Why an Academic Summer Program Just for Girls?

IMG_3339When I bought the Anchorage and Cabin in the summer of 2015, I had no idea what I planned to do with it. I fell in love with property, pure and simple. I even vicariously fell in love with the family that had owned and maintained the place for 90 years before I came along. The house retained the fond memories of their summer visits the way a stone retains the sun’s heat, casting a spell of radiant warmth throughout the grounds and houses.

But at the same time, this life-altering purchase awakened something in me that had been beaten down by an abusive marriage — namely, the desire to do something meaningful with my life. I thought of using the property to host retreats for women struggling to get back on their feet after divorce or for people seeking a natural means of combatting their anxiety and depression. I struggled to find a purpose that both resonated with my values and made the best use of my skills.

i0044dcnd then the Kavanaugh nomination happened, Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her story of sexual assault, and the president of the United States mocked her testimony during one of his political rallies.

It has never been my intent to get political on this site — I save that for my private Facebook page — but recent events force me to realize that not standing up to misogyny is akin to contributing to it. I am a lifelong feminist, but I have largely kept my views out of the public space because, for the last 20 years or so, feminism was viewed as an unfashionable tropology by some and an ongoing threat to others. I maintained an uneasy silence when younger women assured me that things were different and went about my business.

The events of the last two years, beginning with the misogyny leveled at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign and culminating with these attacks on Dr. Blasey, have made me aware of two things.

First, patriarchy, that institutional system whereby men hold the reigns of power at the exclusion of women, has been fundamentally unaltered despite women’s successful entry into the professional sphere over the last 40 years. The real proof of that lies in how women are treated in the workplace. We do not have equal pay for equal work, and generally speaking, the workplace has not changed to meet the additional demands placed on us by childbearing. Instead, professional women are expected to ignore the fact that they are mothers when they come to work or risk career advancement. At the same time, they are expected to approve male bonding rituals — golf, anyone — that drain workplace productivity because male relaxation and pleasure have been deemed essential to the smooth functioning of the corporate world.

One could argue, in fact, that moving women into the professional sphere has been little more than a cost-effective boon to patriarchy. We work for less. We work harder than men in order to show that we can be competitive. When we complain about workplace harassment or injustice, it hurts our reputation, so toxic masculinity continues to shape many workplaces without much pushback. The “post-feminist” era has led to economic enfranchisement — there is no question that women represent more power than they did back in the 1970s — but in some real sense we are not wielding that power. We are holding it for men, who are free to come back at any time and reclaim it.

My second realization is that, rather than become a legitimate social issue that all Americans accept has value, women’s rights have been almost comically politicized, with one party hostile to the very concept of equality and eager to control our bodies and our agency itself, as though they can somehow push back time and erase our memories. The polarization of human rights is one of the most bizarre, distressing, and ultimately predictable results of globalization, but white women have been lulled into a sense of false complacency by the accommodations of the corporate world. We now must face what most women of color have known all along: We are not considered equal.

i0039dc e owe girls who are coming of age in this era of diminishing resources, climate change, and economic insecurity discrete spaces where they can learn to value themselves as women and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to understand, for themselves, what their place in the world is and what it can be.

I’ve been teaching composition and American literature for over 20 years now, and I don’t believe in bringing politics into the classroom. It stifles discourse and breeds resentment. My idea is not to run a “liberal” or “progressive” series of academic summer programs. Instead, I want to foster achievement and critical thinking and let girls reach their own conclusions by examining how the past shapes the world we live in today.

I am really excited at the prospect of getting this project off the ground. Please stay tuned for more developments.