Misogyny in English Departments

Obligation, Entitlement, Gaslighting

by Amy E. Robillard (Author)
©2023 Textbook XXII, 140 Pages


When Andrew Cuomo was forced to resign as governor of New York in August 2021, a commentator on CNN remarked that he had "not gotten his own memo" on sexual harassment that he had signed into law two years earlier. Misogyny in English Departments theorizes the results of a qualitative empirical study of the ways women in U.S. college and university English departments experience misogyny, and the effects that misogyny has on their personal and professional lives. It seems that we in English departments, too, have not gotten our own memos. English departments market themselves as spaces of equity and diversity, as dedicated to inclusivity and social justice, as committed to rooting out injustices like misogyny via such means as socially just, feminist, and critical pedagogies. We are some of the very people who teach students to recognize and fight back against social injustices like misogyny, and yet, as the women the author interviews demonstrate in this book, we are no less likely to engage in gender-based discriminatory and abusive practices.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword by Malea Powell
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Isolation of Misogyny
  • 1 Silencing Women’s Voices in Academic Spaces
  • 2 The Expectation to Serve and Care for Others
  • 3 Masculine-Coded Goods in English Departments: Respect, Authority, Leadership
  • 4 Sexual Harassment and Women’s Credibility
  • 5 On Gaslighting
  • 6 Women No Longer Want to Give
  • 7 Less Precarious Stories
  • Index
  • Series Index

←x | xi→


Malea Powell

I’m not going to be coy. I love this book, and I admire both Robillard’s research ethics and the incredibly useful theoretical and methodological pathways she walks as her participants’ stories are shared with you here. Because of the many truths that get spoken here, my experience as a reader of this often felt both like an act of solidarity (the margins of my manuscript copy are covered with “Yesss!” and “OMFG”) and like an act of shared mourning.

Like her participants, when I first heard about Robillard’s plan for this project, I started nodding my head in agreement. It’s often seemed ironic and irritating to me that even in the most so-called liberal, progressive, and justice-oriented English/humanities departments, there’s an undercurrent of petty misogyny that works under the radar. Of course, these kinds of entitlement practices are what, as Robillard argues, uphold patriarchal systems within the university and persistently create more pressure for women to comply with those patriarchal norms or face punishment in those spaces. After all, misogyny, like racism, is a system, a social structure, in which the actions of specific “bad” individuals are often blamed while the entire class of individuals (in this case, men and women who “behave” correctly) continue to benefit from the structure/system. And we internalize misogyny, just like we internalize racism.

←xi | xii→

Like the individuals interviewed for this book, and like many of you reading this right now, I’ve lived these experiences (as well as other racist and colonialist experiences) for my entire 33+ years as an academic. I’ve been that person who complains, that person who “just sees oppression everywhere,” that person who colleagues dismiss because I decided not to play the game. And I’ve lived the consequences. I’m not unique, though. So many of us have lived these stories and have lived the consequences of being seen as “complainers.” As Robillard herself points out in the Preface (drawing from Ahmed), to be seen a making a complaint is to neither be seen nor heard authentically. Complaining about injustice, oppression, harassment make the complainer the “problem” to be solved to most department chairs and university administrators because the entire mechanism of the university was built to uphold the things that so many of us might be complaining about—white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexist privilege, ableist privilege. So to complain about the “petty” and mundane behaviors being used to uphold those privileges is to make oneself a problem, an outsider, a gossip, someone who isn’t collegial or a “team” player, someone who is selfishly thinking about themselves instead of the good of the unit/department/college/university. I am delighted with the way that Robillard allows her participants’ stories to illuminate how these behaviors—from seemingly small acts like “hepeating” to larger crimes like outright sexual harassment—structure not just the experiences of women in specific academic spaces but how they accumulate to create and maintain specifically patriarchal cultures across different kinds of academic workspaces.

As you read these stories, I know they will remind you of your own stories, and of so many other stories of other ways that many of our experiences are belittled and erased. Hold all of those stories close and keep them warm. They are only one of our defenses in such an inhumane system, but they are a critical one. More importantly, remember, Robillard isn’t just offering the stories told by her participants as another way to simply “name and blame” the acts of perpetrators and those who benefit from the entitlements of patriarchal oppression. Instead, Robillard asks us, her readers, to act as a community of colleague and scholars. She asks us to listen, to be thoughtful, to take responsibility, and to do things differently moving forward. She treats us as colleagues who might just be able to listen to what we’ve been doing badly and just might be able to put our heads together to do things in a better, more equitable way. In doing this, Robillard actually opens a window to hope, which seems like a radical act during a time when hope is increasingly hard to come by. For Robillard’s work in honoring her participants’ stories, in presenting them to us with such care, for asking us to ←xii | xiii→look our own uglinesses right in the face, and for doing so in a way that charts a path to the possibility of creating spaces that are decidedly more thoughtful and equitable, I am grateful.

←xiv | xv→


I’ve had enough. If someone is asking for my story, I’m telling it.

—Alyssa, associate professor

The stories that follow are tales told out of school. They break the rules we’ve all internalized about what we can and cannot tell, about what we should and should not tell, and they bust open the comfortable beliefs many of us continue to carry with us about equity in the academy. But for those of us who have experienced misogyny in our departments, the only thing busting open is the “expectation that you’ll maintain this façade that everything is fine, that no one’s racist, that no one’s sexist, or any of those things,” as one of my interviewees put it. The women I spoke with for this project are no longer conforming to that expectation, as they’ve decided that it’s more important to tell their stories than it is to maintain that façade. The façade has done enough damage.


XXII, 140
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (April)
English departments gaslighting obligation equity Misogyny diversity authority care sexual harassment Misogyny in English Departments Obligation, Entitlement, Gaslighting Amy E. Robillard
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Lausanne, Oxford, 2023. XXII, 140 pp.

Biographical notes

Amy E. Robillard (Author)

Amy E. Robillard is professor of English at Illinois State University, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in rhetoric, composition, and life writing. She is the author of We Find Ourselves in Other People’s Stories and the editor, with Shane Combs, of How Stories Teach Us: Composition, Life Writing, and Blended Scholarship and, with Ron Fortune, of Authorship Contested: Cultural Challenges to the Authentic, Autonomous Author. Her academic essays have appeared in a number of journals, and her personal essays have appeared on The Rumpus and on Full Grown People.


Title: Misogyny in English Departments