August 10th, 2006

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Sexism in and out of the workplace; part four (final)...

I'm calling this installment "final" because I don't enjoy pain, and the things I'd have to write about if I dragged this out still hurt -- a lot -- even after all the intervening decades. You'd think I'd have gotten over them by now, in the spirit of my mother's favorite platitude -- "Someday you'll look back on this and laugh!" -- but it hasn't turned out that way. I haven't laughed yet.

I wanted a Ph.D. for two specific reasons: (1) It would (in those days) guarantee a higher salary and better benefits, which would mean greater security for my family; and (2) I wanted to teach linguistics, which was offered only at the graduate level and therefore required the Ph.D. Getting that Ph.D. at the University of California San Diego was hard beyond description, and I won't bore you by repeating things I've already written about here in the past. Summing up.... It was hard because I didn't have the solid background in math that the rest of my class had. [My total math background was high school algebra and the one required introductory math class for undergraduates at the University of Chicago.] It was hard because I had a house and yard and four kids to take care of, and no household help. It was hard because I had to teach adult high school at night and write a book a year on top of my coursework and required grad-student teaching load, just to keep the bills paid. It was hard because I was a lot older than my classmates -- older than some of my profs, for that matter -- and was the only hillbilly in the group. I spent a lot of time baffled, both in and out of classes.

On the other hand, UCSD's linguistics program in the 60s and 70s was Heaven For Linguists, and it was a privilege to be part of it. I had the good fortune to be taught by great linguists; I had the good fortune to attend the Syntax Festivals and mingle with superstar linguists in person; I got to be part of a community of extraordinarily talented and interesting people; I'd do it again tomorrow, hard as it was. Whether my husband and children would go through it again, however, is a separate question that only they could answer; it was even harder for them than it was for me, because the amount of time I had for wife-ing and mothering wasn't remotely adequate during those years. I don't have the sort of relationship with my children that they have with my grandchildren, and I regret that more than I can even begin to say. The situation was straightforward: I could have that relationship, or I could get the Ph.D.; I couldn't do both. If I'd been a man I'd have had a wife at home to do the things I failed to do; I badly needed a wife.

It has turned out that I was right to get the Ph.D. It has meant that all these years I've had, and still have, excellent medical and dental insurance for myself and my husband and -- for as long as they were in my home -- for my children. That has been a tremendous help. Without the Ph.D. I could never have taught seminars for MDs and other medical professionals -- because my courses wouldn't have qualified for their CME-credit needs -- and for many years those medical seminars provided a very large portion of my income. My extended family has needed a lot of financial help, over the years; if I hadn't gotten that degree I wouldn't have been able to provide it, and their lives would have been far more difficult. I can look back now and say with confidence that I made the right decision; it was the right thing to do.

But before you do the same thing, in similar circumstances, tender maidens and gentle ladies, take warning by me: Unless you have exceptional advantages -- like a substantial trust fund, for example, or a successful partner who can pay the bills and pay for a nanny -- the price is going to be very high. It's much harder to get a good fulltime academic job today than it was when I did it; far too many new Ph.Ds today are stuck in a patchwork assortment of part-time teaching jobs that don't qualify them for the generous benefits I've been blessed with. And there is still no backup system in this country for the wife and mother who goes after a degree, not at any level; she will still be expected to do it all by herself, and any attempt she makes to use her housekeeping and caregiving load as an excuse for any problem she has fulfilling her graduate-student requirements will still get her an automatic suggestion that perhaps a woman with her responsibilities should forget about getting that degree. That has not changed.

I'm going to tie this off with a single typical example of the sort of thing I mentioned at the beginning of this post -- the sort of thing that still hurts. I did get a good tenure-track fulltime teaching job in a linguistics department, almost instantly. I loved my teaching, and my students, and my research opportunities; I hated the academic politicking that went with it, but the pleasure I got from the rest of it more than balanced that out. One of the things I did early on was to develop an Applied Linguistics Certificate Program for my department. I designed it; I did all the paperwork and attended all the committee meetings to get its curriculum approved; I wrote the syllabus for its core course, and shepherded that through the Curriculum Committee to approval, and taught the course; I did all the endless correspondence and to-ing and fro-ing and filling out of forms and so on. And in the publicity materials for the course, and on my c.v., I listed myself as the program's director; no one ever objected, it seemed logical, and that's what I did. Then the day came when I was up for a routine tenure and promotion review -- and my department chairman called me into his office and told me that I couldn't put that title in the documents I was submitting to the review committee. I was stunned, and I asked him the obvious question: "If I'm not the director of that certificate program, why haven't you said something sooner? Why have you been letting me put that title on all the curriculum materials and publicity materials?" And he said, "As long as it was all just internal to the department, the faculty was willing to humor you about that, Suzette -- but there's no question of making it official. It wouldn't be appropriate."
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Personal note.... and a recommended link...

Writing this morning's post sent me to the kitchen for an extra dose of my ulcer meds -- not something I often indulge in -- and then sent me surfing for something that would distract me. And SHAZAM! There stood [sat? lay? reclined?] Dotar Sojat's report on WisCon 30, at ! And by the time I finished reading it I not only wasn't hurting, I was having a wonderful time. Recommended...
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Science fiction poem; "Binary Addendum"...

Binary Addendum

On that day when -- suddenly -- God Almighty,
at the farthest narrow extreme of all patience,
inflicted sanity upon the United States Congress
(declaring once again, “Let there be Light!”),
half a thousand shuddering men, and the odd woman,
tore off their blue pinstripe uniforms and howled,
covered their heads with plasters of yellow legal pads
(fearing to scandalize the blessed angels),
crawled with their eyes tight-closed in search of a sane asylum,
clawing a scraped-raw pathway with their nails,
seeking half a thousand very old women
in whose tolerant practiced laps to lay their heads.
Finding not one who would sit to make a lap,
they moaned beside the Potomac: “Let there be Dark!”