Dear Feminist Scientists (and Science-y Feminists): Feminist activism or stealth when building a career?

Here is a question Gap Junction Science received: “Can I still write feminist articles and volunteer doing feminist things while doing neurofeminism research? I don’t want to have to bail on my activism to keep my stealth until I’m more established, but if that’s what will keep me alive in academia, then I’ll do it.” ¬†What sayeth us?

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3 Responses

  1. Stacey Ritz says:

    This is a tough question, and I doubt there is a single definitive answer, but I can offer my experience. I got interested in feminism and science and sciency-feminism and feminist science as a grad student, coming from a background in the pure natural sciences with a minor in philosophy. During my PhD I got involved with a group called “Biology As If The World Mattered”, which was my first bigtime exposure to feminist science, and my gateway drugs were Ruth Hubbard and Emily Martin. Then I hit the harder stuff (Haraway, Harding, etc). I made some conference presentations and wrote a couple of papers (which I never published), and I fully intended to continue working on that stuff along side my laboratory research in post-grad-school life.

    But for a long time I couldn’t really make it work. I had a baby and took a post-doc in a city clear across the continent where I didn’t know anybody; I could barely keep up with the lab work really, and didn’t have a lot of extra time or capacity. When I got a tenure-track job, it was much the same — I was busy with the work of trying to establish a laboratory, get grants, work on the curriculum for the new medical school I was working at, and wanting to be an involved parent. I’ve finally been able to start making this stuff a concrete part of my work again in the last few years, and I’m starting to publish on it now. I’ve actually scaled back my laboratory work considerably to make room for it (I have tenure now, so I have the latitude to do that now that I didn’t a few years ago).

    In my case I didn’t exactly go “stealth” as a deliberate strategy — I went into hibernation as a matter of survival.

  2. Sari van Anders says:

    No easy answer to this, and I think individuals have to wiggle their way through all of this. It seems to me that there are two key things to trying to make a successful career in academia: (1) being passionate about what you do; and (2) publishing good work (however good is defined in you area; e.g., interesting, important, highly funded, in high impact journals, quantity, etc.). If you have both of these things, then what you do in your ‘spare’ time might be decreasingly important to others who evaluate you. In other words, the more scholarly work you have to show, the more it might drown out any competing influences on how people judge your merit. That said, it depends on who you are – people might be willing to let some ‘eccentricities’ (like interest in social justice- how quaint!) go for people who already have fewer ‘eccentricities’ (like the ways they might not fit into academia and thus already be suspect). It might depend on your supervisors and department, and how feminist-friendly (or at least not feminist un-friendly) they are. It might depend on how much you want to integrate your feminist activism into your work. Academia is – despite rhetoric to the contrary – pretty conservative and activism is rarely considered a part of research by those in power, obviously with some exceptions. So it may be possible to just keep the feminist activism outside of your research. Sometimes, though, the passion of your feminist engagements sustains you, and it’s not really a choice. It would be like leaving a part of you behind to not engage in feminist activism, even for a short while. So, even though the safest choice might be ‘stealth until success’, it might not be safest for you as a whole, self-actualized person. So, no easy answer.

  3. Thael Marchini Peixoto says:

    I’m a Law student in a Federal (Government-funded) University in Brazil (UFRGS) and I’ve just finished my first year of college. So far, I noticed that the environment is very conservative and has a lot of machismo too.
    While the course is really called Social and Juridic Sciences, it lacks focus on the social side and there is little to almost zero articles (or any academic study at all) about feminism in my area.
    Feminism seems to be a forbidden territory in my area and I’m afraid I won’t find any of the required “guidance” to the kind of research regarding Feminism I want to do: about the influence of the Feminism in the evolution of Women’s Rights in Brazil.

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