Category Archives: B*tch Magazine

“Seeing Like a Feminist” Book Should Be Required College Reading

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on May 6, 2013 – 11:43am; tagged academiaacademicsbooksIndia.

 

Some books are easy to read, yet stay with you long after you’ve finished the last chapter. Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist(Penguin/Zubaan, 2012) is a timely work that explains a complicated subject without over-simplifying it.

 

When one “sees” the world like a feminist, Menon writes in her introduction, it is like “activating the ‘reveal formatting’ function in Microsoft Word. It reveals the strenuous, complex formatting that goes on below the surface of what looked smooth and complete.”

Reading Seeing Like a Feminist made me think: what if we all, especially in academia, thought like feminists? What would the world look like then? To be a feminist is to understand the position of the powerless, as Menon writes, “to imagine occupying the marginal, relatively powerless position with reference to every dominant framework that swallows up the space at the centre.”

Menon is a professor of political thought at Jewaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. whose previous books include Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004). She divides Seeing Like a Feminist into six main chapters: Family, Body, Desire, Sexual Violence, Feminists and Women, and Victims or Agents. Menon relates each of this big issues to a simple dynamic: choice.

The book is definitely aided by Menon’s position as a woman who has lived with India’s legal and cultural systems. As she points out, the Indian penal code criminalizes sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” (whatever that means). Menon’s perspective is powerful, precisely because it is based on feminist scholarship and debates in what she calls “my part of the world.” She highlights many non-Western assumptions and goes beyond other Zubaan books that have a historical focus. The book looks “directly on the gendered nature of power.”

In the end, like Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote on loving the questions themselves, her aim is not to provide answers, but new questions. Menon wants each to shift her or his lens. To see like a feminist is “not to stabilize, it is to destabilize. The more we understand, the more our horizons shift.”

If only Seeing Like a Feminist was required reading for all college students—and professors.

 

Read the rest of this guest blog series on feminism in academia.

Why Are There So Few Female College Presidents?

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on April 2, 2013 – 4:27pm; tagged academiacollegefeminism,presidentsuniversitywomen.

A crowd of mostly male college presidents

Women make up a majority of college students, but at the top of the academic ladder, the percentage of women wanes: only 26 percent of college presidents are female. Why is this?

The percentage of female college presidents is actually better than the stats for other positions of leadership—women make up only 20 percent of Congress. In order to gain a better understanding of some of the intricacies in of the role of college president, I spoke with Laura Trombley, the president of my alma mater, Pitzer College.

President Trombley has clearly been busy and successful in her role as the head of a liberal arts college; Congress recently named her to the 12-member J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Notably, having chlldren is not necessarily an issue in the lack of women in the stressful presidential job. Trombley combines being an administrator with her work as a scholar, teacher and mother who also considers herself a feminist.  As Swarthmore college president Rebecca Chopp told the New York Times, “I wrote my dissertation from 5 to 7 every morning, and then got my son off to school. Having a child in graduate school helped keep me grounded.”

Instead, says Pitzer President Trombley, the gender gap comes down to both money and academic bureaucracy.

“You look at where women presidents tend to be concentrated, it tends to be at the community college level,” says Trombley. The smallest number of female presidents are at Ivy Leagues and research universities, she noted. “You can trace power, status and money. That also gives you a really interesting snapshot of gender issues.”

One problem for women in academia is that traditional departmental structures create a narrow path to the top. For women, it is often very difficult to become department chairs, because they are usually not among the most senior faculty.

“It is actually a pipeline issue. If you don’t start looking at how women can enter the administration ranks at a lower level, then you are not going to solve greater representation at the presidency level,” says Trombley.

That means the problems with a gender gap at the top of the ladder stem in a large part from workers not having an equal footing when they start the climb. The gendered pay gap in academia isn’t as bad as in many careers, but female faculty members earn 19 percent less than their male colleagues—a number that hasn’t changed in thirty years. Instead of sticking around in academia for decades and following the regular academic “pipeline,” some of the most prominent female college presidents have landed through nontraditional tracks, landing the job after building successful careers in media and politics.

As with all discussions of why gender differences exist at the top of the heap, we can’t just look at what’s going on at the top. The problems begin much deeper.

Photo of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitee via Treehugger.

Read the rest of the Lady in the Ivory Tower series about feminism and academia!

The Best Conference You’ve Never Heard of: Empowering Women of Color Conference

This post is part of a guest blog series on women in academia for Bitch Magazine.

I don’t exactly remember  how I discovered the Empowering Women of Color Conference (EWOCC) in Berkeley, California but I first attended the event last year. Far from the stuffy conference rooms of a fancy-dancy hotel, EWOCC is a grassroots conference geared toward women of color, and open to all. This is a place that offers childcare, access for all people regarless of ability and offers low-to no cost registration. Last year’s conference was complete with spoken-word performances, a workshop on agriculture food justice, actually interesting panels, and a creative writing exercises.

This year, the 28th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference was titled, “Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Bodies and Souls Building Life,” and seeks to honor a multiplicity of women’s experiences around labor: “As women of color, our journeys are marked by stretches of struggle and moments of victory. We seek to honor labor across generations: our mothers, grandmothers, and caregivers whose souls and bodies gave us life.“

EWOCC’s intention is to “build with ancestral ways of working that are attentive to the politics of liberation, decolonization, and healing.“

This year’s conference just happened last week. I asked the organizers to answer a few questions on the history and evolution of their event.

How did the Empowering Women of Color Conference start? 

EWOCC was founded in 1984 by a group of undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley. The initial project, was entitled “Women of Color in the United States,” and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Students decided to organize another event. In 1986, with the formation of the GA’s Graduate Women’s Project (GWP), it was decided to institutionalize this event and make the conference an annual project under the auspices of the GWP. EWOCC was one of the first conferences to present women of color with an opportunity to address the racial, class, and gender issues facing American Indian, African American, Asian American, and Chicana/Latina women.

How is it organized?

EWOCC is completely volunteer-run. Every year, the planning committee selects new members, based on their background, interest in planning, and their passion for continuing our conference. Our keynote speakers are chosen by the entire committee over several months of discussion regarding specific issues we want to address in our conference and who would be the best representative of these issues. In the past, notable women of color have given keynotes including Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, Dolores Huerta, among many other extraordinary women.

How do you manage to stay true to feminist principles?

We stay true to feminist principles as the foundation of our existence. Specifically, the principles of community, education, holistic healing and overall empowerment are principles at the core of our conference, and why the planning committee remains dedicated to ensuring that this conference continues. This conference fills a gap in many traditional feminist spaces and discussions in that we address issues specifically facing women of color in the United States. We provide a safe space to facilitate dialogue and to share experiences in an empowering way unlike any other conference of its kind.

EWOCC is not the typical scholarly conference in that we expand the invitation participate to community members as both conference planners and presenters, rather than restrict our conference to the academy. We also strive to incorporate the arts, spiritual practices, and other means of knowing, more so than a typical academic conference provides.

How Can Harvard Help End Rape in India?

This post is part of a guest blog series on women in academia for Bitch Magazine.

Today, six men accused of gang rape in India head to court. If that sounds eerily familiar, it’s because just two months ago, six other men also went to trial for gang rape in India in a high-profile case involving a woman fatally assaulted on the bus in New Dehli.

After these terrible crimes come to light, we all want to see major change. In reaction to the New Delhi rape, Harvard University decided to sponsor a policy task force “to offer recommendations to India and other South Asian countries.” But the group received a critique from Delhi blogger Nivedita Menon, who wrote in a post called “Harvard to the Rescue!” that Harvard would be better able to discuss rapein South Asia not from the ivory tower, but by consulting with feminists on the ground in India. “It’s been a long hard haul, so it’s a great relief that the Harvard Law School has stepped in to take this burden off our shoulders,” writes Menon sarcastically.

Harvard’s plan is to produce a working paper to advise on the implementation of the recommendations from India’s Verma Committee, a report pulled together by three members of India’s judicial system that spells out crucial ways to make rape cases come to trial more quickly in India and to create harsher punshiments for people convicted of sexual assault. Feminists in the Global South may have overreacted to the plan for a working paper—it’s possible that Harvard has every intention of consult women across India on what should be done. However, the general sentiment seems to be indignation that Harvard would be able to “save” the poor women of India. This is illustrated in a letter in The People’s Record that charges Harvard with ignoring “the long history of Indian activists themselves fighting to end rape and sexual violence.”

There is clearly a need for collaboration internationally on rape issues, in addition to study.

In Harsha Walia’s piece on the Feminist Wire, she says, “While navigating my own relationship to Delhi and home, it has been infuriating to read Orientalist renditions of South Asian women needing saving from barbaric South Asian men.” Walla sees the myth of Western superiority as a part of a facade of gender equality “‘at home’ that invisibilizes, for example, the gruesome gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio, and US representative Todd Akin’s comments about ‘legitimate rape,’ and the ritualized colonial violence against Indigenous women murdered at alarming rates, and Black women in prisons and migrant women in detention centers, and women of color, poor women, transfolks, and sex workers.”

Let’s continue to create task forces, and study these issues. But let us also work on our transnational feminist collaboration and coalition building, so as not to continually repeat history and create different groups trying to achieve the same thing. I look forward to seeing greater coalition building between Harvard feminists and those on the ground in India.

 

 

Queering the Academy: Four Signs Queer Studies is Still Fighting for a Place in Academia

Judith Butler saying "Gender Yer Doing It"

When do you know your academic field of study gains mainstream support? One sign: When you do notneed to have a hunger strike in order to keep the field of study at your university.

Queer Studies, specifically, is clearly still fighting for a solid place in academia. Here are four of the signs.

1. There are only four collges with Queer Studies majors. According to College Equality, there are only four colleges with LGBT Majors and nearly thirty with Minors. According to a new Gallup survey, the country’s highest concentration of people who identify LGBT live in Washington DC—none of the colleges in the DC area have Queer Studies majors, minors, or concentrations.

2. There are Queer Studies conferences. Though there do not seem to be many, they do exist. The UNC Asheville Queer Studies Conference would indicate that Queer studies is a thriving discipline. That conference has run biennially for the past fifteen years and hosts workshops, papers, and panels by about 50 faculty and students. The website says that it attracts an “international audience of activists, academics, and artists who showcase a range of creative and scholarly pursuits related to the investigation of genders and sexualities,” with participants from Tokyo, Canada, the Philippines, Israel, Australia, England, Europe and across the US. A discipline has to start somewhere.

3. Some professors are still punished for being pro-gay. What about being able to be proud of who you are as an academic and as a person who identifies as LGBTQ? In some cases, we see that free speech is only allowed for some. Last year at Gallaudet University, an administrator was placed on leave for signing a petition to put Maryland’s gay-marriage law on the ballot.

4. Textbooks aimed at Queer Studies do exist. Though, there is still the question of quality and quantity, the fact that textbooks are being written is surely a good sign, though there still seems to be a long way to go in terms of a consistant flow of new books and articles in the field.

In 2010, Gawker published the “Top 10 Colleges for Gay Students,” but what about the top colleges to be a queer professor? Where does this list begin? The next post in this series will look at some indicators  for this list.

Do We Still Need Women’s Colleges? Yes and No.

Women’s colleges were born out of institutionalized sexism. So, do we still need them?

In mid-December the Huffington Post published a guest editorial by Elizabeth Pfeiffer titled, “Don’t Like the Gender Gap? Women’s Colleges Might Just Be the Answer.” In her post, Pfeiffer defends the all-female Scripps College. She argues that a school should be defined by “the richness of the community…and the possibilities this kind of environment offers.”

I agree: Schools should be defined by the richness of their community. But that goes beyond a gender binary. How about those whose identity does not fit within this heteronormative binary of man or woman?

Pfeiffer asks,  “Why is Scripps, or any women’s college, still relevant?” Pfeiffer believes one reason is because of the leadership roles she was able to take on, as well as the idea that women’s colleges instill a sense of leadership. She cites the fact that women’s college graduates make up “more than 20 percent of women in Congress and 30 percent of a Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America.”

The woman’s college is in some cases a moot point, in many institutions across the country, women attend colleges in numbers at par with men. But if some women need this environment to find their power, I am all for it.

Pfeiffer’s article received a response from Shannon Miller, a current student  Claremont McKenna College (CMC). Claremont was a male-only college until 1976 and is part of the five-college Claremont consortium with Scripps. The response, “Don’t Like the Gender Gap? Don’t Encourage It” asks, “What makes Scripps—or any other women’s college—any better than CMC, based solely on the gender composition?”

Miller argues that Claremont better equipped her to tackle the gender gap than most women’s colleges, particularly because of the co-ed environment. She also says that in her own search she wanted a “challenge” in her college experience, she “wanted to enter a school that would push me to be stronger and bolder, not indulge my weaknesses by protecting me from ‘injustice’ in an inaccurately idyllic setting.”

It’s worth noting that by almost any standard, both Claremont and Scripps are both idyllic settings. I attended Claremont consortium school Pitzer College and can say that there is an enormous percentage of the global population who do not have access and could not afford to be on any of private liberal arts college campus.

But the debate over women-only colleges is about more than the sex break-down of institutions. What we need are not colleges and institutions that define themselves by one means of oppression (sex), but colleges and universities that have a greater understanding of how some dynamics of academia can create institutionalized oppression.

Instead of focusing on whether or not we need women’s colleges, let’s expand the debate to ask what kind of institutions we need, and how we can make visionary institutions a reality. In my humble opinion, we need innovative environments that go beyond sex, race, class and citizenship. For a step in the right direction, check out the Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning CIEL. We need a culture shift in academia that’s both local and global.

Six Tips From Women Working Male-Dominated Engineering Fields

One of my greatest high school regrets is that I never took an auto shop class. I would have had a chance to learn some practical skills like changing oil and changing a tire. At the time, I doubt it fit into my schedule, but entering a class of mostly boys scared me as well. It’s not that I was afraid of boys—I considered myself a feminist despite not fully understanding what that meant—but it would still have been intimidating to walk into a classroom full of dudes.

When does this happen, this point where men are encouraged in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and women are left out? My mother teaches kindergarten; in her class, all the kids seem equally excited by counting and banana slugs. But somehow, by the time women reach the higher echelons of education, there is sorting out, if you will, in which mostly men go in one direction and women in another.
Bitch has covered the reasons behind the lack of women in science and technology fields before, but I wanted to get a personal perspective on what it’s like to work in a predominantly male discipline. I called up two women with advanced degrees in engineering fields and put together a list of five big things they’ve learned about working in these male-dominated fields.
The women I spoke with were Maura Raburn, a Silicon Valley tech worker who has a Ph.D in Electrical and Computer Engineering from U.C. Santa Barbara and Rebecca Batchelder, an LA water engineer who did a Masters in Environmental Engineering at Tufts University.

Raburn said she liked being a gender minority most of the time in school because she did well in most of her classes and had a more generous scholarship than most of her male peers. “I felt I was representing well for my gender, both during my Ph.D. and post-doc,” she says.  Batchelder’s choice of career combines her passions: She decided on Civil Engineering initially because she liked “building things and was good at math,” and chose the environmental track after her involvement with environmental activism. In graduate school, the majority of Batchelder’s classmates happened to be women but all of the professors were male. “It was difficult. In part because grad school is difficult, but also having male professors was challenging,” she says. Batchelder recalls a classmate complaining that when she told her advisor she needed to finish her PhD in four years so that she could begin having children, he replied that he had children while he was getting his PhD—and failed to recognize that he had a stay at home wife.

Batchelder now works at a company with a majority of women, and two male bosses. “I usually find myself as the only female engineer at meetings, even though on a daily basis I interact with women regularly,” she says.

So what have they learned? Here are six nuggets of wisdom:

1. Make friends with your colleagues, both male and female.  Your network is your biggest asset.  Seriously.  This might not seem the case now, but it really matters who your friends are in your field.

2. Learn to take criticism well—consider the validity of the feedback without getting too wrapped up in emotion.

3. Go looking for general career advice. A good source for those starting their careers is the Manager Tools/Career Tools series. Some managers are afraid to give women the feedback they need, for fear of hurting feelings. Read and listen for your own mistakes.
4. Take up a sport where you lose sometimes. Get in the habit of picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting again.  Raburn’s years of judo helped her lose some of her unhelpful perfectionism.
5. Life is too short not to be treated professionally. If someone with power over you is treating you unprofessionally, try to change the situation, get them to be held accountable, or get out as soon as you can. There will always be other opportunities.
6. Do what you love. That is more important than anything.