Readers may not be aware of a couple of articles, which I found very exciting, thought provoking, and in line with this blog’s interests. The first was published in the The Guardian’s Higher Education Network section/blog and is entitled “Why Women Leave Academia and Why Universities Should Be Worried,” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/may/24/why-women-leave-academia). While this post comes from “across the pond,” that does not diminish its value in my view. I suspect the findings discussed in this post (which are myriad) are likely at play here in North America. Among them are issues relating to relative lack of self-confidence, a lack of available role models, the overly competitive nature of academia, and the fact that the pressures are not congruent with the desires of many women for raising a family. Granted, the discipline on which the article focuses is chemistry, however, in my experience anthropology is not necessarily or appreciably different in its demands.
I would also like to point out that the comments posted at the bottom of the article are equally intriguing. Those posting, including male readers, also point out the role that class is playing in discouraging students from continuing into academia. I would like to assert that I believe this also remains an issue here to at least some extent. Within my admittedly limited observations I’ve noted that those coming from backgrounds in which the parents are professionals, sometimes even professors, and/or are of greater economic means are also the same ones who find themselves not only in academia but at more prestigious institutions both as students and later as professors.
The second article is related to the first in that it notes the opening of a permanent exhibit at Cambridge honoring archaeologist Dorothy Garrod, the first female professor at that institution in 1939 (http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Training/Training-news/The-groundbreaking-female-archaeologist-14062012.htm). Her appointment came at a time when women were not admitted as students and were not allowed to be full members. When senior members of the university elected her to the Disney Professor of Archaeology it presented them with a quandary, which they solved by referring to her in all correspondence “he”. Her struggles with discrimination helped pave the way for women students to enter Cambridge as equals in 1948. But article also mentions two other points that I found relevant. Her fiancé died in World War I, and she never married. In addition, some perceived Garrod as formidable and even terrifying, as one woman related of her childhood encounters.
These comments remind me of one of the quotes in the first article stating that “Successful female professors are perceived by female PhD candidates as displaying masculine characteristics, such as aggression and competitiveness, and they were often childless.” In pointing out these observations I would not in any respect wish to take away anything from Garrod’s accomplishments, which were many and made at a difficult time for women in science. I simply want to highlight the place mentors have in making a field attractive or feasible, or not, to those who come after or along side of us. I have seen childless women in archaeology that I, too, considered to be formidable, but fortunately there were those who were kind and approachable and had children, making it appear possible to do the work and have a life that includes family beyond archaeology or academia.
I would welcome comments and stories from others as to how they approach the challenge of balancing family and work, whether in academic or non-academic positions. I realize for some this is not so much an issue if the choice to not have children has been made. But for those who have traveled this path, it may be useful to share our support and experiences. I for one have a very supportive spouse, but I also only have one child. Having a child while in graduate school did indeed slow my progress considerably toward the degree. In recent years, since my son turned four, I have often taken him with me in the field where he sometimes screens soil or back fills shovel tests (when he’s not looking for insects or non-artifact rocks) and to public presentations for children where he has actually been quite helpful. I look forward to, hopefully, a few more years of this until mom and her work are no longer ‘cool’.
My son, Alexander, and I volunteered on a project
of Sarah Surface-Evans' in Emmet County, Michigan,