Archive: Mar 2015

A couple of weeks ago, Gayle posted a wonderful review of Kris De Welde and Andi Stepnick’s new co-edited book, Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Book CoverChange in Higher Education. I am delighted to be a contributor to the book, together with my co-author Susan Gardner.

In our piece, entitled “Confronting Faculty Incivility and Mobbing,” Susan and I aim to understand how faculty experience mobbing and, in particular, to understand how mobbing manifests in a public institution with striving aspirations. Mobbing, defined as “a ganging up on someone using rumor, innuendo, discrediting, humiliation, isolation, and intimidation in a concentrated and direct manner,” affects as much as 15% of the working population in the United States.

In addition to mobbing, we were interested to know how differently gendered faculty may experience organizational culture differently. In recent years, the institution where we collected data has worked hard to improve its US News and World Report rankings and to increase research and grant activity. The consequence of these efforts has been a shift in culture that seeks a faculty more focused on research and less focused on teaching. At the same time, state support of higher education has dwindled. The result is an environment in flux, where expectations of faculty seem to be increasing while resources dwindle. We wondered how this organizational culture might shape faculty experiences.

Our findings are based on our analysis of data collected at one institution where we conducted two faculty satisfaction surveys and interviews with 30 women faculty. We examined faculty members’ experiences with a set of questions focused on mobbing (e.g., “I am treated with respect by colleagues” and “I feel excluded from an informal network in my department”) and another set focused on organizational culture more generally (e.g., “The department is supportive of family leave” and “I am satisfied with the promotion and tenure process”).

Our survey results reveal significant differences between men and women in their experiences of mobbing. In particular, women were far more likely than men to report being excluded from their department’s informal network and to feel that their work is not formally recognized by their department. Women were also more likely than men to report feeling isolated in their department. These experiences include two of the most common mobbing tactics: isolating colleagues and discrediting their work by not formally recognizing it.

We also discovered gender differences in how faculty experience the organization’s culture, though these differences were less pronounced than those in our mobbing items. Significantly more men than women reported feeling that their department is supportive of family leave and that there is a strong fit between the way that they approach their research, teaching, and service and the way that their department evaluates these items. As noted, however, these differences were far less pronounced than differences on the mobbing questions.

Our interviews with women faculty suggest that the striving culture may create a campus climate where mobbing is not only common but too often overlooked. With the institution so diligently focused on raising its status, “housekeeping” matters such as nurturing a positive workplace climate may inadvertently shift out of focus.

To combat mobbing on campus, we recommend clear and unambiguous policies that delineate mobbing behaviors from sexual harassment, which is regulated under federal law. This and other recommendations, along with complete details about our data and findings can be found in our chapter, Confronting Faculty Incivility and Mobbing,” in Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education.

“The fag” and “the slut” are both symbols of contemporary gender relations. Stories about each provide social mechanisms for bonding, betraying, and belonging. Research suggests that “fag” and “slut” are among the more ubiquitous insults traded among young people. Each is simultaneously all about sexuality and has absolutely nothing to do with sexuality. For instance, most of CJ Pascoe’s research participants in her study of the use of “fag” among boys at River High said that they would never aim the insult at someone who is “actually gay.” Pascoe suggests that this indicates a need for a more nuanced way of understanding sexuality—not as some thing inhering in specific bodies or identities, but as something capable of operating to discursively construct social boundaries in social life as well. “Slut” is used in similar ways—as a mechanism of gender policing. Most of the research focusing on either is primarily about gender policing and gender and sexual inequality. But, research shows that sexual discourses play a key role in racial and class inequality as well.

51TJlLPKAJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Pascoe discovered that “homophobia” didn’t fully explain exactly what she observed at River High. It was a gendered and racialized form of homophobia that Pascoe refers to as “fag discourse.” Fag discourse is all about drawing boundaries around acceptable masculinity. Boys hurled the insult at each other in jest, sometimes at random, and as a part of a social game—one in which they were incredibly invested. But it was a “game” primarily played among white boys at River High. There’s a whole section of her book dedicated to “Racializing the Fag” that explores the intricacies of this interesting nuance associated with fag discourse. At River High, Black boys and white boys rely on distinct symbolic resources when “doing gender.” For instance, paying “excessive” attention to one’s clothing or identifying with an ability to dance well put white boys at risk of being labeled a “fag,” but worked to enhance Black boys’ masculine status. Pascoe also discovered that Black boys were unable to rely on fag discourse in quite the same way that white boys did. Indeed, though they were much less likely to use the term, Black boys at River High were much more likely to be punished by school authorities when they did. Black boys were also the only students reported to school authorities for saying “fag” by their peers. White boys, in other words, relied on racial hierarchies to control the meaning of the discourse such that saying “fag” was interpreted as “playful” and “meaningless” when they used the term and “dangerous” and “harassing” when Black boys did.

armstrong book cover, paying for the partyIn a separate study of sexuality in college life, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura T. Hamilton, Elizabeth M. Armstrong, and J. Lotus Seely investigated the meaning of the term “slut” among college women. This paper is a part of Armstrong and Hamilton’s larger research project and book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Armstrong et al. discovered that “slut” had a fluid meaning for college women. Not all of them understood the same sorts of behavior as putting someone at risk of receiving the insult. At the institution at which the study was conducted, they found that social status among women fell largely along class lines. “High-status” women were almost entirely upper and upper-middle class. This was at least partially due to the fact that performing the femininity necessary for classification required class resources (joining a sorority, having the “right” kind of body, hair, clothes, etc.).

Armstrong, et al. found that high-status women used “slut” to refer to a specific configuration of femininity, one they defined as “trashy.” While high-status women rarely actually deployed classist language, their comments relied on understandings of performance of gender stereotypically associated with less-affluent women—what Mimi Schippers would refer to as “pariah femininities”—and allowed them to situate their own sexual behavior and identities as beyond reproach. Similar to Julie Bettie’s study of white and Mexican-American girls, Armstrong et al. found that performing “classy” or “preppy” femininity (a performance that is simultaneously gendered, raced, sexualized, and classed) worked to shield high-status women from “slut” stigma.  The low-status women in Armstrong et al.’s study understood “slut discourse” to be more about sexuality than gender. Situating themselves as outside of the alleged “hookup culture,” low-status women used “slut” to stigmatize the sexual behavior of high-status women (sex outside of relationships). In an analogous way to Pascoe’s findings regarding race and fag discourse, these classed differences involving women drawing moral boundaries around femininity were enforced unevenly. While both groups reconstituted “slut” to work to their advantage, casual sexual activity posed little reputational risk for high-status women, so long as they continued to perform a “classy” configuration of femininity in the process.  Similar to Pascoe’s research, high-status women here relied on symbolic class boundaries to control the meaning of the discourse such that participation in casual sexual interactions took on a different meaning when coupled with “classy” performances of gender.   Here, class worked to insulate high-status women just as race worked to insulate white boys in Pascoe’s research.

Both studies illustrate important intersections between sexuality, race and class. Sexual discourses are invoked in a variety of ways throughout social life. They play an integral role in policing gender boundaries. But it is also important to continue to consider the role that sexual discourses play in bolstering boundaries around race and class.

Book CoverKris De Welde and Andi Stepnick’s new co-edited book, Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education, is an engaging, evidence-based toolkit for building gender equity in higher education. I just got my copy of the book two weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to put it down.

The first four parts of the book emphasize challenges facing U.S. women faculty (structural, cultural, interpersonal). Each part opens with an introduction that intersperses narratives from the data the editors collected for the book, and ends with a case study to give readers a sense of the difficulties and costs women academics face as a result of inequitable workplaces. It then offers action steps as starting points for other academics in similar situations (and those who support them) to use.

The chapters in Part 5, “Tools for Changing the Academy,” illustrate how broad, complementary approaches must work with smaller, progressive steps that both evaluate and correct equity issues on campus. This part concludes with real examples of recent, successful change initiatives from universities across the U.S.

With its “tool-kit” approach, Disrupting the Culture of Silence has a comprehensive list of resources compiled for faculty, administrators, and practitioner-researchers seeking to create a more inclusive academy. These resources are not only meant for women. De Welde and Stepnick write:

Though we focus on women faculty, these issues are not “women’s issues”; they are relevant to the academy, its members and constituents, and beyond. West and Curtis (2006) argue:

“The barriers for women in higher education not only raise questions of basic fairness, but place serious limitations on the success of educational institutions themselves.”

The academy reflects societal biases and hostilities. Yet, it could direct social change too. Our biographies, experiences, and training in feminist scholarship compel us to disrupt complacency among those who might claim that things are “better” or “good enough.”

The Back Story

What I also love about this book is the story behind it. Seven years in the making, Disrupting the Culture of Silence was borne from Kris De Welde and Andi Stepnick’s earlier work and a series of thematic workshops and sessions held at national conferences. After hearing about so many instances of hostile, vindictive, intimidating, and demoralizing situations among women faculty, these women decided to commit their scholarship and activism to working out concrete and meaningful strategies for helping them/us to persist, thrive, leave, or transform the very institutional environments that give rise to injustice. It makes me shudder.

The first step was a fact finding mission. They created Disrupting the Silence sessions to be held at key academic conferences that focused on the experiences and challenges of faculty women. Prior to each meeting, they issued a “call for experiences” that exemplified ‘difficult’ workplaces. They removed identifying information and  edited several of narratives into digestible stories to share at the sessions. After participants read them, they gathered into small groups to brainstorm about how to manage the situations and/or take actions that would have impact at multiple levels — individual, interpersonal, institutional, and even beyond the institution.

Faculty members who served as panelists and facilitators invited the participants to share their own experiences and the strategies they used to overcome challenges. From unequal policies, to coping with a hostile department or problematic pathways to tenure, to many other topics, those in attendance discovered that many of their challenges were common across campuses. They were not alone. After the groups reported back, their responses were documented. De Welde and Stepnick wrote up the results and shared them in other outlets read by women faculty.

The idea caught on, and women faculty flocked to these sessions every time they were held.

Next, the “Disrupting the Silence” sessions morphed into other workshops focused not only on coping with effects of gender inequality (crucial in its own right) but on Building Gender Progressive and Multicultural Departments. What could gender progressive, multicultural workplaces, departments, organizations, and institutions look like? What would be involved in creating them? What kinds of strategies are people already using to make progress?

Since all of these sessions were held over the years at multiple conferences, starting with Sociologists for Women in Society and then branching out to the American Sociological Association and the National Women’s Studies Association, there was a broad cross section of women faculty across the country who shared their stories and provided input. The book that grew out of these informative, supportive, and constructive sessions and workshops necessarily combines these real-life experiences and case studies with contemporary research, concrete strategies, resources, and tools.

Disrupting the Culture of Silence is an essential read. More than that, it is a resource that faculty members and administrators will want to re-read, and reference, and use “to make change on their own campuses and in their professional and personal lives.” Be sure to get a copy or two for your libraries and teaching centers.


Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education is available from Stylus Publishing. Discount Code: DTCS15 saves you 20 percent.

Leonard Nimoy attended University of California, Los Angeles in 1971 to study photography. He had already filmed the original Star Trek television series, which didn’t develop a cult following until reruns of the show aired in the 1970s. His love of photography, however, predates his portrayal of the half-Vulcan, Spock.

While this role is what most people are sure to remember Nimoy by, I will always think of him as a skilled photographer who engaged cultural rhetoric on the gendered and sexual body. Perhaps his most controversial work is titled Shekhina, which is his attempt to capture divinity in a “feminine” form. Shekhina, he explains here, is a Jewish “deity”—one so luminous that men in synagogue have to look down, away, or otherwise shield their faces. As a child, he wondered, “Why hide the face? Why can’t we look?”

Spending seven years searching for Shekhina through his photography, Nimoy produced images he describes here as a “crossover between sensuality and religion.” Consequently, he was asked to not show his photographs at a Seattle synagogue where he had been scheduled to talk about his work. The controversy around this censorship arose because of a religious discomfort with sexual portrayals of women—as sexually desirable and perhaps as sexually desiring—and the association of women with power. Nimoy saw his work as a “very strong feminist statement” partly because “to some degree, in the orthodox community, that makes people uncomfortable—the idea that god is a woman.”

Shekhina. Leonard Nimoy/R. Michelson Galleries

Nimoy’s Shekhina series at times conflates femininity with desirability, but it also challenges us to think of women as corporeally and inherently powerful. He captures the simultaneous idolization of femininity and invisibility of the female body in religion, specifically in Judaism. And the looking away from Shekhina speaks to her ideological incandescence as well as to the way religion is structured around gender dichotomies, whereby women are cast within an androcentric institution as heterosexually alluring and men as driven by primitive roots—or by what Martha McCaughey refers to in her book, The Caveman Mystique, as Darwinian ideas about sex.

At the same time Nimoy challenges the invisibility of a powerful, deific femininity, he also privileges hegemonic corporeal norms, situating in his frames thin, white women with long hair who often peer down. [When they look directly at the viewer, the images take to task representations of women as meek]. Nimoy recognized this, noting that it was not until he began work on The Full Body Project that he realized very specific bodies and definitions of beauty dominated his work. A large-bodied model contacted him to see if he was interested in photographing her precisely because she represented a different sort of body than he was used to shooting.

Joan Jacob Brumberg’s book on The Body Project looks historically to demonstrate the ways social norms have turned women’s bodies into all consuming projects. At any given time, women’s bodies are defined as malleable and docile, evoking Michel Foucault’s notion of the panopticon, by which women internalize narrow, sexist bodily expectations. To take on work that captures an alternative image of beauty, Nimoy said he had to ask himself, “Will you do something that scares you?” In other words, could he do justice to a woman who challenged him to rethink how he was portraying beautiful bodies and women’s sexuality?

Nimoy’s relationship with the model evolved into a larger venture as he found that when he showed his photography, it was pictures of this full-bodied woman that “got the attention. So I thought, there’s something going on there in our culture about this kind of body.” Nimoy appeared to know he was engaging larger conversations about the misogyny of fat-shaming and problematic definitions of what counts as a beautiful and thus culturally valued woman. He found a San Francisco burlesque group called The Fat-Bottom Revue that was happy to pose for him; the women were comfortable in their own skin and used the art of dance and theater to do body-positive activism. Along with these women, Nimoy highlighted bodies as cultural symbols that are constrained by gendered structures but also vehicles of agency through which we experience the world around us and develop intellectual, emotional, and physical relationships with others. [For more on The Full Body Project, see here and here].

The Full Body Project. Leonard Nimoy/R. Michelson Galleries
The Full Body Project. Leonard Nimoy/R. Michelson Galleries
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy. Seth Kaye Photography.

As a gender scholar who studies issues of masculinity, I can’t help but wonder where the masculine body is in Nimoy’s work. Why not capture sensual photos of large bodied men? Or of female masculinity? Focusing on femininity and female bodies relegates “beauty” to feminine identified bodies, but it also keeps women at the center of a discussion of bodies and structures of power. [In my own research, I explore men’s relationship to beauty and the beauty industry. See here]. What Nimoy does so well in his photography is acquaint us with images of bodies that beget conversations about gender, sexuality, and social hierarchies. As Nimoy noted, his photos put us in touch “with something beyond what you see in the image;” and he saw his work as not about any particular model or group of models, but rather about “feminine power.”


Barber_PhotoKristen Barber is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Affiliate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She teaches courses on gender, inequality, work, and qualitative methods and is on the Gender & Society Editorial Board. Her book on women working in the men’s grooming industry is forthcoming with Rutgers University Press.