Women in the academy: an Introduction

I hereby declare Wednesdays to be "Women in the Academy" post days.

Those who know me are aware of my obsession with this topic. It all started in early 2011 when I was in the field in Morocco. I can even identify my first conversation on the subject. Another researcher and I were in a bar frequented by the East European mafia and their prostitutes in Rabat. Over the first decent gin and tonic I'd had in a while, I turned to my friend and asked her "Can women even be academics?" The moment I said it I regretted it. It was such a politically incorrect question. And yet there were times when I really wondered if it was possible to be a woman in the academy. To my surprise, she looked me dead in the eyes and said "good question." I will always be grateful to her for not chiding me.

Of course there are women in the academy, but how did they get there? And what did they sacrifice? Stats cited by Connelly and Ghodsee in the book Professor Mommy (to be reviewed in a future post), claim that fewer women in the academy have children than in any other high powered profession, including among doctors and lawyers. They argue this is partially due to the demands of the tenure system, which ask for your most productive time to be the first 5-7 years after completing the PhD, a time that, for many women, corresponds with their last years of fertility. Some women wait until they're tenured to have kids, and then discover they are no longer able to do so. Others have kids anyway, when they want to, but there are all sorts of consequences, professional and personal.

I don't really want to get into this issue now. I just want to mention it to underscore the importance and scope of the subject. I'm looking forward to collecting my thoughts on the matter and posting them here, on Wednesdays.