I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so many years that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items. I’m finished with the baggage. Taking control of my surroundings has been very freeing!

–Gayle Sulik, on Psychology Today

I’m not a hoarder. But I’ve been known, on occasion, to keep things long after they outlived their usefulness or meaning. Like that colorful, Italian bowl with the chipped edge that would be perfect for a huge pasta salad but never sees the light of day. At least I don’t hate it.

Other keepsakes, I despise. Those finely carved mahogany sculptures I bought 20 years ago are still scattered around my house or in the back of a closet. I have nothing against them really, but tastes change. Those books from graduate school, taking up prime real estate on my shelf, are out of date. Unlike my old, yellowed copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, ever reminding me that I am a writer, these objects no longer contribute to my well-being.

I usually realize when I’ve been surreptitiously loathing my stuff. I come to my senses and the purging begins, sometimes immediately. It wasn’t so easy to come to grips with all of the pink ribbon paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years.

I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so long that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items: awareness magazines, newspapers, advertisements, jewelry, cleaning supplies, teddy bears, M&M bags (contents consumed), and more. Some of these items were gifts to inspire me to keep going with my research. Many of them were gifted to others then bequeathed to me because they didn’t want reminders of their cancer around, or because they too hated the idea of pink ribbon commercialization.

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Part of the Pink Ribbon Collection. Photo by Gayle Sulik.

My collection grew large enough that I considered creating an exhibit on the pink ribbon industry. In addition to my own items and others that would be donated, I imagined a 10-foot in diameter gumball machine filled with pink “I heart boobies” bracelets and a life size replica of “Miss Pink Elegance” from the Thomas Kinkade collection.Pink Lady We’d have posters calculating the profit margins of fundraising campaigns juxtaposed against pie charts of budget allocations from charities, themes in awareness campaigns, and the state of misinformation surrounding the disease. It was a good idea.

But since then, bloggers have taken it upon themselves to reveal, quickly and skillfully, the hypocrisy of the pink ribbon marketplace. Journalists have sunk their teeth into investigative reports about fundraising and other controversies. The Canadian documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. gave audiences the visual and narrative content to illustrate key themes within pink ribbon culture and the industry that surrounds it. Breast cancer organizations that have been resisting the status quo for years gained new traction. Even some of the most contentious scientific controversies entered public discussion with renewed vigor and solid evidence. Pink Ribbon Blues served its purpose.

There remains much to be done with the topic of breast cancer, and I’m glad to do it. But I’m finished with the pink ribbon baggage. It will no longer take up valuable space in my closets, on my shelves, or in my life. I feel lighter already. Taking control of your surroundings can be very freeing!

Pink Elegance - Tennis Ball
What’s left of the Pink Ribbon Collection. Photo by Gayle Sulik.

There are two pinked items I’m keeping though. My very own Miss Pink Elegance, given to me by my dear friend Rachel Cheetham Moro, stands proudly above a pink tennis ball signed by sociologists Phil Brown, Kathy Charmaz, Barbara Katz Rothman, and Heather Laube to honor my book’s “Author Meets Critics” session at the American Sociological Association in 2012. These items represent a different kind of breast cancer awareness to me, along with a sense of connection to those who have supported me in this research all along. That’s enough.


Originally published on Psychology Today »

This is the second half of a two-post series on the pro-feminist and activist Chris Norton at Feminist Reflections by Michael A. Messner. The first half of “Learning from Chris Norton over three decades—Part I” can be found HERE.

Flash forward to 2010. I was now a tenured full professor, pushing 60, a number of books under my belt. I was working with two young male Ph.D. students who in some ways reminded me of myself thirty years earlier—inspired by feminism, wanting to have an impact on the world. Both Tal Peretz and Max Greenberg had, as undergrads, gotten involved in campus-based violence prevention work with men. Unlike three decades ago, this work had become pretty much institutionalized; a guy like Tal or Max now can plug in to a campus or community organization, be handed an anti-violence curriculum, and get to work with boys and men. I figured this was a great opportunity to do a study with these two guys, tapping in to the roots of men’s work against gender-based violence in the 70s and 80s, and contrasting it with the work being done today.

NortonCropOf course, I thought of Chris Norton and MASV. I located Chris online. Ever generous, he agreed to be interviewed. In December of 2010, I drove to his house in Sebastopol, and as I knocked on his door, I wondered how different he’d look or be. After all, I had morphed from a long-haired, bearded youngster thirty years ago to clean-shaven gray-haired, gradually balding, stooped-shouldered guy. I spied him through the window as he came to the door, and as he opened it I was mildly astonished to see that he looked pretty much the same—bristly mustache and full head of hair—reddish, but with some gray mixed in. He also still had the same warm smile, accented now by smile lines around his eyes that, if anything, made him appear even more warm and friendly than before.

We went out to lunch, and did what older guys do: caught up on each others’ lives, shared our hopes, fears, and challenges we’d faced with our kids, commiserated about our ageing bodies. On this latter topic, Chris had more serious news to share than I. He was facing, with strength and optimism, a liver transplant in the near future.

We returned to his home, and settled in for the interview in a cozy cabin-like structure behind his and Mary’s home. We fell right in to a nice conversation, and I used bits of the transcript of my 1980 interview with Chris to prod his memory, and to probe ways in which he’d changed, or not, since then.   Most interesting to me were his reflections on the work that MASV had done so many years ago. He joined the several other MASV men whom I would eventually also interview in saying that he was very proud of the work the group had done. But in retrospect, he said he wondered how effective they’d been, and figured that if the group had it to do all over again, they might have done their work differently:

I don’t think I would go at it at all the way we did then, ‘cause I think in some ways, … I think we were doing something to prove something to ourselves and other people of our age group, and I don’t think we were thinking about, like, what’s it like to be a teenage boy in high school, and what are these images going to do to you when they’re shown up on a screen, and is it going to have any of the effect that we’re hoping to have? And I think it would have been really good to kind of get guys to talk about, well, there’s issues of bullying, issues of, you know, being popular, not popular. I mean, it seems like there could be a lot of things that could have been much more valuable, ‘cause in some ways, I think we almost had this stick and we’re going to beat you over the head with this thing. And… perhaps if they felt like they were more understood, maybe they could be more understanding of women and, and where women are coming from. And I think that would be more the way I would go about it now.

[Back then], we were really just making it up, I mean, it was the seat of our pants… we felt like we should be doing something. We were feeling like we need to be also talking about the same things that the women were talking about—but we basically just took their analysis and presented it. You know, it didn’t—it didn’t feel like it was coming from our core, you know, from who we were, other than maybe from our guilt

And, and you know, I think—having more of a positive vision of what a man should be, rather than going in there and telling men what they shouldn’t be doing—having a more pro-active, having a more kind of like, basically creating an ethic of, “This is what a man should do.” You know, this is, this is a positive thing for a man to do, and also like, what does a man want? You know, rather than like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be bad,” but…you wanna have a good relationship, you wanna have a relationship with someone that’s based on some degree of equality, on some degree of, of mutual respect, of everyone having opportunities, or people feeling good about their lives, about who they are. And, that presupposes having some degree of, of understanding of who you are yourself and what you want. And I felt like we weren’t, back then, we weren’t coming at it from that—it was more sort of like, you know, men are bad—Andrea Dworkin told us this—we know men are bad, we are bad, we’re gonna’ go and tell the high school boys that they’re bad too, for looking at pornography, and that pornography’s gonna’ make them badder than they already are. And, there wasn’t that—I think there’s gotta’ be a positive vision. And you have to have, I mean, you don’t want to be blind to the bad stuff that goes on, but there has to be kind of some upside for doing this, ‘cause I don’t think otherwise people are gonna’ really pay any attention or wanna listen to you.

Chris’s statement very neatly encapsulated about thirty years of change in the ways that men now approach doing violence prevention work with boys and men. In Some Men, the book that Max Greenberg, Tal Peretz and I wrote from this research, we chronicle the grassroots of this activism—set in place in the 70s and 80s by community groups like MASV—in part because it is important to honor the foundations of positive social change. But it’s also important because today’s younger activists, however savvy and pragmatic they may be about the ways they approach boys and men with their message, may also have lost something very important that earlier activists like Chris Norton had: a grounding in a larger view of social change that viewed their efforts to stop sexist violence against women as intricately connected with efforts to humanize and bring justice to the world.   For groups like MASV, feminist work with boys and men, Chris explained, was an integral part of a larger transformative movement:

… an important way of sort of humanizing socialism, or getting rid of some of the hard-edged more Stalinistic tendencies that some socialist movements could have. And it also just made a lot of sense [for] those of us too, who also were rejecting militarism and the traditional terms of being masculine or man, and were looking for some kind of a new way—when I came to Berkeley initially I was involved in the anti-war movement, and lived in communal houses, and we’d gotten involved in the food conspiracy, and—it was all part of this whole, you know, sort of community, alternative society in a way that we kinda’ felt like we were creating it back then.

In retrospect, like many radicals of his generation, Chris expressed frustration with the current prospects for transformative social change.

I think I’ve retreated some degree from utopianism. But I do feel that it’s definitely possible to have a far more egalitarian society than we do. And I just, I feel like—and that’s part of my frustration too, is those of us who feel that way haven’t found ways to be very effective in putting forward that vision and, and making that vision something that’s attractive to people, and making people realize that what we’re living under is not actually that great for a lot of people, and it’s very difficult for a lot of people.

Part of my goal in writing Some Men with Max and Tal was to encourage today’s anti-violence activists to re-connect to that larger vision. It is stories from this generation of activists like Chris Norton that help to keep alive this larger vision.

The community bonds that sustain that vision were palpable when I attended Chris Norton’s memorial service in 2012, after he had succumbed to cancer.  Included among the scores of family and friends celebrating Norton’s life were a handful of MASV men—guys who in their youth had pioneered anti-violence work. Now considerably older, they shared a sense of pride in what they had accomplished so many years ago. Following MASV’s demise, they had gone on to do other progressive work: Chris Anderegg worked for years helping women’s DV shelters with their finances; Larry Mandella created workshops for fathers; Santiago Casal did community organizing to get a memorial built in Berkeley for civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. All of them, in their own ways, were clearly in it for the long haul.

Still today, I am not and probably never will be much of an activist. But I hope that my research and writing makes some small contribution to progressive thinking, and progressive social change, a contribution that both honors and learns from the brave and important work that’s been done in the past by the doers of the world, like Chris Norton, whom I so admire, and whose collective work helps to make the world a better and more just place.

_____________________________

Messner2013cMichael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and author (with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (Oxford University Press, 2015).

This is the first half of a two-post series on the pro-feminist and activist Chris Norton at Feminist Reflections by Michael A. Messner. The second half of “Learning from Chris Norton over three decades” will be published on May 21, 2015 @ 9:00am EST (and linked here).

The guy at the front of the room was saying stuff I’d never heard a man say before, especially to a room full of young college guys.   Through my basketball-player-eyes, I sized him up to be at least 6’5” with the broad shoulders of a power forward. He had medium-length reddish hair and a ruddy face dominated by a bristly mustache that left his mouth a bit of mystery. And what words emerged from this mouth! With a style that seemed simultaneously gentle and passionate, he urged these young guys to think critically about their own relationship to pornography. BlackBlueBacked up with a slideshow that depicted popular album covers (The misogynist public billboard promoting The Rolling Stones’ album Black and Blue was one of them), he pointed to the links between sexual objectification of women, men’s use of pornography, and men’s violence against women.

This stuff was hard to hear for young men—and I include myself in this. It was 1980. I was 28 and in recent years had come to define myself as a “pro-feminist man.” I’d even been in a men’s consciousness-raising group in Santa Cruz. But like many younger men like me who were awakening to feminism, I was still struggling with my own deeply engrained erotic attachments to conventional sexualized imagery of women, as depicted not only in Playboy and Penthouse, but pretty much everywhere around me. So here was this giant guy standing up there, calling us out—calling me out—on my shit. What struck me most, and what made it possible to hear what he was saying, was how he spoke as one of us—self-reflexively talking about his own immersion in a culture of eroticized sexism and violence against women, how it affected and continued to affect him. He revealed that he was part of a group of men, Men Against Sexist Violence (MASV), that did educational work on sexism with boys and men—in schools, on the radio, in prisons—while also supporting each other to become pro-feminist men. (As I watched him in action, the punster in me wondered with a private chuckle whether the other members of his group were so, well, massive.)

I agreed with everything this guy said in his presentation and I admired his courage. I wanted to talk with him, maybe become friends with him, and for sure I wanted to interview him for my new research project for grad school—in-depth interviews with men in pro-feminist men’s groups. After the talk, I introduced myself. He greeted me warmly and immediately agreed to allow me to interview him.

Chris Norton was his name, and it turned out he was a guy of middle class origin who had moved to Berkeley in recent years, taken up work as a carpenter while also immersing himself in the progressive politics of the time. I had initially imagined he might become a basketball buddy, but we were only two minutes into our interview before he assuaged me of that illusion. When I asked him about his boyhood relationship to masculinity, he said,

…in sports, I didn’t feel like being aggressive often times and for instance I’m tall and was supposed to be good at basketball, to stand under the hoop and get all the rebounds, and it just didn’t work out—and people’d get pissed off at me for not getting all the rebounds—and then we wouldn’t end up winning and I’d get resentment back, and frustration from people, because I wasn’t doing what I was expected to do and then I’d feel bad about myself and think, “Well I guess I’m a failure, I’m not strong enough or not aggressive enough, maybe there’s something wrong with me or wrong with my masculinity; I’m not a man.”

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Longtime comrades and SF Bay Area pro-feminist pioneers: L-R, Larry Mandella, Men Against Sexist Violence (MASV); Tom Berry, Berkeley Men’s Counseling Center; Chris Norton, MASV; Dana Francis, Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE).

My 1980 interview with Chris Norton not only helped me to complete a study toward the goal of getting my Ph.D.   It also helped to me begin to clarify the sort of person I am. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed thinking of myself variously as a socialist, a radical, a feminist, a progressive, an advocate for social justice. But mostly I don’t do much with these political commitments. Oh, I’ve marched in a few protests and paid dues in some progressive organizations, but I can’t stomach meetings and I hate the grind of building and sustaining organizations. I live so much inside my own head; I read, I write, and the most public thing I do is to lecture and occasionally write an op-ed on some social issue. But this guy, Chris Norton, though he had nearly identical politics as mine, was an opposite character type, a type I admired, even romanticized—a doer, a man committed to acting in the world rather than sitting around thinking about things.

In our interview, Chris spoke of the tensions of being a pro-feminist man, of struggling with how to integrate his commitments to feminism with his daily life as a carpenter, where he worked with men who didn’t always share those commitments. He spoke of MASV’s internal discussions of sexism and pornography, and of his own complicated relationship to feminism and other progressive politics. When I asked him if he called himself a feminist, his response revealed his ongoing self-criticism at his own internalized sexism, while also telegraphing what would become his next major political commitment:

I used to; I don’t know if I do right now. Just because I think I’ve been seeing a lot of limitations to feminism or some of the lacks that it has as far as dealing with class and other things… Some feminists, a certain branch of middle class feminists are sort of like “I want more of the pie” and as someone who’s real interested in changing class relationships and in a more thorough-going revolution I don’t really want to identify with that and I don’t feel real supportive of women executives and women in those positions… In my experience in Latin America, seeing the need to deal with class relationships—I see that as a real difference. The starting point of feminist consciousness between the U.S. and Latin America is really different. I think that any kind of revolutionary movement in the US has to pay a lot of attention to women’s issues, just because that’s where we are. But I think there’s like a bourgeois women’s movement that’s really self-centered and on some level I don’t think I’d call myself a feminist—I think I feel guilty about using that term when I have so much (This whole thing about looks)—I feel guilty because I have so much of this stuff that feels unresolved in myself—It’d be dishonest to call myself a feminist.

It’s two different things. On one level I have objections to some of the tendencies that feminism has and on the other hand I don’t think I’m good enough to call myself a feminist. When we were in the radio collective we called ourselves “pro-feminists,” [which] means that you’re supporting feminism, but not being women, we couldn’t be feminists.

Chris continued working with MASV for the next couple of years, but was shifting his attentions to Latin American solidarity work. I got together with him—maybe around 1983 or 1984 or so—and he told me he was planning to go to El Salvador to work as a freelance journalist, covering the brutal U.S. war that was attempting to suppress a popular uprising. At the time, following the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, there was good reason to believe in the possibility of a succession of victorious liberation movements in Latin America. It was the mid-80s now, and Chris wanted to be a part of this history. He told me he dreamed of being in San Salvador when the victorious FMLA marched in.

I wanted to help—to support Chris, to contribute to the revolution—but of course I’d not stray too far from the local comfort of my oak desk, the very same one upon which I now rest my hands as I write, more than three decades later. I organized a big launch party for Chris at my rambling old rented house in the flatlands of Berkeley. The idea was to gather Chris’s friends and political comrades, as well as some of my own, for a fund-raiser to help Chris get to El Salvador and begin his work as a freelance writer. We cooked up industrial-sized vats of spaghetti for the event, and Chris presented an inspiring El Salvador slide show that outlined the political struggles and stakes. As it turned out, Chris and I had lots of friends; the house was packed to the gills with supporters. And, as it turned out, Chris and I had very few friends who had any money. The pittance we raised may have paid for Chris’s first handful of notebooks.

But he got there. During the latter half of the 1980s, Chris wrote from San Salvador, freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor and other magazines and papers. When I would see Chris’s byline in the CSM I would smile and shake my head in admiration. During those years, still glued to my desk, I wrote my dissertation, prepared articles for academic journals that would hopefully secure me a job, and started my salaried faculty job at USC. Oh, I attended anti-Reagan demonstrations in the early 80s, protested U.S. interventions, donated tiny amounts of money to Latin American solidarity and other progressive organizations—but never did I put my body on the line in the way that Chris Norton did. My admiration for Chris grew… but somewhere starting in the early 1990s, I lost track of him. Immersed in my academic career, building a family in L.A. with Pierrette and our young sons Miles and Sasha, Chris’s life and mine headed in different sorts of directions. I’d think of Chris occasionally, wondering what he was up to.

Part II will be posted on May 21st, 2015 at 9:00am EST and linked here.

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Messner2013cMichael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and author (with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (Oxford University Press, 2015).

 

diplma and capWhen my daughter went into her final year of college, I started feeling a sense of trepidation about what would come next. She was a Sociology major (yay!), was into the arts (yay again), and had lived in New Orleans for four years (cool). Fortunately, she lined up an internship her senior year and now two years later, things have worked out pretty well.

But you never know. In an economy that rewards those in STEM fields and business, the seniors I now teach are predictably in panic mode as they face a very uncertain future. Regardless of all the internships and community service experiences they are accruing, there’s no avoiding the dour statistics for young college graduates. When one student came to me, asking for advice about applying for a consulting job that was way beyond her reach, I found myself counseling her about the virtues of working in a coffee shop. So what if she’s an international relations major!

Hudson River Psychiatric Center
State Psychiatric Center

My first “real” job after graduating from  college was working in a state psychiatric hospital. This seemed like a “natural” place to be, since one whole side of my family was riddled with serious psychiatric disorders. Between an aunt with agoraphobia who never left her house, an aunt and an uncle who had “manic-depression” (now called bipolar disorder, a more “respectable” name), and a mother who struggled with clinical depression and alcoholism, I was quite at home working in an institution for people with severe mental health problems.

job 6When I graduated, the state psych hospital was hiring tons of young college graduates. This was in the early ‘70s, when thousands of patients, people who had spent years, sometimes decades, living in inside the walls of state hospitals, were released into the community in a move to “de-institutionalize” them. The motive was humanitarian, but the reality for many of the patients was downright cruel because many of them were unprepared for life on the outside. Nonetheless, it did mean that a lot of my friends and I had jobs when we graduated.

I was hired as the institution’s dance therapist. I had been a dancer for many of my young years, and my professional goal – if one could call it that – was to somehow combine my interest in helping people with my passion for dance. I lucked out, since the field of dance therapy was just emerging, and one of the first certified dance therapists in the U.S. was willing to train me during my senior year of college.

I worked with people who were still living “inside” the institution, as well as out-patients who were being transitioned into a day treatment program. Because I was a professional dancer in a mental hospital, many of the institution’s rules did not seem to apply to me. Or at least that’s what I thought and how I behaved… More than once, I led a group of patients in a snake line through the hallways, wearing a leotard and tights. We seemed off-limits to criticism, as this “crazy” activity was “therapy”! It felt downright revolutionary!

While working in an institution wasn’t where I “landed” professionally, it was nothing short of a profound experience for a 21-year-old. I fell in love with schizophrenics who were smart and spoke in metaphors that seemed poetic and deep. I’ll never forget one of my out-patients, a diminutive woman named Ruth, who spent her entire adult life in the psych hospital. Ruth held her body like a tight fist, and stood all day, rocking rhythmically back and forth. I feel teary when I think about her. Another person seared in my mind is a tall, broad gentleman in a perpetual cowboy hat. People called this man of few words, “the Captain”. job 7One of my most glorious days was when I took “the Captain” for a drive in the country, with two other patients. Outside it was minus forty degrees – this was Central New York in winter – but inside the car, with sun shining through the windows, it felt warm and protective. He said little throughout the drive, just smiled…

By the time I was hired to work as a dance therapist at the state psych center, sociologist Erving Goffman had already published his seminal book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. One of Goffman’s greatest contributions was his critique of what he called “total institutions”, which included mental hospitals and prisons, those institutions with a high degree of regimentation, and an elaborate privilege system. He described relations between staff and patients (or inmates) as caste-like, with detailed “rules” of deference and demeanor.

I knew nothing of Goffman while I was working in that first post-college job. But after studying this brilliant sociologist in graduate school and using his analyses in a class I now teach, it all comes back to me. I lived what Goffman described. Drawing upon those earlier experiences, I could now understand his theoretical frameworks. One of my favorite co-workers, a friendly and clever guy named Willie who was the janitor, surely understood Goffman’s analysis when he changed his first name from Willie to “Doctor”. Whenever anyone wanted his services, they would yell “Doctor”. He always came running with a smirk on his face.

Despite the draw of my first job, I realized within a year that I wasn’t going to last. I was too young, too inexperienced, too overwhelmed with it all. While I found the people interesting, I had no real training. And even though I was a good listener, I fought back tears every time a “client” expressed sadness or joy. Ultimately, what drove me to work at the psych hospital – working with really troubled people – became the reason I had to leave. It wasn’t the right fit, even though it seemed so at the beginning. With a far more robust economy than we have today, I saved up enough cash that year to travel Europe for nearly a year, so that’s what I did!

job2As my father used to say, everything we do in life accrues and has meaning. This has to be true, as well, for college students who are saddled with debt and graduating to a lousy economy and a dearth of employment opportunities that “fit” with their majors. A number of my friends are living at “home” (where they grew up) and working in unpaid internships that they hope will lead to a paid job. I know one person who dropped out of college in her freshman year and learned how to do organic farming. Now she’s running a business where she creates peace gardens for interested clients. I know one person who couch-surfed for a few months, and then got a job sailing someone’s boat to the Virgin Islands. At one point, during an intense storm, he wondered if he was even going to make it… I can imagine that he’s not the only one feeling that way, although perhaps for different reasons.

When I think about my own daughter – and all the young people I encounter these days – what I wish for them is the courage to follow their passion, and then feel okay about whatever job or internship (or whatever) they find, knowing that those things may not be the same thing. At least for now…

SONY DSC

 

 

Endings & Beginnings

May is full of beginnings and endings — graduations from high school and college propel students on to new endeavors.diplma and cap

Chasity is a student who will always hold a special place in my heart. She’s talented, passionate, and hard working, and while I’m sad that we’ll no longer be part of each other’s day-to-day, I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.

It has been an exciting year, and I’ve enjoyed watching Chasity grow. She has worked with me as a research assistant; we traveled together to a conference where she received a national award. Chasity received our department’s Undergraduate Sociology Student Research Award, served as president of our Sociology Club, and won another award from our university’s Multicultural Center.

On Saturday she’ll walk across the stage and receive her diploma, marking the commencement of her undergraduate studies; she’ll move away with her fiancé and her new chapter will begin.

Working with Chasity as a student has been an honor and I’m incredibly proud of her. At the same time, it’s bittersweet. As teachers, we’re expected to teach and guide our students. But as I reflect on the past year, I’m also reminded of how much our students teach us. Chasity has been my student. She’s been my mentor as well. I’ve learned so much from her about social justice, activism, and staying the course. Teaching in the Deep South has been an adjustment for this Northern transplant, and students like Chasity remind me why I push through.

 Mentoring & Recognizing Our Students

Mentoring relationships are often seen as one way, but I see them as reciprocal. Naturally, there are appropriate professional boundaries, but this does not mean our students do not impact or mentor us. They come to us from different parts of the world; they share their stories. When we are open, we learn.

This post serves as a thank you and a tribute to Chasity, as well as a testament to the importance of mentoring, with emphasis placed on what our students give us. While our job is to help students learn, learning is not just a give and take relationship. We are human. We teach sociology, where many concepts are personal for our students and ourselves. Emotions can not be removed from the learning process. We build relationships with our students, and we care about them.

I want to write this post within a framework of feminist mentoring, but today words fail me. This post is from the heart. At times, I think as faculty we are negligent in recognizing the talents and humanity of our undergraduate students. We may not take the time to tell them how they’ve changed us, taught us, and pushed us to be our best. We all need positive reinforcement and this is especially true of our students.

 “I Just Do It”- Social Justice to Unitechas and me cropped

Each year, SWS requests nominations for the Undergraduate Student Activism Award and Chasity was an obvious choice. Her work on campus speaks for itself. She’s served as a diversity peer educator, worked with the Gay Straight Alliance, engaged in research on racism, women, and mental health. She’s worked tirelessly with the Sociology Club and the Multicultural Student Center, volunteering and mentoring numerous students. She’s part of Model UN, and these are only the things I can remember. She does all this in addition to being an exceptional student.

For Chasity’s nomination for this award, I received letters of support from faculty and staff across campus. As I wrote in my letter,

“Chasity is dedicated to social justice, and is able to use a sociological lens to frame her inquiries. But most importantly, it is not just her experiences that fuel her activism, but her desire to build bridges among diverse groups, to relate to and understand people, and she does so in a professional, reflective way, serving as a role model to others who strive for equality.”

As the letters of support attest, Chasity takes a lead role in advocating for social justice and equality, and she does so with professionalism, empathy, and self-reflection.

Chasity is humble and her work is never self-serving or simply for fame. She does it because she cares deeply for others. She is passionate about social justice. This was beyond evident when we were working on her resume. I asked about her work and she responded, “I just do it; I don’t think about writing it down.”

The world needs more people like Chasity. Chasity is about action, authenticity and living her values. Students like Chasity inspire me to be better — a better person, as well as a teacher and scholar.

Mentoring Our Undergraduates

Chasity has helped me become a better person, but also teacher and scholar. She can tell you what I have helped her with, but this post is not about that. It’s about showing our own humanity and appreciation for students, particularly undergraduate students, who often get left out of the conversation about mentoring and positive relationships. I’m grateful to have been able to work with so many wonderful students in my teaching career. Mentoring undergraduates does not have to take away from our research or teaching. Seeing the humanity and positive attributes of our students can do wonders for their development and by actually listening to them, we can grow professionally and personally.

I encourage you to reach out to students who’ve made a difference in your life. I’ve learned so much from many of my students this year, but today is about Chasity. Join me in congratulating her as she walks across the stage on Saturday and begins an exciting new chapter.

For Chasity

A poet, I may not be, but this is the best way I can tell you and the fabulous folks who read this blog about you.  Here goes…

You have my support and I am forever grateful.

After intense teaching days, you were there.

With a smile, words of wisdom, reminding me how much you learned.

You were the voice of reason when I was ready to run.

You listened and reminded me why I do this important work.

You were the calm during a long day of travel, despite your lack of sleep.

You even didn’t poke me when I snored!

You made me proud; you made me laugh; I cried when you won your award.

You made quite the impression with your authenticity, professionalism, and knowledge.

You worked hard collecting, coding, and analyzing data.

Your awards were numerous,

And you deserve every one!

You have made an impact.

On me,

On your peers,

On your mentors,

On our department,

On campus.

As you move forward, I will miss you,

Yet you will forever be in my heart,

Guiding me, reminding me to build bridges and advocate for justice.

I’ll hear your words to me — you’re worth it!

Never forget how wonderful you are.

You’ve made a difference.

Life is not always easy,

New chapters bring new challenges.

But you are ready.

You are strong and intelligent,

Resourceful and creative,

Empathetic and caring.

You will be okay.

But always remember,

As you care for others, you’ll need support.

Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Your family, friends, colleagues, and peers,

Will be here for you.

Be brave and take care of yourself.

Chase your dreams!

Congratulations, Graduate!

baloons

Please enjoy this re-post of we’re {not} having a baby!‘s interview with sociologist Gillian Ayers on her research on childfree women.

“I could be a father, but I could never be a mother”: Research on Childfree Women in Canada

We here at w{n}hab! love us some research. Especially when it’s sociological (have we mentioned Amy is a sociologist?). So when we came upon an article last summer describing findings from Gillian Ayers’ research on childfree women, we knew we wanted to know more.

Sociologist Gillian Ayers

Gillian Ayers is a Sessional Lecturer at the University of Lethbridge. Her Master’s thesis is entitled “I could be a father, but I could never be a mother”: Values and Meanings of Women’s Voluntary Childlessness in Southern Alberta. Here we chat with Gillian about why she chose to study women in particular and her most surprising research findings.

Q&A

w{n}hab! – How did you get interested in the topic of childfree women?

G.A. – I became interested in the topic of voluntary childlessness during my undergraduate studies in sociology. The courses I took on sociology of the body, gender, deviance, and feminist theory all challenged my world-view and made sense to me on a personal level as I started to figure out what direction my life would take. I eventually started to question the imperative to mother in my own life, and when I applied to graduate school I decided to explore the topic further through a formal research project. During my research I spoke with 21 women in Southern Alberta who identified as childless by choice.

w{n}hab! – Why study women in particular?

G.A. – Social expectations for women and men are very different. I knew fairly early on in my research project that I would only be speaking with women, as women face particular scrutiny when it comes to domestic life and childbearing decision-making. However, it’s important to note that my study takes for granted the belief that men and fathers are viewed as less involved in childbearing decision-making and childrearing more generally, and the social pressures for them are less. Consequently, women are often the ones who are held responsible for the decision to remain childless, regardless of whether or not the decision was made with a partner. As a result, I was most interested in speaking with women about their experiences of voluntary childlessness.

w{n}hab! – Which of your findings most surprised you? Why?

G.A. – I was most shocked by the “ick” factor explained by many of the women I spoke with regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. This was not an idea I had really thought much about before this research and it truly surprised me because I think many people consider pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding to be beautiful, wonderful, and joyous experiences. In contrast, several women I spoke with were repulsed by these prospects and spoke about wanting to avoid the pain of childbirth, the weight gain, and the feelings of being “hijacked” by a foreign entity during pregnancy. In sum, it was not just the notion of childrearing that women rejected, but also the physical aspects of childbearing.

w{n}hab! – You’ve said that the concept of intensive motherhood was relevant to your research. How so?

G.A. – Sharon Hays (1996) developed the concept of intensive motherhood, which includes methods that should be “child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive.” I found that the voluntarily childless women I spoke with often took up the tenets of intensive motherhood and held motherhood in high esteem. For many of the women, if they couldn’t mother the “right” way, they weren’t going to do it at all. This belief became apparent to me when, for example, 20 of the 21 women I spoke with cited financial reasons for remaining voluntarily childless. Many women viewed intensive motherhood ideologies as an impossible standard, and instead chose to reject motherhood altogether.

w{n}hab! – What’s next for you in this research? What questions remain?

G.A. – Future research could more fully examine the experiences of voluntarily childless First Nations, Métis, or Inuit women, as well as women who are visible minorities. Both these groups have higher than average birth rates in Canada, and they may have different expectations regarding childbearing. Of course, future research could also include speaking to voluntarily childless men about their experiences.

The floor plan of the White House recently made headlines because of a subtle change that’s caused a bit of a stir: it now features a gender-neutral restroom. Just one. But one was enough to make headlines. Many people don’t think twice about which restroom to use in public. Some people’s choice, however, is more of a dilemma than you might assume. Many transgender individuals struggle with the restroom issue in public settings. And this is an issue that forces cis-gender folks to confront deeply held beliefs about a gender-segregated setting—beliefs some may not fully realize they hold and many may be ill-equipped to discuss.

Making use of a public restroom is not often understood as a political act. Yet, a group of transgender folks in the U.S. and Canada are participating in a bit of digital activism by doing just that. It’s a quiet social movement, but it’s already gained some media attention. Pictures posted alongside the hashtags #Occupotty, #WeJustNeedToPee, and less often #LetMyPeoplePee on all manner of social media are starting a much-needed conversation about gender in and around public restrooms.

Brae Carnes
Brae Carnes, a transwoman in Victoria, depicted here using a men’s public restroom to raise awareness about what discriminatory legislation associated with “bathroom bills” would actually look like in practice.

Brae Carnes is a transgender woman living in Victoria, Canada whose photo-activism went viral when she posted an image of herself applying lipstick in a public restroom with a line of urinals against the wall behind her (see left). Brae told reporters at the Times Colonist, “I’m giving them what they want… I’m actively showing them what it would look like if that became law and how completely ridiculous it is” (here). And Brae is not alone. Michael Hughes, a transgender man living in Minnesota, also caused some digital waves when he posted a series of pictures of himself in women’s restrooms with captions like: “Do I look like I belong in women’s facilities?” (see below). Brae and Michael are part of a vocal group of trans* rights activists opposing legislation that would force transgender people to use the public restroom facilities associated with their birth gender (the sex they were assigned at birth). So-called “bathroom bills” are being introduced in the U.S. and abroad, and #Occupotty is an important challenge to the proposed legislation.

B_6vNpGUQAAm_bgThose introducing bathroom bills most often justify them as being about “protection,” “public safety,” and as attempts to reduce violence and assault. The bills rely on the transphobic myth that transgender individuals are sexually perverse and that they are likely to be sexual predators.  Thus, defenders of these bills often claim that they are about protecting cis-gender people. This avoids the troubling truth that transgender individuals are far more likely to have violence committed against them than they are to commit this kind of violence against others. Indeed, Media Matters found no evidence to substantiate the claim that restroom sexual assaults were higher in trans-inclusive jurisdictions.  One survey of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in Washington D.C. found that 70% of respondents reported having been either harassed in, assaulted in, or denied access to public restrooms (see here).   It’s an important issue and Brae Carnes and Michael Hughes are helping to draw more attention to the lives that hang in the balance.

Bathroom bills portray trans* persons as sneaky and deviant and as attempting to trick the rest of us into using a restroom with them. But, as Mic.com reported, there have been zero reported attacks on cis-gender people by transgender people in public bathrooms. All of the documented attacks victimized trans* persons. So, why is the conversation about transgender people committing violence rather than about protecting transgender folks from cis-gender violence?

This is an instance of what Laurel Westbrook and Kristen Schilt call a “gender panic”—situations in which people collectively react to challenges to biology-based ideologies about what gender is and where it comes from by attempting to reassert those ideologies. Bathroom bills produce just this type of ideological collision where biology-based ideologies and identity-based ideologies are pitted against each other in public discourse. Inside this ideological discord, we gain new information about the gender binary, gender inequality, and how our beliefs about gender difference take a lot more work to uphold than we may assume.

Bathrooms are intensely gendered spaces. The belief that men and women, boys and girls, ought to relieve themselves in separate rooms is a powerful illustration of our collective investment in gender differences. But, sex-segregated bathrooms are a matter of social preference and organization rather than being recommended by our biology. And when we attempt to resolve this gender panic by resorting to biology (such as introducing legislation mandating the criteria of “birth gender” for public restroom use), we continue an awful tradition of putting transgender people at risk of violence under the guise of protecting “us” from “them.”  But, social scientific research shows that we are in far greater need of policies that protect “them” from “us.”

Bathroom segregation is a political issue and one that deserves academic and public feminist support. The proposed legislation relies on myths associated with cis-gender and transgender people alike. Whether motivated by hate or misunderstanding, these laws fail to acknowledge well-documented facts about violence against transgender people, and in doing so, play a role in perpetuating continued violence and discrimination against transgender people. #Occupotty is a political statement and a request for recognition and rights. But these brave digital activists are doing more than that, too. They are exposing a set of myths that also work to justify gender and sexual inequality. Whether openly acknowledged or not, it is for this reason that #Occupotty meets resistance and it is for this reason that it deserves more support.

#TransLivesMatter

 

This article was republished on Wonder Anew, an ongoing project born from an idea that personal positive change (finding the best in ourselves) is a way to gain insight and wisdom to live a better life, that sharing our personal changes lifts others’ spirits, and that listening to others’ changes can inspire us to be contributors to the world.


Professionals wear many hats. I’m a scholar, author, researcher, editor, educator, analyst, speaker, evaluator, advisor, collaborator, investigator, advocate, and consultant. I’m also a yoga instructor. In addition to my advanced degree in social science, I’ve logged more than 300 hours of formal yoga training and taught more than 400 hours of public classes.

Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana - Big Bend National Park
Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana – Big Bend National Park

Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” means “yoke” or “union.” The practice uses a variety of movements, breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation techniques to help the practitioner achieve union (balance) between the mind, body, and spirit. Although yoga can be traced back thousands of years, modern yoga has morphed into a variety of new styles that incorporate classical and contemporary philosophies and methods. It may be practiced as a form of religion, lifestyle, leisure, or fitness. Americans spend $6 billion a year on yoga classes, equipment, clothing, workshops, videos, books, and more. Yoga has become so popular as a health modality, with about 17 million practitioners in the United States alone, that doctors are starting to recommend yoga to their patients to improve health and enhance allopathic medicine.

Many modern practitioners (70 percent of whom are women) do yoga specifically to improve their health. I started practicing more than 15 years ago for that same reason. Since then, yoga has become more than a pastime for me. It is the singular item I resist from crossing off my ever-expanding “to-do” list. It is the activity I seek out within the nooks and crannies of passing time. Yoga gives me a chance to breathe, to balance in perilous positions, to stand on my head and quite literally experience the world from a different perspective. Yoga calms me down; it helps keep me sane. Yoga informs my being, my living, and my work.

I’ve practiced yoga for thousands of hours. I’ve taught outdoors in parks and on rooftops, and indoors in living rooms, lounges, classrooms, dance halls, yoga studios, and occasionally in the session rooms at academic conferences. Yoga has been this thing in the periphery of my professional life. But every time I teach a class I witness a palpable shift in the room, a sense of calm that sweeps in and through, from beginning to end.

I used to think my yoga practice was more tangential to my work, but upon reflection I realize that is not the case. I now see that yoga is also a body project that has the potential to engage feminism and inspire feminist consciousness. It is neither a necessary condition nor a guaranteed outcome. But the body has long been the beating heart of copious feminist work.

Feminist Theory and the Body

Early western feminists didn’t always consider the body to be central to women’s empowerment. Women have been equated with the body (not the mind) throughout history, and this helped to justify the treatment of women as property, objects, and commodities. Some feminists therefore believed that equality between men and women rested upon the notion that rationality (reasoning) was the universal human capacity that could render neutral the seemingly fundamental biological differences that promoted gender inequality. Simone De Beauvoir’ radical exploration of such inequality in The Second Sex brought the relation between the body and the self to the center of feminist theorizing. Unlike the history of (dualist) western intellectual tradition in which the body was absent or dismissed as irrelevant, feminism’s second wave argued that the body matters; materially, discursively, performatively, and phenomenologically.

Corporeality is entangled in culture and biology, meaning and substance, identity and lived experience, mind and matter. Yoga can be a window into these varied dimensions of feminist conceptualization.

Culture and Biology: Yoga provides an opportunity to participate in an ancient, though modified, cultural tradition while experiencing the rhythm of life through the synchronization of breath and movement.

Meaning and Substance: As the body breathes and energy flows, mindful attention to the positioning of the body in physical space (in the shape of a cobra, an eagle, a triangle, a wheel, a warrior, a mountain, a corpse) allows awareness of oneself, as corporeal and beyond the body, to surface.

An actor and an observer at the same time, a yoga practitioner may become aware that sensory activities give rise to perceptions and judgments that may be based in reason (e.g., pulling weeds all weekend contracted my shoulders, limiting my range of motion) or may transcend both reason and experience (e.g., I’m not strong). Through the practice, we can learn that perception is not purely sensation; nor is it purely interpretation. Consciousness is a process that includes sensing as well as reasoning.

Identity and Lived Experience: Practicing yoga with others perhaps inches away and planted, firmly or precariously, on their own plot of imagined earth (often delineated by a 2’ x 6’ sticky mat) places the individual in relation, in an orchestrated flow of energy and motion. Unlike many social interactions we simultaneously experience ourselves with, and apart from, others. On a level we know, too, that we are an element of their perceptions just as they are a component of ours.

Mind and Matter: With regular practice, yogis may experience equanimity: a perfect, unshakable balance of mind. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston define it as “an even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their origin or their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral).” It is the essence of well-being, the foundation for clarity, neutrality, and insight.

Why does the mind-body-spirit of yoga matter for feminism?

Much of feminist organizing focuses on informational empowerment and structural change to improve human conditions. This is vital. Yet the body still matters. It is a source of meaning, identity, empowerment, and connection. It is part of life. It is life. Yet, the body is judged, controlled, politicized, medicalized, contaminated, and abused. The body is objectified, commodified, marked in accord with perceived social value, and exploited for its labor. The body remains a site of inequality and therefore must remain a feminist project.

For me, yoga is a way to remember that I am not a brain on a stick. Being in my body, and connected through yoga and meditation reveals an inner potency and respect of self. I am strong yet vulnerable. I am in my body, of my body, and beyond my body. And when I find equanimity in my yoga practice, the unity of mind-body-spirit provides healthy fodder for my feminist work and the life I want to live.

Additional Resources:

Around 10 years ago, when I was going through menopause, I switched to a new OB/GYN who nearly convinced me to go on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I had told her that my mother struggled with hot flashes and depression during her “change of life”, as they say, and I was worried about what it would be like for me. As a preventive measure, she prescribed HRT. Jump two frames forward and there I was, standing in line at the local pharmacy waiting to pick up my meds, but feeling very ambivalent. I’ve always been drug-adverse, and I thought, ‘why am I considering taking these meds unless it’s absolutely necessary?’ I was trying to stave off a problem that didn’t actually exist!

Serendipitously, I started to chat with the woman in line next to me, a friend of a friend, who suggested that if I had questions about HRT, I should take a look at Dr. Christine Northrup’s book, “The Wisdom of Menopause”. Even though I walked out of that store with a filled prescription, I never cracked the bottle. Northrup says, “I’ll take my chances with the hormones that mother nature has taken at least 3 million years to come up with”, arguing that women with healthy ovaries and adrenals may not need (HRT). Even for the one-third of women who have had their ovaries removed and may benefit “from a little estrogen or a little progesterone or possibly a little testosterone”, Northrup says that “in no case should these be the conventional hormones that are synthetic. This is important for people to know: you cannot patent a naturally occurring hormone”. (Northrup’s advice about nutritional supplements below.*)

It turns out that there are some serious reasons to avoid HRT. Medical sociologist, Gayle Sulik, writes:  “Clearly, there is a relationship between the use of synthetic hormone therapies and breast cancer even if the mechanisms are not fully understood. In 2002, when the findings from the Women’s Health Initiative estrogen-plus-progestin study came out, about 38 percent of postmenopausal women in the U.S. were using some type of hormone therapy drug. When the WHI findings hit the news, sales plummeted and breast cancer incidence rates also dropped”.

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine also linked a sharp decline (6.7 percent) in breast cancer incidence in 2003 with the release of the first Women’s Health Initiative report “and the ensuing drop in the use of hormone-replacement therapy among postmenopausal women in the United States.'”

I later read somewhere that around 40% of women who get their HRT prescriptions filled never take the stuff, and that info validated my choice. The link between HRT and breast and other cancers was too real to me. My mother had had breast cancer, and it seemed like taking these drugs was like playing with fire. Instead I devoured literature on alternative ways to deal with menopause symptoms, drank my soy milk and copped a “bring it on” attitude.

As if there weren’t enough reasons to question the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy, I just discovered another. Call me naïve or sheltered, but it never occurred to me that Premarin – an HRT taken by a number of my friends – was named for what it actually is: Pregnant Mare’s Urine. In other words, the drug of choice for so many menopausal women comes from horses that are “farmed” for this exact purpose. Northrup says, “People will tell you that Premarin is natural–yeah, it’s natural if you are a horse!”

According to an April 5th Boston Globe article by Nestor Ramos,, these horses are kept “inside long barns in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan”, lined up in rows of small stalls, “tubes snaking up from under them into vessels nearby”. Geez! Ramos, comments, “It sounds like science fiction — some equine version of “The Matrix,” in which a superior species saps humans for their nutrients — but it’s true: The urine is precious”.

The article is a human interest piece focusing on two women – one, age 70; the other, in her late 20s – who share a love of horses. It turns out that while selling Premarin is a profitable industry, “keeping hundreds of horses pregnant every year” in order to gather their urine has a downside. The mares have babies, and selling the foals for meat is also apparently a profitable business. The elder woman has spent years going back and forth to Manitoba to rescue some of these foals from the “slaughterhouse floor”, but her energy to make this trip has waned, so having a protégé who shares her passion has made it possible for her to carry out this mission, and in a way, build in the potential for someone to carry on when she no longer can make the journey.

I love the story of these two women: one in which the passion and leadership of the “elder” inspires the younger, and the vibrancy of the younger who makes this difficult journey possible. But what if there wasn’t such a lucrative industry around harvesting pregnant mare urine in the first place to supposedly rescue aging women from a natural change in their reproductive cycles? Northrup comments, “The hormones that naturally occur in the human female body have been altered so that the drug companies can justify the R&D programs to patent a hormone and therefore make their money. It’s frightening!”

Check out this Huffington Post piece by investigative reporter Martha Rosenberg, called “When the publication plan is ready, the research will appear”, in which she describes how the marketing arm of a drug company published articles denying the link between HRT and cancer. “Though the marketing firm’s “science” is egregiously flawed — HT has strong links to breast cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s — the papers have not been retracted.”

The cultural narrative for menopause, very much aided and abetted by the pharmaceutical industry – is that it’s a medical crisis to be tackled. Women’s natural reproductive functions have long been viewed as indicative of “otherness”, weakness and incapacity, from menstruation to menopause. While many women surely benefit from a medical approach to easing symptoms of menopause, we must question who and what the medicalization of menopause serves, and recognize that menopause isn’t a wasting away, a time in which we go bonkers and lose our minds and bodies. It is just another passage in a series of chapters in women’s lives.

* Northrup does recommend the use of nutritional supports such as omega 3 fats and B vitamins, “to help clear estrogen dominance from your system”.  Because when you stop ovulating and you don’t have progesterone to balance the estrogen, “that can create a state of anxiety, jitters, and headaches”. Her advice? Eating soy or ground up flax seed “helps a great deal to give you plant hormone support while your body is making the transition”.

For more reading, see:

Peter Conrad: Medicalization and Social Control: http://66.199.228.237/boundary/addiction/medicalization_and_social_control.pdf

Meyer, Medicalization of Menopause: Critique and Consequences: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11809008

Marlene Cimons: Medicalization of Menopause: Framing Media Messages in the 20th Century: http://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/1903/8352/1/umi-umd-5616.pdf

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.