I know, I know … lots of radio silence from my end. Hey, it’s been a busy summer, after a busy school year.

Paula_Deen_can_cookBut holy crap, the Paula Deen story has brought me out of my writing-and-watching-tennis malaise. Maybe you’ve heard about Deen’s racism, her frequent use of the N word to her employees and her poor treatment of Blacks in her several businesses. In focusing so intently on her use of the N word, however, journalists have ignored the vast bulk of the story which deals with sexual harassment, misogyny, racial and sexual violence, and over five years of ignored complaints about all of the above.

Don’t want to read the full formal court complaint? Let me offer some crucial details as I ask: What’s wrong with our culture that we can’t see this is a case of BOTH racism and sexism?

It would be easy to attack Deen’s public persona, the syrupy-accented Food Channel cook who naughtily put more butter into everything while winking at her viewers. But no matter how you feel about that persona, you have to admit she’s a canny and spectacularly successful businesswoman — a woman who has used gender to her advantage in every way. She has built a multi-million dollar empire on food and her self-portrayal as “The Lady” — her restaurant in Savannah is called The Lady and Sons, for example.

The problem is not just that behind the scenes Deen is a racist. It’s also that she maligns, under-pays, and permits sexual harrassment and violence toward her female employees. Old South, indeed.

Mainstream coverage of the case has focused on racial slurs used by Deen or implicitly condoned by her when her managers or business partner/brother used them. But Deen and her partners were equal-opportunity bigots. They referred to the litigant as “almost Jewish” because of her business acumen — in fact, Deen’s brother Bubba (sigh) called her his “little Jew girl” — while they insisted on a strict policy of paying women far less than men, and refused to promote women to positions that might pay more.


Deen’s brother Bubba (“Uncle Bubba”) Hiers, the main source of the charges of sexual harassment and physical violence

“Women are stupid because they think they can work and have babies and get everything done,” was one such (alleged) pronouncement by Karl Schumacher, the douchebag who oversaw compensation for Deen’s empire of companies. Schumacher was also responsible for taking away the litigant’s annual bonus when she got divorced, because he disapproved of divorce. (Hm. Deen herself was divorced at the age of 23. Oh well, never mind.)

Meanwhile, the court documents reveal that brother Bubba sexually harassed the litigant with sexual and misogynistic jokes, pornography, insulting comments about female employees’ weight or physical attractiveness — all the while skimming profits off the top and wallowing about in a drunken stupor.

All in all — by my eyeballing of the 33-pg court document — the specific cases of gender bias and sexual harassment total about three times the amount of evidence of racial discrimination and violence. This should not surprise us, as the litigant is a white woman and has launched the case based on her own experiences as a manager within Deen’s empire; doubtless a Black employee would have far more evidence of racial crap. Nevertheless, I’m stunned by the fact that the vast majority of misogyny is ignored by the mainstream press in order to focus most of all on the racial slurs used by Deen, Bubba Hiers, and her managers.

The racism is stunning and awful — but why can’t we see that it is of a piece with Deen’s and Hiers’ overall plantation mentality? Why can’t journalists demonstrate that this is not a case of simple racism, but a corporate culture in which white men and a single plantation “lady” reign supreme, all the while insisting on the subjection of all black and female others?

I’m sorry, but I think the American public can grasp that the Old South exemplified in the Deen corporate empire is not simply racist. Leaving the female employees’ stories out of the mainstream coverage is a crime, for it points out the kinds of experiences that millions of women encounter every day in their jobs as well.

Racism and sexism aren’t separate problems in the workplace; nor do they fall in a hierarchy in which one or the other is more important. Racism and sexism intersect in myriad ways, all of which become clear in the court documents in the Deen case. The public is smart enough to recognize that — and smart enough to know that when mainstream media coverage ignores 3/4 of the damning evidence against the Deen empire, it represents an implicit message: “Ladies, your workplace complaints are not important.”

It may be that Deen getting fired from the Food Channel and losing her corporate sponsors results entirely from those accounts of her using the N word to her employees. That would be too bad. I venture to guess that a huge percentage of her support comes from women — women who see her story of a young divorcée building success in a classically American way (bootstraps, gumption, self-made woman) as inspiring and worthy of support. That‘s the public that needs to hear how women of all races were treated behind the scenes. Because Deen’s claim to be “The Lady” has a long history in the United States — a history rooted more in the Plantation Mistress than the Self-Made Man. We need to know this.

A few semesters ago a student earnestly assured me that women earn less in today’s America (famously, about $.76 to every man’s $1) because they have less ambition. As exasperating as such claims are, I had no comeback — until now.

An article in the Atlantic offers a range of studies debunking the notion that women are shrinking violets in their jobs. They ask for raises at roughly the same rates as men; they negotiate at roughly the same rates; they ask for promotions. Moreover, “among MBA grads on a traditional career track, women are even more likely than men to seek out skill-building experiences and training opportunities and to make their achievements visible by asking for feedback and promotions.”

Women ask; they negotiate; they display ambition. They just don’t receive those raises and promotions.

Who to blame?

Maybe, the managers. One study told 184 managers that they would have a limited pot of money to hand out in raises to employees with identical skills and responsibilities. The managers that were told they’d have to negotiate gave men two-and-a-half times the amount in raises that they gave to women before anyone sat down. This meant that the men didn’t even need to negotiate for higher pay, while women were already at a disadvantage when they tried to bargain up, because the rest of the money was assigned to their male peers.

Honestly — it makes me want to negotiate my salary right now. And then get myself in a position to correct these inequities.

Women academics earn 81% of what their male colleagues earn, according to data supplied by the US Department of Education.

This data aggregates all full-time faculty positions, so some of the difference in salary can be explained by rank: there are many more men than women in full professor positions, i.e. the most highly-paid of all academic ranks.

But important differences in pay exist within ranks as well. As this study shows, the average salary for men at the rank of full professor was $109,466. For women full professors the average pay was $96,886. Thus, women full professors earned, on average, only 88 percent of male full professors.

There’s a lot to be said about disparities between how male and female faculty experience their jobs. But the fundamental facts — serious differences in pay, by gender — are illuminating as to how those disparities get sustained over years, decades. These differences speak to differentials in how male and female faculty are valued.

Why should we care that colleges have found ways of shirking Title IX rules that seek to create greater equity for women in college sports, as reported in last week’s New York TimesBecause those rules never demanded true equity to begin with. Everyone needs to stop acting as if colleges have been under some crazy burden to give women 50% of all resources. Title IX was never intended to deliver exact parity. To offer an analogy: it’s as if the federal government passes an equal pay act and 50 years later women are still only getting paid 77% of what men make, only to have men argue women are getting paid too much and stealing resources away from men. (Hey, wait a second…that’s pretty much true, too!)

First, a few truths about Title IX: this law does not demand exact equality between men’s and women’s sports. Rather, colleges can comply with it in one of three ways:

  1. by showing that the number of female athletes is in proportion to overall female enrollment
  2. by demonstrating a history of expanding opportunities for women
  3. by proving that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of their female students

Considering that women make up 57% of college student populations nationwide, it’s obvious that colleges are not complying via path #1. I know of no school that gives female students a majority of funds and resources. Instead, according to the best statistics I can find:

  • Division I institutions: women make up 53% of college student bodies but only 46% of athletes
  • Universities overall: women make up 57% of college student bodies but only 42% of athletes
  • Female college athletes receive 42% of athletic scholarship money
  • College women’s sports receive 36% of sports operating funds
  • Women’s teams receive 32% of recruiting funds

Again, all of this is legal so long as colleges show that they are doing their best to increase athletic opportunities for women or are otherwise meeting the athletic interests and abilities of female students. There is no equality for women’s college sports. Men’s sports still get the vast majority of university funds. And this does not count the vast amounts of booster funds that come in to support specific sports, creating vastly disproportional funds going to football and basketball. (How else do you think top-shelf football coaches can get paid $5 million per year?)

Title IX has been fought from the outset. The NCAA went to court in the 70s fighting to be excluded from the law but was denied a victory. Instead, many colleges simply disregarded the rules since there was no governmental regulation or punishment for noncompliance until 1992, when a Supreme Court case determined that individuals could receive monetary damages in court. In 2003 and 2004, a public battle took place again over Title IX, resulting in the Bush Administration opting to soften the rules even further. The Obama Administration quietly reversed that decision in 2010, returning Title IX to previous rules and seeking more enforcement of the law. But now it seems colleges are at it again, giving college women’s sports short shrift.

Here’s a quick rundown of the story (with quotes) from the NY Times: colleges have found ingenious ways of flouting the rules. Some schools count male athletes as women: 15 of the 34 players on Cornell’s women’s fencing team are men, while “Texas A&M, which just won the women’s Division I basketball championship, reported 32 players in the 2009-10 academic year, although 14 were men.” Or schools populate women’s teams with ghost players, as at the University of South Florida, where only 28 of the 71 women on the cross-country roster ran a race in 2009. “Asked about it, a few laughed and said they did not know they were on the team.” Still other schools engage in voodoo math: Quinnipiac University was found guilty last year of “requiring that women cross-country runners join the indoor and outdoor track teams so they could be counted three times,” according to the Times‘ story, and guilty too of adding names to a roster in time for the count but cutting those players a few weeks later.

Are colleges engaging in this duplicity because they can’t find women interested in participating in sports? No: they do it because they must submit annual reports listing the total numbers of women and men in athletics, and whereas it costs money to start a new team that women might want to sign up for, it costs a college nothing to add names, however fraudulently, to existing teams (honestly, 71 cross-country runners?). No one has shown that college women don’t want to engage in organized sports.

Nor should we confuse the question of whether a sport earns a profit in ticket sales with its value to the university. I understand the impulse to celebrate football teams that earn money for their universities, but not only is this relatively rare, but most men’s teams are as equally unprofitable as most women’s teams. Besides, as I’ve already mentioned, much of that income goes back into the coffers of profitable teams; it’s not distributed widely.

These facts make it all the more aggravating when journalists on the ever-reactionary, often anti-feminist Double X podcast (you guessed it, Hanna Rosin again!) last week offered this slew of false information and misinformed commentary on the issue. Rosin is introduced by her colleague Jessica Grose by saying, “So, Hanna, you have done tons of research on this topic. Can you tell us a little bit more about college women’s sport and Title IX more generally?”

Rosin: “Yes. I did not have the expected response to this article. You’re supposed to have the expected reaction of, just, you know, isn’t this is terrible, how could they be fudging the numbers, they’re giving it to the boys once again. But I raise my hand in exasperation and, just had the words Title IX reform! It’s time for Title IX reform! This is a law that was passed in the 70s that really doesn’t seem to any more reflect the reality of American colleges and there’s so much shenanigans they have to go through in order to comply with this law that it seems like we need to rewrite the law. Now that’s not to give credit – not to take away credit from all the amazing things that Title IX has done in terms of making it possible for women to be competitive and aggressive and participate in sports the way they never have been. But, like, if you’re padding the running team with people who have never run a race in their lives, like, what does that mean? You should force the women to run the race? I just, I just don’t know a way around this except to say, you know, ease up on the proportionality a little bit! It doesn’t have to absolutely be exact. Like, isn’t there a way to rewrite the law in which it’s not exact? So am I being, like, a crazy anti-feminist [unintelligible] here?”

Well, yes, Hanna, you may be a crazy anti-feminist, but mostly you’re a bad journalist who offers up false information about the subject you’re discussing. I’m not a journalist, but was able to find this information and statistics using reliable sources online in a single morning. Next time you use your journalist credentials to spout off — especially after being introduced as having “done tons of research on this topic” — do just a tiny amount of research ahead of time.

Judi Dench and Daniel Craig combined to produce this great short video produced for International Women’s Day and the We Are Equals project (Annie Lennox rocks again). Many thanks to the political/feminist blog Speaker’s Corner for bringing this to my attention.

Viewers of “Mad Men” are a tetchy lot, quick to express outrage at the show’s hairpin plot curves or that odd episode that didn’t seem to scale the heights one expects.  Not me.  This show sings to me — and I found this season especially riveting, with its emphasis on an emerging proto-feminist anger — especially by Peggy and Joan in the agency’s offices, and an even more deep-seated anger expressed by little Sally Draper suffering back home with her mother, Betty.  Which leads me to address two (related) kinds of criticism:  those who say the show glamorizes rather than observes the easy sexism of the 60s, and those who say it displays a fetishistic concern with period detail — detail that emphasizes style over cultural criticism.  SPOILER ALERT:  I’ll discuss details from Season 4 — and I’ll warn you again when I get to the season’s final episode.  

The show has only one true protagonist, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the brilliant ad man who exhibits fleeting attractions to smart women but ultimately opts for far less challenging game.  Yet the story of Don helping to elevate Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) from secretary to copywriter is mirrored in the show by the growing emphasis on Peggy’s interior life, such that she’s become the show’s full-fledged Number Two.  This season Peggy has taken on new degrees of responsibility, even oversight of other male copywriters.  Moss shows extraordinary acting gifts in tracing that transformation:  for the first time this season we see her begin to feel comfortable in her own skin (and clothes:  she finally seems to be able to afford outfits she actually likes), and we find her navigating her career with far more physical assertion than in earlier seasons.  Sure, she’s still stuck with inferior men, but no one’s surprised by that scenario.  When she arrives at Don’s office to argue about a pitch, she’ll put her hands on her hips in a way that indicates how much effort it takes to challenge him, and how important it is that she do so.  More than any other woman on the show, Peggy Olson explores what it means to be a woman in a man’s world, and it’s never easy.

It’s not easy because she’s surrounded by utter jackasses on her team of writers, who posture their male fraternity before her with alternate fun and aggression.  (This post is hereby dedicated to Anita Hill, who’s still being harassed 19 years later.)  One of them, Stan, insists that she’s repressed and ashamed of her body, so she strips down to her awful 1960s bra-and-slip set — and then down to nothing — to prove herself and get the upper hand in their work relationship.  But if Stan is an obvious boor, the cutie-pie freelancer Joey is an even more insidious problem.  Joey resents it when the fantastically curvacious executive secretary Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) displays her managerial power over these boys, so he sketches a cartoon of Joan giving a blow job to a male employee — and he posts it on the wall for Joan and Peggy to find.  Joan dresses them down unforgivingly, but Peggy is still incensed.

Despite a chorus of whiney male pleas that “it’s a joke!” Peggy fires Joey, who spits back at her, “Y’see, this is why I don’t like working with women.  You have no sense of humor.”  Nevertheless, firing him feels like justice to her and a triumph for both women, such that at the end of the day when she enters the elevator with Joan, she looks up hopefully and says, “I don’t know if you heard, but I fired Joey.”

Joan, patronizingly:  “I did.  Good for you.”

Peggy, shocked:  “Excuse me?”

Joan:  “Now everybody in the office will know that you solved my problem and that you must be really important, I guess.”

Peggy, shaking her head:  “What’s wrong with you?  I defended you!”

Joan:  “You defended yourself.”

Peggy:  “Fine.  That cartoon was disgusting.”

Joan:  “I’d already handled it.  And if I’d wanted to go further, one dinner with Mr. Kreutzer from Sugarberry Ham and Joey would have been off [the account], and out of my hair.”

Peggy:  “So it’s the same result.”

Joan:  “You want to be a big shot.  Well, no matter how powerful we get around here, they can still just draw a cartoon.  So all you’ve done is prove to them that I’m a meaningless secretary, and you’re a humorless bitch.” 

Moments like that make it all the harder for me to understand the criticism by some that the show glamorizes the sexism of the 60s.  The show doesn’t make sexism sexy (except to some, um, throwbacks); rather, as Stephanie Coontz claimed recently, it looks unflinchingly at the sexism of the era and shows how it affected real-life women without losing its subtlety or getting preachy.  In fact, I don’t see how any working woman today could watch that scene between Peggy and Joan without thinking, “I’ve been there.  Wait:  what year is it?”   Journalists have written about how the sexist world of “Mad Men” is still alive and well in some business worlds, and not just due to the gender pay gap.  It’s also worth noting that the show has a relatively high number of female writers, producers, and directors, especially after Season 1.  This record is not without highly notable glitches, as when creator Matthew Wiener fired the Emmy-Award winning, Peggy Olson-esque writer Kater Gordon a year ago, claiming patronizingly (and obscurely) that she had “reached her full potential.”  Still, the record is impressive:

  • Season 1:  5 of its 13 episodes were written or co-written by women; 1 episode was directed by a woman.
  • Season 2:  9 of 13 episodes written or co-written by women; 3 episodes directed by women.
  • Season 3:  10 of 13 episodes written or co-written by women; 6 episodes directed by women.
  • Season 4:  6 of 13 episodes written or co-written by women; 4 episodes directed by women.  

The show isn’t just a workplace drama, of course.  Even though Betty Draper’s role was diminished this season, the show revealed chillingly how angry and dissatisfied she is, and how much she has replaced Don with a paternalistic new husband who chastizes her and demands that she behave.  In fact, when Betty (January Jones) confesses to her friend Francine that they’d had a fight the night before, she says, “I misbehaved.”  Her deep-seated childishness and awful petulance have roused bitter hatred among fans, but I can only express my admiration for Jones’ pitch-perfect, icy performance.  Betty is trapped inside the hell of her own small-minded expectations; to get out of it would mean jettisoning everything she ever learned as a child, everything she witnessed at her mother’s knee, every lesson that taught her that sulking gets you what you want.  Of course she’s not a sympathetic character — in that respect she’s much like Sandi McCree’s perfect performance as De’Londa Brice in “The Wire.”  Things are not going as Betty had been led to expect, so heads must roll — as in this horrific scene only available at AMC.com.  You can just imagine what it’d be like to have such a woman as your mother.  Or, rather, we don’t have to imagine, because 10-year-old Sally Draper emerges as a complicated character in her own right this season via extended conflicts with her mother.  And what an actor Kiernan Shipka proves to be in that role.

These are hardly the only ugly things shown by “Mad Men.”  We see the execrable Pete Campbell rape an au pair in his apartment building, yet he experiences no consequences.  In a parallel moment, Joan’s husband rapes her to remind us that there was no such thing as “marital rape” in the 60s.  [SPOILER ALERT:  I’m coming close to discussing the season finale now!]  Viewers are made irate by these scenes, but they seem to feel that by showing them the series is endorsing such violence.  (Which reminds me of a story I heard recently:  a university professor is getting hate mail from parents because she teaches a class on the history of witchcraft — which, parents believe, amounts to advocating witchcraft.  Remind me never to teach a class on the history of slavery — and just imagine a world in which no one teaches students about the Holocaust for fear of appearing to endorse violent anti-Semitism.)  During the final episode of this season, Don abandons the first worthy girlfriend he’s had since the divorce — the lovely, savvy consultant, Dr. Faye Miller, who had seemed to be a true partner for him — and he gets himself engaged to his secretary instead.  It’s one of the creepiest sequences of scenes they’ve ever shown:  after several episodes of finally coming to grips with his lies and self-deceptions, Don makes one of those 180° turns back toward self-delusion, just like Roger Sterling (John Slattery).  Heartbreakingly, a critic at my beloved Bitch website decries this as an endorsement of Don’s choice.

So how can anyone mistake the show’s darkness for glamor, you ask?  I’ve decided after much scholarly consideration (hem hem!) that it’s not the show’s obsession with getting every single detail right, though I know some complain that that obsession is overly distracting.  Rather, it’s the way the show is filmed.  Every shot establishes a scene that seems so stilted, so self-consciously staged, that it attains an air of surreality and demands close attention as if it’s being shot via microscope.  This is as far from neo-realism as you can get:  it’s a kind of theatricality we don’t see elsewhere on TV.  A scene in the back of a cab erases all New York City street noise to focus up-close on the micropolitics of the end of a date; a scene of Don alone drinking in his perfect office evokes the quiet desperation of those men in grey flannel suits.  After four seasons, we’ve grown accustomed to the show’s visual style, but we shouldn’t overlook it:  it’s so important as to nearly constitute a character on the show.  The show’s filming should remind us, constantly, that we are being asked to look on these scenes with a particular set of eyes; it should remind us to see every scene as a subtle, and often horrible, analysis of a world of men and women that lacked the language of feminism.  These scenes emphasize deep divides between people, a profound loneliness, and the way certain kinds of architecture and design might make the world cold rather than warm and homey.  “It’s lonely in the modern world,” the blog Unhappy Hipsters reminds us — “Mad Men” is doing the same in narrative form.

In this positive review don’t accuse me of abandoning my blamer credentials, for I most certainly aspire to the wicked keyboard stylings of Twisty Faster — and it’s not that I don’t have my own criticisms of the show.  But it deserves quick and firm defense against the most facile interpretations.  Even after four seasons, I’ve never seen anything like “Mad Men” for its subtle writing and dead-on historical accuracy.  Now I just need to teach a class on it.

First let me begin with a scene at the US Open last weekend:  Maria Sharapova is battling Caroline Wozniacki, the top-ranked woman at this year’s tournament, and she should be winning.  Sharapova combines her nearly 6’3″ frame with a lupine fierceness and a seeming pleasure in tasting her opponents’ blood.  She hits her shots with such power that she screeches.  It baffles me that for so long she’s capitalized in advertisements on her blonde pinup girl good looks, as I find her terrifying:  on the court, Sharapova is all mean girl.  Especially when she bows her head and prepares to serve, then looks up from underneath her visor to glare at her opponent with an icy look of death.

So why isn’t she beating Wozniacki?  A major theme used to discuss this year’s wide-open women’s draw is nerves.  With that in mind it seems obvious that Sharapova’s beating herself.  She takes way too long to serve — then hits it wild.  For her second serve she pauses even longer, bouncing the ball endlessly, and then proceeds to whack it into the net (she committed 9 double-faults, the equivalent of more than two full games’ loss).  This prompts the commentators to remind us of her miserable performance at last year’s US Open, when she double-faulted 21 times in a match against Melanie Oudin.  When she gets them in to start a rally, she commits an unacceptable number of errors (36).  Her moments of true brilliance drive Wozniacki between sidelines and far back beyond the baseline; but in the end Sharapova loses 6-3, 6-4.  I am uncharacteristically crushed by the collapse of a player whose talents I’ve only grudgingly admired in the past, and I’m disturbed as I watch her struggle with her demons. 

I don’t know if the commentators are right that a remarkable number of female players suffer from these paralyzing nerves (unsurprisingly, male players’ problems have different gendered connotations:  men lose concentration, or perhaps they tighten up), but I’m interested in how women’s self-doubts, in combination with institutional sexism, can conflict with their ambitions.  In fact, I’m not just interested in these subjects, I’m affected by them.  It was prompted when Hattie responded to a post of mine in which I lamented the lack of recognition for a great film by a female director.  She complimented the post and said something like, “You could use some recognition too.”  How did I respond?  I deflected, as I always do when I receive compliments.  Why can’t I take a fucking compliment?

I see Sharapova as a metaphor for this issue because she’s at once intensely competitive, highly talented, and so burdened by self-doubt as to sabotage her own success.  In the past she’s always been willing to do what it takes to win — even be a bitch on the court to get under her opponents’ skin — but now there’s something else going on.  She can’t “just get over it.”  It’s only made worse by the fact that she knows she could — should — beat Wozniacki.  When she struggles, agonizingly, trying to get a serve in, I see some of my own struggles to write effectively and persuasively as an academic, to thrive in a world that benefits scholars who are both prolific and self-promoting.  Watching Sharapova fight herself makes me remember how I painstakingly eked out the final revisions on my book, and how terrible I am at self-promotion.   

So many women strivers have that extra opponent in the room with them.  Even if they’re perfectly comfortable with being ambitious, it’s the execution that causes such emotional gymnastics.  In my case, getting my book done was excruciating, and there’s still a chapter I can’t look at.  All along the way I worried about a thousand other things — being a good enough teacher so I wouldn’t leave class feeling ashamed; being a good colleague and mentor; getting back to see my parents often enough that I wouldn’t feel like a terrible daughter.  (And then there’s the other crap:  Does this bra make my back fat bulge out?  Why do I insist on wearing shoes of torture even when I have blisters everywhere?  Why can’t my partner ever make dinner without getting food detritus on everything within a 12-foot radius?)  In other words, I spent a lot of time worrying about how not to fail at juggling a number of balls, rather than compartmentalizing and playing like, say, Rafael Nadal, whose mind is only on one thing.  I watch him play and I see so clearly the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.

But it’s more than just inner demons, isn’t it?  It’s also the external ones, like the students who pronounce their female professors to be bitches — which, as far as I can tell, means a woman who has power and uses it without apology.  It can affect one’s personal relationships:  one friend had her (male) partner accuse her of being “careerist” as a factor during their breakup.  Then there are the elite white conservative men who oversee promotions and selectively dole out raises.  In my department, the male professors gossip openly about young faculty — which of the younger men are not just brilliant but good guys, which of the younger women are in trouble for tenure because they’re not yet done with their books.  (Kudos to Servetus for terming them her Dementors, à la Harry Potter, sucking out all hope and life from us.)  But you see, not being a bitch almost inevitably eliminates the possibility of their calling you brilliant, because they don’t possess a stereotype that combines “nice” and “brilliant.”  When my book won a major book prize in my field, for example, one could sense the profound cognitive dissonance among a portion of my colleagues.

I’m not saying that all women face such inner and outer demons (we can all think of an exception) but I know far too many ambitious, talented women who do.  And most critics seem to recognize only one part of this phenomenon when they advance their critiques.  Take, for example, Clay Shirky’s “Rant About Women,” in which he tried to understand the broader phenomenon of why women so seldom engaged in professional self-promotion.  Taking a supportive but tough-love position, he declared that “not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks” to put themselves forward to their own advantage.  Not only that, he continued, women will avoid being “self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so.”  Mea culpa.  Shirky is most certainly right when he diagnoses women as generally shying away from such behavior — but what about the fact that many women fear being punished for it, having readily witnessed such punishments of other women?

Then there’s the hullabaloo over Jody Picoult and Jennifer Weiner’s criticism of the Jonathan Franzen love-fest.  When Time magazine put Franzen on its cover with the headline, “GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST,” and the New York Times Book Review‘s editor-in-chief put his own glowing review of the book on the cover, declaring in the first sentence that the book is “a masterpiece of American fiction,” Picoult and Weiner expressed exasperation.  They’re not complaining that they should have received the same attention; nor are they saying Franzen doesn’t deserve acclaim.  To summarize, in Weiner’s words:

“The only mention my books have ever gotten from the Times have been the occasional single sentence and, if I’m lucky, a dependent clause in a Janet Maslin flyover piece:  ‘Look! Here’s a bunch of books that have nothing in common but spring release dates and lady authors!’  I don’t write literary fiction — I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today.  Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan ‘Genius’ Franzen gets?  Nope.  Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby?  Absolutely.

…I think it’s irrefutable that when it comes to picking favorites – those lucky few writers who get the double reviews AND the fawning magazine profile AND the back-page essay space AND the op-ed, or the Q and A edited and condensed by Deborah Solomon — the Times tends to pick white guys. Usually white guys living in Brooklyn or Manhattan, white guys who either have MFAs or teach at MFA programs … white guys who, I suspect, remind the Times’ powers-that-be of themselves, minus twenty years and plus some hair.”

Picoult and Weiner’s complaints are welcome indeed, especially coming from two eminently successful authors who have no complaints when they get their royalty checks.  But this leads me to two institutions that seek to deal with women’s demons as well as their Dementors.  One is the Op-Ed Project, designed to offer advice and assistance for women who want to publish op-ed pieces.  Only about 10% of such pieces are written by women, making these opinion-setting pages of the newspapers shockingly male-dominated.  This institution recognizes that women writers require not just assistance with placement — convincing (unconsciously?) sexist editors to publish something — but with the demons that stop them from sending out the damn piece to begin with.  Likewise, there’s Mslexia magazine for women writers, which contained in its first issue a beautifully astute assessment of the bizarre position of women writers in the marketplace

These are some of the reasons why I get so frustrated when Slate wonders if Cathleen Schine’s The Three Weissmanns of Wesport is simply “chick lit,” when films about black women get categorized as some kind of sub-genre of “chick flicks,” why female politicians get criticized for their looks and their clothes (remember when Elena Kagan was criticized for sitting with her legs slightly too far apart?).  All of these things exaggerate the demons women are already wrestling with in their professions.  And then we get told that we’re not succeeding because we don’t want it enough — because of our own “choices.”

And finally:  not long after learning I’d won a book prize, I found myself in conversation with a man whose excellent (and prize-winning) book had been one of the contenders.  “You won that prize?!  That was the one I really wanted to win!” he said.  After all this time, I’m still twisted up about that conversation:  still wondering whether he was both complimenting me and expressing confusion about why his book hadn’t topped mine; still convinced that book prizes are just as arbitrary as job offers; still uncertain about how to talk about the prize with people I consider my peers.  (It’s worth noting I had no problem announcing this news to my university’s senior colleagues, Dementors, and administrators, however.)  In short, like Sharapova, I’m still bouncing that ball before a serve, wrestling with these demons, trying too hard not to lose.

Read this story at the Village Voice about Debrahlee Lorenzana, who was fired from her job at Citibank.  They say it was due to her work performance.  She says it was because “her bosses told her they couldn’t concentrate on their work because her appearance was too distracting. They ordered her to stop wearing turtlenecks. She was also forbidden to wear pencil skirts, three-inch heels, or fitted business suits,” according to the Voice.  There is an extraordinary record of her complaints to the company’s HR department — she called them three or four times a day to report the harassment by her managers — which accomplished nothing.

The result?  As Twisty Faster notes succinctly on her blog, the one relevant question in the case — was Lorenzana discriminated against? — is completely lost, while everyone from journalists to bloggers to the trolls who comment online turns her case into questions about:

  • “Lorenzana’s Christian Louboutin heels
  • Lorenzana’s point on the sexbot continuum
  • Lorenzana’s aspirations to fame and fortune
  • That Lorenzana unlikeably tried to save herself by ratting out some women tellers for wearing hooker outfits 
  • Whether Lorenzana chooses to emit porn rays, or whether her natural self merely happens to conform precisely to pornulated beauty ideals.”

There’s nothing more depressing to me than the fact that this central question has been lost in everyone’s eagerness to hate the hot chick.  The uneasily sympathetic Voice essay offers a slideshow of photos showing how hot she is.  Jezebel turns it into a question of whether Lorenzana committed “girl-on-girl crime” by pointing out that the other women in the office wore far more provocative clothes than she did.  (Surely someone should note, here in the midst of the pile-on about Elena Kagan’s clothes, that women are encouraged to look sexy at work — that is, until they look as hot as Lorenzana?)  Some jackass at the Daily Mail makes fun of her name and accuses her of spending too much money on clothes.  WE MUST PUNISH THE HOT LATINA, AND THEN LOOK AT MORE PHOTOS OF HER CURVES.

Is she hot?  IT DOESN’T MATTER.  What matters is that she was harassed on a daily basis and her complaints ignored.  Remember Anita Hill’s case of nearly 20 years ago, when we were shown that a woman could describe daily harassment at the workplace and senators insisted she was crazy?   

It’s not that we haven’t been talking about sexual harassment.  My job requires me to take a compliance test on a regular basis that reminds me how to deal with harassment issues.  Lorenzana’s case makes me question seriously what would happen if I came forward with such a case.  Feminists have been so thoroughly sidelined in our media that this story simply becomes a vehicle for more attacks than she’s already received.

In my dream feminist world, Lorenzana would co-host a new version of CNBC’s “Equal Time” (ah, the early 90s…) with another female co-host on issues women face in the workplace.  They would give serious attention to sexual harassment cases like hers, discuss pay equity and the mommy track, single motherhood (Lorenzana is a single mother), the class-action suits by women against huge corporations like Wal-Mart and Merrill Lynch, and approach the subject of gender inequity in many fields, including academia.  In short, she would become a kick-ass feminist who takes no prisoners.  I can see the feminist comic-book superhero version of her now.

I really hoped this one would go away, but of course Lisa Belkin had to join in with a New York Times Magazine piece this week, which in turn seemed to cue Maureen Dowd, who was already all over the gay question.  Sometimes it just makes my head hurt really bad.

If we pay attention to the news, there’s lots of things wrong with Elena Kagan, and the media is looking for more every day.  So imagine their delight when some journalists started suggesting it’s her lack of children.  It’s the perfect argument, for it seems to have no clear partisan, anti-Semitic, or homophobic bent (like most of the others), AND we get to trash her life choices!  Anti-feminism activated!

It started with Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast explaining there are two reasons we should appoint women to the Supreme Court (oh, the desire to call this mansplaining): 1) “female justices, on average, will be more sensitive to the problems women face” and possibly those faced by other disadvantaged groups; and 2) they can help alleviate gender bias by being role models.  Is that it?  I wonder why we need so darn many if those are the only reasons.

His main point was to note that a majority of the women appointed to cabinet positions during the last three presidential administrations were childless; only six of the sixteen women in those positions have had children.  If Kagan is appointed, only two of the four female Supreme Court justices in American history will have been mothers — and that’s just not fair.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with appointing childless women (or men, for that matter) to high office. But our government is actually doing a pretty good job of providing role models for the 20 percent of American women who don’t want kids. Where it’s failing is in providing role models for the 80 percent that do.

If we want to talk about “failing,” maybe it would help if we remember that of the 111 justices in US history, 106 have been white men, 2 African American, 2 white women, and 1 Latina.  Maybe it would help if we had more than 4 women in Obama’s 15-person cabinet.  Maybe it would help if people like Beinart, Belkin, and others remembered that simply having more women in positions of power is inspiring to women; not everyone asks first & foremost whether a woman is a mother.  A quick note: only 4 of the Supreme Court justices in American history were bachelors, and I can’t find any information on how many were fathers.  But we do know that all of the men currently sitting on the Court are fathers.  (And look how that’s worked out, sensitivity-wise.  Apparently women have special feeling powers!)  To complain that Kagan isn’t a mother is to draw attention away from the fact that even now, the Supreme Court really looks nothing like the rest of America.  Yes, more women on the Court is a small step in the right direction for women; but let’s not be reductionist about the complicated issues presidents weigh as they make their choices.  Obama may have wanted to find a woman this time, but that probably wasn’t the only thing on his mind.

Beinart argues that Obama should have chosen mom Diane Wood instead, and although he probably wouldn’t go as far as Hilary Shenfeld at iVillage that Wood would have brought “some unique ‘mom-spertise’ to the Supreme Court,” he probably should have guessed that this was whither his argument was tending:

With the addition of Wood, a jurist with a mama bear lurking inside, the Supreme Court would have a member who’s lived through the toughest job on earth and came out better for it. She’s wiped away dirt and tears, helped with homework and heartache, made as many decisions as dinners, really listened and really heard. She’s had years of experience settling squabbles and determining who’s right and who’s wrong. She would have come to the job not only with legal smarts, but also the real-world wisdom picked up from the day-in, day-out joys, frustrations and plain hard work of being a mother and raising a family.

Um, what are we talking about again?  Oh yeah, whether we should appoint mothers to the court because then the Court will look more like America and inspire women to be mothers and jurists.  Lisa Belkin in the New York Times quotes Shenfeld, but avoids the maudlin in order to reiterate Beinart’s argument:  we’re sending the wrong message to women by appointing so many childless women to positions of high power.  Women learn from these choices that bearing children is risky for career-minded women:

Expectation brings obligation, and Sotomayór and Kagan were of the generation facing new tradeoffs. Pursue the career and sacrifice the family. Have the family and ratchet back the career. True, the stigma of not marrying or having children waned for this younger generation, making it more of a deliberate choice for some. But still, roads had to be chosen. There would be no taking five years off to stay home with your children if you hoped for a seat on the Supreme Court.

That’s just how we childless women operate, you see.  We sit down when we’re 10 years old and “choose” to study and work so hard that we will have no lives, ever, because we’re plotting out our paths to seats on the Supreme Court; the people we’ve got to knock out of our way are those super-feeling mommies.  When Belkin lays out these “new tradeoffs,” she makes enormous assumptions not just about Sotomayór’s and Kagan’s “choices” (not everyone “chooses” to be childless, stay unmarried, or get divorced, as in Sotomayór’s case), but also about what most Americans admire about female leaders.  (And excuse me, but who exactly gets to choose to take “five years off to stay home with your children,” anyway?)  This, of course, led to Maureen Dowd’s piece today on the difference between being “single” and “unmarried.”

But my real gripe here is the constant parsing the lives of exceptional women for details that are irrelevant to their nomination — thereby permitting, yet again, women to be treated differently than male candidates for the same job.  She’s the wrong kind of woman, these comments tell us.  Some women make the wrong kinds of choices, they imply; we should feel sorry for her because she’s unmarried and childless.  And it allows everyone to get distracted by the illusion that this is a zero-sum game in which women are fighting it out amongst themselves.

In the old days, professors had wives.  Wives edited and typed manuscripts, kept households running smoothly, conducted research or fact-checked for their husbands, directed the kids away from the study, sometimes served as unacknowledged co-authors on books, and served canapés and cocktails.

What could be a better measure of changed times than when one such wife, Dorothy Jane Mills, advanced an objection to being ignored for her considerable work on the definitive history of baseball written with her late husband, Harold Seymour.  She had described her life with Seymour at length in her 2004 autobiography, A Woman’s Work, but had to explain again this year “how she had, in fact, co-written those books but received no credit,” as the New York Times reported in March:

Asked why she did not object at the time, she paused and broke into tears.

“It was too easy not to,” she said. “I was just playing my role. I was just doing everything I had done before and continuing with it. I was comfortable with that role.”

Few men have the luxury of such a wife of old anymore, yet we in the university are still rethinking the nature of academic labor and productivity.  Feminism has taught young Dorothy Jane Millses not to be content with playing those old roles, helps us imagine valuable researchers and professors being women as well as men, and changes what we consider to be important topics for research.  But if universities are slowly becoming more inclusive, it’s harder to balance scholarly productivity and also take on basic household labor.  If books of old were sometimes produced by something like 1½ people, now they’re written by individuals working 70-hr weeks who don’t have time to get the oil changed on their cars.  At the same time, universities’ publication expectations are way, way up.

Simply having women professors, gay profs, and professors of color matters — it helps alter students’ perceptions of the world around them.  Numerous studies show that students often arrive at university with a set of received ideas about the world — and unconsidered sexism and racism are top among them.  Having to read books by experts who aren’t just straight white guys helps, too.  They don’t have to be the best teachers, nor do they have to be talking about issues relevant to their race/gender identity.  Their bodies alone familiarize young people with a wider world than, say, the race/gender visual of the U.S. Presidents.

I want my students to learn from their college experience to ask, why are there only 2 (white) female columnists for the New York Times, and why are there only 2 black men, while the remaining 7 are white guys?  Why don’t I see a single major black, Asian, or Latina woman anchor on TV news?  Why isn’t Sarah Haskins a major cultural force along the lines of Jon Stewart?  And I want those questions to emerge from a daily college experience of diversity amongst their classmates as well as professors.

We aren’t just teaching straight white guys in our classes.  Having professors who look like them makes a difference to the vast majority of students who are women and people of color — an even larger majority now that women make up about 57% of undergraduates on U. S. college campuses.  Those of us who’ve counseled students in need of pregnancy advice, whose parents were just deported, or whose relatives still believe higher education is a waste for girls can attest that these problems arise all the time, and that these students don’t seem to turn first for advice from their 60-yr-old white male profs.

In addition, let’s remember that university administrations are slowest of all to change; change there requires mind-numbingly slow turnover.  They still deny tenure to individuals because, say, they’re not convinced of the value of a queer view of women’s fiction or that a woman might be smart enough to be a full professor in mathematics.  Those same views are held by some of our male colleagues who still seem to embrace the gendered order of laundry detergent commercials.

But as much as gender and racial diversity matters, feminism matters too.  Feminism offers ways to articulate opposition to bad administrative or promotion decisions — moments when we can model for our undergrads and grad students a clearheaded feminist voice.  The resistance to change, together with some men’s discomfort with women peers, means that we have to fight for basic gender equity as much today as twenty years ago (as witnessed by continually demoralizing reports on gender in academia that emerge every year).  I know we’re tired from all the labor we undertake, but to be silent on these matters is to be indistinguishable from the nice little wife.  Colleges are a good place to stop internalizing that stereotype of the ugly and dour feminist, for if sexism still pops up in the university, students can be damn sure they’ll see it in the workplace in a couple of years.