Thursday, April 19, 2007


Notes Scribbled Between Events

Liz Phair turns 40 this week. I can't tell you how old that makes me feel.

My considered position on Nor'easters: I don't like 'em. Not one little bit.

We got hammered. A few blocks from here, an entire section of my town was under water, including our local fire station. TB's school was cancelled Monday because the road to the front entrance was submerged. Two of our local grocery stores (possibly three – I didn't check the third) were quite literally swamped. Evil Sidekick's Mom reported that one part of town, a part that includes a house we once considered buying, was flooded out, and the residents were evacuated. The next two towns over converted their high school gyms to shelters. In one of those towns, a few houses caught fire, leading to the utterly weird spectacle of fire trucks dousing submerged houses with even more water. Driving was a nightmare, since road closures pop up in unexpected places, and the side roads couldn't be described as 'linear.'

Since when do we got Nor'easters in April? I've lived in this part of this state for the last 17 years, and I don't recall that ever happening. They're supposed to be a winter thing.

We didn't lose electricity, so the sump pump did its job. Still, this is a bit more precarious than I care for. Our next house will be on a hill. With an unfinished basement. In another state. Or province.

The Boy did great at the Science Fair. He looked like a little professional, standing by his project and explaining it to passersby. He got a ribbon for 'scientific thought,' which is pretty good for a kindergartener. The only other experiment there that really impressed me involved a kid wrapping eggs in various different kinds of material, then dropping them from measured heights to see how high you could go with each kind of packaging before the egg cracked. I'm guessing he used hard-boiled eggs.

Another sign of age: TB's school principal is disconcertingly attractive. This violates the natural order of things. School principals are supposed to be either late middle-aged men in preposterous polyester suits, or late middle-aged women who look like East German weightlifters. Someone didn't get the memo.


Once in a while, TW brings the kids to visit me at work. We try to pick a day when I have some free time around lunch, and I do a longish lunch with them on campus. The last visit was about a week ago.

It's fairly rare – maybe once or twice a semester. TB and TG are both remarkably well-behaved in public. Like their Daddy, when they're uncomfortable, their characteristic move is to be quiet. (Unfortunately for TW, that's also my characteristic move when I'm contented. Reading the silences is, I'm told, a bit of an acquired skill. It's a fine line between “the strong and silent type” and “an immovable lump.” You marry a Scandinavian, you take your chances...) Given the available options, that isn't a bad one.

And TB and TG both have considerable star power, if I do say so myself.

For a week or two after a visit, I notice that the folks who saw me with them talk to me differently. It's like they suddenly stop seeing The Dean and start seeing an actual person. It fades quickly, and I go back to faceless-bureaucrat status, but for a brief window there's almost something like rapport.

I'm guessing that gender makes a huge difference here.

As a relatively reserved male in authority, kids humanize me. They add a dimension. (A former colleague at Proprietary U once commented that he couldn't imagine me saying “goochie goochie goo.” I didn't know what to make of that.) My guess – and it's only a guess – is that the effect is more equivocal for women.

It's hard to test the theory here, since almost nobody else here is between the ages of 25 and 50. (And the few who are, almost without exception, are either male or childless.) But my impression is that women come pre-humanized, and sometimes struggle to be perceived as Serious. For them, being seen with young kids on campus might be riskier, in a sense, in that it wouldn't so much add depth as confirm stereotypes.

How does your campus react to the occasional visiting faculty/admin offspring?

On my campus, and in my department, there is a sense of welcome when it comes to having to bring kids occasionally to campus. BUT you're right that it's totally different for women than for men. Part of this is how women themselves feel about it - worried that they will be perceived as less serious or that people will be bothered by the child/ren. Men, on the other hand, seem to bring the child/ren in with a sense of entitlement that of course everybody will understand and of course their kids are darling and of course this makes them more human.

Then, there are the hidden consequences to the family friendly atmosphere. Example: I've got a colleague who has a child under 1 year. The department was very accommodating to her about her schedule (giving the days of the week that she wanted to help with childcare rather than sticking her with a 4 or 5 day a week schedule), very accommodating the few times that she needed to bring the kid in. That said, she's had to pay for that accommodation by teaching courses others don't want to teach (making her even lower on the totem pole than the adjuncts teaching in her area, who get their choice of courses), at times that make no sense (barely enough time to get lunch - all I could think was thank god she's not breast-feeding because she'd need more regular breaks and longer breaks in order not to die). So yeah, my uni is "family friendly" but there are definite limits to that, and I think those limits are positioned differently for women than for men.
You're right that the presence of kids humanizes someone and, as already noted by Dr Crazy, you're right that it's different for women than men. We had one woman faculty who was poised to be a superstar and when she got pregnant, when she came back to work 'too soon' after the baby was born, when she brought the kids in 'too much', when she didn't bring them in 'at all' - people talked. She literally couldn't win. On the other hand, when my advisor, who was in the same department and also successful and was male, brought his kids in people thought it was awesome.

On an unrelated topic - hooray for TB and the science project! From your description before it sounded like you did a great job working with him on it too!
Eight inches of rain here. Sigh.

I know a lot of women who do struggle to be taken seriously- including myself. Don't be too pretty, don't talk about non-science things, don't wear this, don't say that.

Snooty U is pretty much maximally family-unfriendly. If an untenured female prof in my department brought a kid, it'd be instantly career-damaging. I do know one who used to put the baby in a playpen in the office while she worked and met people.

On a related note, it looks like the leave for grad students who have or adopt a kid is gaining some momentum. With, of course, the usual whining about whomever doesn't get that particular benefit.
"But my impression is that women come pre-humanized, and sometimes struggle to be perceived as Serious."

Possibly apocryphal, but I've heard "friend-of-a-friend" stories about a young female untenured faculty member who used to get gray highlights added to her hair in order to be taken more seriously by her students.

I, for one, would like it if just ONE faculty/staff colleague, when told that my husband and I were expecting a child, had asked my husband, "so do you intend to keep working, or stay home with the baby?" I don't think we'll have real gender equity, in the workplace or in society as a whole, until that question gets asked of everyone.
There is a pretty substantial body of research showing exactly your point - academic (and other professional) men who have children end up being seen more positively on numerous dimensions, while women who have children end up being seen more negatively. (Interestingly, apparently lesbians end up being seen more positively than negatively, so it isn't as simple as gender.)
My husband has a big time high tech job. One of the perks is that he can frequently work from home. I adjunct and do freelance writing so I also work from home. I always schedule meetings and phone conversations when all the kids are in school. I will take the baby to a neighbor or pay a babysitter double before I take the baby to a meeting. I live in fear of a work-related phone call when the kids are home, particularly as one is a noisy toddler. So my stomach would clench when my husband would be in the middle of a phone conference and the baby would cry or when he would go out of his way to stop and greet the kids while on the phone. I would never ever do that. But, he finally explained that having the kids and working from home enhances his stature at work not diminishes it. And he is right. Right now, he is on a third grade field trip because his afternoon meetings got cancelled. He doesn't think twice about telling his colleagues.

It doesn't work that way for women.
I meant, one TENURED woman brought her kid in the playpen. :)
I work at a small liberal arts college and have two kids. This is what I've found:

a) My colleagues have been super supportive of the children. 3 of the 4 of us have 'em and we understand when someone has to go or someone has to bring a kid to campus for some reason. Our 4th colleague is very tolerant.
b) The students love seeing the kids on campus and, yes, I think equally when the prof is a mom or a dad. A lot of them miss their siblings, I've found.
c) The administration is not child friendly at all. They don't like to even know you have children. There is no childcare, even during late and enforced meetings. There is no support for the local schools and community groups. Male colleagues with stay-at-home spouses tend to receive the big grants.

So there's a real disconnect, one I hope to address now that I have tenure. (What tends to happen is that people need the most support pre-tenure. Then when they get tenure, their kids are already in school and things are easier and they just forget about the struggles of those with small children.)

Going anon with this one as I blog under my own name.
Yes, on the gender differences. Here's another angle. All of these angles make me cringe, but I selfishly hope this one benefits me on the t-t job market:
I already have my partner and requisite two kids, therefore I'm not a flight risk or a maternity-leave risk.

It shouldn't matter, but it might.
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