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We've Come A Long Way ....?
by Jo Freeman

Paper prepared for the 1996 APSA annual meeting in San Francisco. Abridged version published in PS: Political Science and Politics, June 1996, pp. 182-3.

I've heard many young women scholars express concern over their future, wondering if a male dominated discipline like political science really has any place for them. Yet those of us old enough to remember how it was, know that the discipline has truly come a long way. To appreciate how much things have changed for women, you need to know what they were like way back when women were oddballs in the profession and feminism was a dirty word.
Let me begin by describing myself in 1975. I was two years past the Ph.D., which I had received from the University of Chicago after five years on a full NIMH fellowship (the average time to Ph.D. was ten years). My mentor and thesis advisor was Theodore J. Lowi, who had always encouraged me to pursue my own intellectual interests and wrote glowing letters of recommendation. In April I published two books; an anthology on Women: A Feminist Perspective (Mayfield Publishing Co., formerly National Press Books,) which quickly became the leading introductory textbook in women's studies, and my dissertation: The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process (Longman Inc. after purchase from David McKay Co.), which won a $1,000 APSA prize that year for The Best Scholarly Work on Women and Politics. I had published over two dozen articles, in both popular and scholarly forums, mostly on some aspect of women or feminism, and been a guest lecturer at 42 colleges and universities. In May I was a finalist in the White House Fellows competition.
Does this read like a good launching pad for the academic fast track? It wasn't. My last academic job offer was in 1974.
This record did not make me popular. After seeing my books, the only tenured faculty member in the tiny department of the small state college where I taught said that my "commitment to scholarship interfered with [my] ability to perform effectively as a faculty member". He arranged to chair my review committee the following fall. Once word got out that I was marked for extinction the other faculty treated me like a leper. At one faculty event a woman met me at the door and angrily accused me of "dividing the feminist community"; I didn't even know there was a feminist community at this campus. At a faculty social event held at the home of the woman who chaired my final review committee no one would speak to me. My initial nemesis told my students that he didn't want in his class any student who wrote a senior thesis under my direction and the Dean ignored my complaint. In 1977 —after my third review in two years — faculty reviewers recommending my dismissal admitted that my "works have been well received and widely reprinted" but this was not as important as my lack of "outstandingly active" participation in campus governance.
Before I gave up and went to law school in 1979 I applied for literally every job in American politics listed in the APSA personnel newsletter any place in the country, and a lot of other positions as well. I had four interviews in 1976 and one each for the next three years, none of which resulted in a job offer. I did spend two years in Washington on fellowships, first from the Brookings Institution and then as an APSA Congressional Fellow. But, despite my track record, I could not find a job.
When I asked my professional colleagues for help the women said that with my publication record and professional reputation I didn't need any. The men said it was a tough job market for them too. No one at the schools I interviewed, or just applied to, ever told me that writing about women was "academically incorrect," but I was told "We don't need anyone to teach Women and Politics." I never taught that course; I taught American government and politics. I wrote about women and politics. Departments hiring junior faculty said I was overqualified and those looking for more senior personnel said I didn't have enough experience. As a radical feminist and a mainstream political scientist, I heard from the radicals that I was too mainstream and from the mainstream that I was too radical. A male colleague from grad school days, on reviewing my resume, said that reading the words "women" and "feminism" repeatedly in the titles of my published works made the typical male faculty member feel like he would be inviting a "feminist bull into a male chauvinist china shop." In a contracting job market, where supply exceeded demand, he didn't hold out much hope.
Why was it so hard for those of us who wrote about women before it was fashionable? In part we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those on the cutting edge of social change always get shot at, and sometimes get shot down. Political scientists were uneasy with women as colleagues and did not think the study of women was a legitimate field in the discipline. Furthermore, my years as a southern civil rights worker and a feminist organizer had given me something of a reputation as a political activist, which is almost always deemed a bad thing for a scholar to be. Unfortunately, there was nothing in my graduate school education which prepared me for any of this. I naively believed the "myth of merit" which presumes that rewards are commensurate with contributions to knowledge, and doesn't add that what you write on, where, and when is more important than how good it is.
When I compare the experience of women political scientists of my generation with those in other fields, it's obvious that the secret to survival and success is to ride a wave, not go against the grain. If one looks at the emergence of the study of women as an area of inquiry, or more accurately as a series of subfields within the different academic disciplines, one sees that success has varied enormously by field. It was easiest in the humanities; harder in the social sciences; hardest in the hard sciences. The most important factor was the size and the percent female already in each discipline in the late sixties, when the feminist movement emerged, women became a hot topic in the popular press, and complaints were filed with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare demanding that government contracts be rescinded until sex discrimination was eliminated. Although women everywhere were at the lowest levels and in the least prestigious schools, sheer numbers made a difference. Access was most rapid in those fields which already had a critical mass of women -- somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. Women begot more women. And more women fostered the study of women. Greater numbers of scholars studying women in a field made the creation of specialty journals economically feasible and conferences on "women in ..." realistic. Many other scholarly phenomena -- regular local meetings, research support, courses, the sharing of knowledge and interests -- also require minimum numbers to exist and a critical mass to flourish.
Legitimation was further facilitated by the existence of compatible intellectual trends and hampered by incompatible ones. "Women's history" quickly became a respectable field in the historical profession because the rise of social history created a more receptive audience for the study of women. In such disciplines as political science and economics the growth fields were quantitative analysis of demographic, voting and survey data in which sex was one of several independent variables and, until the gender gap appeared in the 1980 election, not a very interesting one.
Indeed, women succeeded in politics a decade before the scholars of women succeeded in political science. Women's rate of entry into public office took off in the 1970s. It was the mid-1980s before any woman whose primary field of study was women got tenure in a department of political science. Prior to that some women political scientists got tenure by writing on more legitimate topics before turning their attention to women's political activities, or got tenure despite a few publications on women amongst their more traditional titles; some held joint appointments in women's studies so that their departure would mean loss of a line; and several others simply made their permanent homes in other departments. I wasn't smart or lucky enough to do any of these things.
Let me end by describing myself in 1996. I remain committed to scholarship despite my exile from the places in which it is normally pursued, and I remain a political scientist despite the fact that I practice law, journalism, editing, and many other things to earn my bread. I don't teach, but my publications list has grown to six dozen articles, with about the same mix of popular and scholarly work I started with. A couple of my early articles — one popular and one scholarly — have been called "classics" and are still widely read. My intro text is now in its fifth edition and my dissertation stayed in print for 12 years. I've been offered contracts to edit a second edition of my Social Movements book and an American Government anthology.
Being a "guerilla scholar", as I call myself, has both advantages and disadvantages. I don't write things I don't want to write in pursuit of the brownie points necessary for promotion and tenure; nor do I feel compelled to phrase my ideas in arcane jargon and impenetrable prose. I have a much more flexible schedule than when I had to meet classes but I also have a less predictable one and much less control. I enjoy the research and writing I do much more than I ever did while a faculty member. But my absence from an environment in which scholarship is rewarded has slowed my production rate because there are no incentives for publishing beyond what pleasure it gives me, while there are many hurdles. Scholarly research is something I do in between the cracks of my life. For over ten years I have been working on an ever expanding and never ending project on the history of women and American politics, which I sometimes think will be published in five volumes, posthumously.
Most of all I feel the isolation which comes from the lack of good conversation about my work or any intellectual stimulation that doesn't come from print. The growth of the Internet and the exchanges that can take place via this medium have made this easier, but I still feel the absence of face-to-face interaction. While teaching regular classes is hard work, students do provide a ready audience on which to try out ideas, and sometimes help with research. However, adjuncting pays so little for the time it takes that I can't afford to teach just to have an audience.
Unaffiliated scholars are disproportionately women, especially women who got their Ph.D.s in the 1970s when both the feminist movement and graduate schools encouraged women to get more degrees, but the disciplines would not hire women to be professors at the same rate that they produced them — even when they wrote on more respectable topics than I did. There are things the professional associations could do to make the production of scholarship easier for those of us on the outside, but I have not seen any effort, or even interest, in doing so. Thus I and other guerrilla scholars continue to depend on our friends on the inside to help us do for love what most political scientists do for a living.

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