How Even a White Man I’ve Never Met Can Successfully Expend My Emotional Labor.
Fresh from the American Sociological Association meetings on Feeling Race, I have been thinking a lot about the many areas in which I engage in emotional labor for the betterment of my discipline. Through the years, I’ve become more cognizant of this labor, tried to guard myself from overdoing it and to protect myself from being exploited by those who do not value me. However, the past few months have been particularly difficult for me. In January of 2018, I started my three-year term for the American Sociological Association’s Jessie Bernard committee. Every year this committee selects one deserving scholar to receive an award for feminist scholarship and the advancement of women in society.
This year’s awardee is a man whom we’ve since learned has engaged in a series of sexist, misogynist and gender exploitative behaviors to the direct detriment of women and nonbinary faculty and graduate students. In recent months, several individuals have come forward to describe in detail his despicable behavior. I for one have heard first hand accounts from three different people. By standing in allyship with them, I have been weighted with the task of protecting their confidence, wanting my committee to mobilize on their behalf and consistently running into the bureaucratic road blocks set forth by the ASA.
You see, the Jessie Bernard committee makes a recommendation to ASA council regarding who should win the award. However once that decision has been made, it is up to council to rescind the award (at their discretion) in light of recent allegations. Thus, in listening to the stories of those who have survived harassment and gender exploitative behaviors, I am powerless to act. And unlike some of the leaders of ASA, I cannot hide behind the bureaucracy that offers them distance from engagement.
I am extremely disappointed at the lack of transparency from the ASA regarding the allegations against Michael Kimmel. At no point did anyone in a leadership position within ASA inform current Jessie Bernard committee members of the allegations against Kimmel. Instead, members on the committee heard of these allegations either through firsthand accounts from survivors or via social media. Accounts that only surfaced on social media because the “informal” concerns that had already been raised to the ASA months prior, were not being acted upon (as far as anyone could see).
The irony of this situation enrages me. The Jessie Bernard Committee (which is comprised primarily of women of color) is now placed in the position of responding to colleagues who are survivors and others who are simply concerned about the overall anti-feminist posture being taken by many in positions of ASA’s leadership. But we have absolutely no power to do anything. I again find myself doing invisible labor to advance the discipline without having the power to later control how my labor is used by those in higher positions of power.
I for one, do not support the ASA’s insistence on distinguishing between formal and informal complaints. In doing so, the ASA is disciplining how survivors frame their narratives without the promise of any protection or even confidentiality. This is unacceptable. Further, now that survivors are talking through social media and in publishing their narratives, the ASA has an obligation to do everything within their power to protect these individuals from having their careers tarnished. If ASA’s code of ethics policies had been more comprehensive, these individuals may not have taken to social media in the first place. To know that so many sociologists are discrediting the words of survivors because they did not follow the rules on how they are “supposed to” come forward is disappointing.
Obviously, this issue has filled me with much rage. I am indebted to many colleagues who’ve helped me name that rage. The rage stems from the labor that so many women and nonbinary folx must now do to clean up this white man’s mess. The time I’ve spent as a queer woman of color agonizing over how this man has been able to successfully abuse this award is staggering. This I’ve done while remaining exploitable by the association that did not even have the decency to inform the Jessie Bernard committee of their intention to give the award to Michael Kimmel at this years meeting even in his absence.
The ways in which I have been rendered invisible by my association further clarifies my long-term plan to end my relationship with the ASA. I will meet my current obligations to the ASA. However, I will not take on any additional service positions. I trust that my colleagues will respect my choice and not again ask me to run in any of the upcoming elections.