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Monday, November 26, 2012

31

Gender, Generations, and Faculty Conflict

"In 1979 a distinguished humanist of the older generation, whose two daughters had followed him into academe, commented to me: "Of course I would have preferred it if it had been my sons who succeeded me, but it was the girls. And mostly what I see today are girls. They're certainly better than nothing." Although he might have resisted the changes around him, he did not. (Nor had he done much to facilitate them.) He probably would have said that was because scholarship came first. But a decade earlier, he would have been grooming young men, placing them in jobs; now he was content to observe passively what was happening."
—Columbia University's Caroline Bynum on academia, generational antagonism, and the dangers of being dismissive of "female squabbling."



31 Comments / Post A Comment

kimkrypto

Interesting. I think her argument has some merit, but as a much, MUCH narrower argument than she thinks it is, given that it seems to apply only to upper-class white women with academic connections.

dracula's ghost

@kimkrypto Yes. The article is about women in academia, and is published in an online journal dealing solely with academia and academic issues. Not sure why you think she thinks her argument is broader than this? I think she's very intentionally talking about women in academia, and nothing else.

wallsdonotfall

@kimkrypto I'm curious, because I just don't see it but that could be my own blindness--what part of her argument doesn't apply to women of color in academia?

dracula's ghost

@wallsdonotfall Yeah I also had this question

chloe lum@twitter

@kimkrypto There are plenty of non-upper class women in academia. Associate and part time profs don't exactly earn a killing.

dracula's ghost

@chloe lum@twitter And there are lots of women in academia who have become very successful but who had working-class or even impoverished upbringings/parents/childhoods.

chloe lum@twitter

@dracula's ghost Yep.

kimkrypto

@kimkrypto The pullout quote makes it clear, even if the rest of her article didn't. This is a phenomenon that was easiest for white women with class privilege to access. Women of color routinely struggle/d in different ways to attain positions in the academy, and theirs was (usually) not one of simply moving into a power vacuum created by the rejection of angry white men.

I'm not saying her argument doesn't have merit. I AM saying that it's much less of an across-the-board phenomenon than her use of the word "women" would suggest.

carolinaclay

it's work really well :)@y

dracula's ghost

This hit home like crazy. I feel very lucky to have been academically nurtured by a series of "mother" figures (and one awesome "father") who took the mentorship of women seriously, but I know far too many women my age who have not been. I love this call-to-arms!

Pocket Witch

I have feelings now, because this guy sounds like my dad. I'm getting the same vibe of "oh, sure, nothing against women" and then you're blindsided by some really overt misogyny.

Lately, he's been on my case because I'm still single. He keeps saying that I turned down the only guy who's ever liked me. The little fuck in question harassed me for a time in high school.

I wish I had the spine to make it inescapably clear to my dad that harassment does not count as someone liking me. It's just a sick little power game. Maybe if I asked him to explain exactly why he thinks harassment is desirable or flattering?

Springtime for Voldemort

@Pocket Witch I normally go with something along the lines of "well, if that's love, then you can see why I'd be disinterested."

Springtime for Voldemort

It does seem like so many inter-generational feminist conversations focus on how one generation is totally letting the other generation down, instead of figuring out what commonalities everyone has, what each side brings to the table, and how we can move past those tensions.

harebell

@Springtime for Voldemort
It's true. I think these things can be exacerbated for academics, because a lot of younger women really didn't encounter/notice misogyny during their childhoods, and they really think it is "over" because of this bubble until they begin their careers post-college, and discover it for themselves.

veryanonymous

@harebell Totally agree. I'm not in academia, and growing up always thought of myself as a feminist, but for some reason it's only now, in my thirties, that it has really hit home for me that the top people at every company I've ever worked at have always been men. Even when I was in an industry that is female-dominated -- the CEOs, the CFOs the COOs are always men.

Springtime for Voldemort

@harebell I'm rather frequently struck by how the feeling I get when having conversations with older women about how younger women just don't see their oppression gives me the exact same gut feelings as when my mother remarks, "Your hair is short. I like it when it's long", and steers the conversation away from validation and praise of what I'm doing with my life to focus on what I'm (apparently) doing wrong. I think a lot of it isn't so much that young women don't see their oppression (because even when they couch it in different terms, they do tend to suspect something is up), but rather that buying into Feminism tends to feel quite a lot like agreeing to call your mother every Sunday night even though you know she's just going to ask you why you don't have a boyfriend. Similarly, I'd guess that many older women would be less hesitant to embrace newer theories if it didn't feel so much like agreeing to do your daughter's laundry when she comes home for Fall Break, but god forbid she spend any of that time with you instead of with her friends from high school.

harebell

@Springtime for Voldemort
Maybe it feels like an empty orthodoxy ("what I'm apparently doing wrong") when you don't have your own blatant experiences of misogyny/sexism/not being taken seriously based on gender. I get the sense that your critique is that it feels rote (e.g. "agreeing to call your mother every night even though etc. etc.). So maybe it takes having one's own unnerving experiences of sexism to start identifying instead of thinking of it as one's mother's issue. Maybe experiencing sexism outside of the home also breaks down one's tendency to see this in terms of family dynamics, and to identify with other women instead of for/against one's mother.

It's a little hard for me to relate to the extreme power of this family coloration of gender politics. Partly since I've been living independently for a while, partly probably also because my mother is dead. But it seems like those family dynamics would also have a bigger pull on younger women, and less of a pull on older women who identify with many more roles than mother/daughter and who also are used to inhabiting both -- being both mother AND daughter to different people -- and potentially also caring for their mothers.

veryanonymous

@harebell I wonder if the feminism "generation gap" isn't just the simple human tendency to not want to identify with the oppressed until it's absolutely inescapably self-evident.

Springtime for Voldemort

@harebell I was actually going more in the direction of emotion over theory. I grew up noticing sexism (especially from my mother), but thought that feminism had some really icky dynamics. It wasn't that I thought we had some great equal society, it was that I didn't think feminism was a good answer to that, and why would I want to spend more time hearing about how everything I'm doing is wrong when that's the sort of dynamic I was trying to get away from? Even if I had 100% agreed with the theory, it wouldn't really have done much about the fact that for a long time (and still frequently to this day), feminism made me feel like anxious, overwhelmed, and incompetent. Much like my mother.

@veryanonymous Perhaps. But we aren't constantly talking about how LGBT youth just don't see their oppression, so it seems like there's something else going on.

Decca

This is kiiiinda related: Terry Castle's latest piece in the London Review of Books begins with a hilarious anecdote about a feminist think tank at Harvard in the 1980s. Extremely entertaining and basically a "feminist academics" blind item.

Lucienne

@Decca So the poet . . . Lucie Brock-Broido, right?

bocadelperro

@Decca that was one of the cattiest, gossipiest reviews of any book i've read in a long time. It was like having a boozy lunch with my very meanest friend. Thanks for sharing it.

harebell

@Decca
ooh, thanks for sharing it.
Her memoir is really good, too. The Professor and Other Writings, I think it's called.

Decca

@Lucienne I know nothing about C20th American poetry, but I just looked her up and I think you may be correct!

Decca

@harebell Yes! The essay on Susan Sontag in that book has to be the bitchiest, funniest, most scathing personal reminiscence ever written. It's filled with the best anecdotes about Sontag. For anyone interested who's not read it, it's here in full. It's worth it alone for the cringey story of a dinner party attended by Marina Abramovic, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Oh! And the moment where Sontag gets super pissed because Terry Castle assumed she'd been napping: " It was as if I had accused her of never having read Proust, or of watching soap operas all day. Her face instantly darkened and she snapped at me violently. Why on earth did I think she’d been having a nap? Didn’t I know she never had naps? Of course she wasn’t having a nap! She would never have a nap! Never in a million years! What a stupid remark to make! How had I gotten so stupid? A nap – for God’s sake!"

It sort of makes me dislike Castle, but it's soooo entertaining.

bocadelperro

@Decca oh man that one's even better. Seriously, thanks for these.

bocadelperro

@harebell Totally just ordered that from Amazon. The Hairpin commentariat has given me so much reading material this week, I doubt I'll ever have a bookless commute again.

Decca

@bocadelperro Wahey, glad you enjoyed them!

Maghrebi

Caroline Bynum is the shit. Here's my Caroline Bynum story: I was in her medieval class and I had to withdraw from college midway through the semester because of mental health and family issues. Professor Bynum went to the registrar office on campus to find out my home address and wrote me a card wishing me well and saying she missed me in class discussions. I've NEVER heard of a college professor doing something like that - it's not like she was my advisor or anything, I just suddenly withdrew from the class and I guess she went to my dean to find out why. I've spoken to other Columbians and she apparently did kind things like that for random students in her classes all the time.
She and Ann Douglas meant more to me than they'll ever know.

dracula's ghost

@Maghrebi FUCKING MENTORSHIP, taking it seriously! I love this story.

geek_tragedy

@Maghrebi

So glad to hear that! As a feminist in academia, I try to be conscious of my students' complicated lives, and the ways in which those lives might conflict with their academic work.

Also, the dude she quotes from 1979? Sounds uncannily like my father. Sorry, dude! There be ladeez following you into academia.

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