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Catherine Marry, sociologist

One of the first to identify–and boldly state–that girls did better than boys at school, Marry has dedicated her research to gender discrimination, at school, at home, but mostly at work, where she continues to inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

Beyond the Glass Ceiling

catherine marry

© S. Godefroy/CNRS Photothèque

It took me quite some time to think of myself as a feminist. When I was young, I was probably more of a misogynist,” laughingly admits Catherine Marry, a sociologist and CNRS senior researcher at the Centre Maurice Halbwachs1  in Paris. An unexpected revelation, coming from a researcher who, 20 years ago, started analyzing the gender relationships–and the inequality suffered by women–both in school and at work. And especially as she recently jointly published a guide2 on “how to put an end to male domination.” Her work and involvement exposing some of the gender inequalities in our society won her the 2008 mentoring prize (Prix du Mentorat), awarded by the jury of the Irène Joliot-Curie Prize for her remarkable initiative to help young women early in their careers. Indeed, she is involved in many associations that encourage and promote women in the scientific field. As the leader of the “Professions, Networks, Organization” (PRO) group, made up of approximately 40 researchers, research engineers, academics, and PhD students, Marry encourages her teams to give a “gender dimension” to their work, whether it is about trade unions, artists, or career networking.
Although Marry initially studied economics, chosen “by default” and because “it was a field dominated by men,” she rapidy moved to sociology. After she completed a diploma of higher education in industrial relations in 1971, Marry, then 23, joined the LEST,3 in Aix-en-Provence, a laboratory involved in labor economy and sociology. A year later, together with two research engineers, she took part in the “France-Germany Comparison,” which was then one of the biggest projects in the social sciences. They observed that French managers were better paid than their German counterparts. “Economic theory was unable to explain these differences by the relative scarcity of the workforce, because relative to the total number of workers, there were more managers in France than in Germany.” Through sociological studies, they realized that if French managers were on average overpaid, it was paradoxically because their professional training was not as well recognized as that of their German counterparts. In Germany, managers received in-depth training and thus had greater professional legitimacy. It was then not necessary to grant them power through a higher salary. These results created considerable stir. “But surprisingly, we had completely excluded women from the study,” Marry recalls, still amazed at the omission. “Part-timers, maternity leave, extremely varied jobs, etc.: We found that all of this upset our analysis.” As the study went on, Marry, who believes economics is “out of touch with reality,” became increasingly drawn to sociology. But it wasn't until 1983 and her meeting with CNRS sociologist Anne-Marie Daune-Richard, who was investigating women at work, that she really became involved in the subject. Together, they explored a topic that she feels strongly about: women who opt for “male” careers. Somewhat out of tune with the feminist theories of the time, which decried the exploitation of women, Marry, fired with the desire to get her ideas across, was more interested in the possibilities of transforming gender relations. “At that point, I had found my path.” In 1985, she had already joined LASMAS,4 where she focused on women engineers, a seemingly obscure subject. As a result, she intensified her research in the sociology of education. “I was one of the first to show that girls did better at school than boys. Right from the start, I felt that this was a seismic change.” In 1991, she obtained a position as a researcher at CNRS.
Her second key encounter was with sociologist Margaret Maruani, with whom–among others–she founded the “Labor Markets and Gender” (MAGE) European Research Network in 1995, a “stimulating” multidisciplinary exchange group which focused on issues of sexual inequality both at school and in the family, or at work. MAGE, which she headed for four years (1999-2003), rapidly garnered European recognition. The introductory seminar into male/ female issues that Marry has conducted at EHESS since 2001 has met with the same success. But she is realistic: “We benefited from the increasing popularity of gender studies that started in the late 80s.” For although she is resolutely optimistic, Marry, who has just completed a report on women biologists at CNRS, knows how difficult it can be for her fellow women to pursue their careers. “I've been really lucky, but we mustn't forget that for many women, the glass ceiling hasn't disappeared.”

Stéphanie Arc

Notes :

1. CNRS / ENS Paris / EHESS Paris / Université de Caen.
2. Ilana Löwy and Catherine Marry, Pour en finir avec la domination masculine. De A à Z (Paris: Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond / Seuil, 2007).
3. Laboratoire d'économie et de sociologie du travail (CNRS/ Universités Aix-Marseille-I and -II).
4. Former name of the Centre Maurice Halbwachs.

Contacts :

Catherine Marry,
Centre Maurice Halbwachs, Paris.


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