Gilbert, Sandra M. “The Problem That (Still?) Has No Name: Our Brilliant Careers in a World without Work.” College English 76.1 (September 2013): 29-34.
Gilbert comments on Susan Gubar’s essay “Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010,” which is published in the same September 2013 issue of College English. Gilbert and Gubar met as young assistant professors in the English Department at Indiana University and collaborated throughout their careers. In her essay, Gilbert asks whether the present reality of women in the humanities and women in society more broadly measures up to the expectations and hopes of the generations of women who worked to disrupt patriciarchal structures and assumptions and give women opportunities in the workplace, in politics, in business, and in higher education. She questions whether women can “have it all” and names some of the new problems facing women and specifically women in the humanities: eroding departments and support for research; attrition of women on the tenure-track; the feminization of the humanities.
draws on personal experiences and her own history like Gubar – she was in the first wave of women academics, encouraged by early feminists (Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett)
the excitement – bliss – expectations of the early years of the 2nd wave of feminism contrasted with the realities faced today, struggles & challenges that weren’t anticipated
“diminished things” (32)
Getting and keeping a tenure-track job in the 1970s, 1980s: “Yet there [Indiana University], as almost everywhere, the attrition rate of tenure-track women who didn’t make it through complicated professional hoops or had to move (as I did) for personal reasons was high” (31).
About traveling to conferences, giving talks with Gubar around the country and leaving behind children/husbands: “But the pangs of separation often seemed worth it: I used to carry a picture of the Cabinet around with me – a bunch of dark suits circling a long table, backed up by a woman carrying a coffee pot. When I asked myself why am I on this airplane? I took out the picture and told myself, that’s why” (31).
“Still, change is slow; it comes in increments, as wise voices tell us. Our country has a (male) African American president, and we women are now professors, doctors, lawyers in numbers that would have astounded Virginia Woolf. We are Supreme Court judges, we are corporation presidents – and we are a majority of graduate students in English departments. Wasn’t it worth the wait? For here it is, the world we struggled for. But sadly, as Susan so incisively laments, the humanities we sought to change have become ‘a diminished thing.’ In fact, more than a few of the other workplaces to which English PhDs might have aspired – libraries, research foundations, museums, nonprofits – have become diminished things” (32).
“Yet still: still, as I look around me, brooding on the hopes of my children and their children, my students and their students, I can’t help thinking, ‘Never such innocence,’ to quote Philip Larkin in an even more dreadful manner” (33).