“No one ever questioned the fact that I wanted to do feminist oriented work…”


Professor of English, Hunter College

In fact, I remember I was there when this New York Times Magazine article about Carolyn Heilbrun came out, and I was part of a group of graduate students that wrote a letter saying, “This [experiencing outright institutional hostility towards our feminist scholarship] is not our experience. This is not true for us.” Were they like super, super supportive in strategic ways? No. But Anne McClintock, Ann Douglas, Priscilla Wald. I don’t think Gauri [Viswanathan] was there yet. Even the male faculty, John Archer, like all these people, were incredibly supportive of feminist work. No one ever questioned the fact that I wanted to do feminist oriented work, no one, and I was supported and encouraged in it. So, no, I never, never felt that. Quite the opposite. Quite the opposite. I felt like other people may have had that experience, and it certainly happened on the faculty level where women did not get tenure nearly as much as men did, absolutely, and you could see it institutionally. Within our department, on the day-to-day basis, not at all, and I never felt as a woman that somehow I was less important or I should be less listened to. I was very, in fact, involved in and very active in the life of the department. I was our department representative to the Graduate Student Council, I did this newsletter, I was really involved, and I never ever felt any of that.

Q: It’s predominantly the faculty that were experiencing that.

Yes, absolutely, because they had to deal with the upper administration, which was an old boys club. But in our department, I think because our program was so big—there were thirty of us per year, so there was a huge amount of variety—but also I think there were enough people both on the faculty and among the student body who were just like, I don’t understand why being a feminist is a deal. Do you know what I mean? That was just like, I came in a fully-formed feminist. Obviously I had a lot to learn, but my political sense of self was formed. I never was closeted on my CV, because it’s like, look, this is the work I do, this is who I am, either you want me or you don’t.

So yes, I’m sorry, but I understand it was an institutional truth for many, particularly the older women faculty who had really got screwed over. It’s just a total sea change, and I thank our feminist foremothers for it, because we could not have done it. We absolutely are standing on their shoulders. They had to take a huge amount of shit so I could live this life, and I’m totally appreciative of it, absolutely.