Saturday, October 8, 2011

bringing our whole selves to our careers

In my last post, I directed you toward Kate Clancy's blog, and her post "Three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: On being a radical scholar".

I was particularly struck by this:

Dr. Turner encouraged us to push against a job that forces us to “constantly abstract ourselves,” that we should bring our whole selves to the table because of what we offer but also because it makes us whole.

How many of us publicly admit the side of us that yearns for more childcare, but not also the side of us that yearns to turn off our computers and snuggle our kids for an afternoon? How many academics hide who they love, or what they love, for fear of not fitting in or not seeming serious?


So no more. I’m bringing everything that I am to my job. This isn’t just about loving my kid, or being an athlete, or writing a blog, though it’s a start to fully embrace these things. This is about wanting to push the boundaries of how anthropologists and doctors think about female reproductive physiology. This is about the intersection of feminism and evolutionary biology. And this means that I need to more explicitly make this passion my primary scholarly interest.

Two thoughts:

1) Even here, at Tiny U, where my research expectations are low, I hide the degree to which my family comes first. My colleagues don't realize how much time I spend with my kids, or that I want a larger family. Yes, you read that right: I have two kids, but I still want another one! This is such academic heresy that I'm afraid to tell most of my colleagues, especially as I near my tenure deadline. And yet, should this truly be something I hide? All I'm really saying is that I, like the average American woman, want more than two kids. We all know successful academic men with more than two kids, why should it be shameful for a woman to want three?

2) Unlike Clancy, issues of reproduction are not my primary scholarly interest. But that shouldn't stop me from integrating my career and my motherhood/wifehood/womanhood. I teach the biological anthropology classes at Tiny U - how often do I bring up issues of reproduction? When I teach intro to cultural, do I bring up issues of women's labor and gender roles as they relate to children? I have advocated for families when I serve on university committees, why not focus my mandatory service requirements on family issues?

More on this later, particularly on Clancy's contention that we should become "radical scholars".


  1. Excellent points. How can you throw yourself into your work completely AND hide a huge part of your life? It seems guaranteed that you will be resentful, unsuccessful at hiding anything, or both. A key issue here is the willingness to admit who you are and what you want in the face of disapproval. Sure, job-ending disapproval is a bit different than social disapproval. The latter I think we must all live with on occasion; the former you might choose to avoid while you are still vulnerable to it.

    Another key issue here is being self-aware and conscious enough to support values with actions. You give a few great examples, such as building topics you know are important into your teaching, and using your service time (time you must spend anyway!)to help others. Certainly service would feel a lot less meaningless under these conditions. I could do a lot more myself and will keep this in mind.

    In light of all this, what about that third child? Should you even bother telling your colleagues, or should you just have one? Now? Even pre-tenure? After all, if there is anything to be LEARNED from that literature on reproduction, it is that the older you get, the harder it is, with more chances at grief and loss. What is the point of talk, exactly, for something like this? As a friend of mine likes to say, "Less talk, more rock."

  2. You're absolutely right that we must build topics of importance into required service and teaching time. I see this as a balance issue: balancing family and career by integrating the two. I'm planning a post on that from the liberal arts perspective for later this week.

    As for the issue of a third child: you're right, my colleagues have no say in my family planning decisions, and shouldn't be a part of the conversation. Also, failing to mention I'd like a third child is not the same as hiding my child-focused life! But, at the same time, I don't look forward to admitting to my colleagues that #3 is on the way, once that becomes an issue. This is particularly true since, as you say, time is of the essence, so I can't really wait until tenure.