Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bad Female Academic: Non-Academic Interests (or Having a Life)

Before I begin this post, I want to draw your attention to what's happened to Rumana Monzur. She's my age. She's a wife, a mother, an academic, just like me. I feel incredibly privileged that I can sit here and blog about gender issues here and elsewhere, without fear of physical reprisal. It is for her and the women like her who are too afraid or too oppressed to even attempt to go to university that I write these Bad Female Academic posts for. At the end of the day, in our own ways, we are all Bad Female Academics. If we ever want equality, that has to change. 

Tenured Radical recently commented that "The Only Good Professor is a Dead Professor" in response to a study that notes that academics are at particular risk for stress-related illness. We don't take good care of ourselves physically and are under a tremendous amount of stress mentally. In fact, as Eileen in the comments points out, we are socialized to neglect all other aspects of ourselves in the name of...Academics? Tenure? Teaching more and more classes as an adjunct to make ends meet? 
I'm still in grad school, so I don't know about the job part of it, but part of the problem from where I am is that in addition to being socialized as scholars, graduate students are also socialized to standards of personal care. Don't look tired enough? Talk too much about going to they gym? You're probably not serious enough about the program. It's not overt, but at least at my uni there's a culture of "you have time for that later" but it may just be creating new faculty who believe they can't take care of themselves to get ahead.
 I've heard and read advice that says that you shouldn't "Friend" your senior colleagues on Facebook lest they read your status updates and see that you aren't spending every moment of every day on academic matters, thus threatening your position. As a wife and mother, these two roles are seen as incompatible with being an academic because they are a "distraction" from the task at hand (which, again, is what?). While the rest of the world seems to have this image of us as being lazy, it's almost as if within the Ivory Tower, we want to prove the exact opposite by over-asserting our devotion and seriousness.

After four years of my PhD, my husband was accepted to do his own PhD in Southern California. My supervisor told me to get out and go with him. I luckily had a dissertation fellowship so the time off on my C.V. was justified, but truth be told, I was burnt out. I had been miserable in my program, a sentiment that I often read and hear online and in person from others in graduate school. My life got infinitely better when two things happened: I met my husband and I decided to join the Masters swim team on campus. I didn't care anymore if people thought I was unserious or unfocused or frivolous, I needed something outside of my studies to sustain me.

Our first year in SoCal, I took a much needed break from everything having to do with my academic work. And, I started to coach swimming again. No year off to find myself in some exotic location, no volunteering for a worthy cause, no, I coached swimming again. When I started teaching again, I still coached. After having my daughter, I still taught and coached (I would wear her while coaching). Swimming was the one thing that I had for myself (my husband can't even swim). I adored watching a swimmer's stroke on tape and breaking down what was wrong with it and working with them to try and improve it. I love to get in the water myself and just swim back and forth, back and forth. If you ever want to really see me geek out, ask me about swimming.

I will not apologize for this, nor do I hide that I love swimming. Or science fiction. Or Disney movies. Or any number of things that have absolutely nothing to do with my academic work, or have much culturally or socially redeeming qualities. When did we decide that academics (or mothers, for that matter) aren't allowed to have interests and a life outside of the institution? There are other jobs as stressful and demanding as academia, but I can think of no other job (again, other than motherhood) that demands complete and total subjugation of every other facet of your being.

You want proof that I am a dedicated academic? I could have become a coach, but I chose to become an academic. But, alas, I am a Bad Female Academic.


  1. It seems these days that we all work harder for less and even less than less. (When all social systems around you are in a state that resembles disaster, then you know you are doing your academic work properly.) Globally speaking, do you think the emphasis on academic matters has anything at all with the perception that US academia in particular is behind? Do men in academia experience the same socialization with respect to scholarly dedication and personal care? Thanks in advance for your feedback, because this is part of a requirement for my Ed.D. program.

  2. Something that adds to the stress of academic life is the isolation that is inherent to research in much of the humanities.

    I agree with your comments. We are more than our jobs, more than our brains.

  3. That is terrible. I really think sometimes we take the freedoms we have for granted. Also, even though gender is a large topic in the academy and world wide, it`s always something that everyone should know about more. Being a female academic should not be taken for granted.


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