Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On Being Crazy

Bitch Ph.D. has a post today about her pseudonym/blog title and the project of claiming the word "bitch" or reclaiming it or whatever (in response to a message from a reader). Since the awesome B. linked to me (thanks for the shout-out, B.!) I felt like I should do some sort of a post that might in some way respond to the conversation going on over there and also that might help any readers of hers who head on over here and who don't know my blog (hello readers of Bitch Ph.D.!) understand why B. refers to me as a "like-minded bitchy academic [woman]," as if you just glanced at recent posts you might think, "what the hell? That Crazy's no bitch!" (in either the positive or negative sense - doesn't really matter which).

Now, B. and I started blogging within a couple of weeks of one another (though I started at another address, in which I was a bit more hard-core than I am in this "I'm crazy but I'm not quite so raw" incarnation). But I suppose my point (and this gets to what some readers are talking about in the comments to B's post) is that it doesn't really make me less of a bitch or less crazy that I've toned things down a bit since starting Reassigned Time. At the end of the day, for a woman, and maybe even more for a woman in the academy surrounded by people who claim to be feminists, there isn't really much difference between "acting bitchy" once in a while and being labeled a "bitch," or in "acting crazy" once in a while and being labeled "crazy" (or, a crazy bitch, to up the ante just a little bit more). As women - even as women in fields where people think a lot about gender and who embrace "feminist" politics - there's always that danger that if one doesn't play nice then one is going to be categorized in these ways. And maybe the only rational response is to say, "yep, I'm a crazy bitch - so deal with me," because whether one embraces the label or not, one is going to be labeled.

When I decided to become a professor, I was under the naive impression that I'd be entering a world in which gender didn't determine my identity quite so much as it would in other professions. I thought all of the theorizing about women and all of the lip-service to feminist ideologies meant that by becoming part of this world - the world of the intelligentsia - that I'd be less regulated by sex/gender stuff. I also thought that all of this education would introduce me to people who had broader ideas about sex/gender than the people I knew from my working-class upbringing. To some extent, this has been true. But to another extent, I've seen the ways in which women are put in their place in this world to be more insidious (and as such, more diabolical). People may be more politically correct in this world, but they are often just as sexist at rock bottom.

So what does it take to be labeled "a bitch" or to be labeled "crazy"? Having an opinion. Expressing unhappiness. Pursuing ambitions above one's station. Getting uppity about an issue. Speaking one's mind. Refusing to take no for an answer. Refusing to make nice or to smoothe things over. Being too dynamic in the classroom (and no, Sexist Student, I don't think that "taking horse tranquilizers" would make me a better teacher - nor do I think that I'm "too much of a feminist" to be qualified to teach). Not accepting being pigeonholed into the role of "Professor who listens to students' problems and will cut them some slack," in the way of Mommy or Big Sister or Best Friend. Saying no. Saying yes.

In other words, you're going to call me a "bitch" or call me "crazy" no matter how hard I try to play by the rules. So why not just call myself Crazy and be done with it? All of the momentum that would be gained by calling me Crazy is lost if I just say, "oh yes, I'm crazy, didn't you notice that sooner?" I'm not going to spend my time and energy trying to refuse that label. There are more important things to talk about.

Here's where B's reader was coming from when s/he wrote to B.:

My questions center around the word "bitch." A few of us have been having a rather extended conversation surrounding its use, and the general consensus is that it's an extremely gendered term (and not in a positive sense) used to oppress opinionated women and to marginalize stereotypically feminine behaviors in men and women. The controversy we've been discussing surrounds the reclaimation of this term and if it's even possible to do without having to explain your gender politics extensively.

My response is this: All language is gendered. All language regulates behavior, determines identity, and ultimately polices the individual. Claiming or reclaiming a particular word isn't going to make language itself any less oppressive. At the end of the day, if we successfully "reclaim" Bitch, or Crazy, or Slut, or Whore, or Cunt, another word is going to crop up in its place to "oppress opinionated women and to marginalize stereotypically feminine behaviors in men and women." The point in any project of reclamation as far as I can tell is not that it's going to stop oppression. Rather, it's to change the terms of the discussion. Perhaps if we stop talking about the pros/cons of being called any of the above or about whether it's ethical to use any of the above words, maybe we can start talking about the cultural structures and institutions that give these kinds of words such performative force.

12 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Heh. I loved Bitch's post, and I love yours, too.

Can I say that being referenced as a "less bitchy" academic woman in her post makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong? ;-) Though actually I've never had the guts to aspire to bitchiness. (Or craziness.)

MaggieMay said...

I love this post. I may print it off and tack it to my wall. You (and the Bitch) rock.

Dr. Crazy said...

I'm glad you liked the post :) And don't worry, NK - you're not doing anything wrong. I suspect there's an inner bitch that lurks inside of you that just doesn't find it's way into blogworld very often. This is much like how I have an inner sweet and sappy person that doesn't often find its way into blogworld.

Also, it doesn't take guts to aspire to craziness - just a tendency to speak before one thinks and then to associate with jerks who then call one crazy. Very easy to achieve :)

aqua said...

"Also, it doesn't take guts to aspire to craziness - just a tendency to speak before one thinks and then to associate with jerks who then call one crazy. Very easy to achieve" -- Yep, that's me. And I often spend a lot of time feeling horribly guilty for not playing nice and being the submissive (academic) woman I "should" be. And then I hate myself for feeling guilty. I admire so much women like you and Bitch, who have the confidence to embrace the label, and I hope that one of these days I'll be one of you.

Anastasia said...

"Professor who listens to students' problems and will cut them some slack,"

I am this because I am this. i'm not about to abandon that to fit somebody else's idealized bitchy mold. and that's me being bitchy about it.

Dr. Crazy said...

I get that, Anastasia, and I don't want to give the impression that I don't ever listen to students or I don't ever cut students slack. But if I do so, it's not because I'm a woman. My point is that they shouldn't expect it of me because I'm a female professor, which many times students do. Students shouldn't assume, based on the fact that I'm a woman, that I'm going to be more sensitive, more caring, or more easy to get around than any other professor. It's not about dictating how individuals choose to respond to students or that one has to be "a bitch" in order to do this job (or any job). It's, rather, that if I act as I believe is appropriate in certain situations that students will characterize me as "a bitch" and not as a professor with certain rules/expectations. So the point isn't that there's one way to do this - it's just that whatever way one chooses, students' expectations of us and reactions to us (or colleagues' expectations/reactions about how we should handle students) are expectations that are rooted in certain ideas about what it is to be a "woman," and I think that's screwed up.

Anastasia said...

I understand your point and I agree with it. students will label you a bitch if you act or don't act in certain ways and that is totally screwed up.

I do feel judged by other female academics if I act or don't act in certain ways, however, as if I were somehow betraying the bitchy sisterhood by not inhabiting the "bitch" persona in the right way or as if I just need to have my consciousness raised or something.

it's nothing you're saying, it's just something about the conversation--both your post and the post at bitchphd. I see a tendency to privilege a certain kind of feminist consciousness and to insist on that in all truly free-thinking women.

Dr. Crazy said...

I see where you're coming from, A. Honestly, the thing that I was trying to do in my post (though I'm not sure if I succeeded) was actually to try to move away from privileging One True Kind of Feminist Consciousness. I kind of think that condemning women as bitches or embracing the identity of Bitch (or Crazy, or whatever) are just two sides of the same coin. In that way, my being "Dr. Crazy" is actually ironic, rather than some kind of meaningful appropriation. I mean, call me crazy, call me a bitch - whatever - don't we have more important things to talk about?

(I'm also sorry to hear about your experience with feeling judged by other female academics. I do think sometimes that other women aren't judging us as much as we think they are. Or, if they are judging us, they're doing so precisely because they feel like there's a kind of scarcity of resources and so anybody who doesn't do things their way is threatening.)

Anastasia said...

i gotcha.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Just to take out a few of the things you say can be ued to call you a "bitch," I'd note that a man who was guilty of these faults would be considered a "bastard" or a "jerk" by his colleagues or students, too. (And I'm not saying it would be justified then, either.)

1. Expressing unhappiness.

This is the number one way to alienate others and make them gossip about you, regardless of sex. It just isn't smart politics.

2. Pursuing ambitions above one's station.

Most people don't like ambitious people and so backstab them (see Survivor or Big Brother, "You're a strong competitor, gotta get rid of you."). Nietzsche has written about this.


3. Refusing to take no for an answer.

Well, lack of compromise earns you nasty gossip and a reputation for not being willing to compromise -- Machiavelli once noted that if you're going to kill off enemies, get rid of them all on one day, rather than eliminating them one by one. The latter causes potential rivals to gang up against you. You have to play nice with people unless you can take them out, otherwise you'll scare them into preemptive reprisals. Whether male or female.

4. Refusing to make nice or to smoothe things over.

See answer to 3.

5. Not accepting being pigeonholed into the role of "Professor who listens to students' problems and will cut them some slack."

This is exactly how you get students to hate you, whether you're male or female. And once they hate you, they will latch onto any personal trait of yours and amplify it in order to strike back through vicious gossip and reputation destruction. If you're an old lady, you ain't getting none; a feminist, then you're a lesbian; if you're a short, whiny voiced man, you're gay, etc. It happens to everyone. Really.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Oh, and in this vein: The one time recorded by Suetonious (Roman archivist with access to imperial archives) that Julius Caesar was defeated in debate was when Cicero rose up in the middle of Caesar's speech and told him to shut up because he was a homo. (An unproven rumor, by the way.) Even Caesar could be silenced with nasty, underhanded tricks.

Saoirse said...

" nor do I think that I'm "too much of a feminist" to be qualified to teach"
haha. Did someone actually suggest this? Next they'll complain that you're too educated to teach.

Cool post.