Monday, September 14, 2009

Women and academic careers

A post worth reading at BlogHer on "Women in academia (especially) can't have it all." The links are worth tracing, too. (Don't we all have time to lose in the labyrinth of the Internet during these first few weeks of class?)

I do believe that emphasizing the positive has much psychological utility--at the same time that keeping a real perspective on the bleak average outlook is necessary for political engagement. The number of women I know who have hit obstacles in balancing work/family/self/social engagement is a high one. Certainly it's something everyone struggles with. The struggle gets tiring.

But what deserves our attention is not the usual struggle but the degree and the injustice of failure to stay in the workstream. I have women colleagues, now approaching retirement age, who were able to have kids (before or after their graduate degree) and then later re-enter (or enter for the first time) academia. I suspect that in the last 20 years this route has become less possible. A short period of bad luck--washing out in the job market for a couple years in a row or a serious illness--combined with the demands of family can spell the end of a deserving and talented person's career.

I also know quite a few women with happy family lives, engaged with friends or politics, who are doing well enough in their careers. Only a handful of those have stellar academic careers with published books and prestigious academic appointments that come with lavish travel funds. The majority of women I know figured out early that what would be sacrificed was the (often illusory) hope of stardom. That illusion--inculcated in absolutely everyone in graduate school and maintained on a certain other blog--obscures the first-class value of teaching colleges.

But woe to those with partners in academia. That system certainly can be unfair.

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