Published Winter 2005
Women's lives are spent in service and servitude, learning to be superserviceable, being at the service of others, being serviced. We are a service industry, serving husbands, lovers, bosses, children, aged parents, families, colleagues. Few of us ever escape this entirely.
— Patricia Duncker
While most human beings, myself included, would not want to "escape" the opportunity to serve others—after all, human connection usually deepens intellectual, creative, political, and emotional development—in the academic world, an insidious and invisible economy of service has for years exhausted the energies of women, with women of color being particularly pressed into service roles. In some instances, this silent economy has cost women their health, jobs, and professional advancement, and it has tragically prevented many from expressing their creative, intellectual, and leadership abilities.
The fact is, as the Modern Language Association's Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (CSWP) argued in "Women in the Profession, 2000," the identification of women with a profession, such as English, does not translate into gender or racial parity (193). An avalanche of evidence, in the form of status reports and books, supports what many women and ethnic-racial minorities already know from their everyday professional lives. The 2000 CSWP report quotes an NEH survey from 1995: "[I]n English, the largest group of white men were full professors; the largest group of men of color were associate professors; the largest group of women of color were assistant professors; and the largest group of white women were instructors or adjuncts" (201). Despite a handful of female academic stars (whose exceptional prominence is evoked as evidence that women have stormed the academy), in every category of professional life—from salaries to working conditions to promotion—women’s status in the profession has not changed that much since the first CSWP report was complied and published in PMLA in 1971. Women and racial/ethnic minorities continue to be overrepresented among tenured faculty in two-year, women's, and non-research/teaching colleges, while these same groups are underrepresented among tenured faculty in elite research institutions and resource-rich public universities (Messer-Davidow; Valian; Wilson). In short, as Florence Howe noted in 1971, women are more likely to be located in less prestigious jobs, in lower ranks, and in part-time positions (Messer-Davidow 17).
In addition, women's chances of earning tenure remain slim. In October 2004, the American Association of University Women published its Tenure Denied Report, which found that women who are denied tenure and turn to the courts have the odds stacked against them. Tenure Denied does not delve into the conflicting discourses, epistemologies, and agendas hampering tenure-discrimination cases, but it neatly documents the difficulty of legal success and includes many of the all-too familiar, depressing statistics: "Of the faculty at colleges and universities offering four-year degrees, only 27 percent of those awarded tenure are women"; and "Women make up more than one-half of instructors and lecturers and nearly one-half of assistant professors, but they represent only one-third of associate professors and a mere one-fifth of full professors"(1). The report's conclusion: The neat trajectory of talented women armed with doctorates moving from graduate programs into academic positions in the profession has not materialized (2).
It is crucial for progressive scholars to familiarize ourselves with such statistics and the inequity they represent. It is equally important for us to think about what these statistics mean from a structural and policy perspective. Marc Bousquet, in a 2004 Modern Language Association presentation on the impact of the global economy on the discipline of English, analyzed the political economy of U.S. academic capitalism. Bousquet identified the higher-education system as a site of un-, under-, and semi-regulated employment, an arrangement that makes the university ripe for exploitative labor practices. For example, undergraduate student labor is routinely made invisible under the guise of "service learning." Bousquet cited a list of well-known exploitative culprits: first, the decrease of full-time, tenured-track positions and increase of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty positions, a policy that has doubled, and in some cases, tripled workloads for all full-time faculty, at all ranks, compared to the workloads of full-time faculty twenty to thirty years ago. Second, the inaction of multiple constituencies—including leaders at prestigious universities—to adequately address the job crisis facing graduate students. Third, the refusal of university and college administrations to support faculty research, and yet the increased expectations for publication and conference attendance in order to receive tenure and promotion, even at institutions labeled "teaching" or "non-research." Finally, anti-family policies create a second shift for many faculty with daily family responsibilities. These practices are unfortunately familiar, but, as Bousquet underscored, they are particularly harsh on women. In other words, no one, from undergraduate student to endowed professor, is completely spared the effects of downsizing and exploitative unregulated employment practices. Furthermore, Bousquet shows, "women faculty are the least shielded by this exploitative situation."
In general, the silent economy of gendered service has not garnered much analysis in progressive criticism on the university, even though service is a significant feature of the unregulated economy of academic capitalism. Just as undergraduate student labor under academic capitalism is hidden under the mantle of "service learning" and graduate student labor is made invisible under the rubric of "training," much of full-time academic women's labor is occluded by the strategically vague category called "service." And yet, as Michelle Massé argued in a 2004 MLA talk, "Over Ten Thousand Served," service is rarely theorized as a key component of the university's political economy, even in progressive, cultural studies of higher education. Cary Nelson's work on academic capitalism, for example, never discusses service, even though omitting the discussion of service is clearly to the university's benefit. In frustration, Massé asks why this form of labor is not acknowledged by administrators, faculty, and scholars—with the exception of a few scholars, who have explored the issue.
Theorizing service reveals an unregulated economy that coexists—and even maintains—a formal, "official" economy, much like women's unrecognized domestic labor props up the formal, official economies of countries throughout the globe. It also exposes how a silent economy of gendered service in the discipline of English has become particularly intense due to decades of systematic conversion of full-time, tenure-track positions to part-time positions, a practice that has led to lower salaries, unattractive jobs, and the "white male flight" from the profession (CSWP 2000). For instance, although there are fewer full-time professors to join committees and work closely with students, the paperwork related to service projects and advising has not decreased (Massé 2004). In fact, with the infusion of feminist studies and diversity projects into university programming and course offerings, service work for women faculty has actually increased as administrators pass on this "infusion" work to women's and gender studies faculty (Bird, Litt, and Wang 194-206). Thus, tenure-track and tenured women often take up the slack created by downsized, depleted faculty numbers, at the same time that they are being asked to improve the climate for women faculty, students, and staff; and yet this very work is not counted, acknowledged, or considered prestigious or intellectual. Just as the "care deficit" in a downsized America is being met by the informal care services of women, many of whom are imported from countries ravaged by the imposition of first world structural adjustment programs, the "service" work of higher education is similarly being attended to, in many cases, by women. The silent service economy is a central feature of how the university works. How the theme of "superserviceable feminism" relates to the unregulated silent economy of service and to the overall gendered labor of the university is also apparent in contemporary theoretical arguments addressing feminism. Feminist texts that chronicle and assess academic feminism today, including Cool Men and the Second Sex by Susan Fraiman, Literature After Feminism by Rita Felski, and Disciplining Feminism by Ellen Messer-Davidow, resonate with the silent economy of service and academic women's status. While none of these authors employs "service" or the gendered labor of the university as a framework for her argument, service is an underlying structure in the creation of theoretical ideas and categories, such as women as emblems of the uncool maternal (Fraiman), the inevitable depoliticization of feminism (Messer-Davidow), and the notion of literary feminism as infusing—or servicing—English departments with an expansive aesthetic (Felski).
Superserviceable feminism is a term that makes visible the various kinds of unacknowledged labor women and feminism perform, in the institutional life of English, in universities overall, and in theoretical arguments. While the CSWP's object of analysis is women's status, Fraiman's, Felski's, and Messer-Davidow's work explores the "status" of academic feminism. Status-of-women-in-the-profession studies rarely function as exemplars of intellectual labor that contribute not only to theoretical arguments on feminism and women's status, but to scholarly criticism on the university. This is often the case, even though status studies produce feminist and interdisciplinary knowledge and generate significant insight into the historiography and political economy of the American university. In functioning as a theoretical category, service further operates as a site of unregulated labor, shaping the production and direction of scholarship. Thus, there are at least two dimensions comprising superserviceable feminism: the silent economy of service in women's professional lives and the ways in which ideas about women, gender, and feminism "service" theoretical arguments, including assessments of feminism.
Theorizing Service: The Associate Professor Project
While service in the academy is clearly not the exclusive domain of women, studies on service indicate that women do more service than men, and women at the associate and full professor rank do more service than women at the assistant professor level. According to findings in the "Women in the Profession, 2000" report, in English "the highest rates of service on a scholarly committee were found among full professors (this time women of color at 70%) ...and the lowest rates of service [were found] among white men at every rank" (208-209). In addition, white women at the associate professor rank represented 58% of committee members (209). The CSWP became very interested in women's experiences at the associate professor rank after reviewing the 2000 report; it believes that women at this rank are understudied and misunderstood. Although service is not the only issue the CSWP is exploring in relation to the associate professor level, the silent economy of service is a central concern of the committee's current research focus.
Based on preliminary findings thus far, female associate professors are struggling with increased demands in their professional and personal lives, including the expectation that they mentor junior faculty while also bolstering the efforts of senior (full professor) faculty; engage in more college/university service (both chosen and imposed); and teach and conduct research. At the same time that female associate professors experience an increase in workload, they are often encountering an expansion in the demand for unpaid care of family members, such as children, partners, parents, grandparents and other extended family members. Meanwhile, the requirements for promotion to full professor—albeit sketchy at many institutions—are rooted in the professional and personal experiences of white men whose personal and family lives are often managed by wives. Although there are examples of two-career, same-sex, interracial, transgendered, immigrant, and other forms of relationships and families in colleges and universities, by and large, the actual structure and culture of academic work assumes a married, heterosexual male. This trajectory, although it contradicts reality, continues to underscore and affect academic culture, promotional policies and decisions, and academic women's lives.
In addition, the mentoring and institutional resources that are often available to tenure-track female assistant professors tend to evaporate once women reach the associate professor rank. Even at small liberal arts colleges and in regional state university systems, it is customary to shield assistant professors from burdensome service demands and committee work. When I was an assistant professor of English at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, I was assigned a mentor and given opportunities to apply for course reduction that would allow me to join a scholarly writing program as part of my path toward tenure. At research universities, this shielding practice often translates into generous course reductions, research leaves, and fellowships and grants pitched to untenured faculty. However, whatever women's location in the prestige economy of higher education, these supports often vanish once women receive tenure and promotion to associate professor. Instead, women experience an increase in service work that often jeopardizes their candidacy for promotion to full professor. As Sharon Bird, Jacquelyn Litt, and Yong Wang contend, engaging in service is risky: "Those who perform service work ...do so at the risk of losing exchange value in every area of their professional lives" (204).
The CSWP is exploring the existence of a relationship between greater expectations for service at the associate professor rank and a pattern of women spending more time in this rank than men, thus creating a conspicuous gender imbalance at the full professor level. In other words, there is a connection between women being stalled at the associate professor rank and increased demands on women to perform service once they receive tenure and promotion. In the compilation of a Five Question Associate Professor Survey sponsored by the CSWP, one full professor and department chair indicated that the increase in service was the greatest hindrance to women's progressing to full professor.
Karen Lawrence, former CSWP member and Dean of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine, and Courtney Santos, Lawrence's research assistant, assembled the responses of participants who completed the Associate Professor Five Question Survey. Respondents included men and women, associate and full professors, and each was asked to answer the same question: "What do you think the five most important questions are that can be asked about the rank of associate professor?" The replies and comments indicate that service is one of many factors involved in women's stalling at the associate professor rank—lack of mentoring; unclear guidelines for promotion; family responsibilities; economic calamities, such as the protracted job market; and heavy teaching loads were also routinely mentioned. But service emerged as a central theme: "Why are female associate minority professors over-invested in service?"; "How are we ...compensated or rewarded" for our service?; "How many women who are associate professors perform administrative duties, as compared to men, that may prevent them from proceeding to the next rank?"; "I notice that while women make up less than half the faculty at the associate/full rank, they frequently represent two-thirds or more of committee members on committees"; "It is obvious that associate professors, particularly women associate professors, are seen as the most likely candidates for departmental administrative jobs that are extremely time-consuming"; and "How can women associate professors be spared from being eaten alive by committee work?"
While the respondents' questions indicate an experience of overall gender bias structuring faculty work, the silent economy of service is strikingly audible. Thus, it is clear that the CSWP's current focus will provide significant insight into the category of service in general, and at the associate professor rank in particular. In terms of superserviceable feminism, these respondents' questions contribute to the project of theorizing how inequity and the impact of "service" on academic women is a central effect of gendered academic capitalism. These questions also, as I will argue, serve as a fruitful lens for tracing the effects of service on recent scholarship on the status and "uses" of feminism in theoretical arguments.
How Feminism Services Male and Queer Theoretical Texts
In Virginia Valian's research on "gender schemas"—which she defines as deeply ingrained social and psychological suppositions about what it means to be male or female—she demonstrates how academic women are consistently underrated while men are overrated (208). This quiet, ongoing process of undervaluing women rarely erupts into dramatic displays of sexism or gender bias. Instead, it is a subtle course that builds, over time, into a significant advantage for academic men and, unfortunately, a significant disadvantage for academic women. Valian cites a computer simulation study that replicates a "tiny bias in favor of promoting men," which, after several duplications, illustrates how even small amounts of bias "accumulate over time" and create advantages for men (211). Relating gender schemas to the silent economy of service, it becomes clear that women who perform service will be more disadvantaged by this work—since it is gendered female—than men who perform service.
A similar argument about a small scale of bias that occurs repeatedly and builds into a damaging devaluation of women and feminism emerges in Susan Fraiman's book Cool Men and the Second Sex. Fraiman meticulously discerns the practice of subdued bias in the structure and design of theoretical arguments produced by academic stars—those prominent male scholars and queer theorists who populate the pages of mainstream newspapers and scholarly journals, hold prestigious academic posts, and project an aura of coolness, both in their personas and scholarly writing. Similar to Valian's study, Fraiman identifies an underground realm of assumed ideologies about women's intellectual and social inferiority. Fraiman bluntly asserts, "Much of this discourse is secretly and sometimes quite frankly in love with masculinity" (123).
Fraiman's Cool Men and the Second Sex unwittingly works in tandem with the project of theorizing service, illuminating the ways in which women, femininity, emotionality, the maternal, and feminism "service" the advancement of scholarly arguments. In other words, small "textual effects" of bias in male scholarship accumulate to disadvantage women, mothers, and feminism: "What I mean to protest are cumulative textual effects, unexamined and incongruous patterns of sexism just beneath the surface of works purporting to be oppositional (and sometimes feminist)" (Fraiman xix). In the work of academic stars such as Andrew Ross, Edward Said, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and in the canon of queer theory, exemplified by Judith Halberstam, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, repression and stasis are coded female as a way to advance the idea that defiance, boldness, creativity, and rebelliousness are working-class, anti-corporate, hip, and masculine. A pronounced "preoccupation with masculinity" structures these scholars' arguments, even while they evoke feminism. In this way, arguments that articulate solidarity with women and feminism on one level also mitigate—and in some cases, undermine—solidarity by quietly overrating that which is male and masculine and devaluing that which is female and feminine. A recurring focus in male and queer texts is the motif of a "pejorative maternal" and the tokenization of women and feminism, rhetorical strategies that these well-received and influential texts depend on to create their arguments (137).
In addition, by focusing on the logic of "coolness," Fraiman suggests that the academic celebrity system rewards style over substance. Men's boldness, even when what they are saying is not truly innovative or politically or theoretically coherent, is rewarded. Because of ingrained habits of gender, we continue to overvalue a bad-boy, masculine, rebellious style rather than reward the substance of a female scholar's arguments. Once again, Valian's research resonates in Fraiman's observations: "Speaking confidently, for example, is not the same as having something to say. We need to distinguish between someone who expresses a good point tentatively and someone who expresses a bad point confidently, listen to the former more than the latter, and reward the former more than the latter" (214).
Although not intended, Fraiman's study captures connections between the silent economy of service and how women and feminism service "cool" male and queer theory scholarship. Emblems of various negative categories, such as imperialism and conservative, unattractive conventionality, women, femininity, and the maternal, function as the negative ground against which male and queer texts rebel. Fraiman's observations raise important questions about the instrumentality of caricatured visions of women, the maternal, and feminism in left, progressive cultural studies. In a sense, Fraiman's Cool Men approximates the CSWP's theorizing on gender and women's status because she focuses on how feminist perspectives—in particular, distortions of feminist studies—bolster male and queer texts, just as women often perform the support services that make intellectual work possible for those doing research.
In her final chapter, Fraiman offers her radical vision of social relations that she would like to see imagined and promoted in left cultural criticism: representations of mothers who engage in sodomy; queer teenagers who thrive instead of commit suicide; and sentimentality that is viewed as liberating instead of restricting. Her creative and thoughtful reading of Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues, for example, develops a model of masculinity that isn't, upon closer inspection, about the superiority of masculinity. Fraiman presents Feinberg's character, Jess, as paradigm for cultural and queer scholars: "I count on the term 'butch' to keep 'the maternal' from being reenshrined as simply domestic, emotional, self-sacrificing, asexual, and necessarily biological" (147). The problem with using the term "butch" to keep the traditional maternal at bay, however, is that many actual academic women cannot perform or signify "butchness." In fact, women in academic institutions might strategically distance themselves from the maternal as a way to challenge the still widely held belief that they are naturally wired to do unpaid service work—labor that is neither compensated nor seen as an intellectual or scholarly. In many social settings, including academia, women are treated as if their reproductive potential justifies unsolicited service assignments.
In academic women's lives, femininity and the maternal are also underlying assumptions linked to the expectation of women's unpaid labor. Not only is service not perceived as intellectual, it is often framed as a labor of love, akin to the work women do for their children, rather than as work for which one should be paid and acknowledged. As Bird, Litt, and Wang argue:
Service work currently has no formal reward. Some might argue that service deserves no formal reward because the people who do this work find the satisfaction they receive from doing it reward enough (just as mothering deserves no compensation because women do it "for love"). The satisfaction one receives from the work she or he does, however, is not a reasonable barometer for determining the level of formal rewards (or penalties) for different types of work. Faculty who enjoy work on collaborative research projects or grant proposals also enjoy their work. That they enjoy the work is not why they are being paid for doing it. (203)
I question whether or not Fraiman fully considers the complexity of the maternal for many academic feminists—whether or not they are actual mothers. The maternal, like the sentimental, is multi-dimensional and economically layered. In Patrice DiQuinzio's Impossibility of Motherhood: Feminism, Individualism, and the Problem of Mothering, she captures the complexity of what motherhood means in a culture that has, historically, constructed this category through discourses of biological sentimentality. Thus, until emotion and the maternal are the province of boys and men in the same way they are assumed to be the province of girls and women, these categories will remain problematic for women. Fraiman convincingly argues that second-wave feminism, a powerful body of intellectual and political work, has not been fully incorporated into cultural studies, academic culture, or U.S. society, but second-wave feminism was unique in that it brazenly encouraged women to question motherhood and femininity and to openly delineate the downside of each. Likewise, perhaps cultural studies and queer theory would expand in new directions if the topics of chosen motherhood and expansive emotionality became central theoretical issues. In the meantime, they continue to be cynically used in the silent economy of service.
How Feminist Studies Services the Discipline
The last sentence of Rita Felski's assessment of feminist literary criticism, Literature After Feminism, elegantly sums up the point of her entire book: "Literature after feminism is an expanded field, not a diminished one" (169). Capaciousness, expansion, new horizons, breakthroughs, innovations—these words are repeatedly associated with what Felski convincingly identifies as the best features of the sprawling, conflicted, contentious, ongoing, creative field called feminist literary scholarship. Unlike Fraiman's assessment, Felski's argument demonstrates how nuanced feminist literary criticism opens up the study of literature—on a large scale, with its own superstars and canonical texts. Rendering stodgy, new critical interpretive practices as rigid and obsolete and overly ideological criticism as grim and narrow, feminist literary criticism creates opportunities for authors and readers to experiment with new literary forms and clarify important human values. In short, the best feminist literary criticism has revolutionized the curriculum of higher education. In this way, Felski's book stands out because it offers the most optimistic interpretation of the state of academic feminism.
Likewise, recent discussions on the gendered labor of the university and the silent economy of service, also attend to the "positive" features of feminism's superserviceability. According to Bird, Litt, and Wang, "Ironically, women and minority faculty often find a much needed alternative space within gendered organizations by doing service work because it enables them to connect with each other in mutually beneficial ways" (200-01). Similarly, in "The Politics of Feminist Locations: A Materialist Analysis of Women's Studies," Catherine Orr and Diane Lichtenstein explain how women's studies is often conflated with "service," but that in some institutions—such as theirs, Beloit College—this collapse is helpful: "[I]n our location, this work is legitimate and valued; indeed, service is indispensable to a tenure case at our college"(7).
However, Orr and Lichtenstein later complicate their argument with the realization that, given the structure of work and rewards in academia, they may they have been "overly optimistic about the long-term implications of the service work we have been doing" (12). For instance, the service work they and other women at their college have been engaged in has led to their being "dubbed by some faculty as the dean's 'fembots,'" characterizing academic women's service work as plodding, unthinking (12). However valuable in the day-to-day life of the average female academic, service work has not revolutionized a theoretical field or the academic workplace. Until the kind of exalted praise that Felski lavishes on feminist literary studies is also lavished on service, there remains a disconnect between working conditions and economic issues confronting many female members of the discipline and feminist scholarship such as Felski's.
The impetus for Felski's study was the onslaught of continued attacks on feminist literary studies in higher education by conservative critics. In countering these attacks, Felski highlights the remarkable achievements of feminist literary criticism, but also tries to "sort out," as she puts it, the weaker feminist arguments from the stronger. Feminist literary criticism that reduces art to ideology is too narrow and one-dimensional, while criticism that captures the interplay of literary expression and the social world allows for more generous interpretations of both literature and the social world. However, while feminism as a theory and political movement clearly led to the creation of feminist literary studies, their depiction in Felski's text is ambivalent and sometimes unnecessarily disapproving. Similarly, in Felski's assessment of the field, there is little sense of English departments and university campuses as political locations. In fact, in Felski's view, political urgency is located outside the United States.
Yet, feminism's impact on academic women's working lives is a topic that has captured the imagination of some well-known feminist literary figures, such as Carolyn Heilbrun. In contrast, Felski refers only once to the "day-to-day work of feminist scholars" in her book (3). Indeed, her book keeps the politics of the profession and the working lives of women separate from the study of feminist literary criticism (3). This is probably because Felski makes a clear distinction between extra-literary feminist writing and activism and feminist literary studies. In other words, the importance of the daily inequities in the lives of academic women is not Felski's focus, nor should it be, but it is stunning how her argument implies that non-literary feminist writing and activism should not have much impact on feminist literary criticism. Nevertheless, the category of service as a theoretical lens makes visible a striking contradiction in Felski's book: feminist literary criticism has achieved more prominence than actual academic women. According to an MLA survey, feminist criticism has been more influential than any other form of contemporary scholarship, yet by all recent accounts, the power and influence of most academic women is negligible.
How Feminism Services the Academic System
While Ellen Messer-Davidow's new book, Disciplining Feminism, displays considerable awareness about women's past and recent status in academia, her study hinges on a different focus: "[H]ow did it happen that a bold venture launched thirty years ago to transform academic and social institutions was itself transformed by them?" (1). Drawing from the work of Michel Foucault and other theorists, Messer-Davidow answers this question by proposing that when feminist activism became intertwined with feminist studies—that is, the moment it became institutionalized in higher education—was also the moment feminist studies became "formatted." Feminist insurgent insights and practices were permanently altered by the force and will of academic institutionalization. Once feminism was "disciplined," it lost its rebellious impulse and became disconnected from social change skills, knowledge, and activism. As a result, feminist studies is more successful than the feminist movement, and the word "activist" is more damaging to one's feminist credentials than the word "academic."
One reviewer has argued, however, that Messer-Davidow overstates the disciplining of feminist studies, which results in an insufficient account of the forcefulness, expansiveness, and activism associated with teaching women's studies courses, as well as courses in race, class, sexuality, and gender. Dorothy O. Helly writes, "I have no quarrel with [Messer-Davidow's] activist agenda, but it seems to me that she needs to acknowledge that teaching an increasingly inclusive curriculum is a form of activism" (317). In my view, the omission of a more in-depth exploration of the impact of a feminist-inspired curriculum on higher education suggests how Messer-Davidow's argument might itself be "formatted" by her own totalizing framework, one that privileges scholarship and 1960s-style activism to teaching. While the far-reaching influence of the silent economy of service and its impact on academic women's lives is potent, I believe that academic theorizing about this issue is important, and that such theorizing can lead to change—although perhaps in less dramatic ways than we would like. In other words, while we are "formatted" by institutions, institutions can also be "formatted" by us. Helly points out, "Universities may still marginalize feminist programs in their budgets, but they can no longer ignore these programs intellectually" (317).
An equally important argument, while not directly mentioning Messer-Davidow's book, appears in the article by Orr and Lichtenstein, "The Politics of Feminist Locations." Orr and Lichtenstein challenge scholars like Messer-Davidow to develop more awareness of how their own institutional locations affect the kinds of assessments they produce. The authors argue that location is neither neutral nor inconsequential and that it affects the production of perceptions, theories, and assessments of the field. Feminists located in resource-rich institutions may be unwittingly reproducing their own particular struggles and locations as if these represent the entire field. Orr and Lichtenstein encourage scholars and teachers to question what kinds of insights and knowledge are being left out of recent assessment discourses due to their framing by scholars at similar locations. For example, the debate about whether to label programs women's or gender studies may assume completely different forms and require different kinds of dialogue depending on the institutional location. But because the spokespeople for the discipline are routinely located at similar kinds of institutions, with similar kinds of resources (time to conduct research and write; space; and money), their assessments of the field, while powerful and important, are limited. Institutions that are less focused on research and do not operate within the prestige economy of higher education may actually "have a unique perspective on the discipline" (Orr and Lichtenstein 4). In these locations, alternative kinds of knowledge and activism may take unusual forms, but such experiments and occurrences are likely to remain unknown if assessments are only published by spokespersons at doctoral-granting institutions.
In a recent interview in the National Women's Studies Association Journal, Messer-Davidow qualifies her thesis and explains that she is aware of the material politics of location; she says that women's and gender studies programs at resource-rich institutions, not struggling programs with few resources, are the ones that need to organize social-change collaborations with community-based organizations. Prestigious research universities should take the lead and institute concrete, accessible ways to share the insights and frameworks of feminist knowledge with organizations and individuals committed to equitable public policy and democratic social change. I find this an encouraging insight, but it is not one that appears in her book.
Reading Messer-Davidow's case about the disciplining effects of the academy on rebellious projects such as feminism, I experienced a groundswell of conflicting reactions. Disciplining Feminism is a passionate book that takes seriously the politics of disciplines and higher education. She asks all of us to consider how—or even if—our knowledge-production projects are serving a democratic society committed to citizen participation. But in her final chapter on the drop in minority applications to colleges and universities, a direct result of the systematic dismantling of affirmative action, she evokes a hopeful image of higher education, one that contrasts with the "disciplined" world that dominates her study. For instance, she characterizes higher education as "the gateway to employment opportunity, upward economic mobility, and citizen participation" (273). How can she believe this and then say we will all presumably succumb to the institution's disciplinary effects? Helly provides one answer: "We can agree with Messer-Davidow that there is much to do, that we need to do it right now, and that feminism has to continue to struggle against being 'disciplined' in the traditional exclusionary practices of the academy, but I contend that we have not yet lost that struggle" (318).
Conclusion: Making Superserviceable Feminism Visible
Mogan Spurlock's 2004 film, Super Size Me, exposes how the fast-food marketing and sales concept of "supersize" reflects a systematic effort to increase profit at the expense of people's health; similarly, superserviceable feminism is a term that I hope captures the multiple effects—including the positive and the physical—of the silent economy of service on women and on academic feminism. Superserviceable feminism not only illuminates the expectation that women, because they are women, will serve their institutions, departments, programs, peers, students, and so on, but that feminist studies will similarly serve in a multitude of ways as well. Fraiman argues that women, feminism, the maternal, and femininity "serve" progressive, left, male, or male-identified theoretical arguments by functioning as the Other, as that which male or male-identified arguments resist, renounce, or reject. Felski argues that feminist studies has infused the field with a capacious approach to literature, rather than the equally prevalent, though in her view, self-righteous, overly ideological approach. And Messer-Davidow argues that once feminism is inevitably "disciplined," it brilliantly services institutions—by opening up cross-dialogue and new specialisms—but at the expense of its original impulse for social change.
In all of these texts, feminism's service component is its generative function: its potential illumination of political blind spots in progressive criticism; its aesthetic appreciation of women's literature and art; and its infectious political insurgency. However, this fruitfulness is also its downfall, because feminism is itself a form of gendered service and women's status in the university is much lower than men's. In response, one suggestion I have is that assessments of feminist studies, literary studies, and critical theory should consider the materiality of the scholar's institutional location and the power of teaching. Again, such a suggestion does not mean assessments produced from the perspectives of scholars located in doctoral-granting research universities are invalid, but that they are incomplete—although they often do not know they are "incomplete" and they do not function as "incomplete."
The need to pay attention to the politics of location is intimately linked to the overall gender and class politics of the silent economy of service. As Michelle Massé has argued, faculty contracts and workload documents should spell out—or, as she puts it, "unbundle"—the tasks related to the amorphous category of service. At my own institution, a private, Catholic, women's university serving largely first-generation, working-class students, I am collaborating with a faculty senate committee on inserting service as a category in the official workload document filled out each year by faculty. We have asked that faculty on more than one committee be given the opportunity to negotiate between one to six hours of released time a year for committee work. At such an institution, with heavy teaching and service expectations, making service a part of the official workload document could provide some relief. This effort could be one small step toward undermining the tradition of seeing service as "natural," or "just the way things are."
Another suggestion would be to follow the CSWP's lead by seeing "status of women" studies as knowledge production, rather than as "get ahead" schemes devised by privileged women. Women's service becomes a theoretical lens with political implications in the same way that tenure, contingent labor, and the crisis in graduate education are keywords for cultural studies and Marxist scholars. The CSWP status reports should be widely disseminated, so that deans, provosts, tenure and promotion committees, chairpersons, and the like can begin to "denaturalize" service. In addition to appointing high-level administrators to the CSWP, I recommend appointing men, too. In the early years of the CSWP, men were members of the "commission," as it was then called. In my view, contributions from well-connected men in high-prestige English and language departments, as well as men in less prestigious regional, state, and two-year colleges, would augment the CSWP's knowledge production on gender and service.
Finally, I believe the CSWP's studies should be published in PMLA, instead of Profession—the first CSWP reports were published in PMLA and College English in 1971—or Profession and PMLA should explore cross-dialogue. Scholarship and the institutional politics of the profession are not theoretically or materially separated. Such a change of venue might challenge the false divide between "real scholarship" and cultural analyses of the material conditions of the profession. We need to take seriously the idea of "service," not as silent and unregulated labor, but as a nexus of fundamental issues involving gender, class, labor, and the politics of the profession. Most important, we need to change the way we conceive and reward it.