single. academic. female. January 26, 2010Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Food for Thought, single and happy, Your Responses Requested!.
Tags: dating an academic, how smart is too smart, life of an academic, sexism in academia, single female academic, smart women
Over the weekend, I took a walk with my friends B & A, and B — who is male, pursuing a PhD in my program, and married to A — asked me about how I felt about something he had heard: That women who begin pursuing their PhDs while single are less likely to find partners or be married in the long run when compared with men (my apologies to B if I’ve paraphrased incorrectly, but this is what I remembered). B sounded pretty stunned about what he had heard, but I was not.
So although I have not found any statistics to verify whether what B heard was true or not, I want to go over the reasons why this fact seems relatively unsurprising to me (as a single academic female myself) and to see what you, Copious Readers, have to add to the conversation (especially if you have access to any useful statistics or personal experiences related to this issue!):
1. The way B understood it — and what bothered him most (because he’s a good feminist!) — was that this correlation implies that many men are intimidated by well-educated, independent women, which therefore suggests that even intelligent and well-meaning men are influenced by popular sexist stereotypes. As a woman who has dated off and on throughout my graduate career, I can attest to feeling a bit anxious about how smart might seem “too smart,” which for whatever reason might equal “not sexy.” I can’t speak for the men I’ve dated, but I will admit that there have been times when I’ve thought something *really smart* but not said it for fear of sounding snarky, snobby, or decidedly unsexy. That’s not my date’s fault, of course, but it does suggest that even well-educated women like me are influenced by the same sexist stereotypes that men might unwittingly buy into.
2. As I progress through my academic career, I personally feel more satisfied and fulfilled with my work and feel more independent as a person. Although I would never say that married people are less independent than me or less fulfilled with their work lives, I would say that my education has helped me get to the happy place I am as a single woman.
3. In fact, the more educated I become, the more aware I am — and critical — of everyday instances of sexism. I am also much less tolerant of ignorant and disrespectful behavior and am quick to point it out to potential (or current) partners. People who know me well know that I will speak my mind — I always have been this way, but the difference is that today I don’t feel nearly as bad about it (as long as I haven’t been unkind or rude).
4. And on a more practical level, given the rigors of doctoral work and the career I hope to have, it will be easier for me to succeed if I don’t have a partner or a family. It’s relatively well-documented that women tend to be less successful in their academic careers than men because of institutionally-grounded and socially-sanctioned sexism, especially in the sciences. Quite simply, I will have an easier time of it if I don’t have a partner (who would have to be willing to move — possibly thousands of miles away — to give me the best possible future) or children (because even in this progressive society, women still tend to bear the burden of raising their children, no matter how many degrees they earn).
So, Dear Readers: What do you have to add (or contest) about what it means to be a single female academic in today’s world?