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September 22 2016

Forget the London Blitz: We Now Have Gender Shrapnel

Charlotte Allen

Haven’t experienced any sexist microaggressions recently?

That’s OK. You can still be a victim—of  “gender shrapnel.” That’s leftover misogyny from the past that still hurts.

“Gender shrapnel” is a phrase coined by Ellen Mayock, professor of Spanish, women’s, and gender studies at Washington and Lee University. And in fact Mayock has a new book out on the subject, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace.

Because although we outsiders think of academia as a politically correct, trigger warning-protected haven for the most meltable of snowflakes, it actually contains more shrapnel than London during the Blitz.

Here’s an explanation, from an interview with Mayock in Inside Higher Education:

Shrapnel takes its name from its central concept: that female professors and administrators aren’t necessarily overtly discriminated against as much as they are subject to regular insults and slights -- all of which build up over time to inflict real damage….

Put another way, digs such as “How does your husband deal with this?” (“this” being long hours at work that have amounted to a productive research agenda), lodge in one’s skin, like bits of shrapnel from an explosion meters off. One isn’t fatal but many over time pose risk to the woman -- or at the very least to her longevity in academe.

Academia also seems to be rife with of “bad gender days,” which are like bad hair days except with gender. Here’s Mayock:

A bad gender day for me might include being interrupted at a meeting, hearing another credited with my idea or work, having someone speak for me, rather than listen to me, and/or being seen in a group of women and being asked what we are “plotting.”

Fortunately, there’s a way to get all this shrapnel out of the ivy halls: “training.”

I believe that clearing the shrapnel requires a multipronged approach, which includes providing education about gender and intersectional dynamics and pitfalls to every member of the organization (students and employees in the academic setting), following up on that education in small and large groups, sending consistent institutional messages, considering and rectifying inequities in levels of visibility and invisibility, advertising new opportunities to all, and figuring out individual students’ and employees’ strengths that can contribute to organizational change.

Mmm, hire more administrators! Tuition at Washington and Lee is already $44,660 a year.

So, W&L students, if that bill goes up, you can attribute it to those “large and small groups’ you’ll be forced to attend to get your dose of gender-shrapnel propaganda.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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