The Contradiction of the Myth of Individual Merit, and the Reality of a Patriarchal Support System in Academic Careers

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This article draws on data from a qualitative research study undertaken in an old (pre-1992) UK university with the main aim of investigating the issue of the gender dimension of academic careers. It examines the idea of an individualistic academic career that demands self-promotion, which is still used as a measure of achievement by those in senior positions. However, there is a basic contradiction. While this idea is upheld, men simultaneously gain by an in-built patriarchal support system. They do not have to make a conscious effort to be helped by it, thereby perpetuating the cultural hegemony of individualism. Women are not admitted to this support system, and if they are seen as needing or wanting to set up their own system, this is viewed as a weakness. The answer appears to be for women to strategically harness feminist ways of working in a collaborative and supportive way.

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