I’m in two seminars this term. Seminars require 30 page papers instead of exams, and I prefer papers to exams, hence my choice. In one seminar, our professor required us to have our paper topic approved by her last Friday. Nearly every class meeting before that date, she said pretty much these exact words: “Please don’t wait until Friday to talk to me. Your paper topic must be approved by me on Friday, and your initial topic idea may not be a good one, so you need to come in much earlier than Friday and talk with me about it. You will receive a letter grade off on your final paper for each day that your proposal is late. Again I say, please come in early.” Then she’d give a countdown of how many days remained.
Perhaps you are now wanting to accuse her of hand-holding, and remind her that we are all adults in professional school and didn’t need this constant reminder. Perhaps you will not be surprised when I tell you that a large number of the class (including me) met this deadline with ease, sending her proposals weeks early, refining them, and having them approved well before the deadline. And of course, you will roll your eyes in recognition when I tell you that nearly half of the class did not, leading to a flurry of emails in her in box Friday morning, and a number of furious people yelling at her after class that they “sent it in on Friday” and “why didn’t she approve it when they sent it in before 5pm on Friday.” Their failure to plan was apparently supposed to constitute her emergency.
Ah, but here’s the thing. The planners vs. procastinators divided, almost exactly, down gender lines.
Between that, my experiences as an HR Manager doing similar hand-holding of all the dudes in my office (at, like, HALF their pay), my recent “can you handle motherhood and this job,” and three posts fellow MILPs (Mothers in Legal Practice) I read this week (listed below), I’m thinking of quitting law school, burning my bra, reading Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer, and declaring myself a lesbian. Until I remember that the man I married is not one of these child-men who have been really getting on my nerves of late (also, no offense girls, but I don’t dig you in that way, ok? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Neither are most of the men I care about or count as close friends and family. Unfortunately, though, there are still too many of them in leadership positions all over this country, in all kinds of fields. And if I want to get a good job, I’m going to have to learn to work with them without spontaneously combusting and burning up into a little cinder pile of indignant female fury.
And there are also too many women, as magic cookie’s post reveals, that have the same mentality as my colleague who asked me the Now-Famous Question (NFQ).* I’ve been warned that in many firms, the older women will be my greatest enemy, because of the battles they had as young female professionals, and their view of me as coddled, as not having earned It, whatever It is.
I was upset by the NFQ, mostly because it revealed this man’s thinking – that my added burden at home would make me incapable of managing my work burdens. I believe that he would not have thought the same of a man. I believe that the NFQ insinuated that I am not capable of assessing my own abilities, and that I did not carefully think about whether or not I could add this responsibility to my other responsibilities.
But it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also use this as an opportunity to examine how I represent myself to my colleagues here at school, in the this pseudo professional environment. I know in my JOB I tried to minimize the burdens that my pregnancy and child were. I hid the morning sickness as best I could. I worked until he was born, and tried not to complain about how difficult that was. I Haw Haw Hawed each time someone described my awkward waddle or my hugeness, and protested that I was doing just fine when they told me I must be tired. I didn’t bring up how few hours of sleep I was getting, once he arrived. I didn’t want people to be looking for reasons to argue that women who are pregnant or mothers don’t belong in positions of great responsibility. (Although, and this is a post for another day, I do think that women in late stages of pregnancy should not work, at least not at full capacity, and I wish we lived in a country where a woman could ramp down, have the baby, recover, and then come back at full speed, and not take a huge hit on her career. But we don’t. So you do what you gotta do.)
But here at law school, it’s a little different than a job. I’m facebook friends with most of these people, and my facebook statuses are often joking complaints about how the children exhaust me with their NEEDS and their WANTS and their ALL-THE-TIME-WITH-THE-5AM-WAKINGS. When I couldn’t meet with someone last week like I’d planned, I told her it was because Jack had scarlet fever, instead of just saying “Sorry, I can’t meet this week.” My fellow students used to invite me out to the bars, and I would joke about being a boring old mom who couldn’t go have fun anymore.**
To what degree is their perception of me as a mother who can’t handle more my own fault? I’d say not a little, and I need to work on that. I don’t want to pretend my children don’t exist. But where is the proper line between that extreme, and the other of showing up late to class in sweatpants with unwashed hair and declaring that I was just too tired to do anything because my kid kept me up all night and please keep it down because Mommy’s head hurts? Finding that line is my next personal improvement project. I don’t want to make it any easier for people to marginalize me because of my decision to procreate.
These questions are so tangled. It’s easy to devolve into man-bashing, or fellow woman-bashing, or victimhood. Sometimes I just end up sort of paralyzed, uncertain what the right thing to do or say is. I don’t have a natural talent for managing my own image. I’m not even sure what I want that image to be. I know what I want my LIFE to be, and what I want my CAREER to be, and how I want it the two to fit together (they are not, as they are for some people, the exact same thing). But I don’t know the best way to represent myself to others, in order to get the life and career I want. Because when you are a mother, it is not enough to simply work hard and be excellent. You also have to have a political savvy and a self awareness of how you look to others, and know how to change that look to get what you want out of the others who have the power to give it to you. Everyone would do well to possess these traits, but mothers in particular (more than fathers, more than childless women) need to be really, really good at it. And right now, I’m really, really not.
People, I need a drink.
*Looks like I’ll be leading a training of the senior board in what kind of things they can ask in these types of meetings. I am qualified to do this because of my HR background, but I hope I don’t end up sounding like some whiny victim.
**They quit bothering to invite me. In fact, immediately after the elections one of the winners came over to all the candidates, winners and losers, looked each of them in the face except me, and said “I’m buying YOU a drink, and I’m buying YOU a drink, and I’m buying YOU a drink at the bar tonight because you guys are awesome!” Which I felt was, perhaps, unnecessary in my presence. He could have at least pretended to include me, even if he was certain I would decline. (They quit bothering to invite me, EXCEPT for my best law school friend, who is my best law school friend precisely because she forces me to just go out and have fun already, The Professor can watch the kids for an hour while we get a drink/manicure/sandwich. She also comes over a lot and has lunch at the house, holding a kid in her lap and playing trains with the other kid while I make us salads and we chat about life. She is so great.)