Man Atop U. Washington Women's Studies Dept.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand, and this is DAY TO DAY.
The women's studies department at the University of Washington has a new chairman--yes, man. Professor David G. Allen will assume the post in September. He'll be the first male chair of a women's studies program at a major American university.
And welcome to DAY TO DAY, Professor Allen.
Professor DAVID G. ALLEN (Incoming Chair, Women's Studies Department, University of Washington in Seattle): Well, thank you. I'm pleased to be here.
BRAND: So how did you, a man, end up chairing this department?
Prof. ALLEN: I've worked in the women's studies department probably for 15 years here, and before that I was associated with women's studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. So I'm a known quantity to them. In addition to that, I had been a department chair in my home department in nursing. And the additional piece of it that's probably more troubling is that there was really a fairly small pool of people who want the job. Some people were troubled by it, and I think totally understandably. Some people still are. But most people, the vast majority, said, `Yes, please stay in the pool. We at least want you as a candidate.' And then the search committee interviewed me and other people and made a recommendation to the dean, who interviewed me and other people, and I was selected.
BRAND: And those who were troubled with it were basically saying, `Well, it's just wrong to have a man chair a women's studies department--it's just an example of the gender bias that's in the academy'?
Prof. ALLEN: I think so, yeah. I think they have a number of points. Given the fact that there are so few women in administrative positions, this seems like an obvious position to offer to a woman. And the second one is, they didn't think that a male coming through kind of privilege that men have in this culture would really understand the kinds of struggles and content of women's studies. The third one is just the symbolic one, which is this is a department that has been organized around feminism and the study of the various ways in which cultures disadvantage women, and it seemed wrong to some people to have a man leading that department.
BRAND: Well, I wonder, if the university searched the entire country, that there wasn't one qualified female professor to take in?
Prof. ALLEN: Oh, they didn't. That was--that's the--that was the limitation. We've been--our state has been under a very tight, and actually shrinking, educational budget for some time. So there was no money for a new position. And that's often the case in department chair searches--is they end up having to limit the pool to people in the university. But you have to have somebody who's qualified and at that moment in their career wants to do the job. I mean, these are jobs that really pull you away for a period of time from your scholarship, and you have to be at a point in your career that you're willing to do that. And I assume--and I know in many instances--the senior academic women that they approached were not interested in that.
BRAND: So how are you able to understand feminism?
Prof. ALLEN: I think I'm able to understand it in a couple of ways--obviously not through a lived experience in the sense of having been the subject of sexism, but certainly having been the subject of sexism in the sense of having lived in the space of male privilege. But also, I do a lot of work in anti-racism, and the same argument I think holds there, which is, for me, those of us who benefit--really benefit unfairly from skin privilege in the case of racism or body privilege in the case of sexism, we really have the most responsibility, maybe the least motivation, but certainly the most responsibility, for supporting the elimination of those practices. I mean, I would love it if eventually we got to a level playing field, but it probably won't be in my lifetime.
BRAND: Professor David Allen is the incoming chairman of the women's studies department at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Thank you for joining us.
Prof. ALLEN: You're welcome.
BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.