S. Sernak, Ph.D.
Jill P. May
& MAY, SPRING, 2003
books have become our personal intertextual guideposts in our mentoring
conversations about why we speak out in defense of others when we
would choose to remain silent, and how we perceive ourselves as
intermediary guides for others in the academic milieu of tradition
have studied and written about their positions in the academy for
some time, it is only through ground-breaking work of Belenky, M.
F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R. & Tarule, J. M. (1986),
that we have formally acknowledged that women learn, construct,
and process knowledge and events differently from men. They determined
that women learned in relation to one another, that collaborative
learning superseded competition, and that females perceived teaching
and learning in relation to self. That research in turn has led
to further understandings of power æ power in relation to
what is valued as the legitimate construction of knowledge and what
is valued as knowledge per se. Campbell (1997), Gore (1993), Lewis
(1993) and others have commented articulately on the need to view
womens education as different in one way or another, yet recognize
that such apperception, if accepted, concomitantly supposes a shift
in power relations.
Aisenberg and Harringtons
(1988) seminal work, Women of Academe, note that women academics
who do receive helpful career advice or direction often receive
it from other women. But then there is another, sadder dimension
to the role of the woman mentor in contributing to the advancement
of younger women and that is the relative weakness or insecurity
in many cases of the mentors position (p.49). This paper
further explores the position of academic women and their need to
mentor and support one another in a re-definition of what is acceptable
as scholarship and as academic writing.
It looks at current university power relationships as they affect
females scholarship, or what is considered sanctioned
knowledge, within the acceptable processes for
We accept the research
on womens ways of knowing (Belenkey, et. al., 1986), and suggest
that women not only revisit academic restraints on their writing
within academe, but seek out ways of encouraging authentic and accepted
writing voice through womens traditional ways of interacting
with each other- as multi-roled individuals: friends, mothers, wives,
lovers, daughters, teachers, as well as scholars. In our paper we
depict our coming together as colleagues and friends. We then explore
the ways in which we intermingled that relationship with our mutual
interest in childrens literature in order to dialogue about
womens scholarship that may be different from, but equal to,
the norms for acceptable academic writing.
In my, Kathys,
case, I completed a doctoral program as a single woman with grown
children. My first position was that of a new-but-seasoned Assistant
Professornewly credentialed but with years of K-12, college
teaching and administration behind me. I arrived with knowledge
and experience, but without the recognition that it would not be
valued as I was 1) a woman and 2) and older woman (Sernak, 2000).
My expectations of open dialogue, collaboration, and mentorship
did not materialize. Although the Dean of the School of Education
and the Associate Dean of Research were female, and although they
used the rhetoric of feminist organization and pedagogy, they were
held captive by the highly bureaucratic organization and expectations
for administrators of university programs and schools. The rhetoric
confounded me, for I wanted to believe it but saw and experienced
the traditional models of top-down-authority and acquiescence to
rules and norms that belied the language.
Having had very
little mentoring in the doctoral program, I sought a mentor within
my university. Jill stood out because she seemed to share a similar
philosophy about teaching, learning, and education with me, and
willingly spoke out for her positions in faculty meetings and to
colleagues. She enacted the rhetoric I heard from others æ
but not towards me. We were congenial, I felt I had her respect,
but she wrapped a shield around herself that allowed me to get only
so close. We were on committees together, and I believed we each
admired the others willingness to speak out in public meetings
within the newly formed School of Education. But, we remained solely
I, Jill, taught
in the Department of Education when it had been a part of the Liberal
Arts program at the University; I was the primary author of the
School of Educations accreditation document when the Department
became a School. As a full professor who had taught childrens
literature within Education for the past twenty years, I knew that
things changed very slowly in the Education program. While I had
hoped that a female dean might allow for more dynamic open discussions
about gender issues, societal needs, and a strong philosophical
base within the soon-to-be revised program, I quickly discovered
that this was not to be. The administration in this new school made
unilateral decisions based upon the perceived power base of various
tenured faculty members.
Aisenberg and Harrington
(1988) note that women aspiring to administrative positions are
educated to be competitive and to function in the bureaucratic tradition.
Female leaders, they observe, are aware of the need to identify
and use the established power bases in order to make the changes
necessary to reconceptualize and reconfigure the balance of power.
There are, however, inherent problems with attempts to make change
from within. Change takes time and patience. Despite an intellectual
understanding, female staff often expect a new female administrator
to address the power differentials directly and immediately, not
realizing-or accepting-the need to maintain the delicate balance
between gaining the support of those with established power, and
simultaneously, opening spaces to provide opportunities for others
to use their power. Unfortunately, a woman in administration is
often expected to represent the wants and needs of all the females
in the unit.
There also is the
danger that the female administrator may become ensconced in the
present imbalance of power. With the pressure to succeed as a woman
in leadership, what begins as a unilateral decision to meet the
expectations of those (usually male) above her so she can garner
the necessary backing to accomplish her agenda, becomes the norm
to meet their continued, escalating, and, often, implied demands.
Change from within carries with it the very real possibility that
the leader will unknowingly adapt to the institution as she uses
its tools, rather than effecting the changes she initially envisioned
(Greene, 1988; hooks, 1981). I felt that was happening in our new
I was aware of
the chances that Kathy took each time she cautioned the School about
plans for change or voiced an objection about a proposal. However,
I did not immediately approach her about my concerns, for my position
was not altogether safe.
Once at this university,
I procured a position as Visiting Assistant Professor that was not
unlike the current trend of hiring adjunct professors. I taught
in this capacity for several years, having no input into the classes
I taught. Furthermore, I could be called to teach as late as five
days before the semester started. A woman supervised the school
media program, of which I was a part. However, she did not possess
the qualities that Kathy described in School Leadership: Balancing
Power with Caring. Kathy argues for academic leadership that prefixes
a sense of spirituality in caring, and writes, To be a steward
is to be accountable for the outcomes of the school or society without
defining its purpose for others, or controlling, demanding compliance,
or taking care of them (Sernak, 1998, p.160). As an illustration,
my administrator applied for and was given a grant to televise my
course in childrens literature. However, I was not consulted
about or involved in writing the grant. Her limited caring surfaced
again when she realized I was pregnant with my second daughter.
To this day I feel her frustration with me as she exclaimed, If
you are just a baby machine you cant make it in this academic
world! I admired Kathys work and her willingness to
take risks, but as an outsider myself, I felt that she would probably
fit best with those who were more directly established in Education.
As females working
in academe, we know that relationships of interdependence and caring
form the fundamental basis of both the private and public lives
of women. Blount (1993), Gilligan (1982), Grimshaw (1986), Noddings
(1984), and Tronto (1993) have already spoken about these issues
in their professional writings. Further, we understand that womens
education has continually been viewed as something that fulfills
a different purpose. Nancy C. Parrishs (1998) recent study
of Hollins College pinpoints some of the early differences between
the knowledge advocated for women and for men in colleges. In her
discussion of the early movement for womens colleges, Parrish
noted that as a member of the Southern Womens Educational
Alliance, Hollins alumna Eudora Ramsey Richardson spoke out against
the narrowness in curriculum at womens colleges in 1930. When
Richardson looked at the women studying in mens universities,
she dubbed them step-sisters for whom life is rendered as
intolerable as possible (Parrish, 1998, 18).
early and mid-1900s womens institutions in the south were
largely controlled by white, middle- to upperclass men who conceived
what the proper womens curriculum would be. Thus, in 1957
Hollins President John R. Everett published Neglecting the
Wife Can Prove Dangerous in the Hollins Herald. He warned,
A woman must be prepared to move with her husband, and she
must be wise enough to raise the children properly. The complexity
of this modern world will not allow feminine ignorance to live with
masculine learning (p.31). He argued for a feminine
ideal æ as opposed to a feminist one (p.31).
By 1988 feminism
had gained strength in the academy, changing the perception of the
aim of formal education for females. Margaret L. Anderson (1988)
observed that programs of womens studies were formed around
two goals: to build knowledge and a curriculum in which women
are agents of knowledge and in which knowledge of women transforms
the male-centered curriculum of traditional institutions (p.38).
Anderson suggested that women had largely been excluded from the
process of creating the formalized canon of knowledge considered
essential for undergraduate and graduate studies in the university,
that a balanced curriculum could not simply add womens voices
to the already established male canon. She suggested that feminism
should look carefully at the unarticulated paradigms that
govern what and how we teach, even when we are unaware of these
ruling principles (p.53). The dismissal we experienced from
our colleagues for our independent attempts to change the knowledge
in each of our courses and for the ways in which we taught eventually
served as the tie that binds, connecting us and our
We sensed our mutual
dissatisfaction with the status quo in our university community.
We perceived that the administration held control of the faculty
through a powerful negative dialogic framed around consensus and
team leadership. We independently watched a new female leader enact
a bureaucracy that practiced discriminatory punishment against some
of the most productive scholars because they dared to question decisions
made in the leadership team. We realized - Jill from past experiences
and Kathy from continuous setbacks - that each time we voiced concern
we risked reprimand: Jill might not be allowed to direct Ph.D. studies
or design graduate level courses in Childrens Literature;
Kathy might be denied tenure and promotion even if she had committed
herself to the development of a strong professional record.
We were both continually denied material and human resources to
support projects that created dialogue about, understanding of,
and the potential for social justice activism, and were buoyed only
by the empty rhetoric of those with positional power.
in the Schools reform was dynamic and committed. At one point
Jill served as the Chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee and later
as coordinator of Elementary Education; Kathy acted as facilitator
for several Elementary Education retreats on collaboration and change
and chaired the committee on Multicultural Education. Yet, we recognized
that our ideals would not see fruition in the final revised program;
rather, they were dismissed without serious consideration. We realized
that though we had a woman as our leader, her leadership style was
not supportive. In fact, she supported the ideal of factional discord.
As a scholar educated in critical theory and who had no other faculty
in her division, Kathy was isolated in her discussions. As a professor
who believed that critical theory, philosophy, and literary analysis
were basic components to effect any positive change in Education,
Jill was viewed as inept in reconstruction discussions. Our vocalizations
of caution and concern about the change gradually drew us together.
As we reflected
on the literature and on our past experiences, we considered what
we learned about women who are successful in academe and how the
ways in which they thrive may affect junior faculty, particularly.
Dealing with setbacks, factional discord, and gaining voice are
dependent upon building support among ones colleagues. Kathy
assumed that because of her past experience in higher education
that she had the credibility to put forth ideas she knew were well-thought
out and had contributed to successful curricular reform in her former
institution. That, however, was inaccurate. There were two problems.
She had just received her doctorate, which put people in the mindset
that she was new to academia, despite their knowledge of her ten
years of work in a teacher education program, five of which were
spent as chair. She also did not realize that because her voice
was heard and respected previously, that the same acceptance in
her new position was not guaranteed. Key to that lack of awareness
was her failure to note that females, Benedictine sisters, lead
the college where she first worked, while men held virtually all
of the key positions at her current university, with only a small
percentage of women holding deanships in the various colleges. Female
voices were heard and respected among the religious sisters (despite
inequities in salaries between lay women and men). At the university,
those voices were suspect and subject to male approval. The latter
was clear when a panel of female full professors spoke to female
graduate students and untenured female assistant professors on how
to survive in the university. The advice, generally, was that because
most women would be working for men, do as youre told, dont
question, and dont challenge until you have tenure, and then
only if you know you can win. For Kathy, the question was not solely
survival, but change: what would it take to change the university
so that womens voices were heard as readily as mens,
and that womens ideas, scholarship, and research were taken
as seriously as their male counterparts? Those questions gave
her the impetus to continue to open the door for dialogue with Jill.
We began to meet
in one or the others offices where we talked about our curriculum
ideals and pedagogical practices, comparing our views to those of
the reformers. We began in the gossipy ways described
by German sociologist Jörg R. Bergmann (1993) or feminist critic
Patricia Meyer Spacks (1985). Bergmann explains that the purest
form of gossip happens either in a café or at
a home in a living room as the gossipers share coffee
and cake (p.71). We began to meet over coffee at each others
homes, and eventually, to cook and talk together.
Many of our conversations
began by bemoaning the plight of students who would come under this
reformed program. We talked negatively about the current
jargon of the leadership team, laughing conspiratorially about words
such as stakeholder and collaboration. Jill
suggested that a stakeholder in this case often resembled Joan of
Arc on the stake rather than someone with a stake in the process.
Kathy struggled to collaborate with colleagues who consistently
viewed her as the Multicultural Ed. Person who taught
a required course to all undergraduate elementary education students,
but who had no legitimate connection to colleagues, each of whom
belonged, unquestioningly, to departmentally recognized and sanctioned
We were aware of
beginning our conversations negatively æ we needed to ventæ
but also knew we would ultimately turn our attention toward the
philosophical questions and underlying pedagogical and theoretical
concerns that the larger community refused to acknowledge. Those
get-togethers eventually led to the serious function of gossip that
Spacks (1985) identifies when she asserts, Its participants
use talk about others to reflect about themselves, to express wonder
and uncertainty and locate certainties, to enlarge their knowledge
of one another (p.5).
Our first year
of gossip opened our private and public spheres to each
other and created a foundation fortrust. Our conversations increasingly
focused on the professional learning and knowledge we brought to
our discussions. Jill wanted to sit in Kathys graduate class
on caring and power, and Kathy asked to read a copy of Jills
book. We shared ideas, readings, and questions that generated a
synergy of ideas resulting in personal and professional energy and
growth. We learned we had both written about minorities in literature
and education, thought extensively about the role of women in contemporary
society, and wondered about their roles as feminist educators. What
did that mean? How did one practice feminism in academe? What effect
did it have on the larger population?
We finally had
begun to examine how our one woman-to-woman mentoring relationship
was changing our attitudes about womens roles in academia.
Our insights were based on the recognition that our mentorship was
reciprocal. We each informed the other; knowledge was not constrained
by rank or disciplinary alliances. From the first, however, we acknowledged
our frustrated experiences in academic institutions. Throughout,
our feminist mentorship centered on the need to transform the academic
social and political climates from ones where women are imaginably
considered equals as academics, but are allowed to speak only within
the already established confines of male scholarship, into a feminist
dialogue about womens intellectual work. Our hope was that
reflection on womens writing and gossipy practices
could define a healthy dialogue about the academic female communitys
habit of informal reading and discussions that might ultimately
shape our ideals for women in academe.
At first, childrens
literature, as it portrays issues relating to gender, sexuality,
race, ethnicity, and social class, was the catalyst for our conversations
about our roles, goals and frustrations as females in the university.
However, our conversations soon veered beyond books for a younger
audience. We began to consider three questions: 1) How did our reading,
re-reading, and sharing of those stories about women æ written
by women æ living in academia or in a paternal environment
shape our individual perceptions about woman-to-woman mentoring
in academia? 2) From the ensuing dialogues, how might we come to
understand power in the academy as it relates to womens perceived
roles in society? 3) What is the significance of conversation and
voice in intellectual thought and research practices?
This paper is the
result of many discussions æ intellectual, gossipy, griping,
but always productive to our intellectual reflection and growth.
During this past year, we have begun to find stories that might
help us comprehend how our professional ideals could be webbed into
the larger public attitudes about women as intellectuals and artists,
but we are still far from framing a feminist stance for social and
have not been framed by the works of critical theorists, though
we have turned to womenwho write feminist theory as our conversations
evolve from the informal, unfocused position of gossip
to the reflexive readings of the stories by women we had earlier
read on our own. We wished to re-read women who had written both
for themselves and a popular audience of women. We hoped that this
reading might define how womens roles are shaped by the popular
press, in books and movies, and even in the classrooms at American
institutions of higher learning. We wanted to discover how women
describe women; what roles female fiction gives to older women established
in society as compared to younger women who are being mentored by
males and females; if the stories we remembered and wanted to share
contained a feminine voice advocating social and political change.
Changing Our Venue
We began to realize
that while Jill could not move from Purdue University Kathy would
probably need to find a new professional home where others shared
her interests. Jill encouraged Kathy to seek a position where her
skills as a graduate student mentor would be used, and Kathy accepted
a job in Rowan Universitys graduate program in Educational
Leadership. Prior to Kathys leaving for her new position,
we agreed to read books by female authors of childrens, adolescent,
and adult fiction. Our initial negotiations of texts and authors
happened via e-mail after Kathys departure. It soon became
apparent that we didnt want to first turn to childrens
or adolescent literature. Our focus became womens writing
that discussed womens roles in society.
By the time we
met for three working days in October we had identified
several stories we hoped to share: Virginia Woolf was identified
by Kathy. Jill suggested reading A Room of Ones Own and The
Voyage Out. Kathy wanted to re-read Chopins (1972) The Awakening.
Jill added Charlotte Perkins Gilmans (1973/1899) Yellow Wallpaper
and Sarah Orne Jewetts (1997) White Heron and Country of the
Once Kathy and
Jill had agreed to meet in October, they began planning. Kathy wrote:
out a video from our library of a British actress giving
Woolfs Room of Ones Own address. You and I definitely
need to watch that together. It is incredible. . . . I would very
much like to read The Voyage Out and Yellow Wallpaper.
Ive been keeping notes as I read The Awakening and
will do so with the others. Will get Gilmans Concerning
Children as well1.
Kathy and Jill
had toyed with adding Zora Neal Hurston and other minority writers
to their list, but then Jill wrote back:
point Im willing to deny my right to judge A-A female writers
until I understand earlier women more like me better and what they
say to us about ourselves. So, Im definitely going to read
Gilman on children, and I will bring the book of criticism about
Chopin when I come. Ive come to a conclusion that American
women writers at the turn of the century faced a different literary
and social venue than the women in England at the same time. Im
not sure if that would hold beyond Woolf, and I have to remind myself
that she is later than the other women. I guess we could look at
something by another English woman in an earlier time, but who?
Jane Austin? Im sick of the family stories she
writes. Maybe we could watch an old movie of Pride and Prejudice
and see if Im wrong, but I think the reasons she has been
popular with both men and women for so long and been accepted more
solidly on the canon have to do with the fact that she is light
and she writes about romance and her heroines always end their stories
happily-ever-after--in marriage. So, maybe we could consider George
Eliots Mill on the Floss? We can talk about it when
I get there. Ill bring Woolf, Chopin, some [Emily] Dickinson,
Gilman and perhaps Hurston.
Kathy was balancing
the rigors of a new job in a new location, and she informed Jill,
read as much as I wanted, but I have been swamped with the new reading
material for my courses Ive been asked to pitch hit while
the prof is in Malta. Will tell you more about that when you get
here. Have read A Room of Ones Own, and The Awakening.
Am in the midst of A Voyage Out and hope to get to Yellow
Wallpaper before you arrive. Dont have time to address
your questions now as have meetings and classes all day.
within Literary Conversations
Our process for
guiding our mutual reading began in a manner congruent with Sara
Millss (1995)discussionof feminist stylistics:
we need to make a close textual analysis of the text, identifying
certain features of form - literary conventions, syntax, lexis,
genre and so on: the clues to interpretation. Second, we need to
make some generalized predictions about groups of readers
background knowledge - of language, of literary conventions - and
of their models of the world. By uniting these two kinds of information,
it should be possible to build up a picture of how specified social
groups might read a text. (p. 35)
Kathy picked Jill
up at the airport and drove her home. We became engaged in a conversation
centered on the use of first person narrative and the dilemma of
older women as mentors. We turned to Virginia Woolf (1991/1915).
Kathy confessed that she did not enjoy reading The Voyage Out, that
she had not been able to finish it. Jill had brought her copy of
the book, and she had marked several passages that she wanted to
talk about with Kathy. However, we both realized that we werent
willing (or ready) to discuss this book.
Kathy had rented
the film version of Virginia Woolfs A Room of Ones Own
(Shepherd, 1995), and we watched the film together that first night.
We began an animated conversation about Woolfs ideal of a
room of ones own. Kathy suggested she was not personally a
part of the feminine intellectual ideal if one had to have independence
and money to study and to write; she had always lived with little
money. Jill commented that having a good husband who made enough
money to buy the room would not allow women to become scholars;
in her experience, womans work as housekeeper had to be finished
prior to sitting at ones writing desk. As we talked about
Virginia Woolf, we sensed that she had experienced these same frustrations.
Both Kathy and Jill thought that Woolf was not telling her audience
that she, as a woman who had been writing, had a room of her own.
Rather, she was bemoaning that the room she describes is an idealized
place she hopes for, not one she had ever experienced. Still, we
sensed that the enclosed atmosphere contained duplicity in its imagery.
Woolf (1957/1929) writes,
differ so completely; they are calm or thunderous; open on to the
sea, or, on the contrary, give on to a prison yard; are hung with
washing; or alive with opals and silks; are hard as horsehair or
soft as feathers æ one has only to go into any room in any
street for the whole of that complex force of femininity to fly
in ones face. How should it be otherwise? For women have sat
indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very
walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed,
so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs
harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics. But
this creative power differs greatly from the creative power of men.
Woolf asks her
reader, Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences
rather than the similarities? (p. 88). We immediately noted
Woolfs use of description: woman as an isolated artist; the
confines of the room; the constancy of womans place in-doors.
At the same time, Woolf allowed us to pause and consider what that
complex force of femininity was had caused the very walls
to be permeated by their creative force (p. 87). And
we acknowledged that our rooms had been very different,
both during our youth and once we were married.
lasted long into the night. We turned from Woolf to Chopin (Jill
didnt like the woman in The Awakening and couldnt sympathize
with her as a character; Kathy found the portrayal honest. Then
we bounded off to read part of Gilmans Concerning Children
since Kathy hadnt had time to read it before Jill arrived.
Kathy was struck by Gilmans discussion of education. She began
to wonder if Gilman had influenced John Dewey. She had recently
read something in Dewey that she felt sounded almost like
plagiarism. At the end of the night, Kathy took her dog for
a walk to have some singular time to think while Jill wrote in her
roles that set our imagery of women up?
Journals of the same period?
Books on Victorian reading?
How do women write for a female audience?
Letters, diaries, etc. of
How do these people fit in todays literary studies?
Journal articles? (when?--70s, 80s)
Presentations at MLA, MMLA (issues with
Womens studies programs
Are there mirrors in the stories that are timeless, universal?
for instance, fashioning women to
fit into society
In the morning
we began our conversations all over, this time spending a long time
discussing why we might view particular characters in divergent
ways. We used the background knowledge of our private and public
experiences to discuss our worldviews, and read and discussed portions
of the literature we had gathered to enhance our knowledge of ourselves
as both intellectuals and artists in the academy.
The process for
our project is not linear. Some of it has come from remembrances
of our initial tentative contacts, the gentle experiments in trust,
the growing awareness of a developing mentoring relationship, and
the meandering of our hearts and minds as we tried to understand
how we were teaching. We have come to realize we are informally
mentoring each other about both our personal and professional ways
of researching and writing. We have traveled beyond our common interest
in childrens literature and extended our interests to women
authors who contributed not only to our professional relationship,
but also to our particular explorations of womens place in
academia. During our first extended "work"2
session at Kathys new venue, we admitted as we drove to Kathys
new university that we hadnt had so much intellectual fun
in years. We confessed that though we had really used our brains
and talked about women in society we actually felt as if we had
been playing rather than working. Although we acknowledged that
we could not sustain such playfulness for great lengths
of time, we did realize that the work we did revitalized us. Our
shared interest in childrens literature enabled us to see
our work and hardships in a different light. We began
to view our work as a continuation of that of women writers before
us. We were not victims, but women carrying on the work for a different
scholarship and a parity of acceptance with males within the academy.
Reading and Reflection
women to take themselves seriously at all is, in itself, a subversive
act (Aisenberg & Harrington 1988, p.139). Perhaps that
is why we felt out of place in our university: we taught each other
to take ourselves and our ideas seriously, and to see ourselves
as legitimate members of the academy, despite the values we held
counter to it. As good teachers know, however, learning a concept
is far from internalizing it. Practice in living what we intellectually
believed was necessary. Through that need to try on in order to
wear comfortably, we learned the importance of women-mentoring-women.
There was not the need to explain ourselves to each other, or to
rationalize our gossiping. We knew the code and the culture of womenspeak.
began simply. We found soulmates in our mutual delight and admiration
for childrens literature. We shared our favorite stories,
ones that we particularly liked when our own children were young;
we debated the merits of past and current Caldecott and Newbery
Award winners. Weaving in and out of those discussions were periodic
wonderings about female childrens authors, the kinds of books
they wrote, and the effect those stories had on children and their
perceptions of gender and diversity. From those shared office
dialogues, we shifted the place of our conversations into
the social world.
Our gossip became
more intimate as our focus became less academic discussion and more
sharing of our professional lives through personal lenses. Little
by little we exposed bits of our inner-selves, beginning to trust
that the other would hold those pieces with gentleness and respect.
Our private and the public lives shifted, one or the other foregrounding,
but both always present. There was no need to explain or defend.
Our talk was natural, the process understood, accepted, and expected.
The intimacy of
our homes eventually emerged as our gathering place. We shared meals
together, cooking, and gossiping. We opened the private spaces of
our persona via our homes, as well as through our conversations
both at work and in leisure. Trust resulted. The personal and the
professional merged as we began to understand our need to be connected
through more than the academic. It became crucial to comfortably
discuss the mundane aspects of our lives as well as the intellectual
that was critical to our academic life, for the former inspired
our interpretations of the latter. The relationship, which we cognizantly
watched grow into friendship, had evolved into academic mentorship
to the importance of women mentoring women, not solely for success
in the university, but as sponsors who advocate taking womens
creativity and conversations seriously, surfaced in our discussions.
In Chopins (1972), Jewetts (1992, 1973/1899), and Gilmans
(1996, 1997) writings, we found poignant examples of womens
mentoring relationships. We specifically noted mature, experienced
women aiding women on the cusp of a not-quite-conscious desire to
extend the sexual and relational self, fostered by social encouragement,
to include the intellectual, active self, aspects not revered by
the prevailing social and institutional norms for change (Aisenberg
& Harrington, 1988). We noted that artisans often mentored younger
women, but the former were viewed by those young heroines with neutral
skepticism since they had isolated themselves from the worlds of
family and social power. We realized that more traditional older
women often pushed younger women into conventional feminine roles.
We have begun to acknowledge that women can change other women in
both negative and positive ways.
work has caused us to form many new questions:
What sessions do we choose to attend at professional conferences?
When and how do we empower others?
How do womens experiences that are personal and reflexive
How do we activate our readings?
How do we value the men in our profession?
To ask how one
might practice feminism in academe seems like an oxymoron. Yet,
after many discussions concerning our experiences as teachers, writers,
and researchers, and our attempts to make sense of our experiences
within the framework of our feminist3 beliefs, we realize
that is our question. Note that our concern does not revolve around
discussing or debating feminist theory and precepts, but around
enactment of them. How do we carry out our beliefs? How do we equate
those based on the legitimate value of caring, nurturing, interdependency,
within our understandings of self in relation to others? How can
we create and sustain a sense of community where individuals are
no more important than the whole, and at the same time recognize
the whole derives its meaning from the individual? How could womens
mentoring fit within a system entrenched in hierarchical relationships,
sexual exploitation and silencing of women and other non-hegemonic
persons, and the other myriad of taken-for-granted power-as-control
Through our writing
and research, through our teaching, and through the business of
our departments we have wrestled with the telling of complicated
themes of power that disagreeably affect women, people of color,
persons with disabilities, homosexuals, and those dealing with multiple
discriminations. We have sought to go beyond simply re-telling our
experiences, and to use our work as a catalyst to do shared acts
of deconstruction. At the same time, we realize that we are not
yet ready to seek ways of constructing communities that are nurturing
and interdependent within the academy. In the end, we hope to use
our newly-founded acts of feminism as models for legitimating difference
both within and outside the walls of academe. At this point we are
not ready to enact a code. We feel a need to explore more feminine
Mentoring for Change
We began by returning
to our literary backgrounds, by choosing stories written by women
that suggested ways that women mentor each other in a banal social
and/or political setting where interaction is controlled by rules
of the already established power base. We have returned to fiction,
reading and re-reading in order to see what the authors suggest
to us about change within our private, social, and professional
situations. Often, however, we find more questions within the texts
than answers, and our conversations return to individual experiences,
possible ways of changing our views about academia, and new ways
of reading old traditions. Our reflections on the stories and lives
of women we read about have suggested that womens sphere is
multi-layered and circuitous: both the intellectual and the emotional
touch when we talk.
As we returned
to the women who had earlier affected one of us through their writing,
we have come to realize that our readings are not always the same.
As we explore those similarities and differences, we realize that
our conversations have mentored us to new actions and caused us
to pose new questions. These fictional stories do not provide concrete
answers about women's place in academic. Rather, the books have
become our personal intertextual guideposts in our mentoring conversations
about why we speak out in defense of others when we would choose
to remain silent, and how we perceive ourselves as intermediary
guides for others in the academic milieu of tradition and power.
While our conversations have not established a particular agenda
for social and political change, they have shown us that our interactions
on womens fiction can guide our interpretation of how the
personal feminine voice - both the written and the spoken - might
transform current professional ideals for feminine mentorship within
conversation is recorded as sent. As such, it is often colloquial
in style. This writing has become an informal activity that allows
our immediate ideas about our mutual readings to flow rapidly and
"work" consisted of dialogue and discussion about the
readings mentioned above; independent writing about our personal/professional
understandings about the female characters, the writers’ intents
about them, and ways in which we came to better understand our positions,
women’s mentoring women, and our scholarship within a university;
dialogues about our writings; and questions to pursue regarding
our work together regarding women’s mentoring and scholarship. Through
our belief in social activism to change the place of women and their
writing in the academy, we worked to enact Dewey's ideas of freedom,
not just for self, but for the community: "…the basic freedom
is that of freedom of mind and of whatever degree of freedom of
action and experience is necessary to produce freedom of intelligence"
(quote in Greene, 1988, p.43). In essence, however, our work blended
our personal and professional lives, the former providing a lens
from which to view and understand the latter. Our work resulted
in two conference presentations and two papers, accomplished together.
We continue to explore traditional ways of learning and how they
affect women in academe and their scholarship.
conceptualize feminism and social activism within the framework
of Freire's notion of conscientization, the possession of critical
consciousness, understanding and addressing the reality one lives,
having the consciousness of that reality, knowing that society and
be made and remade by human action and organized groups, and transforming
school and society away from authoritarian relations and undemocratic,
unequal distribution of power (Lankshear, 1993; Schor, 1993).
& Harrington, M. (1988). Women of academe: Outsiders in the
sacred grove. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Anderson, M. (1988).
Changing the Curriculum in Higher Education. In E. Minnich, J. OBarr,
& Rosenfeld (Eds.), Reconstructing the academy: Womens
education and Womens Studies (pp. 36-68). Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Belenky, M. F.,
Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Womens
ways of knowing: The
development of self, voice, and mind. New York: Basic Books,Inc.
Bergmann, J. R.
(1993). Discreet indiscretions: The social organization of gossip.
Trans. John Bednarz, Jr. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Blount, J. M. (1993).
One postmodern feminist perspective on educational leadership: And
aint I a leader? In Spencer J. Maxcy (Ed.), Postmodern
school leadership: Meeting the crisis in educational administration
(pp.47- 60). Westport,CN: Praeger.
Campbell, J. (1997).
A real vexation: Student writing in Mount Holyokes Culture
of service, 1837-1865.
College English, 597, 767-788.
Chopin, K. (1972). The Awakening. New York: Bard Books/Avon
Everett, J. R.
(1957). Neglecting the wife can prove dangerous. Hollins Herald,
Gilligan, C. (1982).
In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gilman, C. P. (1973/1899).
The yellow wallpaper. Afterword by E.R. Hedges. Old Westbury,
NY: The Feminist
Gilman, C. P. (1992).
Herland. In B. H. Solomon (Ed.), Herland and selected stories
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (pp. 3-146). New York: Penguin Books
Gore, J. (1993).
The struggle for pedagogies: Critical and feminist discourses
aw regimes of truth. New York: Routledge.
Greene, M. (1988).
The dialectic of freedom. New York: Teachers College Press.
Grimshaw, J. (1986).
Philosophy and feminist thinking. Minneapolis, MN: University
of Minnesota Press.
hooks, b. (1981).
Ain't I a woman: Black women and feminism. Boston: South
Jewett, S. O. (1996).
The country of the pointed firs and other fiction. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Jewett, S. O. (1997).
A white heron. Cambridge, MA: Candelwick Press.
Lankshear, C. (1993).
Functional literacy from a Freirean point of view. In P. McLaren
& P. Leondard (Eds.), Paulo Freire: A crticial encounter
(pp. 90-118). New York: Routledge.
Lewis, M. (1993).
Without a word: Teaching beyond womens silence. New
Mills, S. (1995).
Feminist stylistics. London: Routledge.
Noddings, N. (1984).
Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education.
Berkley, CA: University of
Parrish, N. C.
(1998). Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A genesis
of writers. Baton Rouge:
Schor, I. (1993).
Education is politics: Paulo Freires critical pedagogy. In P.
McLaren & P. Leondard (Eds.),
Louisiana State Press.
Paulo Freire: A crticial encounter (pp. 25-35). New York: Routledge.
Sernak, K. (1998).
School leadership: Balancing power with caring. New York:
Teachers College Press.
Sernak, K. (2000,
January). Dinosaurs Among the Ivy. Initiatives, 1, Article
0001. Retrieved from
Shepherd, B. (Producer)
& Garland, P. (Adapter/Director). (1995). Virginia Woolf:
A room of ones own.
Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities
Spacks, P. M. (1985).
Gossip. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tronto, J. C. (1993). Moral boundaries: A political argument
for an ethnic of care. New York: Routledge.
Woolf, V. (1957/1929)
A room of ones own. New York: Harcourt, Brace &
Woolf, V. (1955/1927).
To the lighthouse. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World,
Woolf, B. (1991).
The voyage out. New York: A Signet Classic/Penguin Books.
Dr. Kathleen S. Sernak is an associate professor in Educational
Leadership at Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey.
Jill P. May
is a professor of Literacy and Language at Purdue University, West