Women and The Academy
The traditional exclusion of women from the public sphere and from contributing to or initiating discourse as public intellectual can be seen to stem from, as well as parallel, the exclusion and discrimination of women within the academic field.
The origin of this discrimination lies in the power relations existing both in universities and other higher education establishments, which historically have facilitated the institutionalization of notions of hegemonic masculinity. This means that it is possible to identify the language, concepts, codes and conventions of academia as recognizably “a man’s world”, something which poses serious restrictions on women eager to establish both a professional and intellectual identity. Because universities essentially originated from all-male communities and for six hundred years sought specifically to exclude women from participation, the initial identification of knowledge was with men, a notion which still remains powerful and destructive for women academics today.
This association of men with knowledge is also an important consideration when explaining the absence of female public intellectuals. Women who struggle to establish a career in academia, (because their approach to and accumulation of knowledge may be viewed as less credible then that of their male counterparts) also inevitably struggle to carve out a career as a public intellectual for the same reason. This is because the process of being identified as intellectually able, making a reputation, mentoring and networking tends to provide cumulative advantages to men and disadvantages to women. The continuous privileging of men and hegemonic masculinities and devaluation of women and feminists has had cumulative effects on those who have succeeded in becoming senior academics and/or public intellectuals.
Considering that many public intellectuals also tend to emerge from an esteemed backgrounds in academia, such as Noam Chomsky and Richard Dawkins, it is clear to see why women continue to struggle within the public intellectual sphere. In the academic profession, ‘The main currency….is reputation’ (Becher 1989, p. 52). Peer evaluation of intellectual work, theses, publications, conference papers and research applications is the basis of academic careers. Thus if men, in senior academic positions are judging the work of women who occupy less prestigious roles, it could be argued that the intellectual contributions of women to the academy may be subject to discrimination and male standards of approval, leading the work of women to be devalued.
This scenario is also applicable to public intellectuals, the most senior of whom have both the power and duty to evaluate and make judgement upon the work of their peers. Essentially, the most successful public intellectuals, most commonly men, possess the power to control the careers of aspirants (often women) by evaluating their intellectual output, theses, papers, books and research applications. However if the same principles of hegemonic masculinity apply to the world of the public intellectual as they do to the academy, then there is usually only a limited opportunity for women to use either their academic background as a springboard for establishing themselves as public intellectuals, or outside of the academy, to be recognised as a credible individual, with important things to say.
Read more about this topic: Female Public Intellectuals
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