In the last month, there have been several conversations on Facebook on the patriarchy (and racism too but just patriarchy for now) of male academics. Each time it happens, I want to blog about it, and then I’m too tired from the violence of the male academics who participate in those conversations defensively, arrogantly, and emotionally. So here goes it at last.
In a recently conversation on my Facebook on male fragility in academia, a friend commented, “But why are these academics so thin-skinned? None of the ones I know are!”
I responded that most academics I know are thin-skinned–and almost are of the thin-skinned ones are men.
My friend: “Ohhh, I’m thinking about my female academic friends! I don’t know any male academics.”
male fragility in academia (esp white male fragility)
That’s because female academics can’t help but be thick-skinned. Since all the individuals of our gender are charged with dismissive accusations of being angry, emotional, confrontational, etc., we are not allowed to express any emotion whatsoever. It’s not just other members of our gender who are harmed by our supposedly “emotional nature”: our careers are jeopardized, and our scholarship is viewed as too emotional to be taken seriously.
This is so ironic, of course, because the dismissal of female academics’ scholarship is inherently tied to these men’s emotional fears that their scholarship is flawed, too often irrelevant, and rather powerful in challenging the larger system of patriarchy. We know how much patriarchy benefits men, and especially men in academia, for women’s scholarship to be taken seriously. More on this another time, though.
As friends of mine point out repeatedly–again, in conversations about the patriarchy in academia–women are constantly dismissed as “angry,” but the actual truth is that we’re not angry enough. With the levels of misogyny we have to endure daily in ALL spaces we are parts of, it’s a miracle we haven’t revolted and flattened everything around us.
The truth is that women don’t have the luxury to be emotional, to express any kind of emotion. We are trained harder, punished harder, judged harder – than men are. (And when you’re a woman of color, it only gets worse.)
So, you see. That popular myth that women are “emotional,” an apparently the wrong quality to have, needs to stop being a thing. Apparently, the opposite of “emotion” is reason, and that’s men’s territory – though I rarely meet men who are reasonable and rational and not emotional. The truth, however, is that men are equally, if not more, emotional than women–but sadly in cases where being emotional is actually harmful; when emotionalness is actually healthy for everyone around, including the men in question, like in being empathetic towards others, patriarchy teaches that’s women’s territory. This is one of the most tragic paradox of humanity. (And now for the emotional enlightened person to say #NotAllMen and fail to see that we’re talking here about patriarchy and its influence on the genderedness of emotions.) And I’ll talk here specifically about male academics.
on protecting male abuse in academia
Even expressing support and positivity towards female colleagues and towards younger female students leads to our not being taken seriously. I know male academics who are annoyed that female scholars are “nice” to each other (to other females, that is). And there’s an important reason why this annoyance exists. Here’s what’s actually going on:
Undeniably, there’s an incredible and (for men) unimaginable level of patriarchy that women face, especially in male-dominated fields and spaces (including Islamic Studies). I have found–and this is my experience but also the experience of other Islamic Studies female colleagues of mine (and this comes up A LOT on Facebook)–that female scholars, especially feminist ones, are much more supportive and kind towards us than are the men. There’s this, and there’s the fact that we turn to each other for support and guidance – and to pick ourselves back up whenever we trip on patriarchy.
And don’t get me wrong. It’s not that women are always necessarily better to other women. All women of color in academia have horror stories of racist and sexist dismissals from especially white women in academia as well; many of these stories have to do with women of color doing the main work or coming up with creative ideas for something, only to have their white female colleagues take the credit for it and pretend it was all their idea. In *all* cases, women of color suffer the most. While patriarchy serves men, racism serves white women. And no system, no structure exists that serves women of color. Especially black women, especially women of color who do not come from elite, upper class backgrounds. But more on that another time. For more details on this, read the scholarship of women of color and their experiences in academia or the general work force. Or the broader society, period.
I do not deny and certainly don’t doubt that not everyone has had this positive an experience with female scholars and mentors. I know that especially as some women make it higher up in the hierarchy, they become as horrible as the worst of their men superiors. But my point here isn’t necessarily that women are always better with each other than men are with us. It’s that when women cultivate spaces for each other to support each other through surviving patriarchy and male-dominance, too many male academics–as men in any male-dominated fields–are troubled by this.
The reason they’re troubled is very simple: women supporting and loving and uplifting each other threatens patriarchy in significant ways. It’s as if we’re intruding on their sacred male space. Supporting each other entails revealing certain men’s secrets of being hostile or violent (often emotionally) to female colleagues and students. We talk about our experiences like this. We also provide each other the support necessary to survive the patriarchy in academia, and that means less women having to leave it because self preservation is a fucking real thing for us. The more women in academia, the higher chances of the death of patriarchy. And that’s not helpful to patriarchy/these male “scholars.”
Do you see how familiar this sounds? Good, because it’s the same familiar tactic of abusive men who isolate their partners to ensure that the latter do not have a community, a support system, that may empower them, to ensure that these abusive partner are not outed.
I’m saying all this as a graduate student, and I cannot imagine what senior female scholars have had to endure, except for the ones who’ve shared their experiences with me. And that’s a lot of them.
what to do if you’re a male academic
If you’re an academic male reading this, understand that the point isn’t to enrage you and attack you; don’t take this personally because this isn’t about you as an individual. (But here’s some helpful tips about how not to be “that dude” that you prolly don’t think you are anyway. Especially see #s 13, 14, 19, … and all the others, too, actually.) This problem is bigger than you or your ego. If none of this sounds believable to you, we have yet another problem because it means you haven’t been paying attention to the hostility of the spaces you’re a part of. Start observing more, start paying attention more, watch how your male colleagues treat your female colleagues and how the female ones treat each other.
i’m not about protecting and honoring male fragility
Does this all sound hateful towards men? Yes? That’s funny because it reminds me of what Malcolm X says in his autobiography when discussing accusations that he was preaching hate against white people – k, I forget the passage now, but you can look it up on your own.
In other words, in the context of our convo here, men are so accustomed to being respected and honored where no respect and honor is deserved that they perceive criticism as hate. Male entitlement is real enough so that when it’s denied to them, men feel hurt. We have been protecting violent men (becuz patriarchy is inherently violent) for so long that when we stop doing so and begin instead to call them out, we are hurting their feelings – and that means hate, apparently.
Simply put, we must protect and love men unconditionally, regardless of how they treat us, or we must prepare to be accused of hating them. (Not that hating is always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s very necessary. I don’t apologize for this.)
A friend shared this article with me (because I’ve been talking about the emotional nature of male academics for a while now). It’s by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and is called Very Professional E-Mails from Scientists (don’t you just love this title!!). It’s not just one or two or eighty or five hundred academics doing this – it’s way more.
But they don’t all treat us the same way. They’re sometimes “just” patronizing in the more subtle ways. Like this one dude academic who always has to contradict the information I’m giving him, by saying, “Hm, are you sure X is the case? Because typically, that’s not the case with Y, and this is a case of Y.” Even when I give him evidence. A close female academic friend tells me, about a certain male academic we both know, that in order to stay on his good side, you just have to let him be right all the time, let him think he knows his stuff, let him think he’s in charge. This should sound familiar to most, if not all, women. It’s kinda how we’ve been surviving patriarchy all our lives and all of history.
The “problem” with me is that I don’t let men think that. I don’t let men enjoy even the perception that they’re in charge. I know this is common patriarchal advice given to women (especially women in relationships where the male partner just HAS to feel in charge). And as most academics, men and women, have told me, I’m going to have a hard time moving forward in academia because I won’t let men enjoy their innocent-ass dominance … over me, over other women, over people of color, over anyone who’s part of a marginalized community.
how male academics justify their patriarchy
The different kinds of nonsense women have to put up with include comments about the kind of research we do (“it’s too activist-y” or “it’s too focused on justice” (? #whateven – God, I’ve so much to say on this. In due time, inshaAllah); or our conclusions are false, without any honest, reflective, fair, serious engagement with women’s scholarship – and never mind that one of the roles that academic scholarship plays is that of a conversation among people who disagree; or our methods are flawed (this is always a frustrating one because too often, ethnographic methods aren’t considered as legitimate especially when women apply them – and it’s as if we all must have the same method (right? It can’t be plural if women’s methods, whatever they are, aren’t legitimate and proper enough) when conducting scholarship or else. If you’re a woman dealing with women’s or more broadly gender-focused topics, it only gets worse: can you do something else, please? Gender is just not applicable, not relevant, not important enough – because it apparently doesn’t apply to (cis-hetero) men, it’s not relevant or personally important to them, and therefore unworthy of exploration.
In other words, all scholarship must serve men, must serve patriarchy, in order to be counted as “real” scholarship. Patriarchal activism is no problem whatsoever. But feminist activism? Yeah, that’s not real scholarship. Women’s scholarship is often accused of being “practical” (apparently the opposite of practical is theoretical, and theoretical in this case is the better route).
a) male academics justify their dismissal of female academics based on personal, emotional experiences with us (“women are too emotions, too confrontational; women don’t like my scholarship” (lol) but dismiss and laugh off our experiences with men
Specific to Islamic Studies but relevant all other disciplines and fields as well: Men in Islamic Studies (grad students to full professors) have told me that the “reason” they don’t like Muslim feminist academics is due to some bad experience they’ve had with these feminists. (But I like how they make it all about these feminists’ scholarship, like “their methodology is weak” or “their conclusions are false” or – my personal favorite – #notallmen. Almost always without ever having read their scholarship.) Usually, it’s that the feminists don’t stroke their ego the way these men are used to. Sometimes, it’s as small an issue as a “feminist” being “confrontational” and “defensive” about her scholarship when these patriarchal male academics attack her work, which often comes with attacking her character and – if it’s a traditional, patriarchal Muslim male “scholar” – her faith. But, ha, never mind that men shout at and attack each other and can’t handle a disagreement and criticisms of their work.
And for that reason alone (and I’m not exaggerating), they deny the legitimacy of these female scholars’ work and dissuade students and others from engaging the works that these feminist scholars produce, no matter how important. Just like I’m constantly being told not to take seriously the feminist scholars of Islamic Studies because, uh, they’re not producing any “real” scholarship.
But here’s the thing: Every female scholar in Islamic Studies (without an exception, I imagine, but certainly all the ones I’ve had this convo with – and that’s a lotta them because this is the most common theme when we talk) has had unpleasant experiences with male academics, at some point in their career, starting as undergrad or grad students. From smaller ways, like being spoken over or ignored in a group setting with other men and you get no attention and respect at all, to bigger ways, like personal attacks (as a white male “scholar” did to a female scholar in a classroom setting last year).
But WE, being women, don’t have the luxury to “react emotionally” to the horrible treatment we have to face from patriarchal (and often also racist) male academics. We have to stay quiet about that, and if it’s ever known that we’ve shared names of the men we’ve had to endure emotional violence from, we’re supposed to be worried about our career prospects if we’re not tenured.
on patriarchy’s inconsistencies
But here’s the thing, though. Y’all ever notice that men, especially when giving their manguidance, are claimed to be “practical” (and supposedly thus objective), while women are claimed to be, well, not practical? And patriarchy tells us that in this context, practicality is the preferred quality – clearly because it’s attributed to males; it’s also therefore more important, special, and what women should aspire towards.
Yet, when it comes to scholarly/academic work, women’s work is dismissed specifically because it’s often more practical, more action-oriented while men’s work is really not. (I’ll write more later about what’s going on here and why this is the case. Bu for now, just read on.) Now, because women’s scholarship is often more practical, suddenly, this is a flaw, and largely because of it, women’s scholarship is devalued, disrespected, and ostracized. Think more about the whole “activist vs academic” binary that we know exists to marginalize women’s scholarship even more, given that most activists/activist-academics are women.
Do you see what I see here? Do you see a pattern here? Do ya? Whatever men do is in the right in all cases. Because patriarchy will do everything, be as inconsistent as possible, to ensure that it is men who are perceived as the better, more important species of humans. And, significantly, the change that can and does come with female scholars’/activists’ scholarship is powerful and empowering and threatens patriarchy and so it’s projected as irrelevant, unnecessary, “not proper scholarship.”
So you see, patriarchy works in such an effective and hypocritical way that it projects the insecurities, irrationality, and other bad qualities of men onto women so that we end up vilifying women, womanhood, and all things (including qualities) associated with women. The idea is that all the poor qualities of the dominant group are attributed to the marginalized group so as to further the injustices against the latter – and only make the former appear better. Of course, what’s better and worse is constantly changing with time (and culture, always culture too), so when one day, the fact that men are at least just as emotional as women are but are only presented as otherwise *because men’s anger, violence, insecurities, etc. aren’t currently associated with emotionalness*, then watch how society turns around and declares emotionalness to be the better quality… and will fight any claims of the myth of emotional vs logical binary.
just to be sure …
I’m not interested in who’s more or less “emotional” (because for me, the bigger issue is what’s even wrong with being “emotional” to begin with – because patriarchy is at work here). I’m interested instead in calling out the hypocritical ways that we understand being “emotional,” in why it is that, if being “emotional” is a bad thing, why it is that when men are being emotional, like being defensive and angry and illogical, that’s not condemned.
So there’s all this patriarchy, all this injustice in academic spaces (and, yes, yes, everywhere else too – #butfocusdamnit), and those who have to endure it all are expected to just stay quiet about it all in order to protect the violence of academia. And the silence of female academics helps no one because it’s not like anyone will accept or respect us if only we kept quiet. They’ll find an excuse, any excuse, to dismiss us regardless.
stop protecting male fragility.
I’m so fucking tired of the ways that male feelings are honored and protected and guaranteed protection while female scholars have to show their worth by displaying no feelings, no emotions, no acknowledgment of the hurt they’ve been subjected to because women are so emotional, so duh of course they’d “react” that way; because we’d be simply reinforcing the stereotypes against us for which we are always penalized. The violence of patriarchy’s false idea that women are emotional but men are rational / not emotional creatures has no end.
to the female scholars before and after me …
So much respect for and gratitude to the women scholars of Islamic Studies – and, indeed, of all fields! – before me. At least in my generation, this conversation has started. I’ve no idea how the earlier generation of female scholars made it so far, making it possible for me and the scholars of my generation and the many after mine.
Here’s an important fact: The most important, most meaningful work in Islamic Studies currently being produced is all by Muslim feminists. Deal with it. The emotional reactions from the men of Islamic Studies is actually because they’re trying to resist the anti-patriarchy of the feminists’ scholarship. It’s absolutely personal. This is why I don’t take men’s scholarship seriously: it’s too rooted in their emotional desire to maintain, serve, and preserve patriarchy. I don’t appreciate and don’t support biases like that in scholarship.