Coping with Sexist Politics in the Academy

Sexist Politics Permeate Higher Education

Crying your heart out!

Crying your heart out!

In my last blog I summarized some of the sexist politics I faced in my career.  So many people have asked me, “Why did you stay?  When the heat was on and you were crying yourself to sleep, why didn’t you leave?  There are many reasons as to why I stayed in higher education.  Here are a few reasons that I stayed:

  • I loved my discipline within Religious Studies.
  • My job allowed me to research and teach many courses within the fields of Religious Studies.  I love learning, so this was a plus.
  • No one managed RS (except me) because not one person on campus understood the fields, the importance of it, or its far-reaching influence on almost everything in life.  So I was free from the bias that almost always invades departments.
  •  I have traveled to fifty and more  countries and used many of my photos in textbooks I wrote, Power Points I created for class, and flyers advertising classes, and more.
  • I love developing all sorts of things and when Black Board hit our campus, it was my ticket to another adventure in developing classes online.
  • You cannot avoid or escape sexism and abuse.  It is a constant.

My job was overwhelming and at the same time very stimulating.  The backlash against my work ethic and creativity over twenty-four years added to the sexism I experienced every day.  Women, like me, who were among the first to be admitted to graduate schools in the 1970’s faced sexism all of their careers.  We could not run away from it.  If we were to earn a living we had to learn how to deal with it.  So here are a few coping strategies I used.

Never give up!  Work, Work, Work!

Never give up! Work, Work, Work!

Coping Strategies

  • Don’t settle. For almost ten years I moved from one job to another.  I was looking for a terrific academic environment and solid colleagues.  I did not find it.  I had a number of tenure track and non-tenure track jobs.  My strategy was to stay an Assistant Professor for as long as I could so that I could move around and find the right place for me.  I  never found it, I settled for my last job because I was around 40 at the time.  But you may find the right one for you.  You never have to settle for that first tenure-track position.
  • Keep your personal and professional life separate.  Don’t buy into the “community” mentality where you end up giving away all your free time just to satisfy a bureaucrat that needs attention in a social setting.
  • Compete.  Be the best at whatever you do.  I spent six months working on my Dossier.  You have to take charge of your career and make it work.  You don’t want to be a victim of political maneuvering or sexism.  So I created a dossier to die for!  It did not hurt the process that I had published several books.  I detailed everything for them.  I solicited people on campus to write letters and come to class and evaluate me. I did this also with students. So when I came up for tenure and promotion, what could they do?
  • Take charge of situations.  If there is an issue and you are called to a “special” meeting on a hot topic.  Create an agenda.  They won’t.  So the agenda leads the discussion and protects you.
  • Market your classes.  Even bureaucrats can’t deny the fact that your classes are full.  I used every available means I could on campus.  During one special event I planned, one bureaucrat asked me, “How did you attract so many people to this concert?”  I listed twenty things I had done and she looked at me and said, “I give up.”  She would have never worked that hard to make things successful.  So I uploaded advertisements to the web every week.  I created our webpages and made it easy for students to find our programs.  I had five or six bulletin boards, that I had purchased,  and I filled them with information about Religious Studies, or news and events centering on Religious Studies.  I posted flyers all over campus.  And every year I scheduled anywhere from four to six events featuring topics in Religious Studies.
  • Be professional in everything.  Don’t let your belly, butt, or boobs hang out to the world.  Keep those tattoos in secret places.  Be proud of your achievements and dress as if you own the world.  Too many faculty dress as if they just came in off the farm or working in their garage.  Have pride in yourself and others will respect you and seek out your advice.

  • Find creative people.  Without support from creative services, my years on campus would have been a bust.  They helped me all along the way, and by the time I retired I had learned their skills.

This blog is probably not going in the direction you would like it to go.  But these are strategies that helped me overcome sexism every day of my career.  During my last weeks at my previous employment, I wrote an editorial as a way of saying farewell to the campus.  Below are a few excerpts from that editorial:

Every year at this university has been filled with tremendous challenges. From my very first day on campus there was opposition to teaching Religious Studies. During my first week on the job, I heard a radio announcer at the local radio station in the town where I taught call me, “The Whore of Babylon.” It would be impossible in this short piece to detail the assaults that came my way.

There was verbal abuse, lies, hate letters, hate email, jealousy, threats, lost reports, sarcastic cartoons and notes placed under my door, political maneuvering, xenophobia, “my religion is the only valid religion attitudes,” technological incompetence, stealing of our posters, and so much more. The student who emailed calling me a “mother-fucker” last year hits the top of the list.

How could I become so successful in the midst of a consistent environment of hostility? The answer to this question is the real reason that I am writing this piece. Instead of caving into abuse, I stood up to it.

The Buddha is often correct but not this time!

The Buddha is often correct but not this time!

I argued for Religious Studies to everyone who placed a roadblock in my way. The Buddha would suggest to me that I was wrong. I should just sit still, do nothing, and allow the abuse to pass through me. I did not follow the Buddha’s advice. I felt the abuse and took that tremendous negative energy and aimed it toward something positive and uplifting. I always tried to transform the abuse into a healthy reaction. I let nothing stop me or permanently bring down my spirits.

Everyone can practice this method of re-directing abuse. You don’t have to create curricula or write books. During my first few years, I came home every night and painted, hammered, and restored an older home. Take that negative energy and use it for your benefit or the benefit of others. Don’t let it weigh you down so that you capture that negative energy and harm yourself.

Phyllis Trible wrote “The Opportunity of Loneliness” long ago when females were just beginning to become ordained.  She quotes Jeremiah 15:17, “I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because thy hand was upon me.”

These twenty-four years have been my opportunity of loneliness and now I am leaving that loneliness to embrace a new life, a new world.

How did I do it?  How do all the females stay in jobs where they have to face the sting of sexism and abuse for all of their lives?  I often hear males talk about mentors or bosses who taught them certain things or helped to hone their skills.  Females from my era had no mentors.  They had to brave it alone. There was no coach or team.  As the bureaucrats often said to me. “You are on your own!”

Ah, gee, I didn’t know that!

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