Friday, October 01, 2004


Dr. Crazy Annoyed with Being Dr. Crazy

Ok, so when last I posted, I felt like writing but I didn't know what to write about because my life has been so work-focused that I've been running short of material for the blog. So, innocently, I decide to comment on a stupid Chronicle first-person piece, and the next thing I know I've got a gazillion comments, many of which don't actually relate to what I was trying to think about in my post but instead continue a debate I didn't even know was raging on other blogs about people with kids vs. people without kids. (Yes, I did sort of address the kid thing, but I read through my post and, quite honestly, that was not the heart of what I was thinking about.) And so then I'm responding to comments and I find myself arguing just to fucking argue, about shit that I wouldn't bother with in my real life.

Blogging is ridiculous. These sorts of controversies are ridiculous. Of course I think that families (in the widest possible sense of the word - meaning families of friends, conventional families, same-sex partnerships, people and their pets, whatever) should be valued. Of course I think that if a worker has a baby or some other major thing happen that the tenure clock should be stopped. Of course I understand that it's hard to be a parent. I am not an idiot, and I don't think that the other people who are talking about what it's like to be childless are idiots either.

I think what it comes down to is that women who don't have children (because they choose not to, because they haven't gotten to it yet, because they can't) are made to feel invisible. As a childless, single woman, I think that through my reaction against the Chronicle article (which was about the false binary between love and work, basically, and not about having kids vs. not at all) I was trying to think about that invisibility. Think about that anecdote about Bush's communications director being interviewed on MSNBC where he couldn't get his mind around the fact that women without children might actually (a) exist and (b) vote. This is just one (idiotic) example, but I think it's an example that is telling. And many of you might say, oh, you're just whining! Being a single, childless woman is hip! Look at that there Sex and the City! Except for the fact that (a) the show has been cancelled and (b) its creator and many of its writers were gay men (c) the show was presented as a fantasy and (d) it's a fucking TV show, sure, I guess that's an example of single, childless women not being invisible. (At least until Miranda has a baby and all of the other girls get coupled off, but we can ignore that for now, no?)

My point, in whatever roundabout way I seem to be going about making it, is that while it is true that women with children have a set of concerns (worrying about appearing to be a good/bad mother, worrying about how having family priorities will affect tenure, etc.), those concerns are recognized as legitimate, are visible, and they are visibly addressed. The concerns of mothers count. And part of the reason that they count is because feminism made and continues to make them count. But this is where things get sticky. Because the concerns of mothers are not the primary concerns of all women. While it is true that all mothers are women, the inverse is not true: not all women are mothers, and, I'll go even further, not all women will one day be mothers. To confine our feminism to worrying about mothers in the workplace means that we leave out the concerns of a bunch of other women. Now, don't everybody freak out and start saying that I'm not a feminist and that I don't care about kids and mothers, etc. Sure I do. But I do not care about them first and foremost, above and beyond other women's issues that are not child-centered. And that's totally fine that I don't, because even though I'm a woman, I'm not a mother now and I might not ever become a mother. Similarly, I wouldn't expect the problems one faces as a single/childless woman to be the primary concerns of mothers, or I wouldn't expect the plight of mothers in the workplace to be the primary concern of all men. (Though, of course, sensitive feminist male academics generally have no problem at all giving lip service to the plight of mothers in the workplace because as enlightened as many men are, they still see their female colleagues as women (and mothers) first, which is why, generally, I've noticed that male colleagues don't get as bent out of shape when they have to accommodate a colleague with a kid as that colleague's childless female counterparts do.)

And so, if I am single and I am childless and I am a woman, where does that leave me? In our culture, identity for adult women is still primarily traced back to one or both of the following: being married/partnered, usually with a man, and/or having a kid. Does this mean that I don't exist? That I really am invisible?

But wait. I am also an academic. As academics, our identity is primarily traced back to our productivity as scholars - how good we are at the job. So I get to have an identity that way, right? But here's the rub, and maybe this is one place from whence the tension between childless female academics and childed female academics can spring: Even though it's irrational, I lose something if a colleague with a kid takes off early or gets out of some obligation because of said kid. It means that all of the work I'm doing isn't really necessary; the importance of the work that I'm doing is diminished because, when slack is cut for the colleague with the kid, the work that I'm doing is revealed to be optional for those with something better to do. And as a single woman without a kid, most of the time I won't have something that fits that description. Moreover, I won't really get bonus points for collegiality for accommodating that colleague's needs - it's just expected of me. And so when it comes time for myself and the colleague to go up for tenure, we'll both probably get it, and all of the compromises I made in my schedule or things I did because the colleague couldn't or whatever have meant nothing. And, since there is no such thing as being "more tenured" or "extra-special Dr. Crazy" I have the exact same identity as an academic - to my students, to colleagues, to whomever - as the colleague who was accommodated for having a kid. That's not to say that the colleague had it easy overall - a kid is hard - but the colleague did have an easier time at the job, and that would make me resentful.

So anyway. That's my point. That the accommodations that single/childless faculty make for married/childed faculty are invisible. That as a single childless woman I am invisible. And the fact that this invisibility (even if it is only perceived by me) is more important to me than other people's issues with kids or mothering or whatever is just fine, thank you, because I am nobody's fucking mother.

So anyway, yeah. I am annoyed with the blog and I'm annoyed with my blogging identity, too. It's not easy to be Dr. Crazy and to get all caught up in this polemical bullshit. At the end of the day, do I really even care that much? Wasn't I just venting because I was bored and irritated? The thing I like about blogging is the ability to work out ideas with the knowledge that I've got an audience. The thing that I don't like about it is that it feels an awful lot like public masturbation (whether I'm doing the masturbating or watching it I'm just not sure). So, I don't know. I'm just feeling really.... irritated by the blog of late and I'm feeling really confined by the format and the identity that I've created for myself.

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