Margaret Polatnick (1970)

Lecturer, Vista Community College, Berkeley

Passionately involved in the new women's liberation movement in the late '60s (in NYC), I decided to go to sociology graduate school to deepen my understanding of sexism. Graduate student life in the early '70s was exciting intellectually and politically, with an active Women's Caucus, Radical Caucus, and ethnic caucuses. Within sociology I studied the just-approved area of 'sex roles' as well as family, sexuality, and class and racial stratification, and I also audited every newly emerging course in other departments that addressed women's lives (history, anthropology, psychology, economics, etc.) Yet I remember being told in my M.A. evaluation that my interests were too narrow! The Berkeley Journal of Sociology published my early article 'Why Men Don't Rear Children,' which has been anthologized repeatedly and still is requested for course readers. Through the '70s I gained valuable teaching experience in the Department and in Strawberry Creek College, a liberatory/humanistic 'college within the college.' In the latter '70s, I was a core member of the groundbreaking campus group Women Organized Against Sexual Harassment. I stretched out my graduate student years with community-based social justice activism, travel, and teaching, including a stint in the early '80s at Friends World College's North American Center, back in New York.

With mentoring from Professors Hochschild, Blauner, Duster, and Barbara Christian (African American & Women's Studies), I did my dissertation on Strategies for Women's Liberation: A Study of a Black and a White Group of the 1960s. By then quite rooted in Berkeley, I taught sociology and women's studies courses in Bay Area colleges, had a daughter, and then landed a tenure-track position at San Jose State in the Women's Studies Program of the Social Science Department. In 1995, I participated in the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women, in Beijing, a peak experience that continues to inspire me. Increasingly, I have globalized my curriculum.

After ten consuming years of commuting, I 'retired' from San Jose State and spent two years as a Senior Researcher at Professors Hochschild and Thorne's stimulating Center for Working Families, investigating care issues in the middle-school years and children's views of their full-time employed parents. I began teaching sociology at Vista Community College in downtown Berkeley and led a successful effort to establish a Women's Studies Program there, which I continue to coordinate. This spring I was appointed to the City of Berkeley's Commission on the Status of Women.

The Sociology Department provided me with some faculty and peer models of outstanding thinkers/teachers/writers committed to progressive social change and liberatory education. I have made those commitments central to my own life. Sustaining them despite powerful counter-pressures within academia has been a challenge. I trust that the Department's graduate students will continue to take up that challenge.

Dissertation Title: 
Strategies for Women's Liberation: A Study of a Black and a White Group of the 1960s.