Winter 2008: Of Note
Despite progress, work-life balance is still a hot topic for women scholars
Podcasts of the interviews with thirty trendsetting Emory women are available at pcsw.emory.edu/audio.htm.
By Mary J. Loftus
From decrying gender gaps in pay to presenting a feminist analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a recent gathering celebrating the achievements of women at Emory was anything but a social tea. The October symposium, “Women @ Emory: Past, Present, and Future,” celebrated three decades of female scholarship and leadership at the University.
“We also offered a frank assessment of where Emory currently stands in its quest to become a destination university for women, to ensure that our direction stays clear and our momentum strong,” said Susan Carini 04G, executive director of Emory Creative Group and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW).
Fittingly, the event intersected with the thirtieth anniversary of the PCSW, the twentieth year of the Department of Women’s Studies, and the fifteenth year of the Center for Women at Emory.
Emory, one of the first universities in the country to offer a PhD in women’s studies, was recently ranked No. 1 in gender studies/women’s studies by Academic Analytics, which measures major research university programs in terms of faculty productivity.
Keynote speaker Nancy Cantor, president of Syracuse University, pointed out that women in higher education still face significant challenges, from continuing gender gaps in faculty pay and promotion to unintentional biases and outmoded institutional structures. Tenured women, for example, are twice as likely to be single as tenured men. All women, she said, bring multiple identities to the workplace as parents, daughters, wives, or partners, and with these identities come “multiple commitments and complications.”
A panel of professors discussed issues such as the fragmentation of schedules, the near-impossibility of perfectly balancing the demands of family and career, the “productivity fetishism” that characterizes contemporary workplaces, and the need for “more islands of time—ritual time, storytelling time.”
The first evening of the two-day symposium concluded with a showing of the Oral History Project video, which began with the PCSW and is now under the auspices of the Center for Women.
On the second day, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, associate professor of women’s studies, shared her research on the portrayal of disabled women in the public sphere—from “entertainment,” such as conjoined twins and performers Millie and Christine; to “celebrity” disabled, including paraplegic Playboy centerfold Ellen Stohl; to “inspirational” disabled, such as double-amputee athlete and model Aimee Mullins.
Graduate students from Women’s Studies examined Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies for their violent female protagonists and discussed the concept of the “final girl” (the female character who is spared) in the horror genre.
Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and Professor of English Natasha Trethewey gave a reading of the title poem from her book Native Guard and also shared deeply personal works about the death of her mother.
Candler Dean Jan Love, Vice President and Secretary Rosemary Magee 82PhD, Graduate School Dean Lisa Tedesco, and Senior Vice Provost Claire Sterk spoke about being female leaders at Emory. “We don’t check our identities at the door,” Tedesco said. “I have a really hard time drawing a line between me as a person and me as a scholar.”
Morgan Sokol 07C addressed the “professional Darwinism” that permeates the modern workplace and the “paradigm of silence” that exists around family demands, due to fears of jeopardizing one’s career.
A dramatic reading from Theater Emory’s production of The Trojan War, by feminist translator/writer Ellen McLaughlin, closed the event. “There is no justice, only life,” intoned a student actress. “You must wake up to that.”