GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Pretenders (Aren’t We All?)

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2010/03/31 at 08:00

I decided to write this post last week. I was frustrated and angry. A series of unrelated events that has been unfolding for a long time had finally made me come to the conclusion that in academia, there were many people who just were not who they said they were. I called them “pretenders”.

They were those who constantly talked about their ideals and principles and who seemed to take pride in them yet I observed them to act like realists: They had the vision and the rhetoric of better universities, a better life, a better world, yet they held on to the existing power structures which favored themselves and the status quo, the hierarchies and the balances of power in their work place as well as in their personal spheres.

I thought those who had a gap between their deeds and words lacked integrity. I also thought those who had a gap between the principles in their professional lives and the practices of their personal spheres were not to be trusted. My long-lost newly-refound idealist side judged them. I got mad at them because they made my life difficult. I felt betrayed. I wanted to write about this to the readers here and ask the readers to punch me if one day I too would become one of them.


Before anyone else, I punched myself. I punched really really hard.

I had a writer’s block. I could not write what I wanted to write. Something was wrong, I felt uncomfortable with my own arguments. I doubted the conclusion I had reached. It seemed like there was more to it than what seemed to be and I needed to explore it. All of a sudden I found myself to be too judgmental, too absolutist, too puritan. I wanted to know if I was biased. I was not sure if it was just them who had such gaps.  I wanted to find out if I too had those gaps. I wanted to see if I too pretended at times. I wanted to judge myself before I could judge them. I knew very well that otherwise my arguments would lose all legitimacy and credibility before my own eyes, before anyone else’s. In the end, I had to acknowledge that I was also less than perfect.

I punched myself by revisiting what it meant to be an idealist. I remembered that it was first and foremost the belief in the goodness of the human nature and in its perfectibility. So I thought: if the goodness of the human nature is a major assumption of idealism, how can I be an idealist by refusing to give my fellow academics and myself the benefit of the doubt? If I believe in the perfectibility of the human nature, how can I deny our right to be less than perfect? How can I not embrace those who struggle to find themselves and how can I judge them in the end result of the present when we are actually all work in progress?

I remembered that being a humanist was a prerequisite for being an idealist. I used to think that I needed to be strong for being an idealist. I now understand that I also need to be a humanist, fully, if I want to be an idealist. That includes acknowledging our right to be not so flawless.

And I came to a brand new understanding: that we are all humans, that we all have ideals and that we all struggle between those ideals and the realities of life. In that sense, unintentionally we are all pretenders. Because we are humans.

So if I had written this post 48 hours ago, before I punched myself, it would be completely different. It would be bitter. To be honest, I am glad I had a writer’s block because I like this version better. More accepting, embracing and tender. And this is how I believe we should all be towards each other. Not only in academia but also in life in general.

It is sunny in Istanbul today. But as you can see…

I have been under the rain

without an umbrella again.

Itir Toksöz

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  1. It is sunny but cold here as well, and I remind myself of our tendency to look inward all the time. However, as people who may believe in perfectibility, and certainly in the potential of humans, surely there are degrees of giving the privileged few the benefit of the doubt. Part of my commitment to the academic profession, and one of the ways I survive in it (barely sometimes!) is recognizing that these conflicts and tensions and indeed hypocrisies constitute in good part what it means to be an academic. For the really dispossessed in that institution, or in my nation, or in the world at large, is it not our responsibility to name these tensions, as you do so well in your piece here? And, even to challenge the structures and the people who do not see how their behaviour appears not to be consonant with professed values/ However kindly we do it: I expect as much from my students, who find this process and rainy (and stormy) one indeed. Thank you for your post.


    • Dear Aruna,

      Thanks for reading the post and posting a comment. I loved what you said about “is it not our responsibility to name these tensions, as you do so well in your piece here? And, even to challenge the structures and the people who do not see how their behaviour appears not to be consonant with professed values/ However kindly we do it.”.

      I believe it is our responsibility and I absolutely believe that it is our responsibility to do it kindly. From one hand, I believe in the potential of the humans. But I also do believe that this potential can only be activated through intention. It is of essence to me that people in the academia try to look into themselves and better themselves as they are the ones to shape the minds of the next generations. Academia is not just a place to create or transfer knowledge but to make people realize what knowledge is about (including knowledge of self-awareness).

      Please keep in touch!


  2. Itir,
    I know you didn’t mean to but you’ve just written the perfect Easter Sunday sermon- when I’m reading this. (minus the Christian stuff… but the ideals are the same! ;))Thanks for the reminder about the importance of humility and an open heart.

    • Dear Kristin,

      Thank you so much for the comment. I am glad that the lines I wrote may be read on multiple levels. I hope you have had a lovely Easter.


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