An Office of One’s Own: Stories of Power, Space, and Motherhood in the Swiss Academy

  • Caroline Wiedmer


A few years ago, I left a tenure-track assistant professorship in the States to continue my career in Switzerland. The Swiss academy, it was purported, was looking to double its percentage of female professors, which in 1998 amounted to roughly 7 percent. What better time, I thought, to return to my native land: I had taken a Ph.D. at one of the Ivy Leagues, landed a tenure-track position at one of the foremost research universities, placed a first book, and had a first child. If anything, being a woman had only helped me so far, and I was ready for a new challenge. The first indication that this was going to be a bumpy ride came in the form of a question raised in a job interview for a position at one of the universities in German-speaking Switzerland. “And how,” I was asked by one of the interviewers, “will you take care of your daughter?” Used to the progressive family policies of a large research university on the west coast of the United States, I shrugged it off as a rather sexist, probably slightly illegal, but basically well-meaning question. My three-year-old daughter would go to daycare, of course. Only somewhat later, when I began to look around and noticed that among the tenured female faculty— especially among those women trained in Switzerland—mothers were all but non-existent, did I realize the full implications of the question.


Gender Equality Gender Stereotype Subject Position Child Care Center Childcare Center 
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  1. 3.
    See in particular Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990); Bodies that Matter (London: Routledge, 1993); and “Burning Acts—Injurious Speech,” in Perfomativity and Performance, ed. Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (London: Routledge, 1995), 197–227.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Compare Schweizerischer Nationalfond, Schlussbericht von GRIPS GENDER: Empfehlungen zur Gleichstellung von Frauen in der Wissenschaft und zur Förderung von Gender Studies (Bern: SNF, 2001).Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    While a mid-program evaluation indicated that the goal of doubling the percentage of women professors will not be reached, statistics nonetheless show an upward trend. Compare Figure 29 on p. 47 in Christina Speyermann, Ruth Bachmann, and Christina Rothmayer, Evaluation Bundesprogram für “Chancengleichheit” von Frau und Mann an Universitäten 2000–2003: Umsetzung und Wirkung des Programs (Bern: Druckerei Arm, 2004). What is not clear from the graph is whether the curve’s slow upward amble would look any different without the intervention of the gender equality program. To my knowledge there are no other factors, such as severe budget cuts, that would “naturally” have produced a flatter curve during this time, for men as well as women, which could be said to have been corrected by the federal program. Equally unreflected in the graph is the fact that of the roughly 11 percent who are women of all full professors employed at a Swiss university in December of 2004, only a small percentage also obtained both their doctorates and their so-called habilitations at a Swiss university, and that among these, only a handful are mothers.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    I owe many of these insights to the excellent discussion on narrative and cognition in Anthony G. Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner, Minding the Law: How Courts Rely on Storytelling, and how Their Stories Change the Way We Understand the Law-And Ourselves (Boston University Press, 2000), 45–47 and 110–143.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Jerome Bruner, Law, Literature, Life (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2002), 53.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    For an interesting discussion of this element of the program, see Barbara Lischetti and Maya Widmer, Kopfgeld für Professorinnen?: Ueber die Verfassungsmässigkeit, Opportunität und Nützlichkeit von Anreizsystemen (Wettingen: efef-Verlag, 2004).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (London: Routledge, 1993), 3.Google Scholar

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© Sarah Hardy and Caroline Wiedmer 2005

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  • Caroline Wiedmer

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