Image via from ‘The re-appropriation of sensuality’ Emma Haugh in collaboration with Aileen Murphy and Holly O’Brien, Dublin, 2014
Oh, hi! It’s been a while but Hook & Eye is back. We started talking in August about blogging again and there was a brief moment when we flirted with the idea of putting the blog on hiatus for a year. We all seem to be juggling more than ever. This blog is a labour of love and, sometimes, there is only so much love and labour to go around. The idea of a long, long, long pause shimmered.
But then we remembered how much we care about the blog and you who read it and feminism in the academy and we talked ourselves back into this blogging habit. We’ll post a little less than before — once or twice a week. But we are back and here to stay.
One of the big things that changed for me is that I became chair of my department. I’ve been chair for 67 days (but who’s counting). I didn’t go into the gig thinking that I would be a Feminist Chair. I mean, sure, I am a feminist. And, ok, I’ll be dept chair for a while. In fact, I was acting chair a couple years ago for a spell so I had a glimmer of an idea of what would be involved. Still, I didn’t expect that every single day on the job so far would make me realize how much feminism matters to how I can do this job and how I will survive it.
There will be a lot more from me this year about feminism and academic administration. For now, a few things about chairing while feminist that I’ve already noticed.
There will be tears, mostly yours. They will be for reasons that you can’t talk about. These suck. I now get to know things that I can’t un-know. And I’m not to talk about them because respecting confidentiality and being professional often means not being public when people behave badly.
And there will be tears for things that you can talk about. This week, I lost a colleague. She died. She told me on Friday that she was ill and that I would need to hire someone to cover her courses for a while. She talked about possible candidates so that there would be a smooth transition back into these courses when she returned. On Wednesday morning, when I was covering one of her courses because I had not yet hired anyone, she passed away. I wept. And then I had to attend to the job posting for her courses. That felt like all kinds of wrong even though I know she cared a lot about those courses and would not want her students to miss a single day of class.
Men will question your decisions. I really didn’t think it would be so stark. I don’t even get to make that many decisions (longer post to come on the weird combination of power and powerlessness that is being an academic department chair). But it just kept happening. I would decide something. And then a guy would decide that my decision wasn’t very good and tell me in no uncertain terms. At first, I thought it was just me being sensitive. But it happened so consistently. Always a guy telling me that I was wrong or suggesting that I surely didn’t mean to disagree with him, surely I didn’t mean what I said I meant, or something like that. It was hard not to see a pattern after a very short while.
Kinda a downer, so far, I know. BUT! there are some pretty rocking things about chairing while feminist.
You learn to make decisions and stand by them. You know what? It feels great to make decisions knowing that they are good decisions based on impeccable logic and a commitment to genuine equity and just stand firm. After a while, it won’t be surprising when those decisions are questioned and challenged. After a while, it becomes a lot of fun to see how these decisions totally stand up to all kinds of tests. It’s like a secret super power. You think quietly, bring it on. I am standing firm.
You might cry but you figure out it’s totally ok. I remembered that once, many years ago, in a meeting with a dean about a difficult thing (sorry to be so vague– see above about things that you can’t talk about) the whole idea of crying came up. I admire this dean. At one point, she said, you know, if that thing had happened to me, I would have cried. I’ve come back to that moment. She has probably long forgotten it. But it still means a lot to me to remember that it actually makes sense to have a quiet little cry about some of the craziness.
Other feminists have totally got your back. This is the best. What a gift to work in a historical moment when more feminists than ever are also at work at every level of the academy. Sure, the old boys network is still in place. But there is a whole other community now. It is so powerful. It is impatient with the machinations of old boys. It sees right through that stuff and calls it out. It makes all of our work across the institution better and richer.
To all the feminists who have carved out so many difficult paths for the rest of us to follow, thank you. Know that your labour, and the love that you poured into it, is still a visceral and real gift that feminists thank you for every day. You make chairing while feminist actually awesome.