Othering women: Fluid images of the ideal academic

I.L. Bleijenbergh, M.L. van Engen, C.J. Vinkenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


In the context of research on the career advancement of women and men in academia, this paper aims to reflect on how deans at six schools of a Dutch arts and a Dutch sciences‐based university construct the image of the ideal academic, and on how these images are gendered.
Using an inductive approach, the study analyzed the transcripts of semi‐structured in‐depth interviews with six deans (all men) from two different Dutch universities on the career advancement of men and women at their school.
It was expected that the images of the ideal academic would be more gendered in the sciences than in the arts university, considering the stronger male domination in the sciences university. The images of the ideal academic, while fundamentally different, regarding the expertise, the applicability of knowledge, and the visibility needed to be considered successful, were equally gendered in assuming that practicing science leaves little room for caring obligations outside work; in both places science was considered an omnipresent and greedy calling. Moreover, deans at both universities to a similar extent expected women academics not to fit to this standard. Paradoxically, in the arts university deans construct an image of women academics that in some aspects reflects a mirror image of women academics in the sciences university and vice versa.
Research limitations/implications
The paper suggests that in this construction the process of “othering” women academics is more constant than the content of the ideal academic. They contribute to theories on the ideal worker in the field of science by arguing the construction of the ideal academic is fluid rather than fixed. Further research could investigate how the image of the ideal academic changes within the same discipline across different countries with a higher representation of women among full professors, as the findings are limited to The Netherlands.
Practical implications
The paper argues that the fluidity of the ideal academic norm offers space for renegotiating such norms by making it more inclusive for women, which will have positive consequences for women's career advancement in academia.
The contribution of this paper is that constructions of the ideal academic are fluid rather than fixed, while dominant actors in organizations seem to attribute universal value to these images. The “otherness” of women relative to the image of the ideal academic is more constant than the characteristics of these images themselves.
Keywords: Gender, Academic staff, Ideal academic, Gender stereotypes, Arts, Sciences, The Netherlands
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-35
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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