In early June, 33-year-old University of British Columbia graduate student Rumana Manzur was brutally attacked by her husband while visiting family in Bangladesh. He gouged out her eyes, permanently blinding her, and bit off most of her nose. This was done in front of their young daughter.
Stories like this can paralyze us, but they can also mobilize us to speak out. When the mainstream press covers this issue, they are, in effect, starting a public conversation. In responding to this coverage, we tell other parts of the story and create a larger conversation, advocating for unheard voices and voices that are discounted in the "official" discussions at our institutions.
Three of our writers have added their stories to this conversation in the essays below. Afshan Jafar talks back to mainstream media depictions of violence against women, particularly women in "non-Western" countries. Melonie Fullick asks us to think about the ethical obligations involved in internationalizing our institutions and the enduring need for feminism. Lee Skallerup Bessette writes that while she can only speak for herself, she is, nonetheless, obligated to speak on behalf of others.
Death by Culture?*
By Afshan Jafar
Rumana Manzur’s case is heart-wrenching, and terrifying. It makes this post a very difficult one to write. I believe that all forms of violence against women are reprehensible and criminal and should be exposed and punished. But when I see the media coverage of Manzur’s case and its reception by the readers/viewers, I am reminded of why the coverage of violence against women in Other, "non-Western" countries needs to be approached differently.
As a "third-world feminist" living and teaching in the U.S., I am constantly navigating various identities simultaneously in and out of the classroom. Every time I cover this topic in my courses, I am torn. Am I simply perpetuating the myth of other cultures as inherently violent, sexist, and backward? Or did I accomplish what I set out to accomplish? That is, instead of approaching these incidents as something "barbaric," I encourage my students to analyze them as practices that are embedded in particular economic, political, cultural and global contexts. I am haunted by the thought that instead, some of my students may still come away thinking that life in other parts of the world is simply savage and brutal. It doesn’t help to read commentsposted by readers of news stories such as those about Manzur. References to a barbaric or backward religion, or culture, the Middle East, “honor killings,” and the Stone Age are some of the first ones to show up. There seems to be no separation in so many people’s minds between the Middle East, South Asia, Islam, or the Arab world. One category easily replaces the other, which only speaks to how foreign and far removed from "our" reality these incidents seem.
This exoticization of violence goes hand-in-hand with various media putting a disproportionate amount of emphasis on the "extreme" cases of violence against women in other cultures. This has some profound and damaging consequences. First, we hear of the honor killings, stoning, etc., but not of the many other forms of abuse and violence — trafficking, bonded labor, rape, domestic violence — even though they impact larger numbers of women. Second, it makes it much easier for people to latch on to a horrific incident such as Manzur’s, which happened in a "third-world country" and breathe a sigh of relief that this didn’t happen here -- and come away thinking that only those "barbaric" people over there do such things.
Uma Narayan, in DislocatingCultures, describes the common explanations of violence suffered by women in the non-Western world as a "death by culture," where culture becomes an explanation that needs no further examination by the reader/audience, while at the same time it doesn't actually tell the reader/audience anything specific. But it is always only women in Other cultures that suffer a "death by culture," and we don't employ that kind of reasoning to violence that we see in the Western world. The fact is, domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is a serious issue in Western countries as well, but these issues rarely receive the attention they deserve. People are fascinated with the story of Manzur in the same way that they are sickened by a story of an 11-yearoldgirlbeinggangrapedbyseveralmen. How could somebody do that?, we ask.
But though we don’t see the second case of the Texas girl as an example of American culture as barbaric (and thus we come up with no answer to our question), we do come to this conclusion in Manzur’s case (and answer our question with vague notions of tradition, custom, or culture). The popularity of “death by culture” type of explanations of violence (and by extension what these imply about the unenlightened state of these cultures) is part of the reason why Manzur's incident has translated into a call to bring more South Asian women for an education to Canada. While giving more women an opportunity to be highly educated is certainly something that should be pursued as a worthy goal in and of itself, this line of thought implies that education will work to "enlighten" these cultures and somehow prevent domestic abuse from happening in the future.
This post is not meant to imply that women's oppression is the same everywhere. There are various degrees of oppression, and some practices are more horrific than others; some cause more suffering than others. Nor is it meant to imply that coverage of violence against women is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. I am happy to see the support that Manzur's case has generated in Vancouver. But sometimes artificial dissimilarities blind us to the underlying and significant similarities between practices around the world. Is it really any less barbaric when a woman is shot or stabbed rather than blinded or whipped?
When I see pictures and videos of Manzur, it brings me to tears. I wish we could all see in her face the anguish and despair of the millions of women across the globe, including in our own countries, who are victims of systemic forms of violence and abuse. Perhaps, then, more stories would inspire action than a mere "Tsk, tsk. How cruel."
*I have taken this phrase from Uma Narayan’s chapter"Cross-cultural connections, Border-Crossings, and "Death by Culture": Thinking about Dowry Murders in India and Domestic Violence in the United States” from her book Dislocating Cultures.
Originally from Pakistan, Afshan Jafar is an assistant professor of sociology at Connecticut College. Her recent book, Women's NGOs in Pakistan, uncovers the overwhelming challenges facing women’s NGOs.
Untold Stories of Internationalization
By Melonie Fullick (Canada)
When UBC Fulbright scholar Rumana Manzur travelled to Bangladesh to see her family in May 2011, her husband refused her permission to return to Canada to complete her master's degree. He accused her of cheating; when she argued back, heattackedherviciously, gouging out her eyes in front of their young child — a daughter who will now bear her own emotional scars for a lifetime.
This shocking assault on a promising female student highlights an aspect of the internationalization of universities that is rarely trumpeted in policy discussions and news coverage of higher education.
"Internationalization" is not simply a neutral exchange of ideas and people, a seamless movement of "excellent" ideas and scholars from one nation to another. And the less examined, negative and contradictory side of internationalization seems to flare up in conflicts that we don't know how to resolve, conflicts of "culture" that inevitably affect lives and raise serious ethical concerns.
A recent example is that of Australia, where Indian students have suffered raciallymotivatedattacks and consequently the number of Indian applications to Australian universities has dropped. This has a direct effect on the economic sphere, since Australia can no longer expect to generate revenue from Indian enrollments. Canadian universities are nowcourtingstudentsinIndia with an eye to stealing Australia’s dwindling share of the market.
Offshoring higher education creates a different set of ethical dilemmas. Issues of socioeconomic class, gender, politics, and sexuality arise when we look at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. Recruited from only the most elite high schools worldwide, students from privileged circumstances receive better aid packages than regular NYU students, but they are not allowed political protest, or to engage in “homosexual acts” on campus. In a country where activists can be arrested for criticizing the government, what are the implications for this elitistoutpost? What kind of "world citizens" will be educated there?
These examples highlight problems with the predominant idea of university education, one still based on a Western, liberal model where the university is an "island" of tolerance and reason, a bastion of democratic values. What happens when the walls are breached by racism, sexism, and homophobia; when the island must stay afloat amid authoritarian politics?
There is no reason behind the violence inflicted on Rumana Manzur, and such actions can't be tolerated.
And though gendered violence is more prevalent in countries where women's rights are restricted, it’s not merely a “foreign” phenomenon. The attack also reminds us in a very discomforting way of the violence againstwomenthatpersistsinthiscountry (Canada), particularly for indigenous women. This is abuse that happens in "our own backyard" and even in our homes, much of it still unreported.
Recently in a lecture for a class on gender and society, I heard several young women voice the opinion that feminism is no longer necessary. I’d argue that it’s still necessary everywhere and that Rumana Manzur’s case provides another grievous example of why that’s the case. Perhaps this is one of the less pleasant — though most vital — lessons we can learn from internationalization.
Melonie Fullick is a Ph.D. student at York University, in Toronto, Ontario in Canada who writes about postsecondary education, policy, and governance. She can be found at speculative-diction.blogspot.com.
I can only speak for myself
By Lee Skallerup Bessette (U.S.)
Why do so many of us fail at being good women? What are the consequences for failing to achieve the stereotypes of a given time, place, and culture?
I have recently started a new weekly feature on my blog for the summer: BadFemaleAcademic. In it, I try to confront the gender stereotypes that female academics face. The post that thus far has generated the most amount of traffic was my post about beingawife. I wondered on Twitter why that may be; the answer lies in the negative connotations associated with the word "wife," particularly in parts of academia and feminist circles. For many of my readers, to be wife is to be less than, subservient and submissive, possessed.
When I read about RumanaManzur, graduate student at UBC, I was struck by the many things we have in common: we are exactly the same age; we are both wives, mothers, and academics. She now lies in a hospital bed, on the other side of the world, permanently blinded, unable to ever see her daughter again. Her career may also be over, depending on the rehabilitation resources that are available to her. I sit at my kitchen table, in my house (which I co-own), trying to find the words to express what I am feeling right now.
I feel deeply saddened that a woman who is described as "happy, brilliant, studious, and devout" was tortured because she sought to better herself (and, one would imagine, her family’s economic situation) through education. My heart breaks for the young daughter who apparently witnessed the maiming, at the hands of her own father, Manzur’s husband. Her husband even tried to blame it on her, saying that she had been unfaithful. As if that justified blinding and disfiguring his wife, the woman who is the mother of his child, the person he supposedly loves. I feel impotent rage that this could, that this does still happen to women who are like me.
But she, obviously, isn’t like me; nor I, like her. I feel fortunate that I was able to choose my husband, that he respects me and my career, and that we are to a large extent equal partners in our relationship. We agreed when we were going to have children, how we are going to raise them, and that I should return to work. Our house and our car are in both of our names, but I also have assets that are exclusively mine. How can I, in my privileged position, write about what Manzur has endured?
In fact, how can I even write about the “oppression” or, more accurately, inequality that I face? There is a viral video going around, FirstWorld Problems. It is a funny rap done by an upper-middle-class white teen aged boy, exposing the ridiculousness of the complaints uttered by (one would imagine) his peers. There is, of course, a danger in calling these complaints "first world" as they can negate the very real inequalities that exist in the West, but I can’t help but think that my "complaints" are indeed, first world and from a place of privilege.
I have the freedom and the ability to blog and write about the inequalities that I experience in higher education. Indeed, we tend to hide behind the veil of privilege and class, behind the assumption that inequalities don’t, can’t exist in such enlightened spaces. We are made to feel guilt or shame because, really, we should feel fortunate, if not grateful, that we do not face the kind of oppression that Manzur and her daughter have just been subjected to.
We need to do more to allow women to speak out and speak up for themselves, encouraging education, equality, and real protections. Although I feel compelled to speak on her behalf, I refuse to try to speak for her.
I can only speak for myself.
Think global, act local. I will continue to work to expose the inequality here, with the aim of making everyone more sensitive to the equalities that exist everywhere. One thing that I can do today is write this post at University of Venus and share the issue with our readers at Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere. I can remember that when I write, I am but one voice in a larger family of women, many of whom cannot speak for themselves. But I can write, speak, teach, and fight. I have the privilege of refusing silence. So I will.
Lee Skallerup Bessette is originally from Canada and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Alberta. She can be found at collegereadywriting.blogspot.com.
University of Venus is read by graduate students and college presidents, faculty and provosts, staff and administration. In reaching this broad readership, we feel an urgency to respond to issues, knowing that what we say matters and that it often informs decisions that are being made at the highest levels.
One thing that each of us can do right now is notice those who are not speaking and work to create spaces and situations where they will feel empowered to speak. If we don’t hear their stories, we can’t advocate for meaningful change.
Submitted by KC Johnson on February 25, 2005 - 4:00am
Monday's Harvard Crimson revealed that 56 percent of Harvard's faculty members believe that the fallout from President Lawrence Summers' statements about women and science has diminished the university's reputation. Yet as a visiting professor at Harvard this term -- someone at the institution but not of it -- I have found the Summers affair and its aftermath dispiriting not because of its short-term effect on Harvard's standing (the university surely will remain the nation's premier institution of higher education) but due to its possible long-term, harmful, effects on the academy.
Many aspects of this case, of course, are peculiar to Harvard: questions about Summers' efforts to expand the Allston section of the campus; a feeling among many professors that the president has not treated them with appropriate respect; a belief that Summers uses an overly centralized approach in running the university. At Tuesday's faculty meeting, Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor, observed that concern over Summers' management style, not a battle of "right versus left" about political correctness, accounted for the faculty uprising.
Many figures beyond the campus, however, have aggressively tried to frame this issue as one of ideology. Princeton's president, Shirley Tilghman, for example, joined in a statement rebuking Summers which subtly attempted to assert the hegemony of her own dubious educational vision. Yale's graduate student union, meanwhile, cited Summers' comments and their institution's alleged lack of day care facilities to demand that Yale rework its tenure evaluation process.
Given these non-Harvard patterns, the reaction to Summers' comments bequeaths three potential problems. First, though the president's address ranged widely over possible tensions between promoting diversity and upholding standards, the firestorm that greeted his thesis about women and science threatens to discredit other, more valid, points that he made. Summers opened his substantive remarks by urging the compilation of "hard data" regarding "what the quality of marginal hires are when major diversity efforts are mounted," if only to rebut the "right-wing critics" who fear "clear abandonments of quality standards." If members of the academy want to sustain popular support for diversity initiatives, he noted, "they have to be willing to ask the question in ways that could face any possible answer that came out."
As Harvard has joined other elite universities in continuing to demand high-quality research accomplishments while striving for greater faculty diversity, its answer to Summers' question no doubt would be satisfactory. Some non-elite institutions, on the other hand, have refashioned their personnel processes to make achieving "diversity" the preeminent, rather than a complementary, goal. The best examples: Virginia Tech, which took hiring decisions away from academic departments and gave them to a pro-"diversity" dean; and the University of Arizona, which is considering recruiting critical masses of "diverse professors who have shared intellectual interests," thereby coupling a pursuit of diversity with a desire for ideological conformity among the faculty. It could be that professors hired according to such models will outperform those selected under more accepted standards of merit. Yet this proposition cannot be accepted simply on the faith of assertions from its most zealous advocates.
Second, some of the reaction to Summers' comments reinforced concerns offered in a perceptive 2004 essay by Mark Bauerlein in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which analyzed higher education through the lens of the "law of group polarization." In such an environment, according to Bauerlein, faculty members "lose all sense of the range of legitimate opinion," leaving them "no idea how extreme [their] vision sounds to many ears." For instance, the professor who initially objected to Summers' comments did so, she said, because "this kind of bias makes me physically ill." At last week's Harvard faculty meeting, one critic questioned the president's fitness by pointing to environmental policies he had proposed when running the World Bank in the early 1990s. Has the academy reached the point where hearing distasteful ideas makes professors sick, or where supporters of "globalization" should be excluded from the ranks of college presidents?
The reaction to this controversy from outside higher education brings into relief professors' tone deafness as to how non-academic figures interpret such comments. It came as little surprise that neoconservative iconoclast Andrew Sullivan defended the Harvard president. But so too did the liberal editorial pages of The Washington Post and, less enthusiastically, The Boston Globe.The Post concluded that if "Summers loses his job for the crime of positing a politically incorrect hypothesis -- or even if he pays some lesser price for it -- the chilling effect on free inquiry will harm everyone."
Finally, despite the more temperate atmosphere at Tuesday's emergency faculty meeting, the impression outside of Harvard remains of an initial campus reaction -- as described by Judaic studies professor Ruth Wisse -- that left Summers "sounding more like a prisoner in a Soviet show trial than the original thinker that he is." This legacy risks discouraging other administrators from articulating views perceived as politically incorrect -- even when doing so would serve their university's best interests.
Such an outcome would especially harm the well-being of less elite institutions, whose most serious personnel-related problem, which is growing more pronounced, is a lack of intellectual diversity among the professoriate. Even Brown president Ruth Simmons recently worried about the "chilling effect caused by the dominance of certain voices on the spectrum of moral and political thought" on campus. Peer pressure for faculty to produce quality scholarship, alumni and parental involvement, and student demand for an intellectually diverse range of courses provide built-in checks to ensure that elite institutions hire on the basis of merit rather than a candidate's perceived belief system, at least most of the time. These forces are much weaker, or do not exist at all, at many less prestigious colleges and universities. I speak from personal experience in this regard: the Brooklyn College administration attempted to displace scholarship, teaching, and service in evaluating my (ultimately successful) tenure application, basing its judgment instead on "uncollegiality," which college documents defined in writing as disagreeing with the personnel and curricular preferences of some senior colleagues.
This lack of intellectual diversity provides one key explanation for the elimination or redefinition of fields -- such as, in my own discipline, political, diplomatic, and constitutional history -- on the grounds not of curricular need but that such topics are "old-fashioned" or "conservative."
How to tackle this problem, however, remains an item of debate. As Inside Higher Ed's "Around the Web" column reported last week, the American Association of University Professors has set up a Web page denouncing government initiatives that guard against the imposition of ideological litmus tests in personnel matters. (The organization's move would have been more helpful had the AAUP offered proactive steps on how to address concerns like those raised by Simmons or Columbia president Lee Bollinger. ) Since leaving the problem to the same faculty bodies that created it is unlikely to produce a happy solution, administrators themselves must champion the cause of intellectual diversity, even at the risk of arousing controversy.
The coming months will reveal whether the reaction to Summers' remarks resulted more from institutional factors confined to Harvard than from issues of broader relevance to the academy. Those on the outside can only hope that this controversy does not spread any further beyond Harvard Yard.
KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, is a visiting professor at Harvard University for the spring 2005 term.
Two weeks ago, the referee in an ongoing contest between girls and boys made the game much more fair. But the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidelines for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which requires colleges to offer gender equity in intercollegiate athletics, has met with nothing but jeers from fans of the old rules.
At least on paper, the guidelines for complying with the student participation element of Title IX are pretty clear. Universities need to meet one of three prongs to be in compliance: They must either (1) ensure women are represented in athletics in numbers proportionate to their presence in the student body; (2) demonstrate continued efforts to expand athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or (3) show they are fully accommodating women’s athletic interests.
The third prong is at the center of the current debate. How does a school show it is providing intercollegiate athletic opportunity on par with women’s interest?
The answer, one would think, is obvious: You ask them. In practice, though, it has been far from that simple. Guidance from the Department of Education over the years has been unclear, and colleges have faced a constant threat of litigation for falling short of anything less than "proportionality."
With its new guidance, the Department of Education is finally trying to let schools to use the common sense solution, enabling them to comply with Title IX by e-mailing a survey to all students asking them about their interest in participating in intercollegiate athletics, and judging schools by how closely what they offer matches what women want. It makes sense. So what’s the problem?
Like a home crowd whose team just had a touchdown called back, Title IX’s proponents pounced on the department’s new rules. In an Inside Higher Ed commentary last week, for instance, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer and an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, and Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, ripped into the new guidance, saying the department is “thumbing its nose at the law and the female athletes it is charged with protecting.”
Of course, home crowds are typically biased -- they want their team to win, after all -- so it’s little surprise that Title IX’s fans are raising questionable objections to the new guidance. Among the weakest, but most important, is the assertion that surveys can’t gauge women’s interest in athletics relative to men because, according to Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano, "culturally, men are simply more likely than women to profess interest in a sport ... women are less likely to profess an interest in sports, even if they are interested!"
Apparently, we’re supposed to give activists like Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano the policies they demand because they say women want to play sports at the same rate as men, but just won’t admit it. Were such logic applied on the playing field rather than in the policy world, it would be like awarding a team points for invisible shots they say only they can see go in the goal.
But let’s suppose women really are unwilling to state their true interest in athletics. Let’s believe Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano when they write that “professing interest in a sport does not predict behavior...." If that’s true, we should find that while lower percentages of women than men profess an interest in putting on their cleats, when it actually comes time to play, women are just as likely to lace ‘em up.
It turns out that contrary to what Title IX activists tell us, what women say does indeed translate into what they do. For instance, according to the Higher Education Research Institute’s report "The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2004," between 2.7 and 5 percent of men (depending on the type of college in which they were enrolled) participated in no exercise or sports in a typical week of their senior year in high school.
In contrast, between 4.7 and 16.1 percent of women participated in no sports or exercise.On the high end, between 11.6 and 17 percent of men reported having spent more than 20 hours participating in exercise or sports as high schools seniors, while only between 5.5 and 7.6 percent of females spent that much time.
The findings of "The American Freshman" are corroborated in Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by the University of Virginia’s Steven Rhoads. Rhoads reports that despite the fact that anyone who wants to can play on college intramural teams, typically three to four times more men participate than women.
Surprisingly, the “women want to play as much as men, they just won’t say it” argument might not be the weakest objection to surveys. In a recent Inside Higher Ed article, Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, argued that sending e-mail surveys to students, in which a non-response indicates no interest in sports, is unfair because "a lot of those e-mails won’t even be opened."
Apparently, the women who are supposedly dying to play sports aren’t even sufficiently motivated to keep an eye out for an interest survey, or to open it when it comes. What coach would even want players with so little enthusiasm for their sport on their team?
Perhaps the one argument with which Title IX defenders score a legitimate point is that a survey will fail to capture the athletic interest of incoming students. Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano argue, for instance, that colleges need to examine the interests not only of current students, but of prospective students, who are often recruited by schools based on their athletic abilities.
It’s a decent argument, but it’s ultimately a losing proposition for Title IX supporters. Because women’s interest in athletics really isn’t proportionate to that of men, sooner or later women’s athletic slots might be offered, but no one will be there to fill them. It's one of the reasons colleges have been forced to cut men’s sports, rather than increase women’s sports, to achieve proportionality.
Unfortunately, as long as government is involved, college sports will continue to revolve around political, rather than athletic, contests, and only the most politically skilled will win. Until now, that’s been supporters of Title IX, who have succeeded in persuading policymakers to require that colleges accommodate a demand for women’s athletics opportunities that can’t even be shown to exist. It’s a game Title IX supporters have liked because the referee -- the government -- has usually been on their side.
But real fairness requires a neutral referee, which political solutions simply can’t provide. Take the government out of the game, though, and colleges and students -- not politicians -- will decide the winner. In other words, abolish Title IX, and let supply and demand take over the referee job.
Importantly, in such a system women will almost always control the ball. They can choose the schools that offer what they want -- athletic opportunities, artistic outlets, good academics, or anything else -- and can run past those that don’t.
Schools that discriminate will be penalized not by the government, but by prospective students who choose to enroll in competing institutions. It’s a competition that will be stacked against sexist institutions: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of college students are women, and their majority status has been growing. Women are a powerful market force.
Unless they really are as incapable of acting on their desires as supporters of the status quo seem to suggest, women will get what they want out of their colleges. But if they continue to cede power to special interests and government, while some women will still win, most everyone else will lose.
Neal McCluskey is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.
In the hallowed halls of academia, Sexism no longer swaggers about in a wife beater with a Camel no-filter hanging from its defiant lip. Indeed, overt displays of machismo are rare, and all of the carefully crafted institutional rhetoric reflects and promotes principles of equality and tolerance. Our private liberal arts centered university, smack in the middle of a down-home red state, even has a women's caucus. In a stunning display of sheer determination and astounding courage, two of my colleagues (one untenured) swept away the decades-old dust left from the dirty dealings of the old boys' club and created the caucus. Today I am the head of this caucus, which boasts about 80 members of the faculty and staff.
Our most challenging work is finding the language to articulate the workings of an insidious sexism that results in what I like to call the quotidian miasma of discrimination, or the QMD (not to be confused with the chimerical WMD). The QMD is insidious because it is the byproduct of a constellation of factors that, when looked at individually, seem not to target women, but which converge on spaces where we are most likely to find women. This more nuanced version of sexism leaves us without a clear enemy, without the swaggering patriarch to flesh out the sinister intentionality behind the discrimination.
I remember as a grad student trying to understand the Matrix-like quality of the "patriarchal order." I always envisioned a bunch of old white men, semi-reclined in overstuffed chairs, hands clasped behind heads, cigars in mouths, gathered around a heavy wooden table in a locked room marked "Patriarchs." In the upper echelons of my university administration, there are plenty of Patriarchs who meet behind closed doors around heavy wooden tables, but the room lacks a clear label, although in the hallowed hall outside the university’s presidential suite, photographic portraits of trustees fill a wall with mostly male images. At my university, we have a male president and five male vice presidents.
Probably they don't overtly plan the continued subjugation of the second sex in their meetings, but regardless of their intentions, the dearth of women in the upper administration and in positions of power is a major contributing factor in the QMD. Because it is undetectable by the clumsy, outdated sexism radar we are still lugging around from the 70s, the QMD works stealthily and subtly.
So, if it's not wearing its hatred and fear of woman on its sleeve, what is Sexism wearing these days? On my campus, it sometimes saunters around in Birkenstocks, long hair, and maybe glasses. You know these guys. These are the men we went to grad school with, shared apartments with, read Judith Butler and bell hooks with. They eschewed virile formulas of manliness, embraced gender theory and were OK crossing their legs at the knees if it was crowded in the conference room. Now they have grown up and inherited the power positions at universities around the country, and, lacking real world experience as the discriminated, many of them have lost the sense of urgency they once felt about the rights of women and the distrust they once had for the administration.
Now they are the administration, if in a minor key. My friends and I have dubbed the administration "The Men's Caucus." Upon arrival, junior men are immediately and seamlessly made members of the Men's Caucus, invited to the all-male circles of power that spin the narratives of our professional lives in the lunch club, the wine club, the tennis group, Friday night basketball, Monday night poker.
To tell the truth, as I struggle through my Survivor-like work environment, male colleagues often have been my biggest supporters, and at times it was a senior woman colleague who made life miserable for the junior women in our department. She had internalized the patriarchal reward system and aligned herself with a senior male colleague, whose behavior and demeanor sent women around him back to the kitchen to make his coffee and fetch his metaphorical pipe. This aging Lothario was often seen bopping around in biker shorts, no shirt, and a cap worn backwards, or swaggering into meetings 10 minutes late wearing a huge, black cowboy hat. His persona stood in contrast to the values he seemed to espouse in his postmodern, liberal scholarship.
His self-styling, bespeaking a hyper-masculine posture and a desire for stark gender distinctions, emulated three of our most extreme forms of embodied virility: the jock, the cowboy, and the hip-hop gangster musician. My negotiations with the Lothario were always easier and more successful when I honored his role as mentor, protector, patron, father, leader, and Don Juan. He liked to make comments about our secretary's weight, and once he referred to our retired women colleagues as "dingbats." When one of the junior women got pregnant, he claimed in her written department review that her pregnancy had affected her job performance. At one of my first faculty dinners, he tipped back several glasses of wine and asked if I would be dancing on the table.
Unfortunately, our soft-spoken, measured, diplomatic dean did not take seriously the women who came forward with complaints about life in the kingdom of Lothario. Instead, the dean read women as damsels in distress to be rescued and then sent on their way with promises of inheritance, departmental ownership and pats on the head for good measure. But alas, in the end he returned the women colleagues to the oppressor's fiefdom, unwilling to betray the code of male privilege and loyalty that works to keep women distressed and in constant competition with each other for validation from the male power structure.
One wonders what would motivate him in this case. Maybe his loyalty to Lothario is rooted in some repressed nostalgia for the patriarch, or maybe he is overcompensating for his own imagined inadequacies when measured against the absent, yet longed-for virile authoritarian. Maybe sometimes the Birkenstock liberal yearns for a pair of cowboy boots and a Camel no-filter.
I managed to live through years of torment by self-centered, self-important, yet mediocre senior colleagues who eventually did grant me tenure, on the strength of my credentials, but to this day, old men roaming the halls tell tales of how the dean "saved" my job, or of how some other man was instrumental in my rescue. I might as well have been wearing a pointed pink hat and waving a hankie out the window of a medieval stone tower. In the patriarchal grand narrative, I was the damsel in distress. I began to wonder if I could ever emerge from this male tale.
The damsel in distress is a motif in the 17th century plays we read in my Golden Age literature class this semester. In these comedies, the women characters must negotiate their positions in an oppressive patriarchy that defines them as objects to be adored, possessed, protected, and rescued by the men, whose honor, virility, and social status derive form the women-objects they control.
Wait a minute, I kept thinking.... I've heard this story before.... Woman plays to the men in power by assuming roles that highlight and affirm male strength, and by disavowing the facets of her identity that are deemed threatening, irritating, or downright hysterical by the reigning paradigm. We shape each other's behavior by rewarding and withholding, by subtly voting for the parts of each other we like best. With many male colleagues, my damsel in distress routine is their favorite performance -- some wouldn't even call to talk unless there was a crisis on the table.
There is a multifarious and indefatigable pressure to be read as a damsel in distress, and, let's be fair, if women don't recognize our own participation in this system, then we preclude the possibility of creating new roles for ourselves, ones that do not require pointy hats or being tied to railroad tracks. How many of us let our need for substantiation from the powerful (all male, at least in my corner of academia) push us to create problems for our knights to solve? What will my professional future look like if I refuse to play the damsel in distress? I don’t want to play the women's roles we see in the formulaic Hollywood films like Pretty Woman, Maid in Manhattan, or Father of the Bride, but I don't want to end up playing roles like Monster or Thelma and Louise, either. I'm not ready for homicide or jumping off a cliff.
Women's Caucuses around the country must work to articulate the complex machinations of the QMD and to increase awareness about the ways many of us, including liberal men and feminists, are perpetuating it. Let us build alliances with our women cohorts and reject the paradigm that would have us compete against each other for male approval. We must be strategic and deliberate if we are to resist the immense pressure to accept prescribed roles that promise us "success" even as we are systematically excluded from the power structure that defines success and failure.
Phyllis Barone is the pseudonym of an ex-damsel and associate professor at a Midwestern, private university.
Comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat, A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thougtfullest.... --Walt Whitman
Academia is my hometown. I was raised to believe in its fundamental fairness. And since I am lucky enough to have landed a good, tenure-track, first job, and young enough that earlier generations of women fought the real battles for me, I had never really questioned that faith. The academic men I have known from childhood through my Ph.D., as family friends and as teachers, have with only one exception taken me seriously. I never had a male teacher tell me, as one friend was told, that women should make babies instead of going to graduate school. Since I am in the humanities, I was never openly mocked in class, as a woman engineering student I taught a few years ago was. No female professor told me, as one told a colleague, that women had to choose between family and an academic career. The only male teacher who ever kissed me also encouraged my scholarship. So I have never felt that I was discriminated against on the basis of my gender.
But at my new job I have just completed two hours of required online training about how to prevent harassment on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., and as a result have been thinking over my experiences. Despite the draconian strictures imposed by the training course, I have colleagues of both sexes who have become good friends, and whom in social settings I am happy to put my arms around. But to the chair or dean who is serious about gender equality in the workplace, I commend the handshake. I realize this sounds crotchety and old-fashioned -- and it is true that I also resent strangers using my first name -- but I object to the prevailing culture of the hug. The handshake is, in my view, the best way to communicate greeting, congratulation, and good will among colleagues.
Consider this: when I had passed the arduous third-year review process at a small university with a nationally-recruited faculty better than most of its students deserve, my female colleagues came to my office one by one and shook my hand. Some then asked, "May I hug you?" By contrast, my senior male colleagues ignored the right hand I stuck out in front of me, and enfolded me in the embrace known as a hug. They were people of good will, whose feelings I did not wish to hurt, and so I said nothing.
It is not so long ago that job candidates at this institution were routinely taken to the Playboy club, but that does not happen nowadays, and my first hint that my gender might matter to someone had come only halfway through my first term. A student having made unspecified complaints about my class, the chair, a self-proclaimed "recovering sexist" asked the senior woman in the department to talk to me, declaring, "This is one for the knitting circle." One day when four department women were heading out together, we twice encountered male colleagues who blanched and turned tail. The new chair saw two of us discussing grading practices and asked jovially, "What are you girls chatting about?"
What does this all add up to? Maybe nothing. My colleagues and the new chair supported my work and were kind to my family. My constant feelings of insecurity as the tenure decision approached were shared by a male colleague on the same timetable in another department. How much should I read into the fact that a window office went to a man junior to me, supposedly because I was out of town for the summer when it opened up? I don't know -- but I do know that I carefully considered what I might lose by insisting on my precedence.
And I know I never had the courage to say anything about the hugs. The gender problems in the department came to the fore when a senior colleague's wife suspected him of having an affair with a graduate student, and demanded that he no longer work with her. Despite the fact that her thesis could not be properly supervised without him, the department -- I heard indirectly, since everything took place behind closed doors -- acquiesced in the demand, and worked out a deal that gave the student an additional year of funding and arranged for her to work long-distance with a comparable scholar at another institution. The department further agreed -- hearsay again -- that the man in question would never again work with female graduate students.
Naturally, the graduate bulletin was not revised, but this would mean that only men could be admitted to focus on a certain period in history, and that women who came to the department hoping to have this eminent scholar on their committee would be disappointed. I was outraged, but my senior female colleague advised me to keep quiet, since I did not yet have tenure, and the matter was never discussed in a full department meeting. Furthermore, the student herself, although an experienced lawyer, told me that she did not want to hurt her former advisor by making a fuss: the same mentality that kept me from objecting to those awkward, unnecessary hugs.
Chairs and deans who are serious about gender equality: I commend to you the handshake. From brief and frosty to warm and two-handed, the handshake is capable of expressing any feeling that should be expressed between colleagues.
Coral Hughes, who is writing under a pseudonym, teaches history at a research university.
As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King this week, we recall his famous wish that Americans be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. How are we doing in fulfilling that dream?
Well, I am amazed at how frequently I will read a news article in which a school district or college will declare that it is essential to hire more teachers of this or that skin color or national origin. The faculty must mirror the student population, we are told, and students of each race and ancestry need “role models.”
Two recent examples: The Indianapolis Star ran an article headlined “Schools intensify hunt for minority teachers,” with the subheadline “Metro-area districts struggle to make faculties mirror growing diversity of student enrollments.”
Likewise, the Leadership Alliance -- which is a coalition of 29 higher-education institutions that was established 13 years ago to bring more minority students into mathematics, science, engineering, and technology -- held a conference in Washington. At the meeting, speakers cited the “need to increase the number of faculty of color who can serve as role models.”
One more example, that came across my desk as this piece was being edited: The Boston Globe ran an article about Randolph, Mass. headlined, “To reflect students, town woos minority teachers.” The school committee chairwoman was quoted: “It’s providing role models for the kids.”
It is understood that, in order to achieve this greater diversity, skin color and ethnicity will be considered in the recruitment and hiring process. And so, inevitably, some candidates will be given preferences, and others disfavored, because of these external characteristics. It cannot be denied: If race is given weight in the search, then you are no longer looking for the best candidate, regardless of race.
I’m amazed at the news stories because the role model justification for hiring preferences is so clearly (a) illegal and (b) bad policy.
And, really, they shouldn’t even need a lawyer to tell them that the role model approach is wrong.
For starters, universities, colleges, and schools should ignore skin color and national origin and simply hire the best professors and teachers they can. Period. It’s hard enough to get competent teachers at any level without disqualifying some and preferring others because of irrelevant physical characteristics.
Show me a parent who would say, “I’m willing for my child to be taught by a less qualified teacher so long as he or she shares my child’s color.” As for research and writing, hiring anything less than the best qualified minds will inevitably compromise the school’s or college's academic mission.
Second, it is ugly indeed to presuppose that one can admire -- one can adopt as a role model -- only someone who shares your skin color and, conversely, that a white child could never look up to a black person, or a black child to a white person, or either one to an Asian or Latino or American Indian. Does this also mean that men cannot admire women, or a Christians admire a Jew, or the able-bodied admire someone in a wheelchair?
When President Bush was asked who he wanted to grow up to be when he was a boy, he replied without hesitation, “Willie Mays.” And why not?
Third, the notion that our schoolteachers and professors must look like our students leads into some very undesirable corners.
As Justice Powell wrote in Wygant, “Carried to its logical extreme, the idea that black students are better off with black teachers could lead to the very system the Court rejected in Brown v. Board of Education.”
And if you have a school district that is all-white, does that mean that it is all right to refuse to hire blacks? If you have a school district that has no Latino children, does that mean you should avoid hiring Hispanic teachers? And if your school district’s students are only 5 percent Asian, should that be your ceiling for Asian teachers?
Likewise, are Idaho universities entitled to avoid hiring African Americans, Maine colleges Latinos, and Nebraska schools Asians -- to ensure that those states’ natives are not taught by someone who may not look like they do? Should Ruth Simmons have been disqualified as president of Brown University, on the grounds that she is an unsuitable role model for the white male students there?
Yes, sex will rear its ugly head, too.
Schoolteachers remain a disproportionately female profession, but students include as many boys as girls. Does that mean that schools ought to be granting a preference to men when they hire faculty?
The truth of the matter is that the “role model” claim is just another made-up excuse to engage in the politically correct discrimination that is so fashionable among so many of our so-called educators.
This discrimination is illegal, unfair, silly, and harmful. Whenever a school is distracted from looking for anyone other than the best possible teacher, it is in the end the students who will pay the price. Hire by content of character, not color of skin.
Roger Clegg is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity.
This past week the roof collapsed on my professional life. You’re tottering along, a bit woozy but still standing, minding your own business, dreaming of the summer which is right around the corner, there’s a lightening of the mood and the weather begins, gradually, ever so subtly, to turn, you decide to open your storm windows, you go for a walk in a “Fall” jacket, and then, in the words of the annoying cleaning commercial: KABOOM!
In short order, I woke up from my honey-colored dream of lazy summertime barbeques and short pants and sultry Big Eastern City days and nights with Mr. Gordo to discover several outstanding bill collectors on the phone: a conference paper due forthwith (like yesterday!), students clamoring for extra credit work because they bombed your midterm, the usual meetings and minute-taking, long-postponed paperwork rearing up, not to mention tax time and the suddenly desperate need to see your CPA before he himself is overwhelmed. But by far the most demanding task at hand has been the need to write my year-end report on activities for my dean, the time for which I severely underestimated because this is my first year at this particular college. So underestimated, in fact, I didn’t even know it was due, until I received (again, out of the blue), a polite note from my chair. I fear I am becoming the very model of the bumbling professor who forgets his car keys in the refrigerator.
In essence, my “book report” is a catalogue of my activities in the three well-known subject areas: research, teaching, and service. And there is a certain empirical quality to the task that is reassuring: Yes, Virginia, you are exhausted for a reason! Committees and meetings, abstracts and conferences, works-in-progress and works forthcoming, student evaluations and syllabi, e-mails and phone calls, lectures and events. I have been, um, busy this year, contrary to the stereotype of the academic as social parasite, so eloquently paraphrased by my girlfriend La Connaire tonight who said, “I thought the whole point of academia was not working hard,” followed by the sound of a stream of smoke blown into the telephone mouthpiece. As most academics would tell you, the stereotype bears little relationship to the reality of most tenure-line professors. However, this cataloguing of the minutiae of quotidian academic life has gotten me to think of the differentials in experience for faculty across the broad spectrums of race, gender, and sexuality.
As a professional, I obviously covered the unholy trinity with some aplomb, if not utter success in all three. Given what has been thrown at me this year in terms of workload, I feel I did very well, as undoubtedly will my dean, who has been nothing if not incredibly supportive. However, the differential I am thinking about here is the double duty that faculty of color, some women faculty, and some lesbian or gay faculty, perform in their role as symbolic capital for the profession. For we are not only meant to perform as scholars and teachers and colleagues, we also have to be role models and mentors and supportive persons, lifting as we climb, each one teaching one, until we reproduce ourselves like some sort of crazy neo-Fabergé Organics Shampoo commercial.
This notion of symbolic capital is one that is both forced upon us by institutions looking for the diversity fix, and nurtured within ourselves, by varying degrees of gratitude, guilt, regret, and sadness at the price of our success. We are the best and the brightest, the cream of the crop, those who struggled and worked, only to find ourselves marooned as tokens whose value is unclear, both to ourselves and the profession we serve. I am reminded of Toi Derricote’s story in The Black Notebooks, of meeting the “other” black woman professor at the college were she taught, only to discover that this woman was as light-skinned (i.e. completely passable as white) as Derricote herself, and how this causes a crisis in her thinking about why they were hired, and what is the symbolic value of having two black faculty members who look white?
Ironically, tonight in my race class, upon discussing with my students Fanon’s The Fact of Blackness, my eyes fell on this quote:
It was always the Negro teacher, the Negro doctor; brittle as I was becoming, I shivered at the slightest pretext. I knew, for instance, that if the physician made a mistake it would be the end of him and of all those who came after him. What could one expect, after all, from a Negro physician? As long as everything went well, he was praised to the skies, but look out, no nonsense, under any conditions! The black physician can never be sure how close he is to disgrace. I tell you, I was walled in: No exception was made for my refined manners, or my knowledge of literature, or my understanding of the quantum theory.
To which all I have to say is: Ain’t it the truth? Faculty of color can never be sure how close we are to disgrace, to the knife-edge of outliving our usefulness, our symbolic capital. Seemingly, we can never be appreciated as intellectuals alone. We must always have some other value, some point to our presence, aside from simple qualification. We must be, in the truism, 200 percent good. And never, ever, make a mistake, for it's not just our personal mistake, but a mistake for every person of color, past present and future. If we simply think of this differential in terms of labor, then perhaps the contours will come more sharply in focus.
While I appreciate my white colleagues for the support they provide, they are not expected to “liaison” with Latina/o students and student organizations. They are not expected to be role models of appropriate behavior. They are not expected to be present at every little thing that might concern race, whether interesting or not. They are not expected to be experts at the drop of a hat, nor responsible to others of their same race who might have particular critiques of authenticity for which they have to answer. No, my beloved white colleagues get to be themselves, be individuals, and go home and sleep soundly. So for me, this is not only about the incredibly problematic racial dimensions of role modeling or each one teaching one. This shit is also about work, cause believe me, this is work.
As any faculty of color, nay person of color, could tell you in an unguarded moment, the illusory community fostered by 60s social movements is exactly that: fleeting and utopian. Academics of color in particular suffer from the vertiginous histories of racial trauma that are predicated on the unintelligibility of the subject of color: the very fact of our theoretical stupidity. Living in a post-race society means that we are finally, blissfully allowed to be ourselves, individuals in a society that prizes individualism. Needless to say, we aren’t there yet.
And then, as I am thinking about this and taking a break from writing this post and perusing the Internet while wolfing down a quesadilla, I come across this little ditty, which linked from here, both of which sadly and ironically prove my point. The most inflammatory quote from Michael A. Livingston’s post on race and law school faculty is a bombshell:
Because it is so costly to dip below the required minimum of diversity faculty, in practice almost anything has to and is done to ensure that they are happy. At my school, I have watched sadly as one after another of the unwritten faculty rules -- the level of publication expected, the expectation that one's work would be presented to the faculty before tenure, even the assumptions regarding physical presence at the law school -- were compromised or abandoned to accommodate female or minority candidates who the law school simply could not "afford to lose" under the new dynamic. Once these principles are given away, of course, the same concessions are demanded by other professors, so that the entire system of expectations that cements a faculty begins to come crashing quickly down.
Good grief! So not only are we not smart enough to be hired on “merit” (the odious false consciousness of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, apparently) but we also simultaneously threaten the very foundations of the institution. For as tenuous a hold as faculty of color have in the profession, we seem to wield an incredible amount of power in Livingston's analysis. While it is true I have known some "playas" (as in players, not beaches) who have worked out some pretty impressive deals on next to nothing, by far the vast majority of the professoriate of color (and professoriate in general) works, day in and day out.
In fact, faculty of color are incredibly vulnerable not only through the typical utilitarian nature in which they are hired (as tokens) but also to the risible racism and real disgust revealed in Livingston’s quote. If anything, Livingston’s critique reveals more about the unscrupulous ways in which institutions will go out of their way to hire "dummies of color" to avoid hiring contrary to racist type (e.g. with intelligence) than the general qualifications of a vastly diverse class of people, who after all have earned doctorates and J.D.s, right? If we trace Livingston’s critique to where it originates, this isn’t just a critique of hiring and retention practices, it is questioning the very ability of people of color to hold advanced intellectual and professional degrees. And people wonder why race is still important?
The evidence is writ before you in Livingston’s post. Race still matters, and not only for red state academics or conservatives, for liberals and leftists hold similar, if more holistic, views. The black physician can never be sure how close he is to disgrace. One wrong move, and you’re toast, baby!
Self-assessment is hard, this I know after struggling with it this past week. But it might be time for the profession to take a real self-assessment of its own. For instance, when, if ever, will faculty of color be real intellectual members of the community, and not just tokens of diversity and tolerance? When will the university and its faculty and administrators stop considering us as detriments to its intellectual mission? Why, if universities are so committed to "diversity," can't they sustain and support faculty of color in double or triple digits? When can we stop the fiction of pretending just because student X is “brown” and I’m “brown,” we automatically understand each other, like dolphins? When, in other words, will our years and years of labor be appreciated for what it is, hard and good and honorable work? When, in other words, shall we breathe the fresh, clean air of individualism, which includes the noble as well as banal? When can we be normal, neither Sydney Poitier nor Step ‘n’ Fetchit? Not, apparently, any time soon.
Oso Raro, who is writing under a pseudonym, teaches cultural studies, literature and film at a North American university. A version of this essay first appeared on Oso's blog, Slaves of Academe, which concerns itself with academe and racial and cultural politics.
Until recently, the interests of graduate students have largely been ignored by university “family friendly” initiatives designed to meet the needs of women on the tenure track who aspire to be mothers as well as scholars. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Stanford University announced its new Childbirth Policy for women graduate students with fanfare, nor that it was positively received by the national news media. What’s puzzling is how little attention has been paid to the huge gap between Stanford’s aspiration and its accomplishment.
The rationale for the policy is exemplary: “Stanford University is committed to achieving a diverse graduate student body, and facilitating the participation of under-represented groups in all areas of research and graduate and postdoctoral training. To increase the number of women pursuing … advanced degrees … it is important to acknowledge that a woman’s prime childbearing years are the same years she is likely to be in graduate school, doing postdoctoral training, and establishing herself in a career.”
Unfortunately, the policy itself -- which provides accommodation in the form of paid leave, extension of deadlines and reduced workload to graduate students “anticipating or experiencing a birth” -- sends an entirely different message.
While the phrase “anticipating or experiencing a birth” seems expansive enough to cover “anticipating” the birth of an adoptive child, that is not Stanford’s intention. Associate Dean for Graduate Policy Gail Mahood was brutally frank on this point: “The policy does not apply to women who adopt children.… Women can always put off adopting,” she told a reporter.
Apparently Stanford prefers grad students who create families “the old fashioned way,” leaving others to sink or swim without institutional support. So much for the message of inclusiveness and diversity! In creating this restrictive policy, Stanford seems to have lost sight of its original goal, confused means and ends, and conflated biology (childbirth) with social issues (family formation).
Ordinarily, women become pregnant as a means to start a family, not to “experience childbirth.” Other ways to accomplish this goal are adoption, surrogacy and becoming a foster parent. Absent some as-yet-undisclosed study linking female fertility to academic talent, it seems odd that Stanford would decide that only fertile women able to carry a fetus to term deserve institutional support for their decision to start a family during graduate school.
The privileging of birth mothers over adoptive mothers is as illogical as it is offensive to families who have struggled with infertility prior to adopting. Under the literal terms of this policy, whose avowed purpose is “to make sure that we retain in the academic pipeline women graduate students who become pregnant and give birth,” a graduate student who gives her child up for adoption immediately after birth could request accommodation, while the adoptive mother who cares for that newborn could not.
Equally, if not more disturbing, is the policy’s failure to support graduate student couples who want to share the task of balancing work and family, thereby promoting a traditional heterosexual family structure that has proved detrimental to women’s achievement. Recognizing that “[t]aking care of an infant is time-consuming and sleep-depriving so advisors need to have realistic expectations about rates of progress on research,” the policy denies the same compassionate recognition to other graduate student caregivers who might be equally in need of help -- e.g., biological fathers, gay couples, adoptive parents or biological mothers who used a surrogate to carry the fetus to term.
Thus, the only graduate student families who will benefit from the childbirth accommodation policy are those who choose to conform to the traditional gender role model of mom stays home to bond with baby while dad goes to work. This patterning of gender stereotyped roles is unlikely to prove advantageous to the woman’s future career.
One would have expected Stanford’s policymakers to heed the counsel of the late Chief Justice Rehnquist (a Stanford alumnus) on the importance of gender-neutral family leave benefits, in a 2003 case:
“Stereotypes about women’s domestic roles are reinforced by parallel stereotypes presuming a lack of domestic responsibilities for men. Because employers continued to regard the family as the woman’s domain, they often denied them similar accommodations or discouraged them from taking leave. These mutually reinforcing stereotypes created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination that forced women to continue to assume the role of primary family caregiver, and fostered employers’ stereotypical views about women’s commitment to work and their value as employees.”
Finally, by excluding everyone but the birth mom from accommodation, the policy may even override the woman’s own preference in the matter: Stanford seems not to have envisioned the possibility that the birth parents might both be graduate students, and that a new mother-scientist at a critical research juncture might choose to return to her lab right away, if only the policy were flexible enough to accommodate her partner’s desire to stay home and tend to the newborn.
Stanford deserves some credit for being the second nationally prominent graduate school to attempt any accommodation for grad students who become parents. (MIT was the first.) But the progressive impulse that spawned this “breakthrough” has been undermined by using “childbirth accommodation” as a proxy for easing the burden on new mothers. If the goal is truly to achieve diversity by increasing the number of women pursuing advanced degrees, surely a Class I research institution can craft a policy more likely to fulfill its intended purpose -- one not limited to the “June Cleavers” in its grad student population, but generous enough to encompass 21st century parenthood in all its diversity.
Charlotte Fishman is a San Francisco lawyer known for her expertise in the areas of academic discrimination and gender stereotyping. She is Executive Director of Pick Up the Pace, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify and eliminate barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace.