Q&A with Eleanor Roosevelt Fund Awardee Abigail J. StewartJune 10, 2011
Abigail J. Stewart, the 2011 Eleanor Roosevelt Fund Award winner, will accept her award during the AAUW National Convention on Saturday, June 18 in Washington, D.C. Stewart earned this distinction for her illuminating research on women’s professional and personal choices. Read on to find out more about this remarkable woman.
Tell us about your research.
I’ve spent much of my research life in psychology studying the personalities and life choices that college-educated women made, focusing especially on their participation in family life, in various careers, and especially in political life. I’ve been interested in the impact that social historical events — like wars, the women’s movement, the civil rights, and other social protest movements — have had on them.
As the women I’ve studied have aged (along with me), I’ve gotten interested in their aging process, and most recently I’ve worked a lot on understanding how they come to terms with the regrets they have about missed opportunities or unfortunate life choices. I have loved doing this work, partly because I have felt I was helping make my field more aware of the importance of women’s lives.
About 10 years ago I started working with many colleagues and students on documenting “global feminisms.” We interviewed women’s movement activists and scholars in four countries — China, India, Poland, and the United States — and created a website with the interviews (both in video and transcript form) and background materials. This interdisciplinary, international project is meant to be a lasting resource for scholars, teachers, and students, and we are still adding to it — most recently with a new set of interviews being collected in Nicaragua.
Finally, also about 10 years ago, I began to work on the stubborn problem of the relative absence of women professors in science and engineering. In this work I have found ways to bring my scholarly training and my activist impulses together, and that has been very satisfying. I have learned a lot from doing this work — about the courage, resilience, and accomplishments of so many women in those fields; about the continued inequities women face in certain corners of our culture; about the importance of the commitment of some men to addressing those inequities; about the difficulty of making institutional changes, the urgency of doing so, and the success that comes with working in alliance with many others — women and men — on issues that really matter.
What are your hopes for young women?
I hope they are able to recognize and understand the inequities that are part of their inheritance without being discouraged or overwhelmed by them. A combination of clear-eyed understanding and determination will take them so far, and we need the contributions they can and will make to our troubled world.
What famous woman would you want to meet?
It seems silly in this context to say that it would be Eleanor Roosevelt, but it would. I so admire all that she accomplished throughout her life, but perhaps most of all the way she remained committed, vigorous, and inspiring into old age. Her work for human rights has defined a moral and material agenda for the entire world for decades; it is a towering achievement of the 20th century, and it continues to inspire in this century.
What makes me think it would be fun to meet her is the fact that she didn’t take herself too seriously. I love that she said, “I’m so glad I never feel important. It does complicate life.”