Is it Worth it to “Lean In” and Lead? On Being a Woman Department Chair in Rhetoric and Writing Studies

Is it Worth it to “Lean In” and Lead? On Being a Woman Department Chair in Rhetoric and Writing Studies

Peitho Volume 21 Issue 2 Spring 2019

Author(s): Eileen E. Schell

Abstract: This essay will consider the specific challenges and opportunities of the gendered service of being a woman academic department chair. Questions addressing the timing, sacrifices, benefits, opportunities and effects on one’s life, both personal and professional, are likely to come to mind for women academics considering whether or not to become department chairs. To engage these questions, I draw on insights from feminist academic labor studies and intersectional higher education scholarship on the roles and challenges faced by women department chairs. I also draw on my own experiences serving a five-year term as a department chair. Through these two sites of inquiry, I analyze how the struggles women department chairs face are connected to specific patterns of feminized labor (Holbrook, Miller, Schell), embodied experience, and service across higher education, what Sharon Bird refers to as “incongruous, gendered bureaucratic structures” (204). I conclude with specific advice and strategies for those considering whether or not to take on the position of department chair.

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