Being Cassandra, Being Eeyore

  

 

The Greek myth of Cassandra tells us of a girl who has the power of prophecy.  As an adult, Cassandra is propositioned by Apollo, who, when rebuffed by Cassandra, curses her power of prophecy by ensuring she will never again be believed.  The myth recounts that Cassandra was later raped by Ajax, given to Agamemnon as a sex slave (they say “concubine,” but what’s the difference?), and then murdered by Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra.  Of course, Greek mythology overflows with stories of power and revenge, and, generally, women do not fare well.

What are the takeaways here?  I can discern a few:

  • Women who tell the truth are dangerous;
  • women who tell the truth are to be punished;
  • Apollo needs you to like him back. If you don’t, he’ll take what he wants anyway; Same goes for Ajax.  Beware the Apollos and Ajaxes of the world;
  • women who are raped will also be punished in additional ways;
  • it ain’t easy being Cassandra;
  • the stories we tell and re-tell reveal a lot about us as a culture. (No duh!);
  • we have work to do.

Cassandra must have been so frustrated and exhausted.  She could anticipate what was going to happen, and she spent her childhood successfully communicating her prophecies. When Apollo cast the spell that would have her never believed, people saw her as an exaggerator and a liar, as “unstable.”

We should note, too, that there are different versions of this myth.  One even blames Cassandra for tricking Apollo into coming onto her, spurning him, and then being cursed by him.  In this version, I imagine Cassandra in the short skirt, showing that it’s all her fault after all. Cassandra is also cast as a victim of her own beauty, another Western narrative thread that blames women for the violence enacted against them.

The #metoo explosion of these past ten days has been harnessed in powerful ways—to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of the problems of sexual harassment and sexual assault and to give texture and meaning to the tens of thousands of incidents recounted or partially recounted across social media.  I have seen many of the accounts, warnings, and memes translated into Spanish and Portuguese (and some told anew in these languages) in order to address a broader swath of the globe.  As I have said in the blog posts of the last several weeks, the patterns are predictable.  Any old Cassandra can and does foretell the events.  Somehow, though, the curse of not being believed continues, and oftentimes Cassandra’s character is called more into question than is that of her harassers and rapists.  Participating in the #metoo accounting and recounting requires daring precisely because those who come forward aren’t believed and are punished.  I fiercely hope that this latest wave of #metoo (this time jumpstarted by Alyssa Milano, but ten years ago initiated by activist Tarana Burke) makes a difference, effects change.  Nevertheless, I always have in mind Emma Sulkowicz, the woman who carried her mattress around Columbia University for two and a half years.  The mattress was the truth, and yet its constant weight and presence in public spaces still didn’t convince university officials that more needed to be done.  I firmly believe that people don’t go on this type of difficult, long-term mission without cause.  Let’s believe the women carrying mattresses.  Let’s understand Cassandra.

#metoo has also given men the opportunity to absorb the everyday realities for women of all races and members of the LGBTQIA+ community around them.  Maybe some men have read the threads and then performed an audit of their own behaviors through their lives.  When did they use less than kind language about women and people who identify as LGBTQIA+?  When did they offer someone else’s idea as their own?  When did they speak over women at a meeting?  When did they neglect to hire a woman because it would prove a pain in the ass to have to curb certain workplace behaviors?  When did they press for sex when they knew the insistence was unwelcome?  Did they ever rape someone (remember, this might mean that they had sex with someone without their consent and/or with a definitive “no”)?  Do the audit.  Admit wrongdoing. Understand harm.  Make reparations by thinking through actions and statements, by hiring people unlike you, by learning from those who are unlike you, by expressing sincere kindness and care.  Oh yeah, and by stopping telling women that you have a mother, wife, or daughter, and so you understand the plight.  Also, read this excellent Roxanne Gay opinion piece in The New York Times.

Years ago, a colleague told me he’d better watch what he says around me.  I remember thinking, well, I’ve become that person, but, okay, good.  Maybe he’ll start to watch what he says around others, too, and even come to understand why his statements are offensive and threatening.  I thought, maybe this person is more aware now and will help to create a better environment.  The same goes for me in terms of listening, reading, and understanding more about race-based oppression.  I cannot imagine how absolutely fatiguing it must be for women of color and/or LGBTQIA+ people of color who are constantly dealing with gender oppression and race oppression.

I’ve been wondering how well we teach our students and children to analyze the daily bombardment of messages that is our life.  How much do we all absorb advertisements, television programs, movies, music, and social media messages that represent people of color most often in negative contexts, women most often as acquiescent (pussies will be grabbed) or abnegating (wombs will be filled), and heterosexual white men as the all-powerful?  I would say the onslaught is constant, even for someone like me who purposefully avoids a barrage of sad- and crazy-making oppression.  That’s why Hidden Figures (book and movie) was an actual relief and why I was confounded to like and feel a rush from the movie “Wonder Woman.” At my age, I have read many, many books that are empowering for women (but not enough that are empowering for women of color or for LGBTQIA+ individuals), but watching “Hidden Figures” and “Wonder Woman” provided an unexpected rush, an oh-yeah-I-will-crush-you-with-my-freaking-brainpower-and-strength.  “Crushing,” gaining power over, and winning are not my usual touchstones, but I have to confess that these films reminded me how accustomed I’ve become to observing, over and over again for decades, people of color and women being crushed, violated, underrepresented, or not represented at all.  A little reminder of what power is and how it can be distributed more equitably across people and groups proved useful.

If I could draw, I would constantly be doing one-to-four block cartoons that point out the daily reductions of our humanity.  If I could sing, I would go on YouTube and undo sexist lyrics just to own them.  I’m thinking of Eminem, whose lyrics I refuse to quote, or far more innocent, but still insanely misogynistic, songs that are so catchy and so deeply sexist.  If I were Jessica Williams or Tina Fey, I would crack wise all the time to make my point.  But what I’ve got in my toolkit is a Cassandra awareness with an Eeyore delivery.  I’ve got my books, theories, experiences, warnings, and words, and I use them.  What have you got? In particular, how can you men out there contribute productively to this conversation?  Whatever it is, bring it on, ‘cause we need your talent and creativity to change our cultures’ oppressive ways.

The Gender Shrapnel Blog has featured questions like this for over a year, but I continue to ask:  What does it mean to have others appreciate our full humanity?  Has the current administration politicized even kindness?  How do we describe the world/country/city/town we want to live in?  How do we move closer to this better way of living?  Cassandra is justifiably impatient, and Eeyore rightly shows his gloom.

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Dear Colleague

 

ME

ME

ME

ME

ME

ME

ME

TOO

TOO

TOO

TOO

TOO

TOO

TOO

What is it going to take for a large group of people to believe that women of all races and many individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community have been sexually harassed, discriminated against, and assaulted and then made to believe it was their fault?  We didn’t protest vociferously as we heard cases and allegations against Fox News, our current “president,” and Bill Cosby (2005 and again in 2015).  Do white women actors from Hollywood have a certain clout that is waking people up to the pervasiveness of workplace harassment (hostile work environment and quid pro quo), street harassment, and sexual violence?  We have to hope that the visible and audible outrage about the Harvey Weinstein case expressed in traditional media outlets and copiously on social media raise awareness and allow us to make real incursions into social and legal change.

I wrote last week about how unsurprised we should be about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged 30-year campaign of sexual harassment and assault.  The textbook elements of the case include: predatory and criminal behaviors enacted by those higher in the hierarchy on those lower in the hierarchy (power differential); the person harassed is taken aback by the situation and feels threatened, and therefore often doesn’t respond in a way that she might otherwise have done (she is hit by gender and/or race shrapnel); cronies of the higher-up accommodate the illegal behaviors of their colleague and maintain their own power (male networks of power and boys-will-be-boys attitudes); those who have been harassed and/or assaulted and are brave enough to speak out are silenced in any number of ways (threats; tabloids, black lists; lack of employment; etc.); society reinforces negative responses to the women who speak out (can’t take a joke; nags; drags; exaggerators; liars); the boss preys again.

I dare say that this The New York Times piece, which reports on Woody Allen’s BBC interview about the Weinstein case, reveals again how those accused of these serious crimes rarely understand what they did (or continue to do) wrong.  Allen states that he’s grateful for the work Miramax gave him after his own sexual harassment and violence cases, makes clear that no one should be interested in hearing these types of allegations (“You’re not interested in it.  You are interested in making your movie”), and warns of a “witch hunt atmosphere,” which sounds curiously like the “president’s” words about the Justice Department’s inquiry into Russian involvement in our most recent presidential election. The New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens applauds Betsy DeVos for ending “a campus witch hunt” in her removal of Obama-era Title IX guidance for colleges and universities.  Who are the witches and who are the hunters here?  In this opinion piece in The New York Times, campus sexual violence researchers Miriam Gleckman-Krut and Nicole Bedera insist that “Obama-era policies did not malign men.  What they did was make it easier for victims to come forward.”  The headline asks the poignant question, “Who Gets to Define Campus Rape?”

As I write in Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, many people who are harassed have to change their daily paths to avoid the person in power and often have to turn down job opportunities that would require them to have contact with that person, thus permanently changing the course of the careers of the people who have been harassed.  These acts of avoidance occur in every career and on many college and university campuses.  The power systems set in place are replicated in the social lives of the students, thus demonstrating again the continuum through which sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation are linked to sexual assault and sexual violence.  If we don’t take issues of harassment and discrimination seriously, then we will not get at the enormous problem of sexual assault and sexual violence.

Sexual harassment in the higher education context is important for many reasons.  Turning a blind eye to it reinforces for young men, women, and people of all genders that young men are supposed to have, exercise, and retain power, both during the college years and beyond.  It sets the tone for the workplace, since we presumably are educating students to be the workers of tomorrow.  The blind-eye habit in higher education also sends a message to students in middle and high schools that boys have the power and girls should shut up.  This doesn’t bode well for their futures in higher education and/or the workplace.  The sexual harassment problem in Hollywood, at Fox News, in the White House, and in so many other industries, simply reproduces itself in other power-dependent settings, like schools.

President Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter of 2011 (now included on the Office of Civil Rights’s website only as “archived information”) sent a direct message to United States colleges and universities that the reduction of sexual assault and sexual violence on higher education campuses was a priority for the Obama administration.  The “significant guidance” included in the letter comes with great detail, and in the second footnote of the document, sexual harassment is directly linked to sexual violence and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is invoked.  In other words, the document recognized the more acute context for people who find themselves at the intersection of gender, race, and/or national origin. These moves, along with the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, reveal the Obama administration’s understanding of the problem and the seriousness with which the administration approached recommendations for adjudication.  I strongly recommend this 19-page document to anyone interested in reducing the incidence of sexual harassment and violence and in understanding links between and among Title IV, VII, and IX law.

Last month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded the Obama-era guidelines.  (*See this previous post on DeVos and public education.)  DeVos has replaced the “Dear Colleague” guidelines with a Q&A document, which arguably creates a “both sides” false equivalency that had been eased by the Obama-era guidelines.  (*See Jeannie Suk Gersen’s and Christina Hoff Sommers’s support of “both sides” approaches. )  One report cites “confusion over specifics” of the interim guidelines provided by DeVos’s office.  The Chronicle of Higher Education’s September 11, 2017, commentary by Scott Schneider analyzes in legal and practical terms “what DeVos got wrong in her speech on the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter.”  Information and clarifications have come out in drips and drabs (e.g. this updated piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education), thus sowing more confusion and making victims wonder whether it is worthwhile to report traumatic incidents of sexual assault and violence.  A reporter from The Chronicle has chronicled his numerous attempts to get straight answers out of the Education Secretary.

DeVos’s replacement of the Obama-era guidelines (both 2011 [“Dear Colleague”] and 2014 [Q&A format for clarification of “Dear Colleague”]) speaks again to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s idea that the current “president’s” “presidency” (quotation marks around these words are mine) “hinges on the fact of a black president” and “has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own” (these brilliant quotes are from Coates).  Recent college graduate Jamil Smith in this piece in The New York Times states that:  “Instead, my experience taught me that we need to be proactive in preventing sexual assault, and much of that involves something that should be a natural fit for college campuses: education. The workshops I taught to captive audiences of fraternity brothers are a start, but even they weren’t enough. Rape prevention education should be more than an hour, and it should be mandatory for everyone, not just those involved in Greek life. And beyond the legal landscape of sexual assault, men should be disabused of the beliefs that lead to it and should be required to understand its effects on victims.”  The United States could clearly use several thousand more Jamil Smiths, young men who understand structural oppression of women and do something to change it.

DeVos has taken her marching orders from this “president.”  It’s time to dance to an entirely different tune.  Let’s get it right here, on campus, the place guided by lofty mission statements that usually assert that we are all people.

P.S. After this blog post was published, I saw Professor Mikki Brock’s excellent piece on witches and witch hunts in The Washington Post.  Check it out!

Weinstein and Company

(Table of Contents of a 1990 publication by Elizabeth Bouchard, Everything You Need to Know about Sexual Harassment)

When I was in college, over 30 years ago, a woman from my dorm was raped at a fraternity party.  One year when I was a resident assistant in a dorm, a woman on my hall was in the shower, getting ready for Sunday morning church, and saw a man entering the shower stall through the bottom.  On another day that year, women on the hall upstairs reported that a man had entered their bedroom and climbed into bed with them.  He was eventually caught when attempting to do the same thing in another residence hall.  My third or fourth year—I can’t remember now because these predatory behaviors are so common that accounts of them start to blend together—women students were told to be careful of studying in the stacks in the library because a man was walking through the stacks, holding scissors, and snipping ponytails.  I can’t know whether the creepy perpetrator knew Alexander Pope’s poem, “The Rape of the Lock,” but I can say that making light of these actions is both common and foolish.  Since the college years, many friends have recounted dozens of other stories like these, all from one college in one college town.  I imagine some of you are reading this first paragraph and recalling similar stories from your own college years and well beyond.

As a college professor, I have been made aware of more cases of sexual assault and violence than I ever anticipated I would.  As I have said many times in the Gender Shrapnel Blog (for example, here) and throughout the Gender Shrapnel book, sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are on a continuum with sexual assault and sexual violence.  If we are not reducing incidents of the former, there is no way we are reducing incidents of the latter.  The blind-eye phenomenon, practiced by so many in our communities, serves only to protect the powerful and create more opportunities for violence against women (and men, an issue that we need to address more frequently, especially in “fraternal” contexts, such as the military, sports, and Greek fraternity organizations).

I’m entering the Weinstein fray a little late because times are busy, none of this is surprising, and here we are again.  (*See previous posts on Fox News, Bill Cosby, needing better remedies for sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation, rape, and campus sexual assault.)  As I said in the Bill Cosby post, patterns tell us something.  Testimonial elements of one felony line up with testimonial elements of other felonies perpetrated by the same person.  These details matter.  These stories matter.  And I’m hoping that criminal justice experts and/or sociologists can teach us to extrapolate from the stories we know to understand how many stories there may be that we don’t know.  Patterns tell us a lot, and there are many dotted lines between incidents on which we might imagine more felonies happening.  The Guardian provides this 10-11-2017 account of all the women who have accused Harvey Weinstein “so far,” implying that we will hear more allegations of more felonies.  According to The Guardian piece and to the 10-10-2017 account in The New Yorker, Weinstein’s alleged patterns reveal, over a 25-30-year span, a deliberate pattern: finding young women (usually actors or aspiring actors); convincing them to take a meeting with him, the unbelievably powerful movie mogul; dismissing staff members present at the first part of these meetings, often held in hotel suites; asking the women repeatedly to have sex with him or give him a massage; overriding the women’s “no’s” or hesitations by appearing naked and beginning the massage process himself; forcing his penis into women’s mouths and/or masturbating in front of them.

Multiple reports tell us that women who attempted to report the incidents (we could call them “crimes,” for example) were offered non-disclosure statements and money and/or were eliminated from Hollywood movie rosters and dragged through tabloids.  When in 1997 Weinstein’s company settled out of court with actor Rose McGowan, authors of the legal document insist that the settlement’s purpose was to “avoid litigation and buy peace” (The New York Times, 10-5-2017).  Peace for whom, we might ask.  Peace for Weinstein, his all-male board, the so-called “honeypots” who arranged the meetings, and all the men who act like Weinstein or think they should get to act like Weinstein.  This is not peace for McGowan or for the many women since 1997 who allege having been harassed and/or raped by Weinstein, and the many women since then who perhaps haven’t yet come forward.  Our money-run legal system traffics in violence and silence, silence and violence, and we are going to have to generate legal remedies that do not encourage perpetrators to continue their patterns, plain as day.

In this piece by The New York Times Editorial Board, the authors emphasize women’s silence (“Mr. Weinstein controlled many avenues to advancement in his industry and could kill the career of any woman who didn’t hush up”), but they don’t address men’s silence in this piece.  Where was Bob Weinstein on this?  What about all the men on the Weinstein board?  How about all the male actors who turned a blind eye?   The indulgence, abetting, and blind eyes over all these years communicated to everyone in the movie industry (and every other industry, since examples of the powerful getting away with felony after felony are abundant) that this culture was just fine, that power wins every time, that being exposed to sexual assault and violence are part and parcel of “climbing the ladder.”  The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg makes the point in this way: “Placing a particular burden on women, rather than, say, on the Weinstein Company’s all-male board, to have done something about him suggests this isn’t really about feminist credentials at all: it’s about making women, rather than men, responsible for male misbehavior” (10-10-17). (*Alexandra Petri’s hilarious take on the Weinstein case is also worth the read.)

The New York Times has spent the last week bending over backwards to perform a bizarre liberal mea culpa (see the aforementioned piece by the Editorial Board and this ridiculously juvenile piece by Ross Douthat) surrounding the Weinstein case.  Oh, Democrats, don’t be silent.  Oh, Democrats, renounce the money given you.  Hold on here, NYT.  Slow the hell down.  The preachiness is almost unbearable, given the newspaper’s role in harassing Hillary Clinton over e-mail protocols practiced abundantly both before and after her time in Washington.  Parsing the issue of sexual harassment and assault along party lines and expressing outrage or surprise when men who support the Democratic Party engage in these behaviors is disingenuous and tiresome.  We have elected men from the Democratic Party who have harassed, and possibly raped, women.  We have elected men from the Republican party who have harassed, and possibly raped, women.  I would venture to say that the situation is worse when your “president” has bragged about harassing behaviors and half of the nation has turned a blind eye to it.  We have all seen and can all discern these predatory, felonious patterns, but some choose to say nothing, and some choose to vote for these felons.

When The New York Times decided to publish the Douthat op-ed, which I can only call offensive tripe, they allowed Douthat to diminish Weinstein’s alleged criminal actions to words such as “piggishness” and “vice.”  Douthat also employs the euphemism “caddishness.” The newspaper allowed him to reinforce gender binaries in antiquated ways (e.g. the line about the Republic of Gilead, which not only ignores the fact that men are also victims of rape and extreme violence, but also subtly suggests that we should at least move towards the gender dystopia of the Atwood novel of the Moss television series).  Douthat also claims (here and in last week’s op-ed) Hugh Hefner as a liberal icon, but I think he might hear quite differently from liberals and progressives who have actually worked on gender and race issues.  Douthat tells us, “Promiscuity can encourage predatory entitlement.  Older rules of moral restraint were broader for a reason.  If your culture’s code is libertine, don’t be surprised that worse things than libertinism flourish.”  Welcome to the 19th century, people, where women weren’t even allowed to wear the short skirts that apparently caused the violence against them and their own downfalls.  This line also reads like a threat, something like, “Learn from your promiscuity, liberal Hollywood women, or return to Gilead.”  The New York Times’s liberal auto-flagellation reinforces age-old postures that blame women for the crimes, the felonies, of men.  Stop the bullshit.

An urgent question: To whom are we turning a blind eye right now?  Why are we letting them get away with this?  Who has the courage to speak up and out?

And a reminder.  I wrote the following text in the September 19th blog post of last year, and I fear I’ll be copying and pasting it again at this time next year:

*****

Let’s think for a moment about the common denominators at the core of sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation:

  • Hierarchy with powerful, high-salaried white men at the top [e.g. Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch]
  • Reinforcement of white, male privilege through the hiring and retention of more people who look the same, thus making people of color and women a rarity [Just look at the Fox News administrative team and line-up of anchors]
  • Institutional leaders who practice sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are not only protected by other organizational leaders [e.g. Bill Shine, Diane Brandi], including general counsel, but are also imitated by men below them in the hierarchy [e.g. Bill O’Reilly, who has also been the subject of complaints of sexual harassment]
  • Establishment of a workplace environment that gives power to men and takes it from women.  Examples of this include giving more and higher quality airtime to men, regulating women’s appearance in highly scripted ways, and repeatedly airing sexist broadcasts as if they were news [Check out this series of clips of Fox News’ rampant misogyny]
  • “Boys-will-be-boys” indulgence of men’s illegal behavior [See that series of clips I just mentioned!]
  • Punishment of and retaliation against those lower in the hierarchy who make people aware of the illegal acts [Fox News firings of those who came forward about sexual harassment]
  • Silencing news of the illegal behaviors, through intimidation or pay-off
  • Condoning these behaviors through high-level protection afforded the wrongdoers.  The wrongdoers stay, and those who complain of the wrongdoing must go.
  • This cycle repeats itself.

While the law (see also Chapter 6 of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace) distinguishes between quid pro quo (usually involving requests for sexual favors) and hostile work environment (HWE) harassment and discrimination, often where there is one form of harassment, the other is lurking as well.  There are multiple ways for the higher-ups in an organization to create a dehumanizing culture in which the lower-downs are not accorded respect for the work they do, are paid too little for the jobs they do, are silenced for taking a stand, and/or are removed because they challenge the hierarchy.  It is reported that Fox News employees, with Ailes at the helm, used both quid pro quo and HWE to foment a culture of harassment and dehumanization for decades.  This is textbook, people, and there is absolutely nothing shocking about it.  (Bryce Covert makes a similar point in this New York Times opinion piece.)

*****

 

 

Hotter Water

How are you all doing?  The terrible news across the globe has me low, but then I think about the people directly affected by all the news and how they must be doing.  I’ve asked many times here on the blog how much lower we will have to go before we can effect true change, and I sincerely wish I knew the answer.  For this week’s blog, I’m just writing about local events because I don’t know yet how to tackle the national and international ones.

I’ve been wondering:  When you’re in hot water, and things get more dire, is the water hotter or deeper, or both?

As you likely know, the Gender Shrapnel Blog emerged from my book, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace (Palgrave, 2016).  The university where I work has predictably had a conflicted relationship with this book, which critiques colleges and universities for not fixing problems of gender (and race, class, parental status, among other intersectional categories) and, in some cases, for exacerbating these problems.  I understand my university’s relationship with Gender Shrapnel (after all, I wrote a book about it) and am wholly unsurprised by the book’s reception on campus.  Nevertheless, since the job of the book and this blog is to provide information about, analyze, and suggest remedies for cases of gender and intersectional shrapnel, I am compelled at this moment to take a look at the book’s reception and to link the reception to other lukewarm (or maybe lukecold) responses to local shrapnel incidents.

Although folks might bristle at my calling out my institution on gender shrapnel, I hope they know that I’m speaking again of accumulated incidents over several years’ time.  The incidents demonstrate that intersectional shrapnel still flies and lessons aren’t learned.  Codes of civility (*addressed in this post) might have me silence these facts, but silence doesn’t get us where we need to be.  The driving force of the status quo makes any person, comment, question, or protest who/that challenges it seem “uncivil,” and this silencing moves us backwards.  Some readers might suggest that, if I don’t like where I teach, I should get out.  Please know that, for the most part, I actually do like where I teach.  I like what I teach, whom I teach, where I teach.  (I do like green eggs and ham.  I do like them, Sam I Am.)  Twenty years at one place can create deep ties and affectionate sentiments, and also a long-term perspective about the need and potential for real change.

At the university where I teach, professors’ books are usually highlighted on the university webpage and in the Alumni Magazine.  Many kind people in our publications office made sure to include mention of Gender Shrapnel in these venues last year when the book came out.  Instead of being interviewed about the content of the book for the website piece, though, I was asked to focus on the advising work I do with students.  The book was certainly mentioned in the piece, no problem, but it wasn’t supposed to be the centerpiece.  I should have rejected this approach, but didn’t.  It is hard to reject these approaches when they are suggested by people you have liked and respected for two decades.  I never saw the piece actually featured on the website, even though I check the site daily.  It must have flown in and out rather quickly.

More recently, an excerpted section of this blog post about Mark Lilla and campus politics was published as a letter to the editor in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  The blog post and excerpted letter defend contemporary college students from Lilla’s accusations that they are overprotected and disengaged from the communities around them.  This is the kind of piece (a letter to the editor on a higher education issue) usually posted somewhere on our website, even if a few layers deep, but it never made it on.  I can’t tell if it’s because it doesn’t rate or is linked to the blog itself.  A link to the blog, which mentions university unmentionables, is likely to be avoided at all costs.  I get that the university website serves to sell the university to its many constituencies, but I don’t understand why we don’t actually celebrate our ability to engage in disagreement and be richer for it.  I’ve heard myself say several times lately that the university (not just mine; probably all) gives and then takes away.  University officials assure us that we are addressing diversity issues head on, and then we slow things down.  I can’t imagine how presidents can balance pleasing all constituencies with making real change, but I can imagine how presidents actually make change.

I am not certain what I think about the representation of people of color on our website.  Students of color are featured somewhat often, I think, but I rarely see notices about staff and faculty of color.  We have trouble hiring and retaining people of color for a host of reasons.  We recognize many of these reasons (our name and heritage; homogeneity; rural Virginia; KKK leaflets on front lawns; flaggers marching down Main Street; and a long etcetera), but seem to have trouble grappling with them in forthright conversations and calls for transformation.

Back when Gender Shrapnel was published, the library staff generously asked me to do an author talk, and there was not even a whiff of censorship in that venue.  Librarians like books, and I believe they like information and respectful debate.  Several administrators, some staff members, and many faculty members have read, thought about, and encouraged the work on gender shrapnel.  I am not writing this post because I feel the book has been wholly neglected.  I’m writing it because I believe the areas in which the book has been neglected are precisely the areas in which our university needs to do the hard work of recognizing a racist and misogynistic past in order to make smarter decisions about the current state of the school.

At that same time, over at the university bookstore, in the faculty publications section, I noticed that Gender Shrapnel still had not appeared and that books that were a decade old were still featured front and center.  Even though it’s embarrassing to have to ask your own bookstore to pay attention to your publication, I mentioned to the managers that I would appreciate if they could include my new book in the faculty publications section.  They kindly agreed.  A few weeks later, I saw the bookstore’s special exhibit on banned books.  The bookstore had one or two shelves dedicated to Catcher in the Rye, The Call of the Wild, Catch-22, and Beloved, all books that had at some point been banned.  At that point, when I looked for Gender Shrapnel, I found it on the bottom-most shelf of the faculty section, in the left-hand corner, alongside a co-edited volume of mine from six years before.  It was hard to find the co-edited volume or the new book because placed in front of them was a large hat rack with men’s straw hats with the school’s ribboned insignia.  The university has found ingenious ways to comply with equitable treatment without actually complying with equitable treatment.  (*See photos.)

Like many of us, each morning I visit about six websites (banking, news, you know the drill), and one of them is my university’s website.  This summer the website featured the same white men for three months.  I like these men and respect their work very much.  I want to see them and their work featured on the website.  But I also want the institution to understand the message it sends, day after day for at least 90 days.  It is telling us that white men’s work matters and is to be featured.  The absence of features on the accomplishments of people of color and women just seems to communicate that people of color and women don’t do work that matters.  The omission reminds many of us that what we read about bias in student evaluations (*see this report; this one; this one; and this one, for example) is easily reinforced through broad institutional messages. Women are “helpful,” and men are “brilliant.”  Men are the doers; women and people of color are the helpers.

I strongly believe that some of these actions are deliberate—carefully protected messaging to a high-traffic site—and some are accidental—a constant forgetting that women and people of color actually exist and achieve.  In Gender Shrapnel, I say over and over that, in the end, intention or lack of intention matters not.  The effect is the same.  This is exactly what Dr. Wornie Reed said in his talk here in Lexington when he gave statistics on unequal policing across the races on Virginia highways.

Invisibility and visibility were themes of this Gender Shrapnel Blog post about a year ago.  Invisibility reigns when people of color and women accomplish big things.  People of color and women gain visibility when seen as appendages to others or when they/we are criticized for stepping out of line, for calling racism and sexism what they are, for protesting centuries of injustice.  (*See this blog post that briefly discusses Colin Kaepernick’s case.)  While Gender Shrapnel has been somewhat invisible in some campus and electronic locations, the blog has been visible enough to get me in hot water.  This post and this one must not have sat well with somebody, somewhere, because I was called in to an administrator’s office for a conversation about them.  This revealed the institution’s uneasiness on some level with frank discussion of the problematic history and recent events of our institution and our area.  I worry, too, that this action was an attempt to “manage,” or control, conversations that seem too out of tightly controlled bounds.

At the same time, individuals and groups from many corners of the institution where I work seem sincerely committed to understanding legacies of slavery, racism, and white supremacism.  This heightened awareness is to be embraced, but it is not enough, and it is not intersectional enough.  As demonstrated in this NPR piece of 2014, the institution already knew it had work to do three years ago, and we/it has a long way to go.  The formation of a commission to examine all the issues proves an excellent step, but we have to be careful not to give with one hand and take away with ten.  Citing Robert E. Lee at big events, celebrating alumni who use traditional women’s garb and Confederate flags as “just a joke,” and reinforcing millennia-old gender scripts through published materials detract from the good work and good words being done elsewhere.