Achievement and Women: Challenging the Assumptions (with Barbara Richardson)

What role has the desire for achievement played in the lives of successful women? Some social scientists have explained contemporary female achievement patterns as a result of the imprint of early socialization: girls are taught to conform and are discouraged from going as far, or as fast, as boys. Others claims longstanding social and economic inequities stand in the way of women, no matter how strong their desire to succeed. 

In a major new analysis, Debra Kaufman and Barbara Richardson challenge many of the traditional theories and findings of achievement literature. They reexamine the meaning of achievement in both the public and private lives of women, and they pose new questions about the interplay of gender and social inequality—and how these factors affect eventual success.

What is common to most analyses is the assumption that the motive to achieve is irrevocably established in early childhood. Debra and Barbara suggest rather that the process is ongoing and dynamic; far from being fixed at an early age, the achievement drive changes throughout life to reflect social standing; position in the life cycle; and, above all, the different opportunities accorded the individual. The desire to succeed, they argue, is a function of both historic time and individual timing, as women negotiate and renegotiate their roles throughout their lives. 

Achievement and Women begins with an analysis of the intrapsychic process of acquiring and maintaining the motive to achieve. Chapter Two contains a detailed critique of the socialization literature that stresses the relationship of early gender learning to later success. There follows a discussion of the economic impact of industrialization on the sexual division of labor, and a look at the occupational sphere, showing that achievement motivation is often shaped by am individual’s position in the labor market. (This includes an examination of the special problems faced by professional women.)

Integrating psychological and sociological perspectives, Chapter Five examines the way in which achievement is affected by longevity and mobility and by the gradual reduction of fertility. Finally, Chapter Six reviews the current literature on women and the family, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and widowhood.

Organized around the four main stages of the female life cycle, the structure of the book illustrates one of its principal tenets: achievement must be examined as part of a lifelong process. Debra and Barbara have brought the reality of women’s private and public lives back into the evaluation of human performance. Their book provides a new starting point for social scientists attempting to understand the complex relationships between will, talent, and opportunity—for both men and women alike.



Rachel's Daughters: Newly Orthodox Jewish Women

Debra Kaufman writes about ba'alot teshuva women who have returned to Orthodox Judaism, a form of Judaism often assumed to be oppressive to women. She addresses many of the most challenging issues of family, feminism, and gender. Why, she asks, have these women chosen an Orthodox lifestyle? What attracts young, relatively affluent, well-educated, and highly assimilated women to the most traditional, right-wing, patriarchal, and fundamentalist branch of Judaism? The answers she discovers lead her beyond an analysis of religious renewal to those issues all women and men confront in public and private life.

Debra interviewed and observed 150 ba'alot teshuva. She uses their own stories, in their own words, to show us how they make sense of the choices they have made. Lamenting their past pursuit of individual freedom over social responsibility, they speak of searching for shared meaning and order, and finding it in orthodoxy.

The laws and customs of Orthodox Judaism have been formulated by men, and it is men who enforce those laws and control the Orthodox community. The leadership is dominated by men. But the women do not experience theologically imposed subordination as we might expect. Although most ba'alot teshuva reject feminism or what they perceive as feminism, they maintain a gender consciousness that incorporates aspects of feminist ideology, and often use feminist rhetoric to explain their lives.

Debra does not idealize the ba'alot teshuva world. Their culture does not accommodate the non-Orthodox, the homosexual, the unmarried, the divorced. Nor do the women have the mechanisms or political power to reject what is still oppressive to them. They must live within the authority of a rabbinic tradition and social structure set by males. Like other religious right women, their choices reinforce authoritarian trends current in today's society. Rachel's Daughters provides a fascinating picture of how newly orthodox women perceive their role in society as more liberating than oppressive.

From the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Holocaust Denial Trials: Challenging the Media, the Law and the Academy (editor with James Ross, David Phillips, and Gerald Herman)

Reacting to the Irving/Lipstadt trial, the editors of this volume sought to use this latest trial as a catalyst to investigate the larger question that arose from what is now a century of invective and defense: how do we determine the truth claims made for (or by, or against) the Holocaust in various media from outright forgeries like the "Protocols of the 'Elders of Zion'" to negationist literature to the legal trials held to adjudicate such claims. In this series of short essays, each author explores the methods and assumptions within their disciplines that frame the way in which we come to understand the racism and anti-Semitism which rest beneath Holocaust denial.

Public/Private Spheres: Women Past and Present

In these essays we see how the images of women as passive, private, domestic creatures underestimate the power politics that keep them in their place, just as they underestimate the active responses women must make to change the conditions of their existence. But even more importantly, these essays go beyond the study of women to an analytical framework that incorporates a mode of inquiry from which the “stuff” of academic scholarship is made. These essays assume that the “mundane” everyday lives of women and men count in our analysis of social conflict and its resolution. The socially constructed “split” between the public and private spheres of life and the gender roles organized around it provide a perspective from which any number of institutions may be analyzed—religion, family, education, polity, and economy. This perspective makes evident the ways in which those seemingly separate spheres of life are simultaneously apart from one another and a part of one another.