Is Dr. O a feminist?

We find out in less than a week if Bun is a boy or girl, and many of my friends/family/coworkers have indicated they “just know” it’s a girl. How anybody makes these statements with certainty, I don’t know, but it’s got me thinking a lot about feminism – my own brand and that of others – and how it will affect the way I raise Bun, even if Bun is a boy. What is my “brand of feminism”? As odd as it may sound, I’m not entirely sure…I’ve never dissected the idea too much before. I’m certainly not of the belief that women and men are alike, and I don’t believe women can do everything men can do (pee standing up, for instance). Likewise, men can’t do everything women can do (e.g., having a baby). But I do believe that there is a certain amount of equality between the sexes, especially regarding intelligence.

Because of this belief, I know that women can be just as successful as men at just about any profession (aside from, perhaps, middle linebacker of the Cowboys), and I plan to raise my son or daughter that way. The great divide between men and women in science isn’t due to an intelligence gap; it’s because of society and biology, and the demands that they place on women. Even in the liberal monastery of academics, the blatant overtones of how a female scientist should run her life is quite evident. Remain single and take no prisoners, or find a husband that will go wherever you go. Oh, and if you have kids, make sure they don’t interfere with your research. And if you’re male? Well, your wife should be able to find work wherever you end up…regardless of if that new job is really what she wants to do.

Take my personal situation, for instance. I met Hubby after moving out here for my postdoc. At the time, he was working on his masters and had just been promoted from intern to employee, making only slightly more than my postdoc salary, at a federal government agency. So the idea that I would continue to pursue the TT academic path presented no real strain on the relationship or future plans for marriage/children. Well, after 3 years together, the situation has drastically changed. Hubby now has climbed the government ladder from a GS7 to a GS11, going on GS12, meaning a substantial jump in salary. Hubby’s job is also very satisfying for him, making it difficult to pry him away from “home”. Meanwhile, I’m looking for TT faculty positions in a dreadful economy. And to top it all off, we have a baby on the way. Our little two-body problem has now grown into a major one. Hubby’s job is well-paying and likely as permanent as he wants it to be. Mine is not, and any TT position that I find may not be either. So how is it that I get to drag us off to wherever?

I know marriage is about compromise, and I really don’t mind it. The fact is, Hubby doesn’t want me to compromise…he’s just as frustrated by this situation as I am. And our plan is still the same – I’m still hunting for TT positions, and we’ll cross the finding-a-job-for-him bridge when we get there. My biggest problem, though, is how I feel like a feminist sell-out when I talk about my concerns with male PIs in the department. They seem completely befuddled. ‘Why are you worrying about what your husband will do?’ ‘Didn’t you say he’s plenty marketable and should be able to find a job wherever?’ These guys finally see me as being just as capable as any man, and now they’re wondering why I’m worrying about my spouse’s job.

So what’s the deal? Am I betraying the sisterhood if I take a step back in a couple of years to let Hubby’s career take front seat? Am I letting my potential daughter down? Am I setting a bad example for our possible son? I don’t know, but I somehow feel more pressure than ever to make the right decision. Not that there’s any decision to make right now. With no interviews this past year and no job prospects, the idea of uprooting Hubby is really a moot point. Of course, the decision could eventually be made for us both if the TT job thing doesn’t work out…then I could sink into science oblivion as some other PI’s can’t-live-without senior scientist. I would make an awesome senior scientist.

But would Bun approve?

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5 thoughts on “Is Dr. O a feminist?

  1. My personal take? Being a feminist is about having the CHOICE. What you choose to do is up to you, but the opportunity to make the choice is what feminism is about. It isn't about women succeeding at all costs. It is about the ability of women to decide how to make themselves happy and being given the opportunity to do so.

    I personally don't think letting your husband's career be center stage is a disservice to anyone as long as you are okay with it. Why (in the name of feminism) should it always be 50%/50% or why should it even be that women take priority just because they are women?

    It should be about what works for you, your family and your situation.

    Honestly, I think the question you are really asking is would YOU be happy if you had to take the back burner. Would it feel like you are throwing it all away? Would you be happy? Are you willing to part with that vision you had for yourself? I am intimately familiar with those questions. I have asked them to myself hundreds of times, and unlike the feminism argument, they are a lot harder to answer.

    Good luck with whatever your heart tells you.

  2. Get ready for a whole new world of feeling judged about your personal choices… because that is part of the territory with motherhood! You get used to it and less sensitive to it after awhile. Or at least I did.

    Also know that no matter what you do, someone will think you're doing it all wrong. Sometime last year, there was a big stink on the internet about a couple of articles written about breastfeeding and pumping. The pumping one in particular seemed to imply that women who use a breast pump (instead of just giving the baby formula) were somehow betraying the feminist movement. I remember thinking WTF???? I work at the intersection of science and IT, two fairly male-dominated fields. I literally haven't been in a majority (or even 50-50) woman work environment EVER. I do well in my career and try to help the women coming up behind me. And somehow a decision I make about how to feed my baby is making me anti-feminist?

    Anyway, my point is- no matter what you do, someone will find grounds to criticize. So I say- just do what makes you happy.

  3. Thanks for the kind words…I'm working to concentrate on the finding happiness route right now. I'm pretty sure pursuing the TT is what will make me happiest, but I'm reserving judgment until Bun shows up in a few months. All else will (hopefully) fall into place after that.

    I also believe feminism is (or should be) about choice. But, like Cloud said, it seems I get a guilt trip no matter what. (I remember the whole formula versus breast pumping controversy last year and I'm still amazed.) I'm sure I will grow less sensitive over time; everything these days just seems like a shock to the system.

  4. Pingback: Sometimes I think it’s harder on the boys | The Tightrope

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