Trump, academia and its sexual politics

I find myself often thinking about the sexual politics of academia. This is not simply because of the barrage of sexual harassment cases to have appeared in the limelight in the last few years, but also because of the systemic aspects and contextual culture that make certain kinds of dynamics possible, and normalized to begin with.

The traditional model asks for a male professor with a dedicated wife in tow, who never leaves his side no matter what. The image is romanticized, but is in fact jarring, because it normalizes the unequal distribution of emotional labour. In a different domain, it is exemplified in Donald and Melania. What’s more, we know that women in abusive situations cannot always leave due to complex reasons, and so the iterative performance of the “brilliant” man and his sidekick woman continues to perpetuate itself. It is codified into the heterosexual matrix, the associated gender norms and relationships. What this often means is that female academics get the short end of the stick. Either their male peers choose non-academic women over them, or when they do choose each other, female academics are forced to compromise their careers in favour of that of the men, which impacts the already sordid figures and environment for women in the academy.

Of course, this isn’t the case with everyone. My own parents for example; my father had no major commitments to his engineering career, and followed my mother’s career around through her PhD and postdoc taking up whatever job suited him in the interim. I realize this is a small minority, and is largely eclipsed by some version of the Donald-Melania dynamic.

It doesn’t take much to see that this dynamic of a man as the leader of the household has salient effects on any job market, because women, especially women of colour seem to earn significantly less than men, while doing most of the household duties. There is something rotten in this perversion of romantic love and monogamy, that asks the dynamic to be preserved through the eternal sacrifices of the woman, just so that she can be seen as the normative model of the female partner or wife. I’ve heard far too many stories from female academics careers and lives ruined by these expectations, and I haven’t even started talking about sexual predators within academia yet. I believe “good men”, whoever they may be, have to be held accountable too, for their choices and the kinds of sacrifices (or lack there of) they have made in favour of gender equality. It seems like for the most part, it’s still a woman’s burden.

I refuse to stand for this.