One Woman’s Career Path- With Advice for Young Women Scholars
By Patricia A. Hurley, Texas A&M University
Some context for this article is necessary. I started my career being extremely naïve about gender discrimination in the world at large. My family never gave me any indication that I should have limited expectations for what I might accomplish because I am a woman. Parental expectations for me were high—and higher than they were for my brothers, at least from my perspective. After graduation from high school in 1968 (a date necessary for further context), I attended Newcomb College of Tulane University and graduated in 1972. Newcomb was a women’s college at that time and all of my classes (with only a few exceptions) in my first two years were populated only by female students. Gender bias in the classroom did not exist.
My cohort in graduate school at Rice University included only five people, of whom I was the only woman. There were no women on the faculty in the political science department at that time, but it was a small department and I did not give it much thought. Although I was a quiet student, it was not because I felt intimidated by men in my seminars. (I confess to being intimidated by students in the class ahead of me, who all seemed to know so much more than the members of the entering class.) Once I was far enough along in the program to have a dissertation committee (all male), I received support and encouragement for my work. Does this mean that the department was free of sexism? No. Certainly there were people (students and some faculty) who would tell an off-color joke, make the occasional comment that would be interpreted today as creating a hostile environment, or even occasionally say something outrageous directly to me. None of it was any worse than I had heard growing up with three brothers—this was simply the way the world was in those days, so I never took particular offense. If my fellow students were willing to tell that off-color joke in my presence, it simply was a sign that I was “one of the guys.” If a meeting with my committee reduced me to tears (it did once), it was not because they were harder on me than they were on the male students—it was because I was the one who cried. There were times I thought I would fail in those days, but it never occurred to me that I would fail because I was a woman.
After taking my first job in the summer of 1976 (a non-tenure-track position at the University of Houston), I began to recognize the professional difficulties that women faced because of their gender. There were tenure-track women on the faculty who seemed to be judged harshly because they were women. There were women on the faculty who found the environment intimidating because of the behavior of men. There were the conversations all about sports that seemed to leave women out. I received little, if any, mentoring from senior faculty, even while male colleagues also in non-tenure-track positions did receive such support. (I continued to receive mentoring from several dissertation committee members, who were in close geographic proximity.) Add to that the male students who approached their female professors inappropriately. Yes, there was gender bias in the academic world and I was just realizing it.