Mansplaining, Tenuresplaining, Gradsplaining and Corporatesplaining That I Try Not To Let Get To Me But it Does

1. I think, erroneously, that just because I didn’t get a job in academia, that my inability to secure said job is the sole signifier of academia’s toxicity as a profession.

*FACEDESK*. This is such spectacularly failed logic that neither a facepalm nor a headdesk will suffice. FACE ON DESK IT IS. Listen, Internet full of morons (yes, I appeal once again to the Internet full of morons): my failure to secure a tenure-track position was not the cause of my various tirades about academia. It is what freed me to write said tirades down and publish them under my real name. I am not saying all of this because I didn’t get a job. I am saying all this shit OUT LOUD because I didn’t get a job.

2. I failed to get a tenure-track job in German because I am not good enough.

Look, that’s just not true. It’s just not. Read my work. Read the readers’ reports for my book. Read these evaluations. Read my CV. Tell me why I’m not good enough to be a German professor. Tell me.

3. I failed to get a tenure-track job in German because of my terrible attitude.

Other way around, Sherlock. The reason I have a terrible attitude now is because I failed to get a job.

4. How could I have not know that a PhD in German was a terrible idea? 

Because in 2005 the market was approximately 120% better than it is now. I will have a post up from Adjunct Nate Silver next week that unequivocally proves this, once and for all, and maybe then you can all go fuck yourselves.

5. Literature is a dumb waste of time and anyone who thinks otherwise deserves to be unemployed.

The fact that this is an acceptable attitude to have in the United States of America is so disheartening it makes me want to go jump off San Clemente Pier. Is it really my fault that one of the most beautiful and worthwhile pursuits the world could ever have, something that makes you a realer, better, more inquisitive and more emotionally honest person is a “dumb waste of time?” Is that something we should be proud of?

6. There are just too many PhDs for jobs, and it’s my fault for getting a PhD. 

Not really. There are plenty of jobs–they are just shitty adjunct jobs. The fact that there is an ample supply of suckers willing to do them does not excuse paying those suckers sub-minimum wage. Deflecting the blame from the heartless management to the exploited worker is classic, by which I mean dumb, and can go fuck itself.

7. I need to be willing to do what it takes to “network” for a job in academia, because you’re a lawyer/engineer/man, and you know things and I don’t!

If you don’t actually know anything about the MLA conference or interview process, then how about you shut the fuck up and quit mansplaining things you don’t know about?

8. You can’t actually touch my systemic critique, because it’s 100% accurate. However, you benefit from the system/want to benefit from the system/think, deludedly, that you are just about to benefit from the system/are too chickenshit to fight the system, so you are going to attack me personally and enjoy yourself doing so, because I’m not a real person, I’m a figment of your tortured humorless academic imagination.

Fuck you. And while you’re fucking yourself, ask yourself: why are you trying so hard to make me go away? Why is it so important that my voice be silenced, that I do what we academic failures are supposed to do—which is genuflect before the Ivory Tower, thank it for what it deigned to give us, and then skulk away in silence, to feel appropriate pangs of shame at my singular, personal failure for the rest of my life?

Guess what? I write in tirades sometimes because I am emotionally honest. I am very sorry (by which I mean, not sorry at all) if this is seen as a negative trait in this fucked-up, backwards country, where having a giant diamond, and fake tits, and a big lawn, and driving everywhere are seen as positive traits. I am emotionally honest, and today that honesty is saying: please, enough with the constant barrage of mansplaining, tenuresplaining, corporatesplaining and gradsplaining. I’m thiiiiiiiis close to just giving up this entire enterprise and skulking back into the shadows where I belong. And not because you’re right. You are as wrong about me and about my reasons for what I do as you have ever been. I am just so exhausted from defending myself. 

38 thoughts on “Mansplaining, Tenuresplaining, Gradsplaining and Corporatesplaining That I Try Not To Let Get To Me But it Does

  1. You are amazing. Don’t go away. Or do, if that’s what you need to for your own health, but know that people like me need people like you to curse and use an “inappropriate tone” to call attention to the fuckedupness that is academia. We need to see that we are NOT failures if we don’t manage to secure a TT job. Hell, reading you has made me realize that maybe I don’t even WANT a TT job. And that it’s ok not to want it. Reading you is also giving me the strength to push through this last semester and write my fucking dissertation so I can be done. And that it’s okay if I don’t have a job when I’m done. In the loneliest part of grad school, you’ve helped me feel less lonely. You’re not powerless. You’re helping people like me rediscover our power, our voices.


    • I will second what Lonely ABD says. The work you’re doing is incredibly important and its enormous impact will reveal itself in the fullness of time. I’m looking for full-time non academic work (“failed” PhD here) and I could never have had the courage to do this were it not for your voice in my head saying this is alright, that I can find validation through another career path in life. You are the bravest person I know! Who knows how many entering/new PhDs who might have been “rescued” thanks to your honest, unfiltered writing on the state of the academic hiring. Meanwhile, TT faculty in humanities departments are typing away feverishly at their next book ms while the flames are at their feet, the Ivory Tower burning away one floor at a time.


  2. Can only imagine what this Gladic boy thinks of the stream of PhD candidates in that Dept. They will all compete for the same three jobs and, actually, I think his putting you down is a calculated strategy to place himself above the rest when it comes to the market, another dirty game to up the currency of his game and name for when “the day” comes to apply for jobs. By taunting you to answer back he knows he stands a chance of increasing his pitiful three twitter followers (it’s clear this boy is coveting a Big Bad Presence as Cultural Authority in social media).

    Don’t do him any favors, seriously. Just link your previous multiple responses to this type of attack, with a polite FU German sentence, and don’t deign him with a customized response. These folks are trying to capitalize on your success–the chutzpah of careerists knows no bounds. This asshole is shrewd, knows dirty academic political games to a T (and exhibit A of what you call the “sycophantic cowardice” of this industry). He’s kissing the tuches of the Big Boys Making Hiring Decisions on both continents. I can only imagine the type of nasty strategies he deploys vis a vis competing candidates, his “friends and peers” as he surely will refer to them in the dissertation acknowledgments (the passive aggressive gossip, smiling while backstabbing, hoarding every little opportunity rather than act collaboratively…in sum, The Standard Practice). We should come up with a Bingo describing the Tenure Track game (like the one circulating a few days ago for sociology…). Gladic…aren’t you Gladic you’re not him?


  3. He’s up to four followers now…seriously…the best thing folks can do is link up Die Welt but otherwise don’t give this sucker the twitter attention he is craving.


  4. Amen one thousand times over. I have peer-reviewed publications in the tippy-top journals of my field and an Ivy-league PhD, yet I’m staring unemployment square in the face, because the majority of the very few TT positions in my field are interviewing PhDs who are already on the TT and nearing tenure. What’s so soul-crushing is that when I inevitably take some crummy contingent position year, the chances of securing a TT position will actually go down, because I’ll have lost the luster of being the “shiny new toy.”


  5. A thought related to your comments on physical appearance: the mansplaining, etc. would be even worse if you were obese. Then they’d blame your failure to find a job on that and the character flaws it supposedly revealed.


    • I’m actually surprised nobody’s brought up my appearance at all. I am a little “pleasantly plump,” but not enough to cause fat-shaming; I am also not good-looking (or YOUNG) enough to cause snarking on that. I am sufficiently Caucasian as to avoid racism. So, that leaves my attitude!


  6. Well. I need to repair, again, the slats on my bed, and-but I also want a headboard so I don’t have to lean up against the wall. It occurred to me that I could replace this bed frame. Why that is relevant: it is a futon frame I bought sometime in late graduate school, when I decided I was now too exalted to have to sleep on the floor. It comes apart without tools and the slats roll up, and it takes a futon, so my thought was, it would be great for throwing into the back of the station wagon and driving off to set up in the next funny little apartment in the next one year job! Now I think I should perhaps YES replace the piece of furniture that carried that expectation with it … although it was great and innovative and felt like a neato luxury item, back in graduate school!


      • OMG. I lived in a roach infested complex where during a post-doc in 2008. Toward the end of my stay the complex’s roach situation got so bad that I would clap my hands before turning the light on in the kitchen so that the roaches would scamper off and I’d be spared me the miserable sight. Living in that cheap-ass helped me pay off part of a loan–so undignified. The lunacy of the phd.


  7. But seriously, anytime you do anything like this, get non-renewed, don’t get tenure, go to a great on campus interview and not be the chosen one in the end, decide to leave the field (I do NOT understand why that is considered so evil, it is a great mystery), etc. — and I know, I have done all of these things — people go apeshit and want to discuss it endlessly, figure out exactly what you could have done or can do, theorize, etc. This is why I in my smarter phases or when I really wanted to put my energies to other things I used the magic phrase someone turned me onto, “I find it exhausting to discuss this.” Also, I have noted that one of the actually cruelest alleged kindnesses people do is say you have to keep on trying when in fact you have determined that the realistically attainable positions are not ones that you want to try for. It is also harder the further you get: not getting a job the first time isn’t that bad, especially if you jump then, but each time you try again you have compromised more, and in the end it is hard to keep any sort of cool head about self-determination: the forces that surround this want you to desperately want something you don’t really, and say you are not yourself if you don’t get and take that. Etc., and on and on.
    The ideology seems to be that only this is safe-respectable-interesting, or something like that, and also that you owe your brilliance to precisely this thing and nothing else. ? I don’t really understand it.


    • I’ve talked about this before, I think with you even–you are so right about all of this, but especially about the cruel/kind paradox. The reason I wrote Thesis Hatement in the first place is that nobody would “let” me stop trying. Once that came out, and only when that came out, did they finally fucking understand that I was serious, that I was serious about moving on with my life and doing something else.


      • I have gone through so much of this, I want to understand it. (1) They will not believe you are serious about doing something else. Why not? Because you are a girl and it must just be a fit of pique? Because academics complain, but do not mean it, so they assume you do not really mean you want to leave? Because their wives say they want a divorce, but they know the said wives will not actually leave when it comes down to it? (2) Is the insistence on figuring out reasons for things, why you did not get that job, etc., part of the over-evaluative academic culture? I mean, sometimes I submit things to very unrealistic places, or do something way out of field, just so I can have an evaluation that I don’t have to take seriously. Part of why I don’t like to start working is that it means not just doing something, but justifying it, often to people who are hostile to it … and we have all learned to transfer so much onto the work, often really negative things.


  8. “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” -Gandhi

    By my reckoning, you are currently between stages two and three. You must be doing something right.


  9. Academia is missing out… my sister is a phd professor, has been working for 7 years to get tenure. personally I don’t understand what it takes to get tenured but it’s clearly very difficult. Never give up. I get being exhausted, but what you are doing is important so just keep swimming 😊 it takes courage to speak up!


  10. Telling You Something You Already Know, Part I:

    Just remember that when these people are “mansplaining” to you, and getting all personal, they are really not talking to you. They’re talking to a figment of their meager imaginations.

    Telling You Something . . . . Part II:

    You are fighting a self-reproducing army of goblins. It will just never stop. Either stop exhausting yourself by rubbing their face in their own excrement, or pick the occasional egregiously arrogant goblin, and make an example of him/her. But please, don’t stop doing what you’re doing.


  11. Tried to post a comment, which got lost in log-in Hell, so sorry if I’m repeating myself, but:

    1) When people talk shit to you, they’re not talking to you (you nail this in #8 above). They’re talking to the straw “man” they need to take down to make themselves feel better. This happens in approximately 99.9% of all online contestations. Why exhaust yourself defending yourself when it’s not even really you they’re belittling?

    2) For that reason — and due to the fact that, for as long as you’re honest, you’re gonna take shit — your only choices (if you’re set on preserving your sanity) are to a., stop doing such a great job of pointing out idiocy, or b., stop defending yourself. I vote for b. However, if you *must* defend yourself, just pick out the most prime examples of idiocy and take them apart. Stay after them until they’re pulverized. Make an example of them. Then dust off your hands and walk away.

    Otherwise, you’re fighting an army of self-reproducing goblins that will just keep coming at you in waves. It’s almost as much of a no-win as a conference interview/


  12. You are a treasure: don’t let the h8ters bring you down.

    I walked away from going into a PhD program in my humanities field, despite a lot of pressure to do so from an advisor who couldn’t imagine an intelligent person out in the *gasp* real world. I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t get sucked into the vortex. If more people have access to the unvarnished state of the market or the ponzi scheme that is graduate student/adjunct labor, more people might opt out of the system.

    Good for you, using your voice and platform [reaching an audience that inspires, I’d wager, not a small amount of jealousy in the hearts of some] to help others make an informed decision about their prospects in academia or to rediscover their own power to speak up about the ways the system has been unkind to them.


  13. Don’t quit! I left academia almost 10 years ago, but I still hear myself turning defensive when the fact that I have a PhD comes up – as if surviving a doctorate program in literature were something to be ashamed of. Reading your blog fills me with confidence and righteous anger! You are my hero!


  14. Finally, there is a real description of the fraud of a Ph.D. and adjunct status. If anyone works under those conditions, they are supporting that world. Only when people leave it behind and a shortage develops will some change occure. I left that world some 30 or so years ago, but have watched the exploitation grow. There have been plenty of objections, but nothing moves the instution, apparently. And there are no eminent professsors joining the fight, except for a few objectors. No one should do a Ph.D. in the liberal arts if the only market for same is the academic. We discouraged our sons from that route years ago.

    Joanne Spencer Kantrowitz, author of “Paying your dues, Part-Time” in the MLA series. And the last academic artilcle I ever wrote. Ironically, my book is now important in British early drama scholarship.


  15. “I need to be willing to do what it takes to ‘network’ for a job in academia, because you’re a lawyer/engineer/man, and you know things and I don’t!

    If you don’t actually know anything about the MLA conference or interview process, then how about you shut the fuck up and quit mansplaining things you don’t know about?”

    This, this, a thousand times this. I spent four years on the job market before getting an assistant professorship recently (five if you count my job hunting as an ABD) and for five years I’d hear stuff by accountants, realtors, engineers, etc. that was full of very well-meaning advice that I must clearly be doing something wrong if I hadn’t landed a TT job yet. Had I been networking? Had I read [Guide to Professional Success Full of Management Platitudes]? Might there be something that I was doing wrong when interviewing? I got so effing tired of explaining again and again the issue of ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TO THREE HUNDRED APPLICANTS FOR EVERY POSITION. I eventually just got into the habit of nodding politely.

    (I’d say that this isn’t exactly “mansplaining,” though, given that I’ve got a Y chromosome and got tons of this condescending talk.)


    • My favorite was: “Well, you want to live in California, right? Have you ever thought of being a professor at Stanford? Why don’t you send them your resume?” Hahahahahahahahaha yes, the reason I am not a professor at Stanford is because I never thought of being one, please give me some more great advice.


      • Yes, but the same people when they hear you are in German will also ask whether you have ever heard of Goethe.

        I am tired of explaining myself in general. Now we have to explain, for our annual reports, our grades … and I hope not our evaluations, as well. Having to justify in painstaking detail everything one does, and usually for purposes of fending off someone’s projections, this is what I dislike about academia.


      • I’ve gotten the Stanford one too…or “why don’t you set up an informational meeting with X–maybe that can help. You gotta network.” Yeah, that’s it.


    • try applying for a fellowship where there are 800 applicants….. sometimes I think I will give up on my search just so I do not have to hear another ‘keep trying, you only need one job after all’ shit advice.


  16. I respond to lots of things I shouldn’t respond to, but I wonder if this person is just using you as click bait?

    So here’s another perspective: your field has contracted in particularly devastating ways, so despite the fact that you “did everything right” (which clearly you did) it was likely that you and many people like you were simply not going to make it off the Titanic. My question is: *why* has German Studies, more generally, contracted (and I used to work at a school where they were thinking of shutting it, and Russian down, and folding all the tt and t people into one, confusing department to while away their days.)

    I think the answer to the question is that anything to do with a non-Romance language has always been linked to the military, and now US interests have shifted. Yes, people no longer learn German in high school as they did, as it — along with art and music — has been cut from district budgets, but that isn’t the only answer. Strategically, universities are all about Arabic, Chinese, and so on, and have shifted their resources there.

    My question (other than the fact that the central European intellectual tradition is important to an understanding of world history) is why, given that Germany is the biggest player in the EU and a key strategic link to points east, why this point is not being insisted on as a reason to perhaps rethink, but certainly rebuild, German studies? Someone at the old place once sniffed and said, “All Germans speak English” and I wanted to say, yeah, and French, Italian, and maybe one other language. But what I did ask was how it benefited the US to have informal and unofficial conversations going on in meetings and other work environments that they didn’t understand?


  17. yes x1000. You are fantastic and a voice for the voiceless. Who are only voiceless because they are afraid to lose their $2000/course position that is already so precarious that being afraid of losing it is probably a daily occurence. I am fortunate enough to not be in that position, at least for now, so I’ll do my best to add my voice to yours. As should everyone else who is in a position to do so.


  18. Dr. Potter, under your argument, shouldn’t we also be asking ourselves: since English is the official language of the United States, why have English departments at U.S. colleges and universities contracted despite the fact that English is one of the universal business languages of the world, etc? I mean, that could be argued for *any* department, really – why are we cutting funding for Spanish depts, when Spanish is the #2 language in the U.S. spoken today? The answer is, the decision to cut academic departments has NOTHING to do with the subject matters’ inherent value – and as we all know, whether or not a particular discipline makes $ (i.e. languages) has nothing to do with their inherent value. And I disagree with you about Mandarin and Arabic departments flourishing in American colleges – I don’t see some huge tenure-track hiring in Middle Eastern or Chinese departments compared to others. I mean yeah, U.S. interests have “shifted,” as you say, but not in the direction you’re speaking of – I would say they’ve shifted more in benefiting corporations and those at the top, and these individuals in higher decision making capacities do not see value in humanities, languages, or any discipline that does not translate into making $ quickly. So I also must ask – why has the # of “Business” majors grown so much in the last decade?


    • I wasn’t making an argument that this should be so: I was making an argument that our curriculum is driven by political decision-making, and the military/business elites don’t care about German anymore, therefore university admins are not supporting it. But, as Freud once famously said, it’s only a theory.

      I would also say the cutting funds for foreign languages in K-12 has had consequences too: too few students come either ready to do work in a foreign language or with the skills/confidence that they can learn a language. And English-speaking Americans, more broadly, are ignoramuses when it comes to speaking to others in their own language. When we were in southern Mexico doing fieldwork, most indigenous women I worked with spoke 3-5 languages; in South Africa, 3 is the norm.


  19. I’ve followed your blog for some time now and want to chime in to say that I greatly appreciate your writing. For many of us finishing our dissertations and on the job market (and, like me, feeling ambivalent about it all), this blog provides moral support. I find myself re-reading “Please Stop Saying ‘Not Everyone is Suited for Academia'” when feeling low. It’s great. Just sayin’…


  20. Schu (can I call you that? don’t know where we are in my imaginary friendship with you), you got ovaries of steel. Your steeliness is helping me grapple with being a former grad student dedicated to the discipline, education, teaching, etc., but ultimately left AND STILL FEEL LIKE A LOSER FOR IT! I am working through it though, and you are helping. I hope some of your other readers are getting that, too.


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