Friday, October 12, 2012

Which is worse: overt or subtle sexism?

Reader, be forewarned: I am in fighting mood today.

What has occasioned this fundmental change from last week's fatigue to today's bellicosity? Well, some things that have made me angry, and others that have buoyed me to fight back. First, I received some disappointing professional news. Nothing new there, at first sight, as I've been receiving all kinds of disappointments on the job market. What was special about this specific piece was the obvious gendering of the two responses it comprised. One was generous, engaged, and constructive; the other one was resistant, belligerent, and angered. I do not mean to be reductionist, but trust me when I say it was obvious. They have made me reconsider my place within academia: is it worth pushing that rock uphill during application season, only to have it tumble down again and again? And how many times can I bear to listen to the adage "it's not you, it's the job market?"

What these responses have also made me rethink was all the other interactions I've had throughout my academic career from the point of view of sexism. You know, all the small delays, all the excuses, all the talking over and the talking down to; in other words, all the subtle sexism that the humanities are rife with, for all their declarative adoption of feminism. In my previous career, at least, sexism was out in the open. And so were my weapons. I've had to withstand and fight sexual harassment, but I was in full Buffy mode. But how do you fight the very subtle, insidious sexism of academia?

Needless to say, I was feeling hopeless and ready to say goodbye to my beloved academia. Because for all the statements about "women and minorities are encouraged to apply," when it comes down to choosing between a male candidate and a female one with kids, the actual choice might not really live up to the declared ideals, in spite of everyone's best intentions. S-u-b-t-l-e. Unexamined. Buried.  Engrained. Sexism.

But then, this video, which I'm sure you've seen by now, started making the internet rounds:
Now, I know Julia Gillard has a vexed relationship with feminism. But it's this video that's put me in fighting mood. Because when women's rights are openly trampled on everywhere, who even cares about subtle sexism, right? So, here's a powerful woman calling a sexist's bullshit in the Australian Parliament, and making the internet rounds faster than a new bug in a daycare full of babies. I think we need a model or two like that, coming up in the open and leaving their gloves somewhere else, because I'm tired of being nice to people smart enough to cover their sexism and bury it deep enough for a full forensic team to overlook.

The other thing that's put me in assertive mode is this wonderful conference I'm going to: Women's Writing in Canada and Québec Today. I'm going to spend the weekend engaging with some incredibly intelligent people talking about contemporary literature written by women. I'm also going to hang out with Erin! I'm going to talk about Margaret Atwood. Can you think of a better way to fight subtle or overt sexism? [And now I'm off to... ahem... revise my paper.]

3 comments:

  1. I will be the first to comment, then . . . I used to think that the subtler forms were more frustrating because they were more damaging and more insidious. With Human Rights Laws in place to guard the more over violations bigoted people are learning to read between the lines with those policies and come up with ever more insidious and hard to prove ways to screw people over. I used to be far angrier about all of this than I am now. Now I am just tired. Really tired.

    The subtler forms I contend with these days tend to revolve around the difficulties inherent in determining whether a gesture is romantic or creepy; or how much to appreciate modern chivalry when it sometimes leads to dis-empowerment and the obfuscation of facts and clear options in the context of already unnecessarily difficult situations. I tend to err on the side of caution these days--appreciate when people have good intentions, mean well, and generally (or maybe even, genuinely) care.

    I have also given myself some time away from sending out publications in my research area because of the difficulty of getting feminist-focused work published and taken seriously. I am also just swamped with course work and the proofing for an article going to print now!! (For an example of systemic discrimination against feminist focused work: although the name of the journal escapes me at the moment, the leading international feminist philosophy journal does not have a high ranking so for those who focus on feminist philosophy and need to publish in journals of a certain ranking, this can impact decisions regarding tenure, etc . . .just one example of the systemic issues even beyond the basic necessities of applying for jobs).

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  2. Talk about systemic sexism, Stephanie! What a vicious cycle! Yes, I am with you, in that I get the feeling that many of the responses are along the lines of "What do you know, little girl, about high theory. Let me mansplain what you should think of it, so you don't make the mistake of feminizing it ever again." Hence my fatigue post the previous week. This week, though, I think we should do something to fight it. And coming out in the open with our experiences of subtle sexism at this level, at which everybody and their father thinks themselves illuminated minority-embracers (I use minority in the Deleuze-Guattarian sense of lack of power, not in the numerical sense), the more we expose these instances, the more we can combat them.
    After writing this post, I received so many such responses, I think we should talk about the issue more, rather than doing the neoliberal thing of thinking ourselves isolated and exclusively self-dependant.

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    1. I think talking about it is a good idea, but for some of us it is very very risky so I am not surprised I was the only person to comment publicly (so far--and aside from your response). But I am not sure how productive a dialogue would be for me, but I could be wrong.

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