When Mr. Geeky got the job here, I sat down with my advisor to tell her I’d be moving and attempting to work long distance on the Ph.D. (you all know how that worked out.) She said, “It’ll be interesting to see how you handle being the faculty spouse.” And I thought, Isn’t that what I’ve been for the last four years? I have been a faculty spouse for almost 10 years now. For 7 of them, I was associated with the same university where Mr. Geeky taught. I have always chafed a bit against the role and am continually surprised by the sexism that often surfaces as a result.
There are unwritten rules about being the faculty spouse and for some reason, these rules only apply to the female (heterosexual) version of the spouse. I’m using the institutions I’ve been at as sole example, so if you have other experiences, I’d love to hear them.
1. Preferably, you will not have a job. This is so you can deal with everything from children to housekeeping to making doctor’s appointments and arranging travel for the holidays so that your spouse, who needs to keep his mind uncluttered from such things, won’t have to.
2. You will be patient about the long hours of grading and writing, of work on the weekends and over holidays.
3. You will attend social events and be gracious, especially to those who have power to grant (or not grant) tenure.
4. If you are smart, you will not show it unless you are a faculty member yourself either at this or another institution. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this is, but it seems to be the case.
5. You will be willing to host faculty and students in your home.
6. You will be willing to give up your own ambitions, at least until he/she gets tenure.
Now some of these obviously come from a bit of bitterness and are a little tongue in cheek. We’re in the home stretch here in the Geeky household. Ten years of pursuing tenure have meant a lot of sacrifices on both our parts. The tenure process is extraordinarily difficult on a family. Even if the individual spouse recognizes this and tries to reduce the difficulties as much as possible, the institution itself just doesn’t. In fact, it pushes even harder, creating a situation where it’s much less stressful to strive for tenure if either a) you’re not encumbered by a family or b) you have a spouse at home tending to it.
Mr. Geeky and I discussed this when we noticed that many of the men on his tenure schedule had wives who didn’t work. We noted that it would be easier for him if I didn’t work. Instead, he occasionally dealt with the children’s days off from school or doctor’s appointments. He was always home for dinner and helped put the kids to bed. Even if I do a little more housework than he does, it’s still something that’s been negotiated and not just automatic.
Other faculty tend to react to me in a way that says they don’t really want to know about Mr. Geeky’s personal life. They know, perhaps, the sacrifices made by a faculty spouse and don’t want to be reminded of them. Or, I get looks along the lines of, “Hmm. Didn’t think she was smart enough to marry a professor.” (This usually from people who know me as a staff member and are truly shocked to find out I’m married to one of their own. I literally have gotten gasps.) I can’t always put my finger on the pariah nature of the way I’m treated sometimes. Many people are, of course, quite gracious, but others, mostly men, react to me as if I have some kind of disease.
I suppose I would be more comfortable in my role (and would make others more comfortable as well) if that were my only role, but I have a job and worse, I have a job at the same institution. They’re not sure sometimes, whether to deal with me as Mr. Geeky’s wife or as the staff member they know. And, unfortunately, they wouldn’t deal with me in the same way for both roles, which I think says something pretty significant about the way they view those roles. In many ways, they see both as inferior, but one is more inferior than the other. Which one that is depends entirely on the person’s perspective, but makes no difference to me. I’m still not on equal footing with them or with my husband (in their mind).