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Discrimination against the private life?

Linnea Ista lkista at unm.edu
Wed May 5 18:30:27 EST 1999

On 4 May 1999, S L Forsburg wrote:

> C. J. Fuller (cjfuller at mindspring.com)
> > In article <7BEA5F16B8 at cellbio.emory.edu>, DENISE at cellbio.emory.edu wrote:
> >
> > >Well, I usually stay silent on this newsgroup, just reaping the benefits
> > of the advice that
> > >comes through, but I can't help myself from bringing up this question today:
> > >
> > >Did anyone see "Ally McBeal" last night? What did you think about the
> > case against the law
> > >firm who removed their female associate from the "partner track" after
> > returning from
> > >maternity leave because she just wasn't going to be able to "put in the hours"?
> > This is BLATANT sex discrimination, similar to, "Oh, a man has a family to
> > support. We'll pay him more than the single/married/whatever woman, even
> > though she's much more qualified."
> But I bet it happens in underground ways all the time.
> An interesting article in the online SALON magazine 
> (http://www.salonmagazine.com/it/feature/1999/03/24feature.html) asks
> Does academic life lead to divorce? It describes how many consider that
>  "to be a serious scholar one must subjugate one's personal life to the 
> professional, and, at the very least, never mention that one does  have 
> a personal life that might interfere with one's ability to do research 
> or relocate for a job. To do  otherwise is to raise the specter of 
> dilettantishness, and, for women especially, to risk   marginalization." 

And this starts early -- like in grad school. A friend of mine decided to
go back for her PhD after working in a lab for about 5 years. She is
REALLY excellent at what she does, and her boss (who was to be her
advisor) had NO PROBLEM with her working 3/4 time and carrying a regular
class load. She knew it would take lots of extra time, but she was willing
to put it in (talk about no personal life!). Anyhow, the department chair
at first turned her down. His attitude was "You have to be willing to
sacrifice if you are going to be a scientist. If you want to go to grad
school, you have to be willing to live on the $11,000/year that the
stipend provides. You cannot work and go to school at the same time!"

When my friend replied that she had mortgage payments to meet and that she
could not do that on $11K she was told to sell her house.

Some pressure from her boss did allow her to get in. She spent about 90
hours a week in the lab between her job and her grad work, and graduated
with flying colors.

The MOST obscene thing about this whole situation is that the department
chair himself did not do the "grad student sacrifice" he was asking her to
make. He openly talked about how his wife worked and basically supported
them during his grad school days, while completing her PhD in Home Ec. So
HE never made the sacrifice he thought people had to be willing to make. 

> We see this a lot in science, where people who suffer geographic 
> constraints because of kids or partner's job, or whatever, are 
> considered "less than serious" about their science.  This 
> requirement that we sacrifice all for  science of course was 
> not applied to our senior colleagues;  they usually have more 
> mobile lives because their wives often do not have independent 
> careers, whereas how many house husbands do you know?  But the fact
> that OUR lives are less mobile than theirs means they demand from
> us an outrageous sacrifice.

Whilst claiming that it is in the name of "fairness".

>  Thinking  about this further,  this has a huge impact on the whole
> structure 
> of academe which is based on throwing people away.  I argue that women 
> especially, but also many men, who are committed to their family or 
> partner are less likely to take up an academic position that offers to 
> pitch them out after 7 years.  This may have a strong effect on the leaking
> pipeline.  While no one argues that assessment  should be abolished, 
> we can hope that universities will impose their strongest selection
> at the time of hiring, and move away from the general scheme of tossing
> out the tneure track--and their  personal lives.
Except that job security is not a given in ANY arena any more. I agree
that there should be better screening at the front and clear criteria for
what defines success on tenure track. But neither my husband (who is not
in any way associated with academe) have any illusions that our present
positions will be guarenteed after 7 years. This does not keep the
university from taking money out of my paycheck to put into their
retirement fund, however.

On a personal note, I find it interesting that people would be suprised
seeing such attitudes on Ally McBeal! I absolutely cannot watch that show,
I find it so regularly offensive to women-- starting right with Ally's
character, who is supposed to be representative of women of "my"


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