Each year women from across the country dedicate thousands of combined hours to perform an arduous task: we manually, painstakingly tally the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews. We do this to offer up concrete data and assure women authors (and wayward editors) that the sloped playing field is not going unnoticed. We do this to ignite and fan the flames of necessary discourse. We do this each year because our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices. Take a look at our annual VIDA Count, tell your friends, write to the editors, Count with us. We are offering up our Methodologies so you too may contribute to, deepen and complicate this conversation. -VIDA
From the moment my parents started reading nightly bedtime stories, from the moment I could form letters, I knew I was supposed to be writing. It was the action that felt most natural. Story telling. It was as if there were too many emotions stored up. I had to channel them through something. The more I wrote, the more I realized that my passion was for the stories already in our world--stories whose voice I could harness and share. I majored in journalism (focusing on nonprofit public relations), filling my elective slots with creative nonfiction courses.
While I've transitioned to focusing mainly on writing for peer-reviewed journals--okay, writing for class with the hope of eventually having time to focus on publications--the mission of VIDA and their count still rings true. Women are a minority in all of academia, not just the literary arts. Here are a few sample statistics from Women in Academia Report:
In 2008, 54.5 percent of all full-time male faculty members were tenured. For full-time women on college and university faculty, only 40.4 percent had been awarded tenure.
Less than one quarter of all college and university presidents are women.
Pay equity also remains a major issue. The mean salary for a male full professor is 17 percent higher than the average salary of a woman full professor.
Before teaching my first class, I was given tips on how to handle students and command authority as a woman. I'm constantly aware of how I dress, the message it sends, the possible comments that could be made. I am aware of what's been said when I wear lipstick on the same day I have a meeting with a professor. I am never not defined as a woman. White maleness still means neutrality. It means not having to think. It means my position is--our positions are--never neutral. It means I question myself, my motives, my potential to tempt men into misbehavior. It means living in marked difference.
I am not blind to my own privilege. Born white in the States. An advanced degree holder living above the poverty line. As a result, my most burning question is this: How do I challenge my students to wrestle with their own privilege, to articulate where privilege comes from, and to question how privilege can be undone--without putting myself on a pedestal as one who knows or one who can provide some sense of understanding? How do I encourage young women to enter academia? How do I encourage all students to shut up and listen rather than "give voice" or "provide for" these non-neutral voices? Because there is still loads I will never have to to endure, and as Alyss Dixson reminds us,
This is not about your understanding. Understanding may take time, it may take forever, it may never happen, but in this place and right now, we can hear one another, and that can be a beautiful kind of sisterhood all on its own.
As a woman in academia, I feel like I need to push harder, write deeper, speak louder than men. Not to prove myself or to convince men I've earned it, but to remind other young women that I'm here--that this is also our space, and that our dissent, our non neutrality, and our perspective are powerful. For that reason, I am making a point of counting myself. I am a woman academician.
P.S. For some more questioning of your students and your self, and for a really useful discussion tool, check out this 31 questions and 12 apologies post.