A marriage of true minds

Angie Sandhu and Julia Swindells argue for mutual respect and an end to sex discrimination in the academy's intellectual exchanges

April 24, 2008

Let us suppose that from the beginning of time, women have delighted in conversation and intellectual exchange with other women and with men. In the university of an advanced democracy, this activity has developed into a free and open exchange of ideas, based on mutual interest and respect between the sexes, leading to support for one another's reading, writing, teaching, research and publication. Let us suppose that authors and academics wish to pursue these practices to their optimum and that the modern term for that project is "networking". We propose that those who wish to hone their skills in networking take note of this definition and the following advice:

Love, cherish and support:

- Women and men who generate intellectual excitement and curiosity in you rather than fear and anxiety about their motives for listening;

- Women and men who ask you questions and then listen to your answers without mentioning the research assessment exercise;

- Women and men who experiencing adverse discrimination themselves on whatever basis support others who suffer such treatment;

- Women and men who without experiencing adverse discrimination themselves on whatever basis support others who suffer such treatment;

- Those who, on behalf of others, read, implement and monitor legislation supporting "equal opportunities", understanding that its primary purpose is to prevent unfair discrimination and professional monopoly;

- Universities that formally recognise and themselves cherish unions and collective bargaining procedures as a form of protection against adverse discrimination;

- Women you disagree with, if you know they are attempting to further the interests of equality between the sexes;

- Men you disagree with, if you know they are attempting to further such interests;

- Women and men who use the terms feminism and equality fearlessly on behalf of others and not exclusively as a platform for their own interests, critical or personal.

Beware of:

- Closet misogynists (men and women, the latter a rare but powerful species);

- Men (and women) who never appoint a woman to their department;

- Men (and women) who appoint women only to posts of lower status than their own;

- Women (and men) who appoint only men and not women to posts of status parallel or close in the hierarchy to their own;

- Men (and women) who enter liaisons dangereuses with women (or men) of subordinate status to their own (women, it will end in chagrin);

- Manipulating members of the opposite sex (women, you will come to regret it - "Is this a dagger I see before me?");

- Any man or woman in a position of influence who notices only your sex;

- Any man or woman in a position of influence who professes loudly not to notice your sex;

- The ideological, political and professional credentials of any man or woman who is unconscious of the politics of sex, class and race when she or he speaks of "merit";

- Any colleague who professes to be unconscious of such when speaking of "merit" but never appoints a woman;

- Any colleague who professes that class and race are more important than sex;

- Any colleague who professes that class and race are less important than sex;

- Conferences where you fear your research is open to plunder, rather than understood; conferences that grossly enlarge your carbon footprint; conferences characterised by a colonial adventurism, unconscious of any impact on the indigenous population.


Now you have achieved promotion, you will be able to hand on the above advice to countless other women (and deserving men), in the confidence that you will have the support of men (and other women) in appointing women to influential positions who will then appoint more women to influential positions, where the women they have appointed can appoint (with men) other women. Women (and men) will have liberated themselves into using the terms "feminism", "equality of opportunity", "the women's movement" and "solidarity" with refreshed meaning and without embarrassment. Meanwhile, we will have "outed" closet misogynists, who will no longer be in a position to block the promotion of women. Handy dandy - you have reached the pinnacle of your career in a British university. And if we can implement this manifesto quickly enough, we will have bridged the gender gap by 2010 instead of 2070.

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