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Bad Female Academic: Child-Like

I'm not innocent, naive, or in need of protection. Why does that mean I also need to be cynical and pessimistic? 

January 3, 2012

(Here is an archive of past Bad Female Academic posts from my old blog. According to my 2011 stats, this series posts were, by far, my most popular. )

While I was back at “home” over the holidays (at my mom’s, in the same house I grew up in), I proudly told my mother about my upcoming trip to D.C. to participate in the New Faculty Majority’s National Summit, Reclaiming Academic Democracy. Adjunct labor issues in higher education, I explained to her, are reaching a critical point, and we might (will!) be able to affect some real positive changes. She had two questions for me: 1) I had a pretty good deal, so why did I have to get involved and 2) if I understood that the money had to come form somewhere to pay adjuncts/hire more tenure-track faculty.

No, mom, I thought the magical money tree would take care of everything. And that my sweetness and earnestness would protect me from any sort of negative repercussions from my advocacy.

There is a pernicious stereotype of a certain kind of ideal woman: The sweet, innocent, naïve child-like female, one who is, according to one source, pretty (rather than hot). This is a female that needs to be protected at all cost, but also is often condescended to because of their unfettered view of the world. This is the wide-eyed schoolgirl, the virginal/angelic girl-next-door. 

I know exactly why my mother, despite much evidence to the contrary, assumes that I am a naïve little girl, as well as why I have received certain condescending comments on some of my blog posts: I am optimistic, and, much like a young child, I believe that just about anything is possible. I also tend to be overly-emotional, a trait that isn’t just negatively associated with being female, but also a sign of immaturity, childishness. Pair those two things up, and I understand why some would feel the need to pat me on the head and remind me what reality is.

It’s unfortunate that the (seemingly) only acceptable response to the innocent female stereotype I described above is absolute cynicism. I understand that reality isn’t fair, equitable, and that good people who mean well often get the shaft. But I don’t think the answer is to run and hide, to keep to myself, and stubbornly accept the status quo because things can’t/won’t/never change for the better. I will accept the label of being child-like if it means that I can continue to imagine a world different, better, from how it is right now, that just because things have been a certain way in the past doesn’t mean it has to be that way going forward.  

As for whether or not I can actually make a difference? I’ll never know unless I try. I at the very least owe it to my own kids to show them that growing up doesn’t mean giving up. The reality is that there are certain parts of being a kid that we need to hold on to.

Just don’t call me naïve. Or assume I need or want protection. 


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