(See what I did there? That’s the second post in a row where I’ve come up with a clever title with two possible meanings, both in the traditional academic sense and in the socio-economic sense. Anyone? Anyone? Alright, I’ll get on with it.)
When Dr. Crazy was talking about gender and class, she brought up the concept of “passing”, or being able to move up and fit into a different socio-economic class. Women, especially, have been practicing this since, well, since there were marked differences between different groups of people implying an hierarchy.* I think if this Bad Female Academic series has shown anything, it’s that I am not very good at passing myself off as a “traditional” academic.
But writing this series has forced me to look back at my personal history both inside and outside academia, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have never really been interested in passing, and in fact now seem to be actively seeking out situations where it would be impossible for me to pass.
Let me explain, and bear with me if we take a short voyage into my non-academic past.
In elementary school, I was the only girl in my class who didn’t at least try to figure skate or do ballet. This was an offense punishable by being mean-girled for all of elementary school. I swam. I never hid the fact that I swam, nor was I interested in giving up swimming in order to “fit in.” In high school, too, I wore my hideous swimming jacket as a badge of pride, marking my difference from the rest of the group. It was also in high school when my parents got divorced and I was suddenly thrust into a different economic reality, a reality that was much different from that of my friends. Swimming, while a welcome escape for me, was also a place where I didn’t quite fit in, as I was one of the youngest and only girls.
After a particularly difficult two years at a private CEGEP, where I decided that I couldn’t join the socio-economic elite I was going to school with, nor did I have any desire to beat them, so I wore sweatpants for two years, I left to go to a French university. I knew I wouldn’t, couldn’t pass as a French person, but I didn’t care. The impossibility of passing was liberating.
After my PhD (where I probably tried too hard to pass, failed miserably, and was miserable), after getting married, after adjuncting while pregnant, I got my tenure-track job. At an HBCU. Once again, while pregnant. There was no hope of passing, in fact it would have been insulting and ignorant to even try. But I liked that. I had realized that letting go of the pressure, the desire, the desperation, to be something I wasn’t, I learned more, was more open, and a better teacher. I wasn’t wrapped up in whatever I needed or thought I needed to do, so I could focus on what my students needed me to be.
Think about that for a second. If we just stopped worrying so much about what our colleagues or administrators or “the elite” want us to be, maybe we can be better teachers and researcher, actually attuned to what they need from us, and what we need from ourselves.
Now, I am an instructor in the South. My accent marks me as different. And that’s perfectly fine by me. Maybe by being myself, I can teach my students (and my children) that it’s ok to be yourself and to be different.
*I don’t use the term “passing” without realizing that it is a problematic term; I’ve worked at an HBCU and I study Black writers, so I am well aware of the history of “passing” for African-Americans in the US. And even the fact that I have the choice to be able to pass marks me as being a more privilege position. And my apparent rejection of that privilege is also not unproblematic. I don’t see what I do as “slumming it” but instead a conscious effort to do things differently.