When I was eight years old, Phillip Morris, the tobacco division of the Altria Group, launched one of its most successful advertisement campaigns: the “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign for Virginia Slims. Early advertisements, such as the one pictured here, juxtaposed a black-and-white image from the bad ol’ days when women couldn’t smoke in public places with

Virginia Slims Ad, 1969, "First you got the vote, and now you've got a cigarette all your own" (rprt. on Tam B)
Virginia Slims Ad, 1969, “First you got the vote, and now you’ve got a cigarette all your own” (rprt. on Tam B)

a colored image featuring a modern, confident “liberated” woman who lit up a cigarette wherever she pleased. Soon the black-and-white images in the advertisements were dropped, and only the image of the modern woman, who seemed to become sexier and more beautiful with each advertisement, remained. This campaign was so successful that I was thirty before a new campaign (also based on the supposed empowerment of women) was launched.

When I was young I found these advertisements fascinating. What did smoking the stinky cigarettes that both of my parents smoked have to do with women’s liberation? From what I could tell all adults smoked in the 1960s, and they pretty much lit up at will. I did understand that smoking cigarettes could have something to do with rebelling against authority figures—three of my four older siblings took up smoking to rebel against my parents; however, given that both my parents smoked, I couldn’t quite see what was so rebellious.

When I was much older, I did come to realize why the false correlation between smoking Virginia Slims and being a confident, sexy, liberated woman sold so many cigarettes.  Women did want new opportunities to be granted to them outside of their homes and in the work world.  They did want to appear sexy and confident, and they did not want to be seen as an ugly, manlike feminist. Women might be entering the public space related to the working world, but they still needed to be attractive and feminine. One might think that the word “baby” in the ad infantilizes women (especially in the case of the above ad given the pink and white clothing of the woman); however, women seemed to react to “baby” more like it was a term of endearment from a significant other that signified their feminine nature and their attractiveness.

My years as a teenager and a young adult seemed to be filled with advertisements that “empowered” women, but at the same time sent subtle intimations concerning the ways in which women could maintain their “feminine” qualities as they became liberated women who worked outside the home. In 1980 Charles of the Ritz advertised its perfume Enjoli by having a woman sing “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he’s a man.”  Notice in the television advertisement below (posted on Youtube by ira828), the woman enters the advertisement beautifully dressed in work clothes with cash in her hand. In the blink of an eye she is dressed in clothes fit for household duties and holds a frying pan. In another blink of an eye she wears a sexy gown meant to appeal to her husband. She then repeats her performance, but this time she reads a book called Tickety Tock before appearing once again in her sexy dress.

Clearly working women were still expected to fulfill the same wifely duties that women like my mother faced—making dinner, keeping the house clean, taking care of the children, and enticing their men even as they became “liberated” enough to have their own careers.

If this was the case in 1980, how far have women come since then? The Gender and Women’s Study Program (GWST) at Kennesaw State University (KSU) might have some answers for you.

GWST’s Focus Week – “Gender, Work, & the Work Place: Local & Global Contexts

Starting on Thursday, October 29, 2015, GWST  will use its focus week to examine its theme: “Gender, Work, & the Workplace – Local & Global Contexts” through a series of events.  You can find the full  program for the week at GWST’s homepage. Events will feature topics related to the following issues:

  • the “selling” of children for work in the sex trade
  • statistics concerning gender equity at KSU
  • gender, art, and work in the Portuguese Speaking World
  • cyberspace in relationship to gender and work
  • Leslie Feinburg’s Lavender & Red series concerning the links between Socialism and LGBTQ history
  • gender and disability in relationship to accessing KSU
  • worker rights, the fashion world and the environment using some clips from the documentary The True Cost
  • the intersection of love and sex with work
  • globalization, gender, and work
  • an exploration of how gender and workplaces are represented in popular culture
  • a presentation at the Zuckerman Pavilion examining the work of contemporary female artists
  • a screening of a selection from the documentary, An Autobiography of Black Women in the Ivory Tower as well as a broader panel on African American women in the workplace
  • two sessions on women and work in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Architecture, and Mathematics (STEAM).  One session will focus on the Social Sciences and the other will focus on engineering and mathematics as well as what a STEAM women’s center might look like
  • the transexperience, transwork place, and transacademic military and teaching experiences that led the speaker to the field of transgender literary studies

Many of these events will help those who attend them to explore current issues of gender and work.  Because I have worked for a 32 years in the field of education (from 1983 – 2015), I decided to use blog post to explore what has changed specifically for women in the field of education.  Have we come a long way, maybe?

32 Years in Education

My own experience in education signifies that any answer to how far women have come is complex. While more women are earning bachelor and advanced degrees and are working as faculty members in the field of education than when I was young, I don’t think this acknowledgement of advancement completely answers whether we have come a long way. For starters, my experience also indicates that as women enter certain fields of study, these fields become feminized.  In other words, as more women enter a particular occupation, wages and the prestige that goes with the occupation are negatively affected. Capital theorists argue that the occupations women enter do not require the same type of specialized training required of occupations that men enter and that this is the true reason why the occupation isn’t as prestigious or doesn’t pay as well.  However, this doesn’t explain why fields that require specialized training and that were once prestigious are no long prestigious once a significant number of women work in them. For example, as women have gained employment in higher education, the fields in which they are most prominent often have become the fields which pay the least. Thus, in the university system those who teach in the humanities (a field that has become feminized) are paid on the lower end of the wage scale. Some fields like English not only have low full-time salary, but they also contain large numbers of part-time faculty for the teaching of composition.

My experience also indicates that those who teach at lower grade levels in institutions with less prestige than those who teach at upper grade levels in institutions with more prestige see more equity between the salaries of men and women.  Statistics from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to some extent bear this out.  The table below was created from data collected by the AAUP for the 2014-15 school year concerning average salaries for men and women at Category IIA universities (universities like KSU that grant masters degrees) and for men and women at Category III colleges (colleges that rank their faculty and grant associate degrees). The figures that combine all ranks and all schools for category IIA universities show that men averaged a salary of $77,863 and that women averaged a salary of $69,222–a difference of over $8,000–for the 2014-15 school year. The figures that combine rank and schools for Category III institutions show that men averaged a salary of $63,058 and that women averaged a salary of $60,903–a difference of just over $2,000–for the 2014-15 school year.

This table was created from data found in Academe on page 24.
This table was created from data found in the March-April 2015 issue of Academe on page 24.


Because I have taught at numerous levels (high school, community college, and university) and under different circumstances (as a graduate student and as a full-time faculty member), my experience indicates that the more one is perceived to have power and prestige in education (a university professor vs. a two-year college professor vs. a graduate assistant vs. a high school teacher), the more one faces challenges as a woman.  The salaries of men and women at the high schools and at the community college where I taught were created using experience and education.  One wasn’t paid more to teach one subject over another and one wasn’t paid more if one was a man.

I also found that the organizational structure and the policies at the community college and high school levels had already become feminized. Pregnant women at the high school level took “maternity” leave instead of the “disability” leave that is offered them at a university.  At the high school level there weren’t noticeable differences between opportunities for women who were mothers and the rest of the faculty, probably because so many of the women teaching at the high school level had children. Women could take half a school year off for maternity leave without worrying about how it would affect their salary and tenure and promotion. While women at the university level can stop “the tenure clock,” there is little benefit in doing so.The stopped tenure clock affects raises and the time it takes to earn tenure and promotion.  In the sixteen years I’ve spent teaching at a university, I have to say that my admiration goes out to a female colleague who managed to give birth to each of her four children over the summer break so that she never needed to use disability leave and she never needed to stop her tenure clock.

My Research

In order to look beyond my own experience, I conducted a bit of research. It indicates that women in higher education find themselves working at “gendered institutions, with males holding the majority of professorships and upper administrative positions, such as president and provost” (Easterly and Ricard 63).  Susan Schick Case and Bonnie Ann Richley in their article, “Gendered Institutional Research Cultures in Science: the Post-doc Transition for Women Scientists,” draw interesting conclusions about the post-doc experience. Prior scientists drew the conclusion that the pipeline at the post-doc level was leaky because so many female students dropped out at this point.

Case and Richley realized that the”leaky pipeline,” a term they found to be an “institutionally imposed construction based on a linear male version of success in science,” wasn’t the correct metaphor because it didn’t explain the women’s experience.  They found that “organic branching” was better suited as a metaphor because it allowed women to “grow and thrive as scientists” (344).  In other words, women continued to work in the sciences; they just didn’t continue to work on their post-doc and chose industry or teaching instead. Case and Richley cited research that indicated that women who dropped out at the post-doc level did so because barriers made it difficult for them to see themselves as women and scientists. They needed to play two cultural roles that were antithetical to each other.  In order to take on the roles of wives and mothers as dictated by cultural norms, they needed to commit much of their time to the family. In the meanwhile the role of scientist had been created in a malecentric organization demanding total commitment to it.  It was impossible for them to give total commitment to both family and science.

That academe has been a malecentric organization that asks women to conform to roles that run counter to other cultural roles is why even when the academy attempts to act without bias, it may still act with bias in subtle ways that don’t acknowledge cultural artifacts such as policy and procedure documents privilege a type of behavior that can run counter to newer policies created to help women, such as work-life balance policies.

As I researched, I wasn’t surprised to find that culture is often cited as the main reason faculty members do not take advantage of family and medical leave policies and is often cited as something that needs to change for work-life balance to be achieved (qtd. in Lester 139 – 140). I once took a half of a semester off for disability leave and lost a full year on my tenure and promotion clock. Given that I have a relapsing and remitting chronic illness, I should see the family and medical leave policy should be useful to people such as me; however, I have never taken another leave because I found it so disadvantageous the first time.

Jaime Lester cites other studies that show that as long as cultural norms define motherhood and femininity in ways that place the burden of home life on women, that work-life issues will remain squarely on a woman’s shoulder. The results of her study show that symbolic meanings associated with the university’s policies and with the children of faculty and staff members need to affirm work-life balance. If detrimental outcomes are tied to policy and family life, suggesting that people attempt to create work-life balance is nearly useless (147). Issues of policy and family life become most apparent for contingent faculty and graduate assistants since they do not have access to benefits and accommodations due to their part-time status (152).

Some universities have begun to recognize that they must pay more attention to culture and are beginning to change culture in productive ways.   According to Lester a few universities have established a blanket policy that outlines availability of flexible work-arrangement and leave-taking policies that provide individual contracts that can be tailored to the needs of an employee. Lehigh University especially seems to be working hard to change its culture. It provides a $6,000 grant automatically to tenure-track faculty that have or adopt a child. These funds can be used for childcare, house cleaning, or any cost related to research and alleviate some of the stress associated with tenure-track productivity and work–life needs. (154).


Given the messy nature of culture in general, it often seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same.  There is no doubt that women in general have more opportunity to define themselves, yet, at the same time, we are offered some of the same cultural roles to play as women in earlier generations.  Yesterday CBS’s sitcom Supergirl broadcasted its first episode.  Supergirl a.k.a Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Kara Danvers is played by fresh-faced Melissa Benoist.  Supergirl is Superman’s cousin and according to Alex Abad-Santos of Vox Culture, she was sent to earth to protect him (yes, the girl is to protect the man).  In the sitcom Kara Danvers (Supergirl) is actually a 24-year-old woman acting as an assistant to media empress Cat Grant, who in no way should be taken as a mentor or a role model.  Thus, we have the standard good girl character dealing with the evil woman boss character.

Supergirl (courtesy of imager)
Supergirl (courtesy of Kent)

Abad-Santos finds CBS’s Supergirl refreshing in that she decides to take on the mantel of heroism.  Sterling Gates, the writer of DC’s Supergirl comic book (2008 to 2011) told Santos that Supergirl “works twice as hard to do what she thinks is right so that she’s not just defined as ‘Superman’s cousin,’ but by the good she does for the world.”  Santos notes that Supergirl does this despite the fact that she’s every bit as powerful as her cousin and despite the subtle sexism she experiences even from those who are her friends.

After reading Abad-Santos’s review, I thought Supergirl’s story fit only too well with the advertisements from earlier eras: a woman with great powers being identified as younger than her years wearing a feminine garment that emphasizes her attractiveness.  Like Snow White she must match herself against an evil and powerful woman, an age old story in our culture.

Does Supergirl share any characteristics of today’s working women?  One might see similarities in that she works twice as hard as a male with similar powers so that she can be recognized for her deeds all the while facing subtle sexism even from her friends.  Hmmm. . . .

I know that popular culture shows and advertisements do not necessary depict the reality for working women, and that’s why I suggest that those of you who study or work at KSU attend the events for GWST’s focus week.  Maybe they’ll supply some different answers for just how work and gender intersect today.

Works Cited

AAUP. “The Compensation Survey.  Academe. 101.2 (2015): 20 – 82. Print.

B. Tam. “You’ve Come Along Way Baby.” Histories of Things to Come. Tam B. 14 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Case, Susan Schick and Bonnie Ann Richley. “Gendered Institutional Research Cultures in Science: The Post-doc Transition for Women Scientists.” Community, Work & Family 16.3 (2013):  327 – 349. Print.

Easterly, Debra M. and Cynthia S. Ricard.  “Conscious Efforts to End Unconscious Bias: Why Women Leave Academic Research.”  Journal of Research Administration 42.1 (2011): 61 – 73. Print.

Ira 828. Enjoli Classics 80 Commercial. YouTube. YouTube, 31 May 2011. Web.  26 Oct. 2015.

Kent, Kara. “Supergirl.”  Smallville. Wikia. n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Lester, Jaime.  “Cultures of Work–Life Balance in Higher Education:  A Case of Fragmentation.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 8.3 (2015): 139–156.  Print.