Tipping the scales: talking about women in science and work-life balance
This paper adopts a discourse analytic position with regard to talk about women in science and the issue of work-life balance. This is examined from the point of view of looking at how this is essentialized for women as a ‘problem’ to be overcome in terms of working towards and achieving an optimum balance. This is framed in terms of pursuing a demanding scientific career versus a personal life centred on the home and family. This kind of dichotomy allows for different aspects of the self to be pitted against each other: the professional career-orientated aspect and the personal relationship aspect. This is presented as a psychological tension that is played out in terms of the search for a balance between the two. If the scales tip in one direction or the other then it is assumed that it is problematic and that one is sacrificed at the expense of the other. This is particularly important in terms of scientific careers that are often characterised as requiring a rational approach, often involving long hours devoted to experimental work. In opposition to this is the world of relationships and family which is taken to be more emotive and satisfying in terms of personal needs. This dichotomy is examined as constructed in such a manner that maintains the status quo for women given the huge social and cultural imperative placed on women to have children and take time out of employment to look after them. This is discussed in terms of the ideological effects that ensue in which women who wish to pursue a scientific career are considered as going against their natural ‘caring inclination’. Presenting this as a lack of balance serves to construct a problematic position for women in science. This also essentializes science in a particular way as requiring a certain kind of person. It is argued that this is accomplished through a variety of discourses that legitimate the gendering of science. The paper concludes by challenging the whole notion of work-life balance as something that is more relevant to women than men. It is not that programmes need to be put in place to accomplish such a balance but that the scales need to recalibrated to take into account the very dichotomies that are taken as given.