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The Gendered Dimensions of "Success" Drew Gilpin Faust I want to draw attention to an aspect of women's experience in the historical profession that has not heretofore received the consideration it deserves. In our discussions of women's roles as historians over the past two decades, we have quite rightly been concerned with the entrance of women into careers, jobs, and academic institutions. But we have not as yet devoted much attention to their experiences after their passage through the gates of tenure into the magic circle of senior faculty. We have been a bit—I fear—like the many fairy tales that ailrninate with blissful marriage and consign what follows into the vague realm of "happily ever after." As more women do succeed in achieving tenure, full professorships, and assorted honors, I think we should not fail to examine the gendered dimensions of that experience of success, nor should we ignore the implications for women of the process of aging in the workplace. As I thought about how best to explore these issues, I decided that I would turn to a number of my senior female colleagues across the country to search for insight. In interviewing them about their experiences of "success," I hoped to broaden my understanding and be able to suggest to you some perspectives that transcend the limits of my own experience. A number of common themes emerged in my discussions. Let me label three of the most prominent and endeavor to describe them. The first I will call "Representative Woman Syndrome." Upon receiving tenure, my interviewees remembered being immediately confronted with requests to be the woman member of seemingly every committee in their department, university, and professional organization. For both personal and pohtical reasons, everyone found herself saying "yes" far more often than really made sense in terms of her own priorities. Some expressed a sense of duty to women to serve as their voice in these public ways. Others described a reluctance bordering on inability to displease those making the requests. But most agreed that the extent of these service demands had proved to be significant impediments to the progress of their own work and serious disruptions of their personal lives. For those senior women with young children this latter factor took on special importance. For women still associate professors, this service work had in some cases contributed to significant delays in further promotion and had thus exacted considerable professional cost. For all senior women, these demands seem to have generated a sense of being pulled in different directions and have produced significant anxiety about appropriate career choices and responsibilities. © 1993 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 4 No. 3 (Winter)__________________ 158 Journal of Women's History Winter How, we might ask, are these problems different from those of senior men? Most obviously, women still are sparse enough in numbers to constitute a definable "category"—especially at the senior level—and thus they are a scarce, and overexploited resource for committees and service functions. But there are other issues here as well—issues of female socialization and values. Women, one senior scholar told me, are trained to please others; they are far less likely to reject the demands of others upon them than are men. It is thus harder for them to arrive at a balance of personal, administrative, and scholarly concerns in their fives. Another woman cited studies demonstrating that men think they gain success because they deserve it; women tend to think it is because they are lucky or nice. Thus women may often feel compelled to earn their success again and again—to be unfailingly nice and obliging in order to compensate for an absent sense of entitlement. These issues are closely related to a second theme that emerged in my discussions: this I will call the "Dilemma of the Powerful Woman." Several individuals with whom I spoke made reference to women's difficulties in dealing comfortably with power—in making judgments that displease at least some constituents and in delegating authority. And their own socialization is reinforced by an aversion among many in our culture to powerful women. Women are likely to be labeled as ball-breaking bitches...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 157-160
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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