American Sociological Association

Kathleen Gerson Award Statement - Jessie Bernard Award

Kathleen Gerson - Award Statement

The Jessie Bernard Award recognizes scholarly work that significantly expands the scholarship on women in society. This year, the award goes to Professor Kathleen Gerson, New York University, for her life-long scholarship on the gendered nature of constrained choices that arise from the interaction of structural opportunities and constraints, gendered cultural norms, and individual negotiations in relationships.   
The awards committee agreed with the nominators that Professor Gerson has steadfastly led the feminist cause over the last 30 years by writing path-breaking books and articles which enable us to understand gender as the outcome of a combination and possibilities and constraints of structural conditions and cultural moorings, both within and across individual lifetimes.

Professor Gerson's first two books, Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood (University of California, 1985), and No Man’’s Land: Men’’s Changing Commitments to Family and Work (Basic Books, 1993), based on life history analyses, provide early frameworks for understanding women’s and men’s paths and strategies amid revolutionary shifts in work, marriage, and parenthood. As one of the nominators pointed out, Hard Choices, helped bring “a sociological frame to the study of women’s lives in an era when role theory was the only game in town.” She convincingly demonstrated that childhood socialization did not create feminine women who desired domestic lives, but that experiences in the labor force and in marriage could explain how women chose, within constraints, to balance work and family.  This book was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award and the William J. Goode Distinguished Book Award.  Similarly, No Man’’s Land, which was selected as a “new and noteworthy” paperback by The New York Times Book Review, documented men’s responses to contemporary work-family that have given them both expanded freedom to avoid family responsibilities and rising incentives to become more involved in family life.

Professor Gerson’s co-authored study with Professor Jerry Jacobs, The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2004), moved us beyond studies that focus only on individuals.  Instead, by focusing on individual lodged within a family, they showed that the context and content of work matter in the shaping the ways in which individuals experience the hours of work time.  The Time Divide was named a “best business book”” by Strategy Business magazine, received honorable mention for the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, and was featured at ““Author Meets the Critics”” sessions for the ASA, the ESS, and the Southern Sociological Society.  Work from this project also received the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research.

Professor Gerson’s recent book, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and the Family, (Oxford University Press, 2011) which was awarded the William Goode Distinguished Book award by the ASA section on Family in 2012, further addresses the significant changes in gender, work, and family life that have impacted the choices and possibilities for future generations of families.  She leads us to examine generational gender trajectories, culturally-embedded strategies, workplace constraints, and the moral responsibilities of social institutions.

The committee was not only impressed by Professor Gerson’s scholarly record, they noted that she has developed an outstanding record of mentoring a new generation of scholars who credit her with “being a great intellectual mentor, a tremendous social mentor and role model. She exemplifies both professional and personal success, and how to balance the two, in ways that are critical for graduate students to observe in action.”
Professor Gerson has also been an effective advocate in bringing her scholarly insights to the public realm.  She has developed an excellent record of persuading reporters to look beyond their culture-war frameworks and into more expansive and complex views of women and gender.  She has actively?participated in a wide range of efforts to apply sociological insights about women and gender to public debates and social policy.  
Professor Kathleen Gerson's scholarship has made – and continues to make – significant contribution to the literature and policy on gender furthering our understanding of the complex interplay of culture, economy, and public policy in shaping the possibilities for gender justice.

The committee, Maxine Baca Zinn, Michigan State University; Lynn Sharon Chancellor,  Hunter College-CUNY; Jessica Fields, San Francisco State University; Sydney Hart, City Colleges of Chicago;  Judith Howard (Chair), University of Washington, Debra Kaufman, Northeastern University, Anna Korteweg, University of Toronto, and Bandana Purkayastha, University of Connecticut, extend their warmest congratulations to Professor Gerson.   We look forward to reading her current work investigating “new moral dilemmas of work and care.”