Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A de-gendered reading of unearned confidence

Sometimes I've thought that I should, as a writer, do more with the fact that I have a PhD. Like, in a 'look what I've got!!!' sense. It's not unknowable that I have one, but it's not really front and center, either. While the training and experience I got from doing a French and French Studies doctorate has influenced my writing, thinking, etc., the title itself seems... irrelevant? Pompous? Like something that would be (and has been) held against me by certain readers who assume a humanities is some kind of extravagant finishing school that you (or your parents) pay for, and not a full-time job? But there have totally been times when I've thought, a male writer would be wielding that PhD for all it's worth, getting his authority respected, rounding up expertise, not down. 

Well, let's set aside the gendered reading, because all of a sudden there is a writer wielding a PhD in just the manner I'd never have the audacity to, and that writer is... a woman named Wednesday Martin. She's been going around claiming her PhD (which she discreetly fails to mention is in comparative literature) makes her a "social researcher with a background in anthropology." These claims were key to her whole positioning - as in, she's not yet another finance-dude's wife, writing a back-stabbing memoir about the other moms. She's a career-woman! Almost an anthropologist! Except... maybe not quite an anthropologist

There's no shame (ahem) in having a literature PhD and and then writing about things other than your subject area. Nor is there shame (ahem, ahem, ahem) in being a humanities-oriented person married to a math-oriented one, even if that almost certainly means you're the lower earner in your household.

And not all writing needs to meet social-science standards. If someone wants to write a book about why she thinks it's a terrible thing that Upper East Side women work out all the time (note: definitely not what I'm writing a book about), I guess I'm OK with their not having actually measured a statistically significant sample of the population in question with calipers. Indeed, sometimes the quasi-necessity of including statistics in an otherwise personal or subjective essay ends up ruining the flow and turning something never meant as an Argument into an unconvincing, biased polemic. 

As for whether there's shame in presenting your mean-spirited musings about your neighbors as ethnographic findings and invoking your doctorate in an unrelated field in the process, could be. Part of me admires her lean-in-ishness, but part of me is also sort of horrified.

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