(I tried initially to do this is a comment, but as you will see, my commenters gave me so much to think about that it quickly ballooned - I strongly recommend that anyone reading this entry, read the comments to "The Case of the Disappearing Women" first.)
First, I want to say thank you to all of you for your comments. I've been disturbed by the conversation I had last week about the disappearing women for days and hearing what you had to say meant lot to me. I've spent all weekend reading and thinking about all your feedback. I found great comfort in the fact that the younger scientists aren't going through training with a sense of dread and hopelessness. I honestly believe that things are turning in ecology for women and turning for the better. The ranks of the young female assistant professors are increasing by the year and many of us are not okay with waiting to have a "tenure baby".
Having said that, just because things are improving does NOT mean that we don't still have a lot of work to do. I think the anonymous commenters highlight that very clearly. Before I go further I want to specifically tell anon #1 that your story breaks my heart. I wish I could say that your story was unique, but I would be lying. It is easy for those of us who make it through the system to get complacent ("well, I'm doing well, the system must be working), and I really appreciate you sharing your story. It reminded me that things are not "fixed" by any stretch of the imagination and that I and others who make it through the gauntlet still have work to do. I still feel optimistic about my ecology sub-field, but I have collaborated widely enough to know that this is not the case in many other ecology sub-disciplines.
I also think that anon #1 and anon #2 both have hit upon something important. One of the big battles now is for the "souls" of women who want both work and families. I don't think that the current "fix" of being able to pause the tenure clock is really working, at least psychologically. So, the question remains, what will?
Fia and anon #1 hit upon something I've been thinking a lot about this weekend - the importance of having a supportive significant other. Female Science Professor also hit upon this theme a few times in her blog (can't figure out which entries those were, but they're all a good read) and I couldn't agree more. If you have a supportive spouse who values you having a successful career and who splits domestic responsibilities equally, this is a much easier path to walk. If you have one that values your career, but doesn't split domestic duties, this is a harder but not impossible path. If you have a spouse that doesn't value you having a successful career, I think you're pretty much fucked. It was clear from my conversation last week, that many of those women had husbands who did not value them having a career - or thought it was okay as long as they didn't have to sacrifice anything for it. I feel very fortunate to have married someone who wanted a truly equal partnership as much as I did. If I had married some of my other (less equal partnership minded) boyfriends, I am very certain I would be divorced by now.
And finally, Fia - unfortunately the blogs are not here to motivate the next generation of female scientists but to openly share issues we're all dealing with. I can totally understand that sometimes this is less than motivational and is sometimes downright scary. But take heart that we (female assistant professors) exist, that we're struggling to make things better for ourselves and those who follow, and I, for one, would still not choose any other career path.