Women of Brandeis: Sarah Lamb

Our campus is abundant with strong empowering queens. This segment exists to shine a light on the inspiring role models in our community that you deserve to know about!

Professor Sarah Lamb, a beloved member of the Brandeis community for twenty-one years, is a core instructor of both the Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies departments. She has also served as head of the Social Sciences division for the past five years. Additionally, Professor Lamb does fieldwork in both India and the United States studying gender, aging, and family life. Needless to say, Professor Lamb is an incredibly impressive person and an integral influence on the Brandeis campus. She is a cisgendered, heterosexual female.


  1. What would you say is your strongest quality?

“ One of the projects of anthropology, [is] to understand others, so I try to do that in my research, my writing and my teaching. I try not to be judgemental. Sometimes it’s necessary to judge, but first I try to understand people for who they are and accept where they are coming from.”


  1. How do you define success? Do you think success is defined differently for women?

“I don’t know that there is a one version that fits all. I guess in my own life it has something to do with a sense of well being, fulfillment, and happiness. The basics: feeling safe and secure, having clothing and shelter while also having wellbeing in life, a sense of respect for yourself, and being able to pursue aspirations that are meaningful to you. [Regarding success for women] There’s a larger emphasis in our society and in many other societies to define a man’s success: his breadwinning capacities and his career success. But that can be important to both men and women, of course, succeeding in your career, that’s an important part of success for me too. Overarching all of that, I think the reason people want to be successful in their career is because it’s a meaningful aspiration for them, once you think about emotional happiness and just not a dollar figure. For many people that means making the world a better place, which is good for others, but also gives people a sense of fulfillment. I guess I would say that I wouldn’t want there to be different versions of success for men and women. I wouldn’t want women to be limited in any way that they couldn’t pursue their career, success, or leadership. However, I also wouldn’t want men to be channeled into this being the only version of success either.”


  1. Who is your role model?

“I would say that in some ways I have many role models. My father is one of my role models. He is a very intelligent, thoughtful, and kind person. He was a professor, in fact. Of linguistics at Yale. He wouldn’t have wanted me to follow in his footsteps because he thought academia wasn’t perfect. Also, honestly if I had been a man I don’t think he would have wanted me to go into academia at all because it doesn’t make enough money. But I admire him for his thoughtfulness and wisdom. He was the first person who taught me how interesting it is to explore from diverse viewpoints. I learn from so many different kinds of people. All of the people I do fieldwork with, whether they’re poor or rich, old or young. One of the reasons I like doing fieldwork is that I get to know a range of different people and what makes life meaningful to them. I pick and choose the insight I’ve gained from various people.”


  1. When in your life have you felt most empowered?

“Recently at Brandeis, over the past five-ten years as a professor, having leadership roles on campus. In the classroom, I feel more and more comfortable teaching. I’ve continued to grow throughout the years so I feel, even in a big class, if I can get people to stay interested and get what I’m saying, it feels rather empowering. Now that I’ve been at Brandeis for so long and know so many different people across campus and in the administration I can help people here and help at Brandeis function better, in terms of my role. I also feel very fulfilled with my family. I am close with my children and they give a lot of meaning to my life. Furthermore, I'm quite an avid runner and definitely feel both empowered and exhilarated while running, especially during very long runs and at races. I've run a few marathons recently and also run in about two half marathons per year and several shorter races. I tend to do very well or win in my gender and age group, which is fun!”   


  1. Is there an experience or lesson you gained in your career that you feel define you as an anthropologist?

“I would actually say no, not really. Sometimes in the field, there are moments when you feel a sense of culture shock, or you feel like you’ve made a mistake and you’re seeing the intimate aspects of other people’s lives in ways that show how painful and messed up they are. Those moments you learn a lot from. Regarding issues related to gender, both in my early fieldwork and now (I’m doing a project on single women who don’t get married), when I see signs of oppression, unfairness, injustice, and poverty in the caste system. It’s those difficult situations, especially where I’m personally involved that I really learned a lot.”


  1. Do you feel that you have experienced adversity as a woman in your field? If so, what have you done to overcome this challenge?

“Not as much as I probably would have 10 to 15 years ago. But I really know that there are a lot of problems women still face in their careers...When I was first hired at Brandeis, I was the only women in our department then...the department chair and administrator would send memos to us and we would have a faculty meeting and it would say “to…” and then it would list everybody's last name but they just called me “Sarah”. Nobody noticed it was that type of subtle discrimination….”


  1. In your research, what universal knowledge have you gained about womanhood cross-culturally?

“In the 1970’s anthropologists did try to look more for universals... I do think there is near universal male dominance. Even if a woman has importance in some societies ( and we certainly hope that’s the case), men have the edge, politically, economically...etc. You see that in all the sexual harassment news coming to light now in the U.S.”


8. In your time at Brandeis, how do you feel millennial women have changed or shaped empowered women in today’s society?

“There is more and more awareness and public discussion of women's rights... I feel like the millennial generation is more outspoken about these issues but sometimes students in my classes say that “Feminism” still has a bad name. Women are doing so well, they tend to do better in college. If we have more women leaders we will have a better world.”


9.     What needs to be done to further this effort in Brandeis as a whole?

“You guys should all guard against self-righteousness in your conversations.” Professor Lamb believes such a tone can alienate those who are new to the conversation and perhaps are not familiar with the zeitgeist. One a different note, Professor Lamb added, “I think it’s important that we move beyond this rape culture. Men are taught that they should be sexual initiators-- that women should say no before they say yes.”


Author’s Note: “It’s really important to embrace ignorance instead of attacking it.”


10. As a strong female role model, do you have any advice for Brandeis women hoping to make a difference?

“People should choose a path that is meaningful to them...Just be sure in yourself. If you feel insecure or confused in class...that often means you have a good insight. You should trust your questioning.”


If you know an empowering woman who needs to be recognized, please send their name and contact information to [email protected]