Reading Guide: November 2020 Meeting

Reading Questions for "Surviving Sexism in Academia," edited by Kirsti Cole and Holly Hassel

"Surviving Sexism in Academia" book coverGeneral Questions:

How can feminist theory and feminist methodologies be used in combination with data to move critiques of sexism (and other forms of oppression) from anecdotal to evidence-based arguments and concrete strategies?  (examples included feminist standpoint theory, decolonial feminist rhetoric, intersectionality, feminist epistemologies, and disability studies.)

How can the frameworks of feminist pedagogy (centered on empowerment, collaboration, exposing inequities, and the development of diverse leadership) also be a tool for combating institutionalized discrimination in academia?

Gender role expectations create cultures where female academics are expected to engage in more service work and higher levels of mentoring. These expectations are magnified for women of color who also perform ‘diversity work’ for institutions.  Conversely, these same stereotypes result in lower representation of women and women of color in leadership roles and other forms of discrimination and bias.  What are some tools for exposing and changing these imbalances?

Key strategies for combating sexism emerge from multiple perspectives in this text (directly addressing the problem;  acknowledging the complexity of each individual situation within larger systemic patterns; advocating for cultural and systemic change).  What strategies resonated with you, which sites of academia need to be targeted, and who needs to participate in these changes?

What does a multidisciplinary, feminist analysis add to your understanding of sexism in academia?

Section I:  Mapping the Challenges


What are the various forms of sexism in academia?  How do we translate a nuanced, multi-dimension understanding of sexism and its overlap with other sites of oppression and privilege into concrete policy and culture changes?

How has the tone of discussion about the interface between your institution’s shared governance body and administrative leaders shaped the effectiveness of that body?  Does that body feel like a good old boy’s club?  How have you witnessed and fought against a neoliberal, capitalist transformation at your institution?

In their discussion of administrative leadership, Hinck, et al. argue that men tend to follow a linear leadership track (department chair, dean, and then university leadership) and women tend to draw experience from committees, center directors, or academic program directors.  The roles held by women are less prestigious and more labor intensive.  Other factors like work/life balance, lack of mentors and lack of encouragement also play a role in deterring women from leadership roles.  What needs to shift in university cultures and organizational policies to increase participation from women, women of color, and other underrepresented groups in leadership roles?

Identify three ways your institution has forwarded feminine in the guise of feminist, undermining feminism.  What specific strategies will you employ to transform your institution’s masculinized system using feminist – not feminine – activist techniques?

Critical and feminist research practices prioritize social justice as a means to combat inequality.    How can educational leadership practices embrace this model to enact widescale, systemic change?  (See p.49 on critical learning moments)

Reflect on how your institution discusses and groups people. How does the phrase ‘women and minorities’ negate intersectionality?  Which two of the strategies on page 61 will you employ to enhance the intersectionality of your leadership?  Which one seems most challenging to adopt in your personal techniques?  Commit to using that one.

Disciplinary Contexts:

How is the leadership pipeline for women in STEM different than other disciplines? At Tsuda College in Tokyo, women-friendly research communities include a commitment to childcare for researchers, grants to assist women during childbearing years, leadership training opportunities, and a focus on the K-12 pipeline.  How might the challenges and gains of women in STEM be a model for other fields?

How is your discipline, unit, or institution similar or different from Philosophy as described by Melissa Kozma and Jeanine Weekes Schroer in “For the Love of the Feminist Killjoy: Solving Philosophy’s Woman White Male Problem” (predominantly white and male, women publishing at lower rates, infrequent citation of women and people of color)?  Are you a feminist killjoy?  How does a white male discourse often support what actions, problems, and solutions are viewed as legitimate in academia? What action will you take in your unit, without permission  or apology?

In “Suck It Up, Buttercup! Or, Why Cu*ts Leave STEM” Kathryn Northcut describes the leaky pipeline problem in STEM.  Where does your unit fall in the spectrum of “there has to be more”?  (page 99).  Does your unit have critical mass?  In what ways does it, and in what ways doesn’t it?  Which of these suggested actions will you take:

  • Faculty advisors need to supervise students
  • Take bullying seriously
  • Ask students why they left

Reflect on those who have left your unit.  Why did they?  How can you make a difference?

Heather Rosenfeld designs a zine of the “Old Boys Club” at UW-Madison’s Geography Department to develop a critical ethnography on the history of sexism and feminism.  How does this type of analysis frame these issues in a new light?

Where do you experience feminized labor and what is the overlap with contingent labor?  Reflect on the statement (page 131) “Instead of ‘saying no’ to service as is often advised, composition teachers should deliberately and strategically select service that is intellectual work and, in turn, advocate that it be recognized as such…”

Disciplinary inequalities are also gendered.  In “From Feminized to Feminist Labor” Jennifer Heinert and Cassandra Phillips argue that the move from feminized to feminist relies on activism grounded in coalition building, advocacy that centers disciplinary values, and balancing disciplinary representation in service, governance, and leadership.  How would these moves change the landscape of your institution?

How do the phrases “the maternal wall” and “motherhood penalty” describe the long-term career penalties many female-identified caregivers face?  How can institutions support the long-term success of working parents in a way that acknowledges the struggles women in particular face? Do these phrases shortchange a focus on other types of caregiving? Are they often heteronormative in application?

Embodied Gender:

How do microaggressions affect your work and leadership?  In her analysis of the overlap of racism, sexism, and prejudice, Saba Fatima shares three suggestions: understand experiences as complex; don’t offer alternate explanations; think Big.  Reflect on how practicing these can transform micro/aggressive experiences.

In “I Have Always Felt Like a Trespasser,” Mary Louise Gomez details how gender, social class, and ethnicity create feelings of otherness on predominantly white, Midwestern campuses.  Gomez also highlights the marginality of academic staff and how positionality can compound other factors of (dis)belonging.  How can institutional policies and cultures change to address racism, classism, and sexism simultaneously for all employee classifications?

How can mother-scholars use their dual-positionality as a source of agency to advocate for social justice?  What social capital do working mothers bring to their work? Does the use of Patricia Hill Collins’ “outsider within” and black feminist standpoint theory have resonance beyond caregivers?

Institutional sexism is also perpetuated by students.  In “Catcalled in the Cafeteria” Carol Glass describes how interpersonal instances of sexism overlap with age, race, gander, and class in a way that often feels specific and detached from larger patterns of discrimination.  Why is it critical to keep the intersectional nature of oppressions central in these situations and how can feminist pedagogical approaches help students understand the complexity of these situations?

How can narrative as a methodological approach to theorizing lived experience expose and demystify the many faces and experiences of sexism?  Is narrative itself feminized?  Can it change institutions?

Describe how some bodies are more policed than others in academia (based on racist, cis sexist, sizeist, classist, and ageist attitudes).

Describe the evolution of your thinking about your dress at work, at home, and at other locations.  Do you dress deliberately?  What was your most recent set of interviews like, with respect to dress and appearance?  Reflect on the statement (page 183) “Rhetoric is always embodied.” How is academic work also embodied?

Section 2: Feminist Strategies for Action (Still in Progress)

Changing Material Conditions:

How do the parenthood policies at your institution effect your work and experience?  In the pandemic, how has your experience intersected with caregiving, both that which you give and of others?  Describe the resources you’ve used to break the maternal wall (page 205), or will help others use.

This section is about mentorship.  How has mentoring shaped you and your career and leadership?  Has it always been feminist (see p. 223)?  As suggested on page 218, “stories matter.”  What’s your (mentoring) story?

How can institutional mentoring practices reinforce patriarchy and sexism? What are the advantages and disadvantages of co-mentoring?

In “Mentoring Women in Technical Communication,” the authors describe a mentoring program based on flexibility and flattened hierarchies.  This model allows for models of mentorship to flourish based on people, places, resources, and affect (see p. 235). Why is affect so important in this model? Describe these components in relation to your current mentoring experience.  Commit to improving or utilizing two of them in your leadership.

Changing Ideologies:

In this section, Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care and various iterations of feminist standpoint theory emerge as critical to feminist leadership and mentoring. In these frameworks, differential agency, relationality, and context are central.  Does this reflect your understanding and experience of feminist mentoring and leadership?  What do these frameworks omit?

 In “Writing to Resist,” Jessica Moriarty uses autoethnography and ‘autoethnodrama’ to combat gender bias and anti-feminist elements of traditional academic work.  What will you do in the next four weeks to story yourself and create spaces of reflection?  Incorporate autoethnodramatic elements into your story and leadership.

How does viewing higher ed as a social institution (as opposed to only an intellectual institutions) exposes different forms of sexism and intersectional privilege and oppression?  What are potential sites of interruption for disrupting bias?

Reflect on your experiences with your Professor X – a department or unit bully.  How has it played out?  Was it very similar to what Karla S. McCain describes in “Overcoming the Department Bully?”  How does the presence of a department bully indicate structural or institutional problems?

In “We Are All Needed,” Sara Hillin describes rhetorical listening and other feminist rhetorical tactics as useful tools for navigating academia.   Are there similar tools or methodologies in your discipline that you could deploy in a similar way?  How will you use rhetorical silence?  Be bold about creating inclusion.

In “The Bullying We Don’t Talk About,” Fran Sepler argues that “deliberatively constructed networks of allies” (300) are critical to combating workplace bullying.  Why is woman-on-woman bullying sometimes harder to identify and document.  Are there other forms of bullying and workplace toxicity that also fit this mold?

Reflect on the infographics at the conclusion of this section.  Are the effective in their message?  Imagine your own infographic.  Make it!