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Looking Forward/Looking Back Barbara Sicherman Among the employment challenges of the nineties, finding and keeping a job may well be the greatest for male and female historians alike. The economic downturn, demographic shortfall, and budget deficits that have led to furloughs, deferred payments, and even dismissals of tenured professors all bode ill for the immediate future. This situation is likely to be exacerbated by the apparent public loss of confidence in academe, a perception fostered by charges of "political correctness," attacks on affirmative action, and claims that we have failed in our primary responsibility —teaching. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr's analysis of demographic and institutional trends offers a sobering context in which to reassess gender issues. From my vantage point as a member of what is rapidly becoming the senior cohort of women historians, the situation has changed beyond recognition from what it was when I entered the profession in the 1960s. The National Research Council (NRC) statistics on Ph.D. cohorts, which I came across recently, prompted me to reassess my own experiences. Although I have taught women's history since 1970 and have studied women professionals, I was surprised to learn that those of us who received our Ph.D.s between 1960 and 1969 belong to the cohort when women constituted the smallest proportion of history doctorates—10.4 percent, smaller even than the artificial cohort of the period from 1930 to 1959, when 13 percent of Ph.D. recipients were women.1 I recall many moments of discouragement in graduate school, but feeling like a rarity is not among them. Why this should be the case now puzzles me, since our scarcity must have affected all aspects of the experience . Coming along at the end of the "feminine mystique" generation and before the women's movement, there was no language in which to conceptualize what we now call gender issues. As I recollect, only after participating in the 1963 March on Washington did I become conscious of such matters—the slighting remarks by male graduate students about our professional aspirations (or about those of their wives, which translated into the same thing), the appointment of male but not female graduate students to teach Columbia's sacrosanct Contemporary Civilization courses. We had no female mentors; in truth, we probably would not have wanted them had there been some. Women were included in a colloquium on social history—then the only place to study "others"—but there was no women's history as such; indeed, we viewed the only person doing a "women's topic" as typing herself and thereby endangering her career. Perhaps most © 1993 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 4 No. 3 (Winter) 138 JOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY WINTER important, many of us found it difficult to take ourselves or our careers seriously. This was perhaps due less to any overt lack of confidence in our capacities to be professors and scholars than to more subtle forms of self-doubt, even to a failure of imagination. It did not occur to us to wonder why the best male students went on to teach at Princeton, Berkeley, and UCLA, while the women went off to women's colleges or little-known coeducational institutions. Some of us even sought such jobs in order to remain near husbands, lovers, and friends. Few, if any, of us envisioned teaching at prestigious universities; nor could we imagine the day when bright young women would be sought after, even fought over.2 NRC statistics suggest the extent of the change: from 1981 to 1988, women constituted roughly one-third of all Ph.D. recipients in history; 36 percent in 1987/88.3 During the same period, women also represented one-third of employed history Ph.D.s aged 35 and under—roughly the same percentage as receive doctorates; proportionately more women than men in this cohort hold tenure-track positions. At the upper end of the academic ladder, the situation for women falls off dramatically. The greater disparity between men's and women's salaries and the scarcity of female full professors are both well known. This gap is not simply a matter of the smaller number of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 137-140
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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