Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Ivory Tower and Gender Roles: What is the Reality?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ivory Tower and Gender Roles: What is the Reality?

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Hello Grad.Lifers!
Buzz in the graduate school world this week encircled this article that appeared on Entitled "In the Ivory Tower, Men Only,"  the article discusses anecdotal information and statistics that describe gender differences in academic career outcomes. It paints the picture that men who choose to have a family children are not penalized for it in their academic careers, while women who do pay a "baby penalty":
"Babies matter. Women pay a 'baby penalty' over the course of a career in academia—from the tentative graduate school years through the pressure cooker of tenure, the long midcareer march, and finally retirement."
Although there are plenty of women graduate students in classrooms, the article reports the following stats:

  • Female graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have babies while students or fellows are more than twice as likely as new fathers or than childless women to turn away from an academic research career
  • 70 percent of women and more than one-half of the men consider faculty careers at research universities not friendly to family life (*according to recent Berkeley survey)
  • Women are less likely to be awarded tenure than men
  • Women professors have higher divorce rates, lower marriage rates, and fewer children than male professors
  • Among tenured faculty, 70 percent of men are married with children compared with 44 percent of women
  • Women take longer, sometimes much longer, to be promoted to full professor, the top of the academic ranks
  • Compared with men in academia, women in academia have less income to rely upon in retirement; their salaries at retirement are, on average, 29 percent lower than men's. (And, the range correlates with number of children the women have had)
There was loads of talk about the article on social media among graduate students in the GSAS. Some were outraged; others optimistically, and somewhat defiantly, expressed their desire and ambition to have it all despite the stats; some pointed out that the article itself just reinscribes gender norms and social roles in general, assuming that the natural and normal things for a woman to want include children and a husband. 
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As this buzz was circulating, a few interesting pieces on the Today show caught my attention, because the issues converged with those brought up by the Slate article. 
     One story featured was "Why Men Still Can't Have It All," which looks at the problem of work/life balance from the perspective of a man. Originally appearing in Esquire magazine, the story asks some interesting questions; for example, if a man with children had the choice between attending more of his child's Little League games or getting a promotion at work, what would he choose? The writer suggests that the answer to that question today may be very different from the answer decades ago. See the Today show spot here, or the Esquire article here.
    Another story featured a Huffington Post blogger, Lisa Endlich Heffernan, who maintains a blog entitled "Grown and Flown." Her recent post, "Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom," reflects on her decision to quit her banking job after her third son was born. She feels remorse at not keeping a toe in the water, or a pilot light lit under her career, instead of quitting out-right. She writes,
"I wish I had tried to keep a finger, a toe or a hand in the working world to ease an eventual return. I did not have a job well suited to part-time work, and work at home was technologically impossible at the time. But, the solution required imagination, not capitulation, and with hindsight, I would have recognized that over time, my parenting and career would both ebb and flow, but neither would -- nor should -- ever end."
Thinking about these two stories on the Today show, my question is: Considering how hard it is for all genders, in all fields, to achieve work/ life balance, maybe we should be looking at all these stats about gender and academia more holistically, thinking about the sacrifices that both men and women make in their lives along the way? Maybe men achieve more promotions in academia and other career paths, but do they have as many fun memories with their children across a lifetime? Maybe women feel more pressure to balance family and work, but will striving for a balance bring you more satisfaction in the long run than regrets? In other words, does it have to so all or nothing, for both women and men?   
     Maybe what needs fixing is not academia itself but gender roles in society at large. I don't see how academia is any different than other fields. Part of the problem brought up by my fellow GSAS students is, though, that it should be. Several students made comments that criticized academia for its hypocrisy -- touting itself as liberal and humane but falling into the same trap as all other corporate institutions across the globe. 
    At any rate, I'm curious to hear your thoughts! Let me know your ideas, thoughts, and opinions! And, happy summer!!!  Until next time, Liza :) 


  1. In the book we describe in detail how academia differs from other fields. First, there's a lockstep career trajectory from grad school to the professoriate, with no good opportunities to take time out. Second, tenure is an up-or-out decision. Third, academia, and especially the bench sciences, is very much of a zero sum game when one is employed at a research school.

  2. Right, but it seems that all fields need gender reform. It's sad all around!