Dr. Crazy has a fascinating and raw post, “Casualties of Academia,” evaluating her life and career and those of her peers on the occasion of turning 35 this summer. She writes,
I know only a handful of women who’ve managed to have long-term partnerships and to have children and to have the career that they dreamed of having, and worked so hard to achieve. I know maybe two handfuls of women who’ve managed to have long-term partnerships where they consciously chose (as a couple) not to have children. But at the end of the day, I really believe that success in this profession is hostile to a full life, particularly for the women I know. I think it’s possible, don’t get me wrong, but I think the profession actively resists it.
I’m thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve been reflecting a lot about the choices I’ve made in my life and the life that I’ve managed to make for myself as a 35-year-old person. I can’t imagine, really, leaving my job for kids and a husband. But at the same time, I want kids and a husband. And yet, time is running out. Biologically. I’d never really considered that this is where I’d be at 35. I never imagined that I’d have published a book (a) and that I wouldn’t have a kid (b). I never thought that my clock would actually be ticking. What a freaking cliche for the modern career girl! What a ridiculous way to feel! But the reality is that no matter how cliche and ridiculous it is, this is my reality. I’m 35 and I’m not in a relationship that would lead to a kid, and I’d want that relationship and I would want a kid. But I’ve worked really hard at getting the career that I have, and it really matters to me. On the other hand, I’ve got friends who have chosen the kids/family thing over the career, and I don’t want their lives either.
. . . . [T]his profession offers us very little latitude for negotiation, when it comes to fitting the personal in with the profession. And by “us” I mostly mean “women.” The casualties of this profession aren’t slackers, or people who didn’t know better, or people who didn’t care enough, or people who were workaholics. The causalties are women. And sure, there are exceptions. But I’m willing to venture that the exceptions prove the rule.
I have to say, she surprised me with this post, since she has in the past cheerfully reported working with so many women colleagues with children, and has spoken up for their ability to live full lives on a par with that of their male colleagues. (Although Dr. Crazy has commented elsewhere that many of these women are classically stalled as the Associate Professor level, much moreso than her male colleagues with children.)
I agree with the thrust of her post–that “the casualties of this profession aren’t slackers, or people who didn’t know better, or people who didn’t are enough, or people who were workaholics. The casualties are women.” But, I might suggest a different title for her post–”Casualties of Patriarchy,” rather than “Casualties of Academia,” because the trends she observes among her peers are also observable across other professions (law, medicine, business, etc.) The demands of the academic life, mostly due to the extremely competitive job market for most Ph.D.s, and the almost inevitable demands for relocation if and when one is offered a tenure-track job, dramatically exacerbate the pressures that all professional women experience. But it’s only worse, not different, for women in academia, because of our old nemesis Voldemort Beelzebub Hobbamock, uh, sorry, I mean: patriarchal equilibrium.
Heterosexual women are usually expected to choose at some point in their lives, career or family. Heterosexual men are rarely or never expected to choose. No one asks men, Are you going to change your name when you get married? Does your wife think it’s OK for you to work after you get married? Are you going to follow your wife when she gets a new job? Are you going to quit your job now that your wife is pregnant? Are you going to stay home with your baby? How soon do you think you’ll go back to work after your child is born? Have you considered working part-time before the children go to school/when the children are in school so you can be home to meet the school bus? It’s the pervasiveness of this cultural script and all of the assumptions embedded in it that drag heterosexual women down, until a lot of them just give up and give in. (As Fay Weldon said, “It’s such a waste of time trying to tell your husband to pick up the socks or clean the loo. It’s much easier just to do it yourself.” Give up! Give in! The rest of us have! I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!)
Back when Dr. Mister and I announced our plans to get married, it was amazing to me the speed and regularity with which I was asked these questions. We were almost exact peers educationally-speaking: I finished my Ph.D. in December of 1996, he finished his residency in the summer of 1997, and we both started our first “real” jobs in August of that year, and married a month later. But no one ever asked him any of those questions–only I heard those questions (or others like them), over and over again, for at least the first 5 years we were married. (With age and obstinacy comes a form of privilege!) To be fair: Dr. Mister did hear versions (frequently second-hand) of “You’re going to follow your wife around? Why can’t she just get a job teaching high school around here?” But the message was clear: we were peers, but I was expected to “do” marriage in a way he wasn’t. His life was supposed to sail on as planned–only I was taking on a second job as the “wife.”
I realize that there are a lot of heterosexual men, especially in academia, who do things like take time off to care for a new infant, or who are there at the bus stop each morning and afternoon. But, this is viewed as benevolent volunteerism (for which they get a LOT of cookies!), not as essential parts of their jobs and identities as fathers.