From Isolated Stories to a Collective: Speaking Out About Misogyny in English Departments
Author(s): Amy Robillard
Amy E. Robillard is Professor of English at Illinois State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in rhetoric, writing, and life writing. She is the author of We Find Ourselves in Other People’s Stories, and the co-editor, with D. Shane Combs, of How Stories Teach Us: Composition, Life Writing, and Blended Scholarship, and, with Ron Fortune, of Authorship Contested: Cultural Challenges to the Authentic, Autonomous Author. Her personal essays have appeared on The Rumpus, Full Grown People, and in Kept Secret: The Half-Truth in Nonfiction.
Abstract: Preliminary findings from a study of misogyny in U.S. English departments reveal that participants’ understanding of the power of story persuaded them to push past their fears of misogynistic punishments to confidentially share their stories with the author. This article identifies the most persuasive aspects of story and the punishments most anticipated by participants when sharing their experiences of breaking patriarchal norms in a space where storytelling is otherwise encouraged.Tags: English departments, gossip, misogyny, punishment, retaliation, silencing, storytelling, workplace
There is always something unsaid and yet to be said, always someone struggling to find the words and the will to tell her story. Every day each of us invents the world and the self who meets that world, opens up or closes down space for others within that. Silence is forever being broken, and then like waves lapping over the footprints, the sandcastles and washed-up shells and seaweed, silence rises again.
Rebecca Solnit, “A Short History of Silence”
It’s not gonna get better if we’re quiet. We’re just gonna die quietly.
This article theorizes one aspect of the initial results of a qualitative empirical study of the ways women in U.S. college and university English departments experience misogyny and the effects of that misogyny on their personal and professional lives. While it may not come as a surprise that so many of us who work in English departments work in environments saturated with misogyny, what will come as a surprise, I think, is that there are women willing to talk about their experiences with misogyny, and that their willingness stems largely from a desire to reach those women who are not yet able to tell their stories. This might be surprising because English departments market themselves as spaces of equality and diversity, as dedicated to inclusivity and social justice, as committed to rooting out injustices like misogyny via such means as socially just, feminist, and critical pedagogies. We are some of the very people who teach students to recognize and fight back against social injustices like misogyny, so to acknowledge that it is happening among us faculty is to acknowledge, on some level, a failure. It is to acknowledge a failure on the part of the culture of academia broadly and English departments specifically, to recognize and to resist the norms of patriarchy among ourselves.1 Women’s desires to tell their stories of misogyny in English departments might be surprising, too, because patriarchy has taught us to self-police. One of the most important findings in what follows is that some women who shared their stories with me recognized the extent to which they pre-screened what they were about to tell me based on a metric they had internalized about what counts as misogyny. We saw a similar phenomenon in Gutierrez, et. al’s Presumed Incompetent; as Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. Gonzalez note in their introduction, many women declined to publish their stories in the collection because they “felt that their experiences, though personally challenging, had been relatively benign in comparison to friends and colleagues in other departments and at other institutions” (13). In what follows, we will see that telling a story of misogyny in an English department is not uncomplicated; for many, the process involves first overcoming the belief that what happened to us is just part of the way things work or even our own fault.
Though more extensive results from this study will be published at a future date, the data examined here are related primarily to the decision women in the study made to speak to me; in other words, because speaking about misogyny in a space like U.S. college and university English departments is considered in itself fraught, and because misogyny is what Kate Manne calls a “self-masking phenomenon”—“trying to draw attention to the phenomenon is liable to give rise to more of it” (xix)—the fact that thirty-nine women decided to speak to me about their experiences deserves consideration in its own right. I argue in what follows that it is the power of storytelling to challenge patriarchal norms in the crucial work of coalition building that persuades women to break the silence misogyny imposes. Indeed, the very fact that the stories themselves refuse to enact the work of care—the very work that women are obligated under patriarchy to perform—places their tellers at greater risk of more misogyny. Pointing to misogyny begets misogyny. The stories women told me refuse the norms of patriarchy. One of those norms is to remain silent. The very act of telling carries within it an understanding of the contingency of the telling, of the fact that another world exists in which this story is not told.
In the era of #MeToo and Kavanaugh, we in English departments, and writing studies especially, are just beginning to publicly share our stories of sexual harassment and bullying. Until very recently, we had more stories of bullying than we had of sexual harassment, and we still have incredibly few stories of misogyny that do not fall under the category of sexual harassment. In the last decade or so, scholars in the humanities and social sciences have begun asking questions about what constitutes a bully culture (Twale and De Luca) and how we might understand the causes of and learn ways to prevent bullying (Twale). In English Studies specifically, Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila address the culture of silence that surrounds bullying in the academy and frame such abuse as a social justice issue as they examine the intricacies of bullying in writing programs. Importantly, Elder and Davila address the issue of riskiness in the introduction to their collection when they write, “When we issued the CFP for this collection, we were struck by how many people contacted us directly to thank us for taking on this work and often to express regret at not being able to contribute, given the possibility for retribution on their campuses” (4). Because of the large number of people who felt they could not contribute for fear of retaliation, Elder and Davila take the extraordinary step of including a blank chapter at the end of the collection, entitled “’I Can’t Afford to Lose My Job’: A Chapter Dedicated to All Those Who Found It Too Risky to Contribute.” The chapter is authored by Anonymous and the entire content of the chapter is “We reserve this space for them” (190).
In Sexual Harassment and Cultural Change in Writing Studies, Patricia Freitag Ericsson argues that it is our job “to make trouble for those who carry and spread this toxic disease” (viii), and she points out that “despite this field’s concern about a variety of social issues, a similar concern about sexual harassment has been sorely missing” (6). In her introduction to Composition Studies’ 2018 Where We Are section focused on #MeToo and academia, Laura Micciche characterizes the pieces to follow as
infuriating and depressing; we need them. We need more of them. Those of us who have been in the field of rhetoric and composition for a while now know stories of serial harassers whose careers flourish unfettered. We’ve heard stories passed discreetly among friends at conferences and in hallways. Yet the number of submissions we received for this section didn’t break double digits, and the majority of submissions came from those with the least power in our field: graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty. Few addressed peer-to-peer violence and harassment, an open secret in the field (and in academia more widely).
In that Where We Are section, seven women share their stories of gendered violence, and only one, Anne Sicari, addresses the issue of peer-to-peer violence when she writes, “we need to reflect on our everyday practices, on how we treat our colleagues and students, and ways in which we perpetuate patriarchal ideologies regularly, without much thought” (201). Katelyn Lusher articulates what I imagine many of us once felt when she writes, “When I began grad school, I had a somewhat utopian belief that most professors were so ‘woke’ they couldn’t possibly subscribe to the misogyny I had felt in so many workplaces. What I quickly learned was that barely disguised sexism and harassment are as much a part of academia as conferences, publishing, and happy hours that go far into the night” (199). We are talking, as a field, about sexual harassment and bullying, but not about misogyny more generally, and when we talk about sexual harassment, we primarily talk about it in terms of breaches of the teacher/mentor and student relationship. I join these scholars to ask why we’re not sharing stories about misogyny more broadly between peers—faculty-to-faculty and graduate student-to-graduate student.
This work matters because in our field, there is not a single scholarly consideration of women’s experiences of misogyny understood as the systematic punishment of women for not caring enough, for not giving enough; that is what this work contributes. Misogyny in English departments is not more important or more egregious than misogyny in other sites, but it warrants its own examination largely because we are supposed to know better.
But first we must have a better grasp of misogyny.
Misogyny: Enforcing Patriarchal Norms
I want to be explicit about how I am defining misogyny, and the best way for me to do that is to draw from the work that animates and motivates this work: Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. The commonplace understanding many people have of misogyny is as a psychological characteristic of individual people, usually men, who hate women—all women—simply because they are women. The problem with this naïve conception of misogyny is that it centers the experiences of the individual agent rather than the target of misogyny and it makes identifying misogyny all but impossible, as any individual man can point to the women in his life and claim to love them, thus negating the label of misogynist. This is an old story. Rather, the new story that Manne tells in her crucial work is that misogyny “ought to be understood as the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance” (33). To my mind, the most significant features of Manne’s theorization of misogyny are the following:
- In contrast to the naïve conception of misogyny, which targets women “because they are women in a man’s mind, where that man is a misogynist,” misogyny “primarily targets women because they are women in a man’s world (i.e., a historically patriarchal one, among other things).” (64).
- Because misogyny is systemic and political, the best way to understand it is to examine women’s experiences of misogyny: “when it comes to misogyny, we can focus on the hostility women face in navigating the social world, rather than the hostility men…may or may not feel in their encounters with certain women—as a matter of deep psychological explanations, or indeed whatsoever” (59).
- Misogyny is differentiated from sexism by a matter of degree. Where sexism discriminates “between men and women, typically by alleging sex differences beyond what is known or could be known,” misogyny “will typically differentiate between good women and bad women and punishes the latter” (79). Where sexism should be understood as the “justificatory branch of a patriarchal order” (79), misogyny should be understood primarily as the ‘law enforcement’ branch of a patriarchal order, which has the overall function of policing and enforcing its governing norms and expectations” (78).
- Those primary governing norms and expectations of patriarchy have to do with obligation on the part of women and entitlement on the part of men. Women are obligated to give and men are entitled to take, to receive. She is obligated to give feminine-coded goods and services such as attention, affection, care, moral support, admiration, loyalty, and respect. He is entitled to take these and to receive masculine-coded goods such as “leadership, authority, influence, money, and other forms of power, as well as social status, prestige, rank, and the markers thereof. Then there are the less tangible facets of social ‘face,’ pride, reputation, or standing, and the relevant absences—for example, the freedom from shame and lack of public humiliation, which are more or less universally desired but only some people feel entitled to” (113). The norms, then, are: “Don’t ask for or take the kind of thing you’re meant to be giving, either to him or to society” (emphasis added; 112) and “Don’t ask for or try to take masculine-coded perks and privileges, at least as long as he desires them” (emphasis added; 113).
- Should a woman violate these patriarchal norms—by failing to care enough, by failing to be attentive enough, by seeking attention for herself—misogyny will punish her with any number of down-girl moves: “to generalize, adults are insultingly likened to children, people to animals or even to objects. As well as infantilizing and belittling, there’s ridiculing, humiliating, mocking, slurring, vilifying, demonizing, as well as sexualizing or, alternatively desexualizing, silencing, shunning, blaming, patronizing, condescending, and other forms of treatment that are dismissive and disparaging in specific social contexts. Then there is violence and threatening behavior: including ‘punching down’—that is, deferred or displaced aggression” (68).
- Because misogyny is a self-masking phenomenon, “a misogynist social environment may but need not be the product of individual agents’ bigotry.” Rather, Manne explains that people may be responding, unknowingly, to their internal discomfort with the flouting of norms. “For some people, feminism in particular has profoundly disrupted their sense of the social order. The hostility they display to women who disrupt or pose a threat to gendered social hierarchies, say, is compatible with their being egalitarians in the abstract. They may nevertheless perceive powerful women who do not wield their power in service of men’s interests as abrasive and threatening. For that reason among others, a misogynist social environment may be partly the result of more or less well-intentioned people acting out of disavowed emotions, or exhibiting flashes of aggression that are not consciously experienced” (61). A misogynist social environment may flourish, in other words, in spaces like academia, where so many of us consider ourselves egalitarian but are also committed to gendered social hierarchies in ways we may not even be conscious of.
- Finally, because misogyny is the law enforcement wing of patriarchy, policing and punishing women who violate norms of giving and taking, misogyny is not restricted to men punishing women. Women who benefit from patriarchy will work to reinforce its norms as openly—or as covertly—as men.
Misogyny is perhaps best understood metaphorically this way: “like a shock collar used to keep dogs behind an invisible fence, misogyny, [Manne] argues, aims to keep women—those who are well trained as well as those who are unruly—in line” (Penaluma). One of the effects of Manne’s conception of misogyny is that we who examine its workings in different environments do not have to understand what motivates the people who do and say the things we characterize as misogynistic. What matters, instead, is that women are experiencing hostility for their violation of patriarchal norms that we would claim, when given the opportunity, are gendered and problematic. Yet we enforce them, knowingly or not. And we enforce them at the expense of creating working environments that value the contributions of all of their members, a goal I imagine many of our department mission statements reference in one form or another.
Methodology: Building a Collective
In the summer of 2019, I conducted thirty-nine interviews with women2 employed in English departments in colleges and universities in the United States. My goal in these interviews was to understand women’s experiences of misogyny in their departments, the effects of such misogyny on their work and personal lives, and the ways such a focus on women’s experiences of misogyny—as opposed to the usual focus on the psychology of misognyists themselves—might help those of us working in English departments specifically and the academy more generally see more clearly the way our everyday interactions reinforce patriarchal norms of obligation and entitlement. Of the thirty-nine women I interviewed, ten were doctoral students, five were assistant professors, eight were associate professors, eight were full professors, seven were non-tenure-track instructors, and one was an emerita professor. Twenty-two women identified their subfield as rhetoric and composition or writing studies, six as literature, six as creative writing, two as children’s literature, two as linguistics, and one as English and theater. Four women taught in a community college, ten in R-1 Doctoral universities, twenty in R-2 Doctoral universities, four in Baccalaureate colleges, and one in a HBCU.3 The average age of interviewees was 43. I did not ask interviewees to identify their race or ethnicity, though I did ask them to reflect on the extent to which they believed their race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and/or religion contributed to their experiences of misogyny in their departments.
All participation in the study was voluntary and confidential; though I know participants’ names, the nature of this research demands that participants’ names and institutions be kept confidential. The data I examine in this article comes from participants’ responses to one question: “What made you want to be a part of this project and tell your stories?” Part of the reason I asked this question was that I learned from some friends before I began my research that they would have had a hard time conceptualizing their own experiences as misogyny even though by my definition, the experiences they shared with me certainly count as misogyny. But for the friends who shared these stories, their experiences didn’t seem extreme enough. There is a story we tell ourselves about misogyny: in order for an experience to count as misogyny, it must be extreme. How we define extreme, of course, is another story, but my friends’ comments called to mind Roxane Gay’s conception of “calloused empathy.” Having persuaded herself that being gang-raped at twelve years old wasn’t “that bad,” Gay explains that such a belief allowed her to “break my trauma into something more manageable, into something I could carry with me instead of allowing the magnitude of it to destroy me.” But there was another effect of persuading herself that her experience was not that bad:
Buying into the notion of not that bad made me incredibly hard on myself for not “getting over it” fast enough as the years passed and I was still carrying so much hurt, so many memories. Buying into this notion made me numb to bad experiences that weren’t as bad as the worst stories I heard. For years, I fostered wildly unrealistic expectations of the kinds of experiences worthy of suffering until very little was worthy of suffering. The surfaces of my empathy became calloused. (x)
I asked participants why they wanted to tell their stories in part because I wanted to understand the extent to which they, too, understood misogyny to encapsulate only extreme harassment and abuse. When we refrain from telling stories that we believe aren’t extreme enough, or are not that bad, we are doing a kind of caretaking work in that we are protecting men from having to understand the consequences of their actions. One of the masculine-coded goods patriarchy provides men, according to Manne, is freedom from feeling shame or humiliation (113), and by not sharing our stories, we ensure that those responsible for our experiences never need to know about our pain. They are protected.
But I asked that question also because I wanted to test my earlier theorizing of precarious narratives. In We Find Ourselves in Other People’s Stories, I draw on Judith Butler’s concept of precarious life and on Arthur Frank’s insight that “stories are formed from other stories” (“Tricksters” 186) to propose that all narratives are precarious because their “circulation relies fundamentally on social and political conditions, [their] structures and themes must be supported by what is outside itself. These are the narrative resources upon which we draw when we tell the stories of our lives” (emphasis in original 29-30). Narrative resources are the necessary plotlines, character types, cultural scripts, and so on, that we all draw upon when we tell any kind of story; we can see with this concept that narratives are socially dependent, “needing support from other people and other narratives lest they collapse” (29). Narratives, like lives, are differentially precarious. A narrative becomes particularly precarious when its support is in question; a narrative becomes more precarious when others do not tell the same kind of story or when others question the truth value of one’s story. If a precarious narrative requires support, requires propping up, then others sharing similar stories expands the possible narrative resources from which to create and share additional stories. As I write in We Find Ourselves,
If access to stories offers opportunities to figure out who we are and who we can become because the stories we create for ourselves are dependent on those narrative resources, recognizing that narratives are precarious should encourage us to tell the stories that challenge dominant cultural scripts. Thus, telling stories is important not just because it is empowering or because it provides an opportunity for silenced voices to be heard or because it helps us develop form from chaos but because our stories and others’ stories are interdependent. They work together to help us figure out who we can be. (30)
And now, a few years later, I would add to this that our stories’ and others’ stories’ interdependence means that sharing a story of misogyny in the academic workplace makes it possible for others to share more stories of misogyny in the academic workplace. Stories create possibility. They tell us what happened but they also allow us to understand differently, in different terms and with different means of selection and evaluation (Frank, Letting 46) what is real, what is possible, what is “worth doing or best avoided” (Frank, Letting 3).
The more stories told about misogyny in English departments, the less precarious each individual story becomes. From individual, isolated stories, we build a collective, and that collective becomes a rich site of narrative resources from which future storytellers can draw. Though each individual woman I spoke with told her stories only to me, she knew I was talking with others, and she knew that her story would join together with the stories of other women to form a collective, a collective that would accomplish significant social and rhetorical work that her story alone could not do. And it is this social and rhetorical work that, I argue, persuaded many of the women to push past the self-monitoring to tell their stories.
In the rest of this article, I draw on women’s responses to the final question of my interviews4 to identify the kinds of precariousness women’s stories of misogyny are subjected to. I begin with Arthur Frank’s concept of narrative habitus as a way to bolster the concept of precarious narratives by arguing that the stories that are not part of our narrative habitus are more precarious and need more social support. I show how this narrative habitus that we all possess to some degree or another persuaded women in my interview project to share their experiences with me in order to contribute to a collective of stories. This collective challenges patriarchy’s demand that women care for men’s needs and shifts the focus to women’s needs instead. It is thus likely to be subject to more misogyny. I believe that many of the women I spoke with understood this from the start. I point then to three anticipated punishments interviewees articulated; my doing so demonstrates that our narrative habitus has developed with a tacit understanding of how misogyny functions. While the stories women told me are about punishment, their very telling was constrained by their tellers’ anticipation of being punished for telling.
Storytelling about misogyny in a patriarchy is never as simple as just telling; the very telling itself is constrained by the norms of patriarchy. When these norms are challenged, misogyny awaits to shock women back into place.
Narrative Habitus and the Powers of Storytelling
In Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology, Arthur W. Frank describes a narrative habitus as “a repertoire of stories that a person at least recognizes and that a group shares.” I want to highlight two characteristics of narrative habitus here. First, Frank writes that narrative habitus “is the feel for what story makes a good follow-up to a previous story, what story fits which occasion; who wants to hear what story when. A person’s narrative habitus enables knowing how to react when a story is told, according to what kind of story it is. Complementary to that competence, narrative habitus enables prediction of how others will react to a story that might be told” (53). Another way of saying this is that a person’s narrative habitus encompasses her body of narrative resources and that those resources inform our understanding of how a story will perform rhetorically. Narrative habitus is about anticipation. A second characteristic of narrative habitus that is relevant to this work is that “narrative habitus predisposes a sense of the right and fitting resolution toward which a half-told story should progress; it is the feel for what kind of narrative move leads to what next kind of move” (54). Frank continues, “People’s sense of how plots will probably go reflects and generates their everyday common sense of which actions lead to which consequences, whether in stories or in life. People’s habitus of expected plot completions is nothing less than their sense of life’s possibilities” (54). We know how so many stories will go. We have developed a finely tuned narrative habitus based on years of living in a patriarchy, so we know that when we begin to tell a story in which we have experienced some form of misogyny, we will be subject to some form of victim-blaming. We will be punished. We will be subject to further misogyny. Our stories, before we even share them, are precarious from the start.
But our narrative habitus tells us that there are powers to storytelling. We know, because we have experienced it before, how stories change us, how they shape and reshape our belief systems, how they function rhetorically to direct and redirect our attention. Of the social nature of storytelling, Frank writes,
Stories connect people into collectivities, and they coordinate actions among people who share the expectation that life will unfold according to certain plots. The selves and collectivities animated by stories then animate further stories: revising old stories and creating new ones—though whether any story is ever truly new is always contestable. Stories and humans work together, in symbiotic dependency, creating the social that comprises all human relationships, collectivities, mutual dependencies, and exclusions. (Letting, emphasis in original; 15)
Women knew they were involved in building a collective, one whose individual stories would be used to animate further stories, “revising old stories and creating new ones.” They knew that the work they were doing was part of something larger that had the power to do what only stories can do.5
One of the powers of storytelling that participants pointed to was simply the sheer breaking of the silence that has surrounded misogyny in English departments. One participant told me, “It is so frustrating to be part of a program that I love that performs inclusivity and yet does not always live up to inclusivity and in some cases flat out rewards misogyny and racism and all of the other isms. It is exhausting. So anything we can try to do to shine light on these practices I think has got to be good and helpful. It will be painful but it needs to happen.” Similarly, another participant said, “I think that the only way to stop this is to first acknowledge that it happens, so I feel like we have to share our stories and I feel like even one story, even if you don’t think it’s extreme, is important to share.”
Related to the need to simply get the stories on record was the recognition that stories accomplish the important rhetorical work of letting others know that they are not alone. This message came up a number of times as a benefit of sharing stories of misogyny in the workplace. One woman noted, “I think it’s important to identify the sheer number of women who experience these issues and let other women know that they aren’t alone so that they might feel inclined to step forward and tell their stories.” This woman understands that one power of storytelling is that it begets further storytelling; one of the healing powers of knowing you’re not alone is that you may feel safe enough to share your own story. Another woman said, “I feel like saying, you can be in these awful, awful departments, but just leaving sometimes is best. Often I find that misogyny is like a toxic, abusive relationship—they want to hold you there. I want other people to know they’re not alone.” Both of these women’s recognition of the power of knowing you’re not alone is echoed in this participant’s words: “It’s like, when you’ve gone through this stuff, you think, who can do anything else to me, and if my story makes someone else go, that’s exactly what’s happening to me, then that’s great. Because we’ve got to get the stories out.”
I have long understood that one of the most important effects of storytelling is that it makes readers and listeners feel less alone, but it had been a long time since I had stopped to think about just what was so awful about feeling alone. Having been caught up in hearing so many women’s stories while working on this project, I had stopped feeling alone with my own experiences of misogyny, and I had momentarily forgotten how isolating my own experiences had felt for so long. Three women specifically shared with me their feelings of just needing to share their stories with someone—me—because they had felt so isolated during the experiences they described. One participant explained that her reasons for talking with me were multiple: “Part of it is because I know that I’m not the only person experiencing this stuff but the other part is that right now I don’t have anyone I can tell, you know?” Another participant recognized that being part of this project means that she is not alone: “I guess also to be part of something that acknowledges that I’m not alone. I think what’s scariest about this is how isolated it made me feel.” A third woman told me this:
I’ve wanted to tell people about this experience just because I felt so isolated and alone walking through this by myself. I just needed to tell somebody what happened. And I think sometimes people think, well, you’re just being too sensitive. The scope and gravity of it, at the end of the day, the scope and gravity of what can happen to people because of it, I just needed somebody to know. I will say, though, that I almost canceled fourteen times. I’ve been sweating this. I’m supposed to be able to handle this. Other people—it didn’t seem to upset them that I was going through this, so I should just be able to accept this. It makes me weak because I can’t.
Looking around your own department and seeing that others are not affected by the pain you are feeling, that others are not affected by misogyny in the same ways you are, can be incredibly isolating, and we all know that a sense of belonging is a crucial human need. One can hear, too, in this participant’s words, the internalized shaming as she characterizes herself as someone who should be able to handle the misogyny her department subjected her to once she became chair.
Related to participants’ desire for others to know they are not alone is their desire to help others avoid the kind of misogyny they’ve had to experience. One participant said, “I want to participate to show that it’s not just sexual harassment…. I wanted to talk about how a lot of the messages I’ve gotten have been couched in protection: ‘I care about you as a colleague, so I’m encouraging you to do this rather than that.’… In my experience of reading accounts like this, if I had been a graduate student and read an article like this, I think it would have been nice.” Another participant put her desire more directly: “There are moments when I look back at my history where something I have said has triggered an actual action and a change in somebody’s life for the better and that is what I am trying to do here.” Similarly, a third participant told me, “I also really, really want to believe that if you talk it can help people…. I want to believe that talking can help and I’m tired of it having to be me whispering to my undergrads, don’t take this professor, he treats women differently. I want it to be something more legitimate. I hope that this can help. I hope the right people read it and take it to heart.”
Finally, one woman’s reasons for participating in this project pointed to the effects of our not sharing our stories with each other and with students:
It’s something that we have to be aware of and I do think that women in departments are constantly—at least I and my colleagues are—wanting to be supportive of students but at the same time, especially with female students, we want them to have a tough skin and the people who come to English departments are the people who are often looking for ways to talk about things that have happened to them. They want to do it in a way that captures their emotions, they want to be angry, they want to learn to express things, but they are constantly worried about the perception and evaluation of that work. We have a lot of creative writers and a lot of the involved students on our campus are that way—they feel inclined to write confessionally but they also don’t want to be considered reactionary and finding that balance is so hard for them especially. They’re twenty years old.
Our conversation continued, and we talked about her point that so many students come to English departments because they want to tell their stories, and it often becomes clear to them that we aren’t telling our stories. Asking our students to write their stories but refusing to share our own stories sends the message that we believe in the power of storytelling for them but not for us. As another participant said, “The graduate students can’t talk about it because they’re in such a terribly vulnerable position and they know if we aren’t talking about it, that we’re hiding something because they’re experiencing it and they don’t know why we’re hiding it.” Perhaps they do know why we’re hiding it; indeed, my data suggests that many graduate students are well aware of the ways patriarchy works to push all women down.
Additional Social Supports
In addition to the powers of storytelling, interviewees pointed to two other reasons for their willingness to share their stories with me. Recall that all narratives are precarious, that they require support from the social and cultural world, and that the more social and cultural support they receive, the less precarious they become. Participants pointed to two kinds of social support they felt for their storytelling: their own positioning as women who were in a safe space in their academic careers and a feeling of trust in me, their interviewer.
First, participants pointed to their own positions as women who were no longer precarious in terms of age or status in the university.6 One doctoral student told me that she felt comfortable sharing her story with me because “I’m in a very good place in my life where I’m able to reflect on this. I’m in a loving and supportive program. I’m not necessarily sure I would have come forward in my negative Master’s program experience.” Similarly, another participant pointed to her sense that she was in a good place: “I was thinking, for the most part, I have it okay. I’ve heard horror stories and the fact that I have an amazing department chair who lets me do the work I want to do and who helps me feel valued and the fact that she’s a woman helps with that. I know I could have it a lot worse. I’ll just put it that way.” One can hear, in this participant’s characterization of her chair as letting her do the work she wants to do, an understanding not only that that is not always the case in other programs, but also that women in academia do not have the default ability to do the work we want to do.
For other women, there was the sense that it took years to develop the kind of temerity that is required to be able to tell the stories they shared with me. “I’m at a point in my life that I think I have garnered enough strength and authority that I have a responsibility to be more vocal because I’m recognizing that I’m safer than I’ve ever been, particularly having just been promoted to full professor so if full professors can’t talk then, my god, who can?” one woman told me. Similarly, another participant shared with me that part of her reason for talking with me was job security:
Part of it is that I’m tenured and I have separated myself emotionally from the institution enough because the institution is so messed up that I do my work, I work hard, but I’m not working for [the institution]. I’m working for the students and I’m working as a researcher but I’m trying to keep my distance from other things. Partly it’s my power and partly I’ve been talking with people about this, especially at [my institution], with graduate students, for thirteen years now and I don’t see that it’s getting much better.
And then there was the woman who pointed to both job security and age when she told me, “I’m tenured and I’m over forty. And I’m done…. You’ve got to be a certain sort of pissed off and a certain sort of secure…. In graduate school, I probably would’ve been like, what are these women complaining about, and now I’m like, I have many complaints! Listen to my complaints!” Age factors importantly in one’s willingness to speak about mistreatment; the older one gets, it seems, the less willing one is to accept misogyny as simply part of how academia works. Finally, the length of time one has been experiencing misogyny in one’s department figures importantly in these women’s decisions to tell their stories; while one woman has been talking with others at her institution about these issues for thirteen years, another is just “done.” As another participant said to me, “Silence equals death. Sometimes we may not feel like we can talk and sometimes we can’t but when we get strong enough…. It’s not gonna get better if we’re quiet. We’re just gonna die quietly.”
Second, many women I spoke with trusted their audience. About a quarter of the women I spoke with were people I knew personally or professionally, and it turns out that my ethos or my reputation in the field was one of the reasons some of the participants felt comfortable sharing their stories with me.7 As one woman put it, she understood me as an outlet where “you’re not gonna be seen as someone who’s complaining. You’re not gonna be seen as someone who instigated it or that it’s your fault. Even though that’s the way we’re made to feel. I was definitely made to feel like I had acted inappropriately and this was my punishment for it.”
One participant told me she felt a “duty of care” to participate in the project because she had always had positive interactions with me. Another said that I seemed like “a real person, someone who is safe,” and that sentiment is echoed in how others characterized the ways they believed I would treat their data. “I’ll say on a personal level, I know you and I know you’re a good, qualified researcher and I trust that you would be responsible with my data and that kind of thing, so that of course makes me feel less worried about something getting out.” Another participant told me that she decided to participate because “I’ve known you so long and I know the honesty with which you’ll handle the project, so it’s wanting to participate in a project with someone whose scholarship I admire and value.” Another woman noted that she believed that “What I had to say would be used effectively and that I didn’t feel in danger. I have to say, if I just saw this from somebody that I didn’t know, I may not have done it because I would be scared that it wouldn’t be confidential or that they might identify me and I could get in trouble.” We hear the threat in these statements, the idea that a different researcher might not treat their words confidentially and they might, thus, be subjected to misogynistic punishment for having shared their stories.
Manne points to a number of what she calls down-girl moves that often follow a woman breaking the norms of obligation and entitlement; she writes:
Girls and women may be down-ranked or deprived relative to more or less anything that people typically value—material goods, social status, moral reputation, and intellectual credentials, among other realms of human achievement, esteem, pride, and so on. This may happen in numerous ways: condescending, mansplaining, moralizing, blaming, punishing, silencing, lampooning, satirizing, sexualizing, belittling, caricaturizing, exploiting, erasing, and evincing pointed indifference.
Any one of these moves acts as a shock collar, shocking a woman back into place when she has strayed beyond her station. For the women I spoke with, a narrative habitus that suggests how others will respond to their stories of misogyny in English departments led to their identifying three anticipated punishments that they nevertheless risked in order to share their experiences with me. I outline these anticipated punishments in this section to emphasize the bravery and strength of the women I spoke with, and also to reinforce that telling stories is not the simple sharing of experiences. It requires forethought and risk, a savvy narrative habitus and an understanding that sharing stories toward greater awareness is only the first step toward change.
It is commonplace knowledge that those who speak out against abuse are treated just as harshly as, if not worse than, those who do the abusing in the first place. The experiences of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford are among the most glaringly obvious examples of this. Rebecca Solnit, in her essay, “A Short History of Silence,” points to this phenomenon:
One disturbing aspect of abuse and harassment is the idea that it’s not the crime that’s the betrayal but the testimony about the crime. You’re not supposed to tell. Abusers often assume this privilege that demands the silence of the abused, that a nonreciprocal protection be in place. Others often impose it as well, portraying the victims as choosing to ruin a career or a family, as though the assailant did not make that choice himself. (40)
Even more to the point than Solnit, though, is David Graeber in his essay, “The Bully’s Pulpit.” In working through the reasons why grade school kids stand by passively in the face of bullying, Graeber notes that one reason may be that they have “caught on to how adult authority operates and mistakenly assume the same logic applies to interactions with their peers.” Graeber continues, “The fates of the Mannings and the Snowdens of the world are high-profile advertisements for a cardinal rule of American culture: while abusing authority may be bad, openly pointing out that someone is abusing authority is much worse—and merits the severest punishment.” We know this story. It is part of our narrative habitus.
The first of these anticipated punishments is being labeled a gossip.8 Recall what Micciche writes in Composition Studies’ Where We Are Section: that gossip serves as a kind of protection among colleagues. She writes, “We’ve heard stories passed discreetly among friends at conferences and in hallways” (11). One interview participant told me, toward the end of our conversation, “I am concerned because as women we’re told our whole lives that what we do is gossip and I am a tattler. I still am a tattler. That’s a way of self-protection that the patriarchy is always trying to steal from us.” That nobody wants to be understood as a gossip is evident from the many sayings we have about those who gossip: snitches get stitches; you never look good trying to make someone else look bad; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. What all of these sayings share in common is the belief that it’s the words themselves, rather than the actions they are describing, that are the problem when one person tells another about a third person’s wrongdoing. Characterizing testimony about misogyny as gossip minimizes that testimony in ways that harm the speaker because she is understood to possess little self-control. In addition, the person who is the subject of the so-called gossip becomes the victim of gossip as a kind of aggression, the result often being that sympathy may flow directly to the perpetrators of misogyny rather than to the victims in an example of what Manne has coined “himpathy.”
Women are disciplined very early to believe that what they are doing when they complain is not legitimate but rather gossiping or tattling. As one participant put it, “A lot of times self-regulation is something that women learn. It’s very insert-Foucault stage left. We learn it and then we monitor ourselves.” As a result, there’s a kind of pre-screening we go through even before we get to the point of complaint, a pre-screening that finds us editing out what we consider to be less egregious instances of misogyny. As another participant put it, “When I thought about, do I have any experiences, they all sounded really small, so I also felt like my experiences weren’t big enough or extreme enough to warrant being named misogynistic, but I also know better than that and when I started making my list and I thought about the totality of what those experiences looked like, I realized they were pretty big.” Another interviewee noted, when relaying a story about a specific person in her department, “This is where I feel like I’m just airing grievances,” a strong indication that she is accustomed to monitoring what she says for their likelihood of making her out to be a gossip.
Women recognize what happens to their words when they are characterized as “just gossips,” as evidenced by this interview participant, who said,
I appreciated being able to have the platform to tell the story, but I also want to think more about what it means for us to be told that we can’t—that we’ll be seen as just gossips or—I think the word that keeps coming up is retaliation and so I think in academia just like in lots of fields and businesses there’s this expectation that you’ll maintain this façade that everything is fine, that no one’s racist, that no one’s sexist, or any of those things.
This woman understands that being labeled a gossip has a rhetorical function, and that that function is to dismiss our testimony. Gossip, as James C. Scott notes, “almost by definition, has no identifiable author,” and its goal is typically “to ruin the reputation of some identifiable person or persons” (142). When women who testify to misogyny understand that they are at risk of being dismissed as mere gossips, they understand that they are seen as aiming to ruin individual men’s reputations rather than testifying to a systemic problem. They also understand that their own reputations are at stake, and it is here that we can see being characterized as a gossip as a down-girl move. Women know they are risking being down-ranked in terms of social status and moral reputation when they speak out about abuse.
But—need it be said?—women who testify to misogyny in their workplaces are not gossips. They are not tattletales. One woman told me that the very existence of this study gave her hope; she said, “I really appreciate that you’re doing this work….Just reading the description of your study made me feel validated, even if I never talked to you because I thought, this is a real thing. I’m not floundering in this void. Other people see that this is happening. So that was very important.” Other people see that this is happening. When we are made to believe that we are just gossips, we are also made to believe that what we are saying is not true, that it is not being witnessed by others. Being labeled a gossip is a form of gaslighting.
A second anticipated punishment identified by interviewees is being perceived as ungrateful for their hard-won jobs in a difficult academic job market.9 This is particularly difficult because, as Manne suggests, women are obligated to deliver feminine-coded goods such as gratitude and not to seem entitled to masculine-coded perks like security and respect. At a time when the value of the Humanities, generally, and English studies specifically, is questioned regularly both inside and outside of academia, the silencing of women can be expected to proceed apace. As one interviewee put it to me,
To basically say, “This is how it is,” even at a moment when we’re supposed to say, “Oh don’t say anything bad about English departments because they’ll cut us,” is exactly the kind of move that’s important because there are a lot of people all over the country who are working in these situations and who think they have to be—they have to not stand up because they may lose their job or they think they have to not stand up because their college will be closed otherwise, so I think there’s also this way in which, particularly in times of tight budgets, we’ve been pressed not to complain or not identify the things that actually keep us from being successful in our jobs.
I responded to her by saying, “Of all times, this would be a time when you would stay silent, when the humanities are in crisis, and so just sort of put your head down, do your work, hope that we can get the majors up and just continue to accept the misogynistic treatment and be happy you have a job.” Her response to me:
Be happy you have a job. I think this goes back to perpetrating these kinds of systems further into the future. That’s what you’re modeling for students: we don’t stand up for things because we want to protect our jobs. We’re in some way also raising generations of students who kind of think pretending nothing’s happening is the way to go. It’s almost like counter the mission of the humanities. You want to raise critical thinkers, but you just say, “Oh, don’t think about this. Don’t think about that. Think about that little thing that’s important here.”
There is so much to appreciate in this participant’s commentary on what it means to speak the truth in a time when doing so might be interpreted by others as ingratitude for the jobs we hold; I’ll highlight two significant points. First, I think her point about now being the exact time to point to the problems with misogyny, because the climate surrounding the humanities for so long has been austere, suggests that some of those who were willing to talk with me were willing to push past the narrative that to be grateful for one’s job is also to grin and bear misogyny in the workplace. Second, there is perhaps no phrase more ubiquitous in the humanities than critical thinking, but we do not often stop and articulate the appropriate objects of that critical thought; this interviewee’s point about our raising students to think about this little thing over here, but not this, not these crucially significant issues affecting us in the workplace, draws attention to the limits of our alleged critical thinking pedagogies.
Another participant who described harrowing experiences in her department said, “I don’t think people realize that getting a tenure-track position in the humanities is like winning the lottery…. I have to remember that for some people this would be a gift.” Even as she has just finished telling me about experiences that were scary and isolating, this participant told me, “I feel a lot of guilt for being dissatisfied. I try to talk myself out of feeling badly because other people would want [this job].” One can almost hear her reconciling the warring parts of her mind as she talks to me. She wants to tell me about her experiences; she doesn’t want to be seen as ungrateful, so she tries to talk herself out of feeling bad. This is one effect of the powerful narrative of a tight humanities job market; our narrative habitus helps us predict how the story will go.
Finally, the punishment anticipated by more women than any other,10 the end that our narrative habitus fills in for us when we imagine telling our stories of misogyny in our academic workplaces, is retaliation.11
Two doctoral students point indirectly to the possibility of retaliation, one when she says, “With two Title IX cases in the past year and a half, there’s not really a lot I can say that’s going to hurt me because I’ve said so many things,” and the other when she reflects on the possibility of not being able to have a career in the field. She says, “There’s also sort of being in this position where I no longer care that, like, it sounds horrible, if for some reason, I couldn’t have this career anymore, I would just move on because it’s been horrible anyway, and I would just find a way to carry on with my life.” Both students recognize that there is the possibility for others to hurt them, to damage their reputations or careers, but at the same time, both mitigate that understanding by contrasting it with either past or future scenarios in which they have or will survive academia.
Told from the start that all names and identifying information would be kept confidential as part of the research process, participants took comfort in the protection of anonymity. The discourse of retaliation is strong in this participant’s response: “This is anonymous too so it’s not like it’s going to affect me and I found out about it through my department, so I don’t feel like if they found out I participated there would be repercussions. I’m probably never going to apply for another leadership position after three times being shot down, at least not until I do some other stuff first, so I’m happy with my position. I like the job I have. I don’t feel like there will be repercussions for me doing this.” One gets the sense that this participant anticipates being found out, being caught, and having the protection of having learned about the project via someone in the department. Learning of the project via a department listserv is much less illicit, in other words, than learning of the project via social media. The listserv seems to sanction the project and sanction the storytelling.
Another participant interprets the anonymity of the project a bit differently. She says, “The maddening thing here is that there’s not anything any of us can actually do about it. I’m not even using his name here. And if I did, with the gender dynamic, the reality is that I’m the one who would be on the hot seat for being such a bitch to call so-and-so out.” As we saw above, another participant makes a similar point when she notes that “we’ll be seen as gossips or—I think the word that keeps coming up is retaliation” for naming a particular person at a particular place who is engaging in misogynistic behaviors. Recall that she said, “I think in academia just like in lots of fields and businesses there’s this expectation that you’ll maintain this façade that everything is fine, that no one’s racist, that no one’s sexist, or any of those things.” Maintaining that façade functions as a kind of protection against retaliation.
Sara Ahmed writes that “we are often encouraged to think of our careers as having an exteriority, as what you have to care for in order to have somewhere to go,” and the same participant who pointed to the need for a façade that “everything is fine,” told me that she knew if she talked with anybody outside her department about what was happening, she risked the stability of that career.
If I were to tell anyone outside my department, would that negatively impact my getting tenure if I stayed, would it negatively impact my ability to move up at this school? It just always felt like I was stepping out on that ledge, and I was going to hurt myself. I think I’ve been wondering more what it is we’re really protecting by doing that. I think by the time I left the last place, I had thought, do I care enough about being in this field and doing this very specific job that I would stay in a place where this was happening? Would I rather just leave if I can’t find a job somewhere else? I think that’s one of the consequences—how many women leave instead of dealing with it.
The potential for retaliation in the form of down-girl moves such as silencing, punishing, deprivation of advancement, diminished career prospects—all of these were understood in advance by many of the women I interviewed. All of these function for so many women—those who have stories but who chose not to talk with me—as prolepsis; they are, in Leigh Gilmore’s words, “a threat that prevents women from testifying” (7). They are the ending we anticipate.12
Toward a Collective
In Down Girl, Manne explains that even a woman’s belief that her story should be heard is subject to the norms of patriarchy, that such a sense of entitlement is a masculine-coded good that women should not seek. In a chapter devoted to parsing what it means to claim victimhood, Manne writes that,
if you claim victimhood, more or less explicitly, chances are (a) you’re not automatically being given what you need, in terms of sympathy and redress for moral injuries; and (b) you’re claiming to be entitled to the same, in ways that will be more salient for those not deemed to be so entitled, historically, but rather obligated to ensure that others’ entitlements are satisfied. (230)
When it is a woman claiming such entitlement, “it may stand out not because she’s claiming more than her due but because we’re not used to women claiming their due in these contexts. Women are rather expected to provide an audience for dominant men’s victim narratives, providing moral care, listening, sympathy, and soothing” (231). After sharing the story of D’Arcee Neal, a disabled Black gay man whose distressing experience on an airplane elicited not sympathy but aggression from public commenters, Manne notes that “drawing attention to one’s moral injuries in a public forum does not seem an especially good way to attract sympathetic attention, as a subordinate group member” (236). But perhaps sympathetic attention is not the goal, she writes. Rather, following Regina Ricci, Manne argues that “drawing attention to the ways in which one has been wronged as a subordinate group member may sometimes be the best, or even the only viable, way to foster solidarity with other people in a similar position” (238-9). Manne writes, and I agree, based on my experience interviewing these thirty-nine women, that “there is also significant value in the social support itself, as well as the prospect of enhanced pattern recognition” (239). This is what I am hoping will happen here, with this project, and this is what many of my interview participants seemed to understand already. It is not easy to tell stories about being the victim of misogyny in a workplace culture that is, on the surface, committed to inclusion and social justice. Indeed, telling these stories in a context in which misogyny has to operate under the radar carries more risk because that telling threatens, always, to expose our own failure.
We live with a cultural narrative about what it means to be a victim; one is understood as passive and weak rather than agentive and strong. But Manne offers another way of thinking about what women are doing when they share stories of victimhood; she writes that, “One may be able to expose the people who made one a victim as bullies and aggressors, even if this cannot be relied on to redirect the usual flow of sympathy, which tends—like heat—to rise up the social hierarchy” (248). In this context, to expose our peers as those who have made us victims, though, is, as I mentioned earlier, to admit to a collective failure, thus raising the stakes of speaking out.
And the stakes, as I’ve demonstrated here, are high. The stakes are more misogyny, and women’s narrative habitus tells them this. We know this ahead of time. As one interviewee told me, “It’s pretty clear that many people are not going to tell their stories because other people are telling them not to. I know that just from my experience. I’m sure it’s happening. I’ve been told not to talk over and over and over.” Paradoxically, we possess a narrative habitus that tells us that stories about misogyny in English departments are precarious at the same time that we know that such stories are as common as dirt. They’re everywhere. People just aren’t telling them in print. Because to tell them is to break the norm that tells us that we are meant to be giving care to others, not asking for care for ourselves. Interestingly, though the stories women told me in the summer of 2019 did not do the work of caring for men and are thus subject to misogyny by the lights of patriarchy, they did do the work of caring—for women. As one woman said, “I’m sure there’s someone else questioning, well, what does this mean and how does this work and am I wrong, am I crazy?” Sharing their stories does both: it demonstrates care for the self and care for others. In sharing their stories, women contributed to a collective from which other women will soon be able to draw strength.
Some of that strength undoubtedly will come from the vulnerability my interviewees show. To return, here at the end, to where I began, I want to remind readers that it takes strength to push past the internalized misogyny so many of us have found ourselves experiencing. One woman told me, “I feel like I am kind of slowly acquiescing to that shock collar. I no longer want to have ideas at meetings. I sit in meetings and I’m so quiet. I just try to barrel through them.” And another woman told me about how she finds herself gaslighting herself about the things she’s experienced even though she knows better: “Even now, speaking to somebody that I know completely understands where I’m coming from, I find myself changing the situation from, I got fucked over in a program that wasn’t ready to actually take care of me to, this is my fault because this is a situation I created.” Telling stories of misogyny in English departments is just the first step; the next step is for others to hear them and do something about them. Because as empowering as building a collective is, as one woman told me, “I do still have little moments of being scared.”
- I want to be clear that, as a member of said academy and as a member of an English department, I am complicit in misogyny. I am working to become more aware of the ways I differentiate between good women and bad women based on the extent to which they conform to the norms of patriarchy. And I am becoming more aware of the ways I try to conform so as to avoid the punishments that are likely to follow. This work began in my own experiences of misogyny, but it doesn’t end there; it stretched to include and try to understand the experiences of others who have had similar experiences.
- Participants in the project included both cis and trans women. The call for participants asked for people who identified as women and who had experienced misogyny in English departments.
- While I am using the new Carnegie classification system to designate the R-1 and R-2 Doctoral universities and the Baccalaureate colleges, I believe it’s important to maintain the designations of community colleges and HBCU, as identified by interview participants.
- In analyzing the data for this article, I separated out the responses to this final question and examined them separately from the rest of the interview data to determine what, if any, patterns emerged. I then categorized them based on codes such as gossip, job guilt, retaliation, and storytelling.
- Twenty-two of thirty-nine women pointed to the powers of storytelling as the reason they wanted to share their stories with me and, by extension, you.
- Eight of thirty-nine women pointed to their own status or place in the university as a reason for being willing to speak with me.
- Seven of thirty-nine women named knowing me or knowing of my work as a reason for feeling comfortable talking with me.
- Six of thirty-nine women pointed to being labeled a gossip as a means of feeling silenced.
- Three of thirty-nine women anticipated being perceived as ungrateful for their jobs as a means of being silenced.
- Eight of thirty-nine women mentioned a fear of retaliation for sharing their stories with me.
- We also see this fear of retaliation in the silences of Presumed Incompetent. As Harris and Gonzalez write, “a significant number of women decided not to contribute to the anthology for fear of retaliation. They believed they would be penalized for airing their home institution’s dirty laundry in public, and they were not prepared to become pariahs” (11).
- One might wonder why, if participants knew ahead of time that their names would be kept confidential, they would be worried about retaliation. This is a rational question. Retaliation is not a rational fear. What I mean by this is that we have been conditioned by patriarchy to believe that if we violate a patriarchal norm, we will be punished. Though names are not attached to the stories women told in this case, such ingrained fear is not so easily assuaged. I am here to tell you that women were afraid of retaliation and I think that this suggests that patriarchy remains remarkably successful in keeping that fear alive in women despite assurances from a researcher. That women went ahead and told their stories is testament to their selflessness and care for other women.
- Ahmed, Sara. “Warnings.” Feminist Killjoys, 3 December, 2018.
- Elder, Cristyn L., and Bethany Davila, Ed. Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace. Logan: Utah State UP, 2019.
- Ericsson, Patricia Freitag, Ed. Sexual Harassment and Cultural Change in Writing Studies. Fort Collins, CO: The WAC Clearinghouse, 2020.
- Frank, Arthur W. Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.
- —. “Tricksters and Truth Tellers: Narrating Illness in an Age of Authenticity and Appropriation.” Literature and Medicine 28.2 (2009): 185-199.
- Gay, Roxane. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018.
- Gilmore, Leigh. Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives. New York: Columbia UP, 2017.
- Graeber, David. “The Bully’s Pulpit: On the Elementary Structure of Domination.” The Baffler 28 (July 2015).
- Harris, Angela P, and Carmen G. Gonzalez. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Ed. Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2012. 1-14.
- Lusher, Katelyn. “Academic Spaces and Grad Student Harassment.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 198-199.
- Manne, Kate. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. New York: Oxford UP, 2018.
- Micciche, Laura. “From the Editor.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 10-11.
- Penaluna, Regan. “Kate Manne: The Shock Collar That Is Misogyny.” Guernica 7 Feb. 2018.
- Robillard, Amy E. We Find Ourselves in Other People’s Stories: On Narrative Collapse and a Lifetime Search for Story. New York: Routledge, 2019.
- Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990.
- Sicari, Anna. “Centering the Conversation: Patriarchy, Academic Culture, and #MeToo.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 200-202.
- Solnit, Rebecca. “A Short History of Silence.” The Mother of All Questions. Chicago: Haymarket, 2017: 17-66.
- Twale, Darla J. Understanding and Preventing Faculty-on-Faculty Bullying. New York: Routledge, 2017.
- Twale, Darla J., and Barbara M. De Luca, Ed. Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.