Monday, October 10, 2011

Plan A

Is there something beyond Quote of the Day? How about Quote of the entire period from the time I first considered grad school (i.e. senior year of college) to the present?

Every single female academic I have ever talked to about tenure has admitted to having a back-up plan. If I don’t get tenure, I’ll be okay because I can stay at home with the kids. I can go back to school. I can get back into my art. I can write. I can consult. If we’re going to all have these back-up plans (which, true to our impostor syndrome, are often better-defined than our actual plan to tenure) why not put it to good use? Live our lives, do our jobs the way we think they should be done, and try to get tenure that way. We already know what we’ll do if it doesn’t work. -Kate Clancy. (Via.)
As I've discussed here before, one huge difference between men and women in grad school is that men often - and women never - arrive having known since they were toddlers (whose mothers were confident in their sons' futures as Great Men) that they would one day be highly esteemed and most distinguished Professors. I mean, there are guys who know this in high school and college, then don't get into grad school. But some do, and it doesn't matter if they have twelve incompletes and put off scheduling their exams till Year 14: they are the future of intellectual inquiry. That's just how it is.

Women in grad school, meanwhile, once they get over being amazed at having gotten in in the first place, will explain that they could always teach high school, go to law school. Women won't, in my experience, outright say that they could always stay home, explore hobbies, or otherwise fill their days without monetary compensation, but part of this comes from the fact that early in grad school, when the Plan B's are first being hatched, there are not as many husbands-let-alone-children in the picture as there are at the stage Clancy's talking about. But whether the back-up plans are more or less stereotypically feminine than the particular doctoral degree being sought, the fact remains that women discuss alternatives, while men will become professors, whether or not that ultimately works out for them. Ultimately, if the goal is staying in the profession for which you were trained, the men may have the right idea, although the mess of shattered egos this leaves, when it's really not the end of the world to end up with a Plan B, no doubt hits men harder than women.

There are several things in the rest of Clancy's piece I don't fully agree with. I'm not sure what's to be gained by mentioning one's tendency to burst into tears. And having the capacity to turn off one's non-work-self and switch on one's work-self, like having a dose of stoicism, isn't bowing to the patriarchy, but reasonable. It's not that one should have no outside life, but that it's important to show you have that work vs. not-work line drawn. The danger in not doing so is either that you come across as someone more interested in hobbies than work, or, conversely, that you end up tailoring (or painstakingly describing) your free time to fit what you think is expected of you, what you think would make you look better.

And as appealing as it is to think that blog-fame (stuff like, uh, occasional links from Andrew Sullivan) could somehow translate into a qualification (as opposed to a drawback) for getting tenure, there are some good reasons why even those of whom this might benefit wouldn't want to go down that poorly-lit road. (I'll settle for, writing daily anyway makes dissertating go more smoothly, and for having powers-that-be understand how very, very little time and energy blogging actually uses up.) But whatever the essay's drawbacks, that ending is something all female grad students need to hear.


Amber said...

Oh god, the obnoxiousness of having to curate your hobbies (or at least public knowledge about your hobbies) to maintain a facade of respectability and seriousness. Law firms are especially tedious in this regard.

Okay: Marathons, cooking, wine, art (consumption), golf or other bougie sports.

Questionable: traditionally feminine crafts, art (creation), stand-up comedy.

Right out: blogging.

Not-work-self? What not-work-self, boss?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Stand-up comedy is considered more acceptable than blogging? As in, performing it? Bizarre.

PG said...

Surely the respectability of blogging depends on what one blogs about. Blogging about respectable interests (law, travel, cooking, wine, etc.) is respectable; blogging about non-respectable interests (or, God forbid, general personal experiences) is not.

Britta said...

Where does binge drinking fit in on the respectability scale of hobbies?

CW said...

Binge drinking is very, very respectable. Just look at the summer associate programs.

I once knew a up and coming labor and employment partner who had scrapbooking parties with her clients. HR executives tend to be female, so it worked for her. Anything that might bring in or keep business is respectable.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

What I want to know is, if personal-daily-life blogging is so frowned upon, why are at least half of the people I've blog-interacted with over the years lawyers, or people about to become lawyers? It would seem that blogging might well be the major pastime of off-duty (or for all I know on-duty) lawyers.

I also want to know what blogging about wine would entail. As someone who enjoys the occasional thimble with dinner, that would be one slow-moving, rarely-updated blog.

PG said...


How many of the people blogging about personal-daily-life were doing so with the knowledge of their employer? If it doesn't come up on a Google search, it's like it didn't happen. Sometimes I'm sad that I can't take credit for blog posts that ended up being cited in law review articles, and then I remember all the good reasons for pseudonymity.

Here's what one corporate law professor's blogging about wine looks like.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Some Google-able, some (including yourself) not.

I have mixed feelings re: pseudonymity. It's certainly better in terms of initial searches, general visibility of one's sillier bloggings, etc. But it also opens up the possibility that you will write things you really don't want an employer to know about, and that some snitch-type will "out" you at work, or online to all. It *can* be safer to write knowing all can be found (and with a Google-unique name, it's a safe bet) than to spill all via a pseudonym. (Not something I get the sense you do, but other pseudonym-users come to mind.) And like you say, sometimes more serious blogging can end up improving one's professional image. If a Google search shows you're a reasonable, balanced person without crackpot political ideas, but, alas, a person with a blog, I'm not sure that somehow adds up to unemployability. But like with the discussions of what it means to wear god forbid ballet flats to a law firm, the world of law is, to me, a mystery. But my anecdata re: successful law-types with blogs in their own names is what it is. (Granted, these tend to be blogs that mix serious with random commentary, not super-personal overshare, not moping for a public, etc.)

And yes, it makes sense that a wine blog that ends each post with a confident, authoritative "grade" would fit the persona of a corporate lawyer. Is wine OK because it's about consumption of an elite-seeming product? If so, why not fashion-blogging? Too female?

PG said...

I think a consistent pseudonym and allowing some people to meet you are a good check on the pseudonym's becoming a conduit for stuff you'd be embarrassed to say under you own name. And as a legal matter, I'm in favor of websites being obligated under subpoena to 'fess up identifying information about people who have posted defamatory material.

But honestly, the number of female bloggers I've seen talking about the threatening, harassing or just plain icky emails and comments they've gotten when they blog under their own names (much less post a photo) still makes me think that pseudonymity has more positives than negatives, at least for the individual (can't say for the society at large). I did give my actual name once to someone I was going to be co-blogging with, and since he thought I was a good writer and wanted to promote my work, he linked on his blog to an archive of my college opinion columns. Well enough, but then an anti-immigrant right-winger writing under the name "LoneNut" posted my name and photo on his website. I'll probably now be informed by some male commenters that this was just motivated by an innocent desire to get in my pants, but I found it disturbing (particularly given his political views and presumed at-best-Buchananite audience) and it cemented my preference for the pseudonym. I'm not obsessive about it and lots of people know who I am -- I'd email law professors links to stuff I'd written through an account with my name on it -- but there's just enough crazy out in the world, and that seems to target outspoken women in particular, that I'd prefer not to disclose my identity to anyone who hasn't told me his first.

Fashion blogging in the kind of literal sense of fashion may seem too unconnected to the Eternal Verities, since it's presumably about the trend of the day and not a permanent value system. I'd bet that blogging about expensive jewelry would seem more acceptable because while deemed a feminine interest, jewels are seen as more permanent, not something you toss someday in the Goodwill pile. I've seen "serious" male bloggers link to innovative design that uses real stones, like the Boucheron fractal necklace.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Creepy's out there, and add "young" and "minority" to "female," and there's an extra dose of it. I once found a white-supremacist website that had it in for me, but also confused me with the character Phoebe from "Friends." I certainly think your approach is more than justified - reasonable, even! - but that pseudonyms are dangerous... basically when those using them think that's the beginning and end of what they need to do to be safe online. And that there are drawbacks - if a blog is at all self-promotional, and I mean even in the loose definition of that, as in, one is using it in part as a way to meet people with some kind of professional overlap, it's always easier if the great They out there knows you're... you.

And... I've gone on and on in the past about how irritating it is that "serious" and "fashion" are viewed as mutually exclusive, that men can write about sports or trivial topics relating to politics, or about crushes on female celebs, or a picturesque hiking trip, and that's all wonderful, but the moment a woman mentions a shoe, she might as well have started sobbing into a pint of Ben and Jerry's at a board meeting. Not sure I have anything new to add now.