Women’s Education Then
Household Education to be the Best Housewife Possible
This article, written in 1909, was written by a woman! Believe it or not, every woman did not necessarily agree that women belonged in the sciences. The question if women should receive education began to form into the question of what women should be learning about. During this time, women were also fighting for the right to vote, so needless to say there was a lot going on for them. “Household sciences” started becoming more prevalent because they wanted to keep women aiming towards the domestic sphere, while also agreeing that they should receive education. These reasons listed in the picture posted about why household arts should be taught all end up relating back to the child or student who will inevitably be prosperous if women were educated in this field. The reality was, it was not really about the women at all, instead it was about what the women could do for the rest of the population.
The Woman Behind the Man
This is Albert Einstein’s wife, who was just as smart as he was! They worked together at various colleges and even when they got married she continued to work, which was unlike women in her time. Normally, when a woman would get married she would no longer work so she and her husband could start their family. But in the case of the Einstein’s she continued work, and even though they had a child they made sure to raise him together. Albert Einstein was not only smart, but more progressive than most. She actually helped Einstein out with his most famous papers, but she was not given real credit until recently. She was a phenomenal woman, who was one of the very first to obtain a degree in physics.
Marie Curie: Woman and Nobel Prize Winner
This is Marie Curie, for those unaware she is one of the coolest women in history. She is known for her work on radioactivity. She was also the first woman in history to win the Nobel Prize, the only woman in history to win in two fields, and the only person in history to win in multiple fields. That’s pretty incredible! And as if that’s not cool enough she also was the first female professor at the University of Paris. So she’s all around pretty amazing, and believe it or not she was also friends with the Einstein’s and went on vacation with them. She was definitely one inspiring woman, not only for women during that era, but even women today.
The Problem with No Name: Housewives & Sexuality
“Is this really who I want to be?”
That question made Betty Friedan (along with several others) incredibly uncomfortable:
“Growing up, many of us could not see ourselves beyond the age of twenty-one. We had no image of our own future, of ourselves as women…I came to a frightening dead end in my own vision of the future.”
To Freidan and many other women of her time, education was something that they had fully attained (bachelor’s degrees, doctorates, etc.), but the problem was that many women simply couldn’t use them to their fullest. Friedan interviews some of her post-grad colleagues, and quotes:
The tragedy was, nobody ever looked us in the eye and said you have to decide what you want to do with your life, besides being your husband’s wife and children’s mother. I never thought it through until I was thirty-six, and my husband was so busy with his practice that he couldn’t entertain me every night. The three boys were in school all day. I kept on trying to have babies despite an Rh discrepancy. After two miscarriages, they said I must stop. I thought that my own growth and evolution were over. I always know as a child I was going to grow up and go to college, and then get married and that’s as far as a girl has to think. After that, your husband determines and fills your life.
To Freidan and her interviewees, the so-called “Problem with no name” / “Feminine mystique” is that women who were able to get educations and move up the academic ladder were in a sense denied the chance to embrace their identities as adults. While they may have studied psychology, business, philosophy, etc. – they were too bound in the social standards of the time of being married. After that, their identities as educated women, students, or future employees disappeared. Instead, they became wives of their husbands, and mothers of their children:
The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “Tom’s wife…Mary’s mother.” But I dont think the mystique would have such power over American women if they did not fear to face this terrifying blank which makes them unable to see themselves after twenty-one. The truth is… an American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be.”
Throughout her research project, Freidan links this lack of a real, self-defined identity to an overall disappointment with life and feeling of being unfulfilled – self-actualization (one of the most foundational elements in one’s own happiness) is, in other words, an unattainable dream, and had affected women throughout American boundaries for decades, perhaps even longer.
Today I was looking around and found some really good information on Gloria Steinem. Steinem was a quintessentiall feminist during the 20th century, and continues her efforts today. She’s been tightly linked with movements concerning the equality of wages, availability of contraception, legality of abortion, etc. She founded her own magazine focused on feminist issues, titled Ms.
Oh. She also worked as a Playboy bunny in the 1960s.
That’s right – not exactly what you’d expect.
I’ve attached the link to a PBS interview with her below – in it, she talks about her thought processes before coming to learn of the feminist movement during her time at Smith College – essentially, that “to be normal”, one had to get married and have children. Along with that, she discusses the future of feminism and what it means to be a feminist today. It’s a pretty interesting look at a very extraordinary woman.
Something that I’d like to discuss, however, is an article that she wrote in the 1960s – I Was a Playboy Bunnie. In this extended gonzo-fashioned piece of journalism, Steinem recounts her experience going “undercover” (i.e. with a false name and not revealing that she’d be publishing a piece on it) into one of New York City’s Playboy Penthouses. The entire piece exposes the darker underbelly of the adult entertainment scene during the mid-20th century, which includes massive sexual exploitation of women in desperate need of money, as well as a false image of happiness and contentment for the Playboy bunnies. Throughout her experience, she witnesses how women are completely objectified in their roles as Bunnies – not only by clubgoers (as is predictable), but even by their employers.
How does this relate to our topic, though?
I viewed her story as an example of an educated woman’s experience in a “traditional”/”non-educated” woman’s shoes. The feelings of pity, horror, and simple shock that her tale evokes are all worth mentioning.
Here’s a link to the interview as well as the article I refer to:
Women’s Progress After High-school: The Figures
I’ve recently been doing some more digging into the actual history behind Women’s Education lately (my room is so filled to the brim with various books from the Hatcher library that its hard to open the door) and have found a very interesting interview online from a University of California professor, Margaret Nash. The link is above – please pardon the overly-enthusiastic host.
Anyways, the professor seems to mention two specific trends: the first being that initially (during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries), women were actually more trending towards education in the sciences, whereas men were given more classical educations that focused on the ancient languages of Greek and Latin. As jobs and industries became more geared towards the sciences, however, the trends reversed themselves, with men taking more scientific educations and women being inclined to classical ones.
The second trend she mentions is that historically women have always had an upward trend concerning their post-high school educations.
Given that I’ve got all these books lying around, I decided to see the trend myself.
It turns out she’s absolutely right – here’s some figures:
If we look at 1947, only 4.7% of women 25 and older (of all races) had completed four years of college or more. One year later, however, in 1948, women make up a mere 22% of the entire labor force in the United States.
As we continue on throughout history, the amount of women who hold at least a Bachelor’s degree increase, and so do their participation rates in the labor force. The numbers progress through the 30 and 40th percentages throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and end up at 55.8% in 1987. Not coincidentally, we find that the number of women with college degrees also rapidly increasesm starting at 4.7% in 1940, and ending up (with a very smooth increase) at 58.2% in 1972.
I have more details on what exactly this means for women’s lifestyles and outcomes in terms of well-being, but I’ll post that piece tomorrow.
A Bunny is Beautiful
Their pink Bunny ears, placed neatly over my head.
Their Electric Blue miniskirt, so tight that I can’t bend over.
A soggy, wrinkled five dollar bill extended from the patron’s arm.
The pack of cigarettes he wants me to buy for and bring to him.
The journal I’m reporting all of this for,
The college degree sitting atop my cupboard door.
All these poor, young things
That one over there, no more than eighteen years old
She sat by her uncle’s home phone for twelve hours a few weeks back
Waiting for the call that would let her into this dark, damp place
And I’m supposed to write about her? How?
Is she not happy? “A bunny –
Like a Playboy playmate – is beautiful, desirable. We’ll do
Everything in our power to make you – the Bunny – the most envied girl
In America, with the most exciting career.
How can I save this poor, pitiable soul?
Women’s Education Now
The Rise of Women
“The facts of women being more likely than men to go to college, perform better academically, and major in fields other than science, technology, engineering and mathematics are mostly attributable to factors affecting students before – in some cases, long before – they enter the halls of academe. But that doesn’t mean colleges can’t do anything to mitigate the consequences.” These are the conclusions of Thomas A. Diprete and Claudia Buchmann, who are authors of a recent book titled The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools.
The book discusses the gender inequalities in American society today, specifically in education. The authors talk about the substantial gains women have made in education since the 1960’s and then compare these gains with the inequalities that women still face in the world today. What’s interesting about this book is that it charts performance of both males and females over the course of their schooling, since kindergarden up until college. The graphs are remarkable to look at and see differences. The authors, at every stage in the education process, were able to consider the “gender-specific impact of factors such as families, school, peers, race, and class. Throughout their research, the authors demonstrate how differences emerge as early as kindergarden, where girls show “higher levels of essential learning skills such as persistence and self-control.” By contrast, boys at this stage are in conflict with their “emerging masculine identity,” and do not work as hard (as girls) in school because of this.
The authors talk in depth about how women surpass men in one arena specifically: EDUCATION. In fact, women actually perform better academically than men in all levels of schooling and they are more likely than men to receive college degrees and pursue degrees in graduate school. I found this excellent pie graph to shows this trend.
What is interesting is that since 1950, the rate of men completing a bachelor’s degree remained the same for years, yet since 1970’s, 14% of women finished college, while 20% of men did the same. A chart below demonstrates these statistics. The graph below demonstrates women surpassing men in attaining bachelor degrees. There are also many other graphs that depict such advances, but I felt this one was relevant in depicting just how far women have come since the 1900’s. Other graphs in the book show how 1980’s up until now the trends have increased and women are attaining higher levels’ of education than men. DiPrete and Buchmann discuss how “the rise of egalitarian gender norms and a growing demand for college-educated workers has allowed more women to enroll in colleges and universities nationwide. Because of this shift that happened, women were able to reverse the historical male advantage in education.”
In addition, by 2010, women had surpassed men in obtaining college degrees by more than eight percentage points. Women’s graduation rate, says DiPrete have “skyrocketed” to 36%, “while the rate among men grew only 7 points to 27 percent.” Today, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to 1, yet still don’t make as much money as their male counterparts.
Rise of Women talks a lot about how more women have gone into fields such as medicine and the law, and that women “lag” behind men in engineering and physical science degrees, which Professor Eileen Pollack confirmed in her article and in the interview. The authors argue that the high school years, not the college years, are where students, particularly girls, begin to segregate in their choice of majors. Chapter 8 is where most of this information was taken from. This chapter discusses gender differences in all levels of schooling, particularly the “high school intentions to major in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and gender differences in college majors.”
The data in Chapter 8 shows that more girls than boys lose interest in STEM subjects. The authors blame the education system for such gender segregation in the fields. They argue that, “school environments differ in the extent to which they support the idea that majoring in a STEM field can be an attractive choice for women.” The authors address the fact that recent evidence has shown that the schools that have a very strong science and math curriculum are good at “delinking STEM fields from masculine stereotypes,” and these women are more likely to pursue these degrees in college. Yet, many high schools do not emphasize STEM subjects and women lose interest in those majors when they attend college. The authors argue for stronger faculty who will push their students, especially girls, and encourage them to pursue such degrees.
This made me think of Eileen Pollack’s article about “Why Are Their So Few Women in the Sciences?” She emphasizes how women need positive reinforcement to go science degrees and the high school faculty is slacking in this, as the authors of The Rise of Women note. With all of this information, its interesting to see how little has been done to encourage more girls to pursue such degrees. Our education system, especially in high school, needs to change in order to encourage girls to pursue careers in the sciences.
The book has amazing charts and graphs that even breaks down racial differences in education and overall is an excellent book to learn more about the advances that women have made, but also the difficulties they still face in our education system, where they are still treated as gendered groups, instead of individuals.
I was able to find the graphs from this book in the publishers pages: https://www.russellsage.org/sites/all/files/diprete_figurestables.pdf
Nordic Countries: “Women Friendly” vs. the US
Human talent is a very important factor in determining how competitive a country is relative to others. The Global Index Report defines human talent as the “skills, education, and productivity of its workforce. The way countries utilize its human resource pool is very important in terms of effectively creating a prosperous economy, so with that being said, countries and companies thrive if women are educated and apart of the “fundamental pillar of the economy” as the report states. Diverse leadership helps pave the way for finding new ways of tackling economic challenges and building sustainable growth. I think it’s important that the government play a role in creating the right policy framework for improving women’s education and economic participation, as the report also hints at. The United States is an entity that needs to implement new and better policies in incorporating women effectively in its economy.
Women serve multiple roles in society. For instance, they are workers, caregivers, mothers and it is spectacular to see how far they have advanced throughout the last 50 years. The Global Gender Report of 2011 is a report that “aggregates 6 years of data, keeping track of gender-based disparities overtime.” This report examines the gap between men and women in four categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The report as you can imagine, is very extensive and displays a lot of information about all of the countries. Nonetheless, by looking at the charts and overall message of this report, it is clear that it shows a positive trend countries have taken in closing the gender gap. In addition to the Global Gender Report of 2011, I also looked at 2012 and shown below are the two figures that represent the two different years and show the regional performance on the overall Index score.
It is clear that the gender gap is closing and we see North America, overall, holding the top spot in closing this gap, but that is measured in population, so it makes sense that the US would hold the top stop. When we look at specific numbers, North America is not doing as well as the Nordic countries in closing the gender gap. The next chart clearly displays this and this chart provides the global gender gap index comparisons from 2006-2012.
Now, I want to talk a little about the Nordic countries and how they serve as role models for the international community in the way they divide resources between men and women (no matter the overall level of resources they have). These four countries hold the highest position in the world for closing the gender gap and they are: Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. It is rather interesting to see how the United States holds such a low spot (22) in the world, compared to other countries in closing the gender gap. The US thrives on always being the best and most powerful country, yet when it comes in being the most successful in closing the gender gap and coming closer to gender equality, the US does not hold the top spot. While the US numbers have changed quite a bit, the four Nordic countries numbers, in terms of rank, have remained quite steady. These Nordic countries have closed more than 80% of the gender gap, which is a substantial amount compared to other countries and they have held this spot for five consecutive years.
It is important to understand why these specific countries have been so successful in closing the gender gap and how their economies have thrived because of this, which has led them to hold the title of being called “women-friendly” countries. First, the reason is not a question of wealth because although these Nordic economies are high-income, the Global Gender Gap Index takes out overall wealth, and instead just measures how “equitably income, resources, and opportunities are distributed between women and men.” What’s their secret?
Not only have these Nordic countries obtained 99-100% literacy for both men and women, but girls do just as well as boys in terms of access to primary and secondary education. In terms of tertiary level of education, the gender gap has been reversed and women make the majority of high-skilled workforce. There countries have very high levels of enrollment for both women and men at the tertiary level. To be exact, the Global Gender Gap Index states that in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, there are over 1.5 women for every man enrolled in a university. For Finland and Denmark, women actually make up the majority at the tertiary level for education. I would say this is fairly impressive, but int he US, there are also more women in all levels of education today.
Yet, the Nordic countries, unlike other developed economies, have not only closed the gender gap in education, but they have “maximized the returns on this investment.” These economies have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, which has resulted in more women in the work force, shared participation in childcare, “more equitable distribution of labor at home,” and a better work-life balance for both men and women. These possibilities Nordic countries give have actually increased fertility rates. These policies include: “mandatory paternal leave in combination with maternity leave, a generous, state-mandated parental leave benefits provided by a combination of social insurance funds and employers, tax incentives and post-maternity re-entry programs.” Together, “these policies have lowered the opportunity costs of having children and led to relatively higher and rising birth rates, as compared to other ageing, developed economies.” In essence, these countries do whatever they can to accommodate women and help alleviate some of the work that women do so they can better manage their work and family lives. These countries want to create equality between men and women more than the US it seems like to me.
Yet, what is shocking is that the US failure to implement such changes. I found this excellent research paper titled: “Women and Leadership: The State of Play,” written by Deborah L. Rhode and Barbara Kellerman and it specifically discusses the changes the US has failed to take to in order to accommodate women. The authors state that the US is one of the only industrialized nations that fails to provide paid parental leaves, and only about “a tenth of those eligible for the largely unpaid options currently available take advantage of them.” In addition, “quality, affordable childcare and elder care are also unavailable for many women who desire to work their way up a leadership role,” the authors state. They argue that double standards in domestic roles have been “deeply rooted in cultural attitudes and workplace practices.” From their research, these women have concluded that working mothers in the US often face more criticism than working fathers when it comes to how committed they are, both as parents and as working professionals. Women are seen as being “insufficiently committed” because they are judged either for sacrificing family needs to their workplace duties or vice versa. Taking extended leaves or reducing ones schedule is seen, for a woman in the workforce, as “slacking” and “lacking as leaders” as the authors state. Moreover, in the international survey the authors talk about, “female executives were more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to delay marriage or starting a family in order to establish a career, and 12 percent of women, compared with only 1 percent of men, decided not to have children.” Why should women have to be the ones to reduce their career aspirations in order to deal with with family concerns? It is not fair at all and the US needs to begin implementing policies such as the Nordic countries have in order to give women an equal opportunity. There is seriously something wrong with the fact that the US society and companies make working mothers, appear less competent than men and less available to meet workplace responsibilities, yet working fathers are not seen in this light. This paper and research these women have done just confirms the gender stereotypes and gender discrimination that still occurs today in the 21st century.
The authors note that fewer than 15 percent of America’s Fortune 100 companies offer the same paid parental leave to fathers as to mothers, and an even smaller percentage of men take any extended period of time away from their jobs for family reasons. This simply confirms the unequal assignment of parental structures, which “reinforce gender roles that are separate but by no means equal.” This allows fathers to have unequal role in household duties, and pushes work and family issues on the women.
Furthermore, the Nordic countries have made it their goal to promote women’s leadership and this can clearly be seen in their policies. For instance, since 2008 Norway and other Nordic countries have made it a requirement to have 40% of each sex on their boards for publicly listed companies. In the US, this clearly is the case because we have not adopted such generous policies to further progress women’s leadership. In fact, from the research paper titled “Women and Leadership,” the authors state that in the US:
“We have had only limited success in moving women into leadership roles traditionally occupied by men, and even less in moving men into domestic roles traditionally occupied by women. And we have not yet obtained workplace and social policies that accommodate the needs of both sexes on family-related issues.”
Based on all of the information above, I would have to completely agree with this quote, and there are statistics in their research that completely back this statement up.
- Over half of college graduates but less than a quarter of full professors and a fifth of college presidents are female.
- In management, women account for about a third of M.B.A. classes, but only 2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, 8 percent of top leadership positions, and 16 percent of board directors and corporate officers.
- In law, women constitute about half of new entrants to the profession, but less than a fifth of law firm partners, federal judges, law school deans, and Fortune 500 general counsels.
These statistics show a clear depiction how underrepresented women are when it comes to holding leadership positions and the US is just not doing as much compared to Nordic countries in trying to promote and empower women’s leadership. Our culture needs to be tweaked so women do not need to experience tradeoffs between being a mother or working. Women should be able to have both.
What’s more is that Nordic countries have given women the right to vote way before others: Sweden in 1919, Norway in 1913, Iceland and Denmark in 1915, and Finland in 1906. In the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, they wanted to make certain that females were represented over the years, so political parties introduced voluntary gender quotes in the 1970’s. In Denmark, these quotas have been abandoned because women simply participate and run for office, therefore this stimulus is not required anymore. This is very different from the US, where women are underrepresented in the political realm.
Additionally, today Sweden holds the highest percentage (45%) of women who are in parliament in the world while other Nordic countries are just as successful. In fact, all Nordic countries are in the top 10 for the number of women they hold in parliament. This is pretty amazing because these women have a say in changing the way the government works, which has not been the case in the US. Furthermore, Iceland, Finland and Norway are among the top 10 countries in terms of the years that a women has been the head of state or the government. This is impressive given the fact “the world as a whole does very poorly in this indicator.”
All countries should try and implement the policy changes the Nordic countries have carried out. Having a combination of high female labor force participation, salary gaps between the sexes the lowest in the world, and giving women plenty of opportunities to hold leadership positions has allowed these Nordic countries to thrive both economically and politically. I was very surprised by reading this report because I did not know much about Nordic countries had closed the gap in trying to obtain gender equality.
Why So Few Women in Leadership Positions
I came across an article written Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” when I saw the name of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. Anne-Marie Slaughter had referenced her TedTalk and I was interested in hearing what she had to say about why there are so few women in leadership positions today. The talk is very inspiring and offers a strong message to women to stay in the labor force, even with the difficulties of having children. One of the most interesting parts Sheryl talks about is the study that a researcher at Colombia University implemented [7:33-8:58]. Essentially, he took the case of Heidi Rosen, who was a very accomplished women, and changed her name on the case to say the name Howard. It shows that when students had to choose who to work for, given that Heidi and Howard each had the same qualifications, and the fact that Howard didn’t even exist, Howard was chosen as the person they wanted to work for. Heidi seemed “too selfish, assertive, and highly political.” It’s so interesting to see the bias that still exists today in the 21st century. Perceptions have a powerful impact into how we think and and act and this “belief barrier” that Heidi is seen as “selfish, assertive, political,” has implications that have a huge impact on women and their ability to progress through all levels of society. While America loves assertive and dominant men as leaders, if women possess such qualities, they are seen and depicted in a negative light. It’s not fair and shows how gender stereotypes still persist in our society today.
Furthermore, I think that Anne-Marie Slaughter is right in her article when she states that in this day and age, women just really can’t seem to have it all. She talks about how the company culture in America is “always on,” as a mode of working. She talks about how to be in a senior position, “it is expected that you be available more than five days a week… and available 24-7 with no visible caring responsibilities.” This has made it difficult for women to reach top leadership roles. In fact, her research shows that women have been having kids in their late 30’s or choosing to freeze their eggs because they do not want to lose out on promotions or be forgotten when they are on maternity leave. The work culture in America does not allow for an even balance between being a mother and being in the workforce as I have mentioned in my Nordic Countries Vs. USA blog.
I think that if women want to have a family, then they should have one whenever they want, and not have to put that on hold because of career choices. I think that they should be able to have a family and still have the career they desire. Anne-Marie Slaughter addresses that if more women could “strike this balance” then there would be more women in leadership positions, yet we still live in a society where we believe that good mothers are always with their children. Of course, Anne and Sheryl would have to disagree with this since they are both working mothers who are very successful and powerful women, but they do admit that it is difficult to balance work and family life.
Here is a link to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article on “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” it is a very interesting read! http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/6/
Interview with Eileen Pollack on Gender Discrimination in Academia and the Workplace
I had the privilege of interviewing Eileen Pollack, who is currently a Creative Writing Professor at the University of Michigan. She has very interesting experiences that pertain to women in education, particularly in the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), and she was able to share some of her experiences in this interview. The interview is tailored around six questions that I felt were necessary to fully capture Professor Pollack’s experiences. It was difficult for me to come up with these questions because there was so much more I wanted to ask, but I think limiting it to these 6 questions (which are shown below) worked very well for the purposes of this blog. As I mentioned earlier in my blog, Professor Pollack currently wrote an article called “Why Are There So Few Women in the Sciences,” so this interview talks about her article as well as her experiences at Yale, while at the same time describing the gender discrimination that still exists in the 21st century for women in the sciences.
I hope you enjoy this interview, I know I did!
Questions for Eileen Pollack:
1. For people that have not yet read your article, can you talk a little bit about your experiences at Yale, while earning a bachelor of science in physics?
2. In the article, you say that many men you wanted to date were put off by your physics degree, would you say this type of bias still exists today?
3. “Perceptions of discrimination are evidence of nothing but subjective feelings.” This is what Judith Kleinfeld said in your article, what is your reaction to this?
4. “The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes in science might be whether anyone encourages her or not,” is what you emphasize in the article. If you could say a few words to women pursing a degree in the sciences (physics, chemistry or biology), what would you say to these women?
5. In the article, you talk about how you walked away from your dream and why so many other women still walk away from theirs. If you could go back and do it again, would you make the same decisions?
6. You are currently working on a book about women in the sciences. Would you say this is your way of encouraging women to pursue a career in the sciences or to warn them of the hardships?
I would like to thank my group member Gabrielle Valentic, who was able to capture this interview for me. Also, if you would like to learn a little more about the difficulties women face in academia while at the same time trying to maintain their feminine qualities visit Belle’s Blog here.
Videographer/Editor: Gabrielle Valentic
[This is a private interview conducted with Professor Eileen Pollack at the University of Michigan for classroom use in English 340: The Historical Hinge. Usage for other purposes is strictly prohibited].
Scholastic or Sexual Liberation?
This debate surrounds the issue of over-sexualized images and behavior of women overshadowing the true scholastic value of a woman’s mind. For example, women who overtly use their sexuality such a Playboy Bunnies, lingerie models, and some voluptuous celebrities, are often deemed to be less intelligent. Yet, many of these ‘promiscuous’ girls can be found within MENSA. On the other hand, if a woman dresses conservatively and keeps her sexuality ‘behind closed doors,’ she may be viewed as more likely to be intelligent, but also may be judged as ‘less feminine’ and not as enjoyable as a sexual partner. Furthermore, the women represented with both beautiful figures and minds are deemed “unrealistic” and supposedly provide an impossible expectation for young girls and men alike. These women are judged as ‘fake’ and an impossible reality. Interestingly enough, women have had as much agency as men in creating these lines by which other women are judged. In fact, the dispute amongst sexually and scholastically focussed feminists has created a very controversial situation for young girls as to how they may exercise their rights as women and feminists, the exact antithesis of the origin of Feminist dialogue. This stems from the propagation that there is a right or wrong way to do feminism, and this right and wrong lays on the distinction between sexual and scholastic behavior, creating what Kacey Musgraves calls a “Damned if you do, and a damned if you don’t” scenario.
Interview with Eileen Pollack: Gendered Academia
Interview with Eileen Pollack on Gender Discrimination in Academia and the Workplace
Interviewer: Lorna Malja
Videographer/Editor: Gabrielle Valentic
[This is a private interview conducted with Professor Eileen Pollack at the University of Michigan for classroom use in English 340: The Historical Hinge. Usage for other purposes is strictly prohibited.]
In November, Lorna and I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Professor Eileen Pollack, the first woman to ever earn a Bachelors of Science in Physics at Yale University. Professor Pollack, author of “Why Are There Still So Few Women in the Sciences?“, spoke with us regarding the existence and propagation of discrimination against women in academia and the sciences. Within a discussion prompted by Lorna’s interviewing skills, a particularly interesting theme arose: women could not be both attractive and display high intelligence in scientific fields.
“If you cross your legs, everybody stops talking and looks,” Eileen laughed sadly (2:00). “The culture is not conducive- You can’t dress in a traditional feminine way or you’re not taken seriously as a scientist (2:40). And then if you start dressing like a guy, you don’t feel good about yourself as a woman. And then there are the questions whether anyone will date you once they find out you’re a physics major!”
Eileen touches upon a startling reality for today’s young female generation. Girls today are faced with the choice in how they want to be viewed, as attractive, or highly intelligent. This dilemma directly influences what they choose to identify with, their femininity or their education, as if it is a binary choice. Women must be careful not to be too attractive, or academic respect is tainted, but they must also be careful not to be too intelligent, or they must therefore have lost touch with their femininity. Professor Pollack describes dating as a female scientist with some humor, “I was surprised that so many women of your generation that I talked to had that same impression… They were going, ‘Please tell us that some guys will ever want to date us.’ And these were really attractive women, fashionably dressed. You would think that any guy would be after them!” She continued to say that she still to this day withheld the full extent of her intelligence on dates. “Even today when I go out on a date, it’s several dates before I usually feel comfortable enough to reveal this ‘terrible secret’ that I have a Physics degree.” (7:10) .
Who then is enforcing these lines of judgement? Eileen thinks she knows. “Where is it coming from? Is it individual men? That’s hard to document. But if you look at the culture, when is a woman ever shown as a scientist? As someone attractive?” (5:53). She discusses how it is a very recent thing to portray a woman as both an intelligent scientist and an attractive feminine woman in shows like CSI. However, in the most popular sitcoms, women are still portrayed along the lines of the binary intelligence or attractiveness distinction. Her primary example of this is The Big Bang Theory, on which Amy, holding a doctorate in Neuroscience, is displayed as “homey” or “dowdy.” Eileen expresses frustration at this, questioning why the producers have to make Mayim Bialik, the attractive actress who plays Amy, seem less beautiful and feminine than she is in reality. While the ‘why’ remains a powerful, unanswered question, the effects of this conflict remain clear in the social conception that women who are both attractive and intelligent, particularly in a scientific manner, are simply unrealistic.
If you’re interested in reading more on how this issue directly affects education access issues for women, check out Lorna’s blog here for the original posting of this video and more discussion!
How the Media failed Women, or how Women failed Women?
Just this past week, The Representation Project released a video highlighting the ways in which the media has failed women in 2013. The included ads vary from hypersexualization of women in advertising, to blatant misogyny on the news, to Miley Cyrus on the VMAs. Here are some key examples from the clip:
“Imagine a world where the media inspires women rather than degrading them,” they say. However, while sexist representations of women arguably do provide potentially questionable role models for women, the reactions of viewers nation wide revealed further questionable societal behavior.
Comments online included serious chastisement of the girls in the videos for using their sexuality in ‘demeaning’ manners, comments to other commenters on how the women on the ads chose to use their image sexually and had a right to do so, and comments on the larger debate of sexuality vs. scholastic ability. Despite the point of the video, viewers everywhere have contributed to degradation of women by perpetuating the belief that there is only one right way to be feminist, and that women who do not behave in this singular, appropriate fashion are up for discrimination. It is truly this idea that allows the negative representation of women to continue, a social conception that allows women in the media to be judged upon this nonexistent binary scale.
One such woman? Julie Peterson. Play Boy Bunny, and MENSA Member extraordinaire.
Earlier, Charlie discussed how the Playboy profession and related occupations became a job for women in a time when they could not use their education or obtain an education to make money. However, Ms. Peterson broke the mold in 1992, which the Baltimore Sun said “shatter[ed] the myth that beauty and brains are mutually exclusive.” In fact, MENSA features Julie on their home page, under “Prominent MENSA members.”
In a comment on how it affected her role as a Playmate, Peterson said, “Their image of what Playmates are is ‘glamorous.’ . . . I don’t usually tell women I’m a Playmate until after I’ve met them. Men want to leave the fantasy intact. It’s OK to be smart, but not too smart. To say you’re in Mensa really sets you apart.”
When asked how she could possibly be a feminist, MENSA member, and Playboy Playmate, Peterson honestly responded,
“It seems a little crazy to deny that a woman’s body is beautiful. I am a beautiful woman, but let’s get beyond that. Yes, my body’s beautiful, but so is the car I drive.
Let’s just say I exercised my right to choose [as a woman] by posing, just as I now exercise my right to choose to be educated, and I want to exercise my right to choose to be a wife, a mother and a doctor. And yes, I would love to do another session with Playboy.”
“We are scholastic, not f-ing plastic.”
“We aren’t good girls, We are scholastic, not fucking plastic.” This line is perhaps the most vivid and clear expression of the message the Harvard Law Revue girls are trying to get across in their parody of Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke’s arguably sexist single that was released this past summer 2013.
Thicke’s music video featured nude, female models who danced and grabbed Thicke and his fellow musicians upon the command “I know you know you want it.” Ironically, Thicke’s video touches upon the Feminist conundrum of having to be either a ‘good girl’ or enjoy feminine sexuality. Lines like, “now he was close, tried to domesticate you,” “you’re far from plastic,” “you don’t need no papers, that man is not your maker” mirror the struggle girls face between being sexy, in balance so as not to be thought of as dowdy or slutty, not to mention how this dilemma reflects upon your intelligence. Unfortunately, Thicke followed these valid points with controversial conversation:
- “But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature, just let me liberate you,”
- “Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you, He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that”
- “Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica. It always works for me, Dakota to Decatur, uh huh. No more pretending, ’cause now you winning.”
Thicke’s joke that he as a man could free a girl from the “blurred lines” which confused her, or that all girls needed was a little hair pulling to help them put themselves ‘in place,’ was not received well in the Feminist community. In fact, it sparked a strong argument across both the factions of feminism that support overt sexuality and those that claim hyper-sexuality downplays a woman’s intelligence. Feminists clamored that the video objectified women, propagated ‘slut’ behavior amongst women, and even supported rape culture. Regardless of the right or wrongs behind these claims, their counterproductive natures to each other speak to a greater wrong within Feminism: women using Feminism against other women.
The arguments against Thicke’s video devolved into verbal degradation of types of feminism by conflicting feminist opinions. Women who believed that all sexual choices should be respected were attacked by others who claimed they supported sexual behaviors that propagated ‘rape culture’ [see here]. Women who claimed that the video propagated ‘slutty’ behavior in girls were chastised as not supporting a woman’s right to sexuality. Women attacked other women on the basis that how they wanted to express their liberation was wrong, an idea so contrary to the foundation of Feminism that it could only be expressed in a satirical parody [read more here]. Enter The Harvard Law Revue Girls.
The Harvard Law Revue girls make a pleasant visual joke of this conflict between factions, creating a confusing satirical parody which encompassed all three of these main charges against Thicke. Throughout the parody, they sing that they are tired of the “exploitation,” “if you want to get nasty, just ask [me]” instead of “harassing [me]” as “that’s a sex crime,” and “don’t want you to come on my face!”
They reject the controversy that intelligent women are separate from sexual women, claiming that they “are not good girls” but are “scholastic, not fucking plastic.” While the last part of this line would seem to contribute to the ideology that scholastic women are not distinctly beautiful, the imagery along with the lines does not. Dressing in thigh highs, short skirts, and mid-drift shirts, it’s clear that their song is not a validation cry for the button-up librarian image of scholastic women. Rather the girls display that they are extremely attractive beings who value their sexuality without compromising their scholastic ingenuity. Defining the ‘lines’ between the two as they were, as the only thing wrong.
This makes me wonder if their call for “every bigot shut up” just might be intended for more than male viewers.
Also, don’t miss the HerStoria reference in the rap towards the end! Check out Kathleen’s post here to learn a little more about this interesting resource on women’s leadership and fight for equality!
“Girls in Engineering aren’t ‘Real Girls'”
Think for a moment about the University of Michigan. What are the first things that come to mind?
Diversity. Opportunity. Equality.
Those used to be the three words that I thought of and heard most often. On the 29th of October, 2013, all three of those words were shaken. At the beginning of November, it came to the attention of all students attending the University that a former Material Science Engineering PhD candidate was suing the University on grounds of unresolved cases of sexual harassment. At first, I shook my head, believing that the girl was likely crying wolf against a male faculty member that had so much as looked at her chest, her likely overly exposed chest. A few paragraphs into her story, I was sickened by not only my own discrimination as a woman against Jennifer Dibbern, but by the University’s academic response to her blatant suffering.
Dibbern was enrolled as a graduate student from 2007-2011. In that short time, she experienced verbal harassment, dismissal of her intelligence, accusations of lying, and multiple accounts of promised sexual assault and actual physical abuse. Starting from the very day of her program, she was accosted by a hostile environment of gender-based discrimination. One of the first things her predominantly male classmates said to her was,
“Let’s be honest, the girls in engineering aren’t real girls—no guy would look at them that way so we need more real girls to study with, date—something to look at in class. Real girls. There’s something wrong with the engineering girls.”
This academic-social belief that women in engineering were not ‘real girls’ would color her entire experience at UofM, from classmate to faculty. The unchecked propagation that the reason so few women were enrolled in engineering stemmed from something distinctly wrong with either their femininity or their intellect created an environment which allowed Jennifer to not only be verbally, but physically harassed. The belief that she was not a ‘real woman’ allowed male cohorts to treat her with harassment that would incur legal retribution in any other setting. Here are but a few of the verbal lashings she suffered daily:
- “Engineering women are different—they’re not normal. They aren’t like real girls. Not normal at all. Even if they are around, no one considers them women.”
- “We need more cute girls in engineering to study with and more options for dates. It’d be great because if we let them in—you know real girls who were honestly, probably not smart enough to hack it—it wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t cut it. If we let them in and helped them study, skim by in classes, maybe there would be girls in engineering who were pretty.”
- “You are a walking cliché. Everything you do is because you are a woman. Just learn and admit it.”
- “Suck up . . . Or did you just suck to get a better grade.”
- “You know you were let into MIT because you’re a woman. I applied several times and got rejected because less qualified—come on, be honest–less qualified women like you were let in to meet their quota.”
Looking at these comments, it is clear that Jennifer was either viewed as a woman admitted because she lacked femininity, or admitted because she had used her femininity to ‘overcome’ a lacking in intelligence. Regardless of which view was predominant, the absolute danger of this social conception was realized in the terrifying sexual harassment Jennifer experienced.
Jennifer experienced physical assault from her male classmates when she refused a sexist demand for a cup of coffee she had just purchased. The classmate slapped her, with no interjection from other classmates standing by, and continued to do so when she stood her ground. Following this, two male students approached Jennifer in the study lounge and graphically explained how they were going to rape her, discussing who would go first, and how easy it would be as they knew where she lived. After all, she wasn’t a ‘real girl,’ so how could their actions be wrong? Finally, a fellow student attempted to make good on his threats, cornering Jennifer in her own lab and attempting to force himself on her three times before she pushed him away successfully.
As if this was not sickening enough, the response from the University faculty was downright appalling. Faculty advisors told Jennifer that “these things happen” and that she needed to “get over it” and “not let it happen again” or interfere with her course and lab work. Jennifer’s attempts at preventing her own assault were then held against her academically. SAPAC authorized alternate examinations, suspension of late night work schedules, and notices to change her address were disregarded and used as reasons to dismiss Jennifer from her program. She was charged for “lack of commitment” to her degree per the following:
- (1) the two week leave Ms. Dibbern took in April 2008 (immediately following the attempted rape)
- (2) her incompletes in coursework (as a result of rescheduling following the attempted rape)
- (3) coursework outside of MSE (arranged so to avoid her sexual harassers)
- (4) a 10 hour per week research job in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (appointment with Professor Edward Parson who also teaches at the University of Michigan Law School; Ms. Dibbern met Prof. Parson while taking a law course outside of her department so to avoid her sexual harassers).
Jennifer Dibbern is a casualty of an extreme result of improper social conceptions of sexuality vs. scholastic achievement in women. No matter who was wrong or right in this story, the entire travesty could have been avoided had proper resources for the awareness and repercussions of gender discrimination been made available. Jennifer was accused of false reporting on the basis that “some women can’t take a joke” and report on inconsequential basis, a reality that does unfortunately exist beyond this case. If the many divides within Feminism have contributed to this ideology at all, it is the duty of all Feminists to take a second glance at the beliefs they propagate and to remember Jennifer as a victim of a nonexistent binary distinction of women as sexual or scholastic in nature.