Prompted by this, among other items that have been in the academic news lately. (OK, seriously? This stuff is always in the academic news, because it never goes away… which is precisely my point here. It NEVER goes away. Ever.)
I’m 24. I’m a couple months into my MA–I’m studying in the limited residency programme offered by Prescott College, because it meant I could just apply and start, instead of having to negotiate a move with my then-husband, or upset the delicate balance of family responsibilities (my mother and I are still fighting hard to keep my grandmother from becoming completely housebound, and even when we can’t persuade her out for lunches, there are doctors’ appointments that, increasingly, need one person to park the car and another to help her walk; she refuses a wheelchair, and will continue to do so until she dies). My supervisor has strongly encouraged me to attend something called the American Academy of Religion, which adds another week of travel, right before Thanksgiving, which means I won’t be home to make the pies as far ahead as I usually do. My grandmother thinks this is a selfish, senseless decision–all this time away from home, neglecting the family; all this money spent on tuition with no clear return. How can I expect to keep my husband if I’m never there for him? It’s my fault, she says over the phone, if he has an affair, if she dies alone and uncared for, if my mother gets cancer, if my younger sister ends up pregnant and homeless.
I cry in the airport.
I go anyways. I can’t remember when, how, or even whether the pies got made.
I’m 26. I’ve moved to Scotland, and I’m working on my PhD. After about six months of separation, my now former husband grudgingly gets on a plane to visit me, and makes it quite clear that the only way our family life would resolve itself would be if I moved back, giving up opportunities for teaching, research assistantships, conference travel and publication opportunities, and with them any hope at all of employment after I finish. I’m tired of always being the one who moves, makes compromises, gives up on sleep, finds extra money between the couch cushions; I’m more tired of being the one who bears sole responsibility for the success or failure of the marriage. We end it.
My supervisor asks me if I’ll need time off to take care of legal matters, explains that he has no idea how this works as he’s “never been divorced” (I point out that it’s hardly as though I do this every week just for fun), and then asks me how the writing is going.
It’s years until I learn to appreciate the professionalism of that response.
I’m 32. Very much against the odds, I have a job in my field; I’ve been the main (and often only) wage-earner in my family for the past three years. I work in a wonderful, supportive department, in a University that justly prides itself on promoting equality and diversity and work-life balance.
In an academic staff of 20, I am one of six women.
To the best of my knowledge, none of us have children.