Stop sexism

This (Can Feminist Scholarship Stop Sexism) was a bit heavier of a Friday morning read, but it made me laugh:

“If I can be sufficiently helpless or self-deprecating or infantile, if I can affix enough implied exclamation marks to whatever harsh verdicts I deliver, perhaps I can offset the offense of pairing intellectual facility with femininity. Or so I have often reasoned. I can eviscerate your novel or your argument, but don’t worry: I’m too ditzy to drive!(!!!!!)”

I am exhausted. I tested the waters, put just my toe in the doorway to academe when I was 18 and blessed with work-study funds at the community college where I forced down as many intro-level courses as I could, and spent a few days a week dusting the old books in the library to save for the life I hoped was waiting for me. Twelve years later and I have not stopped working on a college campus.

At first it is slight. You do not notice…maybe it is because I primarily worked with women first at the commcoll library and then at the financial aid office of my four-year institution. All women, in all the offices I went to. All the times I delivered mail to the student accounts office or the bookstore or admissions. They are helpful, polite, efficient. I had a few male professors. A few were warm and a few were cold. One gave me a C on a paper. My first C, ever. I cried, maybe more than I’ve ever cried in front of a strange man. In front of another person I had no connection to, other than I sat in front of his face a few days a week. He blamed my emotional reaction on my background: “Where did you transfer from?” I felt more insulted and more alone after my response.

There were a lot of other things going on. My period was coming. It was my first semester in a real institution of higher learning. I was finally living on my own, but that meant carefully budgeting, carefully eating, carefully managing my time. I was spending full days in the library, falling asleep over books and journal articles. Staring at my laptop for hours. I had always been a diligent student, always over-studied and over-prepped for school. This was different. This was life-consuming. So much more seemed to be riding on my effort, my engagement, my grades. I had so much to apologize for that I had never felt sorry for before.

“Women come to expect a battery of dismissals and debasements, and they adjust accordingly: To be feminized is to learn that you can either accept your diminution by becoming diminutive (sorry!!!) or put up an unceasing fight, one that often endangers your career or further degrades you. Usually “you can receive some benefits by adapting yourself to a system that is, at another level, compromising your capacity to inhabit the world on more equal terms,” Ahmed writes. Recall the wall, and imagine how it feels to come up against it. Imagine apologizing daily to the wall, and trying to pretend you are happy.”

At 20, I won a competitive internship placement in the library. I met with the Dean. I explained to him my hopes of pursuing graduate study in library and information science. He was small. He said, “seems a little late to start now.” I was 20. I had been working in libraries for two years. His comment did nothing to temper the anxiety I was living with as I began exploring graduate schools and considering my future as our country entered the recession and I tried to be realistic about my prospects as an English major. How would I feed and house myself after graduation? Without the safety net of my financial aid?

Graduate school came and went. More women, less men. At my first professional position, as a visiting faculty member, I was told not to check my phone in meetings. My requests were denied. My words were reasoned away. Men would approach me at the bus stop, “you look fine.” I left.

Now, I’m told to “get my shit together.” My emotions, my complaints are often laughed at by the men who run this institution. More women, less men are my colleagues, but that’s not whose world I work in. I’m exhausted. I lash out at male colleagues whom I trust, who try to see, but can never feel, the walls I push up against every day. They feel a different urging in their bones. They can perform a different type of academic. I listen to male students as they describe wanting to punch a female professor in the face. I am asked out by other male students. “Want to get coffee?” My straight-faced, no-bullshit work attitude is addressed by the faculty I work with: “Cold.” Female students talk to me like I am a friend, a peer. “What year did you graduate?” “Did you go here?”

My female colleagues get pregnant and students gossip. They take time off and come back with more demands on their day. A different body. A different mindset.

I am a thirty year old female who works in higher education. I continue to live in a world of my own creation. I continue to create a world that does not keep me up at night. That does not leave me feeling nauseous and helpless. That works for me, not against me.


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