Academia is a giant white mansplain, and thus, a manifesto

Recently I upset the whole world by telling somebody who mansplained all over me to knock it off. I am sure this person is wonderful in lots of ways. I’ve read some of his papers, and I think they are super.

But really, my statements are not about him. It’s about me and what I deserve.

It’s about how people get to talk to me and about me professionally.

My confronting him, and the group, has lead to a bunch of to and fro about whether I’m making something out of nothing, whether this was all just a little personal contretemps, and that’s all bull crap. Nobody else gets to have an opinion.

It’s not about “the team” or “why the team needs unity.” It’s about me and what I deserve.

Academic currency is smartness, and male academics–in particular–condescend to female academics and scholars of color and pretty much everybody else all the time, it’s bad behavior in reality, but it’s rewarded behavior in the academy. It should not be, in an environment that tells itself that it is about inquiry.

“Let me begin by assuming I know shit and you don’t…” is the way people begin communicating in the academy. Even when, in this case, I am an award-winning social science researcher in my own right with 30+ published papers to my credit.

So here’s the deal.

1. My competency will not by undermined in any conversation that anybody gets to have with me. Nobody gets to assume I am operating from a handicap known as my gender. If somebody starts there, they get corrected. Why? I deserve better than that.

2. My work and contributions will not be reframed and erased according to what suits your agenda for a conversation. I control how my work is discussed. Why? I deserve to.

3. I shall dictate the terms by which I am spoken to and treated. You can have an opinion, of course, but don’t expect me to care about it or defer to it. I don’t need to be treated according to my academic rank; you needn’t even really call me Dr. or Professor. But I shall be treated like an equal in conversation, in every conversation, or I will correct that.

Now if you haven’t, go watch Beyonce’s Lemonade, and actually pay attention because it is not about what Jay Z is doing with his penis.

When you have lost the ability to be constructive in race/class/gender discussions

This has never really happened to me before, but I think I may have become so alienated and hurt by the misogyny of the academy that I am no longer constructive.

One wants to work for change, but after getting kicked in the teeth so many time by so many clueless dinosaurs…one just resents every single action or gesture or conversation as either fake, self-serving, or both.

So I sit on the sidelines, rolling my eyeballs all over my head, as people who have no clue what oppression is or how it works talk about how we’re gonna be all diverse now, for sure, that’s the ticket. We’re having conversations. We are making plans.

I’m supposed to clap and support and cheerlead these conversations and plans. This conversation freaking needs me. And I am too tired and too burned out to do it.

How do we fix my heart? How do I cheerlead with a broken heart? Because my heart got broken the last time my male colleagues demeaned me in front of our students. I have no idea why that day was the last straw–Lord knows, I’ve been dismissed and undermined in one meeting after another–but something just broke in me that day, and I can’t get past it.

How does that get fixed?

How do we fix the confidence that I’ve lost because they are always trying to wrest it from me and I just ran out of strength to hold on to it? I just ran out. I should do better; I should ‘lean in’; I should ‘not let anybody hold me back.’ I should be strong.

But I’m empty. I got nothing to give to them or to me, and I am in a free fall. And you’re always telling yourself, when you are focussed on justice, that you have to make the most of those key opportunities, those key windows that occasionally open up to change an institution, however marginally, for the better. And if you don’t have the energy to move when those windows happen, you’ve lost a moment, let the side down.

IHE, the PLANET defection, and the #NotAllMen defense

Inside Higher Ed ran a piece on the PLANET walk-out. The comments are irritating because it’s the usual dudes saying dumbtwat dudely things like “geeeeee can’t take a jeeeeooooke” rationalizing. “DurrrrGee I thought it was funny.”

Lemme explain this again:

The gentleman posting this stuff is a human being who makes contributions to the field. We respect him and do appreciate all the work he’s done.

But, honestly: had he sent that joke to one of his female graduate students, and she had taken it to her university sexual harassment officer, he would have to sit through eleventy million hours of sexual harassment training. But I guess if he sends it to 2 trillion of his female colleagues via a listserv, it’s all good. Because THEY ASKED TO JOIN THE LIST, yah, that’s the ticket.

It really would be both wise and nice if he would stop it.

And it would be even nicer if when asked that it stop, it actually…stops. Instead of that request resulting in: “YOU BITCHES SHUT YER CAKEHOLES OR LEAVE.”

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This is one reason why I need to clap back at Bill Page, who is another wonderful person we all appreciate, but who is wrong in the IHE, as is the person he quotes, if we are supposed to assume that Bill agrees with this person. (GOD THERE I GO AGAIN TELLING PEEPS THEY ARE WRONG).

To wit:

Page, the founder and coordinator of the Listserv, responded to an email request for comment by sending what he sees as “a representative response of what is being said on PLANET about the statement of the 118 that you reference.”
The response: “I am disappointed that 118 of the best voices on PLANET have chosen to leave rather than to stay and help to make this online community a better one. By my count there are approximately 1,400 subscribers. Several of them behaved badly this week. Most of them did not. Most of us would be pleased to hear what many of the 118 have to say about this matter, and, more importantly, what they would have to say about many significant planning-related issues in the future. I am sorry that many of our valued colleagues have chosen not to participate in this large and unique international community of planning scholars, and, should any of them read this, I hope many of them decide to come back.”

No.

Now, I know this was meant to be polite, and it was very civil, and this person is trying to be nice. But no. This is concern trolling and needs an answer.

What happened here wasn’t a bunch of short-fused firebrands walking off and slamming the door before anybody had a chance to deliberate the points with them. Women tried to contribute and were told to shut up and leave and that they “wouldn’t be missed.”

And “I’m sorry they have chosen to leave.” How about being sorry that women were treated badly in the first place? How about starting there? See, that’s where you should have started.

Beyond that, spare us the “some have behaved badly, but most people didn’t.” Bergh. #NotAllMen. 2014 called and wants its lame rationalizing hashtag back.

I’ve had one senior male faculty member after another make excuses for some of the people writing “Bite me, bitches” emails to PLANET, like “So and so is actually a really sweet guy.” Uh-huh. Scratch the surface gently on any number of guys, who face-to-face wear a respectable mask, and you can, and often do, find hatred towards women who fail to please. Decent men and often very nice men, men who very much want to be good men, live in a world where they are told, all the time and in every way possible, they are entitled to degrade women who fail to please.

The mask slipped, and there were the uuuuuuuugly bits that remind us that even very, very nice men can hate women. As a dedicated blamer of the patriarchy, I must blame where blame is due. That there is the patriarchy, doing its thing inside the head of a “nice man.”

Scratch the surface of a lot of women who have achieved status in the hierarchy and blam–there is a good dose of internalized hate, too. They have made it, didn’t they, and they need to believe that they did so because they are awesome, not that they complied and internalized injustice.

And while “the vast majority” of you “want those 118 to do this or that” then the “vast majority” of the community should have used your vast majority power to show young women that you cared about them and what they think when you had the chance.

You didn’t. And you got the nerve to call for unity NOW?

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Let me explain something, which is my #1, Never-Fail, Go-To advice for all scholars from the margins, and that is:

The community/institution/whatever does not get to use your human capital if people therein are disrespectful to you.

Let me repeat:

The community/institution/whatever does not get to use your human capital if people therein are disrespectful to you.

Again:

The community/institution/whatever does not get to use your human capital if people therein are disrespectful to you.

And, in case you missed it:

The community/institution/whatever does not get to use your human capital if people therein are disrespectful to you.

The idea that “the collective/community/we” are entitled to oppressed people’s work, time and talent, no matter how badly “the collective/community/we” treat folks, is the freaky deaky sine qua non of oppression.

The idea that oppressed people have to “be civil” when eating crap they don’t deserve is the sine qua non of bourgeois academic virtues.

My senior male faculty for a bit had a baaaaaaad habit when I started, and that was: they’d demand my presence on committees and meetings and then talk over me, dismiss my ideas, and treat me not as well as I deserved.

For awhile, I sat there and seethed, on the margin, where I was supposed to be.

Then I got tenure.

And then when they indulged in that nonsense, I started getting up and leaving in the middle of whatever it was. You wanna treat me badly? Ok, then, you don’t get. I got gardens to plant, books to read, articles to write, and students to torment.

And if you don’t appreciate me taking time from those things, done for me, to do for you, then you don’t get. Nor do your students, nor do your projects. You don’t get from me when you don’t respect me.

Is that clear? Which is why, no, lots of people do not feel the need to stick around PLANET to educate people on why it’s not okay to tell jokes about women that frame them as gossips and a baby factory. Women are a wee bit prickly about those humiliating tropes because they were historically an excuse to treat women badly. That history has lingered.

So yeah, gee, why not stay around and educate people on why this is a problem? Well, here’s why:

We are, collectively, as women, people of color, and LGBT, people who have, over the years, on PLANET and ASCP, asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and asked and

BLOODY

FREAKING

ASKED

TIME

AND

TIME

AGAIN

for PLANET and planning educators to knock it off with the “we’re just da boyz here in the da boyz club snapping towels at each other” tone.

I suppose people could ‘stick around and let people know what we think’ because so many people would “be pleased to hear” (yah, boy, I get up in the morning to please people, yessireeebob, it’s right up there with making sure I’m pretty when my husband comes home and all those church suppers I prepare) but you know, the first 100 times women let people know what they thought on PLANET, they’ve either been ignored or treated like crap. How many tries women got to make before they get to give up on y’all and your “community”, and you admit that the “community” is the problem and not the people who just can’t with this nonsense anymore? 101? 1,000,001? Or is there really no upper limit to the “community” entitlement?

Why, exactly, are women and their allies here supposed to stick around and share their thoughts with you when some of y’all have made it 100 percent clear you’d rather read jokes about *dead* women than read about what women think about these jokes, and the “vast majority” of you kept your heads down instead demanding Bill step up?

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The revolution will not be on PLANET

I said my own piece a fair bit ago about why I left PLANET, which came down to: I got tired of getting yelled at via email for disagreeing with people. Disagreeing with people is this thing I do when, you know, people are wrong. People tell me I’m wrong all the time, and I have yet to die from it, but apparently others are more delicate.

Our latest blow-up on PLANET seems likely to be the death of the thing, if what people are forwarding me is any indicator of what’s going on.

This particular go around seems to be: A sexist joke gets posted (why? o why?), somebody says, hey, why is this on a professional, scholarly listserv, it bugs me that this stuff gets posted, and then the full-blown entitled-punish-the-woman internets: wuuuuuuuuh if you don’t like jokes about your gender on a professional listserv whynn’t ya jes leave then, ya party pooper meanies/oversensitive politically correct ninnies/feminazis. Because LIBERTY.

Habermas would be so proud.

WTH, people? Did I miss something about the American planning academy deciding to turn itself into 4chan while I was off reading a book or something? Huh? YOU KIDS DON’T MAKE ME TURN THIS CAR AROUND.

Rulez

There have been many public goodbyes to the list, including good citizens who are much less likely than I am to use their middle finger to explain things. I regret my public exit–I should have just left rather than upsetting people–but this time, it’s good for the “it’s our party, you shaddup” crowd to come face-to-face with the reality of the Thing, and the Thing is: it’s not your party anymore. You don’t get to set the terms of the discussion if you aren’t going to treat other scholars with respect. The rest of us really, truly, would rather respect each other, and you know, talk about planning research. And there are a lot of the rest of us.

A big bunch of us were not happy with the way the PAB tried to back-door dismantle the language around diversity in planning education standards because wow, apparently, diversity is controversial instead of what it is (aka, the very least planning should do in the justice realm). And now a big bunch of people seem to be saying that we’re done with the Old Skool term-setting on PLANET.

Haterz

Virtually all moderated listservs are boring, but I’m ready for content-oriented boring. The planning academy has, for too long, allowed itself to be an ad hoc field more centered on maintaining status hierarchies in the academy (and out) than helping young scholars–all of them, every single one of them, not just your little favorites who look just like you and talk just like you and defer to you, but all of ’em, even the ones that think you are wrong sometimes. We’re also supposed to be here for students to help them form and act on their visions to make cities better.

Being unwilling or unable to do those things in favor of status quo maintenance? That’s a sign of an intellectually moribund field.

Planners have got real work to do. The real problems in US cities are almost too terrifying for me to think about: our mass incarceration/public execution system that is killing Black Americans would be a good place to start any list of “things we should think about and work on” together. We got people trying to pass “no infill/no bike lanes” legislation. We don’t solve these problems by telling jokes that degrade each other or by bullying people when they try to tell you what’s wrong.

We solve them, I think, by creating a big, inclusive, powerful coalition of people who listen to each other, treat each other well, and who use our energies to do some good, at least, in a rotten world.