Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia, Blue Crow Books, 2018, Final Girl Books, 2023.
Why aren’t more women at the top of the ivory tower?
The academy claims to be a meritocracy, in which the best and brightest graduate students gain employment as professors. Kelly J. Baker, a Ph.D. in Religion, assumed that merit mattered more than gender. After all, women appeared to be succeeding in higher ed, graduating at higher rates than men. And yet, the higher up she looked in the academic hierarchy, the fewer women there were. After leaving academia, she began to write about gender, labor, and higher ed to figure out whether academia had a gender problem. Eventually, Baker realized how wrong she’d been about how academia worked. This book is her effort to document how very common sexism—paired with labor exploitation—is in higher ed.
Pulling very few punches, Baker writes about gender inequity, precarious labor, misogyny, and structural oppression. Sexism and patriarchy define our work and our lives, within and outside of academia. She examines not only the sexism inherent in hiring practices, promotion, leave policies, and citation, but also questions the cultural assumptions about who can and should be a professor. These problems, however, are not limited to the ivory tower. Baker also shows the consequences of sexism and patriarchy in her own life: hating the sound of her voice, fake allies, the cultural boundaries of motherhood, and the perils of being visible. It’s exhausting to be a woman, but Baker never gives up hope that we can change higher ed—and the world—if only we continue to try.
**Winner of the GOLD Medal in the 2018 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards.**
In a stirring suite of essays, Kelly Baker reveals that, contrary to its “ivory tower” characterization, the university is no retreat from the world’s injustices. She addresses what the university is for millions of people—a workplace, where scholars and staff are as susceptible to gender-, race-, and class-based oppression as workers in factories and warehouses. In a clear and determined voice, she speaks about working conditions in higher education that many would prefer to ignore, but wisely, she also refuses to mystify problems like sexism and precarity as immutable. For Baker, they are material issues with tangible solutions. The only thing in question is our will to correct them.
—Miya Tokumitsu, author of Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success & Happiness
An absolute must-read. Sexism Ed tells savage truths that every administrator and tenured prof should be forced to read and acknowledge. Baker skewers the bogus ‘no sexism here’ self-delusion of academic employers. Parsing the structural sexism of employment in higher ed, Baker comprehensively exposes the everyday abusers of women and contingent faculty. She pushes past headlines and obvious villains to the broadly complicit groups hiding in plain sight, including women cheerfully active in the exploitation of other women, men proffering themselves as ‘allies’ to feminism, and the anti-discrimination administrators that guarantee the best outcome for the institution–genteel silence for rape, harassment and discrimination–rather than justice for victims. A call to collective action, this short, readable collection blows past call-out culture (that targets individuals as if they were rare specimens, and ignores structural sexism). It demands collective responses to collective villainy.
—Marc Bousquet, author of How The University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation
Kelly Baker’s Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor is a meticulously sourced and thorough look into the myriad ways that misogyny is built into the very bones of the academy, not some sad by-product of it. She smartly connects this to the on-going issue of contingent labor in higher education, an ever-pressing topic worth questioning. Sexism Ed is smart, incisive, and hard to put down. Baker’s writing style is inviting, her words are challenging, and, even if she wouldn’t want me to say it, her arguments are brilliant. This is not just a book for women in the academy but for everyone in higher education, as the problems outlined in Sexism Ed will never be resolved until everyone takes a role in doing so.
—Jessica W. Luther, author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape
In Sexism Ed, Kelly Baker tells a story about women, work, and the academy bigger than but anchored in her own experiences of precarity and gender discrimination. Taken singly, the essays are thoughtful and incisive. Cumulatively, they paint an infuriating portrait of twenty-first century sexism, scholar-style. Harrowing, though never humorless or hopeless, this collection is required reading. … It’s a huge accomplishment and I will recommend it to everyone I know.
—Kecia Ali, author of Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence
This compact set of essays written between 2014 and 2018 are a window into sexual politics, the academy, and the structures of inequity that are this American moment. These are gendered tales, intimate stories about productive and reproductive labors and what it means to speak up and to speak out, and the costs of being heard. None of this is easy. #MeToo comes out of a long legacy of feminist activism, struggle and powerful writing. In this collection, Kelly Baker steps up and out. She presents a critical recent piece of this story—her story, an education in sexism at the margins that are the heart of the American Academy.
—Laura Levitt, author of Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home and American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust