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Feminist Success Stories - Célébrons nos réussites féministes

 | 
Karen A. Blackford
, 
Marie-Luce Garceau
, 
Sandra Kirby

Part I: Education — Partie I : Éducation

The University’s. New Clothes: Morality Tales for Feminists in Modern Academe

Juanita Ross Epp

Texte intégral

Introduction

1The original call for papers for this book asked for accounts of success stories in feminizing Canadian institutions. When that request landed on my desk, I thought it must be a joke. There seemed to be too many oxymorons in those phrases: successful feminizing? feminized institutions? I work at a university. Entire books have been devoted to an examination of how the “invisible paradigm of the academic system...marginalize(s) or trivialize(s) the lives of all women...so effectively that we no longer see it, notice its presence, or, most important, name it for the determining force that it is” (Schuster and Van Dyne 1985, 7-8). To a female academic, marginalization is like “bad building syndrome”: hard to avoid and dangerous to the health unless fresh air is available elsewhere.

2Attempting to “change the air” of an institution is slow work, but the appearance of this call for papers coincided with several inroads that had given me hope. We had, in a victory over red tape and resistance, inaugurated a Master’s program in Women’s Studies, and received funding for a Centre for Feminist Research. While these were both exciting developments, the clincher for my optimism was the following motion passed in the university Senate:

Moved that the Senate direct the academic leaders (Chairs, Deans of Faculties, School Directors, Department Heads) to report back to Senate at the February meeting, on their actions in their respective academic units on raising the awareness level of their peer colleagues on the issues concerning continuing Women Canada Scholars and women in science generally.

3This seemed like a show of support. Perhaps our institution did have some feminizing stories to tell. It would not hurt to ask. How would I frame the question and to whom would I pose it?

4My first problem was in defining the term “feminism.” In my own journey, I had passed through several “stages” of feminism which I later found identified in the literature (Schuster and Van Dyne, 1985; Pateman and Gross 1986). I began in “denial,” sure that any woman willing to work hard should and would be treated in the same way as her male colleagues. I entered a “consciousness raising” level (Kirschner, Atkinson and Arch 1985,35) when I allowed myself to notice the dearth of women in public positions and question the history and justification for our exclusion (Schuster and Van Dyne 1985, 16). However, I was still not sure that I wanted to be associated with the feminist movement. My resistance to being an “out” feminist was eventually overcome by a story attributed to Charlotte Whitton. When asked if she was a feminist, she responded with words to this effect: “I don’t know what a feminist is, but I do know that whenever I stand up and demand what is rightfully mine, that is what I get called.”

5Thus I reached the “equity” stage (Gross 1987). Later, I was to recognize the improbability of an equitable solution within inherently inequitable patriarchal structures. I was soon in transition into autonomy: “Struggles for equality...imply an acceptance of given standards and a conformity to their expectations and requirements. Struggles for autonomy, on the other hand, imply the right to reject such standards and create new ones” (Gross 1987, 193).

6Herein lay my problem in identifying the feminizing of our institution. Which of these stages of feminism would qualify? Our university’s patriarchal structures had obviously not been replaced with those of a new feminist social order, but attempts had been made to accommodate women within the existing order. If feminizing means incremental steps toward justice and equality, perhaps our institution had some feminizing in progress. It was by no means complete or even in sight, but there were some stories to tell.

In Search of the Stories

7Lulled into a perhaps false sense of security by that incredible pronouncement from our Senate body, I set out to document the “feminizing” of our institution. First, I went to human resources for a list of female professors so that I could contact potential feminizers.

8The complications of this process were indicative of the hierarchical (and some would say patriarchal) structures inherent to universities. Did I want all the women, including sessionals, or just tenure-track professors and term appointees? Without sessionals, 51 of the 255 professors, or 20%, were women. That was lower than the national average, which is 33-8% (McDougall and Hajnal, 1996, 214)! As well, many of the women on the list were filling term appointments and would be sent on their way when the persons they were replacing returned. I hesitated in the research process. How could this institution be called feminized?

9However, I sent out my questionnaires. I asked my colleagues to describe individual and combined attempts to make the university more welcoming for women and special programs or additional resources set aside for women. Participants were also asked to describe incidents in which they felt blocked in their attempts at feminizing some part of the institution.

10Two months later, I had received two responses. One was from a woman who had made several attempts to gain a senior position. She wished me luck at finding anything feminized about our institution. The second was from a woman who had held a term position for four years before it was made tenure-track. She still retained some optimism. However, that was all — two responses.

11The research process was stalled again. Could I report a 4% response rate? I asked non-responders, in informal “interviews” over coffee or in the halls, about the lack of response. There seemed to be several reasons:

  1. Fear of the f-word. Many did not really know what feminizing might mean and did not like the word. They associated it with “male bashing” and therefore did not want anything to do with it. I was to find, as have others before me, that “resistance...on the part of some faculty ran very deep...the insurmountable intellectual barrier was a profound unwillingness to let go of the idea that culture is defined by inherent biological differences between the sexes” (Schmitz, Dinnerstein and Mairs 1985,120).
  2. Lack of a sense of involvement or lack of confidence. Some women felt that they had made some small inroads toward feminizing but not really enough to bother reporting. Others told me that they had did not have anything to do with the “feminizing stuff.” They would leave that to those of us who “were really into it and knew what we were doing.” There was some question as to who those people might be. People associated with Women’s Studies seemed to qualify. Schuster and Van Dyne described a similar situation in another institution. Most faculty members are not engaged in research that focuses on women: further they are often intimidated by the quantity of research that has become available in the last two decades, and because this work is frequently interdisciplinary by nature, they are often unsure how it might relate to their own research and teaching (Schuster and Van Dyne, 1985, 99).
  3. Lack of institutional backing. Some women were reluctant to answer the questionnaire because they were on term or sessional contracts and did not want to “get involved” in anything that might influence their employment. In our institution, as in those surveyed by the National Centre for Education Statistics in the United States, the opportunity for tenure is less for the new generation, as a third of the junior academics...are not even in positions where they are eligible for tenure...Women are far more likely to be employed in non-tenure track positions than males (cited in McDougall and Hajnal 1996, 216).
  4. Too busy feminizing. Many women assured me that they would answer my questionnaire as soon as they could. However, they were on so many committees, had so many students and were so busy lobbying, that they had not had time. This is perhaps the “downside” of an institution attempting feminizing. Many of our university committees have a requirement that at least one member be female. Women, particularly tenure-track women, serve on more governance committees than do their male counterparts because there are so few of them. There is a similar problem associated with academic committees. Half of university students are women and many seek out female faculty to serve as their advisors and on their academic committees. Again, the dearth of women means extra work for those who do exist. The time consumed by the committee process often keeps women from the activities that count toward promotion — the research and publication components of the job.

12If this were a story, there would be a multitude of morals. Perhaps the most obvious moral would be this one: “Being a woman does not necessitate being a feminist.” Or, perhaps it would be “Women without power must be cautious.” I would like to think that it would be this: “Just because no one has time to write it down doesn’t mean there is no story.” By adopting this moral, I could continue with my “research.”

13An unexpected bonus of my quest for stories was the identification of fellow female professors. I invited them to a public meeting and we formed a loosely structured group we have dubbed the Women’s Caucus. Nearly half of the women faculty members attended the first meeting, and we have continued to meet at intervals for over a year. Sometimes we meet just to talk, but at other times we have formulated strategies to address specific issues, such as female representation on Senate and on promotion and tenure committees. We have also established an “ad hoc” standing committee to support individual women who may be experiencing difficulty within a department or faculty. This is especially important to women in non-traditional fields who may be alone in an otherwise all-male discipline, teaching classes dominated by male students. From members of the women’s caucus, I have heard stories that deny optimism about feminizing, but I remain determined to tell what positive stories I can.

The University’s New Clothes

14The situation in our institution has probably been no different from those in many others. Feminizing is not being conducted through “a top-down model that begins with an administrative directive to make sweeping changes” (Schuster and Van Dyne 1985, 92). Any gains have been the result of a “bottom-up coordination or consortial model” (Schuster and Van Dyne 1985, 92). Although “feminizing” was not a stated goal, the process has been going on in several places simultaneously, often in curious isolation. Moves toward an equitable institution started with threads, individual attempts which added little twists of colour to overwhelmingly masculine fabrics. Then, collaboration on various projects provided patches for the portions of the garment most in need of repair. Eventually, we could hope to create whole items of clothing to replace aging garments.

15If we can make any claims of feminizing, it is due to gradual change rather than sudden awareness. In the early 1990s, two things started to happen on our campus: more women and women in general became increasingly intent on doing something about equity. The “old timers,” who had been doing the ground work quietly, year after year, were starting to gain institutional support. Six of them were now actually “full professors,” which meant they had jumped all the hurdles to the top of the career ladder. However, the proportion, 2% of all faculty, was well below the national average of 9.1% or the American average of 16.2% (McDougall and Hajnal 1996, 215). As well, the fact that 11% of the female faculty were full professors was moot when compared to the 38% of male faculty who were full professors.

16In spite of this, the years of chipping away at the collective consciousness were beginning to show. Feminist research was, in some small ways, filtering into mainstream thought. For example, teaching methods and syllabi content, in isolated instances, reflected what Schuster and Van Dyne (1985) have called “a pedagogy of empowerment” (168). Such a pedagogy values students’ individual experiences, attempts to “broaden the authority group in the classroom,” includes both students and the instructor in the validation process, and fosters collaborative learning and shared responsibility (Schuster and Van Dyne 1985, 168). These processes are often associated with feminist teachers, as evidenced in student evaluation comments criticizing or applauding feminist approaches. One student described the change by comparing it to a class she considered to be lacking in feminizing:

The format of the (non-feminized) class was the exact opposite of yours. We were lectured to, took notes, had to memorize for the exam, and had no time allowed for discussion. I did learn a lot of content, rules and regulations, but I do not feel that my own thinking grew in any way related to the class content (a graduate student).

17The changes are also gradually happening in balancing the numbers of male and female faculty members. However, recent reductions in the number of faculty employed in Canadian institutions, from27,888 in 1992 to26,402 in 1994 (McDougall and Hajnal 1996, 213), have countered some of the gains of recent years in terms of equity in hiring practices. Actual counts of males and females hired in recent years show that hiring tends to be balanced rather than skewed in favour of females so the gains have been gradual. Now, in times of restraint, retirees are not being replaced and many faculties have been downsized, so we cannot expect large influxes of female or male faculty.

18However, the use of an equity watchdog on tenure and promotion committees (another job for one of the few tenured women) has helped new hirees to overcome barriers that might have kept them in the lower ranks. As more women are promoted, more women have more status and are able to add their voices in administrative places.

19Another gradual but important change has been in the recent attention to harassment and exclusion. New harassment and equity policies, combined with renewed societal awareness of individual rights, have contributed to a gradual change in attitudes. The more cynical among us would suggest that the attitudes have not really changed but have gone underground. However, the formal process for pursuing charges of harassment has made people more conscious of the possibility of harassment and more sensitive to the needs of women and minorities. Systemic changes have been small, and slow, but, collectively, they have begun to make a difference.

20Of course, the chilly climate (Hall and Sandler 1982) has not suddenly melted away. Each of us has a separate horror story to tell at the women’s caucus meetings. The big stories are about women forced out of tenure track positions or fighting to maintain research funds. There are stories of deliberate sabotage by fellow faculty members or of harassment by whole classes of male undergraduates. We also talk about the thousands of small things — a librarian unwilling to stock more of those “feminist” books, jibes in faculty meetings, quiet blocking of individual endeavours, and subtle disregard of women’s issues. However, this was to be an article about successes in the feminizing of institutions. The setbacks must be reported at another time. Reminiscent of frogs in boiling water and elephants and ants, the moral of the story is that “every little bit counts.” The environment of hope produced by gradual positive changes is the setting for the tales to follow.

Morality Tales for Feminists in Modern Academe

21I do not teach in Women’s Studies. I am a professor of education who also serves on the Women’s Studies Advisory Committee. This committee is a group of volunteers from various faculties throughout the campus who “run” the Women’s Studies program. The real work of keeping the program afloat falls to a sociology professor who gets a half-course reduction in her teaching load in exchange for being the program coordinator. Although there are some institutions that have an “advisor to the president on women’s issues,” there is no one person in our institution whose designated duties are full-time in Women’s Studies, let alone in “full-time feminizing.” I tell you this so you will understand that the “feminizing” at our institution is not an organized or even intentional or verbalized goal. The stories, which follow, tell of attempts at feminizing which happened in tandem with, and often in spite of, the full-time jobs that all of us hold in other disciplines.

The Feminist Pedagogues

22When my colleague from biology suggested that we attend a conference entitled “Feminist Pedagogy,” neither of us was really sure what feminist pedagogy might be. Unaccustomed to trips into unknown disciplines, we were a little frightened. What if we were to embarrass ourselves by asking uninformed questions?

23We need not have worried. At the conference, we quickly came to understand that an important aspect of feminist pedagogy is acceptance of others at various stages of understanding and the support of individuals as learners and risktakers. The focus was on pedagogy rather than on women. Although a video (Concordia University 1992) was used to document the differences in the way women and men are treated in higher education, most of the speakers and workshop leaders focused on alternative methods of teaching and learning aimed at improving understanding and retention for all students (Brookes 1992; Briskin 1990; Sadker and Sadker 1994).

24The conference gave us a name for many of the things that we were already doing in our classes — the things that were the most rewarding and the ones that got us into the most trouble. These things had labels like “negotiated curriculum,” “affective awareness,” “interactive journaling,” and “recognition of power differentials.” We knew how to do them and the conference enabled us to know what to call them.

25We were so excited that during a four hour stopover in an airport on the way home we wrote a paper on the conference to be published in the university’s teaching journal. We applied for internal funding to study feminist pedagogy and started a group to examine the literature and discuss the implications for teaching. The conference turned out to be a starting point for affirmation of alternative teaching strategies and a catalyst for forming a support group for professors interested in continuing the experimentation. The moral of the story: “Seek affirmation from like-minded others to sustain change.”

The Quest for a Mentor

26The literature suggests that mentors are very important to women’s career development. When the administration agreed to fund a mentoring project, there appeared to be real movement toward the “feminizing” of our institution. Even the concept of mentoring, however, can be unbalanced by the skewed demographics of women in educational institutions. At the information meeting to launch the program, we had the opportunity to sign up either as a mentor or a mentee. New faculty would then be matched with senior people to be “shown the ropes.”

27In theory, this was a very good idea. In reality, we were overwhelmed by an ironic problem. The sign-up process produced two disproportionate lists. The list of those wanting mentors far exceeded those willing to be mentors. The three full professors in attendance could not mentor 30 or so people. Even associate professors were rare as most of the women had fewer than five years of university teaching experience. There were also imbalances in disciplines. The new people in need of mentoring were rarely in departments where there were other women. (After all, if they already had one woman, why would they need to hire another one?) As a result, we decided to assign mentors in clusters rather than on a one-to-one basis.

28The processes to be used were decided by the people in the individual clusters. At the end of the year, the entire group met again. When we asked people to share things that they thought would be useful to others, both mentors and mentees had good lessons or ideas to share. Some brought experiences in getting published; others had learned about negotiating contracts and applying for research money. We learned a great deal from each other and from our own inexperience. The moral of this story? Perhaps it is in the irony of our plight: “Too few mentors spoil the stew.” I prefer, however, that it be this: “Mentoring can be a collective activity.”

The Day Women’s Studies Became a Department

29The title of this tale is a dream yet to be realized. Women’s Studies, although not yet a department, has been growing, slowly but surely, since its beginnings in 1991. Legend has it that, in answer to a sudden, overwhelming call, women from all over campus dropped what they were doing (or perhaps brought it with them) and followed the voice to a little room in the basement of the university. In that room, the Women’s Studies Advisory Committee was born. Suddenly, women who had never had the opportunity to take Women’s Studies courses themselves found themselves managing a Women’s Studies program.

30The members of the new committee stirred from their positivistic roots with questions on their minds. “Do we really need Women’s Studies?” they asked. “Is it only temporary? Will it no longer be necessary when we realize our place in the mainstream?” Deep in their hearts was the real question: “Can we afford to sacrifice our personal gains in our home disciplines by risking public affiliation with Women’s Studies?” In spite of the questions and doubts, the process began. First, a first-year course. Then a second-year one. Add a few “cross-listed” classes from other disciplines and we had an undergraduate minor. It was run by sessionals and term people, which meant that the program had the same lack of security as those teaching in it. We finally got five-sixths of a full tenure-track person in 1994. Actually, it was parts of two people who had appointments in other disciplines, but they were “real” Women’s Studies professors; that is, people who had actually studied Women’s Studies as a discipline, not people who were qualified to teach it by accident of gender at birth. Still, our work remains undone. Next year, our new Master’s level seminar will begin. Perhaps then we will be able to start the slow process of applying for departmental status.

31The moral of this story? Each year, as we scrounge for dollars in hard times, woo the dean for resources, and beg for another sessional stipend, we feel that the process is too slow, too demanding. Looking back, however, it has only been five years and we have come a long way. Perhaps we should be making sure we celebrate our successes. The moral is “Small incremental successes can lead to institutional change.”

The Amazing Birth of a Research Centre

32Nobody else knows exactly where it came from, but I can tell you the secret of the Centre for Feminist Research. You see, it began in a magic paper that floated into my mailbox one September day. It was a notice of a research grant that could be used for several purposes, one of which was the establishment of a research centre. The Women’s Studies Advisory Committee was a multidisciplinary group; we had sometimes talked about setting up a centre. This grant opportunity seemed an answer to our dreams. We took that piece of paper and performed a spell over it, using a word processor and a bottle of wine and behold — a research centre was conceived.

33Research centres, however, are a bit like elephants. It takes a long time for them to give birth. In fact, that first spell appeared to be a miscarriage. When the research monies were eventually awarded, there was none for our research centre. Our rejection letter did include an encouraging note advising us to try another source. We tried that source, but their funding was cut before our proposal came up for review. It was beginning to look as if our time spent writing proposals had been wasted.

34Fortunately, our plight came to the attention of a sorceress who happened to be the dean of graduate studies. She summoned us to her office. “A Centre for Feminist Research?” she asked. “Why didn’t you say something before? This is simple. All you have to do is sit in a circle and rewrite this research proposal yet again. Then you close your eyes and wait.”

35We hurried away to try the magic spell. Sure enough, less than a year later, the first research money came in. You see, the trick was that we had to already be a centre in order to become eligible for funding. So we applied for the grant as if the centre were already operational. The granting agency was then willing to fund projects conducted out of it. The magic of this centre is in its location. It is not a room or a place; it is a centerless centre that lives on paper and in our hearts. The moral of this story is: “There is more than one way to start a research centre: sometimes inventiveness wins the research grant game.”

The Disappearing Female Students

36The disappearance was first noticed in the student services department. Each year since 1988, the Canada Scholars Program had been supporting equal numbers of male and female students. These were students in the “hard” sciences; that is, in disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, math, physics, and so forth. In order to renew their scholarships from year to year, students were required to maintain an 80% average. The male students had a fairly high renewal rate, but the female students rarely lasted past the first year. What was happening to these female students?

37Student services called in the ace sleuthing team from the Women’s Studies committee. We were becoming familiar with the literature on female student retention, including Hall and Sandler’s (1982) work on “chilly climate.” We invited female Canada Scholars to a series of focus-group meetings. These groups were so successful they have continued in the form of support groups, but that is another story.

38The women students claimed that, at first, they were treated no differently from male students. As we talked, however, they remembered the incidents, the comments about how they were dressed, the sexual innuendo in jokes, the times when they were made to feel unwelcome or stupid or when they noticed that male students got breaks that they did not. They recognized that sometimes they had trouble finding classmates to help them or to study with them and that there did seem to be a male culture in most of their classes. Even so, they felt that they were usually not treated any differently from the male students. They were using whatever tactics were necessary to sustain themselves, but a combination of social pressures, academic demands, lack of interest, and/or too many extracurricular activities was gradually driving them out of the program.

39We also arranged for focus-group meetings with the professors in the targeted programs. One person showed up at each meeting. The first blamed the high schools for inferior products and the second suggested that the girls’ entrance marks were inferior to boys’ so they shouldn’t expect to do as well. One wanted a list of Canada Scholars so he could make sure that they got the extra help. We brought this idea back to the women students in the focus groups. They were horrified. They did not want any special attention. They already got enough exposure as isolated females in male-dominated classes.

40Our study was then taken to the university Senate in the form of a report. We made some recommendations, suggesting, among other things, that female students get more attention, that they be provided with tutoring and support groups; we also slipped in a suggestion that faculty members could benefit from some professional development on the issue.

41When the report was brought to Senate there was some discussion, but no real decisions were made. We thought it had gone the way of so many other reports before it. The next time the Senate met, however, a man, one whom we never expected to pay any attention to women’s issues, was there with the motion I quoted at the beginning of this article. It was seconded by another man whom we had supposed to be similarly disinterested, and it was passed.

42Before you resign from your job and head for our “feminized” institution, you should finish reading this story. Although the passing of this motion sounds like a powerful pronouncement of commitment to equity, you probably know that shows of support cannot necessarily be taken at face value. In this case, the motion was passed only because it was late and most of the Senate had gone home; some say it was made in order for one department to point out the failings of another. In any case, it did pass, so we began to prepare for the fallout.

43Our immediate concern was to get ready for the flood of requests we expected as each department would come to beg for our services in the consciousness raising that was about to begin. Would we have the time and resources to meet the demand? We called on the Gender Issues Centre (established in 1991 and supported by the student union). They provided a list of resources (including the film from Concordia). The package was soon ready and so were we.

44Strangely, no requests came. Time went by. The package was available, so we sent one to each department head. We can only assume that the package was enough. None of us was ever invited to do a workshop. No one called to ask about the resources. The February Senate meeting came and went, and nothing was said.

45This is a good news/bad news story. The good news is that we are all becoming more aware of the needs of female students. The bad news is that being aware of the needs does little toward meeting them. The moral of the story? Perhaps it is “Resolutions of public governing bodies do not necessarily mean change or commitment.” An alternate moral would be “Preach to the converted; you never know who might be listening.”

46This may not be a “feminizing” story. Perhaps it would have happened this way even if the characters had been all men or all women. I have heard it said that intrigue is a part of academic life regardless of gender. This is the story of how a man attempts to “divide and conquer” two women and almost succeeds.

47The story begins when two women are both eligible for promotion at the same time. It is not as if there are only so many promotions to go around. Any number of assistant professors can become associate professors, and any number of associate professors can become full professors. So there is no need for blocking others to promote self. However, the promotion process requires that candidates make their CVs available to all other faculty members and that all others have a right to vote on any individual s promotion. The vote and accompanying supporting or detracting comments are presented to the promotion committee which makes the ultimate decision. The process becomes very intense and personal, although it is supposed to focus on academic credentials. There are also secret little games that begin when the candidates submit their “documentation.” In this case, the games became quite bizarre. One of the women actually found the following note in her mailbox: “Someone that you consider both a friend and a colleague is neither.”

48It was a nasty time. There were accusations that a journal article that one of the women had listed as “refereed” was not really refereed. There were rumours that that rumour had been started by the other woman up for promotion. There were suspicions that the first woman had tried to block the second woman in her bid for an administrative position. Soon the two women were avoiding contact. They were detouring to avoid each other in the hall and rallying their supporters in two separate camps.

49There are not enough women in our university to support separate camps so eventually one of the women decided she had had enough. She marched into the other woman’s office for a showdown. The story could be embellished here if I were to tell you that the secretaries gathered at the door to listen, but I suspect that would be overly dramatic.

50Inside the office, the standoff was short lived. Once the cards were on the table, it immediately became apparent that neither woman had done what the other thought she had done. In fact, by comparing notes, they were able to identify the true culprit as a man who had very cleverly planted the seeds of mistrust and suspicion that had driven these two women into separate rages. They had done exactly what he had wanted. Each had believed his innuendo and had blamed and sabotaged the other. When they cut communications with each other, there was no way for them to become aware of his manipulation. They could have gone on hurting each other every chance they got for the rest of their careers had they not talked about it. I am not sure what they did to get even; perhaps they did nothing. I do know they left early that day to plan their next move over a glass of wine. By the way, they both got their promotions.

51The moral of this story hardly needs to be pointed out. If you think another woman has wronged you, confront her and get the facts. We do not have to all be friends, but we must keep our integrity as colleagues. There are enough others out there undermining women. They need no help from us.

The Good Idea

52Sometimes I would get lonely. I would look up from my work and realize that it was time to hurry home to my children. Another day had gone by, another week had disappeared, and I had not been in touch with my friends and colleagues. There were people that I had planned to lunch with, but we were all too busy that we were each grabbing sandwiches in our separate offices as we juggled classes, research, meetings, and home responsibilities.

53I looked at my calendar and saw that there was a gap between classes on Tuesday around lunch time so I sent the word out to all the women I knew. I said that there would be a group of women having lunch at a specific restaurant on any given Tuesday. I did not know who else would be there but they were all invited.

54I went to the restaurant that first Tuesday and waited. Five people arrived. During the following weeks, there were usually five or six of us. Different people came each time and sometimes we had as many as ten at the table. Once, I did dine alone, so now I check with a few others until I find at least one other person planning to go. No one needs to feel compelled to come; there is no one to phone if you need to cancel. The restaurant gets irritated because the first one there cannot say exactly how many will eventually join her, but it always works out. Sometimes there are a few empty chairs and sometimes we have to pull up a few extras.

55We do not always talk about women’s issues, but we often do. Individuals bring their teaching dilemmas and their research concerns. In fact, most of the stories I have told you today I heard (or told) in that restaurant. This story has no moral. It is just the sharing of an idea that has been very rewarding.

The Moral of the Story

56On first glance, our university would appear to be an inclusive place. Our institution is advertised as an equal opportunity employer and there is an equity policy in place. We have a Women’s Studies program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, a Feminist Research Centre, an excellent harassment policy, a gender issues centre, a gay and lesbian centre, and the requirement that there be an equity advisor on all promotion and tenure committees. While it would seem that there are great things happening, these are baby steps in the “feminizing” process.

57If we accept as feminizing the process of paying attention to justice issues, the university has made a start. However, vital as these things are, their existence may mask other underlying issues at other levels of feminizing. Although the university has done many things to make sure that policies and practices are affirming, the stated policies cannot prevent individualized patriarchy. Unless these policies are understood, accepted, and enforced, they do nothing to change individual actions. Their existence does not prevent professors from marginalizing female students, from omitting the “female content,” or from placing higher value on traditional androcentric structures. This is not to say that inclusive policies are not important. Difficult as they are to implement and impossible as they are to enforce, they are necessary foundations for change. However, policy is sometimes propaganda. Policies can make institutions appear to be “feminized” when they are not. The issues do not go away because someone addressed them in a policy manual.

58Attention to policy issues and interpretation of policy may deflect energy from the more transformative aspects of “feminizing” as “an ethics, a methodology, a more complex way of thinking about, thus more responsibly acting upon, the conditions of human life” (Rich 1979, 213). At our institution, we have learned to play the academic games, creatively if necessary. We have learned to mentor in a collective way. We now understand that, if we are lacking wise women, we must combine our lesser wisdoms. We have learned to nourish our networks, with food and wine where possible, and always with passion and laughter. We have learned that it is not all bad to continually preach to the converted; we can never tell when others might be listening. We have learned to put women in high places and to continue to support them once they are there, taking our battles to another level. We have learned to value the female students who are where our future lies. Is this, though, the use of feminism as what Rich (1979) called a “frivolous label” (213)? This is not Rich’s “feminist evolution...leading to radical change” (Rich 1979, 213).

59Perhaps the most important thing we have learned is the vital role of continued communication and support among women. The support of others makes the difference between a devastating blow and an incentive to carry on. This support leads to creative responses, to challenges and problems, to responses that would not be conceived of or dared by an individual. Mentoring, supporting students, transforming programs, applying for research grants, enlightening colleagues, and understanding adversity are all best done in a supportive group context. If Rich’s feminism “rooted in the conviction that all women’s lives are important; that the lives of men cannot be understood by burying the lives of women” (213) is ever to happen, it must be done by working in concert.

60The things that we have done, the small gains that we have accomplished, are important (if minute) steps toward change. They represent a step toward an inclusive community of professors, administrators, staff, and students. A feminized institution would encourage women and men to cooperate for the growth of all people in all aspects of the educational process. It would also hear the voices of the traditionally disenfranchised and value diversity. It would “make visible the full meaning of women’s experience, [and] reinterpret knowledge in terms of that experience” (Rich 1979, 213). This requires more than attention to demands for equitable treatment. It would involve a rethinking of the meaning of knowledge and education. That, however, is another story.

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Auteur

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 1999

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540