Come A Long Way ....?
by Jo Freeman
for the 1996 APSA annual meeting in San Francisco. Abridged version published
in PS: Political Science and Politics, June 1996, pp. 182-3.
I've heard many young women scholars express concern over their future,
wondering if a male dominated discipline like political science really
has any place for them. Yet those of us old enough to remember how it
was, know that the discipline has truly come a long way. To appreciate
how much things have changed for women, you need to know what they were
like way back when women were oddballs in the profession and feminism
was a dirty word.
Let me begin by describing myself in 1975. I was two years past the Ph.D.,
which I had received from the University of Chicago after five years on
a full NIMH fellowship (the average time to Ph.D. was ten years). My mentor
and thesis advisor was Theodore J. Lowi, who had always encouraged me
to pursue my own intellectual interests and wrote glowing letters of recommendation.
In April I published two books; an anthology on Women: A Feminist Perspective
(Mayfield Publishing Co., formerly National Press Books,) which quickly
became the leading introductory textbook in women's studies, and my dissertation:
The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social
Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process (Longman Inc. after
purchase from David McKay Co.), which won a $1,000 APSA prize that year
for The Best Scholarly Work on Women and Politics. I had published over
two dozen articles, in both popular and scholarly forums, mostly on some
aspect of women or feminism, and been a guest lecturer at 42 colleges
and universities. In May I was a finalist in the White House Fellows competition.
Does this read like a good launching pad for the academic fast track?
It wasn't. My last academic job offer was in 1974.
This record did not make me popular. After seeing my books, the only tenured
faculty member in the tiny department of the small state college where
I taught said that my "commitment to scholarship interfered with
[my] ability to perform effectively as a faculty member". He arranged
to chair my review committee the following fall. Once word got out that
I was marked for extinction the other faculty treated me like a leper.
At one faculty event a woman met me at the door and angrily accused me
of "dividing the feminist community"; I didn't even know there
was a feminist community at this campus. At a faculty social event held
at the home of the woman who chaired my final review committee no one
would speak to me. My initial nemesis told my students that he didn't
want in his class any student who wrote a senior thesis under my direction
and the Dean ignored my complaint. In 1977 after my third review
in two years faculty reviewers recommending my dismissal admitted
that my "works have been well received and widely reprinted"
but this was not as important as my lack of "outstandingly active"
participation in campus governance.
Before I gave up and went to law school in 1979 I applied for literally
every job in American politics listed in the APSA personnel newsletter
any place in the country, and a lot of other positions as well. I had
four interviews in 1976 and one each for the next three years, none of
which resulted in a job offer. I did spend two years in Washington on
fellowships, first from the Brookings Institution and then as an APSA
Congressional Fellow. But, despite my track record, I could not find a
When I asked my professional colleagues for help the women said that with
my publication record and professional reputation I didn't need any. The
men said it was a tough job market for them too. No one at the schools
I interviewed, or just applied to, ever told me that writing about women
was "academically incorrect," but I was told "We don't
need anyone to teach Women and Politics." I never taught that course;
I taught American government and politics. I wrote about women and politics.
Departments hiring junior faculty said I was overqualified and those looking
for more senior personnel said I didn't have enough experience. As a radical
feminist and a mainstream political scientist, I heard from the radicals
that I was too mainstream and from the mainstream that I was too radical.
A male colleague from grad school days, on reviewing my resume, said that
reading the words "women" and "feminism" repeatedly
in the titles of my published works made the typical male faculty member
feel like he would be inviting a "feminist bull into a male chauvinist
china shop." In a contracting job market, where supply exceeded demand,
he didn't hold out much hope.
Why was it so hard for those of us who wrote about women before it was
fashionable? In part we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those
on the cutting edge of social change always get shot at, and sometimes
get shot down. Political scientists were uneasy with women as colleagues
and did not think the study of women was a legitimate field in the discipline.
Furthermore, my years as a southern civil rights worker and a feminist
organizer had given me something of a reputation as a political activist,
which is almost always deemed a bad thing for a scholar to be. Unfortunately,
there was nothing in my graduate school education which prepared me for
any of this. I naively believed the "myth of merit" which presumes
that rewards are commensurate with contributions to knowledge, and doesn't
add that what you write on, where, and when is more important than how
good it is.
When I compare the experience of women political scientists of my generation
with those in other fields, it's obvious that the secret to survival and
success is to ride a wave, not go against the grain. If one looks at the
emergence of the study of women as an area of inquiry, or more accurately
as a series of subfields within the different academic disciplines, one
sees that success has varied enormously by field. It was easiest in the
humanities; harder in the social sciences; hardest in the hard sciences.
The most important factor was the size and the percent female already
in each discipline in the late sixties, when the feminist movement emerged,
women became a hot topic in the popular press, and complaints were filed
with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare demanding that government
contracts be rescinded until sex discrimination was eliminated. Although
women everywhere were at the lowest levels and in the least prestigious
schools, sheer numbers made a difference. Access was most rapid in those
fields which already had a critical mass of women -- somewhere between
20 and 30 percent. Women begot more women. And more women fostered the
study of women. Greater numbers of scholars studying women in a field
made the creation of specialty journals economically feasible and conferences
on "women in ..." realistic. Many other scholarly phenomena
-- regular local meetings, research support, courses, the sharing of knowledge
and interests -- also require minimum numbers to exist and a critical
mass to flourish.
Legitimation was further facilitated by the existence of compatible intellectual
trends and hampered by incompatible ones. "Women's history"
quickly became a respectable field in the historical profession because
the rise of social history created a more receptive audience for the study
of women. In such disciplines as political science and economics the growth
fields were quantitative analysis of demographic, voting and survey data
in which sex was one of several independent variables and, until the gender
gap appeared in the 1980 election, not a very interesting one.
Indeed, women succeeded in politics a decade before the scholars of women
succeeded in political science. Women's rate of entry into public office
took off in the 1970s. It was the mid-1980s before any woman whose primary
field of study was women got tenure in a department of political science.
Prior to that some women political scientists got tenure by writing on
more legitimate topics before turning their attention to women's political
activities, or got tenure despite a few publications on women amongst
their more traditional titles; some held joint appointments in women's
studies so that their departure would mean loss of a line; and several
others simply made their permanent homes in other departments. I wasn't
smart or lucky enough to do any of these things.
Let me end by describing myself in 1996. I remain committed to scholarship
despite my exile from the places in which it is normally pursued, and
I remain a political scientist despite the fact that I practice law, journalism,
editing, and many other things to earn my bread. I don't teach, but my
publications list has grown to six dozen articles, with about the same
mix of popular and scholarly work I started with. A couple of my early
articles one popular and one scholarly have been called
"classics" and are still widely read. My intro text is now in
its fifth edition and my dissertation stayed in print for 12 years. I've
been offered contracts to edit a second edition of my Social Movements
book and an American Government anthology.
Being a "guerilla scholar", as I call myself, has both advantages
and disadvantages. I don't write things I don't want to write in pursuit
of the brownie points necessary for promotion and tenure; nor do I feel
compelled to phrase my ideas in arcane jargon and impenetrable prose.
I have a much more flexible schedule than when I had to meet classes but
I also have a less predictable one and much less control. I enjoy the
research and writing I do much more than I ever did while a faculty member.
But my absence from an environment in which scholarship is rewarded has
slowed my production rate because there are no incentives for publishing
beyond what pleasure it gives me, while there are many hurdles. Scholarly
research is something I do in between the cracks of my life. For over
ten years I have been working on an ever expanding and never ending project
on the history of women and American politics, which I sometimes think
will be published in five volumes, posthumously.
Most of all I feel the isolation which comes from the lack of good conversation
about my work or any intellectual stimulation that doesn't come from print.
The growth of the Internet and the exchanges that can take place via this
medium have made this easier, but I still feel the absence of face-to-face
interaction. While teaching regular classes is hard work, students do
provide a ready audience on which to try out ideas, and sometimes help
with research. However, adjuncting pays so little for the time it takes
that I can't afford to teach just to have an audience.
Unaffiliated scholars are disproportionately women, especially women who
got their Ph.D.s in the 1970s when both the feminist movement and graduate
schools encouraged women to get more degrees, but the disciplines would
not hire women to be professors at the same rate that they produced them
even when they wrote on more respectable topics than I did. There
are things the professional associations could do to make the production
of scholarship easier for those of us on the outside, but I have not seen
any effort, or even interest, in doing so. Thus I and other guerrilla
scholars continue to depend on our friends on the inside to help us do
for love what most political scientists do for a living.