Friday, February 1, 2008

The Good Wife's Guide

I am too busy now to comment. More later.

Now it is later, but way later because I have been busy at work, meetings, more meetings, evening work-related events, out dancing, life is busy indeed. And I don't have a "wife" to cook for me, welcome me home, ask me how MY day went. Though most women I know wish they had such a creature. The article above -from 1955 has literally landed in my inbox several times in the past week, sent by several of my incredibly brilliant, well-educated and accomplished women friends! Interestingly, for various reasons lately I have had intense conversations with groups of women I am close to (and their friends) about the same subject: we have come a long way, baby. And then we have not. In more than one of these conversations, at least one woman has brought up the fact that those of us in our thirties or forties who grew up taking women's studies courses never heard about how hard this was going to be: we were told we could "have it all."

I have participated in various versions of a discussion about the reasons why women who have children still have to put their careers on hold. And the men, though they contribute far more to childcare than men of any generation ever have, still have the option of prioritizing their careers and expecting the wife/mother to pick up the slack. The women taking part in these conversations are all highly educated and at high-pressure jobs, some are married, some have children, some have neither but usually when they hear about a friend in such a situation, they all offer to have her back. When her husband or boyfriend does not.

Other recent topics of discussion relate to the sense of entitlement that men display, particularly when they are in professions where they are under-represented. In general many seem to feel they don't have to pay their dues. Yet we as women are coached to develop political tact and extreme deference to those senior to us. Men are excused when they lack such understanding or emotional intelligence. They are ambitious, the reasoning goes. They are expected to be so. However, if you are a woman and are as ambitious you are seen as a bitch or a social climber. This sense of entitlement is particularly true of straight men, who are immediately granted a leg up (ie. not considered for entry level but rather higher ranking positions at museums for example; or disproportionately act as heads of departments, directors and the like) I have been known to be more annoyed by a woman colleague I regarded as overly-ambitious than by a male colleague who was equally if not more of a ruthless competitor. I also was coerced into helping a former colleague with entry-level administrative tasks that he never had to learn because he was brought in one level higher than I was. Though we had the same qualifications and I was older than he. Well, not the same qualifications, he was white, heterosexual, and wealthy.

Related to this is the verbal sense of entitlement. You go to a panel discussion, and one of the least interesting lectures happens to be given by a man who in very condescending and pedantic terms proceeds to go way over the time allotted to him. This type of thing begins in graduate school and continues at myriad conferences, panels and the like. Yet we as women are watching the clock trying to not take up others' time. I remember recently being congratulated for being the ONLY person who kept to the time limit requested by the symposium organizer. Arrogance in men is somehow excused, viewed as natural. This is where I hit the wall with a man. I can't respect anyone who is arrogant, this detracts from my assesment of their "intelligence." Each semester I have to coach more than one female student to teach her NOT to apologize for her statements and thereby undermine her own intellectual credibility.

Apparently, I am told that the more educated and employed you are the more you "price yourself out" of the marriage market. Also, you are older and so it takes years to get the degree and pay your dues and then you are "too old" for men your own age. Who want a twentysomething bleached blond anorexic to bear their children. If you don't want children at all, you are clearly regarded as unnatural. I have discussed with friends the ways in which if you are a successful and smart woman, you have to somehow compensate for this so that potential dates don't feel "threatened" by you. Ways in which to do this vary from praising his intellect and downplaying your own, to displaying your own insecurities and/or emotional vulnerabilities.

Related to this is the often discussed advice that if you are contemplating dating a guy, you have to let him be "the man" and call the shots because they are sadly rendered confused by the post-feminist moment we live in. Men need to feel needed!! This means never asking them out, but rather passively waiting for them to make a move. I have been known to endorse this argument although this means enacting behavior that totally contradicts your view of yourself as an empowered woman. Which clearly you are if you have persevered in obtaining higher degrees and landing a good job in a highly competitive environment. How does one reconcile such contradictions? I have no idea.

All I know is that when I read that article, I wondered: how much have things changed?


Anselm said...

A tidal wave of conundrums, some great truths, some slight generalizations.

Nothing is truer than the men-going-over-time-at-conferences problem, a genuine plague throughout the liberal arts. Doubtlessly this is related to an obliviousness and entitlement that many men are raised with. As a straight man in academia, I apologize for my kind. That said, I have also seen many women, including my advisor, make this same mistake, which is usually borne of a lack of preparation and or reading only from a pre-written text, which controls the amount of time one talks for. I am all for conference organizers punishing, physically, those who go over the limit and take time away from their colleagues.

I'm not sure I fully agree with this idea of "arrogance" being somehow forbidden in women in academia, however. In art history, it certainly seems to be a tool that many employ, to great success AND great failure, regardless of gender or race. And what is the difference between arrogance and confidence?

Were I to make a generalization about the straight men I have come across in academia, it would be that many of them are in fact -angry-; well aware of the fact that they are "outnumbered" by women and homosexuals and psychotically motivated to be respected.

Some of the other pressures you mention in relation to the more personal side of things are all obstacles to overcome in a sexist society when forming relationships or friendships. But I would say that such situations also come down to individuals and individual preferences about partners (regardless of whatever kind of discursive programming such desires might in fact be). I don't know if there is an overarching set of rules that homogenizes what everyone wants or expects; perhaps therein lies the problem...

Anonymous said...

Main Entry:
\ˈer-ə-gən(t)s, ˈa-rə-\
14th century
: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions

5 entries found.

Main Entry:
\ˈkän-fə-dən(t)s, -ˌden(t)s\
14th century
1 a: a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances had perfect confidence in her ability to succeed
met the risk with brash confidence
b: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way have confidence in a leader
2: the quality or state of being certain : certitude they had every confidence of success
3 a: a relation of trust or intimacy
took his friend into his confidence
b: reliance on another’s discretion
their story was told in strictest confidence
c: support especially in a legislative body
vote of confidence
4: a communication made in confidence : secret accused him of betraying a confidence

synonyms confidence, assurance, self-possession, aplomb mean a state of mind or a manner marked by easy coolness and freedom from uncertainty, diffidence, or embarrassment. confidence stresses faith in oneself and one’s powers without any suggestion of conceit or arrogance -the confidence that comes from long experience. assurance carries a stronger implication of certainty and may suggest arrogance or lack of objectivity in assessing one’s own powers -handled the cross-examination with complete assurance. self-possession implies an ease or coolness under stress that reflects perfect self-control and command of one’s powers- answered the insolent question with complete self-possession. aplomb implies a manifest self-possession in trying or challenging situations- handled the reporters with great aplomb.


Dquiles said...

So you're arrogant if you're a blowhard, and confident if you are, well, simply convinced of success. Over others. That you'll get a job. Instead of them. That you will be evaluated as better than your competitors. Seems like there's some overlap there.

As all academics know, who is and isn't a blowhard can often be in the eye of the beholder.

Wait, was that a presumptuous assumption?

Anonymous said...

You are arrogant if you dismiss other people's work and confident if you are ready to engage in respectful debate about its possible virtues and flaws. Arrogant is the opposite of humble. Humble doesn't mean "being a sucker" but acknowledging publicly that you might not hold the final truth or be the smartest on earth. Even if your tendency is towards arrogance, and you think of humbleness and self-assurance as effeminate or lame, consider that arrogance impedes good will and collaboration and that ultimately it can result in a general aversion towards you and your work, if you happen to care at all... Of course, if you're arrogant enough you won't mind too much. You will probably blame your intellectual solitude on the others' ignorance and lack of vision. Arrogance sucks and isolates.

On your other poing: men, stop victimizing yourselves. Do you realize that the job market in most fields still privileges you?!

Petite Maoiste said...

Whoever you are that posted this last comment, thank you!!!!! You are more articulate than I in explaining the apparently subtle distinction between arrogance and confidence. I hope that you are man, because I believe that both men and obviously!!!!!! women suffer from arrogance, but that sometimes!!!!! some men may not recognize their sense of entitlement!

And frankly, I am laughing out loud at myself because I saw "Pride and Prejudice" last week on PBS and this whole exchange is starting to make me feel like Colin Firth is looking down at everyone from across the room, again and again. Of course, I should be so lucky!!!!! ;)

Taína said...

Without denigrating anyone who chose any of these professions, here are some of the fields where I feel like being a woman is a plus:

1. Exotic dancer, aka stripper
2. Escort service
3. Cleaning lady- the name says it all
4. Housekeeper

For all of these being an undocumented worker might also be a plus, or at least not an obstacle.

Nurse, assistant, and secretary also privilege women but legal paperwork for citizenship or residency is required.

Anonymous said...

Me he dado cuenta que no hay que perder tiempo con gente acomplejada. Es una lastima pero es asi. Solo el tiempo y la vida da las lecciones que quiza seran suficientes en estos casos.

Anonymous said...

I hate men!

Petite Maoiste said...

I don't hate men, but in the interests of respecting opinions of others, there it is! I do think women have reasons to feel frustration with some men's sense of entitlement and lack of respect towards them. And it's critical to continue to examine the conditions in society that work to the benefit of men, because frankly I think many of us have become complacent and believed the propaganda that we're somehow "beyond feminism" because everything is supposed to be OK.

Taína said...

No, don't hate them! There are some great ones. I swear!
And as the original posting said and Anselm repeated, arrogance is a unisex evil. But I know, it feels particularly bad when it's sanctioned by society because they have "un par de pelotas."

Petite Maoiste said...

OK people, I had no idea that this post was going to unleash such an outpouring. Can we read the REST of the blog too?