- Erotic Mentoring: Women's Transformations in the University, and: Women's Studies for the Future: Foundations, Interrogations, Politics
These two books are about women academics and women's studies, so are of interest to feminist faculty rather than having a place in the feminist classroom. They arrived perfectly timed—only days after I'd been to the Australian Women's Studies Association conference and days before an appointment with my new mentor as part of a formal program of Leadership for Women at my university.
Janice Hocker Rushing writes about the relation between junior women and powerful men in the academy and draws on myth to represent and try to understand these potent sexualized relations. The book is divided into three sections: "Man-Made Maiden" describes a sort of rite of passage through which women are initiated into academic relations in a Pygmalion narrative, by becoming the object of attention of an older man who then molds her into his ideal image. The next section examines the "Fatal Attraction" of this initiation and its inherent drive to repeat itself, casting aside women in the process. The third stage of this journey is the woman finding a comfortable position and subjectivity in her own right, even if it means rejecting the academy. Drawing on Jungian as well as Greco Roman mythology, the text is structured in terms of a developmental journey. It is [End Page 248] also a strongly generational narrative of university life and social practices from the 1970s, although it argues that these trends continue and continue to impact women's lives.
I have often been curious about the incidence of academics partnering each other, but in this book there is only one model: of young women and older men. I have also witnessed established academic women who find partners in mature male students or younger men, lesbian women, and same-age academics who seem to find solace in their mutual intellectual pursuits. I wonder about the operations of desire and agency. Is it all negative? Has it changed over time? Rushing's partnership with her older professorial husband, Tom, doesn't fit the model of destruction she outlines, but in her case Rushing substitutes the university as destructive institutional husband. In this book the notion of "mentoring" has little to do with the kind of relation I expect to establish in my formal leadership program. The "erotic" also seems limited in meaning. In the work of Audre Lorde, for whom academic work is erotic in itself, and in Jane Gallop's work on the frisson created between the intellectually engaged in the process of teaching and learning, there are clearly some connections between knowledge, universities, and bodies that require more nuanced and articulate discussion.
This book is shaped by bad experience. Choosing an autoethnographic method, Rushing begins the book by describing her mid-life burnout as a cultural studies academic, during which she came to see her model of excessive work and achievement as a masculine game and came to value friendships and time with women as an antidote. She includes interviews with friends and colleagues as well as details of her own partnering. In the ways in which we are all fascinated by biography, this material is quite fascinating and highly readable, although the overwhelming bitterness and disgruntlement is not something I relate to at this optimistic stage of my own academic career. There is another personal frame to this text in the foreword, which is written by Rushing's husband Tom and sister Joyce. Rushing died of cancer only months after completing this manuscript, so Tom and Joyce arranged its publication. It is the most astonishing foreword to read in an academic text, written in the first person by Tom and Joyce, thanking Tom for his unconditional love and sense of humour and Joyce for (among other things) her mentoring of Rushing. In a book about...