Academic journal article College English

Unwelcome Stories, Identity Matters, and Strategies for Engaging in Cross-Boundary Discourses

Academic journal article College English

Unwelcome Stories, Identity Matters, and Strategies for Engaging in Cross-Boundary Discourses

Article excerpt

Academic writings in general avoid any suggestion that there's a real human being addressing the subject-sometimes even with (gasp!) passion.

-Lynn Bloom, "Voices" (271)

Why was it so hard for Lynn Bloom to tell her stories of part-time instruc- tor hell sitting on the floor with the kitty litter, of the "Gang of Four" who sought to eliminate her writing program administrator position so that she could not get tenure, and of telling her students that she ran naked into the hall of a Stockholm hostel to escape rape? Because she is a woman? No, we protest. Even in the early 1990s, English studies was beyond that kind of overt gender discrimination. Because she told women's stories? This explanation hits closer to the mark. Bloom told stories that made her feminized status too real for us, stories that exposed the ways that trailing spouses were nearly always women, stories in which writing program directors were often also women managing the un-tenure- worthy task of overseeing composition instructors, stories that hinted she had to expose herself to us to stop English studies from doing figuratively to her and other women what a masked man attempted to do to her in the women's bathroom of a Stockholm hostel.

We struggle to integrate these stories and their implications into our lives because they expose the privileges of male gender and middle-class academic pro- fessorships. We don't know how to respond when those who have been victimized by the system get voice and use it to expose injustice. We fear those who are willing to be vulnerable, claiming the voice that academic discourse practices work so hard to deny them: the right to tell their stories, claim relevance for them, and, in doing so, challenge the notion that the privilege that we want to believe we earned by our intelligence, talent, and hard work may be based-at least in part-in maleness, whiteness, middle-class backgrounds, or other markers of privilege. Put another way, although we have taken the social turn in composition studies and have begun to address various kinds of identity issues, we struggle with the deeper implications of that turn, both for ourselves and for the beloved profession we have worked so hard to build.

My representation of Bloom's story illustrates the complexities of taking the social turn deeper. For example, the "we" voice I use is problematic. I choose it because I want Bloom to know that I've heard her, that hers and other women's stories have helped me begin to understand my male privilege and to change the way I interact with women, have prompted me to use the positions of authority that I inhabit to get living wages and benefits for those who teach first-year composition, and have motivated me to spend hot summer days hauling furniture into the offices I had renovated so that new instructors I hired would have decent places to meet with their students.

The "we" voice is also problematic because it divides; it makes me sound like I might only be talking to other men, and it does not reflect the affinity I feel with Bloom because I have also written unwelcome stories that were silenced until I found editors who understood why such stories needed telling. In some sense I feel trapped by the us/them nature of how I have cast the set of stories from Bloom's groundbreaking 1992 College English article. This us/themness was necessary in her piece to bring women's problematized status to the fore, but now we need more-we need to see how the problem has morphed and how it intersects with other aspects of identity, and if I'm completely honest, I want Bloom (and others) to think about what it means for me to be a gay man in this discipline.

In the 2003 article "Voices," in which she tells the backstory of the writing and publishing of "Teaching College English as a Woman," Bloom suggests that we must break the convention of person-less academic writing; she argues that women's stories must be told by women. …

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