Professor and Author — Gender Justice
Kristy Maddux, Ph.D., '01 Communication Major, Gender Studies Minor
CES: How did you decide on your current career path? What significantly influenced your decisions?
KM: I started on an academic career path when I was pushed, by a UPS professor, to pursue research projects outside a classroom setting. My most important initial discovery was that the intellectual rewards of such research are far greater than the grades earned in a class ever could have been. In my first major independent research project, supported by a Carol Reed grant, I studied the ongoing debates over sexuality in the major Protestant denominations. I loved being able to use bodies of well-established scholarly thought to make sense of a contemporary problem that was pertinent to me and millions of other Americans.
Also as an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to travel to Indiana for a small conference designed exclusively for students in my field. That conference was my first experience of formal, academic collaboration and exchange outside the classroom, and I was hooked. In many ways, the conversations we shared at that conference were not so different than the ones I’d known in the college dorms since freshman year (where we’d stay up all night debating free will, or the territorial claims of the Israelis and Palestinians or the power dynamics between a sexual harasser and his interns in the Oval Office), but I realized then that choosing life as a scholar would guarantee me unlimited opportunities to continue those discussions throughout my career. At that conference, I was also mentored by a smart feminist scholar who remains a friend and colleague today. She exemplified the “life of the mind,” so engaged was she with her research projects.
CES: What do you like most about your work as a faculty member at the University of Maryland?
KM: I love the freedom that I have as a professor. Although my weekly schedule fills up with classes, meetings, and office hours, I still exercise considerably more latitude over how I spend my days than other young professionals do. The flip side of such freedom, however, is that life as a teacher-scholar demands limitless self-discipline. Although my students clamor for me to help them with papers, write recommendation letters, and return grades quickly, no one dictates my research schedule. All responsibility for generating articles and books is mine. Thus, although university faculty have fairly flexible schedules, we still work incredibly long hours, whether we teach at community colleges, teaching-oriented universities, or research-oriented universities. There is no way around it: there are always papers that need to be graded, pages that need to be written, and citations that need to be checked.
I also love that I am surrounded by very smart people who challenge me constantly. I have senior colleagues whose expertise in our field sometimes shames me but more commonly inspires me to read more, write more, think more — to get smarter, in short. I also work with graduate students who are equally inspiring for the way that they energetically approach new research questions and unabashedly tackle massive research projects. I love knowing that success in my chosen field depends on my having thoughtful, engaged conversations—in print and writing—with incredibly smart scholars whose work I respect.
CES: What are some of the limitations/frustrations?
KM: One of the primary limitations of my field is that academic research is so often perceived as out of touch with “real” people. Sometimes I get jaded enough to believe that we really are so out of touch, but most of the time I believe that my feminist analyses of media texts do matter, that it is helpful to illuminate the ways that popular films and television shows discipline ideologies of gender, and that it makes a difference to teach my students how to read such texts with a critical lens.
CES: You’ve chosen to take an academic path following graduation, but many do not. Have you ever considered opportunities outside of academia? If so, doing what?
KM: See job perks above. I have never thought seriously about pursuing another career path. Sometimes I entertain crazy dreams about becoming a librarian or an event planner or running my own restaurant or preschool. But those are dreams for another lifetime. I’ve got plenty to do in this career for now.
CES: Do you have any advice for students who want to incorporate their knowledge of gender and women’s issues into their career?
KM: There are some clear career paths for students who want to do work explicitly related to gender justice: academic research is an obvious one, as is feminist non-profit work, or legal advocacy on gender discrimination cases. But, really, the world will be a better place when women and men bring their feminist principles into every profession. We need more teachers who recognize and encourage ambition equally in their male and female students. We need more HR professionals sympathetic to claims of sexual harassment. We need more journalists willing to forego the sexist frameworks too commonly employed in depictions of female politicians and candidates. We need more police officers sensitive to the ways that macho bravado harms community relations. We need more corporate CEOs and middle-managers who acknowledge the gender pay gap, and who can help men and women make family/career planning decisions. We need more salespeople who will disregard stereotypes that try to take advantage of the “naiveté” of female customers. We need more mothers and fathers who will encourage their sons and daughters to develop outside traditional gender roles. We need more union organizers who will make gender equity a high priority. We need more medical professionals who will listen carefully to the unique physical symptoms described by women and diagnose them accurately. We need more politicians who will reform health and welfare laws so that women and children are no longer so deeply impoverished. We need more religious leaders of all faiths who will teach both the girls and boys in their congregations to see themselves in the divine and the divine in them. Surely, a gender and women’s studies perspective acquired at Puget Sound will allow a young professional to productively advance a feminist agenda in any career.