
Finally, an effective leader needs to maintain a visionary orientation — again, a stance reinforced by experience on the outside. If you have been systematically excluded from leadership roles, you very likely have a healthy impatience with the status quo. This stance is a component of strong leadership in any organization, but especially in higher education, where "this is the way we've always done it" is too often the prevailing, if unspoken, rationale when making decisions.
Clayton Spencer is president of Bates College.
Walled States by Sharmila Sen and Shahzia Sikander
Painting by Shahzia Sikander, a visual artist and MacArthur Fellow whose practice includes drawing, video, and performance. Words by Sharmila Sen, executive editor at large at Harvard University Press. Formerly, she was a faculty member in the Harvard English department. Her forthcoming book, Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America, will be published by Penguin in August.
The Perils of Anonymity
We must fight this battle in broad daylight.
We have officially entered the era of vigilante justice via social media, that magic portal that triggers the Gorgon head which can turn our most intrepid warriors into stone. We have placed our faith in the bleak and frequently uninformed oversight of "like," "share," and "retweet" buttons, devoured the grist of websites that, bewilderingly, pride themselves on anonymity, and gorged ourselves on whisper campaigns.
We have merrily perverted the intent of Title VII and the intersection between Title IX and the Clery Act. Our marching orders require a single "ism." Consider the fallout within the academy: faculty and administrators of color as well as those ever-useful pariahs, (Old) White Men from Berkeley to BU, reeling before accusations of various harassments, the most outrageous of which seem to be sexual.
America has gathered its crucifixes, lit its pyres and found an umbrella large enough for the weird dichotomies of its culture, both relentlessly prurient and zealously puritanical.
America has gathered its crucifixes, lit its pyres and found an umbrella large enough for the weird dichotomies of its culture, both relentlessly prurient and zealously puritanical.
Women, we're told, are at long last in charge of something, taking to the streets (with due permission, down prearranged routes, in impeccably orderly fashion), taking selfies in millinery decorated with pink feline motifs, posting photographs and umbrage on social media.
What is missing, in this nation that upholds the rights of the individual above the good of the community, is identity. American women seem to have a peculiar aversion to self-identification when they make allegations, preferring to hide behind swaths of proxy fighters primed to chest-pound on their behalf. Much of their rage is reserved for those whose patronage these women may have already benefited from over decades during which they, as adults, like the anonymous "Grace," lacked the ability to say, "I'd prefer to wait for a glass of red wine at dinner," when she didn't like the white being served to her by her particular Aziz Ansari.
The tawdry protections of anonymity are brandished because, we are told, they shield us from persecution, as alleged by the 15 unnamed women who brought charges against three named professors at Dartmouth. In other words, those women are willing to come forward to allege misconduct in a system that is, supposedly, weighted against them, but not willing to fight the system itself. They will ask for the resignation of these men, but essentially concede, helplessly, that if they were found out, they will not be offered fair treatment by the "numerous grant-proposal review boards" and "academic organizations" on which these professors and their friends serve, and which could influence their professional futures. As if we do not live in a world where nothing is secret. As if we still inhabit a universe of carrier pigeons.
It is worth our while to imagine the change that could occur when we are willing to identify ourselves as having had our rights and decencies violated, to fight that battle in broad daylight, to be willing to continue the fight long after the battle is won, if indeed victory is found in our favor. That would mean, in this case, that should these women be penalized for their effort to win redress, they are willing to bring the full force of the country's laws to bear upon that next line of attack. Anything short of that is cowardice and opportunism. It is a way of protecting oneself and one's own career, hiding behind a mask while claiming a front-row seat on the latest bandwagon and making grandiose claims regarding the takedown of the patriarchy.
Right now there is very little recognizable as powerful or just in the hashtag movement du jour. For their part, universities have become too cozy with posterior-saving statements that do little to address allegations but everything to protect against lawsuits in which they might be listed as respondents. A "climate" is noted, an adversary is assessed, and the person most likely to be burned at the stake of public opinion is ushered out the door. Something has been done, but it doesn't quite resemble justice.
Our academic institutions were created to interrogate our views, trends, histories, predilections, pronouncements, and our trajectories. That would mean, for a start, two things. First, that all accusations be announced in public and without anonymity, for if the charges are true and serious, then the victim ought to have no fear of holding her own during an investigation. Second, that both those who bring such charges and those within the academy who are accused of wrongdoing, no matter their status, be afforded the administrative and financial support of the university in order to defend their respective positions, support that can be recuperated if the case is dismissed or the defendant is found guilty.
I am an American woman who was raised in a culture — Sri Lanka — where women were seen, heard, and voted for into the highest office in the land. We claimed both our voices and our names with pride no matter on which side of an equation we found ourselves, defense or prosecution. Even branded with my American subcategories (foreigner, person of color), I refuse to be bullied by forces far greater than me. I insist, with a fervor that is perhaps particular to immigrants, we who are more inclined to believe in the dream, less assured of its existence, that I am afforded the right to defend myself, or those around me. I refuse to disengage from the foundation of the laws that govern this nation, innocent until proven guilty; mine is not one lone voice crying out in the wilderness, but one that gathers its full range from the law itself.
If my American sisters wish to press those laws into service, they must first be able to say their own names out loud. If the Greek chorus of our peers wants to join in their hallelujahs, then so be it, but they should be recognized for the fickle, often misinformed group that they are. They are not the answer. We are.
Ru Freeman teaches creative writing at Columbia University.
How Universities Stigmatize Motherhood
Hold higher education to account for how it treats parents.
When I was pregnant with my third child, I was a doctoral student and graduate instructor for two classes. With no maternity-leave policy for graduate students, I had a conversation with my department chair, a fellow mother of three, who kindly allowed me to "take off" one week of classes. Internally, I was struggling with the narrative that "babies don't belong in academia" and saw the one week off as a sort of under-the-table gift — after all, this wasn't my first child, and I was "just" a grad student. I dutifully scheduled an induction with my doctor, typed my induction date into my syllabus, had a (thankfully) complication-free delivery, and returned to teaching freshman composition seven days later.
My prevailing feeling during the time-off discussion was shame. Even as a feminist scholar, I carried with me the shame I internalized at 20 when, during a visit to the student health center to confirm my pregnancy, I was met with such hostility that I left the center in tears and without any resources, support, or direction.
Eleven years later, as a tenure-track professor, that experience in the student health center would be questioned by a female colleague at a public talk I gave in front of my college; she suggested that my "Latina lens" kept me from objectively interpreting my experience, and that perhaps if I removed that lens I would have understood the situation differently. I stood paralyzed in front of my colleagues as the very experiences that I was hired to teach and write from — and the experience that I had, moments before, described as "traumatizing" — were being cast as suspect.
These experiences have compelled me to ask critical questions: What are the implications of campus culture for mothers? Do conversations about parenting exist merely within the language of family medical leave or Title IX? How do universities convey who they are in ways that recognize both the challenges and the contributions of parenting faculty, and how do we hold universities to account for how they treat parents? When those narratives are not present, public, or inclusive, advocacy work is made that much more challenging.
Even as universities make efforts to hire faculty who reflect the complexities of their student bodies, those identities that fall outside of what Audre Lorde referred to as the "mythical norm" — white male, upper-class, Christian, heterosexual, etc. — are read as disruptive. As a woman of color and a mother, I have had to advocate for myself on matters related to parenting and salary at the risk of coming off as needy, high-maintenance, or angry. The danger of confirming a stereotype bubbles to the surface as I prepare myself for meetings with administrators, and I find myself struggling with the respectability politics that women-of-color feminists have effectively critiqued. Advocacy becomes burdensome as I attempt not only to represent myself but also to respond to how faculty are harmed differently by intersecting systems of oppression.
At the same time, I realize it is a privilege to be able to advocate for others. Serving and amplifying the voices and needs of marginalized communities is an important reason I am here in the first place. Navigating the space between "advocate" and "the advocated for" is messy, risky work — an invisible labor to improve conditions for myself and other women with similar challenges.
Narratives are not enough. Simply including the recognition of parent identities and other underrepresented identities in speeches, diversity statements, and promotional materials will not guarantee an empowering campus climate. Still, it's a start. But what we truly need are performative policies, high standards of accountability, faculty assessment of university performance and climate, and opportunities for folks with varying life experiences to assume leadership positions.
How we tell the story about who the university is, and how we bring that story to life through policy and real social change, is what transforms the university from an institution into an integrated community.
Larissa M. Mercado-López is an associate professor of women's studies at California State University at Fresno.
It's OK to Lead Like a Woman
But macho leaders are given the benefit of the doubt.
I have worked in the public and private sectors, in national security, economic development, education and technology policy, in governments from local to federal, and in academe. Each had its own peculiar power dynamics and cultural norms, including implicit and explicit expectations of women and how we should acquire, wield, and respond to power. I have worked in hierarchical and "flat" organizations, but some themes seem to hold across most sectors and organizational types.
First, there are double standards when it comes to both getting and exercising power.
We all know women who have been branded know-it-alls, difficult colleagues, or worse. To succeed, women are often expected to show deference (often euphemized as "team spirit") and then to jujitsu our way into being the best one for the job without making anyone else feel bad along the way.
Second, power can come from position, but position does not necessarily confer power. When I was a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, many people reported to me, but I did not have power until I had earned their trust. But the window for earning trust is, in my experience, smaller for a woman in an environment dominated by men. Male leaders are given the benefit of the doubt; their authority (and authoritativeness) is not only assumed but embraced; their recommendations are accepted and directions followed.
Third, so much advice about power — how to get it, wield it, keep it — is premised on a specific, and unfortunately still widely accepted, gendered way of projecting authority. After I gave a talk to a room of 400 people, I was pulled aside by a respected male colleague, a fellow college president. He praised my talk and then, in an avuncular manner, told me that if I wanted people to see me as someone in charge, my tone should be less conversational and I should use my body language and voice to project force. In other words, I should look and sound like him.
Banging my hand on the lectern doesn't feel right to me. I am most comfortable in dialogue. I ask questions and listen for answers; I acknowledge who is present, and I ask us to make room, literally and conceptually, for those who aren't there yet; I own my expertise and am able unapologetically to draw upon others' expertise.
In consciously choosing to engage in a way that is authentic to me, I hope to model a form of leadership that is different from the traditional (gendered) assumption of authority and authoritativeness, one which helps me move beyond the double bind — be aggressively authoritative but don't be pushy — that women in leadership often experience.
And, just as important, I work persistently to check the power-hungry tendencies that live in all of us: compete at all costs, always get credit, shore up your position of power, serve those above you but not those below you, tolerate no mistakes, take no criticism, know all the answers.
As educators, we must help students understand the ways in which they are participating in a range of power relationships. As women in the academy, we must remain mindful that we are models as well as mentors.
The way we conduct ourselves has become every bit as vital to shifting perceptions and confronting biases as our scholarship, our pedagogy, and our policy making. As leaders and as educators, we have an opportunity to highlight cultural norms that students will carry with them into the world after this formative phase of their lives. And we have a duty to foster an environment that equips students to translate all that they are learning into the world — a world of power relations, institutional inertia, gendered understanding, and deep but not immovable inequalities.
Mariko Silver is president of Bennington College.
Dusting Off the Male Gaze by Yuko Shimizu
Yuko Shimizu is a New York City-based illustrator and instructor at the School of Visual Arts. Her illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Time, and The New Yorker, among other publications.
Nice Work, If You Can Get It
Austerity, not #MeToo, will set the future course of the academy.
I have it good. I get to spend my days keeping company with ideas and the intellectuals who made them. As an intellectual historian, I engage not only interesting ideas but also the historical conditions that made those ideas seem plausible and compelling, or dubious and repellent.
Take, for example, ideas of individual empowerment as they began to crystallize in the 19th century. A historical approach allows us to understand Elizabeth Cady Stanton's arguments for women's "solitude of self" in the struggle for female suffrage. It means examining Nietzsche's "will to power" as a response to the leveling influences of 19th-century European industrialization and democratization, while Emma Goldman, in turn, reformulated Nietzsche's concept to rethink economic and political conditions in 20th-century America.
Similarly, it means examining the limited range of female expression in post-Civil War New England that the novelist Louisa May Alcott wrestled with in Little Women, and understanding how Jo March resonated with a 10-year old Simone de Beauvoir in post-World War I Paris. Before de Beauvoir discovered that she was a member of the "second sex," she identified "passionately with Jo, the intellectual."
So some of the most interesting theorists of power have been those who had very little of it and so forged alternative modes of — and paths to — intellectual self-empowerment, if not also authority.
I can comfortably say that I have achieved versions of the intellectual self-sovereignty these thinkers articulated, but that doesn't mean I'm always effective when confronting inequity in academe. Indeed, the dissonance between these ideas and my lived experience grew stronger the more credentialed and accomplished I became. No longer were senior scholars counseling me to use my hands less when I lecture, to modulate my voice to reduce my range of inflection, and to consider adding more beige to my wardrobe. But now I faced a university with no maternal-leave policy, male undergraduates who persistently called me "Jennifer" (even when I signed my emails "Professor Ratner-Rosenhagen"), and an invitation to speak at a conference where, I later learned, only men — and none of the women — were offered honoraria.
Still, being a professor is nice work if you can get it. Of course, so many accomplished and talented doctoral students can't get it in this age of austerity.
The #MeToo awakening and academic downsizing may seem like strange bedfellows, but as a female professor, I toggle between their implications daily. That is because I can't help thinking that my chosen profession may be as obsolescent as that of a West Virginia coal miner. We are told to chill out — our job as professors is not to reproduce ourselves. This is the refrain I've heard as our profession threatens to be phased out. It is also shortsighted.
We are here for nothing if not to provide students the opportunities for intellectual empowerment we had ourselves. I'm reminded of this every day I look onto a sea of 18-year-old faces, most of whom, like me, came to college with no experience beholding the terrifying and ennobling power of ideas. The best professors don't just tend to their own intellectual gardens, they teach others how to do the same.
My fear is that austerity, not #MeToo, will set the future course of the academy.
My fear is that austerity, not #MeToo, will set the future course of the academy. What if that means there are no professorships left in which women can _______ (fill in the blank: achieve self-empowerment, assert their power, continue challenging sexism in academe)?
I don't know the answer to that question. But one thing I am sure of: When universities hand all of their teaching over to online courses, instructors with female names will get lower student evaluations than those with male ones.
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
My job does not consist of being a woman.
When Jill Johnston interviewed the painter Agnes Martin in 1973 and suggested that Martin didn't have the reputation she deserved because she was a woman, Martin responded, "I'm not a woman, and I don't care about reputations." I've liked this line for a long time, and I've thought about it in different ways in the past months, wondering with increasing frequency what it means to be understood as a woman.
The topic of this symposium — women and power — is more interesting to me as a received category than as a personal experience. Not that I discount the power of personal experience. To the contrary, personal experience is one of the things that my corner of the academy, with its grasp of the importance of narrative, has to offer. I couldn't sequence a gene if you held a gene-sequencing machine to my head. I do, however, know about narratives, because (it would be nice if you heard this delivered with Philip Marlowe-like intensity) stories are my business.
Women haven't had adequate opportunities to recount them, or the stories they get to tell are mostly about being a woman. By this I mean that one speaks of moving through a set of circumstances in which being a woman is key — for good, ill, both, or to be determined. The story may be about being perceived in a certain way. The story may be about other women, or what women might understand as important, seek to foster, or to dispense with. The expectation of a woman's story being about being a woman seems to me at once (1) necessary at this moment, (2) long overdue, and (3) restrictive in the long run. I hope that the story of women and power comes to encompass stories by women that are more about how best to employ power than about what it means to be a woman.
What happens when stories about women and power in the academy come to instruct us about just — in every sense of that adjective — power? I don't see an academy that is post-gender. But I would like to be free to tell and to hear stories in which being a woman need not figure — so who one is bears no necessary correlation with how one acts, or is acted upon. This may be pragmatic (in both senses): I personally have no clue what it means to be a woman. I also don't want to learn to be one. I have been rightly schooled in the power of consensus, but ultimately power to me means not needing to agree.
Thus I resist the formulation of power as a set of prerogatives dictated by selfhood. The ultimate triumph of being a woman in the academy means exerting power in ways that have zero to do with telling a story about being a woman. It means mentoring and being mentored — the most powerful, the most intimate relationship the academy has to offer — and then getting hold of budget lines, court decisions, labs, and syllabi. It means recognizing and being recognized for one's labor — Stanley Cavell's word for the ongoing endeavor of recognition is "acknowledgment": the overcoming of philosophical skepticism, the haunting and tragic sense that you are the only person in the world. Power means being freed of the expectation that a woman in academe is supposed to feel any one thing in particular, or to do anything except her job. And that job should not consist of being a woman.
So let me tell you a story.
Jessica Burstein is an associate professor of English and gender, women, and sexuality at the University of Washington.