The University Record, April 5, 1993

Horner: Women persist in careers if positives outweigh negatives

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

More than 30 years ago, Matina Horner and her husband came to town as U-M graduate students. She entered psychology and he went into physics. In 1969, they left for Harvard with Ph.D.s.

In the interim, “three kids and two dissertations were born.” Her dissertation was the first exploration of the now-famous phenomenon, women and fear of success.

The former president of Radcliffe College is now executive vice president of TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund).

Horner discussed bits of her own past, and the experiences of women over the past three decades, in the annual Dorothy Guies McGuigan Lecture March 25 at Rackham. The lecture was sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program and the Center for the Education of Women.

Despite her demanding studies, Horner had her children while she was still in her early 20s because of the prevailing medical advice of the 1950s.

“Women who waited were selfish, and they were candidates for serious medical problems like endometriosis or hysterectomies,” she explained, adding that hysterectomies were so common at that time that an early feminist joke was that “there was no ovary good enough to stay in and no testicle bad enough to come out.”

When she and her husband, both on the Harvard faculty, applied for a home mortgage in the early 1970s, only her husband’s income was taken into account. “Only 19 percent of women worked outside the home then, so they expected women to leave the workplace.”

Attitudes began to change, however, in the late 1970s “when gender expectations were challenged, and when economic necessity moved women into the workplace, where there was an explosion of options,” she said. “We thought the double-bind and double-messages, which urge women to be successful but tell them they will be exhausted and guilty if they are, were over.”

But they weren’t. “In 1965, a student wrote that she was ecstatic about her success but felt guilty about her boyfriend who was not equally so. In 1975, a young law student said she wanted to be a lawyer, but worried about her boyfriend’s and his friends’ lack of support. In 1985, a young woman said she led a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ existence, appearing assured to others but internally was still scared to death.”

Nevertheless, Horner said, women persist. “It appears that if the positive rewards outweigh the negative penalties, women continue in careers, even if they worry.”

With the advent of the 1990s and the new administration in Washington, D.C., “women’s issues, once dismissed as passing fads, are now synonymous with what is good for America—health care, the economy, education and equity.”

Horner cautioned that the women’s movement had one difficulty that would not disappear. “The tactics of the 1970s were to play down gender differences. The theory was that equality means being the same as men. I think this is damaging to the goal of valuing diversity and differences, and leads to false conclusions,” particularly in medical and behavioral research, she said.