Bad Female Academic: On Being a Wife

When my husband and I got engaged, I figured out that we were 256 times more likely to get divorced. More likely than whom? Two people whose parents didn’t get divorced, didn’t live together before marriage, and didn’t have a whole pile of advanced degrees, and who didn’t intend on becoming professors. You know, “average” people. I kept reading these stats that said that people who had divorced parents were twice as likely to get divorced themselves. Or people who lived together before marriage were twice as likely to get divorced as well. Basically, I found enough “twice as likely” stats to figure 256 times (two to the power of eight).

Math people, lay off. It was a joke.

Or was it? I knew that my husband and I had the odds stacked against us. I also knew a lot of academic couples who lived far away from one another, and I vowed that that wouldn’t be me, wouldn’t be us. I was getting married because I wanted to spend my life with my spouse. I can’t say it’s been easy, but I don’t regret giving up my tenure-track position, even though I am ambitious. But I think it’s unfortunate that I now have to deal with the gendered expectations that come with my choice.

I am far from being a Good Faculty Wife; I’m not a good cook, I hate housework, and while I am a fabulous companion at university events, I don’t demurely take a back seat to my husband’s (and his colleague’s) opinions. There is also an assumption that because I have willing moved to the middle of nowhere for my husband’s job that I have given up on my own. My husband is expected to be able to go to conferences or last-minute meetings because I’ll be there to cover for his duties at home. Or, worse, the assumption that he has no duties at home because he has a Wife.

At the same time, I refuse to hide the fact that I am married and that my husband is a professor at the same institution where I teach. It’s a small town and a small school, and I’m even using his last name. Let them think what they want about how I got my job; my C.V. speaks for itself. My mom told me it’s not who you know, but how you use them, and I am not above using my husband’s position as leverage in order to improve my own. But even before we started working together, I never shied away from the fact that I was married, part of a package. I would always carry a copy of his C.V. to on-campus interviews and ask the dean/provost (when it came time) what, if anything, they might have available for him. I refuse to conform to the expectation that one cannot be a dedicated academic and wife.

And that’s just how I am treated as a wife. As an academic, people think I have given up. I can’t be ambitious and be a wife at the same time. It’s not true, however, that taking a step back from the full academic grind means that I’m cut off forever from it. Or at least, I hope not. Many people, though, hear of my choice to follow my husband as a tacit admission to having abandoned my academic career. I’m “just” an instructor.

I resent that I am seen now as mostly a wife and just an instructor. There’s a lot more to me. Including my role as mother. But more on that next week. Because if there’s one thing worse than being an wife in academia, it’s being a mother.

2 thoughts on “Bad Female Academic: On Being a Wife”

  1. Sheesh. I had the opposite reaction before I was married & teaching public school. Not having a husband or a family meant I wasn't as mature, professional, worthy or as dedicated (or just the same) as everyone else on the staff. I was told that if I lost my job it would mean I'd "maybe just have to spend less money on CDs."

  2. I know this can be the reaction of academics. Certainly reading the CHE fora, it is clear that this is a common reaction.

    It has not been the reaction of my colleagues where I was this year or where I will be next year. Of course, the colleagues where I will be next year were also my colleagues (or about half of them were) in that tt position I gave up so that my husband could follow his dreams.

    I guess I have been blessed in many ways.
    1. I was able to leave my tt position and raise my children.
    2. I was able to teach part-time as my children got older.
    3. I was able to get a ft position again, after my children were grown.
    4. I was able to get a tt position again, after my children were grown.
    5. My husband was willing to leave his great career to redeem mine.

    It can be very hard to be a wife and an academic. I think many people value being an academic over being a wife. While I love being an academic, I value being a wife more. I think you do/have, too. People who don't value it more see our choices as a drop out/give up/ridiculous sacrifice.

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