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Five Hurts Of The System
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Five
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


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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


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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.


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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


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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


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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


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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,


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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


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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


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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"


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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


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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,


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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


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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.


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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.


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