Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Into the breach!

So you'll see in my tagline to your left that, like everyone else, I'm juggling numerous roles and finding it all a bit unnerving: Mimi-the-Mama, Professor Mimi, and Mrs. Mimi are but three that I toss up into the air daily. Sometimes the balls drop, and then, as George Costanza would have it, "Worlds collide!" Yesterday, teaching my night class, Mimi-the-Mama and Professor Mimi suffered a mid-toss collision. In this particular class I use a lot of computer projection, and I project from my own laptop, because I demo a lot of different kinds of software I can't be sure to find in a teaching computer (and also, well, I'm a Mac snob ;-) ). I'm very careful about desktop images and screen savers and such: usually, my screen saver is set to go off after about 2 hours on days when I'm teaching, and the desktop image visible when I'm hooked up to the projector is of a hibiscus flower. But, it being Monday and all, I guess I'd reset the screen saver to my last roll of digital shots on the weekend and not set it back. So there I am, writing down definitions and keywords on the white board, trying to make sure my behind isn't jiggling, when a collective 'Awwwwwww' arises from the 40 or so students in the class.

I turn around.

To this:

Lordy. Her little head is about five feet tall on the screen, and getting bigger as the photo 'approaches'. Everyone is ooh-ing and ahh-ing and I'm dashing over to the laptop to flap the lid down while I collect my thoughts. I make some sort of joke about the course material is not suitable for young children, and hurriedly reset the screen saver.

I hate this. But why? I guess I fear for my teacherly persona. I'm a good teacher, if I'm to judge from peer evaluation and student evaluations. I know that I'm competent in the material, that I do my best to make my courses relevant and useful. But I'm also tough, and rigorously intellectual in class--if students make the effort, I'm 100% charming; if they don't, well, poor grades are likely going to be the consequence. I'm not afraid to say, "no, that's not true," or, "I don't know that that's what the author was aiming at," as easily as I say "yes, that's right," or, "I had never thought of it like that, but I will now--great insight." It can be hard for female professors not to be the first ones that all students ask for extensions, to be taken seriously, to not be assumed to be the nurturer who wants to hear about problems in the dorm. Even harder when you're younger than most, and thin, and blonde, and, let's be honest, tending to try to enliven class with contemporary references and the occasional mild joke.

Many of my students this year know that I just had a baby--they took classes with me last year when I was enormously pregnant and couldn't use the whiteboard markers because the smell made me nauseated. The biological fact of it I don't mind being in the public domain. Indeed, I wrote a while ago about wanting to model being a professional, professor/mom. I guess what I mind is that this incident makes me look scatterbrained, first. Second, although I clearly have no qualms about broadcasting Miss Baby's image to you, oh momosphere, I don't want her on display in such a public way at the university. Third, I kind of don't want to engage my students on this personal level; I don't want them telling me how cute my baby is and how their best friend from high school is pregnant. With undergraduates, especially, this doesn't feel right. In short, it's just not professional, and professional is an adjective hard won by female faculty.

Fourth and most deeply, if I'm being perfectly candid, it's the hardest thing in the world for me to not spend all day talking about Miss Baby, showing people pictures of Miss Baby, charting all of Miss Baby's fascinating little personality quirks. When that picture flashed up on the screen I could feel the floodgates of my desire straining dangerously. I'm appalled that Professor Mimi really seems to want nothing more than to spend her time obsessing about her baby. Now that's unprofessional, surely--as unprofessional as it is perfectly natural.

I'd not really thought all this through until I started writing this post, and to be honest, I'm not actually upset about this anymore, but in parsing my immediate reaction from class last night, I'm surprised to discover the root of my discomfort lies, essentially, in my latent desire to shout shout shout my mommyhood from all available pulpits. And so into the abyss. I just hope those floodgates hold ...


Mad Hatter said...

There'll be trickles in the damn here and there and thank god for the blogosphere where so much of it can spill out so that the lid can be kept on in other situations.

Damn cute photo.

NotSoSage said...

I can totally understand your perspective on keeping interactions with students on a professional level. It's sad that the same thing wouldn't be as likely to happen with male faculty, but it's true...and it's hard when there's so much interesting stuff to share!

Alpha Dogma said...

You sound like an awesome prof. And a good mom.

Your post totally brought to mind a friend who was a professor in Human Geography starting in the late 90s. She was in her late 20s, strikingly beautiful, and very concerned with her professional image. She had to completely redefine her look when making the jump from PhD candidate to professor. Her biggest step: no backpack. She found the hardest people to convert were not her students, but senior male professors.

Beck said...

You DO sound like a great professor. It's funny, though - I had a very hard time commenting on this post because as a SAHM, there's no boundaries, you know what I mean? I think that if I met you in real life, I'd be a bit intimidated - not because you're intimidating but because I feel like the difference between having a Serious Career and my non-career is really vast.

Mimi said...

Mad -- yes yes yes, I love the blogosphere because it's an outlet for all my desires to talk about Miss Baby and my new life with her. And the audience is a voluntary and reciprocating one. I feel much more balanced because I can obsess in this venue.

NSS and AD -- also spot-on, I think. I think sometimes women have to be twice as 'professional' to be taken half as seriously, and that's lose-lose, in my opinion.

Beck -- thank you for sharing your feelings on our relative situations, and also, oh no! I think you're soooo awesome and I would be intimidated to meet you because you're so funny and such a good writer and you're so good with your kids and you've escaped certain death in the Incident of Flying Pottery. It's pretty clear, I think, that in the selves we choose to present online, we get along pretty well, and that's something, isn't it?

Besides, like AD, I am also a northern girl and I think my hometown is in your neck of the woods...

Beck said...

Aw, thanks. I AM pretty awesome. Having a professional identity, though, is a big thing, with it's own rules and behaviours.
You grew up in my neck of the woods? Good grief.

ewe are here said...

Sadly, I think women do have it a bit tougher to being taken seriously as professionals. Men proudly display their kids in photos on their desks because 'they can'; I know other women who hesitate thinking it should be kept completely separate for the reasons you cite.

You sound like a great professor.
And, well, I'd have 'awwwweed', too; it's a great picture!