So, today is November 1, Day 1. Margy has asked us to write down the manifesto for our project.
This one hits close to home. The reader report I got said that it wasn’t clear who the audience was for my work, nor was it clear what the point was. So, what is the manifesto, then, of Bad Female Academic?
I started College Ready Writing so I could feel less alone. I started BFA to let others know that they weren’t alone either. But then, what’s the point of gathering them all up into a collected volume? What’s the narrative arc?
I’m thinking of re-titling the collection How to Be a Bad Female Academic, inspired by just finishing the book How to Write and Autobiographical Novel, but also a call-back to a book that launched my academic publishing career, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. In both cases, the writers sort-of conclude that you just…let it happen.
But that’s not active, not action, not a plot arc.
And trust me, don’t think that I haven’t considered the fact that if I can’t answer this question, come up with a manifesto, that this book is never going to get published.
Part of the problem is that I don’t know if my story is one of triumph or tragedy. I think I was treating it as comedy, but there wasn’t a convincing enough punchline. No catharsis at the end. I wanted people to laugh but all they did was shrug and say, good on ya.
I’ve been watching a lot of Nanette.
I also don’t want people to despair. I don’t offer any concrete solutions to the problems of sexism and classism in higher education because I don’t know if there are any. Which is also why I can’t frame the narrative as a triumph either; sure, I made it through and became successful, but my way was so idiosyncratic that in no way could it ever be replicated, or recommended, either. I don’t feel like I’ve triumphed; I feel like I survived. And it is a survival that I do not want to frame as a triumph.
No, I may have personally triumphed but the larger tragedy remains: the systemic limitations with higher education. I maybe overcame them, slightly subverted them through my success as a online academic, changed a couple of minds, helped some people, but I don’t think I made any real difference, and that’s not my tragedy, but the larger tragedy of academia.
I don’t want my story to give you hope, nor do I want my story to plunge you into despair.
I want you to feel less alone in your struggle to belong, to fit in, to succeed. That you are not alone in feeling this way – frustrated, beaten down, exhausted, elated, energized, stimulated. The paradox of being in higher education in this moment is hard to live with. There is a cognitive dissonance required that is required that I’m trying to get at in my writing.
Being successful, however you define it, in academia is hard, but not impossible. I’m not even sure if I’m successful on my own standards; I am successful because I’m at Georgetown, which is cultural capital that is external to my own sense of success. Not saying I’m not proud of the accomplishment, but does this mean that I can finally call myself successful?
Or maybe success is impossible. I’ve seen too many people smarter and more capable than I get beaten down, driven out of academia, largely in the form of full-time, well-paying work that never manifested. I know people who have stayed and found success, people who have left and found success, people who have stayed and not found success, and I know people who have left who have not found success.
Maybe it is a comedy after all. A comedy of error. Maybe reframing it as an ironic “how to” non-guide is the frame, the narrative arc, the manifesto. There is no right answer.
I know that artificially creating an arc won’t help, and just making up a manifesto that I don’t believe in won’t help either. Then maybe it’s the action of the book, but part of the issue is just how passive the whole system made me, make us. Ok, so there are points of choice, points where I say enough, and points where I make decisions. Maybe that’s missing. I reflect on the decisions I made BEFORE starting the blog, but very little about the decisions I made after I started writing.
So, it’s about decisions, then. It’s about the decisions we make and how we live with them, how we are made to live with them.
It’s not much, but at least it’s a place to start.