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Campus Women Lead

Spring 2008

Volume 37
Number 1

Women’s Leadership


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Challenges of the Faculty Career for Women

Challenges of the Faculty Career for Women: Success and Sacrifice, Maike Ingrid Philipsen (Jossey-Bass, 2008, $40.00 Hardcover)

Maike Ingrid Philipsen takes up the continuing quandary of work-life balance in this new qualitative study based on interviews with forty-six women faculty members in a mid-Atlantic state. In amplifying the voices of these women, Philipsen has sought to “shed light on statistics that stubbornly refuse to change.” The resulting book does exactly that, marshaling personal narrative to illustrate the persistent obstacles that faculty continue to face despite decades of apparent progress. Philipsen explores the experiences of a diverse group of faculty members (representative of a range of ages, institutions, family situations, and racial, ethnic, and national identities) and concludes that academic culture continues to provide limited options and inadequate support. In fact, Philipsen points out, despite considerable gains in some areas, certain changes in academic culture (such as heightened publication requirements) have compounded the pressures faculty members face. As the interviews illustrate, what women need is nothing short of a cultural shift, both in the academy and in the world at large.

This call for cultural change is a tall order indeed, but Philipsen provides some specific recommendations for doing this transformative work. The book is useful in another sense as well: Philipsen queries her subjects, all variously successful academics, about their coping strategies and advice for new faculty members, and the result is a rich resource for women (and men) at any point in the pipeline. What the study lacks in longitude it makes up in breadth of focus, and Philipsen provides a satisfying snapshot of the diverse (although geographically specific) group of women whose different yet convergent experiences form the texture of modern academic life. Her book makes an important contribution to the literature of work-life balance.

Interrogating Postfeminism

Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra, Eds. (Duke University Press, 2007, $24.95 paperback)

In this smartly edited anthology, editors Tasker and Negra question popular culture about its relationship to feminist and postfeminist discourses and find no simple answers. Locating postfeminist discourse as a complex alternative to popular “backlash” models, the editors identify postfeminism as a “pervasive” and “inherently contradictory” phenomenon that simultaneously rejects and reappropriates feminism. Their ensuing search for “a postfeminist critical practice that expands feminism as much as it critiques it” turns up savvy analyses of a range of twenty-first century pop-culture phenomena. As a collection, these analyses critique not only women’s portrayals in American and British culture, but the state of feminist criticism itself.

Beginning with an important essay by Angela McRobbie that establishes the frame of reference, the volume surveys variable texts--from Bridget Jones to Queer Eye, Nickelodeon to Newsweek--through the lenses of literary, cultural, and feminist theory. Although perhaps most useful to scholars in these fields, the essays are of interest to members of a broader audience who (righteously or reluctantly) accept their place as pop-culture consumers. Contributors are sensitive to the range of women’s identities and frequently explore questions of race, nationality, and sexuality in their subjects. Like postfeminism itself, the authors both signal the limitations of traditional feminist critique and build upon the foundations those critiques have established. In that sense, the anthology represents an important development in (post)feminist theory and a compelling contribution to cultural studies at large.

Mama, PhD

Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life, Elrena Evans and Caroline Grant, Eds. (Rutgers University Press, 2008, $19.95 paperback)

Editors Evans and Grant have compiled an engrossing collection of essays by women who have negotiated the complex challenges of parenting while pursuing an academic career. Speaking from a range of perspectives (across disciplines, geographical locations, and stages of both career and motherhood), contributing authors paint a vivid scene of the daily choices that constitute academic motherhood’s lifelong balancing act. Their stories provide a refreshing glimpse into the variety of outcomes possible for women who have children at any stage on the academic path, from graduate school through post-tenure. These frank essays recognize the value of communicating with others over shared experience, and they offer comfort and sustenance to women who have found that motherhood shakes the foundations of academe’s infamous mind-body divide.

Unlike similar studies that focus primarily on mothers who have “made it”--i.e., those who have remained in the professoriate--Mama, PhD provides a balanced perspective from mothers who have opted to pursue other career options, from part-time contingent positions to non-academic writing. Celebratory but realistic, these essays illustrate the multitude of choices available (and still unavailable) to women and the great rewards (and considerable pitfalls) of fitting motherhood into the academic mold. In offering concrete suggestions to improve institutional support for women with children, the anthology connects personal experience to systemic change and gestures toward academe’s potential to provide truly family-friendly workplaces. Its stories will be of interest to young scholars contemplating motherhood, to current parents who feel isolated by expectations that they “perform childlessness,” and to anyone wondering how mothers are faring within the academy.

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