Women in Academia: Support for All the Single Ladies

Whoa-uh-oh. Sorry, I just had to finish that. When Beyonce comes calling, you pick up the phone and sing along. Especially when the song is so relevant to the topic at hand: support for women outside of the family framework. Many of the seminars, workshops, and groups that I have heard about reaching out to women and addressing the issues and challenges faced by women in academia seem to speak in large part to women with significant others and/or children. This post is intended to talk about women who do not fall into that first category.

To start, let me be clear that I find nothing wrong with the strong emphasis people in academia place on the challenges facing women with children and/or significant others. I mean, just recently, I heard some people give young women in academia advice to freeze their eggs so that children would not derail their careers. Surprisingly, similar advice about freezing sperm as not been offered to young men in academia. The issues surrounding work-life balance and family planning must be addressed, and, if I can make a little bit of a stand, must start to acknowledge single mothers in a more open and helpful fashion.

However, and I chose “however” because it requires more syllables and time than a meager “but,” the issues surrounding family life are not the only ones faced by women in academia, and many women in academia do not yet face those issues at all. Instead, they are confronted with a lack of female role models in positions of power, such as tenured professors or deans or provosts. They are confronted by a backwards culture where their voices are not heard as loudly as men’s voices and where their leadership and skills are not given as much weight as men’s.

I am not saying that academia is a molding cesspool of horribleness. There are many positive initiatives that work to maintain a healthy work environment where people can cultivate strong academic careers. However, academia still has a long way to go in making sure that the already grueling academic environment is not made even more so for women. Support networks must link in single women who may find themselves un-tethered in a world where much of the outreach is dedicated to families.

I recognize I need to clarify again. This is my fault for being imprecise with my words, and I appreciate you, dear readers, following along with me on this topic, even as I search for the best way to discuss it. I bring up the working-mom and family-issues frameworks only because they are the most prominent frameworks for outreach towards women in academia that we have right now.  I do not want to pit women with families against single women. I do not think that adding resources to one takes away from the other. Resources should be given to both groups, especially given how fluid those group boundaries are, and especially especially given how universal many of the concerns and issues are. It is false to suggest that women with families could not be helped by general outreach that address the challenges faced by women in academia.

And while I am on this sort of rant, let me just throw out the importance of maybe acknowledging intersectionality in this outreach; the challenges faced by women of color, QUILTBAG individuals, international students, just to name a few groups, are unique but not fully distinct from each other. I am sick of seeing the same seminar on work-life-family balance being offered every semester. It needs to be addressed, but we must move beyond that. There are so many other challenges that must be acknowledged.

4 thoughts on “Women in Academia: Support for All the Single Ladies”

  1. I think another single lady issue that is never addressed is the question of how long to stay on the job market. Anecdata time: my department is mostly married or partnered people with partners who have steady employment. And while I think the work-life balance issue is really difficult when it comes to questions of kids, partnered students are sort of at an advantage in that they can adjunct for 2-5 yrs/however long it takes to find the elusive TT position (which, hey, these days may be never). While, the few single ladies there are often end up adjuncting and working another job or two to survive. And the question really becomes one of whether or not that is sustainable.

  2. Yes! I remember in grad school they would have endless conversations about when you might want to have a baby, but nothing about say, dating when your world is so limited to people in your department or finding work-life balance when you don’t have the excuse of a spouse or child.

    Honestly, this equally applies to the professional world. Sometimes I feel like I need to make up a fake boyfriend and baby so that I have a valid reason to go home on time and focus on my hobbies.

  3. boo-yah. As a lady in academia who has gone back and forth between single-ness and SO-ness (and occasionally pondering mom-ness), I’m sorry, but work-life balance is a joke. It doesn’t matter how many seminars people offer or what kind of resources are given. There is still that underlying belief (at least by me) that I have to work so hard and put so much into my degree and time with my lab, that there’s really no other option to sacrifice my personal life. At least until I find a way to make one of Hermione’s time spinner things, or slow the speed of the Earth to make more hours in a day, or accidentally bump into the Doctor one day… Or really, I’d love to have a partner who actually pulls half the weight of the household. There have definitely been days (more than I’d like to admit) that I’ve said that I just need a wife – and then my feminist side of me dies a little. It’s no wonder that historically phds were married and/or rich enough to have a housekeeper. There are times when I don’t cook or don’t do the dishes or the laundry or any number of things because of the simple fact that that grant or that report has a deadline. Housework does not.

    And I know I should take the time to cook, because I like cooking, and good food, and being healthy. I know I should clean up at least a little bit at a time (thanks PoM). I know I can’t ignore my apartment or my boyfriend. But I do. I do every time. Not only because I have to work hard now, but I’ve also worked so hard to get to where I am. It shouldn’t have to be a trade-off, but it always is. Some weeks or months or semesters are better than others, some are far worse. And in the end, the housework doesn’t mind getting not-done, but I’m fairly certain my advisor would get pissed if I don’t submit that abstract on time…

    /rant of my own.
    ugh. why do I do this again?

    1. If I were the kind of person who said +1 over the internet, this would be where that’d be applicable. I second everything you said.

      I do have a role model because my advisor is a woman whom I’ve seen go from single lady to married lady with a baby (I did my undergrad in the same college where I am a grad student), but it doesn’t do much to inspire me. If anything, it just makes me even more scared. As a (only second year) graduate student, the stuff I have to do and the responsibilities I have are overwhelming me, and I cannot imagine how much worse it will be when I will have a posse of undergraduate and graduate students, not to mention a fragile young life, depending on me. It makes me ever so ashamed to say this, but when I broke off with my boyfriend after three months of graduate school, I was just relieved. Simply because it was just one less thing going on in my life that I needed to be worrying about. Sometimes I really really do wish I had that time turner.

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