Female and Intermittently Academic*
My early academic life found me presenting conference papers, publishing findings in journals, lecturing, and coming to terms with an unsatisfactory resolution of a sexual harassment incident. Eventually, I “deviated” from the norm by accepting a nontenure-track job and then by honoring my biological clock, i.e. by leaving full-time employment to raise my sons and daughters (albeit, during that span, most semesters, I taught a single evening course). As a result of my choices, I became burdened by the social baggage that’s attendant to “less renown” work.
It wasn’t the snide remarks made by support staff, when I was a pregnant, full-time professor, or the pittance of a salary that I received, when working part-time, that taught me most about occupational disparity. More accurately, it was a handful of happenings that illuminated, for me, our society’s need to change.
For instance, one morning, my perplexed dean, a man who valued me enough to later ask me to cover a course created by an important, but seriously ill administrator, stared at my protruding belly and asked me how I would explain my being pregnant to my students. Another time, an atypical, i.e., older, student who I had penalized for missing a homework deadline, chastised me for my lack of perspective on the realities of twinning studies and parenting. Those encounters plus kindred others pushed me beyond my comfort with established canons for professorial comportment.
Regardless, following the birth of my oldest, I stepped away from my tenure-track line. During the next decade, I birthed and nursed three more babies, taught graduate students, earned a first level certificate in herbal medicine, discovered basket weaving, and received a curriculum committee’s approval to teach an honors elective, that I had created, The Rhetoric of Identity. As well, I studied Middle Eastern dancing, and wrote the earliest draft of a novel about a green healer. I typified the 1980s’ “superwoman.”
Countless females of my generation were both researchers and mommies. Some of us sequenced those roles, alternating nursing pads with nursing our research. Others of us grappled with our multiple responsibilities simultaneously, cleaning up vomit and stirring dinner at the same time as reading cutting edge studies. Some of us embraced large families, smiling our way through four, six, eight or more children, their sibling rivalry, and many meetings with their school principals, all the while hunting for footnotes. Others of us had small families, enjoying every nuance of “unintentionally” fingerprinted bedroom walls and of leaky earthworms. We swam upstream against semi-annual currents of term papers. Very few of us managed both Pampers and large publication records.
At times, we female faculty elected to forego professional commendation. Instead, we ripped open our blouses at the first cry of our hungry infants (who refused pumped milk and would only directly drink from us), the moment we returned home from our classrooms. Additionally, we liked seeing our kids’ watercolors displayed at public libraries, liked kissing the fuzzy, milk-scented heads of our newborns and liked the mess that our tykes’ toys made in our formerly tidy living rooms.
As for me, I also liked conducting upper level classes without having to “pay” by running service courses, and I liked running service courses without having to explain to a tenure committee why I wanted to return to teaching fundamentals. I did not, however, enjoy the scarcity of answers to questions from, or the blindsidedness yielded to academically gifted women, who wanted their heart’s and their head’s fulfillment (I hadn’t learned that self-mastery can flourish outside of outlying approval).
Years passed and then decades, too, disappeared. By the time that I prepared to return to full-time teaching and research, the opportunity for my family to make aliyah was gifted to us.
Whereas, initially, I taught part-time in Israel, that experience was set aside when I received more and more book contracts. I wasn’t motivated to continue to pursue scholarship as sadly, here, too, in a nation with the third highest per cent of citizens with tertiary degrees (Leichman), despite protests to the contrary, “[w]omen faculty members [here] share with their sisters in other Western developed countries [unfavorable] characteristics regarding proportions, promotions, and positions” (Toren).
Meaning, local, female academics suffer the same insensitivities that I had elsewhere. We call ourselves a “modern” civilization, yet in many ways, we’re still primitive in terms of how we treat female academics.
Leichman, Abigail Klein. “Israel ranks as world’s third most educated country” [sic]. Israel 21c. 20 Dec. 2018. israel21c.org/israel-ranks-as-worlds-third-most-educated-country/. Accessed 11 Feb. 2023.
Toren, Nina. “Academia in Israel.” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women’s Archive. jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/academia-in-israel. Accessed 11 Feb. 2023.
* Part of this post is an adaptation of a portion of: Greenberg, KJ Hannah. “Coordinated Meaning: An Orthodox Jewess Teaches Feminist Theory.” National Communication Association Annual Convention, Miami Beach, FL. 2003. Rpt. As KJ Hannah Greenberg. “The Path of the Torah is the Path of the Feminist.” “Old/New World Discourse.” The Jerusalem Post. Mar. 3, 2008. and Rhetorical Candy. Seashell Books, 2018, 149-152.