Women and Autonomy: Self-Determination


One of my passions is writing about women’s issues. Another one of my passions is thinking about the concept of women and autonomy. Why? Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I decided I wanted a professional career. Not only did I want a professional career, but I wanted a career in a male-dominated field. I wanted to get my doctorate in Business Administration and teach on a university level in a business school, specifically in finance.

During those years, there were very few women in the field of finance. Sorry, guys, but back then, that meant I was fighting an uphill battle. To be fair, I think the men of 2016 are far more accepting of women in previously dominated male professions than some of the men were in 1979, when I embarked on studying for my career.

If you look in the dictionary, you will find that the word “autonomy” has several different meanings that actually all mean the same thing. It is defined as “the freedom to determine one’s own actions” and it does not say one thing that is gender-specific. It isn’t just specific to men…..or women.

When I made the decision to study for and embark on my career, I didn’t feel the need to ask anyone, including my husband, if that was an acceptable decision. I felt like, as an individual human being, that I had the autonomy to make this decision myself. I did. It was my right.

I studied for and obtained my Master’s degree (Master of Business Administration or MBA) and then, I studied for my Doctor of Business Administration or DBA. It wasn’t easy. The coursework was hard. Writing the dissertation was hard. Not only did I work the entire time I was going to school, but I was also married and taking care of my mother. At first, I taught at the school from which I got my doctorate. Later, when I was working on my dissertation, I taught at a school 75 miles away and commuted to work. I always laughed and told my friends that my dissertation was written in the middle of the night because that is the only time when I had the time and quiet to do it.

I had a lot of friends who were also studying for their doctorates. Most of the other students in the program were men. There was only one other woman in my field of finance. We had friends, however, across disciplines — in marketing, management, etc. All the women had a similar life and similar schedule to mine. The men were a different story. Either they were single and could concentrate totally on their studies or they were with a supportive partner who carried the load while they studied. Not so with the women in the program. We had to continue on with our traditional roles as women. We saw this as unfair.

Back in those days, others saw it as fair. After all, we made the decision to seek out a non-traditional role for ourselves. It felt like punishment. Even though we had taken back our autonomy as human beings to seek out our careers, we were being punished for not pursuing our traditional roles as women.

The discrimination continued when we took our newly-minted degrees and started applying for jobs. Of course, the discrimination was unspoken and subtle because laws had already been passed before the 1980s prohibiting such discrimination. The women I knew in finance at my school and other schools were seen as odd to have pursued a degree in an all-male field. Lucky for us, universities needed us at that time. The concept of diversity was becoming important. Universities were being encouraged to have a more diverse faculty and hiring a woman for their finance department fit the bill. We all got jobs.

I could keep talking about this endlessly. About how women in male-dominated fields in universities have to work twice as hard for 3/4 of the pay. About how it is extra hard for us to get promotion and tenure. About how our portfolios for promotion and tenure have to be superior to any male colleagues’ portfolio. About how our salary increases never match those of our male colleagues. About how, by the time  I retired, I still didn’t make as much money as male colleagues who had the exact same credentials as I did. About how the schedules I taught, semester after semester, were more difficult than any male colleague I had.

It all finally burned me out. I was tired of fighting. It was a fight. Right up until the end. When I reached the point where I could retire with most of my pension and my health insurance, I did just that. Retired.

I’ve never looked back. I’ve never been sorry I retired. I’ve never tried to get another teaching job even though I am more than qualified. I decided, 27 years before the time I retired, to reach out, take back my autonomy, and have a professional career. It was the most difficult thing I ever did……and, despite the hardships, the most rewarding. I loved teaching. I taught mostly Appalachian students. I loved seeing their eyes light up when they “got” a concept I was teaching. I miss those students. I miss teaching them.

I don’t miss the discrimination and the politics of academia. I don’t miss the service on unnecessary committees. I also loved to do the research that is required of college professors, but there is not enough time given to professors due to such heavy teaching loads to do good research. If I am going to do research in my field of finance, it is going to be good research or I’m not going to do it.

My point in writing this post is to encourage women to take back their autonomy. If you have a passion to do something — anything — do it! You won’t be a fulfilled person if you don’t. If you aren’t fulfilled, you won’t be any good to your family or your community. I urge you, as strong women, to think about what you want to do with your life, get the education you need to do it, and then go and do it. You will be a better, more fulfilled person for it. #amwriting #writing #blogging #womensissues



  1. Beautiful,inspiring n insightful.i could feel the hardships n grit searching for your autonomy through this amazing connecting post.much later I had my management degree post nineties in a much conducive time in India n now in a senior position in banking but that autonomy for still looking elusive! I think you had a great decision then entering the so called men’s world of finance.Hats off to you.Keep posting n inspiring n doing all that you love to do ! Wishes ahead.Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s still a long drawn battle ahead. The important thing is to keep at it, no matter what. Love the fact that you chose to persevere! 😀


  3. I have encountere many of the same things in my career. The worst was having more experienceand more education, but making less money than male co-workers. Even if Hillary Clinton crashes the glass ceiling in November, what difference will it make, unless women start a long overdue rebellion for equal rights in the work place? Many have tried and failed. I believe in my heart that women must help each other and unite in this effort. But that’s another blog topic. I am so proud of you Rosemary Carlson, and honored to call you my friend. Excellent article.


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