International Women’s Day 2020 Spotlight: Professor Susan Pickard
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, for the week leading up to IWD (Sunday 8th March) we will be spotlighting a different female colleague in the School of Law and Social Justice each day on our news stories page.
Today’s spotlight is Professor Susan Pickard, Chair of Sociology and Research Lead in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology (SSPC) at the School of Law and Social Justice. Susan’s research and teaching interests focus on sociological approaches to ageing, gender, embodiment, health and illness. Susan is leading expert in these fields and she has had her research published in a number of high-ranking academic journals. Alongside this, Susan also led the successful Athena Swan application for a Bronze award that was achieved by the School in October 2018.
1) Tell us about yourself, how long you have worked at the University and what your research interests are:
I have been based in SSPC for ten years and have been working on my current research exploring how temporality (both age and stage, and everyday temporal dispositions) is a factor underpinning the stalled gender revolution for the past two years although more broadly in this area for a number of additional years.
2) Tell us about your research/ a project you are currently working on:
I’m interested in how age and time are both factors that limit women’s opportunities in the workplace and more generally. By that, I mean that the more women progress through the life course, the more they fall behind men in terms of a variety of measures, most importantly perhaps in terms of pay and workplace seniority, time for themselves and well-being. Thus the many great gains that have been achieved in terms of gender equality are less apparent the older a woman gets. Women also lose ‘value’ as they age and are literally aged quicker and with more adverse consequences than men (aged by culture and society, that is). But even in younger women, there is a significant time gap in terms of the division of labour at home and in terms of emotional labour more generally. For example, using the example of academia, fewer women achieve senior positions and they take longer to arrive at these positions than men in many cases. When they do achieve Chairs, they may then be expected to take on academic housework roles or focus on ‘helping other women up’ the system rather than focus on developing their career further going into the future, as men generally are. I have been exploring this in a variety of ways, including through examining ‘menopause policy’, and the lived experience of this at work (how it helps and doesn’t help older women).
Finally, I have been looking at how inequality is embedded in everyday gender-based dispositions and practices, in particular those related to time and space which women then take out into the world and into their various roles and relationships without necessarily realising it. These dispositions and practices in fact result in a significant continuity between women’s situation down through the generations. This research so far has resulted in a monograph and several articles, most recently an article in the British Journal of Sociology called ‘Waiting like a girl: the temporal constitution of femininity as a factor in gender inequality’.
3) What inspired you to get into your research area?
My PhD was on the topic of older people’s lives (specifically retirees in some of the old mining towns of South Wales), and so I have been thinking and writing about ageing and old age for most of my professional career. It has taken many turns, including a focus on health and illness in old age. But as a feminist as well as a sociologist who is also female, I have always been troubled by the fact that the rhetoric of equality and indeed the narrative, dominant in the mainstream for the past twenty or more years, that most of the gains of feminism have already been achieved, did not meet either my experience or that of many of my friends and colleagues. It seemed to me that, beneath the superficial gains that are undoubtedly embedded in legal and political systems, closer exploration of everyday life was needed to uncover this.
4) What would you hope that your research / project might achieve?
I would hope that it would encourage a more nuanced understanding of the obstacles in the way of the stalled gender revolution. In the lives of individual women this might mean reflection on everyday habits and norms and how this perpetuates inequality in their own lives and if possible encourage them to challenge this externally and resist it in themselves even in small ways. This focus on practices of the self, and in our constitution as women, does not mean that ongoing structural inequality does not exist – of course it does – but it does extend the scope of the fight for equality.
5) What is your message to women looking to work in roles like yours?
In my view, research in social sciences can often end up being on subjects in which we have no direct interest. I see people talking about the things they read for work as distinct from the things they read for pleasure. My advice would be, as far as possible, to bring both together, so that what you think and write about at work and what you teach is what really interests you - i.e. what you would choose to read out of work too. Academia absorbs too much of our time, dedication and spirit for it to be otherwise.
6) The theme for this years’ International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual – what does this mean to you?
Change happens in multiple small ways. Small changes can and do lead to bigger changes, the personal is still political in a way that discourse around ‘lifestyle’ and ‘individual choices’ do not always acknowledge. This is exactly the message of this year’s International Women’s Day in my view.
You can read more about Susan's work here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/sociology-social-policy-and-criminology/staff/susan-pickard/