Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mean Women

Here is an e-mail I got in response to my post yesterday. The subject line of the e-mail read: University Women's Club - don't celebrate your ignorance. Since I assumed that that was not the motto of the clubs, I guessed instead that it was a clue that the e-mail wasn't going to be very nice.


Your blog re UWC was sent to me from one of our clubs.

I am wondering if you have received emails from members of the University Women's Clubs in America or anywhere else in the world.  Most members nowadays are retired professional women with common interests, ergo the interest groups and daytime meetings etc- but our biggest role is in advocacy on all levels - from local to international and fundraising for scholarships and bursaries..  In my province the 23 clubs raised about $250,000 dollars last year.That is a lot of scholarships for women in BC who need the $$.  (When you received your first brochure several decades ago - the UWC members were mostly younger women with small children who stayed at home which was the norm in the 50s and 60s who wanted to use their education outside the home in a meaningful way and to hold discourse with like minded women)

You could have googled about UWCs before embarrassing yourself with your comments. Don't professors do some research before making statements?

Just have a boo at our National website and you will see that we are all about.

Maybe an apology?

Your nom de plume or whatever the nomenclature is in bloggerland........very curious. 

The foregoing is written from just me and not in my official role on the BC Council.

Monica von Kursell
BC Council


Nice! I really wish I could spend more time with people like this. Maybe we can form a club?

Anyway, I stand by my original post, which I do not find at all embarrassing, despite my failure to mention the important fundraising activities of some of these clubs.

** Note: Some of these clubs do advocacy! **

A careful reading of the post might show that I did not disparage these clubs -- not their missions, not their membership, not their existence, whether or not they raise funds for scholarships. I wrote that, while understanding the historic context of the name, I wish these clubs had a different name, one that does not imply that the most common definition of University Women = Wives of Professors.

I still feel that way.

I have been in bloggerland long enough to know that even mild statements about something seemingly uncontroversial can somehow inspire anger and contempt, a reaction I still find ....... very curious. 


Anonymous said...

Monica's (unnecessary and unnecessarily mean) defense of these clubs reminds me of the defense of sororities and fraternities in the US -- yes they exist mostly as social clubs BUT THEY DO COMMUNITY SERVICE so never mind the rest. (I am not implying that the nice ladies of the UWC have rowdy beer-fueled parties, although I don't know that for sure.)

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I am so sorry that you were misunderstood (although it can't be the first time). I have to agree that defensive people are inclined to "fly off the handle" even when not provoked at all. It reminds me of the defense of beauty pageants in "Miss Congeniality".

In addition, I think that your point that University Women's clubs exclude some University Women by their time of meeting (let alone anything else) is valid. Without changing their focus or membership they could change their name so that their mandate is clearer. I don't know if I am making sense. It is still early in the morning!

Reader from BC said...

I was very surprised to find out that my university has a Faculty Women's Club (which, apparently, "is open to women affiliated with and is extended to surviving spouses/partners") - yet the vast majority of their activities involve daytime interest groups, fundraising, etc. Despite having a name that specifically suggests it is a society for women who are faculty members, it seems that the schedules of very few women faculty would enable participation in their events. I find this very strange.

Re: Anon 01:28, I loved the sorority/fraternity analogy... my city's University Women's Club (not affiliated with the university, curiously...) has a one-time initiation fee, annual dues, and a clubhouse! I guess it gives people who missed out in undergrad another opportunity to get a taste of the Greek(like) system.

FSP, I'm sorry you had to deal with such a rude response to an insightful and well-written blog post.

jenny said...

Dear Mrs. Monica von Kursell,

You could have informed yourself, before writing your angry letter, about the REAL impact the FSP blog has on the academic women that are, in fact, women faculty. My guess is that some Academic Men have historically been too busy to inform their wives on how to actually research a subject before spilling venom on it.

As far as I am concerned, I will prefer to spend my (very limited) free time reading and sometimes commenting on FSP's blog rather than supporting in any way your (BC) Academic Women's Club.

See, when you write letters like this you are in fact presenting your club in a bad light, whether you have a disclaimer or not at the end of your letter. Something else to do some research on, perhaps, in your spare time.

A BC female science professor.

Anonymous said...

As a female faculty member, I too have received these invitations from the couple of universities I have taught at, and have had many of the same thoughts about their name.

Anonymous said...


The only university for which I got one of these invitations called it, "Spouses and partners" which is nice because you know, men are sometimes spouses and partners too. (Actually I think it was "Spouses and Partners Support"... it was a difficult university environment. But they had good webpages about things like local schools, housing, childcare, what international spouses could and could not do without a visa, how to get a visa, therapists in the area etc.) Not sure if most male spouses and partners would be interested in unpaid labor or social activities, but one should not deliberately exclude them from the get-go.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I think that would be an excellent motto for the University Women's Club (or any club).

Anonymous said...

You may want to cross out any real names. People may get OFFENDED(tm).

Anonymous said...

If Mrs. von Kursell's point was that since these clubs work to provide scholarship funds to support universities, perhaps she has made a valid point for their name including the term university. Unfortunately, rather than making this a dispassionate discussion, she has unfortunately taken offense to what was a very reasoned blog. I felt FSP went above and beyond the call to point out that she had no issue with the existence or purposes of such clubs, just a desire to make it clear that women in these clubs are not necessarily the only group of women involved in the university.

Katie said...

Monica's email = reading comprehension/logic fail. Doesn't make me very interested in meeting other UWC members either, so purpose fail too. I think she owes FSP an apology!

Mary said...

Wow! It sounds to me as though Monica should be replaced as "Communications Director."

She was very rude.

However, I do think there is a misunderstanding on your part and the part of many commenters about the nature of the "University Women's" club on the part of many.

A UW club is not a club for faculty wives. It is a club for women with university degrees.

My dad was a university professor in the 60s and 70s. There was a "Faculty Wives" club at the university and there was a "University Women" club in our area.

My mother was welcome to join the Faculty Wives club and she was an active and enthusiastic member of that club.

However, she was not eligible to join the University Women group. Why? Because a UW club is not an organization for faculty spouses. It is an organization for women with college degrees (who used to be a relative rarity.)

My mom did not have a college degree. So despite being a professor's wife, she was not eligible to be a "UW."

Only women with degrees could join the UW club. And lots of the women active in the UW club had no current affiliation with a university (they were not faculty wives, just women in the community who had degrees who wanted to network with other women in the community who had degrees.) I gather it was an organization sort of the like the "Junior League" where the prereq for membership was not social standing but rather a university degree.

They were an important force in breaking down barriers to women at a time when many parents and educational institutions did not see the point of women attending college.

Of course, nowadays the majority of undergrads are women and having a university degree is not particularly unusual. There are very few colleges that refuse to admit women these days. (One of the very last holdouts, Deep Springs, just voted to go co-ed!) Hampton Sidney is the only college I can think of that is still all men.

But in the hey-day of UW clubs, many of the leading colleges in the country were closed to women.

I graduated from high school in 1971. The flagship university in my state, University of Virginia, still did not admit women as undergraduates. The military academies did not admit women. Places like Princeton, Yale, and Caltech had only recently started admitting women. The only way for a woman undergrad to attend Georgetown U was as a nursing student. It was a completely different world back then.

I still remember a woman attorney coming to give a talk at my all girls high school in fall 1967. We all thought she was really peculiar. As a teenager, I did not personally know any woman with a graduate degree, other than librarians (who had masters in library science) and even women with undergrad degrees were the exception rather than the rule.

Women intellectuals were thought to be weird when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. UW clubs were social refuges for them, places where they could celebrate their educations.

The AAUW is a national organization with a proud history of advocacy. They have fought to break down admissions barriers. The scholarship money they raised decades ago helped to enable some talented women to go to college even though their parents refused to pay for it.

However, it is something of an anachronism now. That is likely why, as Monica said, most of their current retirees are retired. Most likely, Monica is elderly as well.

They have reason to be proud of their name. It has a proud tradition. But they need to do a better job of proactively communicating with the world about their identity and their history.

Mary said...

PS I just googled Monica Von Kursell. She appears (from her Facebook page) to have graduated from high school in 1955. She is presumably in her 70s now.

Anonymous said...

I just read both posts. You're totally spot-on, both in your disappointment of what the Club does and doesn't represent, and in finding this woman's overly defensive reaction ... curious.

Anonymous said...

Jenny said: "See, when you write letters like this you are in fact presenting your club in a bad light, whether you have a disclaimer or not at the end of your letter."

Hear, hear!! After reading yesterday's post, I had a positive view of such clubs (albeit the name is a bit awkward). After reading today's post, my view is much more negative.

Amy said...

Besides many colleges and universities having faculty wives clubs that changed their names to College or University Women, there were also Dames Clubs at many schools. These were for wives of graduate or undergraduate students. These clubs were more social in nature than the Faculty Wives clubs but they also provided service to the institutions. There was even a national organization of Dames Clubs - NAUD. Some of the comments to these two posts have recognized that these clubs provided community and a connection for women who were on college campuses without a real identity. The name Dames became too problematic in the 1970s and NAUD dissolved in the 1980s. These discussions are interesting because many of these women have been left out of a historical narrative that has feminism irrevocably and triumphantly changing society. I think the story is more complicated than that and the persistence of these clubs proves it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, your point is about the name and only the name. I agree with what you say. That is fine, and not a terribly provocative position to take. I strongly agree about the inappropriateness of assumptions made when distributing the brochures you write of. Now, there is something to take a strong position on. The existence of UWCs is interesting, and making comments/observations/criticism about them is within the purview of this blog, but it is an interesting choice to engage in an exchange of sarcastic defensiveness about them.

The name is archaic, but these organizations are archaic, and almost certainly fizzling out of campus life. Womens' clubs (in my experience as a male scientist with a mother who is marginally active in one such club) really are almost entirely retired wives of retired male faculty.

The point about fund raising that your letter writer makes that you seem to dismiss in a somewhat glib manner is not just incidental. That is what the central mission of these clubs has morphed into as they fade out of relevance, and in general the beneficiaries are young women receiving scholarships, which is only amplifying the increasing irrelevance of UWCs.

This is a fine topic to discuss, but there may be something to be said for letting this one go, allowing them to keep their name (if that really is your only problem with them), and throwing your support behind what is relevant today, e.g.:

Anonymous said...

I know of the UWC in Vancouver. They have nothing to do with universities beyond that their members graduated from one. I think you would support the original idea of the club but not it's present form - it is a club for fancy ladies to chit chat and schmooze. My wife attended one event at their clubhouse (one of the fanciest houses in the toniest part of one of the most expensive cities in the world) and it was made clear she did not belong (being professors we are not in their social circle).

The fact that they raise considerable amounts of money for charity is irrelevant as they do little more than share names with the type of organization you have encountered. If only Ms. von Kursell had taken the time to read your post before sending her email.

Mary said...

Harvard solved the name problem in a very nice way. Their former faculty wives club became "Harvard Neighbors" and is open to all active and retired faculty and staff as well as their spouses. The organization is over a century old but I believe the name Harvard Neighbors was relatively new when I first heard about it circa 1980. The fact that President Bok's wife Sissela was a major scholar in her own right (as was her mother, Alva Myrdal, probably had something to do with the renaming.)

Anonymous said...

Monica, if you raise funds for scholarships for women, and those women go to college and some to graduate school, and some of them become professors who object to the term 'university women' being applied to spouses of male professors rather than to women who are professors, will you be angry with them?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:26 - I think these clubs vary a lot in what they do. The one at my university is for wives of professors and deans and so on, and they really do just have luncheons and go on walks and play golf and social things like that. I think that it fine and all, but I too object to the name of their club and think this is worth pointing out.

Alexandra (Ola) J. said...

I definitely agree with all of your points. I guess, in their defense, that after such a long time with the same name, it would be slightly bothersome changing it to "The Faculty Wives Club" or somesuch.

To the first poster and others writing in kind: Please don't turn your nose up at all sorority and fraternity members. Greek organizations are all extremely varied, not just between specific groups but also from chapter to chapter. I'm not going to go into a rant about why my chapter (and a lot of the ones on my alma mater's campus) were great in these comments, but I promise I'm not a bad, irresponsible, stupid or some-other-negative-adjective person because I have Greek letters on some of my gear! :)

Anonymous said...

You should be above publicly posting emails sent to you privately with the sender's name, no matter how rude the note. Next time simply redact the personally identifying details.

Reviewer A said...

Communications? *Really??!*

As a professor at UBC, I am embarrassed.

E. H. Hearn

Anonymous said...

Umm ... an argument, a battle between partially disenfranchised and somewhat more disenfranchised. Shouldn't we focus more on who/what leads to this disenfranchisement?