Annie Rebekah Gardner is a grad student and frequent Canonball contributor. She writes for us from Cairo, Egypt.
As a once-self-professed-woman-hater, I think there was a time in my life where I would have relished being One of the Guys, especially One of the Guys With a Doctorate, but those days are long-gone, and besides, the meme as told by the fine Ms. Molly Lambert is already several weeks old, so I needn’t elaborate on the whys and wherefores of the problematic nature of the Boys’ Club, or the mad sisterhood I have with my female colleagues. Instead, I’ll discuss the Boy’s Club that I’m presently trying to break: The Academy.
“Do you have any comments on Academia being a Boys’ Club?” I asked a colleague and good friend on G-Chat. “Perhaps you want to mansplain it to me, even?” Colleague/Good Friend kept it concise. “It’s true,” he responded. This particular Dude is emblematic of the type of academic social circle – or cozy little bubble, as the case may be – that I generally inhabit. In my particular graduate program, our demographic is composed of guilty white girls and men of color. The male students of other disciplines with whom I rub shoulders more or less share similar politics to mine. My thesis committee is composed entirely of women (in the fields of history, gender and women’s studies, and sociology, respectively), and the male professors I have had are committed feminists. (Also, there’s something about living in Egypt that makes one – male or female – a more radicalized feminist, but I digress!)
This next part should come as no surprise, then. I recently attended my first Big Academic Conference (by virtue of the fact that I have a really gracious advisor, and by no particular accomplishment on my own, I want to add) and discovered that, although women increasingly constitute the world of the Academy, it remains, for all intents and purposes, a Boys’ Club.
On my last afternoon, two well-accomplished conference attendees who are not in my field told me over beers that, when it comes to professorial positions, women are more likely to take on more work and more menial tasks (there was even a conference panel on it!), and all the more likely to get pigeon-holed into teaching or researching subject matter that doesn’t concern them. In the meantime, university departments with faculty composed almost solely of men are trying desperately to recruit women, and with difficulty: a) women are less likely to “progress” in their academic careers because of outside issues (families, for one) and b) Boys’ Clubs actually suck, no matter how much you loved The Little Rascals.
My primary field, Forced Migration and Refugee Studies, is a female dominated space, but one that more often than not is geared towards practitioners. As someone from the theory end of things, my interests lie more in the critical aspects of the field, and as such, I’ve gotten myself swept up in other, related critical fields – borderlands theory (which caters greatly to the gender studies lens), citizenship studies (again, easily accessible from a feminist standpoint), and security studies (Ding ding ding! Boyzone. Doybomb). It should come as no surprise, then, that a panel dealing with security studies – even a panel on the critical theory end of things – is going to be a male-dominated space.
“What did you think?” A colleague asked wryly after sitting in on my first critical security panel. “Well, it’s definitely a Boys’ Club,” I replied. I’ve never given thought to pursuing this line of critical theory seriously (like, say, in a dissertation), but after seeing a (presumably well-meaning) group of dudes listen to themselves wax poetic on the topic, I started to feel a little bit contrary. On one such panel, the discussant even noted that though the audience was split 50/50 sex-wise, the bulk of questions asked were by men. Is it a coincidence? Is it that these particular dudes liked hearing themselves speak? Is it that women are more afraid of being judged for asking a stupid question (I will readily admit as a fledgling academic that this is usually my fear, and always has been)?
Contrast, then, to the only feminist panel I attended (I’ll say that fortunately, there were many at the conference). Though it had the best attendance of any of the panels I went to, it was crammed into a tiny afterthought of a conference room, with about 15 chairs total. Attendees, myself included, had to sit on the floor. Of course it follows that it was the best panel I attended, and ironically enough, several of the panelists discussed the phenomenon of fratriarchy. As defined by the International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, “fratriarchy” was coined by one John Remy and expresses “a rule of brotherhoods or fraternities…based on a fictitious kinship.” As a phenomenon, fratriarchy is a less decentralized element of patriarchy, occasionally expressed via social deviance (the public displays of faux homosexual acts in hazing rituals, for example).
There are plenty of salient examples of fratriarchy. I mean, fraternities, the military. Duh. In the context of the Academy, long painted as the way nerdy side of the masculine, it’s not an outright formal fratriarchy – homosocial hazing rituals have been replaced by grilling panelists at conferences, for example – but I think that as another Boys’ Club, it serves as one more exemplar of a patriarchal world. Academia already has its long-standing issues tied with racism and elitism. Its continuing to be a Boys’ Club just further cements the fact that an Ivory Tower is still standing, no matter the claims otherwise.
As a co-opted capitalist entity, the present university system, in all its moneyed, Polo-clad glory, is already in crisis. The job market for people like me, who will emerge from my cloisters in four or five years and find myself paying off loans and battling for uninsured adjunct positions in Tea Party-ville (the irony that this will fall right around the time that I want to start birthing children is not lost on me, my friends), is abysmal. The dominant discourses of the Academy are still very much skewed in favor of its bachelor bros (I mean like the unmarried dude, not the degree. Ha, ha. Puns!!).
I wish I had a better answer for what those academics amongst us should be doing about this. As a less-cynical-than-I-am-now 21-year-old, I bopped around at college keggers speaking of knocking down the Ivory Tower and radically redistributing the bricks, and out of college immediately took a job at that most hated of Ivory Tower institutions (yeah, I won’t link it, I’m that embarrassed. I will, however, link one of my favorite Ivy League Internet feminists). I think one important step, and one that I’ve been very fortunate to have learned by my professors, both in undergrad and now, is to view the Academy as one more site of struggle and contestation. Like a streaker on the quad, inequalities run haywire, but we have the great challenge and privilege of living in the midst of uprisings (seriously, I never thought I would see a 1968 in my lifetime, and yet! Every day! From Tahrir to Trafalgar!). The world is a Boys’ Club. It’s time to change that.