Revolution Lullabye

October 24, 2013

Gubar, Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010

Gubar, Susan. “Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010.” College English 76.1 (September 2013): 12-28.

Gubar uses her own personal career trajectory – her work as a professor in the Indiana University English Department from 1973 through 2010 – to comment on the state of the humanities in 21st century U.S. higher education and the shifting forces that have affected women’s careers in the humanities over this span of 37 years. She calls in her article for women to protect and advocate for the gains they have made in the academy for the sake of future generations of women scholars and their students. She also argues for the necessity of the humanities in 21st century American society, contending that its decreased influence and presence on college campuses today threatens our democratic society and culture. Her article shows in vivid detail the specific challenges women faced in the academy, ranging from professoinal dress to juggling the demands of family and spousal commitments with increased service and administrative expectations as funding and time for research diminished in the 1980s and 1990s.

Notable Notes

“the wives” – juxtaposition of the English faculty gatherings in 1973 and 2010. “The wives” formed a collective, many had just as stellar credentials as their husbands or the newly hired female faculty, but they were relegated to a supporting cast. There was tension between these “wives” and the new female faculty – the “wives” were never able to be, never allowed to be, what the new female faculty were. (contrast to today’s “mommy wars”)

In contrast, the “husbands” and the “partners” of faculty in the 1990s and 2000s never formed the same kind of collective, as the husbands, wives, and partners often had their own careers. What this marks is a shift in departmental culture from 1973 to 2010 – now it is much more disperse.

change in departmental male/female ratio – in 1973, there were 73 faculty (4 women). In 2010, there were 47 faculty (23 women)

the feminization of the humanities (13) – referring to the place of the humanities at institutions of higher education, but how does that term serve to blame women entering the profession for the demise of the humanities? (13)

central question – what has happened to women in English as the humanities have become devalued, and what has happened to feminist criticism in the humanities? (13)

long lists of names of former female colleagues who left IU, left the profession

Gubar was in the first wave of women hires – early 1970s

touches on issues of dress, pregnancy, nursing, having children in the midst of a career, being single v. married in a college town

change in faculty replacement hires: instead of one-for-one or growing the department in the 1970s, less and less tenure-track faculty were hired – cutbacks (18)

When less faculty are hired, the workload remains the same, so the younger (and more female) faculty teach more and larger classes, direct more theses and dissertations, and take on higher service loads (18). At the same time, tenure expectations were raised.

increased specialization leads to less focus on a local institution/department and more attention to research, a national discipline and conversation (and empty department hallways). Problem of faculty retention (20; 22).

as women rose in ranks, woman-woman rivalry increased: women were torn between protecting younger women and giving honest evaluations, increased competition for limited research funds, salary compression and inversion (21).

today’s problems: gulf btwn K-12 and university education, international and multilingual students, tension btwn education and comp/rhet field, online education (26)

Quotable Quotes

“The conjunction of women’s successful integration into the humanities and the attenuation of the humanities is not causal, I believe, but rather concurrent and coincidental” (13).

“In retrospect, I sometimes think of my cohort as ‘the lost generation’; for a variety of reasons, few of them could or would stay the course” (17).

“As the ranks of senior male professors dwindled through retirement, mid-level women often had to become what is called ‘heavy lifters’: they had to staff so many service-oriented activities or engage in so much advising and mentoring that their research tended to suffer” (18).

“People became less grounded in local university business, more active with colleagues around the country who shared their fields of specialization” (19).

“To use a buzzword that encapsulates the situation, the erosion of herteronormativity that began first with the disappearance of ‘the wives,’ and then with the appearance of lesbians on the faculty, gained momentum” (23).

“the contraction or depopulation of the humanities at the present moment” (24) – less students, graduate TAs/PhD candidates, faculty…focus on vocational, job training, sciences, business, etc. More reliance on contingent faculty to teach, fewer tenure lines

“For all our activism inside the academy, feminists have failed to surmount the multiple forces that conspired to marginalize the profession, and therefore we have failed to insure the future of our sucessors or, indeed, of our own benefits and environments” (25).

“How do I honor the equity that women have attained in the beleaguered humanities without worrying that their presence has contributed to the feminization of the profession, driving men from it and thereby further downgrading its prestige and currency in the culture?” (26).

“Never has a democratic culture needed the critical reading, writing, and interpretive skills practiced and taught by our profession more than now” (26).

“We must sustain what we fought so hard to attain” (27).

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