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Man Up
March 17, 2014 - 11:40am

I read to my kids every night at bedtime. Right now, we’re reading Matilda by the great Roald Dahl (probably my favorite children’s author). It exaggerates a certain…old-school style of teaching that involves shame, humiliation, and physical violence. The Trunchbull, the larger-than-life and exceedingly violent headmistress, hold all children in contempt, unable to believe that many of them can or should learn. The usual reaction to The Trunchbull is for everyone to accept it as the way things work, and to simply get through it.

You know, man up and take it.

Or maybe manning up is what Matilda, Miss Honey, and the other students do, which is to fight back.

I was told in the comments of my last post that I needed to “man up” or find a new line of work. It was out of “concern” for my happiness and well-being, which is almost as ironic as being told to man up in a post that points out the blatant gender discrimination that takes place within higher education. I’ve been spending the past few days trying to figure out why this particular comment had affected me so much. I realized because of all of the ways I’ve been policed about how I perform my gender (or perform in spite of my gender) in the past.

Which is the whole reason why I started the Bad Female Academic series.

I came across this paragraph, in a longer piece about coping with the loss of a child, and it resonated with me a great deal:

When I started out as a writer over a decade ago, I told my best teacher that I wrote because I was lonely, and he said that such a statement implied a responsibility. A writer, he said, is required to reach out to others with stories, to make others feel less alone. This is the great human project.

I started blogging myself for this very reason: to feel less alone. This is the great human project. The comments I receive are exactly the opposite: it is a concerted effort to isolate me, and to isolate and silence anyone who may feel a kinship to me and my situation, and I to theirs. It doesn’t make me feel any better that the same piece that received such warm support here on IHE was completely eviscerated in the comments on Slate. We end up internalizing the message that this is all of our own personal doing, that we are the problem, we are the monster, monsterous, deformed, defective. Whenever I can, I reach out to writers and bloggers and tweeters who feel isolated, frustrated, beaten up and beaten down by this system. I amplify voices that I think do a better job than I do, or have a different perspective because we are in fact not alone.

But I also write because, like Matilda, I believe that I can help bring about change. I write, as myself, with my own name, on a fairly public platform. I am myself, not some pseudo-anonymous faceless person trying to make me feel worse about myself, or rather make themselves feel better about the system and their role within it. I’ve been manning up this entire time. It might not be much. It will probably never be enough. But I take this responsibility seriously.

And I’d appreciate it if you respect that. I’m not saying I’m entitled to it; I’m saying I’ve earned it.

We all have. Just because I have to continually assert it, doesn't mean it's not true.


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