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Men Would Revolt

Professor Sharon Marcus on the position of women in higher education

My friend (and member of this community) Sharon Marcus is a professor of English at Columbia University. She wrote a wonderful piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education about the position of women in the academy. Marcus is also one of the principals in Public Books, where scholars and others write about books. In this piece, Marcus notes that even though most academics would claim disinterest in power, academic structures are full of hierarchies like professor/student and tenured/untenured. She writes:

Academic structures equate authority with superiority. When one groups dominates the ranks of the authoritative – as men and white people still dominate the ranks of full professors, college presidents, provosts… – then everyone belonging to that group, no matter their actual level of achievement, starts to have superiority attributed to them.

Always the most practical person, Marcus makes a checklist of how we’ll know that the academy assesses women and men fairly. My favorite elements of her checklist:

• Not one, not two, but zero professors explain that they can’t expect Asian-American women to speak up in class because of their “culture”

• Even scholars who don’t focus on gender feel obligated to familiarize themselves with the most important feminist work in their discipline

Marcus takes her checklist even further and project reversing the outcomes for men and women. Then we’d see things happening like “University bookstores far more books by women than by men.” In such a scenario, men would revolt, as women are doing now.

Read the entire essay (and the others in the series) here.