1st 2009
To have it all, get a wife

Posted under: Gender, happy endings, jobs, women's history

caketopper-fishingThe Blog Mama Ph.D. at Inside Higher Ed features a letter today requesting guidance on how to “have it all” as a woman in academia:

It’s still early for me, as I have no baby prospects and I’m nowhere close to finishing my PhD. But I’m a 28-year old female, halfway through my PhD, who feels a little bit isolated in an academic department that seems full of men who ‘have it all’ and a) very, very few women who have succeeded in landing a tenure-track position, and b) even less who have succeeded in doing so with children.

I am considering a career in the academy, but I also want children. I am just getting into the literature written on this topic and feeling very intimidated by the statistics that seemed very stacked against my hope to also have everything I want! I do know it’s possible, but….

I’m not sure if you’re the right person to contact, but just looking for direction or help or support. Also wondering if you know of any universities that acknowledge this issue and have taken steps to take on suggestions put forward by people (ie. Mason and Goulden)? Are there any universities in particular I should consider (in a few years, when applying for jobs) who do take motherhood into consideration for getting and/or achieving tenure?



Susan A. O’Doherty offers some helpful advice, which boils down to 1) “[K]eep tabs on universities that are working to make life manageable for parents,” and 2) “become active, now, in organizations and movements that advocate for parents of young children, both in your current institution and nationally.”  The first point is good advice for collecting information and strategies to put to work in #2–but one of the things about the academic job market to keep in mind is that few of us get to choose either the geographic region we work in much less the institution we work for.

In the service of coping with this fact–the lack of choice in most academic careers–Historiann would like to offer some of her own advice to all of the Mirandas out there who, midway through their Ph.D. programs, have looked at their professors’ lives and realize that women and men with Ph.D.s still have very different career and family paths.  Like Miranda, I’ve observed that the heterosexual men in academia have very different family lives than the heterosexual women, with many more women remaining unmarried and child-free compared to their male peers.  For many women, being unmarried or unpartnered and/or not having children is an affirmative choice, but not for all.

Clearly, what Miranda should be looking for is a wife, after Judith Syfers’ classic 1971 tract “Why I Want a Wife.”  I’m not suggesting that she change her (presumably heterosexual) orientation–I’m suggesting that she find a mate who is happy to play many (if not all) of the social roles that wives in our society have historically played.  One of the key advantages to having a traditional wife, as opposed to a traditional husband, is that wives tend to pack up and move to facilitate their husbands’ careers.  This is a key advantage that people with wives have over people with husbands, given the unpredictability of where you may find a lecturership or a tenure-track job, so if it’s at all possible, avoid husbands and find a wife instead.  Another key advantage of having a wife is that they are more likely to set aside their work and focus on the rearing of babies and young children than husbands are, even now, 38 years after Syfers published her essay.  The kind of geographic and temporal flexibility that wives offer their spouses is truly invaluable to young academics, who are frequently chasing tenure as well as toddlers around the house in their 30s and early 40s.

So, Historiann’s advice to all of you women academics who think you may want children is to find a mate–of whichever sex–who understands that ze will need to play the wife, and finding a wife usually means having somewhat different expectations than you’d have of a husband.  If you are attracted to Alpha-males with graduate educations and high incomes, you will be disappointed to find that few of them will want to leave New York or Los Angeles to follow you to College Station, Texas, or Kearney, Nebraska, or Oxford, Ohio.  But if you look for a man who’s a school teacher, a librarian, a pipe fitter, or a social worker, you will find that they’re more flexible geographically as well as with their time when the children come along than traditional husbands who are attorneys, cardiologists, or aerospace engineers.  When you meet someone special, be clear about your career and family goals and up front about what it will mean to be with you over the long haul.  Don’t be afraid that you’ll scare someone away by being ambitious–if ze’s intimidated by your ambition, then ze’s probably not a good pick for you anyway.  Someone who truly loves you will find a way to make hir life flexible enough to support your career.

Unlike a traditional husband, you should bend over backwards to support hir career too.  You may need to live closer to hir work than to your university, or to compromise on the number of children you have, or on the supplementary care you choose for them.  If someone moves across the country for your career, that automatically gives hir first pick in making all of the specific arrangements in your new location.  Be cheerful about being the person who packs the lunches and puts the kids on the school bus,  or the person who meets the bus in the afternoon, or about your 30 mile commute to work.  Think about the alternative.

Historiann knows–it worked for her!  I once told a man, about 6 weeks after meeting him, that I would need to move wherever, whenever the job offer came, so it would be best for him not to become a surgeon and instead to go into primary care medicine.  And now, I will confide in you something I have never, ever told you before:  dear readers, I married him.


58 Responses to “To have it all, get a wife”

  1. anon on 01 Jun 2009 at 11:08 am #

    Another piece of advice:

    Don’t marry an academic!

    While you may find a man in grad school who self-identifies as a feminist, who is prepared to be an equal partner in every way, who changes diapers, takes baby to dr’s appointments, cooks dinner, and scrubs toilets. You may even find one who understands that your career is every bit as important as his, and as a result is also willing to make professional compromises. But find one who will get a job in the same place as you, you will not (unless you meet him at your t-t institution – then snatch him up). It’s impossible to talk about the situation of academic married/partnered life, especially with children, without addressing the issue of dual career spouses. The amount of personal and professional stress that dual-academic couples with children who live in different cities/states/time zones endure is almost unbearable. And people, both men and women, tend to be a lot more open to sacrificing until it comes down to one agonizing question – who will give us his/her career? After struggling through a PhD program and being lucky enough to land a t-t job, and to love what you do and then confront giving it up with little to no chance of ever re-entering the academic is wrenching.

    (I apologize for the heteronormativity of my remarks – but while same sex couples definitely face the same stresses as dual-couple academics [and of course in some ways more since their relationships are much more likely to be dismissed because they aren't married], the gender dynamics of career, money, children in heterosexual couples is very loaded towards women making all the sacrifices.)

  2. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 11:20 am #

    Anon–thanks for your comment. I agree with you that having a two-academic career family is a dicey route.

    I know several academic couples who now have jobs at the same university (or close by), but that’s only because they worked and worked at it. They were on the job market for 5-7 years, both of them every year, trying to get offers and counteroffers to use as leverage (or to get a joint appointment somewhere else.) But, if both partners get a job at age 28 or 30, and then have to spend 5+ years on the market, this meant that having a family was deferred.

    Understandably, people who are very set on having children will not want to wait for a possibility someday of maybe living together, and as you point out, it’s usually the person playing the traditional “wife’s” role who will make the sacrifice of career and ambition.

  3. Janice on 01 Jun 2009 at 11:33 am #

    Historiann, I knew I had a winner when he agreed to move to this isolated northern mining town to be with me. He took a real hit on his own career opportunities to come here (and still is suffering, nearly twenty years on) but says it’s all worthwhile because we’re in this together. And I have to say that being married to someone who puts our joint needs first, just as I do, is pretty awesome!

    Academia is a sucky career track to go into if you are at all bound by relationships or geography, whether you’re male or female, straight or not. As you note, the chances of getting a job offer somewhere you want are minuscule. It’s hard to even get your foot in the door if they’re hiring in 20th century American and you’re specialized in 19th century history! And what if they’re not hiring at all? And then to have to accommodate your spouse or SO? Even the strongest candidate can’t always make that work and it’s not looking like things will change any time soon.

  4. Penny on 01 Jun 2009 at 11:50 am #

    “I am considering a career in the academy, but I also want children.”

    I’d tell Miranda to also at least look at off-campus career options too, while she’s early along considering all this. She CAN have a humanities PhD and use it, without getting on the tenure track (and all that involves). It’s not as well-mapped a path; it might involve a different emphasis in her doctoral work or more training in an allied field. But she might find a niche that would be quite congenial to her vision. Or at least, she’ll know what’s out there, should she land off-campus despite her best-laid plans.

  5. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 11:51 am #

    Janice–you’re very lucky, and sadly, one of the few women whose male partner was willing to follow you. I feel like I won the lottery too–I’m just rather surprised that so few women and men our age (and younger!) have families like ours.

    And, Penny–great points. Being flexible about your career goals and how they might be achieved is another important thing to consider.

  6. Roxie on 01 Jun 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    “dear readers, I married him.”

    Hmmm. What other secrets is Historiann carefully guarding from her readers? I feel a tell-all book coming on: The Hidden Lives of Academic Fem Bloggers. Next thing you know, she’ll tell us she’s a cat or something! ;-)

    As for the subject at hand, the moms feel incredibly fortunate to have landed t-t jobs in the same R-1 institution in a ridiculously desirable location. It didn’t happen by accident or magic, but that’s a long story, which perhaps shall be told over on my blog someday when we are not contemplating matters of life, death, and disco music, as we currently are. Even without human children in the picture and even in a household of radically egalitarian feminazis, the moms have many times over the years felt the need of a wife. Their advice is to hire one if you can. Be flexible about your career options, willing to tolerate a certain amount of disorder in your home life. And offer your partner, if you have one, a joke a day every day, without fail. Humor saves lives and relationships. Trust me, I know.

  7. anon on 01 Jun 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Re: academic couples. We’ve been on the market for going on 5 years. We both have t-t jobs at research universities 5 hrs apart; we also have a small child. We decided that we’d rather risk one of us losing our career than wait until our late 30s and discover we’d waited too long and had missed our chance. The most stressful time in our relationship was right before said child’s birth when we faced a series of painful choices; the strong foundation of our relationship permitted us to navigate those conversations without turning on each other, but marriages have crumbled over less. Our situation is wrenching, and academia’s poor response to the “problem” of “trailing” spouses intolerable (and something I could go on about for ever).

  8. Bing McGhandi on 01 Jun 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    I married him.

    My God! Does your husband know?!?


  9. squadratomagico on 01 Jun 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    I’ve always wanted a wife like the one acknowledged in these words, in a book published in 1987:

    “Finally, he [i.e., the author] is particularly grateful to his wife for typing the text, sorting out the notes and bibliography, and compiling the index.”

    That’s a helluva good wife!

    BTW, he never even gives her name.

  10. ej on 01 Jun 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    I thought I had found the perfect wife-a high school teacher who was happy to be the “primary care givegiver” after we had a baby so that it wouldn’t disrupt my tenure track job.

    And then he decided to go back to school and get his PhD. And now we’re managing a toddler, 2 careers, and trying to negiotitate the landfield that is the spousal hire.

    But its okay. I may not have ended up with a wife, but I do have partner, and that’s a pretty good deal too.

  11. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 1:59 pm #

    Geez, Squadrato–that’s not a wife, that’s a co-author! I wonder if his T&P committee took it into account that his book was co-authored instead of single-authored…

    Roxie’s advice is excellent, especially on the jokes and laffs. (One thing about a long-time partner is that ze gets your dumb jokes and references to dumb things that happened 15+ years ago. Who else is going to?)

    And, Bing: Shhhh! My first husband doesn’t even know I have a blog!

  12. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 2:24 pm #

    ej–you raise a good point. I know of at least a few spouses like yours who, living in an academic community, decided to bloom where they were planted and are now pursuing (or have just earned) a Ph.D. This introduces a new element to a relationship: the mid-life career change, and how to handle it.

    I don’t have any answers for that one. I hope someone else does, or maybe you’ll say more about what to do when someone re-trains and hits the job market when you thought that you had already made up your minds where you were going to live.

  13. Cordelia V on 01 Jun 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    Historiann, as your own life shows, it can be done. And without having a wife, either (although Mr. Cordelia and I have often wished for one to drop down our chimney).

    As the comments upthread note, this often requires going to interviews at the AHA year after year, which is simply what it’s going to take to get two jobs close together. Mr. Cordelia and I hit the AHA five years running before we got two jobs at the same institution. But it’s been ideal since then, in terms of arranging our schedules to accommodate childcare.

    Two tradeoffs were crucial in our case, however. First, we were willing to trade down: I went from an R-1 institution to third-tier university (but in a very desirable location). I don’t get to teach graduate students, therefore, but you know: undergrad teaching is satisfying almost anywhere. Or it is for me. We enjoy where we live, and we enjoy both being tenured with schedules that fit our family’s needs.

    But we had to let go of having a position at the absolute highest-ranked school we could get. Most Ph.D.s don’t end up at R-1 schools anyway, of course. I have never regretted that; I know several academic couples who did want children but neither would settle for anything less than an R-1 t-t position and by the time they were able to get jobs close enough to raise children, it was too late (I mean, they were in their 40s and it just didn’t happen). In another case, they did have children with a bicoastal commute, and that ultimately ended up with one of them giving up on academia entirely.

    So yes, it’s easier if one person in the marriage is someone with a career that is geographically flexible.

    The second trade-off involved in getting the outcome we wanted was delayed childbearing. I didn’t wait until my 40s, but I did wait until my book was in press before I got pregnant with my first child (and I had to really work hard my first couple of years in a t-t position to get the book done. Delaying until I was almost up for tenure wasn’t really an option, therefore). So, I had children at the age of 33 and 36, which I know some people would find undesirable. But it worked out very, very well for us. When our children were young, we were each home two days/week, and hired a babysitter for that fifth workday when we were both on campus.

    So, it can be done. But you might not both end up at top-tier schools, and it requires having someone who ranks your career needs as highly as his. Also, you might not have children until your mid-30s.

    If anyone finds an extra wife willing and able to come help our household management, however, the position is still vacant.

  14. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    I’ve been thinking all day about this post and the comments, and I think that Cordelia kind of hits my take on this (even though I’ve got no kids and no partner at the moment): you can have it “all” depending on how you define “all” and depending on what you’re willing to compromise in order to get it.

    The fact is, *most* of the academic women I know have children. They are not an anomaly, and they find a way to make child-rearing work with their careers. Now, they might have delayed having children until their mid to late 30s, or they may work at middle-of-the-road SLACs or regional publics, or they might choose to have only 2 children instead of 6, but it’s not like it’s impossible to have an academic career and to have children for women, _or even out of the ordinary_. That’s the thing that always seems so weird to me when I read this sort of discussion: I don’t think that there are any more women academics who do not have children or traditional partnerships than there are in any other competitive career that requires years of training. And I often feel like the uproar about how un-family-friendly academia is sounds a lot like the scares about the “man shortage” for educated women that hit the media every now and again. I’m sure that some of this stuff is rooted in truth, but I also think that it’s a way to make women adjust their expectations for their own careers – and to encourage them to limit their goals accordingly, or else.

    (With the “or else” being that one winds up a careerist barren spinster, of course.)

  15. thefrogprincess on 01 Jun 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    Wow, I’m not that Miranda but I might as well be. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t wonder about these same issues, mainly whether my pursuit of a PhD, then a tenure-track job, then tenure is going to mean that I sacrifice the personal life that I want. (This is made all the more complicated by being a woman of color.) It also hasn’t escaped my notice that the women who leave graduate school without partners are frequently still unpartnered/unmarried when/if they get tenured. That thought certainly gives me pause when I consider my academic future.

  16. Belle on 01 Jun 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    Once again, I find myself on the edges of the conversation, but feeling like I need to voice another view: I was in the business world for a long time. Successful women of whatever stripe face these kinds of issues. Things are getting better; at least there’s a conversation now.

    Never, ever expected to be anything close to what I am now. Tenured. Full. No kids (other than my blessed fur-kids). Single, as the men I’ve met in the past 20 years were not interested in a woman like me. And honestly, badly burned by previous experience, I wasn’t all that accommodating.

    The conversation is being opened, discussed, noticed. And that’s important. But don’t kid yourself that it’s so unique being in academia.

  17. onebadbint on 01 Jun 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    I’m really surprised to hear from Dr. Crazy that women having children is the norm where she is. That hasn’t been the case at any of the institutions I’ve been affiliated with (all R1s), or at Miranda’s, judging by her first paragraph.

    I’d also caution against assuming that things will go smoothly as long as one is willing to head ‘downwards’ the prestige hierarchy, as Cordelia V suggests. Non-elite places often wouldn’t touch R1 grads with ten-foot poles, like the Penn/Temple comments suggested — and wasn’t there a discussion here at Historiann’s a few months ago on how having a second book vs adjuncting would play out on job apps? And the responses were sharply split by the nature of people’s home institutions. Going that route takes a lot of deliberate planning, including treating prestige and research productivity as potential handicaps.

  18. Rad Readr on 01 Jun 2009 at 7:06 pm #

    In response to Belle’s point, I’m not sure this problem is unique in academia but it is different than other professions in that academia makes geographic demands, as Historiann and some of the comments have discussed already. If you are a lawyer or doctor, you do not have to live in a small college town. But in academia, that may be your only option. Which takes me back to a line from Janice early in this conversation.

    “Academia is a sucky career track to go into if you are at all bound by relationships or geography, whether you’re male or female, straight or not.” In other words, it’s a good career if you don’t care about relationships or where you live. (Assuming you can get a job that doesn’t involve bullying.)

    Also, note that even if you have a spouse who is willing to move to a college town to support your career, that move may put enough pressure on that person and your relationship that a bad moon is likely to rise.

  19. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    Actually, in my experience, it’s not just normal for women at my institution (which I should note is in an urban area) to have kids: I’d say that the majority of women I know at many institutions (and across institution types and locations) have kids. This is anecdotal, obviously, and it also may be somewhat discipline-specific: English is a feminized field, I’d say even more so than history, and it may be that more female English professors have kids than women in other disciplines. I don’t have data on this, but that may be the case.

    That said, among the academic women I know, I do know more women who do not have children (or who wait longer to have children) when compared with women in other professions. But I think that it’s dangerous if we assume that all of these women would have wanted children and that they are somehow unhappy or that this profession has done them wrong because they don’t have children. Which comes first: the profession or the childlessness? Does a woman need to be a mother to be a full human being? I also know a number of male academics (a larger number than the one I’d arrive at if I were to look at men I know in other professions) who don’t have children (some straight, some gay). Are they childless because of the profession, because of some other reason, or by choice? When we talk about the effects of the profession on family, shouldn’t we be talking about the effects of the profession on family in terms of all of its members?

    I think it is true that historically (and even today) men have had an easier time of managing or balancing a desire for family with a desire for professional advancement and success. I think, however, that this has more to do with gender than it has to do with profession, and in that regard, I do agree with Belle. Rad Readr is right that people who go into academia know at the outset that they must be geographically mobile, and that does have consequences in terms of family. But I know of a number of academic women who have either left the profession or who have fallen onto the adjunct track because (in part) they’ve followed the geographic demands of their non-academic partners’ (higher-paying) careers.

  20. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    Dr. Crazy’s experience does not track with mine or with my observations at all. My university is an R-1, although our department grants the B.A. and the M.A. only.Of the nine tenured or tenure-track women in my department, here’s the breakdown:

    3 are married with child/ren
    1 is married, no children
    1 is unmarried, with a partner
    4 are unmarried, no partners and no children*

    So, that means that only 1 woman in 3 in my deparment is married with children. Of the 15 men in my department, all but five are married (one of those is getting married soon), and all but one of the married men (and one of the unmarried men) have children.* With 15 men in the department, that means that nearly 3.3 out of 5 are married and 3 out of 5 have children. This is just one department in one discipline–but I don’t think my department is wildly unrepresentative of History departments, and in fact I think the gender balance in my department almost certainly beats the hell out of the vast majority of most other departments (except in English or other languages departments and perhaps Art History), especially in Engineering and Business schools, Economics departments, and all of the natural science departments.

    (*at least so far as I’ve heard–I’m not privy to up-to-the-minute details about everyone’s lives.)

    As for Belle’s comment that this problem isn’t restricted to academia–I’m sure that may be true, but this post was inspired specifically by a question posed about the academic workplace, and I have never worked in any other kind of workplace so I didn’t want to broaden my commentary beyond academia. (I will say, though, that there is some good recent data that women with other advanced degrees are liklier to have more children than women with Ph.D.s)

    I would be very interested to hear data points from other people’s departments, and how men’s and women’s family and personal lives compare (insofar as basic census data like married/unmarried/divorced and children/no children can tell us. We’re not talking qualitative guesstimates about true happiness, although I’m sure we all have our own best guesses about that, too!)

  21. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 10:06 pm #

    I should say that I didn’t mean for this post to seem like a bummer or like a forecast of doom for women in academia who are unmarried (and want to be married) or child-free (and want to have children). I meant to inspire women to own their ambition and their professional training, and not to settle for a partner who wouldn’t respect that.

    This relates to a conversation following a post of mine last summer about women, men, and ambition–and Dr. Crazy, you were there, too! I said then that I think that women may sometimes sell themselves short, and that it’s women’s responsibility to be their own advocates. (Men wouldn’t think twice about prioritizing their careers–unless they’re presented with an alternative way to think about them. I think women should be more like most men in this respect.) If you make your terms and conditions clear at the beginning of the relationship, then you stand a better chance at holding a strong hand in negotiations (should any become necessary) down the road.

  22. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2009 at 10:24 pm #

    I just looked at the actual breakdown of t-t/tenured faculty in my department for women.

    5 are partnered with children.
    2 are single with children
    3 are partnered without children (and at least 2 of those could ostensibly have kids in the next couple of years if they wanted, which I’m not sure they do; I’m not privy to their feelings on whether they will or won’t)
    3 are single without children (and one, me, could well have a kid in future).

    The breakdown for men in my department is slightly more in favor of partners and kids, but not terribly dissimilar (8/6 as opposed to 7/6).

    I guess the thing is, while the numbers are 7/6 right now, they could easily be 10/3 in the next five years. This seems about right for what the numbers look like among people I know in my discipline (though again, this isn’t some statistically valid survey). I guess what I wonder is, still, whether even if the numbers stay 7/6 in my department, maybe the 6 women who don’t have kids really are cool with that? (And of course, this includes me?) And, if they are, is this really a “problem” of the profession? Maybe it’s really about this field offering the choice NOT to have children if one doesn’t want?

    And Historiann, I didn’t think your post was at all about doom for women. I think I’m responding more to comments, and to the original question and response, than anything. I’m not sure that it’s so awful if one ends up not having kids if one has a vibrant and wonderful life without them. The point for me is the vibrant and wonderful life. That might include a partner, that might include children, it might include neither of those things. I don’t think it makes sense to say that the profession is stopping women from having a vibrant and wonderful life just because they don’t have kids and/or a life partner.

  23. Historiann on 01 Jun 2009 at 10:54 pm #

    Agreed–but “Miranda”‘s letter defined “having it all” pretty traditionally as having a partner and children, so that’s why this post focused on that. I didn’t mean to imply that I agree with that particular definition of “having it all” for all people for all time–I only used the “having it all” in my headline because Miranda used that expression.

  24. Flavia on 02 Jun 2009 at 12:18 am #

    I’ll add my datapoints for the t-t faculty in my department (this is an English department at a decent regional-comprehensive institution: 3/3 load, BA and MA, with an unusually young and quite productive faculty):


    -Married with children: 2
    (1 tenured, 1 not)
    -Married/partnered with no children: 3
    (all untenured; also, 2 of these relationships are recent or unstable and/or long-distance)
    -Currently unpartnered: 4
    (3 of whom have tenure)


    -Married with children: 7
    (a mix of tenured and not)
    -Married/partnered with no children: 3
    (all untenured)
    -Unpartnered: 0

    Note that: all of the men — including two gay men, in two separate relationships — are partnered. We are, as I say, a young department, and we’re in a nice medium-sized city plunked down in an otherwise fairly rural area, and those two things probably skew the data a bit by making partnering locally harder for the singles. But it conforms generally to the pattern that you and other people are noting.

  25. Flavia on 02 Jun 2009 at 12:31 am #

    Oh, and the one untenured woman with kids has a stay-at-home husband. Most of the men with kids have wives who stay at home or have jobs that are part-time or at least flexible.

    And as for dual academic relationships: in my dept., three of the five partnered women are with other academics (all on the t-t) and only 1 of the 10 men is (his partner is an adjunct).

  26. Deborah Judge on 02 Jun 2009 at 7:00 am #

    In my department of ten people the four senior faculty (one woman and three men) have children, the six junior faculty (four women and two men) don’t. I suppose we all still could, or adopt, but we’re all in our late 30s to late 40s and pre-tenure. So one woman out of the five in my department has children, and three of the five men. I think my college used to have more relaxed tenure requirements that allowed more work/life balance. Of course the faculty also used to be more male. I do wonder if academia has become *less* family friendly since more women have gone into it, since the expectation is that women will work harder for less money.

  27. Historiann on 02 Jun 2009 at 7:28 am #

    Deborah and Flavia–thanks for adding your data points to the stew here. I’m afraid Miranda’s observations are being borne out here more often than not, although the relative mix of women and men on the faculty seems to be better in our humanities departments. (Deborah–I’m just assuming, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

    BTW, I should have said earlier that the first woman to have a baby in a tenure-track or tenured line in the history of my department was 2003! And she was up for tenure the term she delivered (and got it.) At that point there was one other mother in the department, but she had her baby in the 90s while adjuncting, and was only converted to tenure-track in the late 90s when her child was 3 or 4 years old.

    Think about that: Baa Ram U., which was founded in the 1870s, has a history department made it into the 21st century before a faculty member was pregnant and delivered in a tenure-track line, and it’s only happened once again since then. There are many more mothers disproportionately among our adjuncts and “specal” (full time, 4-4 load, non-tenure track) faculty, which only reinforces the notion that motherhood and faculty life are incompatible.

  28. maude on 02 Jun 2009 at 8:01 am #

    I think one of the interesting things here goes back to what Historiann indicates in the post–the key here seems to be the “wife” issue. As many have noted, the men with children overwhelmingly have wives compared to the women who have children. As I was finishing up my Ph.D. in grad city, I noticed many male profs getting engaged to, marrying, or dating undergrads, or recently graduated undergraduate women, which kind of disgusts me. Not to say that these women are not smart or intelligent or do not have any aspirations, but what it seemed to me was that these male profs were grooming academic wives for themselves so that they could “have it all.” They liked their jobs, wanted to stay where they were, you know, which is fine, but I find it hard to ignore the power dynamics there, too–a) former prof in most cases; b) significant age difference–on average about a 13 year age difference. It honestly mad me lose a lot of respect for both the profs and their girlfriends, which may be unfair, and may make me sound bitter or something, but I just, I don’t know. It really turns my stomach. It seems the equivalent of the trophy-wife. I did something similar to you Historiann. At the start of the relationship I’m in now, I made it clear that in a couple of years, I could be anywhere, and explained that I would try to find a job near where we lived, but if it didn’t happen, I was moving, and if he wasn’t sure about that, we’d cross that bridge at the appropriate time, but I made it perfectly clear that I would drop him in favor of someone who would support me if he ultimately decided he wasn’t going to come with me. And guess what? Mr. “I’m-Never-Moving-Away-From-Hometown-EVER!” is uprooting everything now that I’ve gotten a t-t job. I did promise him, though, that I’d work and support us so he could go back to school w/o worrying about working so he could finish (because he’s been doing the same for me), and if he wanted to be a stay at home dad if/when we have kids, I don’t mind being the bread winner (not that there’s a lot of bread to be had in academia–ha!).

    I think maybe the point I’m trying to make, and it took me a divorce and a few bad relationships and depression to figure this out (and I’m still fairly young–33), but I think the problem is that so many women in academia feel that grad school is their last chance to meet men (or women for that matter–I apologize for the heteronormity assumption of the comment), that we willingly give up fulfilling careers for the sake of not being partnered. I know for some just having the degree, finishing the degree is what matters–not the job or anything else because once you have that degree, it’s yours forever–but I think the thing to be clear about in the relationship is what YOU want. I thought I could only find happiness with another academic and that grad school was my only shot at finding someone. My soon to be husband is a kind, wonderful, intelligent supportive man who does not even have his B.A. yet, but the thing is, he’s not intimidated by smart women. And I think part of the problem with male academics, even the “feminists” is that deep down, many of them are still threatened by their smart, brilliant, female counterparts and really still just mostly want “wives” who stroke their egos, among other things, which is why it’s hard for female academics on the t-t to “have it all.”

    I didn’t mean for this to be about me. I think the whole point was to say that I agree with Historiann–it’s all about the “wife,” and god bless her, because she largely goes unnoticed and is almost always unappreciated.

  29. maude on 02 Jun 2009 at 8:02 am #

    P.S. I’m sorry that my comment was so obnoxiously long!

  30. squadratomagico on 02 Jun 2009 at 8:49 am #

    I’m trying to figure out where my department fits into these patterns, and I think we are overwhelmingly parental. My department is big — nearly 40 people — and I socialize much more with my female than my male colleagues, so I really don’t know about many of the men’s family situations. But of our 13 women faculty, only two are non-parents: me, by choice; and a lesbian, also (I believe), by choice. One woman is a parent not-fully-by-choice (her husband insisted on kids, then left her after she produced them.) I think most of the men have kids except for my three gay male colleagues, though one of the latter has grown “stepchildren”.

    The big issue in my department, as I see it, is the proportion of women to men. We have pretty family-friendly policies, such that women here overwhelmingly have kids and seem to manage pretty well — indeed, they usually having them even before tenure. But we don’t hire enough women.

  31. Historiann on 02 Jun 2009 at 9:38 am #

    Maude–I’m glad to hear your story, and of its happy ending! I wonder if the fear many women have is rooted in the widely reported inability of men to “commit,” so they think that asking anything of men whatsoever will mean that they’ll be dumped. Your experience and my own indicate that if you treat men like individuals and don’t assume that “he’ll never” or “he’ll always…” you just might get what you want and need out of the relationship.

    The stereotype of the man who’s unable to commit is the flip side of the stereotype of the woman who’s always eager to commit. I wonder how much damage those stereotypes do to real individuals in real relationships?

    Sq., thanks for reporting back. I’m surprised to hear there are so many mothers where you work. (And you’re right: 13 women is NOT GOOD in a department of 40!)

  32. Deborah Judge on 02 Jun 2009 at 9:46 am #

    My college also has the pattern of young male faculty ‘grooming’ wives for themselves by marrying former students or recent college graduates. It makes me seriously grumpy, not least because it makes socializing with male junior faculty really, really challenging.

  33. Historiann on 02 Jun 2009 at 10:01 am #

    Oh, and p.s., I too am skeeved out by faculty who date undergraduates and/or young grad students. This is overwhelmingly a thing that is done by male faculty, not by women faculty, which I think (like Maude) says a lot about hierarchy and intellectual authority in heterosexual relationships. But this undoubtedly widens the dating pool for single male faculty, doesn’t it?

  34. anon on 02 Jun 2009 at 10:35 am #

    Some data points, and a comment.

    At my first t-t job, my department (state u) had 23 t-t and tenured faculty. Of these, all female faculty members except 2 (including myself) had children, and almost all the men did (I don’t know about every male faculty member). Part of the high number of children had do with the peculiar nature of the department I entered – I was the only non-tenured faculty member (in my first year, two faculty went up for tenure and got it). I would say it was generally a very family friendly department, in terms of female faculty having children. One of the women had had children pre-tenure, though this is not the norm in my experience. Not surprisingly, she also had trouble with her tenure case, because she hadn’t published “enough”. Now I’m in a department where two of the other nontenured women have children, though most do not.

    I respect the reason why you made the original post, Historiann, and definitely think that the issues you raised need to be addressed. I’m always astonished by how many women (intelligent, powerful women) settle for men who do not act as true partners. But I’d like to return to my original point (first post) – not to beat a dead horse, just to emphasize a serious issue – being successful in one’s career and finding the most amazing partner ever do not in academia necessarily lead to ‘having it all’ because the institution is structured in a way that militates against dual academic-career couples in a way that is almost outrageous, particularly because the female partner is most likely to take a part-time, lower-tier, or adjunct position when she and her husband can’t find t-t jobs at the same institution. I’ve also noticed a somewhat alarming trend of women’s studies departments and women/gender research centers becoming what I think of as repositories of academic spouses.

    While partnered and/ or children are certainly not necessary preconditions for an amazing and vibrant life (I think my life was amazing and vibrant and deeply fulfilling before I had any of those things) – for those of us who want a partner AND children AND a t-t job, the chips are stacked against us. If I choose ultimately to give up my wonderful t-t job in order to stay at home with my child so that we can all live in the same time zone, then that is a decision that my husband and I will make together and I will own that choice. But I cannot help but being overwhelmed by bitterness at times at being forced to give up my career simply for the “luxury” of living in the same house at my partner and baby. (I’ve already left one dearly-beloved job in a desperate attempt to be geographically closer to my husband.) While there not easy answers for the solution of the dual-career academic family, there are things that could and should be done.

  35. Jay on 02 Jun 2009 at 10:48 am #

    So I’m the primary care doc in this scenario, and I did choose my specialty in large part to equip myself to be the trailing spouse of a academic. I’m also the one that worked part-time for several years after our daughter was born, largely because I can earn more part-time than he can full-time. I was amused last year to see an anecdote in an article in the Times. The author described a study of parents and work/life balance and the study included two heterosexual doc/academic couples. One couple was female doc/male academic, the other was male doc/female academic. In each case, the couple had decided that the woman’s career was more flexible.

    This is an issue for women in medicine, too, but more for academic women than for women in clinical practice, and I think the difference is the tenure clock. A doc who starts out in a clinical practice at 30, has small kids and works part-time until she’s 40 can still build a bigger, busier practice in her 40s and 50s. She loses income (and sleep) but doesn’t really change the arc of her career. The tenure process is far less forgiving and far less flexible. Patriarchal tropes still govern people’s reactions to women in both positions, and there’s enough sexism to go around, but I do think academia is challenging in specifically different ways.

  36. Historiann on 02 Jun 2009 at 11:40 am #

    Jay–isn’t it funny how it’s always the woman’s career that becomes more flexible and/or dispensable? I’ve seen this happen too in many other professional contexts (even in one case in which the woman was a high-powered OB/GYN and the man a pediatrician.) It’s almost as though women’s work is degraded because women are doing it, so it’s assumed to be of less value and more “flexible” than men’s work.

    I think you’re entirely right about clinical versus academic medicine. Academic medicine seems to be about where the humanities were for women on the faculty in 1970 or so–it’s much more retrograde and harder on women than most of the rest of academia (or at least my corner of it.) All of the women I know in academic medicine are pretty beat up and wondering, “is this really where I am at age 40? Really? Back in 1970?”)

    And, anon–I completely agree with your comment, especially re: the ways in which actual inequality of opportunity is programmed into the apparently egalitarian structure of the academic workplace. I haven’t seen what you report–women’s studies being a kind of placeholder for tagalong academic spouses–mostly because women’s studies programs and departments are fighting for their lives these days!

  37. squadratomagico on 02 Jun 2009 at 11:47 am #

    I think Jay brings up a very interesting point: it is still overwhelmingly mothers or wives who compromise their careers in order to make the family “work” in a traditional, nuclear way. While it may make sense for the partner with less income or future prospects to make the compromise, and while in many cases this may indeed be the woman, it also seems to be the case that even when the two careers are parallel, women still are assigned — and, perhaps even more importantly, accept — the burden of making things work.

  38. anon on 02 Jun 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    @ squadra & Jay – you’re absolutely right. My husband and I have frank discussions about our uneasiness with how easily we are reproducing these models in our own marriage (ie it’s clear that were anyone to quit, it would be me). My MIL was a stay at home mother and my husband deliberately sought out the opposite type for a wife. Yet here we are, because he cannot imagine himself as parent first and worker second, whereas I can, easily.

  39. Indyanna on 02 Jun 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    I missed most of this thread because I was offline most of yesterday, but I/ll throw in my bit into the combined data set. My department: five women on the standing faculty. Four married, one partnered. Four with kids, one of these grown kids and now grandkids who have swung back into town. One who came as a trailing spouse of faculty in another discipline, temped, and moved on=track. One who made a double switch with a spouse who moved to a [fairly] nearby school. One with a spouse who made considerable career accomodations to come here. One guy who came to the region with a Ph.D but as a trailing spouse of an academic who got a job at a [fairly] nearby school, temped, and then moved on=track. Lots of guys with seemingly *very* traditional one wage=earner marriages. A mixed picture.

    Long before my time there was a woman on the faculty in the dept. whose picture is on the wall with the old guard. She retired and left the school with enough money to build a dorm, just recently demolished. No one around seems to know the context of the story.

    To extend a small speculation way up=thread. Maybe Historiann has a mouse as well as a cat? Or a mouse instead of a cat? Or a cat that mousqueteers as a mouse?

  40. Ignatz on 02 Jun 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    My grad school subdepartment (we were a huge department so we hung out with our specialty cohort): 8 profs, 6 women and 3 men. 2 older men with grown kids and wifey wives. One gay (we think-near retirement age, closeted) man. 3 unmarried women, no kids. One unmarried woman, 1 kid. 2 married women with one child each. And my former department: All the guys were partnered, all but 2 had kids, and all but 1 had a wifey wife. Of the women, I have a (pipe fitter) partner and 1 child, 2 had partners but no children, one was divorced with one grown child and one divorced with two, one single.
    Thus, my experience in English has been that if faculty have kids, they have one, and they often end up divorced. My grad school was a big R-1 and I think the larger department mirrored my little corner of it. Where I taught thought it was an R-1, but it was really an R-2, if such a thing exists (e.g., lip service to research and a smattering of PhD programs along with a 3-3).

  41. thefrogprincess on 02 Jun 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    Squadratomagico makes an interesting point about women accepting the burden of making things work, which often means putting a career on hold or on ice. I can’t speak to the specific breakdowns in the two history departments I’ve been in; as a student I’m not privy to enough info to make any claims. But what I have noticed is that more female graduate students than I expected are already considering taking time off to raise children, while somehow still aiming for tenure-track jobs at the best institutions. When I mention I won’t stop working once the time comes, they tell me I’m missing the point, life’s not all about work, don’t I want to be there for my children, etc., etc.

    I guess the real point here is that while individuals have to make the decisions that are best for them, I know for certain that men aren’t having conversations amongst themselves about how they’re wrong for not thinking it’s okay to stay at home for three, four, five, ten years at the expense of careers they spent fifteen-plus years trying to achieve. The men I’m friends with would be appalled if I gave up my career for children, although the ones that aren’t gay are often marrying women who will. Yet a lot of women are having these exact conversations in which those women who aren’t willing to consider quitting work are labeled as naive and selfish.

  42. Historiann on 02 Jun 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    Ignatz and Indyanna–thanks for the tasty data points. It seems like (with the exception of Squadrato’s department) teaching at an R-1 is a much less friendly environment for mothers than for fathers. And Ignatz’s example suggests that there are some regional unis where mothers are exceptional rather than typical.

    thefrogprincess–wow, it sounds like you’re being shamed about being a bad mother to children you don’t even have yet! It also sounds to me that these “friends” of yours are very defensive about their decisions–and that they may be lashing out at you as a strategy to cope with any feelings they may be having that you’ll soon eclipse them and they’ll never get the chance to catch up.

    All I can say is that it is seems pretty silly to plan an entire career strategy around the fleeting babyhood and toddlerhood of children. If you want to take time out to be there–just do it because it’s what you want to do. But don’t bully other women who make different decisions with their families (unless you bully the men equally–but I don’t think that’s what’s happening). Children are off to school full-time by the time they’re 5 or 6 (if not sooner, with preschool). And good jobs–especially in these perilous times–don’t always come at the exact perfect moment. (Just like pregnancies and children!)

    The upshot of this thread seems to be that it’s much more difficult for academic women to build varied adult lives for themselves than it is for men. I don’t think Miranda will be very encouraged by this conversation!

  43. Historiann on 02 Jun 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    And, confidential to Indyanna: le chat qui s’appelle “le souris” dit, “EEEE–hhheeeww.”

    (That’s French mouse talk for “meeeoowww.”)

  44. squadratomagico on 02 Jun 2009 at 2:22 pm #

    I also have this to throw into the mix: I also know 2 women with PhDs who gave up careers to be full-time moms. They both live in my neighborhood: one I met by chance, and she introduced me to the other. In one case, the person met and married her husband just before the PhD, and decided to have kids and stay home b/c the husband makes a very good salary. She does adjunct occasionally. The other woman got married, got the PhD, & got a t-t job all in the same year, but decided to ditch the career and become a full-time housewife and mother instead (with very traditional gender roles, the whole shebang). She now has 3 kids. I relate well to the first woman; as for the second one, she’s nice enough, but there’s pretty deep gulf between our values.

  45. Cordelia V on 02 Jun 2009 at 10:16 pm #

    A little late on this thread, but I’ll throw in one more data point (or several, since I am part of three historians’ groups here in an urban area):

    In my dept. we have:

    five married women; four of these have children
    one ummarried woman with no children
    four married men; three have children

    So, you’d count me with those above, like Dr. Crazy, who think that combining a tenured position with childrearing isn’t really that rare.

    But I also belong to two groups of historians (both groups are all female) which meet monthly to discuss research or historiography. Many of them are in their late 50s or 60s, and almost all of that group have children; combining a tenured position with childrearing has not become more likely over the last two decades in our groups, I mean.

    Of the women in those two groups (and most are at R-1 institutions; I’m an exception):

    11 are married (or in the case of a couple of the older women, divorced or widowed) with children

    4 are married, with no children

    4 are unmarried, with no children

    It would be interesting to see all these data points tallied!

  46. Historiann on 03 Jun 2009 at 7:10 am #

    Thanks, Cordelia–those are more encouraging numbers. I still think in History they’re outliers, although I’m willing to be persuaded. Here are some more data points from two other departments I know, both regional comprehensive universities:

    In my first job, there were 6 other women on the faculty when I resigned in 2001. One of them was a mother, whereas among the 8 men, all were married and all but two were fathers.

    In a neighboring department last year, there are nine tenured or tenure track faculty, two of whom are women. One of the women is a mother. Of the seven men, all but one are married or partnered, and 5 of the 7 are fathers.

    In both of these cases, the inequities are pretty clear–in my former department there was a reasonable gender balance but faculty women and men had very different lives, and in the latter case, there is a striking gender imbalance so it’s hard to compare men vs. women in terms of their familiy lives.

  47. life_of_a_fool on 03 Jun 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    I am also very late in commenting, but. . . I feel somewhat conspicuously unpartnered and childless in my department (though some of this could just be more general social forces). Without doing a careful count, there are two other single junior faculty women (one divorced with adult children). There is one junior single man and one just tenured man who (as far as I know) doesn’t have kids, but is partnered. There are several faculty (three men and two women, if I’m not leaving anyone out) with young children and several others with grown children (and I think a few that don’t have kids — but I could be wrong. If they don’t bring up kids in conversation, I don’t). I got the sense that the department used to be threatened by single women, though thankfully most of those who were have retired, but it seems fairly friendly to parents. We’re not a R1 department, and it certainly could feel much less family friendly to people who actually have kids and it could most definitely be more family friendly to faculty and students. Several of our young parents are also among the most productive, research-wise, so it would also be pretty hard to criticize them on those grounds.

    What I have noticed, however, is that several of the partnered men have (female) partners who adjunct in our department. (though one of these women now has a TT position in another university, making them a long-distance couple, with a young child). I don’t think there are any female faculty members with partners in such a position (and, as far as I know, none of the women have academic partners). I have also seen plenty of what maude and others have commented on — faculty men marrying (recently) former students, and it creeps me out for the same power dynamic issues already mentioned.

  48. Just call him “Dr. Love?” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 04 Jun 2009 at 8:15 am #

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  49. ADM on 04 Jun 2009 at 9:08 am #

    Also late to this party, but I will say that SLAC is at present very friendly to all faculty with children, but it’s also very friendly to faculty who marry other faculty! We’re in a teeny town, and any signs that show that good faculty are really putting down roots in the area are welcomed. It doesn’t hurt that the president had her children while at SLAC, and has a real stake in making it possible for women faculty to have a fair shot.

  50. Knitting Clio on 04 Jun 2009 at 9:30 am #

    Data points for my department (history, regional comprehensive, 4/4 load, B.A. and M.A. granted)

    18 f-t tenured or tenure track faculty, 10M, 8F


    2 married with children (although for one, children are grown, this is marriage number 2)

    5 married or partnered (including one gay marriage), no children

    1 unmarried, no children


    8 married with children (one with grandchildren)

    1 divorced with grown children

    1 newly married

  51. Z on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    I don’t think academia isn’t family friendly. I think graduate school isn’t … it doesn’t encourage thinking that way. But professordom is VERY family oriented, I have always found.

    Let me do a census for my main department, tenured/tt. It’s a languages and literatures unit, granting all degrees through PhD but not all degrees in all subfields. It’s partly R1 and partly not, and teaching load varies, with highest official load on t/t being 3/3 (can go to 4/4 for hurricanes and financial exigency).

    Straight woman, no spouse, no children
    2 women, married, 2 children each
    2 women, married, no children yet but surely will have
    Lesbian couple (including spousal hire), no children

    Straight man, no spouse, no children
    2 gay men, no spice, no children
    Transman, 2 spice, no children

    Man, married, 2 children
    Man, married, 3 children
    Man, married, 5 children
    Man, married, 2 legit children + mistress with one child + other more random children

    The married men with all the kids are also the full professors. Having all these kids corresponds pretty clearly to being of an age where you could have a traditional family being a man and all.

    Interestingly, it’s the non-tt people who have the fewest kids. Their census is worth looking at:

    2 gay women, neither in a couple – dating
    2 straight men, neither in a couple – dating
    2 married women, each with 1 child

    NOTE also how married the t/tt people are. Note that I am the only unmarried/uncoupled woman, whereas 3 of 8 men are not in couples. Note that women really need a spouse to legitimate them in a way men don’t. Women really take a hit not being married, I notice — you look too defenseless, people fantasize about you in the wrong ways, and given lower salary/comparable worth issues you are broke all the time, too (although it is not guaranteed one’s spouse would be employed, I suppose).

    I am not married/don’t have kids because (a) I was not raised to be strong enough as a person to engage in a marriage and maintain an identity; (b) I was raised to accept the idea that you had to make a choice: identity + work OR marriage/children, which meant self loss … so I chose the non marriage option. I do not regret this but had I been raised in less severe circumstances I would have had a family and so on … I’d have liked it. But it’s not academia’s fault that I didn’t.

  52. Z on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    P.S. I think I’d love to have a wife, as wives are described here — but maybe not, the reality is that that would reinscribe patriarchal relations, just in reverse.

  53. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:49 pm #

    Prof. Z.–one of the things I have noticed about my friends who have been bullied at work is that they tend to be single (unmarried, unpartnered) women. I don’t think it’s an accident that they’re singled out because they’re seen as potentially disruptive and/or gender queer (in avoiding attachment to a man in particular) and as relatively vulnerable because they probably NEED their jobs in ways that married women don’t necessarily.

    It’s almost like the bullies think that it’s OK to push around a single woman because there won’t be an angry husband waiting on their doorstep to slug them. (As if most husbands behave this way–but still, I think it’s a primitive kind of fear that bullies may have of women who are attached to men.)

  54. Z on 06 Jun 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    Yes. At my first and worst job, and a very very fancy small SLAC, I was the only single straight woman on the faculty — not just in the department. I got guilt tripped about it a lot by other women faculty: no husband to oppress me, and no lesbian cross to bear. !!! They said these things straight out!!!

  55. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    Sometimes people are just too transparent, aren’t they? Sad–not just for them, but for many in their circle.

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  57. Casualties of academia, or casualties of patriarchy? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 01 Sep 2009 at 9:24 am #

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  58. A peek at chez Historiann : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 31 Jul 2010 at 3:22 pm #

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