Living Feminism in the Academy: South African Women Tell Their Stories
Klees, Steven J
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Studies about North American and European women predominate the literature on gender issues in higher education, particularly research that focuses on female academics who are self-described feminists. The literature tells us that there are differences between the institutional experiences of feminist faculty, as opposed to female faculty in general. Most universities are male-dominated institutions and inequalities in status, rank, and salary persist, although the gaps have shrunk over time. Female faculty who self-identify as feminists are more likely to challenge discriminatory institutional practices, because feminism, by its nature, challenges the status quo. And they are more likely to be ostracized and ridiculed when they confront unequal treatment. Yet the presence of feminists in the academy signals their belief in its value as an institution. Universities offer the intellectual space to theorize about women's position in society, to generate knowledge that brings about greater understanding of women's lives, and to develop strategies for change. There is a small, but growing, body of literature documenting the experiences of female faculty in South Africa's higher education institutions. Few studies have focused on feminist faculty, however. In this qualitative study, six diverse women share their experiences of being feminist faculty in South African universities over a thirty-year period, beginning in the early 1970s. Their personal narratives begin in their formative childhood years when they first become aware of social injustice. The study documents their growing feminist consciousness, their initial encounters with feminist theories, their struggles as university and community activists, and as young faculty. The women recall pivotal events and experiences that have shaped them, and describe what it has been like to live out their feminist values on a daily basis in South Africa's universities.