I think, therefore I QUESTION
Meet Prof. Karen Christopher.
Prof. Christopher is Associate Professor, Women's and Gender Studies, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Sociology. Prof. Christopher's research explores the intersections of gender, race, and class in the family, labor market, and welfare state.
In this Q&A, we learn if you can really “have it all,” and why modern parenting looks so different than it did for your grandparents.
Name: Karen Christopher
Department: Women’s & Gender Studies/Sociology
Years at UofL: 13
Current Research Interests:
My research explores intersections of gender, race, and class in the family and labor market. For my current project, I'm interviewing nurses, nursing aides, and elementary school teachers about job satisfaction and their experiences of work-life conflict.
Another line of research investigates parents' experiences in academia. I'm also working with graduate students on a project that explores mothers' reactions to celebrity mothers in popular magazines.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work?
Not so much the goals that are in your job description, but the goals you hold personally? My main goals are twofold: bringing the voices and concerns of those in my research to a larger audience, and teaching students to see the world from a sociological perspective.
Can women today achieve work-life balance? Why or why not?
I think that in our society, it is challenging for women to achieve work-life balance. Those who can typically: have partners who share child care and housework; have flexible work hours and access to benefits like paid leaves; and are intentional in picking careers/fields/jobs where this flexibility is more possible.
All other Western, affluent democracies have far better policies to support work-life balance, such as: more generous paid leaves, better part-time jobs, and government-subsidized child care. Consequently, mothers report more work-life balance, and typically have better job outcomes, in these other countries.
How do you think working and mothering are different in recent decades from 50 years ago?
Both working and mothering are very different today compared to 50 years ago. About three-quarters of mothers work outside of the home today, compared to about one-quarter of mothers 50 years ago.
And our standards for mothering have substantially increased over this time – mothers are expected to spend large amounts of time and energy parenting their children today, whereas parenting was more "hands off" in the mid-20th century. These two trends help explain the substantial amount of work-life conflict experienced by many U.S. women.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
When I published an article in a top journal in our field (Gender & Society) in 2012, it was picked up by several media sources, and several scholars (and non-scholars) contacted me to tell me they appreciated the article.
My other highlight was serving as a faculty mentor to a cohort of Brown Fellows for all four years of their college experience. I got to know them very well, and was impressed and humbled by all the good they've already done in the world.
What was the best meal you’ve ever had? Why?
The best meal I've had in the past few years was at a tapas restaurant in Sevilla, Spain. I lived there when I was an undergraduate, and it was wonderful to share the rich flavors of gazpacho, chorizo (Spanish sausage), and Spanish ham with my family.
If you could live in any other time, when might that be? Why?
I think living in a hunter-gatherer society would be extremely difficult, but fascinating. Some scholars suggest that there was less gender inequality during this time than in agrarian and industrial societies, because women were central in providing the daily food of nuts, berries, etc. (while the men hunted and provided meat on a less regular basis).