And yet another new context for the color red on Friday nights: Tonight, D and I spent the bulk of our evening watching Division III college basketball. We got to witness our team, the Pioneers, defeat the St. Norbert Green Knights (who had beat us earlier in the season) in thrilling fashion to advance to the finals of the Midwest Conference Tourney. Tomorrow, they take on the Lawrence Vikings for the title of all-out champ and entrant into the Div III national tournament come March.

Basketball has been one of our unexpected discoveries this year. It started when I met the new women’s bball coach during new faculty orientation. We’re about the same age, and we have “I don’t really know if I should be called faculty solidarity,” so we hit it off. Being friends with her naturally led to learning a thing or two about the game, and that led to being at the women’s opening game, and from there it was a small step to being at the men’s opening game, which was the same night, immediately following. 

When it comes to basketball, I’ve never been a big fan of the men’s game. As in tennis and soccer, I rarely connect to men playing. Maybe because the play is too fast for a non-athlete like myself to really follow, or maybe because male athletes play like a**holes a large amount of the time. But the Pioneers drew me in with The System. The System works like this: they run a full-court press, play as little defense as possible, and engineer all their plays around creating openings for 3 point shots.

Did that last sentence not mean anything to you? Yeah, that was me. Last fall. Before I started watching The System.

It didn’t take long before I was an all out Pioneer basketball fan. Now, I sometimes even switch to college basketball on television when I want to kill time. Crazy. I know, right? 

I don’t know if this fascination will hold over next year, when I no longer see the athletes on the court as students first, coming to the library, doing their liberal arts thing and being great at sinking 3’s at the same time. It might be a one-year thing, like this job, like being able to hang out with the basketball coach and a physics prof and a Classics prof at the same time, all of them conversant in this game we spend our evenings watching, quietly breaking plans with non-fans and getting up early to get our real work done beforehand so we can. 

I’m not thinking about this right now, reviewing key plays in mind as I get ready to go to bed. I’m thinking about how I hope this team full of gifted, but relatively short, seniors can recover from tonight’s tough game to play their hearts out tomorrow, because in all likelihood, it’s going to be the last game of their careers. I’m hoping that the 3’s sink convincingly and Lawrence falls all over itself trying to outrun our Pioneers. I’m nervous about our injured point guard and the sophomore guard who is being asked to learn how to take his place. This is a distraction, but I sometimes think it is an important one. Most of us don’t win or lose in 40 minute spurts, but watching those who do can remind us how important it is to focus and take the risk of believing we can succeed. When it matters, the outcome is never certain. You can play a technically perfect game and lose–it takes more than that in the long run. You have to do your best every minute you can and take the chance it won’t be enough. Sometimes it won’t be. Learning to step into those moments honestly is a lesson that can come in many forms–Greek quizzes or Moby Dick final papers or conference finals–and I like being at a school that sees it that way.

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Much better, Chronicle: Mary Ann Mason’s “Men and Mothering” is a terrific example of how talking about the challenges of combining an academic career and parenthood in gender inclusive terms works to transform the conversation.  Instead of having one more rehearsal of how tough it is to be a woman, this is the start of a genuine discussion of how the status quo works against the happiness and success of men and women.

She begins with recent surveys indicating that women continue to put in longer hours at home than men do. Graduate students who are mothers, for example, work 101 hours per week and spend half that time on parenting and house duties, while graduate student fathers work 89 hours per week and spend 37% of their time on domestic work. This is not news, but unlike most writers, who use those types of statistics to prove that men just don’t want to change, Mason uses them to ask what we can do to make it easier for men to take on equal responsibility in parenting: “Before we point fingers at fathers, let’s acknowledge that they are, in fact, contributing a significant number of hours to child care and housework. Let’s also acknowledge the social and institutional barriers that may prevent them from doing more.”

Mason goes on to examine fathers’ takes on being primary caregivers in academia, culled from comments to past Chronicle stories and a recent book by Andrea Doucet that examines the lives of 100 fathers who consider themselves the primary parent. Many of the men described have confronted outright discrimination (e.g. when special consideration for class scheduling is given to the mother of a special needs child but not a father who is a primary caregiver) and the lack of social support (as one father puts it, “I’ve been out to the library, and I’ve seen a guy pushing a baby carriage. But it’s just not so easy for a guy to go up to another guy and say, ‘Hey, how old is she? Do you want to be friends?'”). Talk about cultural invisibility–we never talk about this stuff, and it is rarely represented in serious contexts. Or if it is, it’s considered a one-off situation. Kramer v. Kramer came out in 1979. I don’t know what the reception for that was like (was it seen as some kind of cautionary tale about men who become attached to their children?) but whatever conversation it could have sparked about how the automatic connection of women with primary parenthood could work against fathers who held the same role doesn’t seem to have happened. But after reading this piece, I’m hopeful that this discussion can take off if we start to expand our attention to include challenges men face in being equal partners. I know plenty of men who wouldn’t have it any other way, and helping them helps me and other women, too.

I also appreciated that Mason said exactly what it took me several years to recognize and articulate after I got married–that my husband and I were not getting the same message from our culture and our families when it came to the choices we made for lives. In subtle and less subtle ways, I learned that it always going to be okay for me to walk away from whatever education or opportunities I had if I was doing it in the name of family, but it would never be okay for D to do the same thing. Talk about unfair to both of us. Changing this message means that we need to encourage women to take their work seriously and make it possible for them to do so, and likewise, as Mason concludes: “If we want fathers to become equal participants in child raising, we must encourage them to do so. Family-friendly policies must include fathers as well as mothers. Cultural change occurs with participation; only then will the strongly held gender stereotypes against men as committed caregivers dissipate.” That statement gives us something to do, which is a lot more helpful than ticking off all the reasons why being a “faculty wife” is not so bad.

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I beat the Carpetbagger

February 23, 2009

And won my pool. Don’t know if this link works, but, I did. Thank you, overrated Sean Penn.

I am going to an Oscar party sans wireless this evening, so I will not have a chance to weigh in as the broadcast unfolds, so I just wanted to let the world know that I have pre-decided: Hugh Jackman is the awesomest singing-dancing Oscar host of my lifetime. There are going to be some haters out there, and to them I say: bring on the top hats, little tap dancing canes, tails, and even gold-leaf body paint, it’s all good if Wolverine is doing it. Give me a cheesy show tune any day over self-conscious comedians who make me feel embarassed for them when they deliver their first bad joke. More singing, more dancing, more gratuitous hip gyrations! This is going to be fun.

And in related news, I just passed up my opportunity to switch my NYT Oscar Ballot Adapted Screenplay vote from Frost/Nixon to the overwhelming favorite Slumdog to be able to say that. Also, let it be known that I betrayed my heart to vote for Jai Ho over Down to Earth for Best Song.

Friday Red: Dirty Martini

February 21, 2009

So, I wasn’t kidding when I said the Wine Warehouse of Boca Raton, FL was going to be one of my top two things that I would miss. Iowa has many charms, but ready access to nicely priced quality wines is not among them. Example: our local grocery store sells Smoking Loon for $14.99. Wine Warehouse price: $6.99. Which is about right. Sigh. We’ve been drinking a lot of beer this year.

But, we’re getting by with a little help from our friends. For one thing, Snickerdoodle hooked us up with some Wine of the Month Club for Christmas (can’t thank you enough!!), and one of those will certainly be showing up during a blog post near you, except that normally we don’t drink it on Friday nights, we save it for when we need to take it over to someone’s house to be impressive.

Tonight we were in between bottles, so we decided to take Friday festivities in a slightly different direction, that suggested by my friend EME this past fall, right before she became EMB–the dirty martini. I had never had one until her bachelorette party, which included a truth-or-truth session, in which we learned her favorite drink was the dirty martini, and a trip to a martini bar, in which I ordered one in her honor.

I have to say, it was not love at first sip. A dirty martini is gin + vermouth + olive juice. It tastes like… gin and olive juice. I like olives. I like olives a lot. Olive juice? Well, it’s not quite the same thing, now is it? It’s even less so when you mix it with gin, which I can’t help but compare to the imagined taste of Off! brand mosquito repellent. But, I soldiered on, and finished my dirty martini with nary an envious glance at the glasses of those who had ordered cosmotinis, pomotinis, and bellinis.

I emerged from that party with a sense of purpose: I would become an adult. I would learn to love the dirty martini. With the proper practice, in my experience, almost anything is possible, and surely I can become a genuine fan of the dirty martini if I try.

Why would I do this? I’m not sure, exactly. To prove that I can? Because it’d be nice to have at least one non-sugary drink that I feel comfortable ordering at a bar? Those are plausible reasons, but I think what I really want is the sense of the constraint, like writing oulipan poetry. It has a ring to it, and it came into my life without my seeking it–if I can learn to love it, I can learn to love whatever is coming my way. I’m going to like it. I’m going to learn how to savor it and look good sipping it. I didn’t choose it, it’s just there, and that makes it mine.

So, tonight, I took the second step in a journey that may be a thousand miles. I hit up the grocery and got the necessary supplies to introduce D to the dirty martini. It doesn’t take that much gin or vermouth to make a single martini, so it appears we are stocked to make a long term assault on this cocktail.

After he had finished his, I asked D if he liked it. He nodded. I pressed him: did you like it, or did you like the idea of it? He said he liked it, and paused. Well, he said, maybe I like having finished it. I nodded knowingly. Yeah, I said.

It’s a start. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(Digital) Word

February 17, 2009

I’m in awe of the way this video takes years of web development and breaks it down into concepts whose relevance to our daily use of language and information is immediately clear and compelling. Plus, that cool synthesizer soundtrack makes everything sound more important.

This morning, my Chronicle daily digest featured a new entry in The Adjunct Track column, “The New Faculty Wife” by, presumably, a woman who has given up a tenured job to follow her husband to a tenure track job elsewhere. (Sorry, a subscription is required to follow that link.) She now works as an adjunct while he works the more-than-full time that it takes to teach and earn tenure. I know these columns aren’t meant to hold deep thoughts, but there’s a glaring shallowness to this writer’s point: that the institution of the faculty wife is not dead, it’s merely been transformed to include women who put their careers second to their husbands’ and take it upon themselves to become the manager of all things domestic: “The role of the new faculty wife (and more rarely, the faculty husband) exists because it adequately meets people’s needs. So let’s pause a moment to consider its pros and cons.”
She mentions briefly that men could and often do fulfill, but leaves the rest of the piece squarely pointed at women,  always using “she” as the pronoun and by extension leaving untouched the thought that men could and should feel equally obliged to respond to the pressures of raising children, keeping a home, and navigating the annoying realities of basic living. In this piece, it’s never the spouse, it’s always the wife, and because of that, it reads like an apology for blatant sexism. This is the way it is, let’s examine it as a fact.

The pro’s and con’s she mentions sound, in this context, like one more tired repetition of the reasons that have been put forth generally over the last half century for why women shouldn’t work even if they have the choice not to rather than an analysis of how the demands of an academic career are immense and don’t really work for families. In particular, she commits what is, in my mind, the cardinal sin of reasoning that if she found full time work, most of the salary increase would be taken up by childcare costs (which come only out of her salary why? isn’t that an expense both parents take on by working?) and relishes the fact that she gets to go along for the full benefits ride while her husband has a full time job (I can understand and imagine a variety of reasons why a wife might find herself in this situation, permanently or temporarily, but to see virtue in turning your PhD into an Mrs as a benefit strikes me as unhelpful). Yes, it is hard verging on impossible to make it in academia at all, even harder to do so w/ an academic partner, and you do what you have to do to get through–but what is this adding to the solution? The message becomes, it’s hard, ladies, rather than it’s hard, people.

Underlying my frustration with this is my own experience at my current place of employment. I am, happily, the breadwinner this year as D completes his graduate studies in accounting. We live in a small town where the very good salary that our college pays can support a couple quite well, and that’s important, b/c the town is also small enough that it is not always easy for the second person to find work, especially in a one-year job situation like mine. So, when we go to parties, and I introduce myself as a librarian at the college and D introduces himself as a faculty spouse. And you know what? He’s not alone. I’d say there’s a pretty even split, at least in my trending young social circles, as to whether the trailing spouse is male or female. I know plenty of faculty husbands.

As for the argument that, as nice it as it might be to pretend that the faculty wife has become the faculty spouse, it’s still mostly women that end up in these circumstances, I say, exactly. If we talk about it like a reality, it’s even more likely to stay a reality. Changing the way we think about people’s work (not men’s work and women’s work) starts with using language that includes both genders in the decision-making process. Until the arguments for a stay-at-home mom become arguments for a stay-at-home parent, this will remain an unhelpful discussion.

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