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A Feminist Class

I HAVE TAUGHT A COURSE called Women and Organizations for the past eight years, seven times at one institution and once each at two others. Students, most of them women, take this course because they wish to be successful in a man's world and not to be disadvantaged because they are women. I teach the course for a different reason, because I like women and am interested in women's worlds. There is a basic set of topics in my course: women's development, boundaries, and styles of communication; women's experiences in organizations; women's work; and female separatism. But equally important are implicit processes that occur during the term, reflecting the students' needs for their own growth, their resistances and fears, and my own.

Because this seminar has provided many of my main ideas for understanding women's social patterns, I wish to give a sense of the key learnings by describing the flow of ideas and experience over a quarter's time. I wish also to convey a sense of the dynamics of a feminist course, where a teacher is often in a struggle with students over the development of awareness. In the following three chapters, I invite the reader to take the course vicariously by becoming involved with the materials and the classroom experience.


The Stream Of Ideas And Experience:
Women's Boundaries, Women's Groups, Women's Speech

The first substantive week of the course is titled on the syllabus "Women's Development, Women's Boundaries, and Girls in Groups." My purpose is to start with a familiar topic—the growth and development of the individual—to suggest that women, from early on, learn different experiences of self and different ways of relating to others than men do. More broadly, my suggestion is that gender socialization is not only initial, but repetitive throughout life, which is why it is so very effective. If one does not learn properly how to be a girl as a child, for example, one learns this later as a teenager or an adult. We read Nancy Chodorow on the many unconscious ways that female gender identity is established in the first years of life.[1] Especially relevant for my purposes is her discussion of how female children have different personal boundary experiences than male children. The idea that a person has a boundary, which is treated differently if she is female, seems to me important because it leads to grasping how women might develop a different sense of self than men. Later, this idea of a personal boundary will be useful for understanding behaviors of adult women—for example, when women on the job need to say "no" in big ways to seemingly small requests because they do not feel a sense of clear boundary between themselves and others.

Chodorow explains that the female ego boundary is more "permeable" than the male ego boundary because a female mother separates less clearly from a daughter than from a son. The boy, for his part, separates more from a mother than a girl does in order to achieve gender identity, since being male means "not being female." The point, I think, can be taken further. Throughout their lifetimes, both girls and women experience themselves as more open because they are more frequently invaded by others—both female and male, both strangers and intimates. Female boundaries are more often invaded because women are viewed as accessible and manipulable, whereas men, because they are more respected, are treated as more separate as more inviolable.

The idea that a female sense of self is less separate and less protected


than a male sense of self may be viewed in positive terms. Carol Gilligan suggests that a woman develops a more relational, connected, less isolated sense of self than a man does, and that this requires relevant types of interpretations. I find especially interesting her discussion of how women experience danger when their relationships are severed, while men more often experience danger in intimacy and security in isolation. I use Gilligan's book on psychological theory in the first week to provide gendered descriptions that are very clear and that lead to organizational extensions—to seeing how female social forms might emerge from characteristics ascribed to women. Because there is no body of literature on women's social forms, I must often use readings that emerge from the study of one thing—of individuals and of women's moral development, in this case—to suggest broader organizational patterns. When Gilligan, for instance, says that women are more oriented toward relationships than men, and have a self delineated through activities of responsiveness to others, or of care, there are organizational implications. Gilligan suggests some of these with her images of web and hierarchy, noting that the male's more separate positioned self may be more comfortable in hierarchical relationships, while the women's more socially embedded self may find extension in more weblike relationships.[2]

Although Gilligan's study draws from a white middle-class population, similar themes can be found in other groups as well. In a study of eight- to thirteen-year-old African American children on the streets of Philadelphia, Marjorie Harness Goodwin focuses on the relationship between language and social organization in children's same-sex task groups. The girls use more inclusive language among themselves, more "we" and "us," words that do not differentiate speaker and hearer. The girls' speech implies symmetrical relationships among group members. The boys, by contrast, use more commanding styles of speech that reflect and perpetuate hierarchy. Important for the girls are issues of alliance formation and of ostracism—of whether one is in or out of the group. For the boys, what counts is whether they are up or down in the structure of positions in their group. When the boys have a dispute, they change positions in their group, preserving the structure of the group. When the girls have a dispute, their dispute often lasts longer,


internal alliances form and reform, and members are more likely to be excluded or to leave the group. The girls' groups are thus less stable and more short-lived. Because the girls' groups are interactionally different, looking at them requires seeing them in terms that are fitting, avoiding a common tendency to interpret female groups in the same way one would male groups.[3]

Goodwin's lower-class, African American children show similar patterns to those found in Gilligan's and Chodorow's studies of middle-class white children and adults. In both cases, interpersonal boundaries are less strictly defined among girls and women than among boys and men, with a quest for equality being a more important feature of the female social relationships. Similar gender-segregated patterns also appear in other studies of children.[4] Later, we will find these patterns again when we read about women and men in corporate settings. My point is not that all gendered patterns are the same, but that some similar styles of social organization can be found, with important variations, in strikingly different places.[5]

I like Goodwin's study of African American street children very much, both because of its setting and because of its organizational lessons. The students respect this study but are more stirred by Gilligan and her suggestion that women have definable characteristics. The students criticize psychoanalytic thinking when they read Chodorow. They criticize gender definitions, and the very idea of gender, when they read Gilligan. In response to Gilligan, many of the students, sometimes a majority, react hotly and angrily that women are not the way she portrays them, or not like that anymore. They claim they themselves are not like women but like men, or that they are a mix of characteristics. The male students often say, at this point, they feel they are like women. The students generally do not like what they see as the untrue stereotypes presented by Gilligan, and I sit there looking at these twenty or more stereotypes sitting around the room—noticing how they dress and how they speak, how they hold their bodies, the makeup the women wear, noticing my own female silence—and feel suddenly unpopular in my viewpoint. It only occurs to me later to ask those who protest, "Why this denial of the difference that gender makes?"

At this point in the course, I give the students their first research assignment.


I ask each to interview four women of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds about their experiences of participation in women's organizations. This assignment immediately raises the question, what is a women's organization? I tell the students that, to me, it is an organization in which women set the tone, and that it need not be a formal organization—it could be a friendship network or a family. I ask them to define it as they like and to pay special attention to the words the women they interview use to describe their experiences and to the feelings conveyed by these words.

The initial gender characteristics suggested in our readings are soon found again, at the student's own hands, in the words of women they know—their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and friends—whom they have interviewed for this assignment. The students speak with women from different class and racial backgrounds about experiences in both work and nonwork organizations, providing a useful variety of groups for us to consider in class discussion. The types of organizations sampled include: hospital emergency rooms, church groups, businesses, women's companies, women's professional associations, sororities, sports teams, branch banks, dorms, women's committees, schools, women's centers, YWCAs, Hadassahs, Latvian women's groups, DAR groups, African American sororities, Asian women's groups, Chicana women's groups, public service and government agencies, fundraising organizations, volunteer networks, rape education projects, book clubs, investment clubs, SPCAs, 4-Hs, Girl Scouts, women's self-help groups, day-care centers, accounts payable departments, consulting firms, religious groups, and feminist collectives.[6] Similarities in the ways the women interviewed describe their experiences surprise the students. It now gets a little harder to dispute that there may be a reality to the stereotypes we have read about, even if that reality is discomforting.

In their interviews, the students find words such as these describing women's organizations: "cooperative, warm, comfortable, democratic, close-knit, fluid, friendly." These are "groups in which you can share personal things. They are better organized than coed groups. They attempt to include people; they weed people out. They are detail-oriented, open, trusting environments. They are places where you can get away from your husband. Their members communicate in incomplete


sentences. They operate by a consensus process, which means you go around and around in the group hearing what people are thinking, but you wish someone would just come in and make a decision. Women's groups are nitpicky, bitchy, indirect. They are nonhierarchical, polite, almost formal; they share responsibility. They are family-like, educational, philanthropic, caring. People in them value equality; people talk about how they feel. There is attention to process and a lot of gossip. The groups are cliquish, backstabbing, forced, unnatural, time consuming. They are a wonderful opportunity, a brave new world. They run at too high an emotional level, are unpredictable, are a colorful range. The women in them are each others' sisters and mothers. Their members love each other and are bitchier with each other than in any other organization."[7]

Each year, I listen closely to the words the students find when they do this assignment, looking for nuances I had not seen or heard about before and for expressions I like. Last year, for example, when one student reported, "Work cannot be done in these groups until the dust has settled and everyone is happy with each other," I felt "how true" and I liked the warmth in the expression. Similarly, I liked the phrase, "they give awards," which, to me, pointed to the need I think women often feel to recognize and affirm each individual in a group. Although it may seem contrary to the idea that women do not care about individuals, but rather value groupness, I think that women are very aware of the need for affirming the individual, in part because such affirmation has so often been denied us.

The research assignment I give for the next week also has the effect of encouraging the students to believe there is a reality to the gender stereotypes they initially rejected. I ask them to look at patterns of communication among women to see what happens to these patterns when a man, or men, enters a previously all-women's group. The students observe women in settings familiar to them—informal conversation groups, secretarial offices, meetings, work groups, parties, among friends in their dorms. They find that women stop relating to one another when a man enters their group. They disperse or stop talking to each other, and defer to, and focus on, the man or men. The women alter their body language to lean away from a male presence, at the same time as they


attend to the male. Their voices get louder when a man enters; their words change; the topic of their conversation changes to what the man wishes to discuss. When the man leaves, a previously all-women's group often breaks up, its moment of existence gone, although sometimes the group simply picks up where it left off. If a man even passes by a women's group, while the women are talking among themselves, and if one of the women notices him, the tone of the whole group changes. The woman who notices the man stiffens and gets watchful and her demeanor affects others in the group.

The results of this assignment suggest to me, each year, that women's groups are highly sensitive social units with boundaries that are easily invaded. The consequence of male entrance into a women's group is that the style of social relating characteristic of the women's group disappears. For the women's group, male presence means change toward a male way of being. Seeing such change before their eyes, in their own social settings, and participated in by themselves, the students are horrified and believe a little more in the presence of gender.

Our readings during this third week focus on effects of gender on group dynamics. Again, many of the students do not at first believe what they read. Even after conducting their research, they wish to conclude that perhaps their findings are not more generally true. On the syllabus, this week is titled "Women, Communication, and Invisibility." We begin with a classic social-psychological study by Elizabeth Aries that compares interactional patterns in female, male, and mixed-gender groups, and that points out that mixed groups advantage men more than they do women.[8] Mixed-gender groups expand the range of options for male styles of relating—they allow men to be more personal in style—and they give men an audience. By contrast, women in mixed groups become more restricted. They become divided from other women and oriented toward men. They speak less often, and in more limited ways, than when among only women. Finally, both women and men report preferring to be in groups with women.

When we read about these gender biases in group interactions, I think of the more general point that when people speak of advantages of gender integration—of coeducation, for instance—they note that women are advantaged by it because they gain access to male resources.


It is not often noted that if women are advantaged by integration, men are advantaged more. In part, this latter point is overlooked because we are used to seeing men as the more valuable resource, and we are not used to seeing how women's interactions with men restrict women.

The effect of gender on interaction appears in studies of male interruptions of women's speech, which report that men interrupt women far more frequently than the reverse. Male interruptions disturb not only a sentence a woman is speaking, but also penetrate into the woman's inner self. Male interruptions demonstrate power, and assumed superiority, while women's interruptions more often show identification with another; women interrupt to continue another's thought, or to express mutuality. Our article on interruptions, "Small Insults," views interruptions as micropolitical acts that both reflect and perpetuate a larger situation of gendered hierarchy.[9] We also read a study that offers a cultural, rather than political, approach, arguing that women and men come from different subcultures, and thus learn different ways of using and understanding words, which accounts for difficulties between them.[10] The students in my course are usually far more comfortable with a "cultural misunderstanding" view of female-male troubles than with a political view. They would rather view gender difficulties as having their source in women and men being different, than as having their source in men's greater power over women. I think this is because an analysis of power suggests more of a rift between the two genders and points to problems that are harder to rectify. I prefer a political view.

Overview studies of women's and men's communication patterns contain both types of views. A central observation of many of these studies is that men's styles of speech appear strong, while women's styles seem weak. For example, a woman says, "Oh dear, I've pricked my little finger," while a man says, "Oh shit, I've cut my hand," referring to the same degree of injury, and the man's injury and dignity both appear greater.[11] When I come across this example in our readings, I am aware that I wish to speak like a man. Still, I am surprised when the students respond similarly, when, in reading about women's speech, they see it as less effective, or less good, than men's speech and wish to change their own habits so they will sound more like men. The students now become self-conscious about their female speech habits—their asking questions


rather than making statements, seeming uncertain and tentative, and using softeners in language and a style of indirectness. They notice especially how they are self-effacing in their speech and wish to change that.

Yet the students quickly move from rejecting their women's speech habits to seeing how their women's speech has its own value. It is not simply weak language, but conveys a different meaning. They begin to think it may be good to acknowledge uncertainty, or to show respect to another by asking a question rather than assuming compliance. Perhaps women speak more truthfully by making limited statements. Perhaps it is good not to be self-important. Why turn oneself into a man? Why use men's speech? The conflict between using the gestures of men and the less-assuming styles of women is not settled here, however. Men's speech seems clearly to be more effective when among men. But at what cost to the women who use it? And what happens when among other women? Male speech is often felt as offensive when women use it with each other. The women students in my class, for instance, do not like it if I speak too much like a man with them. They also will sometimes become anxious if I speak too much like a woman.

Our readings about gender and communication are peppered with observations I find fascinating—for example, that men answer questions not addressed to them, and that women are observed more, and are more conscious of their visibility. Women smile more—the woman's smile is the "servant's shuffle," says one author. When women adapt their behaviors to men's characteristics, they suppress themselves nonverbally and inwardly. Women wait more.[12] I have found that the insights in these studies are also fascinating to the women students, who realize, from their own experiences, the importance of the gendered intricacies of social interaction. They have been hurt by words and seemingly minor gestures, and they have learned how to be careful in using words. They demonstrate their socialization as women by having, often, a special flair for deciphering micro-interpersonal material. The women students, I think, often have skills in this regard that the men students do not have, or have not developed as well. I have noticed that the kinds of papers I assign, which are self-reflective and observational, favor the abilities of women students. The women "do better" on my


assignments, although I do not penalize the men. In most classes in a university, the approaches that men students have learned are favored—approaches of rationality, detachment, and glossing over details in order to make larger statements. Women students can be as rational and grandiose as men, but I think there are other things women can do well, that are usually not required. I did not plan my research and writing assignments to favor the skills of women students, but I am pleased that they have.

So often, the subtleties of women's experiences are invisible to the untrained eye. I try, in my course, to train the students' eyes to see gender, and to see it where they might not have before, and where they still resist seeing it. To close our section on communication, we read an article by Patricia Williams, an African American woman, on invisibility. Williams speaks of how people do not see her, both because they overlook her and because they see through her—they assume they see her when they do not: "What was hardest was not just that white people saw me, but that they looked through me, that they treated me as though I were transparent."[13] Williams' statement could, I think, be applied to female experiences in many settings. Women often are not seen, or are seen in ways felt as untrue and humiliating.

The initial weeks of the quarter seem to me to contain all the central ideas of my course. By the start of the fourth week, because the students now have this foundation, I expect them to be at my level of understanding and to share my biases about how to interpret social interactions in a gendered way. When they do not, I become frustrated and impatient with them. During weeks three and four, I repeatedly feel the students are stuck in first grade. I feel they are incredibly slow to learn, and that they do not want to learn what I am teaching. I drive home after classes feeling that I hate teaching and that the students hate me. They make long faces in class sessions. They leave long silences between comments. I feel I am pulling teeth to get discussions moving. At this point, I would guess, the students feel I am trying to take them where they do not want to go, or that I wish to make them see what they are not prepared for.

Of course, students vary individually and much occurs beneath the surface that I am unaware of. A sense of opening up to new ideas may


contribute to a silence in class discussions as much as may a closing down. There are moments of elation and breakthrough in many class sessions when individuals announce that something they have read, or heard, is exactly how they feel, and that they are glad to know they are not alone. This past year, one graduate student said she had felt inadequate, for many years, in discussions with men and had felt she was stupid compared to them. She had cried when she found explanations in our readings that did not blame her, but instead tied her feelings to gender differences.

About this time in the quarter, I have also noticed that the students start to get irritable with each other when they feel that others in the class do not think, and feel, as they do. In my own case, I begin to feel that my way of thinking is shared, at best, by one other woman in the room. As I watch her, she seems to me to be a loner, someone who speaks with tears in her eyes and who feels she is not heard by anyone else. For the past few years, this student has been a heterosexual woman with straight blond hair, who looks to me as if she could be in a sorority. She looks nothing like me, yet I feel for her as if she were me. If I tell her I agree with her, however, and that she is not alone in the room, she still feels alone. I begin to grasp that what matters to her most is the response from other students. This is far more important than agreement with me. I think that the students' importance for one another is a major influence in the course all term, although I do not wish, by saying this, to understate my role as the teacher. Affecting us all is the fact that, even when men are present, our class is, by and large, a women's class. It has the dynamics of a women's organization. Individuals in the class often feel invisible to one another and boundaryless. Their needs for acceptance and approval from each other are great. Affect, especially feelings that are never spoken of, are extremely important to what happens in the class. Finally, this is a group that is afraid of itself and of its own internal ties, in short, homophobic. None of this is easy to discuss.

Women In Formal Organizations

At this point in the course, the beginning of the fourth week, I am determined to break down the students' resistances, to challenge and


shake them up, to make them feel absolutely miserable if I have to—anything to cut into the silences in class discussions that I repeatedly experience as too long. Our next topic, titled on the syllabus "Women in Corporate America and in Bureaucracies," deals with women's experiences in formal work organizations—corporations, universities, hospitals, governments, small businesses, professions. These organizations are usually viewed in male terms, as hierarchies with positions, ranks, procedures, and goals, and as competing with one another for survival.

In formal organizations, women have traditionally occupied interstitial and subordinate positions, and their activities have been spoken of in nonorganizational, or informal, terms. For example, women have occupied secretarial "pools," not secretarial departments. Women have, in large numbers, provided support and administrative "services" to the more formal divisions of large organizations. Individually, women are often found as assistants, in shadow and helping roles, and in decorative and prize roles. A token executive woman, for example, decorates the ranks of upper management and is a prize for a company because she is at that rank. Whatever women's rank, their major power in organizations is said to lie in their use of gossip and personal skills, and in their social networks. When women form social units, whether within large organizations or outside them, we are usually reluctant to give their unit a name with the word "organization" in it. Instead, women's organizations are called by softer names. They are networks, families, communities, societies, sisterhoods, groups, ladies' auxiliaries, branches, clubs, klatches, circles.

For the students in my course, our "Women in Corporate America" week is, I think, supposed to be about how women can become successful in formal male-style roles in male-style organizations. However, I have noticed as we start this week that many of the students are, by now, also feeling a strong need to celebrate women's ways. For some students, this need to celebrate starts the first week of the course as soon as female gender characteristics are identified. The students speak joyfully of the positive functions of how women speak and act. In the first year I taught the course, the students' statements of celebration took me by surprise. Why put so much energy into celebrating? I felt. I ask them only to see what is women's. However, I have learned to respect the students'


celebratory responses. Although not written into my syllabus as part of the progression of ideas in the course, these responses actually are part of that progression because ideas about women are heavily tied to emotions and often viewed in very negative ways. A sense of celebration is required for the students to take in facts about women because these facts are normally just the opposite of celebrated. The realities I want the students to see are realities they want to escape. These are discredited, repudiated, stigmatized realities, unwanted truths, rejected facts, just as women so often are unwanted and rejected. "It's too hard to live with," the students say of much that I want them to see. "It's too painful to know about." When they celebrate, the students turn their pain into joy. They convert their feelings of inferiority to a newfound strength.

This year, because I did not feel satisfied with the way my "Women in Corporate America" week seemed repeatedly to be a letdown for the students, and because I felt their disappointment must be a result of how I had been teaching the subject, rather than of the situation of women in corporations and bureaucracies, I decided to put an emphasis on one theme. We would focus on experiences of complicity in one's own subordination as a woman. I gave the students a quote from Kathy Ferguson's The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy: "The distortion of powerlessness affects women's deepest psychic structures and cannot be dismissed as artificial externalities confining the real person. We would not object so strenuously to oppression if it did not in part accomplish that which it is intended to do, to elicit the complicity of the oppressed in their oppression and to produce subjects appropriately readied for subordination."[14]

I asked the students to write about experiences of their own in which they felt they had been complicitous in their subordination as women. What was the organizational setting? What happened? How did they feel? My wish was to suggest that although it is desirable to become aware of how women are denied opportunity and reward in large organizations, it is, in some ways, more useful, and more difficult, to see how one complies—the hidden bonds, one's own acceptance of an inferior status, the pain felt upon internalizing the terms of female oppression, and the lack of choice a woman usually has to do differently—for


oppression, or subordination, is part of the definition of a woman. As with other interpretations I offer the students, I like such a dire picture. It conforms to my sense of what my own experience has been. The students, however, feel differently, for they have been schooled to believe they have freedom. They think they can be whoever they want to be, and that most of the obstacles facing women can be overcome, at least in their individual cases.

Ferguson describes characteristics of women as traits of subordinates. Impression management, pleasing others, being open and available, being attentive to detail, being supportive—all these help one to get along when dealing with others who have a superior status, or who have a great deal of control over one's life. Female traits, says Ferguson, have little to do with being biologically female and a great deal to do with being politically powerless and with "learning to play the role of the subordinate in social relations." We also read about the need for radical feminist alternatives to bureaucratic systems, and about the harassment of women, especially the experiences made public in the Anita Hill case. Harassment raises similar issues to complicity because women repeatedly accept harassment and stay quiet about it, feeling they have no other choice. We read about how the situation of women in the workplace is not getting better as much as is usually claimed, that statistics often understate the disadvantages women still experience.[15]

There is a great deal of popular "advice literature" written for women that offers tips on how to succeed in the corporate world. Because that literature is colorful and provocative, I have the students read some of it. I especially like Betty Lehan Harragan's classic Games Mother Never Taught You on corporate gamesmanship for women. Harragan describes the metaphors and rules of male sports teams and of the military and encourages women to learn these rules in order to succeed. She tells women to use feminine wiles, but to play hardball like the men, to reject their early female socialization, which makes them unfit for the male world, and to adapt and fit in with male socialization. The objective of the game of corporate politics, she says, is money and power. The rules are ridiculous, but rigidly adhered to. It's a childish and, heretofore, strictly a boys' game. Yet if women learn the rules, they can get to be dealer, and then change the rules to dealer's choice.[16] I ask the students


whether a woman who climbs to the top in an organization in the same way a man does will still have a choice. Who will she be by that time? Will she even want to change the rules? I want the students to see that there are inner consequences to external behaviors.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter's Men and Women of the Corporation is our basic academic text on corporate organizations. Although written more than a decade ago, Kanter describes a structure of opportunity and reward that persists to the present day in large organizations, despite flexible or progressive management approaches and the appearance of change. At upper levels in corporations, Kanter notes, women become increasingly visible because as minorities, or tokens, they stand out. At the same time, professional and managerial women are expected to be increasingly invisible, to blend in with men at upper levels and to serve the same organizational ends as men do. Women at the higher levels often feel pressure to repudiate what is female, both in themselves and in other women. Women at lower levels, by contrast, are expected to act like traditional women and to provide "pockets of the personal within the bureaucratic." It is around secretaries, says Kanter, that people at higher levels can "stop to remember the personal things about themselves and each other (appearance, dress, daily mood), could trade the small compliments and acknowledgments that differentiated them from the mass of others and from their formal role."[17]

Much that Kanter says about secretaries could, I think, be said of women at any rank in an organization when they act like women or are taken for women. Secretaries, she says, have a contingent status—they "derived their formal rank and level of reward not from the skills they utilized and the tasks they performed but from the formal rank of their bosses." Similarly, higher-level women are often seen as achieving recognition not in their own right, but because of relationships with high-ranking men. The case of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz comes to mind, for it is often said that she never would have become so famous had it not been for him. When Kanter says that secretaries "were doled out as rewards rather than in response to job needs," I think of how, at universities, affirmative action appointments of women faculty are often given out as prizes, or rewards. They are won in competitions between departments. The secretarial job, says Kanter, is "a job with low


routinization in terms of time planning, characterized instead by a constant flow of orders." Women faculty, similarly, are often besieged. They are asked to do more than men and to be responsive in all directions rather than in control. Like secretaries, women faculty are often given symbolic rewards rather than material rewards for their work; they are paid with compliments and appreciation rather than with money.

Kanter's purpose in Men and Women of the Corporation is not to show likenesses between secretarial and managerial women, however. Nor is it to show truths about women, or gender, but to show how organizational structure determines individual behavior. Given the same structure, women and men will behave in the same way, she says. I ask the students to question this assertion and to see how Kanter's study does illumine the situation of women.

As we read her discussions of corporate women, I find that the students in my class separate themselves especially from Kanter's description of the secretaries. Kanter's secretaries are people with whom they do not identify, and whom they do not ever expect to be like. They think that by becoming doctors or lawyers, they will not become secretaries. Therefore, I must take the secretaries chapter and go over the details of it, pointing out how this chapter is not just about an occupation now replaced by computers and administrative personnel. It is about people like them and me.

More generally, in our discussions of women in corporations and bureaucracies, I find that many of the students do not want to accept that women are still disadvantaged. The older reentry students in the class, who have more workworld experiences, know about the difficulties, however, and they help me by describing these to the others. The more radical feminist students often speak fluently about the need for change. Yet although the students frequently have, and gain, words for seeing the faults of a system that discriminates by gender, and that puts women in impossible positions (damned if you act like a woman, and damned if you do not), most of the students are far from grasping the costs of behaving in ways that challenge such a system. For they are here at this elite university to enable themselves to do just the opposite, to do what the advice books wish—to succeed, to get ahead, to learn the rules and to use them—and they see themselves as already advantaged. They feel


they come from relatively privileged backgrounds and that their education will further privilege them.

In other words, I think the students tend to see their class advantage, and their potential class mobility, as canceling out their gender disadvantage, or their caste immobility. Gender, like race, is a caste in the sense that it marks an uncrossable line between two separate systems of opportunity—one for men, one for women, the two unequal. When I ask the students to identify with secretaries, or to reflect on experiences of complicity in their own subordination as women, that is hard for them to do. They find isolated instances—when they once worked as a maid, or had a specific humiliating experience on a job—but they usually do not find a life full of such experiences.

Yet a life full is what I want them to see. Often, at this point, I feel I am alone in the room in identifying fully with this statement in one of our readings: "Imagine thinking yourself lucky to get any job, no matter how servile or poorly paid, any partner, no matter how brutal or dull, any roof over your head, no matter how costly the psychic mortgage payment. Imagine believing that's what you deserve. Imagine feeling guilty if you fail to feel grateful."[18] Similarly, I am far more likely than the students to associate my whole life with Kanter's description of corporate secretaries. When we discuss the complicity assignment, I have no difficulty identifying with experiences of subordination. Because the students have trouble doing so, I try to describe certain of my experiences to help them to see theirs. I sit there and, in an unsteady voice, tell them about my life. It is the hardest statement I make all term.

I tell the students about how my work, which means my writing, is very important to me, and about how I have accepted a second-class status for it. I speak about my periods of unemployment, my working as a secretary, my not climbing an academic ladder, my many unpublished manuscripts, my wish not to compete in the standard way. I describe how I have taken myself out of the running, in a sense, by doing work there is no comparison for, and by not continuing to move around the country for an academic job. I talk about how my work is valued by some people, but it is not viewed as worthy by those who determine who gets widely published or who gets hired for long-term jobs, and how I have not insisted they view it as worthy. I have turned away when


rejected for jobs and continued on my own. I have not built an empire. I have not been particularly aggressive.

As I speak of this, I feel I am telling the students I am a failure, and I feel ashamed. My whole life seems to me, at that moment, to be a product of bad choices, which only with a flash of clever thinking can I credit to my gender—to my being a woman and having values other than the standard male ones, and to my being treated differently as a result. To step to one's own tune is, I think, different for a woman—a woman seems less successful, her difference looks less valuable. But I do not believe this applies to me. I tell the students that usually I think it is my nature to be good for nothing, or relatively worthless, that I feel I fail because I am myself, not because I am a woman. When I speak in this way, giving specifics of my complicity—of how I am part of what happens to me—I feel very alone in the classroom. I feel that the students do not want to be like me and that most of them do not grasp the commonness, and unavoidability, of my experience. It is a terrible feeling—to sense that others look at you and find you so wanting, or your predicament so frightening, that they feel they must, and can, do better.

Of course, I do not know how the students really feel. Perhaps they see me simply as a curiosity, or as the product of one woman's choices. Perhaps they do identify with me. But my point is that, for the moment, I see my own predicament as if through their eyes, and I feel the horror and pain and defeat of it. We each, perhaps, have our occasions to feel such pain, to feel caught in a trap with no way out and for which we feel responsible. In my own case, the trap is clearly particularly female, full of feelings of unworthiness. I think that false consciousness is often the best defense against being a woman. When I tell myself, "It is not my gender, it is me" that causes me trouble, and when I feel that I could have made other better choices, that is easier—by which I mean, less painful—than to feel that I have no better choices because I am a woman.

At intervals during the quarter, as I have mentioned, the students speak of not wanting to become aware of the situation of women because such awareness feels too painful. When they say this, I often do not understand what is painful for them. By the end of our "Women in Corporate America" week, after speaking of my own subordination


and sense of failure, I begin to feel that something similar may be involved for the students. For them, a pain similar to mine may be felt when they realize that women do not have equality with men, or not as much equality as they had thought, that women face a glass ceiling in corporate worlds, or are not taken as seriously as men, and probably will not be taken as seriously in their lifetimes. These are prospects that highlight constraints. I am asking the students to be aware that female gender brings with it unwanted constraints that shape our lives in ways totally out of keeping with our ideas of who we are, and of what our opportunities should be.

The week we look at women in corporations and in bureaucracies is a letdown for the students because this was the week we were supposed to learn about how to succeed, or at least about how the corporate world is bad (patriarchal) and we are good (we are fighting women with better values). Instead, I have chosen to use this week to dramatize the problem of female gender by locating it not institutionally "out there," where it may have legal and political solutions—where harassment may be redressed, for example, or a woman may be reinstated in a job if discriminated against because of gender—but by locating it "in here," in each of us, where the costs are felt. The central question we are left with is, What do you do when a system denies your worth?

Women's Work

Our tone becomes more positive the next week, for we study "Women's Work." This is something the students can feel proud of. Women may be limited and may not be rewarded well, but the nature and variety of women's work shines through as having great meaning. We read, first, about the "interaction work" women do—the work of making conversations succeed, providing the connective tissue in interpersonal relations, acknowledging others and asking them questions—work that women do for other women and for men, but that men usually do not do in return. In discussing conversations as interaction work, Pamela Fishman presents a sociological idea I find extremely useful for understanding gender, an idea also suggested in some of our other readings: that female characteristics are not the result of biological heredity, nor


of a cultural nature experienced passively, but are, rather, accomplishments. A woman works at being a woman. She learns how to "perform" a female act, often self-consciously and so deeply it seems to be natural. Says Fishman, "the activities involved in displaying femaleness are usually defined as part of what being a woman is, so the idea that it is work is obscured. The work is not seen as what women do, but as part of what they are."[19]

Women's language is one form of expressing women's work. Ursula Le Guin speaks of "the mother tongue," the language of housework and daily life in which one thing rushes into another and power and success are not meaningful words. The mother tongue is colloquial, banal, "repetitive, the same over and over, like the work called women's work; earthbound, housebound. … It is language not as mere communication but as relation, relationship. It connects. It goes two ways, many ways. … Its power is not in dividing but in binding, not in distancing but in uniting."[20]

Along with language, we read about what Arlie Hochschild has called the "emotion work" women do—the work not simply of displaying emotion, such as might occur on the surface in personal relations, but the work on the self behind an emotional display that makes an emotional display convincing. When a woman puts on a smile, acts sympathetically, or, more generally, "plays the woman," she often does deep acting and emotion work. Hochschild studied airline flight attendants and the emotion work they do, especially the work of "enhancing the status and well-being of others." She writes of how women flight attendants work on their emotions to produce the smiles and friendliness of airline service. Although the job description is the same for both genders, women flight attendants do different emotion work than men, both because they receive more abuse—they receive more rude and surly treatment, angry tirades, and blame—and because they have less protection against abuse, having lower status and less of a "status shield" than do men. The women attendants are expected to defer to others and to provide the traditional female services of "loving wife and mother" and "glamorous career woman." Male flight attendants, on the other hand, have more of an "authority shield" protecting them against abuse. A passenger, says Hochschild, may not move her luggage when


asked repeatedly by a woman, but will immediately do so when asked by a man.[21]

As we read about the women flight attendants, I encourage the students to see Hochschild's discussion as not only about flight attendants, or about women in stereotypical female service occupations, but about all of us. Some of the students see my point, but many find it hard to identify with the flight attendants. As with Kanter's discussion of secretaries, I sense a wish on the students' parts to be different from these women. They wish to escape traditional definitions of female gender and not to be subservient, which gets in the way of their identifying with other women across status lines.

The economic organization of women's work contributes to the gender distinctions we see. We read next about the difference between "time discipline"—an approach of standardization, unit organization, and wage labor characteristic of industrialism—and "task orientation"—a preindustrial, or more primitive, approach to the organization of work that involves doing many things at once, or "what it takes" to get a job done.[22] In modern economies, time discipline is associated with men and men's work. A task orientation is more often associated with women and women's work, such as housework and raising children. Sometimes, a task orientation is labeled as superior, such as when men do it (Kanter describes the organization of men at the top as familistic and nonmodern), or when women praise women's work. Le Guin, for example, elevates women's work, referring to 'the art of making order where people live. Housekeeping is an art, so is cooking," she says.[23] Yet even when a female orientation is praised, it is hard for me to escape feeling that women's skills are not really valued. In a larger system where advance, and advantage, are measured by conformity to a standardized norm and by time efficiency, women's ways, especially when attached to women, are not, in an economic sense, an advantage.

On the other hand, in a different system, within the bounds of a women's world, for instance, there can be a different kind of economy, one with different goods and services and with its own richness. Marjorie DeVault suggests that difference in noting the nonpaid nature of women's work, and the violation of the character of that work that occurs when a dollar value is assigned it, when an attempt is made to translate


into the terms of wage labor the worth of women's "caring work." Women, she says in a study of feeding families, "certainly recognize that feeding a family requires time, effort, and skill. But it is different somehow from paid work." A woman she interviewed tells her, "'I think love has a lot to do with it.'"[24]

Women's leadership is also a form of women's work, as we see in a book titled Feminine Leadership, or How to Succeed in Business without Being One of the Boys . Although I hate the word "feminine" in this book's title and the way that the author views women as incomplete without men, I use Marilyn Loden's advice book because it gives legitimacy to a sense that the students have been feeling increasingly—that women have valuable, even superior, ways of doing things that should be sought after by organizations. For example, says Loden, women often encourage others, rather than trying to control them. Women have a more cooperative management style and teach basic positive values that bring out the best in people.[25] I find that the students like this advice book, for it talks about leadership (and they want to be leaders, not secretaries), and it makes them feel they can be valued as women in a male world without disrupting that world or changing themselves into men. It makes them feel they can succeed after all. Some of the students become irritated with me at this point, because having assigned a reading they liked, I then say there is something wrong with it.

For their research project due at the end of the week, the students examine different types of women's work that interest them—for example, women preparing meals in a kitchen, women administrators working in an office, women on duty in a hospital emergency room, mothers and daughters talking with one another, women cleaning other women's houses, women taking care of other women's children and their own, women managers doing more work to complete a job than men would do because the women see more work as required. As an alternative, the students can study relationships between women, focusing on feelings at deeper emotional levels that are often not spoken of and that are difficult to describe.[26]

To supplement their basic readings and research, the students select additional specialized readings. In one, DeVault discusses how the work women do in planning meals for a family is often invisible, like much


of women's work, because it is embedded in other activities. Hochschild, similarly, speaks of how work like housecleaning is not seen: when the work is done well, it is not noticed. We have several readings about sex work—prostitution, massage, and erotic dancing—that show how women face similar dilemmas in sex work as in other occupations. A massage worker, for instance, discusses the problem of losing a sense of herself because her work is other-oriented and requires denial of self. An erotic dancer discusses how her work provides her with a sense of power and self-esteem, yet it is still based on her subordination to men. Women's work often has that kind of double meaning—it is, at once, a show of strength and of deference, or subordinance. An article on transsexualism discusses the extensive work that goes into "passing" as a woman that is often taken for granted, arguing that gender—a cultural fact—is more fundamental than the biological fact of sex. Much that women do is cultural, yet because it is looked at as natural and biological, it is often underappreciated as work.[27]

One means of countering the devaluation of women's work is through women's workplace networks. A study of Chicana cannery workers by Patricia Zavella describes the informal self-help ties that enable cannery women both to learn skills on the job and to help each other emotionally. However, although the cannery women's networks serve the women, they also serve the cannery company. Says Zavella, "Ironically, women's solidarity sometimes encourages women to bear the negative aspects of their jobs. Women's criticism of work conditions are blunted, for they see work friendships as a way to create a 'family' at work and thus the whole situation seems better."[28] When we read about the cannery women's networks, I think of faculty women's networks at universities. These informal networks enable faculty women to help each other and to join in feminist efforts. Yet what Zavella says of the cannery women would also apply—the faculty women's networks bolster the university by making its environment feel more tolerable, at the same time as they support women within it. Even those more independent women's networks considered radical or feminist are, in part, I think, similarly conservative.

With completion of the women's work section, we come to the end of the first half of the course. The next week, we will read about women


in the Army, after that about female separatism, feminist processes, and lesbians. I will soon touch on many fears. But, for now, our basic work is done. The students have learned to see women's subordinate status in organizations and to look at how social interactions are affected by gender. I have learned to be sensitive to the students' feelings about what they are studying. When first planning this course, I approached each topic in an intellectual fashion. In teaching it, I have had to realize the highly emotional nature of the subject matter. The students have strong feelings about each topic we discuss, and so do I, and there is often a great difference between our views.

It is frequently said that feminist teaching is preaching to the already convinced. I have not found that to be so. As with any good teaching, feminist teaching seeks to jog and change the mind.[29] In a feminist course, the students are often greatly resistant to learning about gender and the situation of women, indeed far more resistant than they are to learning principles of chemistry. A feminist course, in addition, often seems to have no content, and the teacher to have no expertise, when quite the opposite is true. The content is so vast as to be hard to isolate and the expertise of the teacher lies in combining, at least in my case, a dogmatic stubbornness about the importance of seeing gender with a high sensitivity to the emotional needs of the students. Most courses do not require as much emotional sensitivity, but in a feminist course, both the teacher and the students assume it is extremely important.

The students expect the teacher to be careful of their feelings, not to do anything they do not like, and to be an absolutely wonderful person who has triumphed over the difficulties facing women. I have found this a more than challenging task. I have found it is often lonely to be a teacher in a feminist classroom. It requires a great deal of invisible women's work in class sessions in order both to push the students and to care about their fears, for they often feel very strongly that what they are being taught will be the death of them. While I am teaching this course, I try to increase my understanding of my subject, to improve my sense of how to relate to the students' emotions, and to increase my ability to deal with the problem that, given what I am doing, the students will often look at me with suspicion. They will feel that I am not adequately taking care of them, that I am not a good enough mother.


Because such criticism is hurtful and can be undermining, teaching a course like this requires a continuing belief in one's purposes. I have had to sustain such belief during many weeks when the students feel their old moorings failing and, at the same time, grasp for new insights that will help them in the future.

One of the most impressive things for me has been to see how much the students come to my course—as they do to feminist courses generally—wanting a valuable experience, not a throwaway class, and how pleased they can be with themselves, in the end, to find that they now believe much that is the opposite of what they believed before. They truly do wish to learn, although they often object in the process. At this point in the course, the greatest challenge, separatism, is yet to come. But if we were to stop right now, I think that the students would have begun a fundamental process of change in their views.



MY CENTRAL GOAL IN Women and Organizations is to enable the students to recognize the importance of female separatism. I also want them to understand the problems of women's groups. For, if separate women's organizations are important, then it is desirable to grasp the difficulties these groups face, especially the internal difficulties that often threaten the groups' survival. Women's organizations are treated differently by the external world. They receive fewer material resources than men's and mixed organizations, and their boundaries are invaded more carelessly, with greater destructive effect. But the biggest problem for women's organizations is that women themselves devalue what is women's. Women withdraw from women's organizations, fearing contamination by being with other women, or loss of advantage by not being with men. They feel that women's groups are less good than similar male or mixed groups, or that they are unnecessary, or for someone else and not them. Often, women are members of women's groups but do not recognize their membership. "I have never participated in a women's organization," women say, when they have been raised by a single mother, or an extended female family, and are dependent on women's friendships.


Women bring different expectations to women's organizations than to male or mixed groups, and they often have such high expectations of women's groups, and, at the same time, take them so for granted, that the groups perish under both pressure and neglect. Usually, women see women's organizations as failures because they are not like men's groups, rather than interpreting them on their own terms. Separate women's organizations are a major source of power for women—of pride in their own lives and effectiveness in the larger world. Yet when women make gains because of the political functions of their separate organizations, we often abandon the organizations, thinking them no longer useful. Unfortunately, when we lose our organizations, we subsequently lose the basis for sustaining our gains.

When I first put together the syllabus for my course on women and organizations, the value of female separatism seemed to me the main lesson to be learned in the later weeks. By female separatism, I mean women organizing apart from men. I mean organizations composed of women, and run by and for women, to which men are denied access, or, when included, are required to conform to women's terms. The need for separate women's organizations has always seemed to me to follow from what we learn earlier in the course about the subordinate status of women and the permeability of women's individual and group boundaries. Yet, in the later weeks, I find that embracing separatism requires more than logic. I find that the students have deep prior emotional investments in gender integration. They feel separatism to be an assault on their way of life and their expectations for the future. Similarly, I have a deep investment in separatism. When the students reject separatism, as they often do at first—or, if not separatism, lesbianism (and if lesbian is a frightening word, it is mostly because it means separatism)—I feel they are rejecting me.

At the start of the second half of the term, I am faced with a group of women students who are, for the most part, heterosexual. They are more worried about how to take care of men, and how not to exclude men from their lives, than they are about how to open up the range of choices available to them. They see women's worlds as less good than men's worlds and do not want to give up access to male privileges by leaving men behind. I am a lesbian and I depend on women's worlds. I


cannot reject them even if I dislike aspects of them, and even though I am often afraid of being among "just women." By the end of the quarter, I want the students to feel as I do. I want them to see their ties with women as so important to them that they are willing to overcome their fears of losing the support of men.

Ideas about separatism are not new in the second half of the course. When I asked the students, in their first research project, to look at characteristics of women's organizations, I wanted them to have images of women's groups as an initial frame of reference, rather than have men's groups come first. When I had them look at what happens to women's groups when men enter, I wanted them to gain a lesson that would be useful later for understanding why separatism is important. The students initially are so oriented to male-world success that they fail to grasp fully my intent in these early research exercises, but the important thing for me is that they do them. In the first two class sessions of the quarter, I make clear to the students deciding about whether to enroll in the course that we will be a class in which women will set the tone. The men present are here to learn about women. This is not a course to take if they are hostile to women. I ask the men to take their lead from how the women in the class speak and act, and to try to follow and blend in. They should not attempt to provide a male viewpoint, or "the" male viewpoint, but to speak for themselves. I ask the women to avoid taking care of the men, or focusing on them. I say that if they turn to the men in the class and say, "How about a male point of view?" I will stop them. This is to be a class centered on women.

The need to work at being women-centered, and at not becoming male dominated, is discussed further during the second week of the course when I divide the students into subgroups. These are groups of four to five members each that will meet every other week outside of class to enable more intimate discussions than are possible in the larger class of twenty to twenty-five. I have noticed that the size of a group is often an important issue for women, who tend to break groups down into ever smaller units to increase intimacy. When I give the students their first subgroup assignment, I tell them that if they have a man in their group to treat him like a woman, which means, "Treat him as an equal. Bring him up to your level. Act as you would if you were a group


of all women." The students, of course, will find this hard to do, but it is, I think, an important thing to attempt.

Mixed Company: The Army

We begin the separatism section by reading about women in the United States Army, that large hierarchical, standardized organization that is considered the measure of men. Helen Rogan's Mixed Company: Women in the Modern Army is the best book I know of for seeing gendered organizational patterns in a branch of the military. Rogan traces the history of the Women's Army Corps from its inception in 1942 to its ritual dissolution in 1979 asking, What happens to women in a male system, first with, and then without, their own separate women-run organization? For their assignment, the students go through Mixed Company thinking about the question, "What got lost when the Women's Army Corps was dissolved?" I ask them to note both specific passages in the book and implicit suggestions, such as feeling tones, and to report these in a paper, identifying, in the end, how they felt about what got lost. Did it make them sad? for instance. They are also to note, in the end, whether they thought the dissolution of the WAC was a step forward or backward for women, explaining why. This assignment plunges us directly into dealing with the question of separatism versus integration. If the students think the dissolution of the WAC was a step backward for women, they are arguing in favor of separatism. If they think the destruction of the WAC was a step forward, they are arguing for integration.

At its peak, the WAC numbered 100,000 women. When the Corps was dissolved and women were then integrated individually into the male Army, they became divided from each other. They faced an environment of harassment and withdrew as individuals, adapting strategies of merging and blending in with men in order to make themselves less conspicuous as targets. There was reason, Rogan says, for male hostility against the women: "Women soldiers deprive men of their masculinity by showing that soldiering is not so terribly hard and by usurping the profession." After the WAC was gone, policies negatively affecting women could not be effectively countered. With the WAC, the women


had the power of numbers and of organization; now each woman had the power of one. In their papers, the students mention many losses after the demise of the WAC: loss of "a chain of women protecting, encouraging, and looking out for other women in a world of men," loss of an ability to produce young women leaders, loss of real power, of a WAC esprit, of a sense of closeness and solidarity among women. They mention loss of lesbian inner cliques of power, of special ways of training women, of higher standards for women. Without the WAC, they note, women lost pride and a chain of command that could be used against sexual harassment.[1]

The students' conclusions about whether loss of the WAC was a step forward or backward for women work out differently each year. I was surprised the first time when a majority of the students favored separatism. Last year, I was surprised when a majority favored integration. Even when only a few of the students favor integration, I feel that their arguments for it are irrational. The evidence about losses cited in their papers clearly shows a step backward (the losses are so great), and the students' feelings about these losses are always negative—the losses sadden and anger them. Yet they often argue that integrating women individually into the Army is better than women having a separate organization furthering their interests within the Army. In part, I think, the students argue for integration because events that have occurred historically seem inevitable. In part, the students have a personal investment in integration—they have chosen a coeducational college. I think they also have a prior prejudice in favor of integration that asserts itself despite the evidence in the Army case. When I mention the possibility of such a prejudice to the students, some think it likely. They can see how there might be a bias toward gender integration in our culture. In previous generations and other cultures, separate gender arrangements have seemed natural and desirable, but in our culture, gender integration seems the more desirable arrangement. Some of the students feel their favoring integration does not reflect a cultural prejudice, however, that it is simply a difference between their views and mine.

I often feel a tension in the classroom at this time in the course. One year, several students complained of feeling that suddenly, when we discussed Mixed Company , there was a correct way I wanted them to think


and they felt that was unfair. Since then, I have sought ways to avoid causing a reaction against me on the students' parts when I seek to teach about the value of separatism. My main solution has been to encourage the students to grasp separatism in intellectual terms. Beginning with Mixed Company , I tell the students that I want them to understand the logic behind separatism, despite possible negative feelings they may have, so that they will have a choice. I want them to be able to choose separatism—at times, and if it is useful to them—and to support others who choose it even when they do not. At this point, most would not choose separatism and would criticize others for doing so. The Mixed Company assignment provides an opening that enables me to encourage the students to question their prior assumptions about the desirability of integration.

Separatism As Strategy

The topic "Separatism as Strategy" is so emotionally sensitive that its placement in the course has varied. I used to schedule this topic in the next to last week. I felt it belonged at the very end of the course as a culmination, or answer, to all of the problems of "women and organizations" raised previously. Two years ago, I decided to move it up two weeks earlier because I felt there was too much tension in the air beginning with the Mixed Company assignment. The students felt pressure from me to believe in separatism, but our readings presenting rationales for it were still weeks away. Moving the separatism readings and discussion two weeks earlier has helped to relieve this tension. In the later weeks, the students now focus on other issues and have time to reconsider separatism. But curiously, although the tension surrounding separatism has been relieved, the students' dissatisfaction simply moves on to the next topic. (I discuss this in chapter 10, "Desires for an Ideal Community of Women.") It seems to me that no matter what I do, feelings of student frustration linger over the last weeks of the course.

I often think that the students feel frustrated at this point because I have failed them—because I do not have a positive enough outlook, or offer them "individual success" solutions, or conduct my classes well enough. I do not usually think that their frustrations reflect the larger


world in which solutions to the problems of women are sought, or the fact that no sooner have the students immersed themselves in my course than they must think about leaving it and returning to situations in which others they know do not share the views I have been encouraging.

Our key reading on separatism is Estelle Freedman's "Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870–1930." Freedman poses the question, "What happened to American feminism after the suffrage victory in 1920?" She finds that the achievements of feminism at the turn of the century came through "building separate female institutions." After 1920, when a new generation of women opted for assimilation, feminism and women's gains declined. "As soon as male politicians realized there was no strong female voting block or political organization, they refused to appoint or elect powerful women," Freedman says. "When women tried to assimilate into male-dominated institutions, without securing feminist social, economic, and political bases, they lost the momentum and the networks which had made the suffrage movement possible."

Freedman argues that a lesson of the past is that it is important to create female interest groups and support systems and to continue separatism. "Otherwise, token women may be coopted into either traditionally deferential roles, or they will assimilate through identification with the powers that be." It is also important, she writes, not to be "self-hating of that which is female as we enter a world dominated by men."[2]

In each of the years I have taught my course, I have asked Estelle Freedman to come as a guest to my first separatism session. She teaches at the university where I have taught the course most frequently, and when I first read her article, I felt she sounded so sane and rational about separatism, while I felt so emotional about it, that I wanted her to come to my class to help me explain separatism to the students. I feared they would reject the rationale for it if they heard about it only from me. When she comes as my guest, Freedman addresses the concerns and fears of the students. She amazes me by making separatism acceptable to them. In addition to discussing her article, she asks the students to name their fears—fear of being lesbian, of excluding men, and of losing the advantages of gender integration. She points out that these fears cause the students to reject separatism perhaps unfairly, and she discusses


the value separate women's organizations have had in her own professional life.

For their papers this week, the students write about a situation in their own lives in which the issue of female separatism arises for them, identifying insights from the readings that help them to understand this situation better. Marilyn Frye's discussion of "separatism and power" also helps them understand their fears. Separatism, says Frye, is "denial of access," that is, women denying men access to women. There are many kinds of "feminist separations," she says, ranging from lesbian separatist communities, to women leaving a home or marriage, to more ordinary withdrawals from interactions with men. In Frye's view, both women and men rightly fear separatism because "when women separate, they are insubordinate." Separatism is an assumption of power—"the slave who decides to exclude the master from her hut is declaring herself not a slave." Separatism, says Frye, generates in women fear of punishment and reprisal, and in men a fear of loss of the goods and services they receive from women, a fear that is often buried beneath men's expressions of hostility. "When those who control access have made you totally accessible," Frye says to women, "your first act of taking control must be denying access, or must have denial of access as one of its aspects."[3]

Frye speaks as a lesbian and a philosopher (separatism, she says, is "undeniably connected with lesbianism"). At first, I thought the students would reject her essay because of its outrageous tone. However, they do not. It clarifies issues for them. The Frye essay was given to me one year by a graduate student and was not on my initial reading list for the course. Had I known about it, I probably would not have included such a blatant lesbian reading, assuming it would make separatism too hard for the students to accept. It has been important for me to see that avoiding confrontation with the students' fears of separatism is not the best way to deal with this subject. Both Frye and Freedman suggest to the students that there are grounds for their fears of separatism. This acknowledgment helps relieve their fears.

We read several other discussions of separatism. Regina Morantz-Sanchez' historical study of women physicians in American medicine describes how separate women's organizations have served women in


medicine in different ways than mixed-gender organizations. Women's medical colleges and hospitals provided training receptive to the needs of women; an atmosphere in which women set the direction; female role models; and distinguished programs in such fields as preventive medicine and gynecology. Although laboring under a "stigma of inferiority" and having fewer material resources than male institutions, these women's organizations met longstanding needs. When the women's colleges and hospitals closed their doors at the end of the nineteenth century, women entered integrated institutions and had to deal with problems of male dominance and an ethos of professionalism that stressed aggressiveness, scientific objectivity, impersonality, individual advancement, and "cure over care," rather than the more traditional women's values of devotion to family, compassion, use of feeling and intuition, and collaboration in caregiving. For women, Morantz-Sanchez says, coeducation would "ultimately prove disappointing."[4]

I find Morantz-Sanchez' study useful for indicating that separate women's organizations are not just fringe groups, like failing bookstores, but part of mainstream institutions, like medicine. At this point in the course, I want the students to see women's organizations as not outside their expectations for their own professional lives and to feel they may need such organizations in order to advance some of their values, such as the "sympathy" in science. I want them to feel they have a stake in making sure that women's organizations survive, or in creating new women's organizations.

Paula Giddings' book on Delta Sigma Theta and the Black sorority movement attests further to the value of separate women's organizations. Giddings speaks of the history of African American sororities and of how they have represented a lifetime commitment for many Black women. African American sororities have had large and coherent memberships (Delta Sigma Theta had a membership of 125,000 at the time of Giddings' writing) and they have been a source of community service, leadership, pride, and solidarity for Black women. Says Giddings, "It struck me that Black women may be among their freest, their happiest, and, in some ways, their most fulfilled when they are together in their organizations."[5]

Bernice Johnson Reagon, in an article "Coalition Politics," also discusses


experiences of African American women and the value of women's organizations. These groups can be like being in your own "barred little room" with people just like you, she says, or they can be like going out of that room in order to be in a broader coalition. By comparison with the small room, the broader coalition is often an uncomfortable experience. Although its members may all be women, they will be different kinds of women who may not feel they have much in common. Says Reagon, "Wherever women gather together it is not necessarily nurturing. It is coalition building. And if you feel the strain, you may be doing some good work."[6] Similarly, Alma Garcia, in a discussion of Chicana feminists, suggests an image of women feeling uncomfortable—conflicted, alienated, and alone—when among other women different from them in important respects—class or race, for instance—and thus needing more specialized separatisms.[7] A Chicana feminist group allows a Chicana to feel more identified with other women than she would in a white women's feminist group, for example. Among other Chicanas, she feels closer to home. Echoes of this sentiment are found in discussions of other specialized separatisms. In Esther Chow's study of Asian American women, in studies of lesbian communities, and in studies of other women's groups, a repeated theme is that women feel more at home in small groups of others like them.[8]

Our readings on specialized separatisms suggest to me the nature of a large-scale women's organization, such as a women's movement. It is a coalition, or confederation. It is separatist in the sense of drawing a more than usually selective boundary between itself and an outer male world, but also in the sense that, within itself, it is composed of many different female separatisms. It is made up of ever smaller units in which women can relate increasingly closely with other women with whom they feel an affinity. Although the outside world's way of viewing a women's organization is often to call it "factionalized" (to view it as a failure to be coherent or whole), more properly, it may be seen as a mosaic of tiny separatisms. These groups touch occasionally at their borders, or in spirit, or through a vague knowledge of one another. But that is all.

My point is that all organizations need not look like the United States Army. They need not have a chain of command, a structure that contains


all the members, or even procedures for working out disagreements. The image of a women's organization is different. It is less defined by standardization (by the imposition of a uniform style of behavior, or of a worn uniform) than by affinity—by congregations that form because of likeness, or attraction, or to close gaps between members. It is less defined by "power over" than by "conformity with," less defined by conflict than by avoidance of conflict. It is also often short-lived. A women's organization will dissolve and reform rather than survive for power's sake and become like a men's organization.

Feminist And Women's Processes

To enable further discussion of the nature of women's groups, I have titled our next week "Feminist Processes and Alternative Organizational Forms." Our main reading is an essay on feminist process, self-published in 1974 by a four-member women's collective.[9] It is notable to me that I need to turn to 1974 to get the kind of statement I find useful at this point. Some of our other readings in the course are also older, and for a similar reason. Recent studies of women's organizations tend to be less proudly self-assertive, less critical of men, and less down-to-earth about women's experiences than those written in the 1970s. The more recent works are more theoretical and assimilationist, and they focus on different issues—success, professionalism, equal treatment, stages of growth, multiple identities, divisions between women, and how women's ways are similar to men's, or, if different, not threatening. The more recent writings are less about creating alternatives and making change than about women taking their rightful place as part of a mainstream. They are often written by academic feminists, whose commitments are different—more careerist, and more constrained—than those of the previous political feminists.

The authors of the essay "Feminist Process" describe dynamics of their collective group, such as use of "mosaic logic" and anecdotal speaking. The women in their group tell stories about their experiences, using multiple images, and seeking insight through processes of mutual identification. They avoid speaking in a debating manner that uses linear logic, techniques of persuasion, and other speech forms that establish


hierarchy. Instead, they work to relate to each other as equals, which requires overcoming expectations that a woman who is more verbal, or older, or who acts like a "good woman" is superior to others. Although women may start with a good deal of equality, even among women, it seems to take determined effort to keep interactions from becoming "hierarchical and competitive." The dynamics of their feminist group are similar to many noted during our first weeks of the course as characteristics of women's groups more generally. Deborah Tannen discusses one such feature, "women as cooperative overlappers," noting how women often finish each other's sentences, and seem to interrupt each other, when they are actually deliberately overlapping to maintain connection or rapport.[10]

Joyce Rothschild-Whitt speaks further of equality and of how collectivist organizations should not be judged by the same standards as those used to assess bureaucratic organizations. They should be assessed "not as failures to achieve bureaucratic standards they do not share, but as efforts to realize wholly different values." She notes that collective groups often seek ideals of consensus, community, and equality, and the integration of intellectual and manual labor and of the emotional and the intellectual. They seek relationships that are defined by individual whole persons, rather than by roles and a segmentation of tasks.[11] Women's groups are, I think, natural collectives in that female socialization makes many collective ways first nature for women. I ask the students how women's organizations are nonetheless different from other collective groups, such as mixed-gender collectives or Japanese-style, or participative, management groups, which also have egalitarian goals.

I always have problems answering this question about the difference of women's groups, but the students, by now, have learned to see gender. They say that it changes an organization when women are members because women bring with them female gender socialization from the outside world—habits of deference and invisibility, different styles of speech, different feelings of comfort. Their socialization affect how women act and are perceived by others. Simply imposing a collective group structure on individuals does not obliterate effects of gender differences. I ask the students about the difference of women's groups because when I have described women's group characteristics to organizational


theorists, they often say, "Oh, that's just like a modern management group," or they say it is like any other egalitarian group. I want the students not to let such responses make women's group characteristics disappear for them, as they often have for me. To bolster their sense of gender difference, we read about how women create "centrarchies"—structures of "circles with central coordinators but no hierarchical leaders."[12]

Women's groups often encounter problems of conflict between hierarchy and equality. In "Women Working with Women in the University," Carol Ascher describes a women's studies program in the 1970s that had egalitarian goals for students, faculty, and staff and, at the same time, operated within a university and was therefore heavily affected by hierarchy. Female faculty striving for advancement in the university often held themselves apart from, and above, others in the program. Ascher found this disturbing because of her egalitarian feminist goals and because, in her position as program administrator, she was often exposed to the hurts that resulted. The university hierarchy, she says, contributed to "perpetual obfuscations of honesty, underground alliances and convoluted agendas among women who, overtly, were trying to work together in an egalitarian feminist manner." Under the stress, "some days were particularly bad, my neck and shoulders became rigid concrete bricks." Ascher speaks of male behavior patterns among the women in the program, such as career climbing, as "conscious but unexamined," while female patterns are often unconscious. "A women's studies program is a collection of mothers and sisters," she says. "It is a composite of intimacies, rivalries, rebellions." Yet these and other strong feelings were often "diffused and disguised," and lesbianism was the "soft spot" that everyone was afraid to discuss.[13]

I like Ascher's description of the women's studies program and find it very real. The students in my class, however, are not as glad as I am to stumble across this glimpse of reality. They want women's organizations not to be conflicted and disappointing of their ideals, and they do not want to have to deal with lesbianism. Yet the Ascher reading illustrates how women's organizations are never strictly egalitarian, or strictly women's forms, but are always infiltrated by hierarchical, and often bureaucratic,


forms of social organization. The result is a hybrid that is sometimes difficult to tolerate because of how it fails women's ideals.

When we speak about feminist processes in this section of the course, I am aware that I see feminist strategies as having much in common with traditional women's ways. In large part, these strategies are a deliberate valuing, rather than a devaluing, of women's socialization. Similarly, feminist organizations are, in many ways, like traditional women's organizations. Both a feminist organization (a feminist collective, or a women's studies program) and a traditional women's organization (a female extended family, or a charity, or church group) will have many similar characteristics. For instance, there will often be a bias toward equality among members, a valuing of the personal dimension of members' lives, indirect styles of expression, and strong conflict avoidance tendencies. There will, of course, be differences. The feminist organization will be more self-conscious about having a goal of changing a male system of oppression, rather than being a ladies' auxiliary to it. The traditional women's organization will take more pride in standing behind its men and in engaging in customary female activities, such as caretaking, deferring, and supporting. But the traditional women's organization also has strategies of undermining male systems. Consider the traditional women's habit of manipulating men for women's purposes, of working around a husband or father, for example, and of keeping men (husbands, bosses) out of separate women's spheres—the kitchen, the nursery, women's social circles, and work groups. A recent literature on cultures of resistance in organizations such as department stores, restaurants, and families discusses women's ingenuity, self-direction, and the maintenance of special women's worlds even in subordinate statuses.[14]

Differences between feminist and traditional women's organizations are not unimportant, I think, but they are mainly differences in emphasis. For the feminist organization, the values of system change and of individual liberation (or reversing habits of subordinance) are usually more important in the life of the organization, and more prominent in the self-concept of members, than these values are in a traditional women's organization. The difference in what its members value causes


a feminist organization to overestimate its nonauxiliary function, just as members of a traditional women's organization will overstate their organization's male support role. In my readings about women's organizations, I have been surprised by the many similarities in women's interactional styles that appear across different cultures and in different types of organizations. In studies of Nazi women's organizations, of women of the Ku Klux Klan, of Mary Kay Cosmetics and other women's businesses; studies of nuns, women's church groups, women's schools, extended female families, different racial and ethnic women's groups, and of feminist movement groups, the most striking thing to me is how similar the patterns are. In all these groups, in ways that seem to me significant, women seek to avoid conflict with each other. They seek a oneness, or sense of solidarity, with one another and equality in their relationships. Their disappointments with each other are often great and their expectations high. Women's groups tend to be life sustaining for their members, although often they are spoken of disparagingly. In these groups, women seek to assert female styles of social relating despite conflicts with male styles. In many of the groups, women seek fervently to protect their different way.[15]

I think that the similarities in the dynamics of women's organizations are due to women's subordinate status—to the fact that women's gender characteristics are the characteristics of people who have learned to defer in order to survive. The similarities are also due to the fact that women's particular type of subordination has historically been linked to certain kinds of work, such as childcare and the care of men. Both the subordinate status and the link to caring work give female characteristics much of their definition, even when that definition is embroidered very differently in different settings.[16]

Reaching For Separatism

During these later weeks of the course, as we focus on the functions and problems of separate women's organizations, I feel that the students are reaching. They are often seeking to take an intellectual position to which they were previously opposed. The strain of reaching for separatism, and the complications that separatism raises for the students, are


reflected in their papers, which often speak of a past in which separatism was unacceptable to them:[17]

I never expected to be for separatism. (Peggy)

For most of my life, I have rejected coalitions and separatism as negative things. (Maureen)

In the past, I would never have identified with a separatist female organization. In fact, the reason that I never considered myself a "feminist" is that I did not consider myself a separatist. (Ann)

I had an integrationist bias, but after reading, I have converted into a separatist. However, I realize the issue is more complex than I had anticipated. Thus, although I now favor separatism, I still harbor mixed feelings about it. (Kelly)

Although I want the students to accept separatism, I am always surprised when they do. For if they are reaching for separatism, I am reaching for a sense that my encouraging them to value it is legitimate. In another feminist course, the teacher might have, as a goal, that the students accept, and identify with, the term "feminism." In my course, the term "separatism" carries that weight. These are, I think, conversion terms. They are tools in the process of effecting a change from old to new values. In my case, the change sought is a valuing of alliances with women.

It matters a great deal to me to accomplish the shift to separatism. I sometimes wonder whether my emphasis on separatism is my lesbianism passing. Two weeks later in the course, we discuss a lesbian community, but I do not then demand that the students become lesbians, or that they open themselves to a lesbian choice. I seem, instead, to use separatism to get as far as I can toward having them value relationships with other women.

Often in these weeks of the course, I stay awake at night thinking about my experiences with separate women's organizations. I want to tell the students about these experiences, in part to indicate that feeling


conflicted about participating in a women's group does not mean one has to reject such a group, and, in part, because when I see the students wrestling with separatism, I know I have also done so. In class, I speak to them first of my experience at a women's college, painfully thinking back to my first year. In my first two weeks at the college, I tell the students, I decided to transfer out. Then I stayed for two years because people said transferring right away would not look good on my transcript. I wanted to leave because that Seven Sisters' women's college felt like a summer camp to me. It felt artificial—not like part of the real (male) big-city world. Most of the faculty at the college were male and I felt they talked down to the students. In classes, the students knitted, were quiet and polite, mostly listened to the teacher, and did not challenge the teacher or one another. The classes felt deadly to me.

As importantly, I think, I left that college because I was afraid of lesbians. I did not know the word "lesbian" at the time, nor did I know what a homosexual was.[18] I only knew that when I saw certain women socializing with one another—women who were members of sports teams, for example—I felt excluded, sick in my stomach, and frightened. When I saw certain student leaders, I felt similarly. I wanted to get away from them. I then transferred to a large coeducational university in a big city, where I found the air of challenge in the classroom that I sought. The students, mostly men, spoke out in classes. I was glad for the change. I felt safer. The courses I took at the big-city university were far easier than my courses at the women's college. Later, I concluded that my college education really occurred during my first two years at the women's college, when I stayed up late many nights reading in the library and felt alone and out of place.

A second type of experience I mention to my class occurred when I first became a lesbian. I was, by then, a graduate student. I had been sexually involved with women for several years while married to a gay man, but now I was moving out of the marriage and seeking a comparable relationship with a woman. I started to attend meetings of a lesbian group in order to meet other lesbians. The group met every two weeks for mutual support and discussion. It was large for its type, numbering thirty-five to forty women a session, with members drawn from the university and the surrounding community. I was uncomfortable in


this group, which was my first lesbian group. I felt that the women present sat around getting nowhere in their discussions, only supporting each others' prejudices and saying "far out." They avoided conflict, avoided talking politics and intellectually challenging one another, were cliquish and quiet, and seemed to want just to bask in each others' presence.

In each meeting I attended, probably because I felt frightened, I challenged the "nothing happening" nature of the group. In one meeting, a handful of undergraduate students from a psychology class came and asked to study our group. The undergraduates were both women and men. When the larger group was about to refuse to let them stay, I said, "You kick them out, you kick me out too." Then I walked out with the students and waited in the hallway outside the meeting room door until someone came to get me. When the larger group wanted to have a guest come to speak with us, I asked, "Why do we need a guest?" I wanted us to discuss ourselves. I proposed that we go around in a circle and each tell why we were there. We went around the circle and I marveled at my nerve. I still had a wedding ring on my left hand. I wanted the group to talk about politics and do something radical, and I kept bringing that up.

After a while, the group's attendance started dropping. From a high of forty, soon only half a dozen women came. The meeting where they kicked out the undergraduates seemed the last straw. In the next meeting, the few women who showed up played guitars and sang moody songs and lay around on the floor with the lights turned low. Everyone present ignored me. They did not even look in my direction. "We are going to be happy in spite of you," I felt I was being told.

I managed to destroy the whole group, I told my class seventeen years later. The students laughed. They felt I could not have had so much power as to destroy a group of forty women. Yet I felt I had. Women's groups are fragile, it seems to me. They do not absorb disturbing events in the same way male, or bureaucratic, groups do. Instead, they splinter and disappear, ostracizing a disturbing member, and blending back into the environment. I was reminded of the students' research in the third week of the course when they looked at women's groups and what happens when a man enters—the women's group often disbands.

The year after I joined my first lesbian group, I joined a smaller lesbian


group building a women's coffeehouse. At an initial meeting, disturbed again by the passive nature of a women's group, I requested that we conduct our meetings in a more organized fashion, with an agenda, and starting on time. Someone called me a male chauvinist, got up, and walked out, and one-third of the group went with her. I decided I would, in the future, remain quiet in lesbian groups. The next year when I moved to the Midwest and joined the lesbian community portrayed in The Mirror Dance, I was careful not to challenge anyone, or any way of doing things. I had, by then, learned to be more respectful of lesbian groups. I also did not want to be ostracized from the group.

With these examples, I try to convey to the students in my class that participation in women's groups is often difficult. One is likely to have conflicting feelings toward women's groups, even to flee them. However, by now, I think the students have a different priority than understanding the troubles of women's organizations. They have read about separatism, they are familiar with women's styles of social relating. They wish now to experience what is good about women's groups.

Students On Separatism

Because the students have put much work into accepting separatism, I wish, in closing, to give a sense of their efforts in their own words. Their writing lets me know how hard it is for them to accept the principles of separatism. When I ask them, in their papers, to discuss their feelings, they say:[19]

RACHEL : I feel as if I am working toward embracing separatism, but right now I feel guilty that I may not be able to do so.

CATHY : I find separatism a confusing issue. I believe that it is something positive for women, but I also do not want to separate from everything in this world that is "male."

YOKO : Although I can better understand the merits of separatism, I must admit that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable with it. I wonder how groups will ever come together if they remain


so separate. Or perhaps I am afraid that if I participate more fully in such groups, I may never want to rejoin the "rest of society." (A thought that is extremely unsettling for me—I don't know why!)

The students use their papers to work toward accepting separatism, using insights from the readings to help them. I find their comments moving—both because they show a strong sense of problem solving and because they show an effort to embrace something initially felt as frightening and repugnant. As the students seek to embrace separatism, they seek to embrace themselves:

MARIE : Although intellectually I see the value of separatism, I first reacted strongly with fear and aversion. Insights from the readings and discussion helped me understand and reduce this fear. In Frye's article, she explains why people react so strongly to a woman who owns her own power, who doesn't "subordinate." Another insight that is meaningful to me concerns the fear of lesbianism. I grew up devaluing relationships with women and, quite frankly, avoiding them. As I face this truth, I find a load of pain and loss. And I embrace that part of me that hungers to be accepted, nurtured, cared for, loved by a woman/in woman's ways. And this hunger scares me. Does it make me a lesbian?

MARTA : The hardest topic I have had to wrestle with in this class is the issue of separatism. Before this class, I was not sure what separatism was. I thought it was a lot of men-hating women living in their own fantasy world away from reality. However, as I read, I realized that separatism was not so simple. It is about a movement within a bigger social capsule. It is about claiming your own strength and power. It is about defining yourself. After doing the readings, I discovered that I had been wrong. Separatism was good. However, I only thought of it as "good to an extent," and I did not think of it as a personal choice for me because of the race issue and the need


for Chicana-Chicano unity. Then I did my research paper on Chicana separatism. After I wrote my paper, I realized that I wanted to become involved in a separatist Chicana group.

LESLIE : Frye's article helped me see that separatism doesn't necessarily mean joining an all women's organization, that actions I'd always attributed to my "independence," and my desire to take care of myself, were also separatist actions. Reagon's assertion that not enough women recognize that the definition of "woman" is very broad—and that this causes many women to reject feminism because they are made to feel they are not woman-identified enough—spoke to me. I have felt rejected by, and resented by, other women for not always being the "nurturing" type at all times.

After reading the articles, I ached so badly to have close women friends, and I realized how much I've isolated myself from women because I felt I didn't qualify as a woman. I think women have carved for themselves a very limiting definition of what is "feminine" and this makes it difficult. I've had a relatively easy time finding men with similar interests and qualities as me, but these relationships leave me unsatisfied. I feel they've stunted my reflective side and made me feel isolated, as if I can't relate to other people. I told a male friend recently that I felt lonely because I felt like I didn't have any peers. I think I meant women when I told him that.

ROSE : Separatism was not a word I had seen or used prior to the past few weeks but it now has a considerable significance for me. When I entered the workforce, I believed I had no choice but to try to integrate by emulating the males. There were no other women in my area of engineering. But behind me in school were more and more women earning proper credentials. When they entered the workplace the effect was almost immediate. As a lone woman, I could be treated as a man, but with several women in the group, the men began to adjust their behavior. Office arrangements started to equalize. The term "girls" began to be exchanged for "women." Because


of witnessing this, I am encouraged, but I am also concerned that we will slip back into a deep valley.

ARNIE : I have always believed that separatism is at the heart of all the world's problems. This year I have been forced to take another look at separatism as a result of this class. One thing I really got out of the readings was the concept that there are a lot of different ideologies and ideas that the term separatism encompasses. This makes the idea slightly easier for me to deal with.

JULIA : I no longer see the choice between integration and separatism as simple. If the valuation of women is furthered through an organizational form, I say the form is a good one.

Separatism is the one topic in my course that most reveals to me the process of education. With time, intellectual nourishment, and a strategy that allows them to deal with their emotions, the students come to view the world and themselves differently. The degree to which they change their views to accept separatism sometimes frightens me. But the openness with which they seek a change and accomplish it, and the satisfaction they often express over their change of views seem positive to me. It is as if adopting new views is the reason they have come to college. I think that teachers are often discouraged from changing the minds of students on controversial social issues because it is considered brainwashing, or political, to do so. It takes nerve to suppose one has a right to bring students around to one's own way of thinking. But such nerve is needed or things fall to the nerveless, to those who will act less on principle than in order to conform. It is when the students deal with separatism that I most feel their needs of other women and their distinctly female desires for strength and for freedom from subordination. The students initially fear that separatism will make them into manhating women, but, in the end, it makes them more in touch with the female in themselves.


Desires For An Ideal Community
Of Women

THE EIGHTH WEEK OF Women and Organizations is titled on the syllabus "Circles within Circles: Dilemmas of Belonging in a Women's Group." Here I begin to pale, for I know what is coming. We are going to read my book about a lesbian community. From experiences of past years, I know that the students approach this book with high expectations that, within its pages, they will find an ideal women's community. If women are good, then lesbians, they now expect, must be exceptionally good in their relationships with one another.

An important part of the students' experience in reading The Mirror Dance: Identity in a Women's Community will be coming to terms with the fact that a lesbian community is primarily real.[1] It is not a social expression of ideal female sensitivity and responsiveness, but rather an expression of many of the women's ways we have been reading about all along in the course, with the added dimension that its members are lesbians. These are women who are willing to be intimate and erotic with other women, and who are more acknowledging of the depth of their emotional needs for other women than straight women often are.


The lesbians in my book formed an informal self-help community in a midwestern town. The book presents a collective portrait of their community through the voices of its more than sixty members. The Mirror Dance is written in an unusual way, I tell the students. Reading it is like being taken into the community. The book focuses on conflicts between merger and separation, between an individual's feeling part of a group and feeling apart from it.

Homophobia In The Classroom

I am often impressed with the work the students do when they read The Mirror Dance. In the first few years I taught the course, I was moved when students who had initially been biased against lesbians would come to a different conclusion after reading the book and writing a paper about it, and they would be proud of having changed their views. The assignment I give on The Mirror Dance asks the students to trace their feelings as they read the book and to write about these feelings in a paper. In the end, they draw conclusions about the import, to them, of their own responses. What insights do they gain by considering their feelings?

The first two times I gave this assignment, I asked the students to add to the end of their papers a paragraph identifying characteristics of the lesbian community described in The Mirror Dance that were those of a women's organization. To my shock, each year, several of the students said, "I just cannot see this lesbian community as a women's organization. It is the opposite of what I think a women's group is." To these students, it seemed, lesbians were not women. After receiving such responses in the second year, I decided to delete the extra paragraph from my assignment. I was not ready to take on the problem of rejection of lesbianism that the students' views pointed to.

In their papers about The Mirror Dance, the students reveal a range of emotional responses:[2]

I could really identify with the women in The Mirror Dance who were searching for their own identity within the group. (Yoko)


I saw many parallels to my own experience. (Rose)

I found myself very emotionally involved. … I felt confused and frustrated. I also felt fascinated by the complex workings of the interactions of the women. (Julia)

I was disappointed by the community examined in The Mirror Dance because it was far less noble and infused with political meaning than I thought it should be. (Kim)

As I progressed through the book, my feelings switched from surprise to acceptance, because all of a sudden the community didn't seem that weird. … The chapter on children really hit home with me. (Peggy)

I was sad because so many of the women felt they could not tell their parents. (Arlene)

In general, I feel the students appreciate The Mirror Dance and its multivoiced style, and they use it to come to valuable recognitions about lesbians and about themselves. The problems that arise concern how they judge the social reality described in the book. In class, when the students discuss their feelings in response to the study, I mostly listen, for I have found that the students feel very differently when reading The Mirror Dance than I did when writing it. The main difference is that they view the community depicted in the book as a group that does not live up to their ideals. To say they feel disappointed puts their response mildly. They feel disheartened, painfully let down, disturbed, confused, and angry. Not all feel this way, but most do. They do not like the way members of this lesbian community gossip about one another, or exclude male children from a Thanksgiving dinner, or conform to group dress norms that stress androgynous clothes, or how they deal with their personal relationship difficulties. They do not like how the women speak of themselves in terms of other women—that Mary is Jo's lover and Amy's former lover, for example.

The students report feeling most positively about the community after reading the chapters in the last section of the book that deal with the outside world, and with how members experience difficulties at work and among their families that cause them to keep their lesbianism a secret.


The students like being drawn into the lesbian world described in the book. However, most say they would not want to be part of a community like this one. For these students, the community is "them," and the students have specific troubles with what "they" do.

It always seems curious to me that when the students read The Mirror Dance , they take as true many of the negative statements about the community that are made by the women in the pages of my book. They assume the community is what its members say it is, without seeing beyond the surface nature of the complaints to the more underlying social reality. In a way, despite their protests, the students in my classes become extensions of the voices of the women in the book. For instance, a student will say, "Marge says the group felt suffocating to her. That's how I felt." Or, "Leslie says the community was only interested in emotional trauma. I wouldn't be able to stand that." However, I have noticed that the students are selective in which complaints they identify with. Certain criticisms made by the women of the community are seized upon more than others, which suggests to me that something more is occurring than simply personal identification.

After I have listened to the students' responses and read their papers, I come to the next class session seeking to explain a few of the community dynamics I think some of them do not understand. I want to explain how a social group may not be exactly what its members think it is. Especially, because it is highly criticized by the students, I want to explain how gossip (talking about others and being talked about) is not necessarily bad, but, in this community, helpful and desirable. Individuals need to talk about each other in lesbian communities in order to learn about how to be a lesbian, or how to get along with each other, or to solve their problems. There are no lesbian television shows or large numbers of books, magazines, and public images, or grandmothers and mothers passing down instructions. Most self-knowledge must be created in face-to-face interactions and through word of mouth. When I offer such an explanation to the students, I think I am doing so because they lack skills for analyzing interactions in a lesbian setting. I do not think, although I often feel, that there is an emotional dimension to the students' apparent failure of sociological understanding.

To reject a group because it gossips too much seems to me a bit


strange. In part, this may be a rejection of what women traditionally do. It may represent a wish not to be associated with women's more familial and down-to-earth ways. By extension, I think, given the subject of our reading, it may also reflect a wish not to be caught in a web of lesbianism—a web of women being intimate with one another. In brief, I think I have overlooked the extent to which the students' discomforts with the community in The Mirror Dance are products of homophobia—of fears of being among lesbians, and of being a lesbian. Thus one distances oneself. A student says, "It's okay for them, but not for me," and points to specific behaviors she feels are intolerable, in order to keep intact a sense of herself as heterosexual, or as a woman apart from a lesbian community.

When I discuss The Mirror Dance with the students, I try to be careful of their emotional responses to the book so they will not feel intimidated by the fact that I wrote it, or by the fact that I am a lesbian. When I think about their feelings after they first discuss them, I consider what the students do not understand. In other words, I deal with their criticisms in intellectual terms. Thus, I do a parallel distancing to that done by the students. I do this to protect myself, for the community in The Mirror Dance was once my community. I was friends and lovers with women in it. When I lived there, I felt it was a very good community. It was not too constraining or too gossipy for me. When the students criticize this community, they criticize something I am very much identified with.

I think that, in part, the students judge the lesbian community in The Mirror Dance harshly because they are largely unaware of the degree to which heterosexual culture is so taken for granted as to make anything lesbian seem tainted and wrong. Yet I, too, have this problem. Why else would I shrink from confronting it in the students? I may see the lesbian community in my study as good and as acceptable, but I certainly view the lesbian in myself as less than acceptable. Or why would I feel I cannot tell the students they are hurting me with their views, that they are not granting to lesbians—and, by implication, to me—the same quality of respect, and equality of judgment, they grant to themselves? I have taught my course on women and organizations for eight years, but I have never once talked about the way lesbianism is rejected in it and


viewed, by most of the students, as undesirable. I urge the students to identify with separatism when we study it, but I do not make a similar request that they embrace lesbianism. Yet if I can ask the students to question their integrationist values, surely I can ask them to question their heterosexual values.

I have only recently come to feel that I ought to discuss with the students the issue of homophobia in our classroom. Sometimes, such as this past year, the homophobia is more evident to me. This year followed that in which I denied permission to the hostile male graduate student to take one of my courses. I felt that the students in my classroom now, who knew about that episode, were more afraid than usual. They avoided talking about the lesbian content of The Mirror Dance , and one graduate student attacked the book's style "on literary grounds," with a vehemence I could not understand other than as an attempt to separate herself from its lesbian subject matter. Usually, however, the homophobia is more masked and more invisible.

Sometimes, I think, it is visible only to me. The first year I taught the course, for instance, I was afraid to have the students read an article titled "Beyond 'Subjectivity': The Use of the Self in Social Science," which I had written about the process of researching and writing The Mirror Dance .[3] It discussed my personal experiences in the community and, in particular, my having sexual desires toward some of the women I interviewed. The article had already been published in a sociological journal, but I kept it out of my course reader because I feared that if the students were to read it, they would fear me in the classroom. I thought that if I subsequently put a hand on a student's shoulder, she would feel I was trying to seduce her and that everyone in the class would look at me and see a child molester. Finally, approaching the week when we were to read The Mirror Dance , I reconsidered my decision. I wanted the students to have my story of how I did my study. I also wanted not to be driven by fear. Fortunately, the students liked the article. It seemed not to frighten them so much as to make them feel more appreciative of my study and of me. I think it helped relieve their fears because it spoke of sexual matters explicitly and in a way that was personal to me.

But my point is not the students' fears, but my own degree of fear. Homophobia has affected my Women and Organizations class not only


because the students fear lesbianism, but because I do. Occasionally the homophobia in my classroom is evident to me, such as when I feel the students in a class withholding themselves when we discuss The Mirror Dance , or when I am aware of withholding myself, as in not giving out my article. However, most of the time, the fear of lesbianism—of being intimate with other women, and of choosing women over men—is present in the classroom but underground. I would like to speak more about homophobia in my classes, but I am not sure, at present, how to do so.

Desires For An Ideal Class

By the time we have finished The Mirror Dance , the students are edgy. We are near the end of the term and something has not happened yet. There remains, I think, a nagging question, What about that ideal women's community? I have found that, before I know it, this question can become, what's wrong with this class? Although I have moved separatism two weeks earlier, divided the class into subgroups for greater intimacy, and offered The Mirror Dance as a way to come to terms with the disappointment a community of women can arouse, the students still are unresolved on this issue. In the later weeks of the course, some of the students now find our class the women's group that is not ideal enough. They look around the classroom and at me and say that when they speak, they do not get a connected enough response from other students. They say they feel alone. What good is this class as a women's organization if such a sense of isolation exists for them?

Hearing their complaints, I feel at fault. Why could I not have done better? I think. If I ask the students what I can do to relieve the difficulty, they tell me to change the place where I sit, or to direct the conversation so that it relates them better to one another and leaves them feeling less alone. However, since I feel that the underlying problems are such that I cannot fix them in this way, I refuse to change the place where I sit, or to direct the conversation differently. Instead, I try to explain to the students the source of the problem by discussing dynamics of women's groups. I hope that if the students understand our situation better, they will not judge the class, and me, so harshly.

The main explanatory variable I point out to them is that, it seems to


me, there is a strong desire for union among women. In our class, we feel we should all be as one, that no individual should feel isolated from others. Yet the way I teach tends to frustrate that desire. In my classes, I often isolate individuals. I ask each student to speak from her experience—about her own inner thoughts and feelings—and to have that always be the focus. This is different from an other-orientation, which women often feel more comfortable with, and it is different from challenging others' thoughts, as is common in most university classes.

My goal is the very different one of having the students articulate their own individual experiences in response to our readings and research assignments. This results in a classroom where what happens, most often, is that one person speaks and everyone else listens attentively. Then another person speaks. We develop a whole that sounds more like a mosaic, in the sense referred to in our "Feminist Process" reading, than it sounds like a traditional classroom discussion, or even like the normal exchange in a women's group. The exchange in a women's group will usually not be as directed by one individual—in this case, by me as the teacher—nor will it have as great an internal psychological focus. Rather, the priority will be the creation of a surface feeling of agreement among the women present. Yet I seek to individualize women precisely because we are usually merged. I feel more comfortable with such individualizing, and more threatened by a surface sense of merger, than perhaps others do.

I feel good listening to all the different individual experiences that are discussed by the students in the kinds of classes I create. I therefore probably overlook the discomfort my method of teaching may cause others. For me, in hearing about everyone's experiences, and offering my own, the air seems full of so much evidence for learning that I do not stop to think that this type of class process will be foreign to many of the students. Their classes have been about challenge and counter-challenge and about dealing with disembodied ideas. Their desire, in a women's world, is for a high connection between speakers, an explicit bridge between experiences, a oneness among women who elsewhere are divided from one another. My approach produces a oneness, with its focus on women's experiences, but it is not the type of oneness the students expect.


I think there is a similarity between the way I run classes and the way I structured The Mirror Dance . In both cases, I wished to present multiple voices reflecting on different aspects of a common reality—a lesbian community, or women's experiences in organizations. In both cases, I offered these voices without much authorial intervention—without much explicit narrative commentary in the case of The Mirror Dance , and without much traditional teacherly authority in the classes. In both, I have avoided summarizing, or linking, statements made by individuals, but instead want the experiences presented to speak to one another. I say this because when I am criticized for how I teach, I often feel I have failed to do as I should, rather than seeing that I am doing something different. When I look at my study and see that I created this kind of process before, I can then view my approach to teaching less critically and see that it has its own integrity.[4]

If I have drawn one conclusion about "women and organizations" from teaching my course over the years, it is that the key to understanding women's groups is to think about the desire for oneness. I think this desire is central to how women feel about women's groups, to why the groups exist and fall apart, and to the problems the groups have. Oneness is what women most wish for, and fear, in their relationships with other women. It is why lesbianism is both sought and feared. Often, because much conspires to divide women from one another, women feel a great hunger for connection with each other. They bring that hunger to feminist classes.

When I try to tell the students in my class about my thoughts on desires for oneness, however, I never think it makes much difference. We are near the end of the quarter and all I seem to have done is to raise their desires for an ideal community of women only to frustrate those desires. This past year, because the students' frustrations were more near the surface than usual, I asked the students to go around the room in one of our last class sessions and to say what an ideal women's organization would provide for them. What would they like in their ideal women's group?

I can find no notes of what they said that day. Perhaps I just listened. I remember that the students answered seriously: "My ideal women's group would accept me." "It should be nonsexual." "Maybe it's a lot to


ask. …" "I know I'm supposed to be realistic about this." "It would understand me." "I don't want false support, but. …" "It wouldn't be a big group." Their voices cracked and were tearful and hesitant and the room was very quiet. I had been asking the students, with the previous Mirror Dance assignment, to come to terms with the reality of women's groups, rather than having expectations the groups could not live up to. The students were, therefore, reluctant to admit to having idealistic desires, so they prefaced many of their remarks—"I still have these wishes." "I know, maybe it's unrealistic." "I don't know what to do about it, but this is how I feel." We went around the circle and the class ended in silence. "If I want something, I go out and make it happen," one of the students said toward the end. "I don't know if I'll ever find it," said another.

Although I do not know if that tearful discussion meant much to the students, it meant a great deal to me. I liked hearing them speak of their ideals. The students may have felt so far from having their ideals met that the discussion mainly saddened them. They may have been thinking of tests they had to take and other classes they had to go to. But they did stay around longer than usual after the class was over, planning their next subgroup meetings.

Looking Back

The readings for the final week of the course fall under the title "Transformative Visions." These readings suggest to me the importance of acknowledging the "I"—the idiosyncratic and the individual—in women's experiences, and also the importance of processes of identification across boundaries between women. If women's experiences are to transform other ways of being, says Evelyn Fox Keller in her book on women and science, their difference must be seen. Further, we want our awareness of women's experiences to change our sense not only of what is true, but also of how truth is to be revealed. Keller discusses the life of geneticist Barbara McClintock, who approaches scientific understanding with "a feeling for the organism" and an attitude of "listening to what the material has to tell you." Only when McClintock feels "at one" with the corn plants she is studying can she truly understand


them, Keller says, suggesting that "questions asked about objects with which one feels kinship are likely to differ from questions asked about objects one sees as unalterably alien."[5]

Dealing with self-knowledge in an essay, "On Keeping a Notebook," Joan Didion advises her readers and herself to remember the personal basis for our observations. "Our notebooks give us away," she suggests, "for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable 'I."' Nancy Mairs, in an essay about her experience in a psychiatric hospital, speaks of what her female gender has to do with her ending up "behind bars," and of how, on getting out of the hospital, "I did not get well. I got functional, which is another condition altogether." Similarly, I think, women often can be extremely functional, our strength hiding our feelings of discontent and despair. Patricia Hill Collins, in Black Feminist Thought , discusses African American women's experiences and how, in looking at different women's experiences, one must "pivot the center," focusing on each experience as a totality, or as the main frame of reference, rather than imposing a frame of reference from outside. I have tried to encourage the students to do such pivoting in looking at their own and others' experiences in the course. To illustrate the process, I also assign a reading about the Pueblo Indian potter Maria Martinez and the representation of self in clay, as well as several other discussions by women about developing vocabularies relevant to their experiences, especially in art. I want to suggest to the students that there are many forms for expressing female individuality and that they ought to continue to write about themselves after the course is over.[6]

The students' final research papers are due at the next to last class. The students have been working on these papers for a month, independently of me, pursuing a topic of interest to them. They have chosen topics such as female leadership, what if female ways of doing things were valued in organizations, subtle gender dynamics in organizations, glass ceilings, role models and mentors, mothering in organizations, women viewing themselves as men, managing family and career, women comparing themselves with other women, dynamics of minority


women's organizations, dynamics of women's collectives, women's professionalism, superior-subordinate relationships among women, women's boundaries and invisibility in organizations, why women deny gender and oppression, sexual harassment, entrepreneurial women, and self-reflection on one's own gender history. The students write personally about their feelings in relation to their findings. They put a great deal of work into their research and feel that their final papers are extremely rewarding and the climax of their individual work in the course.

For the very last class session, the students write a course summary paper in which they review their experiences during the entire quarter—experiences in class discussions, in subgroup meetings, in doing research and papers, and in doing readings. I ask them to identify insights and key learnings that were especially important to them, and to describe their learning process over time. Often I do not know how much this course has meant to the students until I read their summary papers at the end. The students say, for instance:[7]

CHARLENE : My viewpoint has changed dramatically.

JULIA : I look back and feel proud for all the reading and writing I did.

KELLY : Initially, I was hostile to your teaching methods. However, since I knew you had something to offer, I tried to keep an open mind. This has been a struggle for me. Upon reflection, I am glad that I sat and listened. Instead of trying to fill my head with facts that I will probably forget, this class has changed my mental processes.

RACHEL : I think I have reacted to and learned from the structure of the class as well as from the content of it.

YOKO : Throughout this course, I realized how much I have adopted "masculine" ways of looking at and interacting with the world. In a desire to do well in school and please others, I think I lost the little girl and consequently the woman that is inside me. Discovering that I had shoved my "femaleness"


aside was a very difficult thing to admit. Although I am looking forward to getting back in touch with the woman inside me, it is not easy and I know that doing so may upset the status quo of my current life. I feel like a baby bird that was just pushed out of the nest by the mother bird in order to learn how to fly. I haven't flown before, but I know that I will learn how before I hit the ground.

The students often speak emotionally:

MARIE : When I began feeling the pain and reality of these wounds that I had been hiding for so long, I wanted to just barrel in head first. I wanted to scream and cry in our class discussions. I remember the power of some of the emotions I was having but knew that I must be careful—these types of feelings frighten people and I knew that I didn't need, couldn't take, more alienation and rejection. Eventually, I began to feel more comfortable. I very much appreciated the structure of the class. I felt secure in the details of the class—how the chairs were set up, what order business was taken care of.

I now feel a bit like a woman warrior. I am proud to be a woman. It's funny because during my undergraduate years, I was very ashamed of being female and pretty much denied all female traits that I had. I feel like this class gently ventured with me to my insides, where I found parts of me that I can now reclaim, embrace, and rejoice in. It empowers me and gives me pride in myself. It's accepting, loving, and valuing me. If I'm to live, this is necessary for me, instead of trying to kill myself, part by part. I look at it now as a life or death situation—that's how serious it's been for me.

ROSE : I have grown immensely. Compelled as I am to assign numbers, I would say this is 25% due to my "single-mom" existence, 25% due to applying myself to hard work and study in my engineering master's program, and 50% to WS-235. This course has caused a permanent change in my thought patterns. I will catch myself at the start of self-doubt and analyze a situation


as a combination of being both an engineer and a woman. While I still profess a desire to achieve financial and personal success, I no longer feel like adding the phrase, "like a man." I want the same opportunities certainly, but I like being a woman. Accepting this, I can now say, gulp, that I am a feminist.

ANGELICA : Before the class, I had never considered starting my own business. I assumed that I would simply enter corporate America and deal with the "old boy" network. But out of this class, I got the idea of starting my own law firm. Maybe it will not happen, maybe it will. I don't know, but I feel this class has given me other options for life that I would never have turned to.

BETH : I have started to rely on women more, and seek only women to share my time with. When we focused on women's work, I felt like calling my mother and telling her how much her commitment means to me. She has done invisible work in our house for twenty years, and I didn't realize it until we began our discussion. I have learned to open up doors inside my mind, doors that I didn't even know were there.

STEVEN : Well, I was one of only two men in a class filled and dominated by women and women's issues. This alone should be enough to figure out that I have learned a great deal.

Because the students' course summary papers tell me what the students value about their learning, they put a buffer between me and the official university course evaluations that I will read later. The official evaluations, written on computer forms, give numerical rankings to features of a course and to the teacher. They are statements I would do away with if I could. The evaluation forms are known to be biased against women teachers and feminist classes and to provide an opportunity for students to strike out at vulnerable teachers. Although I have done very well on these forms, I dislike them, and I always find the experience of reading them to be painful. I have never gained information from them that has helped me to improve my teaching. For that, I need


to elicit in-person qualitative responses from the students, which I do, to some extent, with the course summary papers.

The students' discussion of their papers in the last class provides a sense of closure for the course. To me, the last session of the quarter is always important. I warn the students, for weeks beforehand, that they should not miss it. However, the significance of the course does not lie in any one final outcome. All along, there have been important moments. In my view, the most significant learning lies in the deeper, and often unselfconscious, emotions and insights that the students take with them, and that I take with me. This course is not easy to summarize. When I think back on it, the best I can ever do is to remember a few vivid events from my experiences in the classroom that have the feel of vignettes.

The first year I taught the course, for example, it was not until the next to last class session that one student told the class, quickly and softly, her words slurring together, "I am a lesbian." Two years later, another student would not tell the class that she had been Miss America the year before. She was afraid that if the other students knew, they would think she was an empty-headed blond and not take seriously anything she said. She was, in fact, a feminist and highly critical of the beauty pageant system.

An African American man sat quietly in class one year, not speaking much even when I encouraged him to speak. At the end of the quarter, he wrote in his final paper, "I feel I have been in another culture by listening to the women in the class. Had I spoken, I would not have had this experience." A member of the men's football team took the class one spring. Growing up, he was closer to his mother and sister than to his father, who had been a Nazi. In his papers, he spoke as if, on the inside, he felt like a woman.

A few times, women in the subgroups, which met in student homes or cafes, worked it out so they could meet without the man in their group. One year, one of the men blended in with the women in the larger class to an unusual degree. He bent his head down among the women around him and spoke with similar feelings and confusions as they had. He was a business student working toward an MBA and he had been a feminist for a long time. He said he felt more at home in our


class than in his other classes. Another year, one woman decided to challenge everything I said.

Members of the women's swim team sat together at one end of the table one year. The other students complained that they passed notes and talked among themselves. Another year, three members of different women's sports teams did not sit together, but often when they spoke at the start of the term, I felt an increase in homophobia in the air. At the start of the first class session one quarter, a woman student introduced herself by saying, "I am a black feminist butch dyke and I hate men." Everyone liked her.

One year, one member of the class was a sixty-year-old undergraduate completing her BA. When other students in the class were having trouble calling themselves feminists, she said, "I have seen all these words change. Now it's 'feminist.' I think it will change again. One day I just decided to take the plunge and I started calling myself a feminist."

One year, a businesswoman returning to school thirty years after graduating took the course. She commuted down from her job in the city, was always on time, did the readings voraciously, spoke in class often, and appreciated me. Another older reentry student was present that year, a woman completing her master's degree in engineering. She also did all the work and even more, spoke her mind in class, and appreciated the opportunity of the class. Although undergraduates will often complain about the amount of work in a course, especially a course with a heavy load like this one, no one complained that year. Class discussions were unusually thoughtful and had a strong sense of, "Yes, this is true in the real world," which was provided by the two reentry women. The attitude of the students toward me was a valuing one. The class had a warmer feeling than it did any other year.

The first year I taught the course, an Austrian woman sat in as a guest in one of our sessions. She told the class about a two-thousand member traditional women's business organization she was studying in Switzerland and spoke of many of the same characteristics the students in the class had found when they interviewed their grandmothers and friends at the start of the quarter. These characteristics included consensus decisionmaking, personalized relationships, gossip, flex time, and a decentralized, leaderless organizational structure. Consensus decision-making


takes longer, she told the students, but implementation time is then shorter. The students, that day, seemed shocked and relieved to hear her, as was I. We had all, I think, been uncertain about whether there was truth to the characteristics we had found. One year, I had two graduate student auditors from Denmark. They took in all the material of the course looking for parallels with their country. One of them said repeatedly, "In our country, the women and men look more similar in how they dress, but it is the same. It's very bad there. The system is not equal."

One year, an engineering student cried inexplicably in a class session near the end of the quarter. We were discussing separatism and she said she felt she already had too many burdens. Now she was being asked to add another—to find time to become a member of a women's group. I told her she need not join a women's group, but that did not solve her problem. By now, she had a strong desire to be part of a women's group. She fell off her bike on her way to our last class. I kept feeling I had caused her to fall by upsetting her with my course.

After the course was over one year, I received a letter from an undergraduate who had sat in class with her head down glowering into her notebook very often, making it known to me that she approved of neither what I was teaching nor how I was teaching it. "I've had time these past few days to think," she wrote. "In the class, I rejected again and againt what you said. Perhaps that is because you wanted so much for us to believe it and you were so sure we eventually would. I didn't want to be predictable, but I'm afraid I am. And now when I say what you said, people think I'm as crazy as I thought you were."[8]

Each year when Estelle Freedman has been my guest, I have introduced her as a professor of history and an expert on the subject of separatism, whom I know as a colleague. I never tell the class that she is my lesbian lover and has been for over twelve years. I have been afraid the students will look at us and see sexual images and then discount the importance of separatism. I fear, too, that they will view my having Estelle as a guest as morally wrong because she is my partner (nepotism), or that they will view my having her help me with separatism as a weakness on my part. Yet, is it better to learn about separatism from an acquaintance of your teacher, or to learn about it from a lesbian couple at your


university? The latter has implications for why separatism is important, and who it is important to—who will fight to keep it as an option for themselves and other women.

It was not until my third year of teaching the course that I began asking the students to write all their papers in the first person. Their papers then became more interesting for me to read. It was as if the students were sitting at their computers typing out their ends of personal conversations with me.

One year when the course was still cross-listed with the business school, ninety students turned out at the first class session for a seminar that would be limited to twenty-five. The turnouts were big for a couple of years afterward until we dropped the business school listing. Since then, I have had to learn not to measure my success by numbers.

The composition of the class has made a difference to how it has gone each year. I think I do best or, at least, I like best having people of mixed backgrounds, ages, and levels, both undergraduate and graduate students, and students from different professional programs in the university—engineering, business, education. I do fine with men present even if I think it would be better for the women students if the class were only women. The course has been easier for me to teach, and more rewarding, when I have had more older returning students in it, and when a small but significant number of the students are committed feminists. The students do work I cannot do myself by affecting each other and indicating their importance to one another, even when they are afraid to let others know who they are. Their behaviors indicate, I think, the extreme importance women's groups have for their members.

This is not a course I will always teach. It has, therefore, seemed desirable to me to record some of the ideas and experiences of it. This course has been central to the development of my thinking about women. Perhaps one's first feminist, or women's studies, course is often like this one has been for me. It requires that a teacher figure out her basic views, such as, "How do I feel, and think, about women? How can I bring others along with me?" From these two questions have emerged both the substance and process of my Women and Organizations course.

I did not initially view my own teaching as an instance of feminist


teaching, but I have come to feel it is.[9] I think that feminist teaching is often hard for those who do it because a great deal is expected of us—by both others and ourselves—and because we often feel we fail to meet those expectations. Especially, I think, feminist courses are hard to teach because of the involvement of the teacher. She gives a great deal and often feels, "This is not about them—the students, or other women. This is me." When students reject the feminist teacher's lessons or viewpoints, they are not rejecting a distant subject or an intellectual conclusion, but something more sensitive, the teacher's way of being. Feminist classes are based on a shared stake in a movement for women's freedom, or in the fact of being a woman. Beyond that, there are many differences among their members. The classes require that a teacher remain open to her students in a way that parallels the openness she asks of them. It is, I think, a shared vulnerability to other women that gives feminist classes their excitement and their distinct character.

Finally, students expect feminist classes to fulfill ideals they have that are often frustrated elsewhere. The classes contain many of the conflicts between women's ways and a university structure that are a recurrent focus in my course. Although feminist classes cannot fully escape the male structure of a university that houses them, they often make their own kind of room within it. How much room, and what values that room encourages, depend on how much both a teacher and her students are willing to be present, in mutually helpful ways, during that brief period—in my case, ten weeks—when a miracle is expected to occur. I am always amazed at the big changes that can occur for students in so short a time. "This course has changed my life." "I will never see things the same again." "I will raise my sons differently." "I will quit my job." "I will join a women's law firm." "When I go back to my country, I will work for women," the students say, and I wonder about the truth of it, thinking all this must have been in the works anyway, and doubting that their ideals will be carried through. I tend to believe that nothing major can happen in a short period, but I forget how important ideas of gender are, and how students will work to produce learning that far exceeds the goals of any teacher.

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