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.