Feminism, Sexuality, and Politics: Essays

By Estelle B. Freedman | Go to book overview

3 | Women's Networks and Women's
Loyalties | Reflections on a Tenure Case

In the midst of my tenure case, I was asked to speak to the Committee on Women
Historians at the 1983 meeting of the American Historical Association. The previous
year, I had filed an internal grievance charging that a Stanford dean's reversal of my
department's vote to grant me tenure discriminated against me as a woman and re-
flected biases against my research on women. During the next year and a half, until
the university decided in my favor, I was sustained by the emotional and financial
support of hundreds of friends and colleagues. I agreed to speak at the 1983 meeting
in order to share my experiences with many of them. I present this talk as a historical
document that offers personal testimony about the pitfalls women f ace in attempt-
ing to integrate male-dominated institutions. The recurrent distrust of both women's
loyalties and feminism that I discuss here also reveals the influence of homophobia
on academic life.

LAST SPRING, when I was asked to speak at this meeting, I had serious reservations about whether I should do so. For one thing, I believed at the time that, come December 1983, I would most likely be engaged in a sex discrimination suit, and I was not sure how much I would be able to say in public about what was coming to be known as the “Estelle Freedman Case.” Aside from this strategic reservation, I felt very uncomfortable about being asked to speak to my professional colleagues about what seemed like a personal crisis—we all have them, I thought, but why should I get up in public and talk about mine? My feminist instincts—and my feminist colleagues—soon helped me overcome the latter hesitation, for I realized that the university's denial of my tenure was not simply a personal problem; it was a deeply political one that has affected many members of the community of women historians and feminist scholars. It was also an event that needed to be placed in historical perspective, for it might serve as a measure

Previously published as Estelle B. Freedman, “Women's Networks and Women's Loyal-
ties: Reflections on a Tenure Case,” Frontiers 8, no. 3 (1986): 50–54. Reprinted by permis-
sion of Frontiers Editorial Collective.

-57-

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