Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What weighs heavy on my mind.

Elizabeth Dewberry, the author of "His Lovely Wife," articulates perfectly my current life concern. The characters of this particular scene are Lawrence, a Nobel prize winning physicist and his "trophy wife" Ellen. Lawrence and his wife Ellen are discussing the upcoming engagement of Lawrence's colleague Eric and Eric's graduate student girlfriend, Mart.

Lawrence begins,


"...they are getting engaged over dinner, and he wants us to be the first to congratulate them."
"They're getting engaged? You know that for a fact?"
"Yeah."
"What if she says no?"
"She won't."
"And that's what he expects? That she's already made up her mind to drop her whole life for him? And what? Join the UCLA Faculty Wives' Club?"
"I don't see Mart in a faculy wives' club."
"Me either, That's my point. Can he get UCLA to give her a job?"
"I don't know. I'm sure he could."
"Yes you do know. He can't. Not in this economy when they know he's not going anywhere whether they give her the job or not. If she wants to teach, she'll have to do adjunct work and get paid beans, and if she wants to work in a lab, she'll never get her own lab, she'll have to spend the rest of her life being someone's assistant."
"Not necessarily."
"It's what happens in dual-scholar marriages. I've seen it a zillion times. If you haven't, it's because you haven't thought about your colleagues' wives. But one of them gets the real job, usually the man, and the other does the shit work for a few years, hoping they'll prove their worth and the university will give them a real job, and eventually, they either get fed up and quit, if they're lucky, or they continue to care about their work and believe in themselves and they get bitter that nobody else does, or they start believing the implicit message of their bottom-of-the-totem-pole status, that they're there because they don't deserve anything better, which becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy, and they start shutting down intellectually and creatively, which drives down their self-esteem, which keeps them from being able to produce anything publishable, and they start blaming their spouse, which is not altogether unfair, though not really fair, either, because the spouse didn't create the system, but usually, the spouse isn't rising up against its inequalities, either, and in fact, the more successful the working spouse is, the more that person has invested in keeping things as hierarchical and unfair as they are, despite the harm it does to the person they supposedly love most in the world. So either they divorce, or the less-accomplished spouse decides she's got to find a way to live within the system, or without it, and she takes up a hobby like painting or photography or poetry, none of which she's particularly good at, and the next thing you know, she's trying to create an identity for herself, but it's somebody she's not, and her whole life becomes devoted to living this lie to herself long enough and convincingly enough that eventually, she believes it. Is that what Eric wants for Mart?"
Lawrence hesitates. He picks up his wineglass, which is empty. Puts it back down.
Then: "I don't know what the fuck he wants for her," Lawrence says. "He just wants to marry her."

6 comments:

Tony said...

Shit, that's depressing.

alexmcferron said...

I can relate to your fears. Thanks for posting this reminder that I need to put myself first even if I'm blinded by love.

JayboyWunder said...

...And what happens if Eric and Mart decide to have kids?!?
Sounds like if the Univeristy doesn't treat them the same, it's time to find a new university.

Angie said...

I heard a speech by the (female) head of the engineering school at Colorado State University. She said that they often lose female candidates they are looking to hire if they can't find an appropriate position for her spouse as well. I suppose the difference is because a female engineering professor is courted by many universities.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Angie, I think that you might want to consider how the situation is stacked. Females are far more likely to be married to an academic than are males. Thus, they are far more constrained by their partners requirements for the job search than their male counterparts. I'm not sure if universities recruit more aggresively for women, but I can see why women would have to apply for and thus turn down more offers.

Angie said...

Interesting response to my last comment. I hadn't thought about how more women would be married to male academics. Food for thought...