Experiences of feminist female faculty in marriage and family therapy programs: A phenomenology
Arora, Neetu U.
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The growing body of feminist-informed literature in family therapy has not been accompanied by growing research in the area. Feminist women in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) academia stand in minority within the social sciences, yet contribute significantly to knowledge and practice of family therapy. Feminists examine and challenge sexist practices in the larger society and in their professional and personal lives. They have to counter negative images of feminists, and experience intrinsic conflicts in their intimate relationships with men and in institutions that are symbols of societal sexism. It is well documented that women in academia are subject to gender biases, arbitrary (often negative) evaluations, and discrimination. However, it is yet to be researched how feminist women academicians apply feminist ideals in their professional and personal lives. Given the minimal scholarly attention given to women’s subjective experiences in general and the large number of women in MFT, it is very important that we explore their relationships and experiences. In an attempt to enhance self-reflection within MFT, in this qualitative research, I explored the personal and professional life experiences of feminist women academicians in MFT to understand successes and challenges in upholding feminist ideals in their lives. Sixteen heterosexual women faculty in MFT programs, who self-identified as feminists, responded to open-ended questions via web-based surveys, telephone interviews, and follow-up dialogue through email. Their responses regarding feminism, professional and family lives were analyzed using descriptive phenomenological methods. Findings are presented in the form of two domains. Domain 1 focused on their challenges and successes in academic careers, and Domain 2 focused on practical application of their feminism to their professional lives. Together, these two domains are divided into the following central themes:1) Attraction to MFT Academic Career, 2) Help Along the Way, 3) Hurdles and Stressors Along the Way, 4) Areas of Success and Achievements, 5) Gender and Sex Discrimination, 6) Understanding of Feminism and General Impact on Life, 7) Impact of Feminism on Academic Work, 8) The Balancing Act: Family and Work, 9) Experience with Professional Organizations (e.g. AAMFT), 10) Challenges of Feminist Women Academicians, 11) Looking Forward: What Can be Done Differently? The design and discussion for this study were based on a feminist framework. Special emphasis is placed on the intersection of the participants’ feminist ideology with different parts of their academic work. Findings, presented as emergent themes and sub-themes, highlight the interconnections between multiple roles these women participants play, as they juggle and sometimes struggle to honor their identities as feminist women who are partners, parents, and educators and scholars. Although most participants experienced challenges and biases in their MFT academic environments, they also received support, success and confirmation from within those same environments. Recommendations based on the findings of this study can be informative for scholars and practitioners, and can be taken into account to a) develop a more supportive atmosphere for women in MFT training programs and in academia in general, and b) to promote more open dialogue regarding gender biases that women (students and faculty) continue to face.