Gender, Generations, and Faculty Conflict: Will academe’s mothers and daughters repeat the errors of its fathers and sons?
“What was it about the 60s, Mom?” my daughter asked. The question made me think, for my daughter’s puzzlement didn’t seem like my own childhood curiosity about the 20s, when my mother learned to smoke and wore bangs, or the 30s, when the banks failed and my father had to go to graduate school on one meal a day.
The time before we were born is always mysterious, known only through the stereotypes provided by others, because we were not there to observe it ourselves. But I knew, as a child, how one characterized the decades before the Second World War. Although they were remote, they had their labels and symbols—“roaring” or “crash,” flappers or bread lines and suicide leaps. For my daughter, there seemed to be something about the 60s, as my friends and I occasionally talked about them, that had no easy label, that was truly ungraspable, that had utterly vanished. And I found, upon reflection, that I could not answer her question.
Why would a woman of my generation (I was born in 1941) find the reply so difficult? The answer holds the key to a major change in academic culture to which we are still heirs and heiresses.
Many of those 10 years older than I are more certain. They “know” what it was about the 60s—an era of self-indulgent middle-class kids attacking exactly those comfortable values and incomes that gave them the opportunity for attack. Many of those 10 years younger “know” also—the idealism and courage to challenge an immoral foreign war and, at home, a desire to save the disadvantaged, although it was all a little hazy owing to drugs and fear of the draft. Yet I cannot say.