I have a friend who lives in a little college town who says, “It’s like someone put a bubble up around this town in 1956.” Sometimes I think this is true of all of academia. Dr. Crazy had an interesting post the other day about the essential conservativism of college professors:
You’d think conservatives would actually love a person like me. I mean, instead of getting out there and organizing and protesting and sticking it to The Man, I spend my time reading books, harping on students about the quality of their prose, and spending endless hours in meetings and doing paperwork.
Her point was more about the essentially conservative nature of our work–great books, big ideas, the mechanics of reading and writing well–moreso than the conservative politics of most university faculty, but in “Sexism in the Academy,” Speaker’s Corner ATX reports a recent experience that suggests that there may be considerable overlap with respect to women’s imagined roles and ambitions:
Today when I told my male, child-free advisor that I am no longer married to the idea of being an academic when this is all done, he said IMMEDIATELY,
Why? You wanna have more babies?
Sigh. Even people who I respect so much and who have been very good overall in respecting my decision to have a child while in graduate school still react like this to my choices in my personal life. On top of that, he seemed surprised when I said “no”.
I can’t imagine that when a man decides that perhaps the Academy is not a good enough life for him or is not the ONLY possible future that he sees for himself or his family, he is met with such a reaction.
And just so no one accuses me of picking on my male professor – I once had a female professor who I love and adore call my son a “hurdle”. Ouch. And *shrug*. So it goes.
In fairness, it’s possible this advisor wanted to initiate a conversation in which he would urge her to stay in academia and have more children–but somehow, I think SCATX read this conversation right. Many young women are treated like their functioning ovaries are visible outside of the body, and are always presumed to be rarin’ to go. I’ve heard other antinatalist stories from other academic women–for example, the friend who felt like she was very well supported by her department when she had a baby, but then whose bona fides and ambition were questioned even by her feminist friends when she decided to have a second child before tenure. (It all worked out fine for her–two children and tenure, that is.)
When I was in graduate school 20 years ago, absolutely no one had children except the few “older” students (in their 40s) who had had other careers and raised their children before pursuing their Ph.D.s. Whereas most women my age (now in our 40s) didn’t have children unless and until they found tenure-track jobs (and some even waited until tenure), I’ve noticed that many younger academics in their 20s and 30s aren’t waiting for the brass ring that may never materialize, so they’ve had children in graduate school. I was at a dinner party in Philadelphia last weekend with some recent Ph.D.s and postdocs, and they were the parents of an infant and a toddler. I think it’s eminently sensible to have a child in graduate school, because 1) the job crisis of the past 40 years appears unlikely to ease up any time soon, and 2) the academic workplace still by and large hasn’t changed its leave policies to acknowledge that women are now on the faculty too, and aren’t just staff members. So why not, when 1) getting a tenure-track job may never happen, and 2) if it does, most unis offer only 6 weeks of “sick leave” for maternity leave (8 weeks if you have to recover from a C-section! W00T!)
So, good for you, SCATX, for living your own life, and for contemplating escape hatches outside of academia. It’s like I tell my women’s history students every year: do whatever the hell youwant to do, because the fact of the matter is that there’s always someone who will find fault with your decisions. Be straight, be gay, or be celibate; have children, or don’t; stay home with them, or keep working; follow your dreams, or find another career; etc. There will always be a friend, a relative, a distant acquaintance, or legions of perfect strangers on the internets who will tell you that U R doin’ it rong! There is no perfect magical set of choices or decisions to make because you’re women, and you’ll always be criticized, no matter what you do.
The only liberty is in no longer caring what other people say. My friend who talks about the 1956 bubble around her town also has given me another bit of wisdom. When someone asks a rude question or makes a pointed comment about you, turn to hir, blink your eyes, smile brightly, and ask in all feigned innocence, “why would you say that?” You put the aggressor/rude interlocutor on the defensive, but only in the nicest possible way. Don’t think you owe anyone a justification for your life.