Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why I love my job

I was going to write tonight about how I'm actually starting to like Miss Baby for her own wee charms (following Bub and Pie's insightful post), but I changed my mind.

I'm going to write about something I've liked for longer: my job.

I am truly truly lucky to be among the quite-small-percentage of people who really love their jobs. I'm a professor in the humanities, full-time and headed for tenure, in a city I quite like, teaching courses that stimulate my brain to students who work hard. My colleagues are pleasant, as well as intelligent and hardworking, without being pretentious or competitive. Basically I read books and talk about books and write about books for a living. My sense of my own privilege is keen: when I was in graduate school, a rhetoric of scarcity suffused the classrooms. Too many PhD's ... no jobs ... too many PhD's ... no jobs ... unless you are a superstar, drop out ... drop out ... drop out ... So sharp was the competition for these very few jobs, so high were the hurdles to job security, that people seemed willingly to give up everything except breathing to gain access to the profession. So, of course, I'm grateful simply to have this chance to do work that I love.

Even better, I find I've not had to give up everything except breathing to do so. And, in this post-second-wave of feminism, that is what feels like the real victory to me. Not that I can train for the job, or get the job, or even be promoted in the job. It's that I don't have to give up everything else that life has to offer in order to do so.

As a career, academia is oddly weighted: it is largely compelled by the drive for tenure, which basically amounts to job security, and is attained, or not, in the first six or so years of employment. The try for tenure is a one-shot deal: you get it, or you don't. And if you don't, you are generally released from employment. It's job-for-life, or out-on-yer-arse. So the first six years are, in this very tangible material way, the most important. They also, I'm not the first to note, coincide with the peak and the end of the peak of most women's reproductive years. From what I gather from my own experiences, what I've read, and what I've heard, through most of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, this co-incidence has resulted in a lot of women choosing, effectively, to not have children, by choosing to not try for children until after tenure. That is, until they are in their late 30s. Now, many many people are still fertile at that age. But many are not. I could cite you chapter and verse on the studies showing that marriage and children advance the careers of young male academics ... and impede the progress of their similarly positioned female colleagues. I could cite you report after report on female academics' unhappy choices to delay childbearing or to abandon it altogether. Or, the reverse, the chronicles of their decisions to leave the academy altogether to keep dreams of a family life alive. But I won't, because I want this to be a happy story.

And the happy story is this. My university, in a bid to attract and retain female faculty, has developed working policies to support women as faculty members, and women as people. And this is why I love my job more than ever before. Because I can waddle through a pregnancy, take a leave to spend at home with Miss Baby, and return to my job with very little worry as to whether having a baby means I can't have this particular career. I can tell you about these policies (income topups, a system of merit-pay increases for faculty on leave, clear provisions for assessment, and a stopping of the tenure clock) if you're interested. But I can easily and happily tell you the effects of these policies: three untenured junior female faculty in my department all having babies in the span of three years, not fearing for their jobs, not resented by their colleagues.

When I took up my faculty position right after convocation, I thought I had the best job in the world. And then I had Miss Baby, took a generously provisioned and graciously handled maternity leave, and knew I had the best job in the world.

Many of you are not so lucky. And I am incensed that it should be considered luck to work in a family-friendly workplace, to feel able to blend motherhood and professional life, to be your best self in both worlds, unapologetic. I want my experience to be the norm. I want to work for this balance, to show that treating mommies well means having loyal and productive workers. I'm not sure how best to do this, but I'm making a start by modeling balance and whole-life-living to my graduate and undergraduate students: I want to show that I can be a mommy and a professor, a nurturer and a researcher. And that it is my right--their right--to expect this to be a normal thing. I'm not going to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove myself. I'm going to work just as hard. I'm not going to make horrible sacrifices of family and personal life for a job, no matter how great a job: I'm going to do my work but I'm also going to live my life. Fully. Happily. I am aware how much my own experience is based on very expensive programs, hard won by my faculty association, and which mark my own position as a very very privileged mommy indeed. But I don't think stable income, job security, flex-time arrangements, and social supports in the workplace shoud be a privilege.

So these the reasons I love my job more than ever, why I bound into the office with glad heart, ready to give it everything for however many hours I'm in. I hope you love your jobs too, be it staying home with your children, or blending a career with your family life.


Beck said...

It's good to hear from someone who really loves their job - and your job DOES sound wonderful. We're complete opposites in our work history, I think - I sort of drifted through my early 20s, got married and pregnant on the same day (whoops!) and very luckily for me love being home with my kids, because I lack the training to be, you know, a brain surgeon.

Mimi said...

Well, brain surgery seems messy and kinda gross anyway. Of course, motherhood is also messy and kinda gross.

One of my friends was born 9 mos and 3 days after his parents got married. I guess this is why Victorian bridal trousseaux included layettes among the pretty new things for the bride, huh? ;-)

Mad Hatter said...

Yes, I love my job too. I also have been afforded the same privliges you have from my work place to do this motherhood gig--albeit, I was 38 before I secured any kind of job that offered such benefits. But as you say, this is a happy post.

As for making things better for all mothers, I think step one has to be a universal affordable childcare program. I can do what I do b/c I can afford $1200 a month for part-time in-home care. What in sam hell is the single mom who checks out my groceries supposed to do when waiting list for day cares are four years long?

Anyway, that's my .02

Mad Hatter said...

I just redid the math. I exaggerate. I pay $1000 a month for part-time in home care. Sorry.

NotSoSage said...

This post should be nominated for Mad and Jen's Just Post award.

It's true that your job should not be considered exceptional because it supports mothers and families, and sad that it is.

It's so nice to hear about people who really love their jobs!

Alpha Dogma said...

After reading your post, I started thinking about my univ. profs. Almost all my male instructors were married with kids. The only ones I can think of that were childfree, were ones married to female academics. Of all my female profs, only one had children and this was because she re-entered academia at age 35 (moving from a career in nursing to study/teach medical anthropology after a stint in Africa and a divorce; She was super cool).

I'm glad you love your job. I don't do well with paid employment, mothering is my best job yet. But the pay sucks. I do hold out hope for finding a fulfilling career (or even job, for that matter), someday.

What are you saying Mad Hatter? That your $100 per month per child bribe from the Harper government doesn't amount to squat?
Granted, I was happy to see the demise of the Liberals' policy that penalized Stay-At-Home Parents, but this band-aid solution from the Conservatives is insulting.

I'd like to see the government greatly increase that subsidy, let SAHMs contribute to their own (vs. spousal) RRSPs, increase the pay rate for the female-dominated child care industry, and have a unified and subsidized national daycare plan for parents who chose that option.

The world will be a better place when I am in charge.

Day care wait lists are 4 years long?! WTF?

Okay - so this was suppose to be a happy post. Sorry for the hijack.

ewe are here said...

It's so refreshing to hear a woman say how happy they are in their job. And how their job not only supported them, but made it easier to make the decision to have children.

I never 'gelled' as a lawyer; never really found a position that I wanted to stay in long-term, especially the last one I held before I quit. For now, I'm happy as a stay-at-home-mom, which to be honest, I never really thought I would be. Eventually, I'll figure something else out.

Wonderful post.

ewe are here said...

Oh... and I agree this post should be part of the Just Post awards this month. Because the topic it addresses is so incredibly important to women everywhere.

Mimi said...

Thank you for all the positive responses. To be honest, I was a little nervous about posting about being happy in my job. I just seems kinda like bragging, but you know, it's all part of that breach I'm trying to not fall into: be a good mommy, but still be me. And me loves the professor gig.

AD: would income splitting help rectify the imbalance faced by SAHM? And, I want my students to look back on university and know that one of their profs was a mom.

I'm still waiting for my Harper pittance. Upon which I will be taxed.

Susanne said...

Marvelous post, thank you. It is important to see that there are women who have a job and a family, who like both and don't have to sacrifice everything to it.

Here's to hope.