Is research a tool for maintaining the sexist status quo in academic departments?

Busybusy again today–no time to think up and write a post myself, but Tenured Radical (who is herself busybusy) is hosting a conversation about sexism in hiring and tenure decisions at Princeton and in academia in general.  She writes:

Untenured faculty are always wanting to know what that little extra edge is that will get them tenure.  Be a man and ignore your students, that’s my advice.  According to the Daily Princetonian, President Shirley Tilghman suggested back in 2003 that if baby Tigers did not focus so much on teaching they would have a better chance of getting tenure.  According to attorney R. William Potter (no relation to the Radical),

In December 2003, Tilghman advised junior faculty not to focus so much on teaching undergraduates; if they want to obtain the holy grail of tenure they should concentrate on scholarly research, she told them, as their “first and foremost” priority. “Their ability to conduct research and demonstrate excellence in scholarship is the most important thing we look at,” she said, although she added that teaching ability is also “considered very seriously.”

I can’t find the origins of the Tilghman quote about tenure cited in the article, but if you go hereyou get to an article that cites Tilghman’s position in 1996 that tenure is a sexist institution and ought to be abolished. Now that’s what I call interesting.  But like all successful people, she now says that isn’t really what she meant.  She was just trying to be provocative, she explained in 2001, recanting this position after she took office as President.

Many readers pointed out that not advising junior faculty at Princeton to focus on their research would be malpractice–but in a further comment TR explained that she is dismayedthat “after all these years, and even at a place like Princeton (whose history department has numerous scholars quite famous for their teacher[ing]) we have nothing more creative to say to untenured people about the relationship between developing these two skills than ‘Do less of this/do more of that.’ That’s true at Zenith as well, where it is even odder really, since the kind of people who teach at Princeton often send their kids to places like Zenith because they know they will be taught in a way to a standard they have less chance of finding at a prestigious Ivy. I suppose the creativity I seek is more along the lines of ‘HOW do we help untenured faculty learn to teach well, given the circumstances of their teaching lives, and in a way that supports scholarly production?'”

I already seconded this question over at TR’s place, and added my concern that one reason institutionalized sexism still haunts us all is the gendering of teaching as female and research as male.  This may be what’s inhibiting our conversations along the lines TR suggests, either because 1) we may discover that we don’t in fact hold men and women faculty to the same standard when it comes to their teaching, or 2) we may find that we’re all resistant to conversations about how research supports and enhances teaching because that might diminish its prestige. 

Why as TR writes “after all these years” don’t we talk more about how scholarship and teaching enhance each other and can be used productively to build effective applications for tenure?  Do we perceive research as the most prestigious of our activities because it’s effectively gendered male, and are we all–women and men alike–reluctant to compromise its value by introducing girly values like good teaching into our conversations about research? 

What do you all think?  How does teaching factor into tenure decisions at your colleges or unis?  I just said the other day to a friend whose department is running a search and who expressed concerns about one candidate’s teaching abilities, “Hire the person with the best and most interesting research agenda.  You’re never in your whole career going to cast a vote against someone because hir teaching isn’t good enough.  It’s just never going to happen.”  (So am I part of the problem?)

0 thoughts on “Is research a tool for maintaining the sexist status quo in academic departments?

  1. squadratomagico,

    I would say that my teaching enhances my writing in a very significant way. It forces me to find clear and direct ways to express complicated ideas. It constantly presses me to consider what significance my scholarship might have to people beyond the small, narrow group of scholars doing work similar to mine who will have no trouble seeing its significance. Teaching broad surveys forces me to take the long view, and gives me a clearer sense of where my research fits into the bigger picture.

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  2. squadratomagico,

    I would say that my teaching enhances my writing in a very significant way. It forces me to find clear and direct ways to express complicated ideas. It constantly presses me to consider what significance my scholarship might have to people beyond the small, narrow group of scholars doing work similar to mine who will have no trouble seeing its significance. Teaching broad surveys forces me to take the long view, and gives me a clearer sense of where my research fits into the bigger picture.

    Research enhances my teaching primarily in the area of providing valuable feedback to students on their own research projects. It has a less direct impact on what goes on in my classroom.

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  3. Mr. Kerrigan doesn’t believe teaching and research are gendered. He frankly doesn’t buy the argument raised here. If I were a Bil, I’d probably feel the same way. Gender would be all about my unmerited privilege–so I’d have every incentive not to notice it.

    What deniers of sexism never seem to grasp is that we victims of it really, really don’t want to spend our time pointing out injustices. They seem to think that we’re just being idle and self-indulgent. But we have work to do. Those of us in the academy would like to focus on our research and teaching–much of which has nothing overtly to do with gender–and be treated fairly. And we’d like our female colleagues and students to get a fair shake.

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  4. I have found for the small set of academic departments in which I have personal experience, that the men have a different perception of how egalitarian it all is than do the women. It must be said that in my field female faculty are outnumbered 5 to 1 or more and it may be that in fields where women are better represented, things are different. That said, my colleagues profess to be liberal- minded social progressives but my observations of their behavior do not uniformly support that view.

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  5. [De-lurking] As a counterpoint to both the elite schools narrative *and* Bil Kerigan: I teach at a very teaching-oriented institution– so teaching oriented that there are no publication requirements. We can fulfill the scholarly component of our tenure portfolio by “remaining active.” The institution was founded by nuns and continues to expect the same kind of devotion from faculty as a religious order expects from its members, despite having disaffiliated from the Church 30+ years ago.

    It’s more complicated than just one thing, but as a female faculty member, negative comments on my student evals consistently assume that being a good female teacher means being “nurturing.” In my more bitter moments, I think “nurturing according to the self-sacrificing model of the institution founders.” There is a completely different standard for men teaching at the institution. (Being a faculty member of color adds a whole other, ugly dimension.)

    In thinking about responses to my male colleagues’ teaching, I do think it’s important to note that the sexism is coming both from the institution (imbedded in the ways that it measures and recognizes contributions) and from the students (captured in the ways they respond to faculty authority and expectations).

    In terms of my experience outside the classroom, my colleagues who have been at the institution 15+ years are generally suspicious of my desire to do research and frame it as being harmful to or a distraction from my teaching.

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  6. LadyProf,

    That’s an amazing leap you make! From an expression of skepticism about the idea that teaching is perceived to a “female” and research “male” to the label “denier of sexism.” I hope the reasoning in your scholarship is built on sounder ground.

    Sensible,

    Your specific example regarding the expectations of how a female professor should be (“nurturing”) is no doubt there. I can recall specific comments from my female colleagues from administrators that are similar.

    My general skepticism of the female/teaching male/research dichotomy is based on the reality that there are so many different ways to teach effectively. I teach in a department out outstanding teachers, 50% female and 50% male, each of whom employs different style of teaching, but is very good at what they do. If you were to posit that the male members were teaching in a certain way (say, doing the “sage on the stage” lecture style, for example), while the female members were teaching in a different way (say student-centered discussion) you’d find your hypothesis wouldn’t stand up to testing.

    Am I denying that male and female professors often face different expectations and standards as the result of sexism? Of course not. I’m simply expressing skepticism about a particularly reductive generalization.

    And regarding the assertion by some on this board that women do worse on student evaluations than men, that hasn’t been my experience. The faculty with the highest mean scores on student evaluations in my division are all women. (Note to LadyProf–this is not to be read as any kind of assertion about the validity/invalidity of student evaluations as measurements of teaching effectiveness.)

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  7. CPP, how can success at sucking at the public teat make one’s pants swell? Why not try making an honest living? Might do wonders for your libido.

    JackDanielsBlack

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  8. @Bil
    Bil and I were colleagues at Michigan and he helped me a ton my first year; his last. He knows all about sexism in elite departments (Carol Karlsen having to sue to get tenure at Michigan ring a bell with anybody?) His argument is that at a small, non-elite institution that is teaching first, teaching is less likely to be gendered. I think there is going to be huge variation by school or even department on this depending on local culture.

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  9. Good point CPP re medical schools.

    And, voyez-vous tous, see how it’s about gender not sex in some instances, and both in others, etc.?

    *

    Re teaching contributing to research — it does for me in the indirect way Historiann describes above.

    Where I went to school, some courses were a really famous professor reading from the mss. of his (it was only men who dared do this) next blockbuster book. We’d go and comment, which helped these guys, but it was also genuinely fun to know what they were working on and see someone work ideas through.

    Of course my teaching doesn’t contribute to research in that way. I’m happy enough to get to teach a class or so each term that has something to do with my research or research field. Then, explaining things to people who aren’t familiar with the area, I do fairly often get “light bulb” type moments.

    I also have a book I want to write that comes directly from a course I taught; the course was invented as a way to sell a new program, so it was just this out of the blue sort of thing. If I get the time to do this book, it will be a good book.

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  10. P.S. I’ve had Sensible’s experience, albeit at institutions somewhat more research oriented. Where things change, I note, are at institutions which are outright research oriented; there one can sometimes outrun this phenomenon.

    Unlike Bil, my bet is that teaching, for ladder faculty, gets less gendered at more elite institutions. Why, though? … because so much teaching, especially of the trench-like kind, is done by TAs, adjuncts, and also instructors and lecturers (who tend to be women, and that is where the gendering takes place).

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  11. P.P.S. You know, given the content of this post I might change the title, substituting the word “teaching” for “research.”

    What higher research requirements do, I think, isn’t support the sexist status quo but the apolitical one. Every minute you put into working on shared governance, etc., is a minute that should go to research, and yadda yadda.

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  12. This is an interesting discussion, but I think part of the problem is that there is some talking past each other about the meaning of the phrase “teaching is gendered.” I think Sensible’s point that male and female professors often confront different expectations about the kind of teacher they should be is true. And reminds me of an experience at my current institution when I was hired fourteen years ago. During an interview with the now long-retired college President he told me with startling directness that I was not to sleep with my students. When I told this story to an incoming female faculty member the next fall, she told me that in her interview with the President there was no discussion of sexual relations with students, but he did tell her she could bake cookies for her students if she wanted to.

    Good to reconnect with you @Dave. I hope all is going well.

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  13. CPP, thanks for the support!

    Bil, maybe I wasn’t clear to you, but what I meant to say is that both research AND teaching are gendered in the academy. I thought you were disagreeing.

    Western Dave, even in a small non-elite school that emphasizes teaching you’ll smell the reek of gender …

    but yeah, the more everybody is doing the same thing, and the less hierarchy your uni worships (research male & potent on top, teaching girly & nurturing below), the less gender bias you’ll have to live with.

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  14. CPP, how can success at sucking at the public teat make one’s pants swell? Why not try making an honest living?

    Yeah, dude. Pursuing federally funded biomedical research so that greedy selfish pig-ignorant slobs like you don’t have to suffer and die in excruciating pain and misery is totally “sucking at the public teat”.

    Oh, and by the way, if I believed as you do, I would not be able to sleep at night knowing what a hypocrite I am sucking at the public teat driving on government-funded roads, relying on government-funded police and fire departments to keep me safe, planning on collecting government-funded social security and medicare, relying on government-funded military to maintain our global hegemony that permits our “way of life”, etc. It must be very difficult for you to live in society sucking at the public teat all day every day, knowing what a hypocrite you are for not living by yourself in the woods and refusing that government teat you never take out of your mouth.

    The sad thing is that greedy ingorant pigs like you buy into extremist far-right-wing propaganda that serves the interests of only the wealthiest tippy-top of American society, and has the effect of fucking up your life as badly as it does the lives of those you have been indoctrinated into hating.

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  15. It is probably too crude to suggest in all cases that teaching is in all cases gendered female and that research activity is in all cases gendered male. Several commenters have pointed out interesting exceptions–I think Ruth’s point about lecturing in a large lecture hall is an interesting example of how some teaching activities might be seen as more masculine than others. And as CPP and others have noted, there’s research and there’s research that’s funded by tumescent prestigious grants. So there is a gendered hierarchy embedded within these activities that is probably recognizable to many of you. (It certainly is to me.)

    Allow me to explain the reasons I advanced the argument about the gendering of teaching, one that is indeed built mostly on my observations from a career spent not in elite institutions but in institutions that as Bil suggests ultimately value research over teaching. I was educated at a SLAC and taught for one semester at an elite SLAC, but my guess is that those SLACs make their T & P decisions more along the lines of my institution than Bil’s institution.

    Even if one rejects my argument that the reason academia values research over teaching may be that it is gendered male while teaching is gendered female, I don’t think there’s a good argument that gender is irrelevant when students, peers, and administrators evaluate the work we do in teaching, research, and service. Anyone who has read course evaluations of male and female faculty together knows that women are held to much higher standards for their teaching than the men are. Traits that might be viewed as personality quirks in men–how they dress, speech patterns, some accents, etc.–are routinely raised in women’s evaluations and considered reasonable standards by which their teaching is evaluated by students and peers alike.

    Because more women get pushed around in their teaching evaluations, and because peers often expect female collegues to respond more to these reviews than they expect their male colleagues, some women faculty end up spending more time and paying more attention to their teaching. They may also continue to publish enough to win tenure in the end, but I think teaching frequently becomes a stick with which to beat women faculty in particular, and they can’t win: if they don’t respond to “concerns” about their teaching they’ll get $hitcanned, and if they do respond like good girls and try to “fix” their personality quirks, wardrobe, and teaching style to suit their students and peers, they risk diverting too much time away from their research agendas. The result is that the differential expectations we have collectively of female versus male faculty end up reproducing themselves (because women are punished for not living up to these expectations) and continuing the gendering of teaching as female. So I think Z makes a great point when she writes, “You know, given the content of this post I might change the title, substituting the word ‘teaching’ for ‘research.'” It’s not just the existence of research, it’s the hierarchy of research over teaching coupled with the cultural and institutional pressure for women to care more and work harder on their teaching than men.

    We see this gendering of work roles in other fields beyond academia, of course. Why is it that there are more women in Marketing and Public Relations than there are in Finance and Management? Why is it that there are more women in primary care medicine than there are in the lucrative surgical sub-specialities? I didn’t think it would be so shocking or daring to suggest that we might have a similar phenomenon in colleges and universities.

    What’s interesting to me is that the discussion here has focused on debating the gendering of teaching, and few here have mentioned the gendering of research. This means that most of you agree with me that that research is gendered male and that that might help explain its relative worth in our careers and in T & P decisions. Research is an opportunity for individual achievement attained through the objective standards of peer review, whereas teaching is more about collaborative work and building relationships. (Or so the script goes.)

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  16. Pingback: Weekend roundup: Operation crashdown edition : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  17. “The sad thing is that greedy ingorant pigs like you buy into extremist far-right-wing propaganda that serves the interests of only the wealthiest tippy-top of American society”

    Gosh, CPP, don’t you think you should thank me for helping folks like tippy-toppy li’l ole’ you? Definition of a hypocrite — someone who lives at the top but talks like he’s from the bottom — that’s CPP!

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  18. “It is probably too crude to suggest in all cases that teaching is in all cases gendered female and that research activity is in all cases gendered male.”

    Historiann, does this mean that you owe Clarissa an apology? I think so.

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  19. HA-ha. Sorry, Jack–no apologies from me. I didn’t insult anyone or call names. I write in good faith here, and I expect commenters to do the same. I don’t mind if people disagree with me–but I’ve written about this before and we’ve had a lot of conversations about these issues before based on real people’s real career experiences.

    If someone finds what I write here “deeply offensive” and then proceeds to categorically reject other commenters’ efforts to educate hir on things she may not have personal experience with yet BECAUSE she hasn’t yet personally had those experiences–well, I can’t do anything with that.

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  20. @CPP – you go.

    @Historiann – exactly: “I think teaching frequently becomes a stick with which to beat women faculty in particular, and they can’t win: if they don’t respond to “concerns” about their teaching they’ll get $hitcanned, and if they do respond like good girls and try to “fix” their personality quirks, wardrobe, and teaching style to suit their students and peers, they risk diverting too much time away from their research agendas.”

    Research gendered male, yes. Funny how I hadn’t thought about that in those terms. But it does explain all the comments I’ve always gotten: you don’t really want to do that, do you … don’t you think that’s a little hard for you … actually, it reminds me of peoples’ reaction much earlier, when I didn’t have trouble with math!

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  21. Historiann, Clarissa has her experience, you have your experience, who is to say which is more valid? And then to insinuate that she is perhaps a guy because she doesn’t agree with you — seems a little over the top to me. The least you could do is respect her and her experience. How about a little sisterhood?

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  22. Jack, please re-read the exchange. I don’t doubt Clarissa’s experience at all. I take her at her word. I merely said that someone presenting the same ideas and asking the same questions about Feminism 101 on this blog under a man’s name wouldn’t have been treated so earnestly by my commenters.

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  23. I think it’s awesome when men tell women that they should demonstrate their sisterhood when they dare to disagree with a woman with the man’s support. I mean, how dare women disagree with other women? Or with people generally? And not feel the need to apologize for doing so? Women like that are clearly not only lacking in femininity but also lacking in feminist commitment. It’s a shame, really, that women like that don’t realize that they’re not autonomous subjects with agency. Truly unfortunate.

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  24. Historiann, forgive me — I guess what you really said was that because of the nature of her comments, she should be treated like a guy — that is, ignored!

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  25. Pingback: It’s still hard to “go ahead” as a woman: talking about gender discrimination « ladyelocutionist

  26. @Historiann – it explains a heck of a lot, the more I think about it, including my dread around basic teaching – . Very interesting.

    (When I was much younger than I am now I thought I had outrun sexism or could. However, closer to the truth is that I didn’t know how to recognize it when it happened to me.)

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  27. @Historiann – it explains a heck of a lot, the more I think about it, including my dread around basic teaching – . Very interesting.

    (When I was much younger than I am now I thought I had outrun sexism or could. However, closer to the truth is that I didn’t know how to recognize it when it happened to me.)

    @Jack – you’re going to have to try harder. There are several men in this conversation…

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  28. Z, I was just summarizing what Historiann said — that if you are a woman who makes comments that deviate from the received feminist wisdom as pronounced by the great feminist oracle Historiann, then you should be treated like a guy who does the same and cast into the outer darkness. I assume CPP is a guy (mostly because he’s so obnoxious), but I assume that you are not, due to the nature of your complaints.

    More generally, I think the discussion here lacks nuance and sophistication. Take cooking, for example. Most folks would probably say that cooking is “gendered” female — but not when it comes to chefs! And if college teaching is now “gendered” female, that is probably a byproduct of he progress women have made in this field — 50 or 100 years ago, it would have been “gendered” male.

    And by the way, folks — how do you know I’m a guy? Or are you just assuming that Jack Daniels drinkers are “gendered” male?

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  29. Jack, you’re free to bugger off if you don’t like the discussion here! I’ve never banned you, in spite of your distortions. (And I’ve never banned Clarissa, BTW. She chose to take herself out of the game.)

    I think this thread is dead–no one else need comment or rise to Jack’s bait.

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  30. Hello– here from Shakesville. Currently, I am attending graduate school in English at a public research institution, one of a very few in my cohort who attended a SLAC rather than an Ivy or a research school as an undergraduate.

    The two teachers who ran the best literature discussions during my time as an undergrad did the kind of teaching that I recognize now was time-consuming, the kind frequently described as “nurturing.” They ran small-group paper draft conferences. They varied their seminar classes substantially from term to term, so that being umpteen times more familiar with the texts than their students didn’t tempt them to lecture instead of discussing. And they were incredibly accessible– they were in their offices when they said they would be and offered no visible signs of annoyance at being interrupted. In fact, they were frequently in their offices even when they hadn’t said they would be, and if they were present and not in a meeting, their doors were open. My advisor, who was one of these teachers, read my drafts when I was applying for graduate school. In fact, we’ve stayed in at least intermittent contact since I began graduate school; we trade reading lists and chat occasionally about teaching techniques and professionalization.

    One of those teachers was female; the other (my advisor) was male. Initially, both of them were denied tenure for not publishing enough. In the case of the male teacher, the tenure decision was reversed after he won the school’s Young Teacher of the Year award. I’m grateful that my advisor stayed– he was by far the best fit for me in the department. But it’s always been odd to me that even the SLAC I attended, which ostensibly prized intensive teaching over research, seems to have made it very difficult for teaching-focused professors to get tenure and stay.

    I don’t have enough information about how the tenure process works (even at a single school) to make a solid argument here. But I have heard from a professor at my graduate school, who has been helping advisees through the placement process, that the English department at my SLAC has a reputation as an uncomfortable place for female professors (and, perhaps, extrapolating from my advisor, an uncomfortable place for male professors who are much more nurturing teachers than their male colleagues). And my undergrad advisor has told me in somewhat rueful tones that when I go on the market, departments are going to be looking for an interesting researcher first, a committed teacher a rather distant second, and a collegial and decent person somewhere way on down the road.

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  31. > the received feminist wisdom as pronounced by the great feminist oracle Historiann, >then you should be treated like a guy who does the same and cast into the outer >darkness.

    Posters on feminist blogs lose patience with having to explain Feminism 101 to trolls. Historiann observed that people were being more patient with Clarissa because Clarissa had a female name — that a troll assumed to be male would have been ignored earlier. As I understand it, Historiann actually was telling people NOT to do treat trolls differently and making the point that a troll was a troll. Go back and reread.

    Moreover, Historiann is a blogger, not an oracle. She is a popular blogger and people admire her, yes. But she talks in the language of feminist sociology and theory that many of us know and understand. If you do not understand what we’re talking about, it’s not because everyone else is engaged in hero worship of Historiann. It’s probably because you don’t get it.

    >More generally, I think the discussion here lacks nuance and sophistication. Take >cooking, for example. Most folks would probably say that cooking is “gendered” >female — but not when it comes to chefs! And if college teaching is now >“gendered” female, that is probably a byproduct of he progress women have made >in this field — 50 or 100 years ago, it would have been “gendered” male.

    To many of us, this reads as a rather naive paragraph, and one that suggests you’re not well versed in feminist thinking. That’s okay, but just know that you’re not raising original points here and you’re really not seeing the whole argument. In fact, the gendering of household versus professional cooking is a textbook example of gendered hierarchies … but I’ll let you research that on your own.

    >And by the way, folks — how do you know I’m a guy? Or are you just assuming >that Jack Daniels drinkers are “gendered” male?

    I have no idea what gender you are, but it doesn’t affect my statements. I will say that very often trolls / aggressive newbies on feminist blogs are men who are defensive about their privilege, but that doesn’t mean it’s always true. At any rate, it sounds like this blog won’t be a good experience for you and I suggest you move along.

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  32. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | Want To Be Successful? Just Publish, “Dude”!

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