Women in Higher Education

By W. Todd Furniss; Patricia Albjerg Graham | Go to book overview

ANN L. FULLER


Liberating the Administrator's Wife

It is tacitly assumed in colleges and universities that when a man is hired as a senior administrator, his wife also will perform services for the institution. No similar assumption applies to the husband of the woman administrator, for a man's work role takes precedence over his other roles. His job precludes service to his wife's employer, just as it excuses him from a major role in housekeeping and child rearing. A woman, even if she is employed, is expected to take charge of the housekeeping and the children and is also expected to help her husband in his career. If he is a college administrator, this last responsibility means that she must render service to the college.

Now that women are reassessing their roles in society, the role of the administrator's wife takes on special significance. Women traditionally aspire to become the wives of successful men, and the role of administrator's wife is a particularly seductive one. A more varied, demanding, and glamorous version of the familiar role of housewife, the role of administrator's wife also involves the exercise of more power--power to direct and influence other people--than women usually enjoy in our society. The work has many of the characteristics of a job; it requires a variety of skills and, often, long hours. However, because society has labeled it as "volunteer work," it lacks the pay and status of regular employment. The role embodies the painful, frustrating ambivalence of women's customary position in this society: it represents the epitome of success for many women, but it is also a powerful symbol of the subordinate status of women to men in society generally. From this perspective I shall describe the job of the administrator's wife, analyze the compensation she receives for her work, and suggest a new way of viewing and treating the job.

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