When I entered Berkeley as a graduate student in 1962, і sat with some fifty other incoming students that first week in a methodology course. One of the two sociology professors on the podium before us said, “We say this to every incoming class and we’ll say it to you. Look to your left and look to your right. Two out of three of you will drop out before you are through, probably in the first two years.” We looked blankly to right and left, and quick nervous laughter jumped out and back from the class. I wonder now, years later, what each of us was thinking at that moment. I remember only that I didn’t hear a word during the rest of the hour, for wondering whether it would be the fellow on my left, or the one on my right, or me. A fifth of my incoming class was female, and in the three years that followed, indeed, three-quarters of the women (and half of the men) did drop out.5 But a good many neither dropped out nor moved on but stayed trapped between the M. A. and the orals, or the orals and the dissertation, fighting the private devil of a writing block, or even relaxing within that ambiguous passage, like those permanent “temporary buildings” that were still standing on the Berkeley campus decades after World War 11. Some even developed a humor to counter the painful jokes about them, “What do you have in your briefcase there, samples?”

This happens to men, too, but why does it happen so much more to women? According to some analysts, women leave academe because of dis­crimination in such matters as getting fellowships, job offers, or promotions. Helen Astin, for example, concludes that this is a major reason, citing the fact that a full third of the women Ph. D.s she studied in the 1960s reported discrimination.6 Others, such as Jessie Bernard, suggest that “it is only when other grounds for rejection are missing that prejudiced discrimination perse is brought into play.”71 suspect that Bernard is more on the mark. While a third of academic women reporting discrimination is a great number, it is also remarkable that two-thirds did not report it.

Much of the discrimination argument rests on how broadly we define dis­crimination and how trained our eyes are for seeing it. Women have accli­matized themselves to discrimination, expect it» get it, and try to move around it. It is hard to say, since I continually re-remember those early years through different prisms, whether I experienced any discrimination myself. I don’t think, so, unless one counts the time I entered a professor’s office to discuss my paper topic for his course. We had been assigned a reading that involved the link between mental illness and social class. Social class was measured, I had learned, by the Hollingsliead and Redlich index of social class. Somewhere along in the interview, in the course of explaining the paper I was hoping to write, I was pretentious enough to mention the Hollingshead and Redlich index, which involves education, occupational prestige, and residence. The professor stopped me dead with a stony gaze. “Are you a graduate student?" (not an wr? dergraduate). It was like a punch in the stomach, and it took me a few seconds to recover." і he interview trav­eled on as if this exchange had never occurred and I left the office, with a lump in my throat, went to the women’s bathroom, and cried. I blush now at my anxiety to please. But of course the problem was not that I was too pre­tentious, but that I did it badly. In the many imaginary rehearsals of second encounters (I never went back), the conversation went like this: “Hollings – head and Redlich index, mmmmmmm, it’s better than the old Warner

index, of course, but then it misses some of the more sophisticated indica-

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tors of the Chapin scale, dated as it is.” By the time it occurred to me that the mans occupation and education were taken as predictors oi the social class of his wife and children, I stopped imagining conversations with this particular professor.

In a 1970s Carnegie survey of 32,000 graduate students and faculty, 22 percent of the men and 50 percent o! the women graduate students in soci­ology agreed that the faculty does not “take female graduate students seri­ously,” and in fact a quarter of the male faculty agreed that female gradu­ate students are not as dedicated to the field as males.”!When the graduate students were asked the same question, a quarter—men and women alike—agreed that “women are not as dedicated.” Only the female faculty refused to be recorded this way, perhaps feeling as I did when I filled out the questionnaire that there was no place to say, between the yes and the no, that dedication has to be measured against the visible or felt incentives to go on, and that lack of dedication may be a defensive anticipation of being ignored.

For women in particular the line between dropping out, staying on, and moving out has been a thin and fluctuating one. The Carnegie Commission study asked graduate students, “Have you ever considered in the past year quitting graduate school for good?” Only 43 percent of the women and 53 percent of the men had not considered it.10 I considered it to the extent of

interviewing at the end of my first miserable year for several jobs in New York that did not pan out. Beyond that, my uncertainty expressed itself in virtually every paper I wrote for the first two years. I can hardly read the papers now since it appears that for about a year and a half I never changed the typewriter ribbon. As one professor wrote on a paper, “Fortunately the writer’s exposition and analysis are a pleasant contrast to a manuscript which in physical appearance promises the worst. A nice job of comparing Condorcet and Rousseau. . . . The writer would possibly have profited by. . . more systematically resolving at least tentatively the problem raised—for pur­poses of relieving her own apparent ambivalence on the issue.” I am less sure now that it was Condorcet and Rousseau I was ambivalent about. That ambivalence centered, I imagine, on a number of issues, but one of them was probably the relation between the career I might get into and the fam­ily I might have. I say “probably" because I didn’t see it clearly that way, for I saw nothing clearly then.

Powerful people often justify the categorical judgments that they apply to particular women on the grounds that family comes first. Now we call these judgments “discrimination.” One department chairman caught in print before 1967 said what many chairmen probably still thought but no longer said:

My own practice is to appoint women to about 50 percent of our graduate assistantships and to about 30 percent of our instructorships. My fear that this is too large of proportion of women appointees arises from the consid­erations: (1) that women are less likely to complete the degree programs upon which they embark; (2) that even if they do, marriage is very likely to intervene and to prevent or considerably delay their entry into the teaching profession; (3) that even when they do become full time teachers… their primary sense of responsibility is to their homes, so that they become pro­fessionally recognized only to a limited degree; {4 that they are far less likely than men to achieve positions of leadership in their profession.11

Such official judgments are not completely absurd. They rest on empirical evidence of categorical differences between men and women, regardless of special exceptions. To ignore this fact does not make it go away. In ignoring

it, we seem tacitly to agree with university officials that the family is, after all,

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a private matter out of official hands. It prevents us from asking whether there isn’t something about the academic system itself that perpetuates this “private” inequality.