March 10, 2006

Performing masculinity in academe

Some time ago, a colleague of mine called another colleague (one I respect for several good reasons) a "number one asshole." This wasn't to his face but to me, at the tail end of a discussion about something my colleague (the insulting one) is rather stressed over (unrelated for the most part to the insulted one).

Pardon the vulgarity, but it's necessary to quote to make a point about academic men: almost no one illustrates the perfomative nature of gender better than male professors. In part, academic culture socializes graduate students into a culture of peacocking, as Emily Toth explains in one "Ms. Mentor" column. And while many disciplines have had a critical mass of women as senior professors, others don't, or don't in a particular department or college. These legacy old-boy network(let)s operate to maintain a semi-bitter rhetoric of what a true academic man is, or how one performs. When one is whinging, griping, or staving off career disasters or a campus-political faux pause, attacking others isn't a queen-bee thing at all. The men know a thing or two about internecine squabbles and the snarky comment.

There are solid reasons to be distressed about the comment just in itself—it distracts my colleague from what he should be looking at, and it's just plain manipulative (I work closely with the insulted colleague)—but in another sense there's something incredibly signal about the casual vulgarity. It's something you can recognize in the White House tapes of the Nixon White House—vulgarity as assertion of manhood. For some reason, backstabbing vulgarity is an even more pungent performance of masculinity in academe, as I've witnessed it.

What ran through my head—though I wouldn't say this to someone who is upset about other things and who I didn't want to distract further from more salient points—was, "Oh, you're so cute when you're performing masculinity in that way." Yeah, I can think snarky thoughts with the best of them.

There's another, more subtle and academic point I'll make in a few weeks on a new group blog I've joined, The Wall of Education. It has less to do with gender than character attributes and colleges of education, but there's a loose connection here that I'll tie in after the post is public.

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Posted in Random comments on March 10, 2006 4:40 PM |