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Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia

by Kelly J. Baker

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2611728,383 (4)4
Why aren't more women at the top of the ivory tower?The academy claims to be a meritocracy, in which the best and brightest graduate students gain employment as professors. When Kelly J. Baker earned her doctorate in religion, she assumed that merit mattered more than gender. After all, women appeared to be succeeding in higher ed, graduating at higher rates than men. And yet, the higher up she looked in the academic hierarchy, the fewer women there were. After leaving academia, she began to write about gender, labor, and higher ed to figure out whether academia had a gender problem. Eventually, Baker realized how wrong she'd been about how academia worked. This book is her effort to document how very common sexism--paired with labor exploitation--is in higher ed.Baker writes about gender inequity, precarious labor, misogyny, and structural oppression. Sexism and patriarchy define our work and our lives, within and outside of academia. She not only examines the sexism inherent in hiring practices, promotion, leave policies, and citation, but also the cultural assumptions about who can and should be a professor. Baker also shows the consequences of sexism and patriarchy in her own life: hating the sound of her voice, fake allies, the cultural boundaries of motherhood, and the perils of being visible. It's exhausting to be a woman, but Baker never gives up hope that we can change higher ed--and the world--if only we continue to try."Sexism Ed is smart, incisive, and hard to put down." --Jessica W. Luther, author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape.… (more)
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received Sexism Ed through the LibraryThing Advanced Reviewer Programme in exchange for Opinions.

This is a strong collection of essays with a varied set of themes, largely drawing on Baker’s personal experiences both as a fledgling academic trying and failing to get onto the tenure track. Baker later left academia to become a full-time writer, including becoming the editor of Women in Higher Education, and the material in this book was created over a series of years.

The material is divided into three sections. The first tackles sexist bias in academia from multiple angles, concentrating on the hostile environment which universities often create for women who do not fit our stereotypical white-man ideal of what an academic should be. This is all interesting, if depressing, stuff, and I was struck by how well the material flowed despite the fact that even though these were separately written essays – I don’t know whether this was a happy accident, or the result of careful and highly successful editing, but it’s worthy of note either way.

The second, contains essays about the working environment in academia generally, and the way in which the system has become increasingly exploitative and difficult to navigate especially for younger workers, women, people of colour, and other marginalised groups. This section was the least relateable, as I’m not in academia and have no experience with the US schooling system, so I only have a weak grasp of what the tenure system entails and how widely the model is used elsewhere, and I did get close to skipping a couple of these. However, it’s all still well written and passionately argued and it ended up holding my attention to the end.

It was the third, sadly shortest, section which contained my favourite material. The essays here are mostly longer and tackle personal elements of Baker’s career and life, including her struggle to accept her high-pitched, accented, feminine voice (I can relate), getting to a stage in one’s career where you wonder where your ambition has gone (…yeah), and the struggle of being an expert on white supremacist movements in 2017 when your expertise becomes depressingly relevant and likely to make you a target for online hate (thankfully not in my range of personal experience, but powerfully written nonetheless). All of Sexism Ed feels personal in some way, but this was the section where I fell like Baker was able to cash in on all the more objective ground covered in parts one and two and really bring home what it feels like to navigate a career path in an industry that, on a fundamental level, wishes you weren’t so… you.

All in all, I was surprised and impressed by the ground which this collection covered, and how well the material in Sexism Ed cohered together despite its origins as separate essays over a period of years. I’ll definitely be looking out for more non-fiction work from Kelly J. Baker in future. ( )
  Arifel | Dec 3, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Essays on the problems of higher education, especially the refusal to respect women and the shift away from tenured faculty.

Kelly Baker has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, edits the journal Women in High Education, and publishes articles in major newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times. Her area of scholarly expertise is the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan and zombies; she has published academic books on those topics. After Baker received her Ph.D. in 2008, she failed to obtain the tenure-track position that she was trained to hold. She taught in one-year contract positions before leaving academia. Her own experience and her current job give her an important perspective on what it means to teach and work as a woman in higher education.

Some of the essays in Sexism Ed are essays that Baker has written and published elsewhere. The first two sections of the books include articles she has written for the journal she edits. Here she writes with clarity and authority about the multitude of ways that women in higher education continue to be treated as second-class citizens in terms of hiring and promotion and lack of respect for their expertise and scholarship. She uses both statistical analysis and personal accounts in ways that startle readers into approaching problems in new ways. At time,s she presents and acknowledges what other scholars and thinkers have said. Sexism, especially toward female faculty, is the core of the first section. Related problems facing universities are the primary focus of the second section. A particular concern in both sections is the decline in the numbers tenured faculty with academic freedom and economic security along with the growing reliance of adjuncts and lecturers who teach on short term contracts and lack such advantages. Unsurprisingly, women remain a minority of tenured faculty and a majority of contingent, contract teachers. What is different about Baker’s analysis is that she looks at all those who teach at universities as laborers. She urges tenured faculty to face the threats to the continuation of tenure and admit the ways that they depend on contract teaching for their own privileges. Baker urges them to consider the worlds of their untenured colleagues and reach across the gulf that divides them. Her position is more radical than many of those who bemoan the decline of tenure.

The last section of the book builds on the previous analysis and speaks in more personal, more moving ways about issues of gender, especially around the real and perceived tensions between motherhood and academic commitment. Mothers are less likely than other women to get academic jobs, but for Baker, being a mother is key to who she is. Discussing Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, Baker also writes in moving words about how she holds on to hope, because we can never know for sure what the future will bring. Perhaps by doing our own small part to bring about positive change, we can affect the outcome. In writing about her own experience and feelings, Baker touches what some of us, male as well as female, know but try to forget.

Much of what Baker describes is what we were talking about as women teaching and seeking to teach in the 1980s and 1990s. In some cases her book felt repetitive. Yet Baker is a different generation of feminists in a different academic world. Building on some of the gains we made, she can be more rebellious than we could. She has been hurt for trying to be something other than the accepted image of college professor that might, or might not, have gotten her tenure. Instead she adapted and created ways that she may be more seen and heard than those who stand in front of college classrooms. I laud what she is doing and saying. I recommend it to young women in American universities today. ( )
  mdbrady | Sep 18, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This collection should be required reading for everyone in academe, certainly anyone who plans to teach in a college classroom. It might just be one of the essential books for our current moment, with its clear, forceful observations and insights about technology, gender, social hierarchy, diversity, and the so-called "life of the mind." As someone who eagerly followed Baker's columns in the "Chronicle of Higher Ed," I'm hopeful that now her strong voice will reach a wider audience.
  jwmccormack | Aug 23, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I first took a crack at reading this book, I was immediately hit by the shared experience of academic life and frankly, it was painful. When I picked it up again, I read through each chapter and section as though they were rants on social media from my friends and colleagues in academia. These days, though I am cordoned off in a non-tenure position, I am also able to be more under the radar of would-be sexist antics from my colleagues and thankfully have had less nonsense from my students. Reading through this made me want to send it off to the now retired chair of the department I studied in while earning my master's to see if she might be at least chagrined by her conduct and leadership there that is so eloquently written about here.

My only caveat for any reader who feels beleaguered and/or overwhelmed by current events that include the #METOO movement, save this read for a better time; but do take the time to read it when you are able, it will make you feel less isolated. ( )
  mamakats | Aug 1, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A collection of articles and essays examining the daily sexism women must face in academia. The author writes about research and her own personal experience. It's hard reading, and depressing, but well written and reasoned. The author also struggles with her own discouragement over problems that don't seem to be getting better. He writing is thoughtful and intentionally hopeful even in the midst of current reality. I'm not familiar with academia myself, so I've mostly imagined it as a utopia - so it's hard to be disillusioned. However, the author is full of advice and plans to turn things around. That is where one must put the focus. ( )
  Juva | Jun 6, 2018 |
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Why aren't more women at the top of the ivory tower?The academy claims to be a meritocracy, in which the best and brightest graduate students gain employment as professors. When Kelly J. Baker earned her doctorate in religion, she assumed that merit mattered more than gender. After all, women appeared to be succeeding in higher ed, graduating at higher rates than men. And yet, the higher up she looked in the academic hierarchy, the fewer women there were. After leaving academia, she began to write about gender, labor, and higher ed to figure out whether academia had a gender problem. Eventually, Baker realized how wrong she'd been about how academia worked. This book is her effort to document how very common sexism--paired with labor exploitation--is in higher ed.Baker writes about gender inequity, precarious labor, misogyny, and structural oppression. Sexism and patriarchy define our work and our lives, within and outside of academia. She not only examines the sexism inherent in hiring practices, promotion, leave policies, and citation, but also the cultural assumptions about who can and should be a professor. Baker also shows the consequences of sexism and patriarchy in her own life: hating the sound of her voice, fake allies, the cultural boundaries of motherhood, and the perils of being visible. It's exhausting to be a woman, but Baker never gives up hope that we can change higher ed--and the world--if only we continue to try."Sexism Ed is smart, incisive, and hard to put down." --Jessica W. Luther, author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape.

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