- Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace by Ellen Mayock
Ellen Mayock's most recent book, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace is an extraordinary example of the ways good cultural "reading" translates into a roadmap for social change. A distinguished feminist scholar working in the fields of Hispanism and Gender Studies, Professor Mayock's professional and scholarly trajectory make her monograph noteworthy for it is the product of the insights of a scholar with academic expertise in the study of literature and the arts who uses that training to analyze the abuse of power in the academic workplace. The strength of this study stems from its interdisciplinarity. Being an acute reader of texts, Mayock offers her skills as an experienced and insightful analyst to study the complexity underlying the world of letters and the text of the academic workplace. Furthermore, she does so with a feminist eye. Mayock pays special attention to how power is embodied intersectionally (a site where gender, race, and class variables compete for harm) and experienced in daily life, hence her magically weaving together of discussions on the theory of power with life stories (many times personal) of academics and staff reflecting upon situations of harassment, sexual abuse, power, privilege, or silencing at their jobs. Trained to look for hidden meaning, for the reasons behind language, for the power of metaphor, there is no better background than that of the sensitive and well-equipped literary and gender studies scholar for looking deeply into the textual arrangements and disarray of the academic workforce, for the "gender shrapnel" that imbues the day to day work experiences of many. Mayock does not conceive the academic workplace as a fierce battleground. Instead, she looks at the micropolitics of power and tries to point out the harmful repercussions these inequities have for those under its influence and for the institutions at large.
Gender Shrapnel is divided into five parts: (I) Gender Shrapnel (3 chapters), (II) Gender Problems in the Workplace (5 chapters), (III) Solutions (6 chapters and 4 sample training sessions), (IV) Case Studies in Gender Shrapnel (1 chapter), (V) Clearing the Shrapnel (1 chapter), and an Appendix (Instructor's Guide). The book is interdisciplinary as it combines gender theory, legal scholarship, management studies, and domestic violence literature to fully understand the operation of power and its effects on individuals and institutions. The author begins with the book's methodological framework, definitions of guiding terms like "gender shrapnel," [End Page 200] "professional mystique," or the "tempered radical," and makes sure that readers understand this logic of power in our twenty-first century context by providing real-life stories that give texture and meaning to the more abstract discussions of gender-based power dynamics in the academic environment. Mayock tackles issues of harassment, violence, and silencing head on, and points to the cultural presuppositions that go unspoken in hiring, training, and promotion; preconceptions that do little to break through "the proverbial class ceiling" (14), or that "intricate web of authority, privilege, and social networking" (61) that favors so few. Finally, the author offers a set of best practices for upper-level administrators, basic training principles for staff and faculty, and eight case studies that illustrate the different ways gender shrapnel comes to life in our academic spaces.
This reader most enjoyed Mayock's cultural and gender analyses and her attempt at redefining a new subject in today's academic environment. Perhaps the most dazzling of her arguments comes from the insights she finds in the process of the "feminization" of academic work and educational spaces. Feminization refers to two very different strands of thinking and realities: on the one hand, there is a numerical predominance of women in higher education at all levels (students, faculty, staff) thanks to the fruit of 1960s and 1970s activism and Title IX or equal opportunities in education (24). This change should translate into a greater sensitivity towards the obstacles in place (from sexual violence and harassment to subtle cultural "shrapnel-like" prejudices) that...