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Hurts Of The System

IN THIS ESSAY, I SPEAK of how I have been hurt by institutional rejections. My purpose is to make my own reality visible and to see how my individual experience is a female experience. I also wish to identify how faults of an institution are felt as the faults of an individual. Speaking of discontent with institutional arrangements seems to me particularly important for women, for too often the failures of the outer world to respond to us are internalized and felt as an inner failure. When I acknowledge my own pain and its sources, I feel relief. I also feel dissatisfaction and wish the academic world were more accepting of a wider variety of people. My tone in this essay is often acutely sad, for I speak from a great depth of feeling. I wish to acknowledge hurt and something wrong in academic institutions. I wish to speak of the inner emotional costs of being overlooked, being devalued, being a woman in a male setting.

Inner Hurts, Outer World

The teaching position I have had for the past six years has been eliminated. Next year, I will be paid just a small amount and will teach only


one of my courses. I will teach not so much for the money—I would do it for almost nothing—but for the continuity. I want no one to know there is a change in my institutional status. I want not to feel that change myself. I feel stripped of protection upon losing my position. I feel that what I teach is not valued and that I am not valued. I find it hard facing my classes this year knowing that only one of them will be there next year. In that course, Women and Organizations, I ask the students to speak about their experiences of refusing to play by men's rules—the frustrations and lack of rewards that occur when they act, instead, like women. When I speak of my own experiences of this sort—of not reproducing a male academic style, for instance, and not seeking career advancement in the usual manner—I fear the students will view me as a failure.

In my second course, Feminist Methodology, I encourage the students to do social science as I do—in a personal and idiosyncratic way—knowing that a consequence of being like me is to be unemployed. I do not want the students to be without jobs, but I do want them to assert different values in their work and to require the academic world to change so that it accommodates them. I want them to be aware of being women and of how that affects their perspectives. I would like a university to be a different sort of environment than it is. I know too well, however, the difficulties involved in asserting a more individual and female orientation, especially the internal problems of self-worth that arise.

A few weeks ago, I finished teaching a brief version of my Women and Organizations course in a graduate program at a nearby women's college. The students appreciated the course. Then, in the last class session, they asked me, "Exactly what is your position at the university?" I did not want to tell them. One of these students said she felt encouraged because this course showed her it was possible not to be like the men. Since I was doing differently and I had arrived, maybe she could too. "But I haven't arrived," I told her, looking across the table at her through a sudden rush of inner tears. "Well, you're teaching at X University. To me, you've arrived." What if these students truly knew? I thought. What if I no longer had a status in what they felt was a prestigious university? Would they value me then, or want to follow my example? Do


they know that there are costs to my choices, and that the important thing is the nature of my choices, not the nature of my gains? I, myself, find that hard to remember and keep clear.

For twenty years, I have worked to have privileges of the academic system—a stable source of income, library use, a position higher than the lowest, a place in a university at all. The highest I have ever been appointed is as a visiting assistant professor. Mostly I have been a lecturer. Often I have been unemployed. Yet teaching is the way I earn my living most of the time. It is preferable, for me, to being a secretary or working in a store, which I used to do sometimes when I was unable to find an academic job.

I work all the time. I work most seriously at writing. I have had three books published and I write papers and articles, but, more often, autobiographical stories. In recent years, my autobiographical writing has become part of my social science. I have been learning how to experiment with the personal essay in order to make broader statements. I have been lucky to have developed, through my writing, a reputation for innovative work in sociology. Yet beyond that reputation, I have difficulty. All of my academic jobs have been temporary, and when one of these jobs terminates for me now, it is as if all my work means nothing. I am back to zero in terms of income and any idea of what my future holds, much as I was upon completing my Ph.D.

My Ph.D. was in communication research, an interdisciplinary social science field that focuses on the processes through which people convey meaning. However, I am a sociologist in the nature of my work. At the time I chose a doctoral field, I had no idea that selecting an interdisciplinary field, rather than a traditional discipline, would later become a problem for me. I did not anticipate that people would later exclude me from employment, on the one hand, because I did not have a degree in the field of sociology, and, on the other, because I had done work that outstretched the field of my degree, communication. I thought, in fact, the opposite, that crossing fields would enable me to have more opportunities. However, I was considering these things in a time of greater expansiveness in the academic world than has occurred since. In general, I have made my decisions about my work optimistically, assuming that things will work out for the best.


My academic work has always had a dual purpose. I have sought to make an outward contribution, certainly, but, at the same time, to do work that responds to my own inner emotional needs, for my work is a central way that I nourish myself. Perhaps more than some other people, I seek personal definition, freedom, and emotional grounding in my work. Whether I am writing a study or a story, I try to get close to emotional realities of others and of myself. In describing these realities, I am always struggling against the conventions of expression—already formed words, ideas, and structures of representation. I think that my struggle to be unconventional has centrally affected both the appreciation my work has received from others and the disregard, and occasional hostility, it has also received.

For example, The Mirror Dance: Identity in a Women's Community, my second book—a sociological study of a midwestern lesbian community—described interpersonal dynamics in the community using the multiple voices of seventy-eight community members and associates whom I interviewed. I presented this work as a traditional sociological case study and also as an experiment with social science narrative form. Reviews and articles about The Mirror Dance grasped the way it was different in style from a conventional study. "The Mirror Dance presents complexity without telling the reader how to sort through it," explained one sociologist. Another wrote that "The data are presented and analyzed through a distinctively feminist methodology" that "merges fiction with social science methods."[1] A text on feminist methods in social research understood the project this way:

Deliberately working toward a perspective-free voice, Krieger forces readers to recognize that what is conventionally called an objective social science stance is actually a particular view from a particular standpoint. … This innovation sets most mainstream definitions of social research on their heads.[2]

I experimented further with narrative form in Social Science and the Self: Personal Essays on an Art Form, this time using my own individual voice to argue for viewing the social scientific observer not as a contaminant whose subjective perspective will bias a study, but as a source of


knowledge whose more full self-expression will make a study more true. In Social Science and the Self, I drew on ideas from the painter Georgia O'Keeffe and from Pueblo Indian women potters to talk about the involvement of the self in creating knowledge, and especially about the involvement of the female self. Reviews of this study by feminist scholars pointed out the unconventional nature of the work and, interestingly, often expressed an identification with what I was attempting. "Krieger's struggles with alienation, belonging, community, vulnerability, and courage have been mine, too," wrote one reviewer. "She is providing a strategy for the near-simultaneous representation of social science and the self ." In her review, this sociologist used the first person "deliberately and brazenly as a sign of solidarity with Krieger. I would like to see Social Science and the Self required in all our graduate programs. I would like to see a lot of 'I's' respected and nourished." Another reviewer offered a personal story in keeping with the nature of the study:

One night when I was in the throes of finishing my Ph.D. dissertation, I dreamed that I was in a line of people slowly marching towards a guillotine wielded by my adviser. As he chopped off each head, he declared, "I pronounce you my colleague." Just before it was my turn, I jolted out of the dream. It left me with disturbing thoughts about professional socialization as loss, conformity, even as a kind of violence to the learner. That long-ago dream suggests a kind of underlife that Social Science and the Self brings into full view. How, Susan Krieger asks in a series of thoughtful essays, does the individual self of the researcher and writer affect the doing of social science?[3]

I have also been moved very often by private correspondence from people who tell me about what my work means to them. Recently, members of an ethnography seminar wrote to me, each on a different sheet of colored paper: "I thought I'd write on bright yellow because your book let in a lot of light for me." "Thank you for sharing your experiences. You give me hope."

These appreciative responses have been deeply important and encouraging


for me and have helped me to feel less alone. Yet despite such appreciation in both feminist and sociological circles, I have not advanced up an academic ladder, as many of my friends have, and as I would have liked for myself. In fact, I have done just the opposite. As I have accumulated more publications and teaching jobs, and as I have become more defined by my work, the starting assistant professor positions have become inappropriate for me. I would not turn one down, but I would no longer be offered such a job. I am no longer any senior faculty member's fantasy of a woman who will give her all for a department and, at the same time, advance in a field according to others' expectations. I am not an undefined woman who could become someone else's dream. I am defined, and defined more clearly, by each of my accomplishments. Further, I seem to have made a place for myself so apart from things, or from the way academics usually make a place, that the criteria for inclusion get called into question each time I apply for a job. "But she doesn't have a Ph.D. in sociology," they say. "She doesn't do quantitative work." "I don't know her." "I don't think it's science." "If they took her courses, how would our students get jobs?" "Where is her theory?"

I think no one feels obliged to include me anymore, if they ever did. I seem to have proven myself, but in the wrong way. When I apply for higher level positions, associate professor, for instance, the question cannot help but arise, Why reward me for not having done what others have felt required to do? Why reward me for making different choices? I seem to have gotten away with something. I think I am responded to as if I were a threat to other people's ways of doing things. I do not feel like a threat. I feel I am being punished for my choices. I feel hurt and saddened because I believed it would all work out better for me.

There is more to my dilemma than individual hurt. I think that my predicament is related to my being a women, and to my holding on to certain female values in a male world.[4] It is related to how women are rewarded for their work in universities and elsewhere. Women are often rewarded with intangibles for doing women's work. Women's work is the informal work required to sustain social life, and sometimes to change it—the low-class work, the housework, the cleaning up after, the work that fills in the gaps men leave and that takes care of emotions


and the personal dimension. To some extent, women are rewarded intangibly—with praise and admiration and with statements of how indispensable we are—because the work we do is beyond value, or priceless. Childbearing, for instance—there is no way really to pay for it. Women's work is also rewarded intangibly because it is valueless. It is not valued officially, or in formal currencies such as money and position. The self-sacrifice involved in caring for others is often valueless, for instance, as is the status-enhancement work women do, the work of reflecting positively on others. Often, simply because one is a woman, one's work is treated as valueless. Often women's work is thankless, it goes without reward.

In the academic world, I have been appreciated but I have not been formally valued much, and that has been a problem for me. I have recently thought I will probably die before getting what in academic circles is called a "regular job," which is to say, a tenured position, or a tenure track one. Maybe on my deathbed, as they did with Ruth Benedict, they will make me a full professor. But I do not really believe that. I imagine myself forever stepping carefully onto college campuses, feeling illegitimate, staying only temporarily, teaching a course or two, not counting for much.

An internal sense of not counting and of being illegitimate haunts me and separates me from others who are more connected to academic life. Last spring, for example, I received a letter of invitation to contribute to a volume of autobiographical essays by feminist sociologists. The letter stated the purpose of the volume:

We're asking people who've been involved in the last two decades of feminist sociology to write essays about their own biographies as they bear on feminist presences, and absences, in contemporary sociology. … In particular, we're interested in how gender relations, emotion, and sexuality—elements of what is usually thought of as a "private sphere"—are related to institutional developments.[5]

This description seemed to fit me. However, after reading it, I looked quickly down to the bottom of the page at a list of the other participants, a dozen sociologists, mostly women, who all, it seemed to me,


had regular jobs. I then felt I was being asked to contribute not because of the nature of my work, but because they needed a token lesbian. "If you feel comfortable writing about the experiences of lesbian and gay sociologists in relation to the field and its ideas, that would add an important dimension," the editors said. If I had worth, it must be for this, I thought, because I was a member of a minority. Such are the effects of injured self-esteem.

I felt complimented to be asked, to be included with the women listed, to have something of mine published along with theirs. At the same time, I felt hurt and angry. To contribute, I would have to write an essay at my own expense and on my own time. No institutional structure supported me beyond my occasional teaching. But I was supposed to act just like those who had such support, with the same in-group academic manners. In the next few days, I often felt like crying. Or I felt angry, which is what I feel when I do not wish to cry. A week later, when calmer, I wrote back to the women who had invited me. "Yes," I said, "I'll be glad to do it."

To say yes, I had to have a plan. I decided I would write an essay that would be short, in plain language, and that would stand out from the other essays in the collection like a sore thumb. My essay would be like a thorn on a rose stem, pricking the other participants, and other potential readers of the volume, so they would feel my pain—the pain of having no job or protective status, of far too many rejections and too many experiences of being cast out from universities. I thought the other women would write about how they had succeeded in academic institutions, maybe not at first, and not without difficulties, but eventually. I thought they would justify the system because it had rewarded them, and because they had accepted many of its values in order to get ahead. To me, there was no justification for what had happened to me, no justification for a system that gave me so little. I had not been let in, and I wanted my essay not to fit in.

In the end, I did not do what I had planned. When I drafted my essay, I wrote about my experience as a lesbian in academia. I felt that was what was wanted of me. I also felt safer discussing being a lesbian than discussing inner resentments and pain I have felt because I do not have a full-time job. My essay described how being a lesbian had cost me jobs


at universities, and how it continues to affect my day-to-day life in the classroom. Nonetheless, I wished the story of my lesbian experiences to stand for my more general story of being rejected by academic institutions for reasons that are far less clear to me, and for which I feel more at fault. I do not, for instance, feel at fault for being a lesbian, or studying lesbians, or not sleeping with male faculty (either literally or in the more general sense of falling in with them), all of which have had negative consequences for my employment status.

What I do feel at fault for is somehow, namelessly, not doing "what it takes" in more usual ways that are expected of everyone. I feel at fault for not moving anywhere, at any time, for a job. That is the big one for me—that I have not continued to rupture my personal relationships for job success. Sometimes, I feel at fault for not lecturing and not teaching in a more conventional manner, and for becoming the object of controversy as a teacher even when I try to avoid controversy. I feel at fault for not dressing right and not being more sociable and political and on the make. I feel at fault for still being around, for still trying to get them to give me a job, and for not having given up and disappeared. I think people want me to disappear. Each time I have not gotten a job at a university, people have told me to move or to change my occupation. I think they want me to leave so they will not be reminded that I am in need, or that they have something I do not have, or that something is wrong. I have found not disappearing to be the hardest thing I do.

When I wrote about being a lesbian in academia, I partly appeared. I wrote about a graspable component of my experience. I did not write about other choices I have made that are so essential to me that I cannot summarize them with a label. I cannot blame the outside world for costs I have incurred because of these choices, at least not in a way that convinces me. It is compelling and, I think, true to say that I have been denied privileges (and it is really more than privileges, it is life support) in academic institutions because I am a lesbian, and because I am a woman. To say so is also to be protected by an external identity from saying, "This occurs because I am me." Yet "because I am me" is at the heart of my difficulty. My lesbianism does not experience failure, I do. My being a woman affects inextricably all the decisions I make and the work that I do, but when I am rejected, the judgment of undesirability


falls not on some other woman, but on me. A door to a library is closed, an office, a telephone, an address is denied, a group of people who might know me, to whom I might be of use, all are denied not to someone else, but to me. What's wrong with me? I wonder. It is hard to understand being so chosen without feeling that, in some way, I deserve it.

One weekend, not long after I wrote "Lesbian in Academe," the feminist sociologists got together as a group to discuss our essay drafts. During the discussion of my essay, the other women spoke of feeling aware of how heterosexual they were, and of feeling moved by my essay. I like readers to be moved by what I write. I also knew that my essay was not, to me, primarily about my being a lesbian, although specifically it was. Not wanting others to miss my point, I finally told the women in the group about how I had felt upon receiving the letter of invitation to participate. I told them how I had wanted to write an essay that would be like a thorn on a rose stem and that would make them all feel the great hurt I have felt, yet I had been afraid to do that. I feared making them feel guilty for having jobs I did not have, and for having protections that come with higher status in a university. I told them I had feared writing my "thorn on the rose stem" essay because I thought it would make them strike out at me so that I would stop causing them to feel guilt or pain. I feared they would view me as a failure because of my lack of a job, and that they would blame me, and turn away from me.

In a way, they did. No one came up to me, after the discussion of my essay, to offer me a job, or to plot with me about how to get one. Then again, these women did not exactly have jobs to give. I think I had hoped they would help me because it is easier to feel that my situation can be changed than to feel that nothing can be done about it. Similarly, it is easier to feel that my institutional troubles are my fault, that I have caused them (and thus can uncause them), than to acknowledge how much this situation is beyond me.

"What can we do to help?" the women at the conference did ask during the discussion of my essay, aware of my employment troubles because these were discussed in the essay. "It helps me that you appreciate my work," I told them, and I knew I was agreeing, again, to walk on water, to get along without eating. "You're not responsible for my pain"


was what I knew I had to say. Yet, I did not really believe that. I have walked away, so many times, from people who have positions of the sort I would like, wondering how they can watch me leave when they know I have nowhere to go but home. How do they expect me to survive? I wonder.

I left the gathering of feminist sociologists quickly after each day's meetings and did not stay for meals or for informal socializing. When people asked others for rides at night to where they had to go, I walked off by myself for a mile to where I had left my car. I did not want to seem as if I needed anybody. I told myself that I am not good at informal socializing, that I would make a bad impression, and that I would get hurt by the casual words others would say over lunch or dinner—"Why don't you move?" "Why didn't you?" "What will you do for money?" In formal settings, like seminars, I can structure conversations to avoid casual hurts. I can speak back to people and clarify my position. Informally, I try to fit in more and wish not to challenge other people's assumptions. Yet their assumptions about teaching, professional life, and language contain judgments that implicitly find me wanting: I do not lecture, or know what I will be doing next year. I do not normally go to conferences, or speak about the field, or use the most current academic language, or lead a life defined by the overwhelming demands of students and colleagues. Informally, when others speak of their lives, I feel inadequate by comparison because my life is different. I feel I have failed to live up to an implicit standard. Thus I limit my exposure.

Nonetheless, when I left the conference, I felt I was leaving much warmth among the women present. I felt they had included and appreciated me, and I was sad to go. My sadness became pain later each evening and at the end, when the conference was over. I was sad that I could not stay in that warmth. It is something like knowing not to stay where one does not belong, or like knowing one's place. I think I have a protective arrogance about the worth of my work and about some of my views of reality, but I do not have an arrogance about much else. I am like the poor girl staying over at the rich girl's house thinking it is her own, and wishing it were her own, but knowing it is not, and often feeling confused, and always fearing she will be told to leave, and eventually


she is told. I am not poor. I only feel excluded from a certain kind of wealth, or perhaps better put, from certain types of institutional support. I feel excluded from a system that I serve.

In my work, I seek to describe the world truthfully. I would have thought my work would merit more of a home in a university than it does. I do sometimes think of giving up and of going away. I have, more than once, considered changing my occupation. I have thought of being a psychotherapist, a real estate appraiser, an auto mechanic. When I walk by store windows and see "Help Wanted" signs, I usually think I should apply. I do not like the question of why I stay with it because I feel the important thing is that I choose to stay. I have taken comfort when told that my pattern of earning a living is more like that of an artist than that of an academic. Probably true, this statement makes me feel less bad about my earning pattern, less like a failure, or like a woman who cannot take care of herself, or who is unworthy of respect. Yet even if I am an artist, I still want a place in a university. I want a reliable way to earn my living that is in keeping with my sense of myself. I have found that difficult to achieve. I am a writer, I am told, although, because my father was a writer, I keep wishing I were not one. In my mind, writers are people who can't make a living at it, and who try to do impossible things, and think they are better than they are, and are often misguided. Yet writing is the main way I create and think, despite my own self-doubts.

To me, the hardest part of all the figuring out that I do, and I do such figuring often—"What's wrong with me? Why don't I? If I only …? Why not just …? If it doesn't matter anyway. … Who cares what the students think!"—is coming to terms with the fact that I have been unwilling to continue to move for a job. It is as if somewhere in the middle of the country, where the landscape is rural and desertlike, there is a silo and a university that will employ me, and I should go there, and with that employment, I will be happy.

I have been told to move so often that I frequently believe in that advice myself, even though my past experiences tell me differently. I did move a few times for academic jobs, and I did not become happy. I became sad. I moved to the Midwest after getting my degree, to the Southwest after that, and then back to California. When I returned to California,


nothing around me seemed good anymore. A despondency and resignation set in within me that lasted for many years. Wishing to explain my sorrowful feelings to myself, I kept coming up with explanations that did not seem dramatic enough to account for the degree of my unhappiness. I finally concluded that my unhappiness was the result of cumulative losses I might not have felt had I not moved three times for jobs. Of course, these losses may have tapped into a basic sadness in myself, but I think I would have had a less harsh path had I not uprooted several times and left attachments behind.

Each time I moved, I lost a place that was important to me, and a feeling about myself in that place—especially a feeling that I belonged, or had a right to be there. I lost people I was close to. I still wish I had not left New Mexico and not left California that first time. I have lived, for some years now, in San Francisco, yet I continue to feel temporary and out of place. Still, I have ties here. My lover has a good job in the area. I see a psychotherapist here who is central to my well-being and central in my heart, and I do not want to leave her. When people tell me to move to that part of the country with the silo and the university that will employ me, they say there are psychotherapists everywhere. I can have a job and see a therapist, too, and maybe I will not need therapy anymore if I move. But I know, by now, the costs of losing my attachments. I know I am not a person who is the better for accumulating losses.

My reluctance to move is, in part, traditionally female. Women have traditionally valued their attachments, especially their personal and sentimental attachments, because these are often all women have had—ties to children, a husband, a house, an extended family, an ailing relative. Women have sought not to rupture their attachments, but to build their worlds around them. Women have moved when their husbands have, to support the husband, or because he earned the income, but most of all to keep a family intact. Women have been the home others have come back to. In keeping and being home, we have been part of a different system than men have been part of, one with different primary devotions. When women say, "I need to be home for the kids," "I can't leave town because Aunt Jo is sick," "I have to be here," "You go," "I'm off to Kentucky to take care of my sister's children," "Remember


to come back and see your mama," these phrases suggest a different world of mobility and attachment than that implied in the injunction to move for a job. This different world is often disrupted by such a move. It is a world built around relationships based on need—being needed by someone else, or needing them—as opposed to relationships based on gain, or getting ahead.

I know that women do rupture their relationships and move for jobs as men do, perhaps increasingly, and women take their relationships with them, and, to some extent, women have always moved for adventure and for individual freedom and for wages, leaving much behind. Nonetheless, I have a sense of other values that seem to me part of the female legacy from times when women were less mobile and more totally part of female worlds. This legacy is not entirely left behind even if a woman moves for a job, or acts, in other ways, to make gains in a male world. This female legacy may be felt, especially, when the search for gains is frustrated, or when the rewards, or ways, of a male world are felt to be unsatisfying.

If, for example, I do women's work in academic life, as I do, and if I am rewarded like a woman, which means I am given little and left alone and left out, and expected to give a great deal back, then in some ways I will act even more like a woman than I did before and than I might were I to be treated more like a man. I will value my domestic rhythms more and the home that I make on my own that does nurture me. I have often assumed that I prefer to work at home, creating my own world with my work, because my father did so, because he wrote at home and valued that, but it is also because I was raised as a girl and because I take after my mother. Although my mother always needed to work outside the home for her sanity, she still kept a home as her main activity. She passed on to her children ideas of how to do it. Thus I learned how to set a table, and rearrange the furniture, and cook, and wash the kitchen floor, how to talk about other members of the family when they were not listening, and wipe dirty handprints off the woodwork, and I learned to make sure there was always enough extra food in the refrigerator for guests. These details matter less than the idea that such activities are a way to make a home, a place where the work one does creates the home that is then there for you.


When I am rejected by a university, I retreat to a harboring, home-making, mothering world of my own design, and I protect that world. It needs protection. When people suggest, as they sometimes do, for instance, in a version of giving me advice to move, that I commute to Los Angeles several days a week and stay over and fly back for weekends, I refuse. Why have a home if you are not there? I think. Who will walk the dog? What is the point of living with someone if I cannot be with her each evening? How will I work? I do not write when not at home. What about the joy of waking up and having coffee while looking at how the sunlight shines through my living room window?

For me, perhaps, bureaucratic places can never comfortably be my places. I have a hard enough time making even what is close to me feel like mine. Only with the repeated motions characteristic of a person who cannot take for granted that the world is safe do I make my intimate surroundings—the rooms of my house, for example, or my relationships with other people—feel protective and not alien to me. My ties to a physical place, or a piece of geography, are extensions of my sense of personal place.

I have always thought I did not need a university to provide me with a home. I have thought that my friends, usually women, who expected a university to be nice to them misunderstood the situation. But it is as much a female desire to want a public home as to want a private one. It is, I think, often female to feel wronged when the larger world does not act toward you, as you, as a woman, have learned to act toward others. They say that women have unrealistic expectations of formal work organizations, that women are naive to expect to be rewarded for merit, treated with loyalty, and retained, that we are wrong to want the same in return as we give, that this is not the way the male world is. If women do, indeed, have higher and better expectations of the male world than it can live up to, that world is not harmed. It is improved. But the pain of carrying around such expectations is often great, as is the vulnerability felt in admitting to being disappointed. It would be easier if I could say that I do not care about rejection from academic institutions. It is harder to say that I care, even though I have different values than the mainstream.

A final set of experiences I wish to speak of concern my place in the


status system of a university. While not the military, a university is hierarchical in many ways. Its hierarchy has less to do with following and giving orders than with following a protocol of deference—people higher up are deferred to more often and given more respect. They are valued more than people lower down. A great deal of the activity at a university involves marking one's place, or showing where one is in the status system. Because I am near the bottom of the ranking for people who teach, I often experience status injuries. People treat me as less good than themselves or someone else. When I step onto a university campus, in addition to feeling that I am not legitimate because I have no regular position, I immediately become aware of my low place. Nowhere is this more apparent than when I enter the library.

In the library on the campus where I have most recently taught, the status hierarchy of the university is displayed on the cards used for checking out books. The statuses are listed according to the differences in privileges granted to each. At the top of the list are faculty, and faculty proxies, followed by staff, then students (doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate), and then other categories (associates, student spouses, alumni, visitors). I was surprised, at first, to learn that as a lecturer I did not have faculty library privileges, since lecturers are considered to be staff. On several occasions, library administrators have pointed this out to me, unasked, and I have felt hurt. When I have inquired, I have been told the main difference between the two privileges is that faculty never pay fines. Thus, the difference is not much. Why this gratuitous need to make me feel inferior? I have wondered. Yet the university as a hierarchy encourages people to feel better than others by acting superior to them, or by denying them resources.

In general, because the library is the one place on the university campus where I have been able to go even when unemployed, the library has come to stand for my connection with the university. As with the larger institution, I always fear the library will not let me in—something will be wrong with my card or with me and I will be denied entrance—and I fear that, once in, I will not be allowed to take out books. I plan to go to the library often, but I only sometimes get there. When on the campus, I avoid the library building. Simply looking in its direction makes me anxious. Further, my library card is often a gift to me. Because I


obtain it with help from friends when I am unemployed, or employed for short periods, I tend to feel illegitimate when using the library. I am grateful to use it, but I do not feel I am there on my own merits. I feel similarly about my teaching appointments, that these are a gift, or a courtesy, to me, and that I teach by chance and because of oversights in the system, not because of my merits. Thus I teach illegitimately.

My relationship with other symbols of the university suggests similar themes. When I arrive on the campus, for instance, I often fear that a police officer will tell me to leave, a parking administrator will refuse to grant me a permit to park, my key will no longer fit the lock on the door of the building in which I use an office. When I walk on the campus between classes, I am extremely self-conscious. Do I look like a graduate student, a visitor, a lesbian? I rarely think I look like a faculty member. I think that everyone who looks at me sees right through me; they see not me but my lack of status and my deliberate attempts to hide that lack—to wear protective clothes and a facial expression of impassivity and to act as if I belong there. In my interactions with others, I fear that if I do not seem busy, speak formally, and smile often, people will look at me strangely. Who is she? What is she doing here? Must be someone temporary who does not count.

In the office of the program in which I teach, I have watched an administrator pause on the phone while speaking with someone before referring to me as "Dr. Krieger." Her use of "Dr." is a shaded way of saying, "she's not a professor here." Students usually say "Professor" when addressing me, but that more complimentary title is incorrect for me. At this university, as at many others, the title "professor" is reserved for people with tenure-track appointments. Administrators and faculty members often take pains not to call a lower status person by a higher status name. I feel the slight each time they do so with respect to me. I wish everyone to call me by my first name so I can avoid such reminders. More than a name, the title attached to me is a statement about my place, and about my place by comparison. In a context in which others who do what I do are called professor, and in which professor is the fancy status, the high status, the male status, the symbolic head of the family status, I am the hired female help.

Before my years of teaching as a lecturer, I had not much awareness


of the meaning behind the phrase, "knowing one's place." Now I do. I also have respect for the sense of oneself involved, a sense often had by women and by people of lower socioeconomic status, or those who do the more menial background work of an organization, perhaps because they speak another language. I have come to know the feeling of an uncrossable boundary between myself and others with a higher status. I have learned that I am supposed to act like a professor but not be one.

I have also learned to absorb certain status slights, as when a graduate student calls me "Dr." in a withholding manner, or a library administrator reminds me that I have lesser privileges, or when a faculty member speaks to me as if I were not there, and as if, since I have not passed the tests—I have not climbed a tenure ladder—I cannot join the club and I deserve what I get. Lecturers are not the only ones to experience status slights. Assistant professors, too, are treated as inferior, unimportant, and temporary until they get tenure, as are associate professors until they reach full professor. Women are slighted at all ranks. People who deviate from a male self-aggrandizing institutional style are slighted, as are minorities of many kinds, and people with unusual beliefs, and staff. A university is a system of many slights. Any opportunity to assert superiority over someone else is used in the status hierarchy, where superiority is often shown by judging others' work to be not good, by injuring another's self-esteem in the process of enlarging one's own.

I am not as sensitive to judgments about my work as I am to statements about my place in the university structure. These statements are hurtful to me because they imply an inferiority, not only of position but also of person. I know I do not easily separate the two; perhaps women often do not make such a separation. Having a fairly penetrable boundary between self and other, self and institution, women are often likely to feel external slights as internal hurts and as signs of our own failure, and these hurts and signs can be many. When a student tells me she is taking my methods course for her soul, but not for use in her dissertation, I am hurt, for instance. If, for a moment, I think I have a chance to mold her work, such a student will remind me of how sub rosa I am. She will tell me why she must do as she has learned in her required methods course to please the regular faculty members on her dissertation committee, and why it does not count to please me. I can sit on no


committees and she knows this. I cannot help her get ahead in the way these people can.

When I am rejected as a friend by an untenured assistant professor who is afraid of taint by association with me—because of my lack of status and because my work is not approved of by those who will judge her work—I am hurt. When I become an object of controversy because, as a lecturer, I am easy to attack and easy to abandon, I am hurt. So, too, when I am snubbed by others—faculty, lecturers, students—because, having little rank, I am not considered a valuable person by them. Having had such experiences often, I have come to feel that if I do not know my place in a university, someone else will surely put me in it.

Women, I think, learn to know their place, often without realizing it. A woman learns to act small, to cover up, and not to invade male spheres in order not to become the victim of harassment. A woman learns to present herself as less good than someone else. To feel I am inferior in a university goes against my grain, which is to believe myself intellectually superior. However, in the past decade, I have had to pass as an inferior—as someone who is less important than a professor, less to be listened to or sympathized with, who is of less use, and who will receive less respect. I have learned that I should not complain, that I cannot really expect better, that I ought to keep to myself and guard what I have.

These self-diminishing acts are essentially female traits, although not learned as such. They form an orientation that has been useful to me because it reduces friction between myself and others (I am not challenging them to treat me differently) and it enables me not to be bitter about what others have and I do not. I can tell myself I am different. I am so different I do not even qualify in the same way. I am off the map, off the ranking chart. I am apart from what others are part of. I do not have the same wants. But there is a cost to this way of thinking, for I become passive, resigned, depressed, hurt. I live with a great deal of isolation. I believe that I am, in fact, less good, that I deserve what I get, and that nothing will change. Things may change but not for me, or for people truly like me. I am sad to be so overlooked.

I had thought it was more common in my mother's generation that a


woman would be ignored and left out, caught between being devalued, as women traditionally have been, and becoming respected, struggling for support for her sense of her own competence. I had thought that one day I would not be year-to-year about jobs, that I would not always be writing application letters, that my problems of status and employment would eventually disappear. I had not thought earlier that I would be affected much, if at all, by the fact that I am a woman, or by what little difference there is between what I do and what others do. I had thought the academic system had more tolerance for deviance than it does.

If someday I can live with less pain because of the situation I reflect on here, I will be glad. I do not want ever to accept the rightness of this situation, nor do I feel I can become indifferent to it. At best, perhaps, I can see more clearly how the faults of an institution become the faults of an individual, become my faults. This linkage is often invisible. I think I am not alone in experiencing status injuries, in having things not work out as I had planned, in experiencing conflicts because I am a woman, and in feeling pain because of rejections. People often experience such difficulties, but they do not want to speak of them for fear of showing vulnerability, or seeming to be a failure, or, especially among women, for fear of seeming ungrateful. Yet, one cannot help but fail when success requires acting in ways that are not one's own, and why be grateful for being penalized for being different? The problem seems to me not that I fail, or have been hurt. The greater problem would be not to care about my own value. I struggle to keep reasserting that value in the face of a world that tells me I have little worth.

My experience with institutional rejection has fed my doubts about my worth. Yet it has also fed an alternate view of myself in which I feel special and of interest. This view has been encouraged by the appreciative responses to my work that I have received from others. I think that people who value me wish the academic situation not to be as closed or inhuman as it often is, and they wish the different sensibilities of women to be given voice.

Often, I think, the voice of a woman will contain much pain. It will speak of hurts of the system, most especially the hurt of struggling with rejection and limitation and the stigma of inferiority. The voice of a


woman will also often speak of seeking something better, perhaps less as an endpoint than as a process. People sometimes say that speaking about inner pain catches one, all the more, in that pain. I think that to speak of such pain is to be real rather than invisible. For me, it is to be more free rather than less.


Saying No To A Man

A FEW DAYS AGO , I cleared the remaining syllabi, books, and student papers from my study so that I would not be reminded of classes and teaching and, especially, of certain troubles I had this past quarter. My course on women and organizations went extremely well, but my course on feminist methodology in the social sciences had difficulties. When I had taught this course previously, it had felt very special to the students and to me. This time, however, it felt like a nightmare. The trouble began when I refused to allow a third-year male graduate student to take the course. He had said he was opposed to doing woman-centered research: "I object against it," he wrote in his first paper. "I want to do research that is centered on humans, not on women." It took me a week and a half to recognize that this student's opposition to woman-centered research represented more than ignorance. Rather, it was a sign of his intention to assert a position of male dominance in relation to my course and to me.

When I started teaching courses on women several years ago, before my first class I had an anxiety that many teachers of courses on women probably share. I thought about how I would respond if a man belligerently challenged me from the back of the room, attacking the feminist


nature of my course, filling the air with a bravado display, and generally being disruptive—a hostile male. It was clear to me immediately that I would not stand for this. I would take the hostile student aside or speak to him after class, tell him to drop the course, get him to psychological services if necessary, call the police. The main thing was to show no tolerance for his behavior. The problem with my hostile male this past quarter, however, was that he was not a two-hundred pound man with a beer belly and a brimmed canvas hat, gesturing toward me with an opened can of foam as he spoke. This fellow was introverted, thin, and balding, with glasses. He mostly wanted me to feel sorry for him and to engage him in a densely articulated argument about his need to reject a focus on women. I refused him the instructor permission necessary to take my Feminist Methodology course, a limited-enrollment seminar.

Last year, a man in Women and Organizations acted in a way that was offputting at first, but my sense was that he was unaware of alternative ways to behave; with a few cues and instructions from me, he caught on. My sense with the balding introvert this quarter was that in ten weeks' time, he would still be arguing with me, and although I could refuse to engage his challenges, students in my class, who would be trading weekly papers with him and meeting with him in small group sessions, would not have that distance. I felt protective of my class—a highly interactive seminar required for undergraduate feminist studies majors that focused on the emotional experiences of each student in doing research and writing. It did not seem to me that the students for whom Feminist Methodology was an advanced course should have to respond to someone repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of their subject.

Whatever the reason—protection of the students, of the woman-centered and personal nature of my class, protection of myself—I said no. The male graduate student, angry with me, wrote a letter of complaint to me, and when I said no a second time, he wrote to the chair of the Women's Studies program and then to the student newspaper. For weeks, the paper never published his letter. During that time, the letter hung over my head and also caused anxiety for members of my class and for the program chair, who defended my decision. The newspaper finally published an article, but the story, by then, was not the male student's gripe at being refused permission to take my course, but internal


conflict among feminist faculty members. "The Women's Studies program is embroiled in controversy," the paper's lead sentence read. This was a student paper searching for a story, and pitting women against women has often made for a good one, but the fact was this story was also true. Had my male graduate student stood on his own, he would have faded away far more easily and caused me less trouble than he did. But he turned, cleverly, to a woman dean in his graduate program who quickly decided that the issue was academic repressiveness (mine of him), not to mention the unwomanliness of my saying no to a man, and possibly the issue of why a faculty member, indeed a lowly lecturer, should have the right to deny access to anyone.

This dean—who considered herself a feminist—was joined by only a few other women faculty, but they were prominent. They spoke to the student paper and convened meetings to talk about "creative ways" of dialoguing with problem students (meaning problem men), "stimulating controversy" in the classroom, and other things I do not often worry about. These women were not criticizing me, they said. However, they thought I had acted hastily and that students such as my hostile male should be viewed as a challenge. What we need are more imaginative solutions, they proposed in the one discussion meeting I attended. I thought, "It's about saying no and getting support for it." The ability to say no and receive support was not the main concern of the meeting, however. It seemed a minor issue even among the majority of feminist faculty present, who assumed that in my classroom situation, saying no had been a clear-cut and acceptable good choice. But, they asked, what about other situations—larger classes, for instance—in which the teacher could not say no? That possibility was what worried most of the faculty.

I felt that the student who was causing a disturbance should either shape up or ship out. I thought feminist courses, especially, should have a paragraph written on their syllabi warning students they ought to be on good behavior. These are vulnerable courses. People play things out on them, and women teachers are especially vulnerable—expected to serve everyone and to smile when walked upon. Students should know about this situation and be careful and respectful in the extreme, rather


than expect feminist faculty to bend over backwards to take care of obstreperous men and to absorb the insecurities of the system.

Fortunately for me, at the time I was teaching Feminist Methodology, I was also teaching Women and Organizations, a course that discussed separatism and the rationale for women saying no to men, or denying men access to women. In that course, we explore how separate organizations enable women to have their own power and culture, and how women need to protect their organizations from disruptive male influences and not put men at the center of their attention, even when we do include men in our groups. The subject matter of my Women and Organizations course encourage an intellectual understanding that seemed to me absent from Feminist Methodology.

My methods course was about the same size and gender composition as Women and Organizations—there were fourteen women and one man in Methodology and sixteen women and three men in Organizations. I taught both courses by emphasizing the inner experiences of each student as a route to learning. Yet my methods class seemed, very soon after my denial of the male student, not to be developing as it should have: trust between the students and myself was not growing over time as I would have expected, and there were many silences I could not explain. I felt these difficulties had to be my fault, that I was not conducting classes well enough. Yet there were external factors that are easier to identify in retrospect than they were at the time. For example, eight women students enrolled in my methods course came from the same graduate program as the man to whom I had refused permission and they all knew each other. Nothing like this course was offered in their department and they thought it would be good for them, even if my approach would not be viewed positively by their own faculty. When I decided to refuse the hostile male student, I was afraid that the other graduate students who knew him would see my action as unnecessary, since they had already put up with this man in other classes. I was also concerned that some of the graduate students might experience my denial of the male student as a potential refusal, or negative judgment, of them—if he was unacceptable, maybe they would be too. None of the students ever said they felt this way, but it sits in my mind as a possibility.


A second external factor affecting the course was that during the entire quarter, four of these graduate students met with the hostile man in a weekly seminar held the night before my class at the home of the conservative woman dean, who was his advocate. She was a person far more important in these students' institutional lives than I. During the quarter, however, I did not know about the existence of this other seminar, nor about its influence on a core group of students in my class. I only knew that, from about the sixth week of the term—the week the newspaper article came out, the week after the first faculty meeting occurred—from that week on, the students in my methods class noticeably began to pull away from me. The graduate students began to withdraw first and the undergraduates followed. The students generally became quieter and more challenging of me in class, more brooding, more unwilling to answer my questions about their experiences, more desirous of addressing only each other in class discussions, even if they did not say much because everyone was scared. I noticed an unwillingness to respond to me with eye contact. I was lucky to get one smile per session. I felt the students were trying to take the class away from me; to have it be their class, not mine; to have it feel like a conventional readings course, like, I later felt, the seminar some of them were having over at the home of the woman dean.

Because of tensions in my class, on several occasions I spoke with the students about my decision to say no to the male graduate student and about each of their responses to it. This relieved the situation somewhat, but, by the next week, the controversy would be restimulated outside the class. For example, two weeks after the daily student newspaper ran its article, the right-wing student paper printed a front-page story. The woman dean spoke to the right-wing paper, as did the male student; both were quoted prominently. A second faculty meeting took place the week after the right-wing paper came out, raising the issue once again and providing a further platform for the woman dean. These external events had the effect of making persistent the difficulties of my class.

My class was perhaps especially sensitive to unsettling external influences because my approach in the course emphasized openness in discussing each student's feelings. A relatively stable and protective environment is necessary to make such discussion feel safe. The course required


a relaxation of intellectual posturing and academic self-protectiveness, and, because it drew on my own work, it required a sense of identification with, rather than disassociation from, the teacher. It was exactly such identification, however, that the students, especially the graduate students, seemed increasingly unwilling to allow. I sensed their distance during the quarter, yet it was only after the last class session ended that I realized how much my Feminist Methodology course had been undermined. During the last class, in the last fifteen minutes, I found myself again bringing up the subject of my refusal of the male graduate student. The final class session was not going well—it held, for me, too many silences and not enough appreciation for the course, the teacher, or the students' own efforts. I felt that although the students had gained important research insights during the quarter, the course had become a problem in their minds, and not a normal problem, but something made into one. In the last session, a few of the students spoke of talking with others outside the class about difficulties with the course and criticisms of me. Hearing them speak, I felt, uncomfortably, that I had become a difficulty along with the course, indeed the source of the students' troubles—something was wrong and it was me.

The Faculty Meeting

I walked into the room where the Women's Studies faculty meeting would be held. My trouble with the hostile student was on the agenda. The chair had circulated two background papers to the faculty attending: a copy of the student's open letter of complaint to the campus newspaper, still unpublished, and a copy of a memo written by the chair defending and explaining my decision to an administrative dean. The chair felt that the feminist faculty might be receiving increasing hostility from antifeminist students, and she wanted the faculty to discuss the issue more generally.

I felt I had to be present at the meeting. However, I wanted to be invisible. I took a seat far away from the center table on a chair set against a back wall, with no one sitting beside me. About twenty-three people soon filled the room, forming a group much larger than the eight to twelve who usually attended these luncheon meetings. The first discussion


item was gender bias against women faculty in student course evaluations. Some women spoke of changing their teaching behaviors in order to score well on the evaluation forms. I felt silent and uncomfortable. For me, the discussion was too much about success and advancing in the system. What if being a good teacher meant one would not score well on the forms? Two-thirds of the way through the discussion, a woman who announced she had to leave soon to get to a meeting somewhere else impatiently launched into the second item on the agenda, referring to it as "the case of student X." When the chair had introduced this item at the start of the meeting, she had called it "the case." I had been startled. The term sounded too big and legalistic to me and too much like the student had a case.

"What does 'woman-centered' mean?" the woman who had to be somewhere else began. She claimed to have no idea what this term meant and said that the chair's letter of explanation to the dean gave her no understanding of why the male student was denied permission to take my course. Surely, denying permission to this man because he was unprepared for an advanced course in feminist methodology could not be the real reason for refusing him. Again, what did woman-centered mean? she asked.

The chair, who sat at the head of the long center table, grasped the woman's question from out of midair and turned toward me. Could I please explain? she asked. It seemed to me her memo had already explained the grounds for my decision better than I could. I thought that the woman who had to be somewhere else was saying, with her questions, that she did not agree with me. She was challenging the acceptability of what I had done by claiming it was not intelligible. I had no desire to be on trial in this meeting, and suddenly I felt on trial, and I felt guilty.

"No," I said to the woman, I would not explain "woman-centered." The logic of my decision was presented very well in the chair's statement, I told her. Then I spoke to the group and told them it was painful for me to be at the meeting, to have my decision challenged, to have it become "the case of X." It had already been painful simply saying no to the male student. He was the one who had given me trouble, but I now felt I was the source of the trouble.


The Pain Of Saying No

Here are some details I did not discuss at that meeting that nonetheless throw light on the issue: I did not deny permission to the male student after the first class session because I hoped he would drop the course. I hoped he would decide that since it was so difficult for him to grasp or accept woman-centered research, he ought not to be in my class. When he did not drop the course, and especially after I had read his first paper arguing against a focus on women, I felt I should make the decision to drop him and not expect him to make it for me. I should take very seriously his statement, "As a man, I see no way to do woman-centered research." He was not telling me he was open to learning, as I might have wished. He wanted me to hear he was closed to it.

I said no to him on the phone the day after the second class session, feeling a strain in my voice that made it hard for me to speak. Passive-aggressive in style, this man answered me with silence, then told me how surprised he was. He was speechless with hurt. I felt he was experiencing the pain of being rejected by a woman, by me. I wanted not to be rejecting. I tried to make it easier on him. I told him the reason for my denying him permission was that he was not prepared; he did not have the prior understanding necessary for this advanced-level feminist course. He had said he wanted a humanist, gender-free course, but this was a feminist course, heavily gendered in its approach. He wanted chemistry and this was physics. None of this made sense to him. Then I used the word "exploitation" and suddenly it made sense—that he would be exploiting the course for his own purposes and this might not be good for others in the class. As we ended our phone conversation, he said he felt I was trying to get him to agree with my decision, which I was, but I said no, I just wanted him to see the logic of it. "You don't have to agree. I'm denying you permission, even though you want to take the course," I finally told him.

He called me back two days later, at night. I got out of bed to answer the phone. As he spoke, I felt the disturbed, needful depths of his emotions. I felt, What if I was needful and had called, as I had sometimes called my therapist at night. I should not toss this fellow out simply because


he was troubled and hard put for words and called me late at night for a conversation full of distressed silences. He finally said he had left me a letter asking me to reconsider my decision; would I answer it? At school the next day, I found his letter—an account of how all the faculty in his department had deserted him and would not work with him, except maybe the woman dean, but she did not have enough time. His one hope now was me and my Feminist Methodology course. I again refused him permission to take the course and suggested that he use the course reader on his own to develop further the kind of humanistic method he was seeking.

This student next wrote to my program chair and to the student newspaper, and called for a meeting with the chair to discuss my rejection of him. The chair and the woman dean from his department subsequently met with him and offered him a readings course with the two of them jointly, in an attempt to meet his needs. He could read on his own, he told them. He did not want the authority of faculty over him. What then had he wanted of me? I thought. He had told me he needed my help. Denying him that help had been painful for me. It felt like I was denying him myself. I had fallen for his line that he needed me, and that I was unfairly rejecting him, even after I had thought it through and decided that the help he wanted was either help I could not give, or that he could not take, or it was really another way of his saying that he wanted a convenient woman to respond to him. Perhaps I seemed not well defended to him and so was chosen for this role. I know I could not have been institutionally of much importance for him. I was emotionally important to him at the moment (I felt his "I need you, you have to help me" had some truth), but I was not important in any other sense I can think of. I had to say no, of course—I could not put myself in a position of being wrongfully used by him, or put my students, or women he might research, in that position—but it never seemed like "of course" to me. It always seemed like, "Oh my God. I am going to say no to him and I feel so poorly justified. I feel only that if I have so much doubt about this student's potential effect on my class, I have to pay attention to it now, or it will be too late."

I made my decision before I called him and I felt I was not going to


change it. Mine was a decision based on scant evidence and on a feeling about the future; it was a judgment.

The Faculty Meeting Continues

In the faculty meeting, they seemed to be looking for black and white, right or wrong, for a defense of what I had done. I felt terribly indefensible at that moment. The majority who spoke up in the meeting said I was right, that I had a clear case; they could certainly read between the lines in the two documents. By then, however, I had forgotten about the documents. I was focused on the experience of being cross-examined by a group of women and of not getting the immediate, unquestioning support that I did not know, before then, I needed from these other feminist faculty. I teach courses on women in a women's studies program, and most of the people important to me in the university are feminist women—faculty and students. In saying no to a man, I wanted to feel these women were behind me, that I had a mighty force behind me that understood the necessity of my action.

Therefore, I felt disproportionately upset by the woman who challenged me with her questions at the start of the discussion, by the few others who joined her, by the woman dean whose views seemed behind some of their criticisms (although she herself was absent from the meeting), and even by the program chair at certain times outside the meeting. A song written by the feminist singer Judy Small came to mind. It retells the case of an Australian woman who was tried and wrongfully convicted of killing her own child. The refrain goes, "It's everybody's nightmare to stand alone accused, to be thrown into a prison for a crime you didn't do."[1] That song rang inside my head for weeks. I would not have understood before the feelings attached to those words. Yet I now felt inside a prison, which was my pain, and I also felt that none of it should matter, that I should not let this incident affect me so. The male student had wanted to use me, I felt, and some of these women now wanted to use me—to take their ideological stands in relation to me, to show they got along with men, to pretend this was only about politics and not about me.


I think I spoke for fifteen minutes at the meeting, but I cannot remember much of it except that I often looked at the floor beneath the table or at various largely faceless people dressed in black and far away. I tried to connect my sentences by means of my emotions, sure that I would not have any sense of logic if I sought, instead, for well-formed thoughts. At the end of the meeting, after more discussion of the case and its implications, the subject was tabled until another meeting.

As the group was disbanding, I got up from my chair and was looking around the room at the people, mostly women, talking to one another. One of them was a woman with whom I had consulted when I made my decision to refuse the male student. She had concurred that she felt it was right for me to tell this student no. "It will only get worse," she had said, meaning he would only get more troublesome. I felt she knew this because in her own introductory course, she had suffered with hostile men, some of whom were clean-cut and would act nicely on the surface. "Have you thought about what if he does something?" she had asked me. "It crossed my mind," I said, "but I don't think he will, and I'd do it anyway. I can't not do it based on fear." I would still do it anyway, even after what happened.

Now the friend whom I had consulted came across the room and gave me a big hug. She was dressed in a long-skirted dark dress, and I was in pants, feeling oh so butch-dyke-out-of-place, as I had ever since the start of the meeting. I was stiff as a board as I accepted her hug, and I did not hug her back, but her gesture felt good and it surprised me. Then a woman I did not know, from some other part of the campus, came over and said something to me. I looked at her oddly, surprised again. I shook my head no, I did not think it took strength or courage. Why should she be getting that idea? I thought maybe she felt I looked unsteady emotionally and so anything I did took strength, or maybe I myself thought so, or perhaps she came over because I looked like I needed someone to be kind to me. No one else said anything to me. People got their lunch dishes and trash together and started to move out of the room. My Women and Organizations class was waiting in the hallway, ready to come in to use the same conference room for our class, scheduled next.

I helped clear off the food trays from the side table to get the faculty


out so my class could come in. We began the class late, and our discussion seemed slow and hesitant to me. I thought I might as well tell the students about my saying no to the male student, about the meeting that had just gone on in the same room, and about the open letter to the student newspaper that might appear any day. The students listened and I do not remember how the class ended. I do remember I was surprised when one student told me later that I had seemed shaken, so it had helped the class to be told why. I had thought I was hiding my feelings. This same student then volunteered to write a letter to the student newspaper so they would have it ready to print as soon as the hostile man's letter came out. "Why wait?" she asked. "Thank you," I told her. "I'm trying not to feed the publicity." Yet her offer was good for me to hear. No one offered in my Feminist Methodology class, or anywhere else. Maybe people assumed I did not need them, or maybe they did not want to get involved or felt they did not know me. I assumed I was untouchable.

Conversations With The Chair

The phone rang later the same week I had said no to the male student. The chair of the Women's Studies program wanted to know what procedures I had followed to deny this student permission. I knew the chair of the program as a no-nonsense sort of woman and I liked her. She had recently tried to make my teaching appointment more permanent. Now, on the phone, she was concerned that there not be further trouble for the program as a result of my refusing the male student. She felt a controversy about my decision could easily sap the energy of the program. I had not been aware of following procedures, however. When the chair asked me about them, I felt as if she were asking if I had acted above reproach, and I was not sure I had. I groped around for words. The most direct way to explain it took two: "hostile male."

"You didn't tell him that, did you?" she asked.

"No," I said, remembering my phone conversation with the student and how I had sought for inoffensive words, all the while feeling what I wanted to say was, "It's because you are a hostile male." At the time, I blocked those two words from my mind, fearful that calling him a hostile


male would get a hostile response from him. I also felt that giving a personality trait as a reason for rejection from a course would sound like inadequate grounds, even if "hostile maleness" was not really a personality trait, but rather a form of behavior. I had given the student the reasons that he was not advanced enough for the course, and that he wanted a different kind of course (a humanist, as opposed to a feminist, course). Yet this reasoning had not washed with him, nor later with the woman who challenged my logic in the feminist faculty meeting. I now thought it would have been better if I had said "hostile male," named the thing for what it was, because then others would have known what I meant. Still, the chair was saying it was good I had not used those words. This conclusion did not feel right to me, but I think she had a gut-level sense of what you do, and do not do, to protect yourself in a university. I had perhaps only a gut-level sense of what you do to stay true to yourself. This often left me without protection.

I was trying to find a way to tell the chair about what had happened with the male student without going into the details. My process had not been a procedure, and I was sure the details of it would make it seem that I had done something wrong. I also did not want to take up too much of the chair's time. In the end, however, there seemed no way to tell her other than to give her the details: he said, he did, I said, I did. "Yes, there is another man in the class. He is still in the class." "Good," she said, betraying, perhaps, her heterosexuality. For the chair, the issue was that this student was a man. She needed reassurance that other men were in the class to feel I was not rejecting men, that I was not thus making us both unsafe. For me, the issue was the student's hostility, his male hostility, to be sure, but it was not his being a man that caused me to reject him. My safety lay in my being able to say no to hostility directed against me, and my class, whatever the source of that hostility.

I had wanted to give the chair a well-grounded sense of what had happened in my conversations with the male student in the hope she could figure out what to do—that she would put the best face on it, see me in the right, understand. She took in what I told her. Yet after her call, I felt undone. Why did she have to question me? Why couldn't she have assumed I had acted acceptably? Perhaps she did assume that, but I am sensitive about whether others think I have acted conventionally


enough in a university, or protected myself well enough. I worry about this because I myself fear that I will misstep, that I will do something wrong and be cast out, or cause trouble for others that they do not want.

A few days later, the chair called me again to ask if I would do an individual readings course with the male student. She was going to meet with him and wanted to offer him an alternative so that it would not look like the Women's Studies program had turned away an interested student. I felt he should be sent back to his home department since they were the ones who had failed him, but more than that, I felt hurt, surprised, and misunderstood by my chair. This man was intolerable to me or I would have accepted him into my course. How could she expect I would do an independent readings course with him? I found myself saying loudly and clearly, "No, I won't do that." I felt the male student had wished to force himself on me, and now my chair was trying to help him. I thought perhaps this was happening because I was a lecturer. Lecturers are expected to do almost anything in order to keep their jobs. Or perhaps the chair felt I had created the problem of this man's discontent, so I should take care of it.

"I won't," I told her. She then spoke of offering him a readings course herself. I thought maybe she felt obliged to help him because she was a heterosexual woman and thus had a harder time extricating herself from men. I thought lots of things. I was aware that I did not know the chair well personally. I knew her only formally as a result of an institutional relationship in which she had more middle-of-the-road responses than I did. We left it that she would meet with the male student, reaffirm my no, and offer him something else if she saw fit.

Two days later, I received a copy of the chair's memo to the program's administrative dean. She had defended me well, and I felt extremely grateful. Her letter presented a detailed argument for my denial of permission to the male student that made my decision seem more legitimate than I had ever thought it was: "Feminist Methodology in the Social Sciences is one of two courses in a three-course sequence required for majors," her letter began. "It functions as a senior seminar, a capstone experience for Women's Studies majors. In the first class session, X stated that he objected to undertaking a woman-centered research project." With such a letter, I felt, my troubles were over.


The faculty meeting occurred the next week. By this time, the chair stood publicly behind my saying no to the male student. Thus when I was criticized for denying him permission, she was criticized too. The woman who challenged my decision at the start of the meeting challenged us both, as did the male student in his letter to the press, and the woman dean when she spoke to the paper. When someone had to present a defense of my decision to the student paper, the chair did it. My decision was, by now, the position of the program.

The week after the faculty meeting, the chair phoned me again. Another student in my Feminist Methodology class, an undergraduate woman, had come to her with a complaint and was seeking to drop the course, she said. The chair wanted to advise me to work things out with this student, both for my own good and because it should not look like the Women's Studies program was discouraging students from taking its courses. She said she was going to meet with the student again and would encourage her to stay in the course. I could see the logic of being cautious when at the center of a controversy, but I felt this student needed permission to drop my course. She had trouble with the personal nature of the research approach and was unusually uncomfortable doing the assignments. I told the chair I would encourage her to stay in the course, but in the next class session when I spoke with the student and saw the pain in her face as she looked at me, I broke my word. I was not going to tell her to stay in my course when it was too painful for her. She dropped the course the next week, which was fine with me. The problem for me, by then, was not the student but the chair.

By now, I felt I was being told how to conduct my class. The chair's effort to tell me what to do with the undergraduate who sought to drop my course was but one instance of this. The second and more consequential instance occurred when the chair mentioned, in the same phone conversation, that yet another student, also an undergraduate, had spoken with her. I never learned the name of that other student, nor the specific nature of her complaint. The chair suggested the complaint was generally about class dynamics, and that the student felt she was not learning in the course. According to this student, others in the class felt as she did. The chair felt I ought to open up discussion in my next class session, ask the students what was wrong, and correct it.


I was shocked that the chair had so quickly decided something was wrong with my class. I told her, "Nothing is wrong with my class. It's a wonderful course." She said I was being defensive, and probably I was. I was responding as if accused of a crime, and responding to a feeling—that either she conveyed, or that I assumed had to be present—that if there was not something wrong with me (something out of tune, or out of step), I would not have said no to the male student, or not said it in a way that would bring on an openly hostile response from him. I must have been doing something wrong or the two additional students would not have complained about me, nor suggested that others also had complaints. To argue differently was to be defensive. I told the chair I would do as she requested and see what I could find out from my class about what was wrong.

In the next class session, I opened up the kind of discussion I hated—a critique of class dynamics. I hate such discussion because the students in my classes always find things wrong that I can do nothing about. Their discomforts have deeper sources, I always feel, but they come out as if they are dissatisfactions with the interpersonal dynamics of the class. When I opened up the discussion, the main thing the students said was they wanted to talk more with each other in class sessions, rather than looking at and addressing me. I never had a rule that they could not talk to each other, and it seemed to me not unusual, or terrible, to have the students say they wanted more connection with one another—it meant they valued learning from each other. Further, it seemed not odd to me that their other complaint was about grades—they would rather not have them in a course like this. What was unusual was something harder to pinpoint that I felt at that time and even at the quarter's end.

I never held my difficulty against the chair. I felt she was attacked for defending me, and that occasionally she turned the attack back on me, viewing me as the source of her trouble. I continue to feel so grateful for her defense of me that I tend to excuse as understandable those of her actions that undermined my self-confidence with my class and thus contributed to my feeling I was inadequate as a teacher. My refusal of permission to the male student had been an individual decision. Acceptance of it by others was supposed to hinge on an acceptance of my right


as a professor, teacher, or woman to make a decision about who could take my course—who could use me and how. Acceptance of my decision was not supposed to hinge on anyone else's judgment of the adequacy of my reasons for it. Yet things are not really so separable, and my reasons were called into question, in part because I did not, in fact, fully have the right to say no, in part because I was vulnerable in the university. When my decision was challenged, I was scrutinized and my class was also put under the microscope—was something wrong there, too, larger than this one man?

Class Dynamics

A few nights ago, I had a nightmare in which I was sitting at a long seminar table in a room much like the one where I taught Feminist Methodology last spring. The students—about half a dozen seemed to be there—would not obey me. They kept moving around uncomfortably in their chairs, indicating with their body language they wished to be elsewhere. They were physically writhing away from me. I wanted their attention to focus on our topic of discussion, but that was impossible. Disrespect for me emanated from all their body motions, and I woke up in a sweat. That was how I felt in many of the classes during the second half of the quarter.

The day we discussed class dynamics, I took medication before the class session, as I had before my earlier class that day, not thinking much about it except that I wanted to avoid a migraine headache and I wanted not to be at a loss for words. I told the students that in light of recent events, I wanted to check on how they were feeling about our class. Yet as the discussion proceeded, I felt emotionally absent. I felt I was saying proper-sounding words and keeping up a good humor in response to the students' comments, but my medication had smoothed things out so I did not feel any pain, even when the discussion became difficult for me. I remember asking several students, at the break, whether they were learning enough, seeking to locate the undergraduate who had complained to the chair, but failing to find her. At the end of class, after the students had traded papers with each other and planned their subgroup meetings for the next week, they fled. I was suddenly in a startlingly


empty classroom. I wished someone had stayed around to talk with me. I felt that none of the students wanted to be seen speaking with me. The one student who did want to talk came back into the building later, after the others had gone.

That was the sixth week of the term. The newspaper article had not yet appeared (it would come out the next day), but the students in my class knew about it. The male graduate student had consulted with some of them when he wrote his letter, and I had mentioned his letter in class to prepare them. The session during which we discussed our class dynamics merges in my mind with later sessions, all of them emotionally painful for me to recall. In those class meetings, I had difficulty speaking with the students. I felt, increasingly, that they did not want to hear from me and that what I would say to them would be wrong. In recalling the start of my discomfort that week, I can see the students who were sitting across the table from me. There was tension in their voices and I lost a sense of connection with them when they spoke. Something was amiss but I did not know what it was.

At the beginning of the discussion, one woman who sat across from me spoke in a friendly and reasonable-sounding way. She was one of the graduate students in the woman dean's seminar, although at the time I did not know that. She spoke as if trying to lead the discussion, or trying to be a peacemaker (yet where there is no war, one does not need to make peace; that was the level of subtlety involved). This woman proposed that the students talk to each other more, rather than addressing their comments to me. I could enter the discussion here and there, she said, so that I would not feel invisible, but the students should be responding to each other. I remember feeling grateful to her. Her statement was one of the few in the whole discussion that acknowledged that I had feelings.

After a while, one undergraduate said she felt frustrated. How could she, a middle-class white woman with no experience other than her own, do research about anyone else? I thought her problem might stem from her having anthropology as a major, because in that field, research was being criticized as an imposition of the powerful on the less powerful. It did not occur to me that her frustration might be related to my having said no to the male graduate student weeks earlier. Not much of


what was said in the discussion of class dynamics that day seemed related to my refusal of him. It seemed primarily about my interactions with my class. During that session, I remember feeling I had to be silent. Looking in the direction of the clock on the opposite wall, I thought, "All they are saying is they want to talk to each other. Why am I feeling there is something wrong with me, that they are telling me I cannot be trusted to teach them?"

I was hurt more by the students in my class who challenged my assignments, wanted to ignore my presence, and increasingly protected themselves against me, than I was by any of the others—the faculty, the male graduate student, the press. I think this was because teaching, for me, is about being valued by students. It is about having whatever is me rub off on them. It is about being acceptable. Now, suddenly, the students were saying, "We don't want to have much to do with you. We will say we value the assignments you give us, and that we value each other, but we won't say we value you." I have never felt so tainted.

By the end of the quarter, my class seemed to be a headless monster—a group without a teacher, or with a teacher but no one much liked the idea of her. The students met in subgroups outside the class every two weeks. By the ninth week, some of them proposed they would rather have met mostly among themselves during the quarter and limited their time in the larger class with me. In the first half of the quarter, students had come to my office hours excited about what they might do in the course; in the second half, they stopped coming. Those who came—and only when I asked them to—seemed not to want to talk with me much. The graduate students responded warily when I asked them how they felt about course issues, or about how the course fit in their lives. In class, similarly, my questions aimed at helping the students speak about their emotional responses to the readings and research got guarded and limited answers from most. My questions about how the students felt about my own work also received limited answers. The students were reading a book manuscript I had just finished and I had told them I needed positive responses, but it seemed increasingly hard for them to give me any. At the start of the quarter, I had thought there were several lesbians in the class. One of them, who had proposed to do


research on the subject of lesbianism, dropped it. Another never revealed her gay identity to me, even in private.

I think, over time, I became a symbol of something the students in my class wished to avoid, a woman they wished not to be like. When they turned in their final papers, several of the graduate students included a parting shot aimed at me: "I can't say I enjoyed the class sessions," one wrote. "I have never been in a class where the teacher talked so much about her feelings." Another said, "Although this has been a course about feminist methodology in research, I would not call our class feminist. There was no equality. The teacher had all the power." Such critical comments helped me to identify those graduate students who had taken the seminar with the woman dean. The judgmental tone used in their statements seemed to come from somewhere other than my course. I hated to read the negative comments in the students' final papers. However, I could not fail to notice that, for the first time, some of the students were speaking directly about what had gone wrong and telling me I was it. They were doing this in writing and at a time when they could expect not to see me again, but they were attempting an analysis and they were articulating a discomfort I also felt, although my explanation for why the discomfort occurred differed from theirs.


I decided, in the end, that the key word that helped me understand the situation was "vulnerability." I tried to explain this to some of the students in comments on their final papers, hoping they would eventually understand. I still wanted to reach them, even when the class was over. I wanted them to see that they had been unfair to me and, more importantly, to understand why. I wanted to offer an explanation other than one that found me faulty as a teacher, or that saw our class dynamics as flawed because of my personality, lack of self-confidence, focus on feelings, or whatever traits the criticisms pointed to. My own explanation was more contextual.

First, I think I was vulnerable because I was a lesbian. When a lesbian says no to a man, even if in a public situation (she does not want him in


her class), the question is raised in people's minds: is she doing this because she hates men and does not want them in her bed, or is there a good reason for it? Thus her motives are suspect more than is usual. A lesbian is also vulnerable because when she says no publicly to a single man, she dramatizes her lack of solidarity with all men, a facet of her experience normally hidden in her private life. Saying no to men, or showing disregard for the importance of her ties with men, the lesbian seems alone and unprotected. It is expected that men will take offense at her and that she will not get the support she needs—the support necessary to advance in a university, for instance. A lesbian is vulnerable, in addition, because when people say or think "lesbian," they think "sex" and they think "woman," and suddenly they have, in their minds, undressed the individual and become intimate with her. Being a lesbian thus calls attention to one's female vulnerability. Acting butch, or acting like a man—as some lesbians do and as I, in part, do—is a way a woman can cover her vulnerability, thus making it harder for the outside world to invade, or to take advantage of her.

I think I was also vulnerable because women are expected to be open to others and especially to men, who are assumed to need them. What is expected of a woman extends to the teaching of a feminist course, or a course focusing on women. These courses are viewed as soft, available, womanlike, as ideal environments in which all needs are met, that are taught by caring, goddesslike women. To close the door of such a course in the face of a man is to do an entirely different thing than to close the door of an advanced physics course to someone whose closest prerequisite is geography. To give as one's reason, as I did, that the man is unprepared, or even hostile, does not make much sense when the important fact is that the man is being denied access to a woman, and that this denial of access is considered unacceptable. After the man is refused, the course gets scrutinized more than another course might because with feminist courses, as with women, it is assumed that everyone has a right to see them, to expose them, to make them as fully available as possible.

Finally, in addition to being a lesbian and a woman teaching a course on women, I was vulnerable because I was a lecturer. It seems to me that


I was less respected, and more interfered with, than other women with higher status who were involved with this incident—the woman dean, the chair, other senior women faculty. No one can prove this one way or another, but there is a distinct possibility that none of the public questioning and challenging I received after saying no to the male student would have occurred were I a full professor. People with status, or those who have no experience with status injuries, might not think this true, however. To them, I was probably more vulnerable because I was a woman than because of my lack of institutional status, and indeed the two are related, compounding each other.

Add to these some other facts: that I was vulnerable because I was teaching a course emphasizing the personal aspects of research, often considered soft and female; because I drew primarily on my own experience to teach it (rather than on external expertise); because I do relatively unconventional work for a sociologist; and because I apparently do not look like a very well-protected person. Much as I try to look like a man for protection, I do not really succeed. To others, I often look as if I do not have a hard shell, or enough of a shell, a condition I think I live with more safely than others suppose. However, the students in my class were not likely to know this, or it was not what mattered. When they looked at me, they saw vulnerability and they saw that I was attacked—by the male student, the woman dean, other women faculty, other students in my class—and they did not want to be like me. They did not want to be as easily hurt, or to be as unprotected in the academic world or within themselves.

One can, of course, side with a vulnerable woman who is attacked—but if one is insecure oneself, and inexperienced, and if one feels very unprotected, the response can instead be aggression and withdrawal. Fear of their own vulnerability affected the students in my class very centrally, I think, because the system we were in did not value the unprotected. It was a milieu of many strategies for allying with those perceived to be powerful and for camouflaging one's own insecurities. When I spoke to the students in my class about my own vulnerability, and about the degree to which the negative responses to my saying no undermined me and caused me pain, it did not relieve the situation or


help the students to feel close to me, as I would have hoped. Why side with this woman who speaks about her pain? Who wants such pain? they must have felt. Mine was an easy class to take a swipe at, with big effect. It was an easy class in which to capitalize on the students' potential for identifying with an aggressor. Nonetheless, some of the students felt the aggressor was me—I gave grades, I had brought all this on. Yet if I had all the power some of them thought I did, I would have given us a better experience.

During the quarter, several of the undergraduates in the class said they were glad I had said no to the male graduate student. They would not have wanted to engage him. The one graduate student who whole-heartedly supported me wrote in her final paper: "The newspaper is interested in X's story, not mine." One of the undergraduates wrote: "I am sorry that negative consequences resulted for Susan over denying permission to X because, perhaps for the first time, I felt my needs as a woman were being looked out for." The campus women's newspaper, published the last day of the quarter, carried an editorial in support of my decision, saying it was important for women students to have classes where the legitimacy of studying women was not questioned. One of the undergraduates in my class was a member of the paper's collective. The statements by these students in support of my decision were rare and they touched me.

Despite our difficulties, throughout the term the students in my class wrote emotionally moving, candid weekly papers about their research and writing. They spoke in the first person, expressed their feelings, and discussed troubles they had in acknowledging themselves in their work. I would read their papers and think, Everything is all right. Then I would go into the classroom the next week and the feelings expressed in the papers would seem bottled up, as if it was easier for many of the students to speak privately in writing than publicly in class discussion. I think the students must have learned something valuable to them in our course, and probably they were less upset by its failures than I was. But the failures and hurts were real, although often hidden.

When I think back on what I could have done differently, I think it might have helped if, early on and continually, I had talked at length


with my class about our problem—my saying no to the male student and the responses, especially the responses within each of us. If we, as a class, could have talked about it—and it would have taken talking again and again at the expense of discussing the course assignments—maybe that would have helped. However, it seemed wrong to me at the time to let the trouble of the situation focus our attention; it seemed too vague and too big a trouble, and I was not feeling on good enough terms with my class to lead such a discussion. I did receive important support from the few people close to me during the quarter, and I am not sure what a lot more support would do. It has occurred to me, however, that a woman in a position like the one I was in needs a great deal of encouragement for her right to act on her own, and for her individual value, far more so than it would seem. It might also help for people, in general, to know how sensitive is the central unit of a class, how easily affected the teacher and students can be when the teacher is attacked.

I am left speaking of my experience afterward, seeking to share it in the hope that someone else will be able to deal with an event such as my saying no to this male student better than I did, or to experience it with less guilt, or less pain.[2] My class and I did not act together to form a deliberate response to our experience. We were together only in being undermined by it. We were divided, pitted one against another, and estranged often from one another.

At the start of the quarter, after the students had done their first week's readings and papers, they took turns going around the table, speaking of what they felt they had found in our course. This was to be an ideal class for them, the perfect class, useful for their futures and for each person in an intimate way. Perhaps it was useful in the end as a dramatization of some usually hidden pressures in a university, especially the pressures on women to ally with men. For me, it was a hard lesson about my own vulnerability as a teacher. My saying no to one man had many unsettling effects. It stimulated fears in other women and in myself, and caused others to question my judgment. I then confronted a situation in which respect for women's independence was not the norm, where women were easily turned against one another, and where the fragility of female relationships was easily undermined. To


say no to a man is often a necessary act, and, as often, extremely difficult. Saying yes to women stands on the other side of that refusal. It seems to me important to say no to men, when needed, in order to protect the space of female intimacy. Only then can what is in the female space begin to be explored.


Lesbian In Academe

NOT LONG AGO, A GRADUATE student called to interview me for a master's thesis on experiences of lesbian and gay sociologists. She was interested in the effects of being gay on their academic lives. Was prejudice an issue? What happened in their universities and over the course of a career? I agreed to do the interview, but I told no one about it, for I felt I ought not to speak with her. Although I do have relevant experiences as a lesbian, I have always felt these experiences are not supposed to matter. Being a lesbian is, internally, a source of strength to me, but I feel it is a private choice I have made with full knowledge that this choice must often be hidden. Although I know discrimination exists in academic settings, and that I have experienced it, it feels to me as if it violates a code to turn around and point this out. It violates the code of accepting the conditions of my chosen status, and I fear something awful will happen to me as a result—the homophobia, or discrimination, that affects me will get worse.

Such a fear of making things worse by calling attention to them probably accompanies any stigmatized minority status or sense of personal vulnerability. With homosexuality and, in particular, lesbianism, the secrecy aspect of the status stands out more than in some other cases,


for it is assumed that homosexuality can be hidden, that an individual can pass (as straight), and often should, thus disappearing as gay. One consequence of passing is that in becoming invisible to the outside world, one often becomes invisible to oneself. Lesbianism adds to the invisibility, since lesbians are women, and women and their choices are often viewed as unimportant and so they are not seen. When I seek to identify experiences I have had as a lesbian that have affected my academic career, I often feel I am pointing to something not there, or to a factor that does not matter much, or that should not be pointed to anyway because it is too private.

Initially, when I thought about speaking with the interviewer, I was apprehensive because of the nature of the subject, although I was interested to speak about it. We scheduled a time to conduct the interview on the phone long-distance. When the interviewer called and our discussion began, I immediately became afraid, much as people I have interviewed have become afraid. I feared what would happen to me as a result of this research. Specifically, I feared having it known in the outside world that I was a lesbian, odd as that may sound, and worse, having it known that I had recently acted like one.

My fear was particularly acute at that moment because the incident of my denying the hostile male graduate student permission to take my Feminist Methodology course had occurred the spring before, and it continued to have effects. Articles drawing from the story about it that ran in the campus right-wing newspaper were published, months later, in a national newsmagazine and in a local city paper, disparaging me for denying permission to the male student. During the following fall quarter, the campus ombudsperson called me into her office because two women graduate students who had been in my course—one of whom, I suspected, was a closet lesbian—needed to pursue the matter. They had spoken with the ombudsperson, not mentioning the incident of the male graduate student, saying only that they wished to complain about my approach to teaching. That winter, ten months after I had denied permission to that one man, my teaching contract was not renewed for an upcoming three-year term. The next spring, both of the courses I was teaching were affected when students in them were unusually homophobic in their responses to me. Hard to prove as related to any of


this, but disturbingly coincidental, just when the male student's story hit the campus papers, both my car and my lover's car began to be repeatedly stolen and vandalized in front of our house. "Anyone hate you?" asked the police officer who came out to investigate. "Give any student an 'F' recently?"

When I spoke with the interviewer on the phone, all these events were on my mind. Thus, I was afraid perhaps far more than the situation of a master's thesis warranted. I was sure that people would know it was me in the thesis the interviewer would write, or in an article based on it, or they would hear about me through researchers' gossip networks. They would know I had said no to a man, and they would expect the same, or worse, from me. I would be seen as a person who is unsafe to hire, as a betrayer of the trust that holds up the system. No one in the whole country, I felt, would ever hire me again if they knew.

I may have had an exaggerated expectation of adverse consequences from a master's thesis, but I did not, I think, have an exaggerated fear. There are consequences of saying no to men. The instance of my saying no to the male student had already unleashed a set of them for me. This incident became controversial, in large part, I felt, because it raised the specter of my being a lesbian—a separatist, a man-hater, not a malealigned woman, a woman who chooses women over men, who does not take care of men, a woman who risks being denied male privileges and who is, therefore, vulnerable. Even though I felt my lesbianism had affected what happened to me, it was difficult for me at the time of the controversy, and even after, to identify the consequences I experienced as related specifically to my being a lesbian. For example, during the more recent spring term, when I saw students in one of my classes avoid looking directly at me at times when I expected they would, or when they had trouble talking about the content of The Mirror Dance , my book on lesbians, I thought I was probably a bad teacher, or that I was feeling distant from the students, or maybe the students were right that there was not much provocative in my book to discuss. I did not think the students were afraid of me because I was a lesbian, or that this fear was related to the controversy of the year before when I had said no to the male graduate student.

The previous year, after I denied the male student permission to take


my class, I had thought that the silences in class discussions, the fragmentation of morale, and the various oppositions to me from the students occurred because I was not doing well as a teacher, or as a person. I thought the students had really different values than mine, or that they simply did not like me. At the time, I did not think, "I am a lesbian. I have said no to a man publicly. They are scared of me, of being like me, and of losing the support of men." When I heard the conservative women faculty members at the meeting asking, "What do you mean by woman-centered?" and "Why didn't you take care of this man?" I felt hurt, and I was not sure why they were picking on me. I knew I was a lesbian and they were straight, and that this made a difference, but exactly what difference was hard to determine when the challenges were so indirect.

Now I told the interviewer about my fears concerning this still troublesome incident and what might yet happen to me, and she agreed to substitute another example when she wrote her thesis and article, rather than saying what I had actually done. I felt cowardly requesting her to hide my situation, and I hoped such a change would not harm the truth. We next discussed the many more usual circumstances when it is not clear to me whether my being a lesbian is affecting responses I receive. When I see women secretaries and administrative staff in university offices looking at me, for instance, I always wonder, Am I attractive to them, or frightening? Do they see me as a woman, or a lesbian—a mannish woman? What difference is it to them? What about the male administrators who pass judgment on my hirings and interview me, do they see a woman who is a lesbian and, therefore, threatening to them? Do they assume that because I am a lesbian, I will not do their bidding, and, therefore, who needs me? What about male students—is it only a facade when they defer to me, or seem to like me? Do they fear that because I am a lesbian, I will not like them? What about other women faculty, whether friendly on the surface, or formal and distant—does my lesbianism scare them? No one speaks of these things. The women students, who am I to them? "Are you afraid of me because I am a lesbian?" I asked one woman student who kept challenging me in class this past spring. "No," she swore up and down, she was not. Some of her best friends were lesbians. That just could not be.


When I did not get my teaching contract renewed, the obvious reason was that the university was having a budget crisis and lecturers were easy to eliminate. It seemed to have nothing to do with my being a lesbian, maybe it had something to do with my being a woman, certainly nothing to do with my having said no to the male student the year before. Usually when my contracts are not renewed, they say it is because of the nontraditional nature of my work. When I am not hired, that is also the reason given. I have found it is very hard to put a finger on anything important that has ever been denied me as a sociologist and say, "This is because I am a lesbian." There always seem to be other, better reasons. The lesbian part of the picture always disappears, as it does, for instance, when gay people say, "We are just like you. We have families. We raise children. We want to be loved." Yet we are different, or else why the consequences? Why the choice to be a lesbian in the first place?

When our cars were repeatedly stolen and vandalized, the police finally decided it might be a hate crime, but the hate crime squad never came out to get the facts. The threat hung there, unsolved. This type of crime, we were told, was usually impossible to pin down. If my hostile male graduate student had any link to our cars being attacked, I concluded, I was not going to find out. I was not of the mind to send the cops after him. Why stir up the antagonism? The police, were they to question him, would probably find nothing to link this shy, ivorytower, third-year graduate student to car thieves.

So I said to the woman interviewer, feeling very tense just then about my prospects for another job, thinking about the cars, and wondering about the ways I sometimes think people look at me in hallways, "I might as well walk around in black leather and chains. I might as well rub it in. Maybe that would be better than being nice about it." She laughed. We both laughed. It was the highest, most intimate moment of the interview. I felt the interviewer, too, had had this thought. She was also a lesbian, as well as a good interviewer. It was a funny image—the two of us who had never met, talking on the phone, each imagining the other in black leather and chains walking around her relevant university wearing a sign saying, "lesbian (hates men, rejects being feminine, seeks to seduce other women)," or with a star symbol conveying


the same meaning emblazoned on her forehead. We discussed how we each tried to hide it, but we always felt other people knew.

During the interview, I wished not to remember facts of my past. The interviewer tried repeatedly to get me to go back through the experiences of my career in a chronological way, beginning with graduate school, to trace the effects of lesbianism or discriminatory treatment related to it. I was reluctant to trace myself in that way. Instead, I felt mostly the jeopardy of my present. We did, however, identify some events of the past. There again, it felt to me like secrets I was not supposed to tell, for fear others would think I was betraying the system or acting improperly by speaking. My secrets, however, are probably not uncommon. On my first job, for example, as a visiting assistant professor, a senior male faculty member wrote me a note after my interview. It was on a pretty little card with a pressed, dried flower included in it. I figured he had some sort of fantasy, and that it was harmless. When I arrived to take the job at the start of the fall term, he picked me up at the airport and drove me around to look at houses. The damage was soon done. The first night, when he offered, I refused to stay with him at his house. Two days later, when I took an apartment that he drove me to see, I again refused his offer to spend the night with him, explaining that I was a lesbian. He quickly disappeared. Later in the semester at a faculty and graduate student party, I remember the rose-colored sweater I was wearing and how he kept looking at my breasts. Not long after that, the faculty of my department considered the continuation of my appointment. He strongly opposed it and his senior position helped to put an end to me at that university. Of course, other reasons were given—the nature of my work, for instance.

I am not saying that sleeping with male faculty members is a way to get ahead. I am saying I think it might have helped had I been wearing black leather and chains. At least, the betrayal element would then be missing. This man would have known who I was from the start. But then, again, men do not always accept what they see.

From that first job, I moved to a position at another university, again as a visiting assistant professor. I remember I did not attend a faculty party at the start of the year. The night of the party, I wondered whether I should have gone. Generally, I did not socialize with the members of


my department in a way that suggested it mattered to me, and at that university such socializing might have mattered, since the faculty were unusually young; they were all my age or younger. But I was a lesbian. Moving to a new town, I had sought out other lesbians for my social life. When I finally went to a faculty party late in the fall, I came and left quickly. I still remember the dark interior of the male faculty member's house where the party was held. The living room was crowded and I was not interested in meeting people's wives. I had another party to go to that night, at a gay woman's house, and I had a lesbian lover who was waiting to go there with me. I walked through the straight faculty party quickly and did not engage anyone in conversation of more than a few syllables. I was glad not to have to take all that very seriously.

At that second university, there was, again, a senior male faculty member, although he was younger than the senior male at the first school. He came over to my house one night after a preliminary show of interest. I knew why he was coming and I planned to tell him I was a lesbian. I hoped we might be friends. That was my first experience with a man who takes it as a challenge when told that a woman is a lesbian. After I informed him, there was some wrestling on a bed that served as a couch in the living room, and finally he gave up.

Three of us had been hired that year as visiting assistant professors. One of us would be kept on. It was not me, and it was not the nicer of the two men. It was a man who had a dark brown beard, and who, when he got dressed up, wore a white linen suit, and whose wife had recently left him. There was nothing particularly wrong with him. He was more like the man who had come over to my house than like anyone else on the faculty.

The man who came over that night was one of the three male faculty members who formed the committee that decided on who to hire permanently for the organizational position. They made their decision before Christmas, although the appointment would not start until the next academic year. For some reason, they wished to make a decision quickly. I remember walking to my car one day not long after I was told that I would not be hired, thinking that if it took a dress to get a job, I would wear one to my next interview. I would ask people I knew if a dress would make a difference, and if so, I would do what I had not been


willing to do before and get one. As it turned out, I did not wear a dress to either of the job interviews I went to that year, and I did not get either job. I never took seriously wearing a white linen suit like the bearded man who got the job in my department, but a vision of myself in a white suit, looking just like him, often occurred to me.

At one point, I visited each of the three men who formed the committee that made the hiring decision, and asked them why I did not get the job. I was told that the bearded man was more conventional. He was more the straight-line organizational type and could bring members of the nonuniversity community into the department's organizational program. I had brought nonuniversity people into my courses as guests, and I felt hurt that what they were saying was not true of me. I had probably already brought in more nonuniversity people than he had, but that was not the point.

These are blatant examples, two cases where a man I rejected sexually later rejected me in an institutional sense. Most cases are less clear. The clear ones, it seems to me, are less hurtful. At least they are less hurtful emotionally at the moment of their occurrence. In the long run, however, any rejection, or loss of a job, has consequences. In the second university, the job I did not get was one I very much wanted. I had developed attachments to people there and to that part of the country. I still think about how my life might have been different had I been able to stay. By this second time, too, I was beginning to feel that I should expect rejection when people got to know me, as they do when one is a visitor rather than a set of credentials on a curriculum vitae. Whether or not I was rejected because I was a lesbian, I felt I had been rejected because I was myself.

There are other less clear examples of experiences in which my being a lesbian has been tied to rejection, or to my being held at a distance by others. I have taught temporarily at a variety of universities, for instance, and I have noticed that my social circles are not those of the heterosexual women around me. They have husbands and I do not, and this often seems to be the problem. I sometimes feel hurt because the lesbian/straight divide limits the friends I can have at any place. The effect is not necessarily institutional disadvantage, since women do not have great advantages in universities. Mostly, I feel a loss. I notice the


lesbian/straight divide and I never like it. It is another invisible presence, something supposedly not a matter of gay and straight, but of personal choice, and assumed not to be of much importance. Yet it is important to me, for I lose relationships with other women.

Another kind of example concerns my research, since I have done work on the subject of lesbians in The Mirror Dance and in articles about lesbian identity and about researching lesbians.[1] When I think about my work, I usually do not think it is marked by the fact that I have studied lesbians. However, it must be and, of course, this must make a difference. What if I had studied something else? Banks, for instance, or government, or men and women in high-technology industries? When I first did the research for The Mirror Dance, I felt I had a great advantage: here was a fascinating community of lesbians, and as a member of it, I had access as an insider. I did not think that a study of lesbians, because it is about a "marginal" group of women, would have marginalizing consequences for me within sociology. Yet even in feminist and women's studies, I would find the study of lesbians would set me apart, carrying with it the same discomforts that lesbianism does: a discomfort with sex between women, a fear of being called man hating, and a fear of losing ties with men and of losing privileges from men.

I would discover that there is a deep-seated fear, which can lead to hostility, both in women's studies circles and elsewhere, as if lesbians would take over the institution if granted more than minimal courses to teach and minimal faculty positions. When known to be an academic couple, lesbians are often closely scrutinized, more so than heterosexual couples in the same university. I have found such scrutiny to be intimidating, especially when used as a device of institutional control. It has seemed to me a shocking invasion of privacy. But then the boundaries of women, whether as individuals or as a couple, are often not respected. Unfortunately, I think, it still pays to be invisible, whether for financial reasons or to defend against the hostility and homophobia of others entering into one's private life. Self-protectively, I have tried to be quiet and to keep to myself in the institutions where I have worked, but I have not been able to be invisible.

If studying lesbians, and studying them as I do—visibly, like a woman, speaking in the colloquial, dealing with the personal—has disadvantaged


me, however, I have tended to overlook that disadvantage. What I study, and how I study it, has seemed to me so much my choice, and my virtue, that I have a blind spot when it comes to thinking that others might devalue my work because of its subject, or because of my own life. But they do. After one hiring meeting, in particular, which occurred a few years after The Mirror Dance came out, I was told that the faculty, all men but one, did not find my work interesting or exciting. No wonder, I thought.

If I have been marginalized—disregarded, devalued, pushed aside—because I have studied lesbians, I have never felt I could do much about it, which may be one reason I have ignored it. I have also felt that judgments about my work that reflect a bias against lesbians are not judgments about me—that they do not really affect me personally, or cause me to think less well of myself. However, that is probably not true.

Responses to my work are responses to its style and content—and to me—which sometimes confuses me, and often obscures the lesbian issue for me. Yet I do think that my experimenting with narrative form is related to my perspective as a lesbian. The Mirror Dance, written in an unusual multiple-person stream of consciousness style—from the points of view of the seventy-eight women I interviewed—reads like gossip, like overhearing women in a small town talking about themselves and each other: "There was a lot of gossip, said Emily. It was not ill intentioned. It was Hollywood-type gossip, infatuation—'Last night she was seen with her.' She made hopeless attempts to control it sometimes."[2] There is a lesbian feel to this gossip, joined with a sense that The Mirror Dance breaks barriers of convention by inventing its own style of expression, as do many lesbians, and as I did in attempting faithfully to depict this lesbian community.

My subsequent study, Social Science and the Self, which argued that the social scientific observer should be acknowledged more fully in our studies, dealt, too, with lesbianism, but in a more indirect way. In large parts of Social Science and the Self, to illustrate my thesis, I spoke about my personal experiences related to my work, and I spoke about being a lesbian. This study was unusual in that it combined my self-reflections with discussions of self and knowledge by women artists—Georgia O'Keeffe and Pueblo Indian potters. The book concluded with discussions


by eight feminist scholars whom I interviewed about self-expression in their work. Four of these eight scholars were lesbians. Except for one, however, I did not identify them as lesbian in the book, in part because they did not mention it when I interviewed them, and in part because I thought identifying them would cause readers to discount what they said. I feared readers might view their comments as the peculiar views of lesbians, rather than as more broadly relevant. I do not know if I would closet my choice of subjects again, but that I did so bears noting because it illustrates how easily lesbianism becomes invisible. It seems not to matter, or it seems to be something that should not be singled out for fear of adverse consequences.

The issue of closeting lesbianism aside, Social Science and the Self raised questions about narrative form: how is this study to be categorized? How does valuing self-expression and originality change a sociological work? How does speaking from a woman's view change social science? Although I did not explicitly discuss the issue of a lesbian approach to knowledge in Social Science and the Self, I think that being a lesbian and seeking women's perspectives—especially nonconforming ones—go together for me. To a significant extent, both The Mirror Dance and Social Science and the Self are lesbian expressions. They break away from male academic forms and seek to use an inner female voice in ways that challenge conventional expectations. The Mirror Dance presented a collective lesbian voice. In Social Science and the Self, I articulated my own individual voice more, and I sought out individual statements from others. In both studies, I was concerned with the difficulties of women's efforts to create their own forms of expression.[3]

Recently, I have been asked by people who know my work and its concern with lesbianism, "Given the current rage for lesbian and gay studies, why don't you have a regular job by now?" I was startled, at first, to be asked this question. It caused me to think about why I have not been swept up in this wave of popularity. Although I am a lesbian, I am not a particularly trendy or entrepreneurial one. I think that the current vogue for gayness in academia, including the interest in "queer theory," will further other women who play the male academic game far more so than I do, and those who already have security, or a high status, at a university. It is deceptive, I think, to see those few token lesbians who


are rewarded for studying lesbians, and then to assume that everyone will be rewarded, or that I will be.

As a writer and scholar, I am marked by who I am. Although I wish it were otherwise, I may never become a conventional success in terms of salary, position, and popularity. In part, this is because, for me, being a lesbian is part of a desire not to fit a mold. My lesbianism, which is central to my work in general, has different value premises than those aimed at proving I can do as others do. Queer theory, like much that becomes popular in academic circles, is male theory, which may account for its appeal.[4] I wish to express a female sensibility. Further, it seems to me that any trend in scholarship, whether female or male, brings with it its own kind of standardization. I may always be slightly too different from what is standard to be fully embraced in the academic world, even as a representative of a minority. My lesbianism, in some way, stands for my difference. I do not mean by this to understate the costs to me of that difference. I have sought to follow my own values in my work, but I have never wanted to be penalized for doing so.

Finally, I wish to speak of homophobia. It runs through all my experiences like an invisible thread. It seems not to determine something major, like whether or not I receive a job, but rather to consist of small slights toward which I try to turn the other cheek. Yet the small slights have a way of building. Last spring, for instance, I heard, by word of mouth, a piece of anonymous gossip about a woman graduate student I knew and liked. It was introduced to me as something too horrible for the student herself to speak of. The item was this: a senior male faculty member on the dissertation committee of the woman student—who may, or may not, have been a lesbian—had suggested that the student seek my advice for some part of her study because it was about lesbians, and I was a lesbian. The awful part, according to the gossip, was the way the faculty member referred to me when he made his suggestion. He spoke with his hand held up to his face, looking off to the side, as if he were speaking of something dirty, and in a snide tone. "You know," he said of me, "she's an out lesbian," with the emphasis on "out." When I heard this story, I was not horrified but, rather, I felt let down. So what? I wondered. What is wrong with being known as a lesbian? The student,


however, was so hurt and frightened by the remark that she never came to ask me for advice.

I usually think it is not the gestures like this man's, in which the scorn is on the surface, but those in which the scorn is covered up that are more serious in their consequence. The covered-up affronts are more difficult to identify and thus to deal with. I tend to think I am more hurt by the student in a classroom who sits across from me in silent distrust because she wishes not to be homophobic, but still is, than I am by the man in the background who disdainfully tells a graduate student to look me up, and also, I suspect, votes negatively on my hiring. However, the two are related. The student keeps her distance because the man is there. The man speaks his mind because no one stops him. I may not be hurt when told of the man's scorn, but I am hurt by the graduate student when, in not seeking my advice, she seems not to value me. Homophobia has a hidden nature because it is a fear. Acts that stimulate that fear are interrelated. They are also, I think, disabling. I have found the repeated job rejections I have experienced to be disabling, not only externally, but internally, in terms of my self-confidence and ability to do my work. However, I know that those who attempt to conform, to be invisible, also are disabled by not being able to be themselves in their work.

When I think about hurts of the academic system, I do not usually think I have been hurt because I am a lesbian. I think of things I can see more easily, and of explanations that have nothing to do with my choosing women. My main hurt in academia is lack of a regular job—a full-time, full-status position. I also think I have been hurt because of the ways people have spoken to me over the years about my not having such a job. They make comments such as: "I wish I could have all that time off." "If you just were willing to move." "You are happier this way." "You would not be so productive if you were full-time employed." "You don't do mainstream work, what do you expect?" meaning, of course, "you deserve what you get." I feel hurt by these words, to the point of tears, every time I hear them. Over time, however, I have learned to speak back to the words and eventually to focus on the insensitivity of the speaker: "This person does not realize, she does not know. I do deserve.


I would be more productive. I am not happier. I have reasons for not moving, and for not taking just any job." Yet the hurt continues.

I have learned to think of my hurt in the academic world as very much related to the nature of my work—to my unconventional choices about what my work is, and where I do it. I have also learned to see this hurt as related to a larger economic circumstance that has existed since the time I completed my degree. I did my graduate work at a time of plenty. The academic world subsequently became more constricted, and it came to have less room for people like me. Such an economic explanation seems, at times, very clear to me. I see it with pain, but I see it.

What I almost never see is that my choice to be a lesbian is significant in all this. I can see that being a lesbian is an element in the whole bundle that is me, but it is hard for me to feel that this lesbian element is more important, say, than my refusal to keep moving for a job, or my penchant for doing things my own way. However, I now think I must take into account how I felt in the interview with the master's student, how great my fear was, how strong my denial, how shocked even I was by my own constant dismissal of the facts of my past and present. By the end of the interview, I was sweaty and tired and I wanted to stop early. "These are things I do not like to think about," I kept telling the interviewer. "These are things I do not want to know," and yet I know them.

In the past, I have viewed parts of my lesbian experience as incidents not to be spoken of in the same breath as I speak of my academic career.[5] I have feared I would be making the situation worse for myself by speaking of events that are too petty or too private. I feared that just as I dismiss the importance of these events, others would too. Yet my being a lesbian is not a private, or separate, part of my life. It is not separate for me, nor for those who respond to me. It is not unimportant for any of us. As a lesbian, I choose women over men, I align myself with women, and I often deny men access to me. To the extent that I do so, I am alternately vulnerable, threatening, and disposable in a system where male-based choices and alliances are the important ones. My experience is not that of every lesbian, but there may be elements of it that others may share, such as the sense of having a stigma that is accepted, and a pain that is not felt, or of having a wish that black leather would solve the problem, or simply wishing that the system had other rules.

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