To read this content please select one of the options below:

Metaphors on Women in Academia: A Review of the Literature, 2004–2013

At the Center: Feminism, Social Science and Knowledge

ISBN: 978-1-78560-079-1, eISBN: 978-1-78560-078-4

Publication date: 21 August 2015



We evaluate the use of metaphors in academic literature on women in academia. Utilizing the work of Husu (2001) and the concept of intersectionality, we explore the ways in which notions of structure and/or agency are reflected in metaphors and the consequences of this.


The research comprised an analysis of 113 articles on women in academia and a subanalysis of 17 articles on women in Political Science published in academic journals between 2004 and 2013.


In the case of metaphors about academic institutions, the most popular metaphors are the glass ceiling, the leaky pipeline, and the old boys’ network, and, in the case of metaphors about women academics, strangers/outsiders and mothers/housekeepers.

Usage of metaphors in the literature analyzed suggests that the literature often now works with a more nuanced conception of the structure/agency problematic than at the time Husu was writing: instead of focusing on either structures or agents in isolation, the literature has begun to look more critically at the interplay between them, although this may not be replicated at a disciplinary level.


We highlight the potential benefits of interdependent metaphors which are able to reflect more fully the structurally situated nature of (female) agency. These metaphors, while recognizing the (multiple and intersecting) structural constraints that women may face both within and outwith the academy, are able to capture more fully the different forms female power and agency can take. Consequently, they contribute both to the politicization of problems that female academics may face and to the stimulation of collective responses for a fairer and better academy.




We thank Marcia Texler Segal and Vasilikie Demos for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.


Amery, F., Bates, S., Jenkins, L. and Savigny, H. (2015), "Metaphors on Women in Academia: A Review of the Literature, 2004–2013", At the Center: Feminism, Social Science and Knowledge (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 20), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 245-267.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015 Emerald Group Publishing Limited