Thursday, June 05, 2003

My dear Sisters,

If men are increasingly bypassing higher education and feeling intimidated by an increasingly female environment, what does this mean for our future as academic women ? What does it mean for academia? I wish it meant anything, but if one looks at academia today, while more female are graduating, it is still the men that sit in academic positions of power in most fields.

A hundred years ago, women usually had to choose between higher education and marriage or often gave up applying their knowledge after marriage. In a sense, getting higher education meant for many sacrificing your role as a wife and mother - thus in some ways being deficient or not fully developed. Thankfully that has changed, it is now accepted that education is part fo self development as well as essential to procuring a job. But what if.......the majority of men cease going into higher education ? Will women be the main breadwinners ? Or will male skilled and/or un-skilled workers earn more than educated women ? And who my dears, will we marry ? Who will we expound our intellectual ramblings with, who will be the prisoners of our incessant commentary on the world ? Who will have the patience to debate and listen to us ?

When I went to Iran last year,my father gave some lectures at the university of Isfahan. Turns out, 70% of all students in higher education in Iran are female (listen to this George W). It was amazing to sit in the back of a lecture hall and see my father lecture to a sea of headscarves, a few black haired young men bobbing up and down among them. When I studied Ethnology in Denmark, the class consisted of 28 women and 3 men. But did this mean that these were feminized spaces....I don't think so.

This debate made me remember something I read recently. Exploring the literature on dress and the body ( for a short piece I am writing for an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery), I bumped into the book Clothes Make the Man: Female Crossdressing in Medieval Europe (Valerie R. Hotchkiss, 1996). This has an interesting perspective on women moving in and finding their place in an otherwise male dominated space :
'Medieval Europe had its own indigenous transvestite saints: a small group of historical women who, perhaps influenced by the lives of female monks, concealed their sex and entered male communities. Hildegund von Schonau(died 1188) lived most of her life as a man;she traveled abroad, served as a papal messenger, and even lived in a monastery as a monk. Angela of Bohemia, the sister of Premysl Ottokar I (1198-1230) was said to have escaped from her bridal chamber by disguising herself as a man. She traveled in this guise until she arrived in Jerusalem where she became a nun. Other women, such as Christina of Markyate (ca. 1096-1160) and Juana de la Cruz (1481-1534), dressed as men in order to flee enforced marriages and later led holy lives as women......' 'The defeminisation of holy women is a natural consequence of the widely held view of woman as an afterthought of the creator and the cause of human kinds's explulsion from paradise....'

What do you know about this, Sister Andrea ?

The problem lies not with the fact that more women are on campus and in teaching positions, but in the fact that men find this intimidating. And equally, as I have experienced, some women in higher education strut with pride at even having entered and played the field of such a male dominated sphere. These scare even me. This reveals how little has actually changed in the understanding of gender roles and the sexes in all of our minds......We may no longer have to disguise our identity as women or neccesarily give up our dreams of house, dog, car and 1.5 children (if we have such)...and yet??????????

So long sisters.....St. Scarlett


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