Sexism Isn’t New
Guest Post by Kelly J. Baker
I started writing the column, Sexism Ed, for Chronicle Vitae in 2014. I pitched the series at the end of 2013, after realizing that the barriers I faced in academia were very similar to the barriers other women academics encountered. My story was not unique, but one of the many stories about gender inequality in the ivory tower. I listened to so many women recount the bias, misogyny, and harassment they faced, but collecting stories wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to see the shape of the narrative on a large scale. I wanted to find what data we had on sexism in academia and wade through the studies that had already tackled the problem in one way or another. I wanted to figure out whether sexism was a systemic problem, like I imagined it to be, or whether I was putting too much emphasis on the harrowing stories that women scholars shared with me over coffee, in emails, and in rushed whispers at annual conferences. (I wasn’t.)
|Image description: The cover of Sexism Ed, showing
a classroom with the book title on a blackboard
in pink letters.
When the column launched, I momentarily believed that I would run out of topics to cover. That sexism in academia was a topic that had limits. That there was only so much I could say. That my interest, or maybe the reader’s interest, would wane.
What I found instead was that I would write about sexism, and later contingent labor, in the academy for the rest of my life. The limits that I thought I would encounter were not there. The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new. This shouldn’t have surprised me. We live in a patriarchy, but I had hoped that academia was somehow better than the culture surrounding it. I had hoped that academia lived up to the progressive talk of academics. It also shouldn’t have surprised me because I’m a trained historian. The historian’s standard response, or maybe lament, is “This is not new.” Historians show us again and again that the social problems that we encounter have longer lives that we expect and contexts that we’ve forgotten about.
When I interviewed David’s mother, Elisabeth I. Perry, about the two-body problem for a column, I realized that while certain facets of academic sexism might be new to me that they were not new to previous generations of women scholars. I realized how many women lived with the same problem that I had been facing, but more than that, I could finally see how intractable these assumptions about women and careers are in higher ed.
As I pulled together the collection of essays that make up Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia, I looked over the dates that each essay was originally published. And I got angry. These essays, some written almost four years ago, could still be published today. The conversations on gender and higher ed haven’t progressed as much as I would have hoped. Writing this book made me feel like I had been shouting into the void for the last few years. So, what I hope for is that Sexism Ed forces some conversations that academics have been overlooking or avoiding about equality and exploitation. I hope that we can recognize how structural sexism is in the academy and work toward dismantling it. I hope that we can stop history from repeating itself for women scholars now and for future generations of women who are pursuing the life of the mind.
Sexism in academia isn’t new, but it’s not inevitable either.
|Image Description: A smiling white woman
in a grey shirt wearing glasses. She’s leaning
on a brick wall and wearing a necklace.
Kelly J. Baker is the author of the award-winning Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (University Press of Kansas, 2011); The Zombies Are Coming!: The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture (Bondfire Books, 2013); Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces (Raven Books, 2017); and Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia (Raven Books, 2018). She’s also the editor of Women in Higher Education.