Then it was time to graduate and get a job. I had spent four years working day and night, studying for courses, doing experiments, writing a dissertation, and on the job market as the top student graduating from the department that year. So I was a bit surprised to find that I was interviewing at less prestigious institutions than my fellow graduates, and to realize that half the departments with positions available wouldn’t even consider me. “We had a woman once, but she was a bitch. I wouldn’t look at another one for the job.” “What kind of future do you think you have as a woman in your field?”
I took a post-doctoral position in a good laboratory, postponing the necessity of getting a job for two more years. When I did find a job, it was a glorified post-doctoral position with the title of Assistant Professor. I spent five more years working in the laboratory, basically as a research assistant, and at the end of that time, I was being paid less than the base salary for assistant professors at the institution.
That has changed though. I am now remarried, have two small children, and have been promoted to Associate Professor. During the past decade, I have come to understand and appreciate the importance of support from other women, both in encouraging professional achievement and in allowing me to sustain my professional efforts. My husband, who is also supportive of my career, and my eldest daughter share the housework and cooking tasks with me.
Even with that, though, events sometimes conspire to show that I was wrong after all – that it is not possible to carry on a full-time professional career and be a good mother and wife as well. It’s tough to keep it all together when, for example, one of the children is sick, the plumbing is marginally functional, one of the cars is being repaired, my husband (a musician) is at a rehearsal, and I have to prepare a lecture for the following day. At such times, I might forget that women who don’t work for pay, or who work at different kinds of jobs, also have such compound crises. Indeed, it is the very stuff upon which homemaker-humorists like Erma Bombeck draw for material.
Unless we women believe that it is possible to perform in highly responsible positions – while at the same time leading what may be considered a “normal life,” we will not try to have it both ways. Men take it for granted that they have the option of having both career and family. If women don’t see this double option as realistic, they will be understandably reluctant to vie for high-level positions in industry, business, science, education, and public service. And as a consequence, our nation and its institutions will operate with considerably less talent than would otherwise be available.
The fact is that being a woman with a husband and children as well as a good salary and a respected position is simply another way of being a woman.