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Eight A Feminist Class
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Eight
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.


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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


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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,


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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.


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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


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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


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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.


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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'


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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.


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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.


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