Being a Woman in Public

It has become much more common in the last two years to think through the various ways academic and cultural spheres don't fully accommodate women's perspectives. I'm sure a large part of this is the alignment of the #MeToo movement with the current political regime. In this moment, articulating the difficulties women face when trying to carve out a writerly name for themselves might be usefulmight offer breathing room, if not now, then for some future women.

To me, it feels like we're endlessly taking the cultural temperature. There is a kind of breathlessness associated with essays of this kind, where the writer brings herself up to the precipice of a personal reflection. If the personal is political, it is also a hook, and the elements of a particular story help underscore a larger injustice or frustration.

But the personal can also be an annoying element. Are we exploiting our misery or anger for gain? Is the only way to get attention to do that exploitative work? In the hazy zone between the academy and public life, do stories that argue for an examination of the specific challenges women have in developing any career (let alone an academic career), benefit anyone other than the magazine or journal in which a given essay appears?

So many challenges are unmet. Women's biological clocks are often running in tandem, and too often in conflict, with career arcs. Women are still far too often the targets of sexual harassment and assault. How do these and other gendered inequities affect women writers? I assembled a group of women at different stages in academic careers, from a graduate student to women poised to become full professors. What kinds of personas are acceptable for women writing in intellectual communities? Where is the line between public-facing and scholarly writing and must women walk it differently from men? Can we use social media for creative expression, to find and maintain solidarity, or is the internet a hostile place? What does it mean to be a woman in public across the vectors of our identities?

I have lightly edited the conversation below Claire Jarvis


CJ: Claire Jarvis

SB: Sarah Blackwood

HB: Hester Blum

TB: Tara Bynum

JH: Jane Hu

SM: Sarah Mesle

KWT: Kyla Wazana Tompkins


1) CJ: What social media allows the most nuanced conversations?

JH: As the resident grad student here who has been on Twitter since 2009, I have no sense of what public academic discourse was like before social media. I also got on the Twitter train while I was in college, so it was more of a way to follow journalists and celebrities than it was to engage in a public persona as an intellectual or whatever. I think I got onto it because I listened to the Slate Culture Podcast and they mentioned it at one point. (I was obsessed with Dana Stevens.) But then, I started writing little bits of journalism, so Twitter was always more associated with my public writing than my academic work.

It's all a bit of a mess now, and not nearly as fun or as exciting as it was back then, and I've stopped trying to be any kind of professionalized self on Twitter. I like to post dog pictures, and I like reading people's provocative or spontaneous thought-threads, but it seems futile to try to be a Proper Grad Student online. Maybe that's my funeral, though?

One thing I will say about Twitter is that I've made a lot of friends on itboth in the world of journalism and in academia. [CJ: We met on Twitter! I love you, Jane!] People who I find funny and smart, and who I then get to meet at conferences! That's been fun and I think, for me, less alienating and even a bit democratizing.

CJ: I have cut down on all but Twitter, but I often find it difficult to have non-jokey conversations there. My impulse is to joke, which isn't exactly the most effective form of conversation.

SB: Ugh I hate social media. I'm so glad I have basically quit Facebook because it shows me that one day I might quit Twitter, too!!! My sense is the only digital form that actually allows for conversation are group texts!

TB: I don't use the big platforms. I don't like the idea of watching someone else's life.

CJ: GROUP TEXTS are my favorite. <3

KWT: Me too, me too, me too. I miss the good old days of enjoying Facebook, which I've mostly shut down and only return to find out about book parties at conferences. I'm new to Twitter so I still enjoy it but honestly that's because nobody enjoys the spectacle of my writing more than I do so mostly I just read my own tweets over and over again with unabated pleasure. [CJ: ELL OOOHHH ELL, ME TOO] Also it's cool to reach out to graduate students on Twitter and engage them in their work.

I like Instagram because it's image-based but I've kept my account private and relatively small and not-professional. Mostly I post pictures of my own shoes. I regularly delete people, and follow beauty and fashion accounts and weird little fashion fetish tags like Moroccan weddings and Moroccan and Arab women's makeup accounts. I'm obsessed with how Arab women find the best beige lipsticks. All of which is to say, no social media platforms allow for nuanced conversations as far as I can tell. This response brought to you by my fifth or sixth coffee today. (Incidentally, my personal theory of how Facebook stopped being fun, above and beyond the 2016 election, is that everyone split up into private groups. I had a few I liked of my own but I could feel people disappearing into others. That always bummed me out.)

HB: I use Facebook for personal and academic conversations, and Twitter for professional promotion, research-related news, and obsessing over politics and journalism (a form of self-cutting). At its best FB buoys me socially and provokes me intellectually; at its worst I feel left out and anxious. I have had many substantive conversations via FB, but that is often through private groups or because I have muted or unfollowed many, many (many) FB friends. Twitter is not a place for nuance (although I rarely participate in back-and-forth conversations) although it does expose me to nuanced articles, books, ideasall of which I then consume off Twitter. I daily try and fail to use my phone less; I periodically delete and reinstall social media apps. I think I need PT to undo the refresh pull-down muscle memory. Please note that I have used a question about nuance to make myself feel bad about social media usage.

SB: Hester lol. Social media (Instagram excepted which is about my beautiful children who I adore) is absolutely the manifestation of my worst emotional self, like in every direction, it's often where I turn to put all my bad feelings, which is rich b/c it just generates more bad feelings in return. Modernity!

JH: Instagram is for corgi accounts and for online shopping. I never got into Pinterest, but I feel like the "saved" feature on Instagram kind of has that function for me. It's almost purely aestheticcf. corgis and online shopping.

SM: I'm interested in Kyla's question about when Facebook stopped being a place where conversation was, if not nuanced, at least lively and smart. Basically, all talk is worse after 2016 (is that true? maybe?) but I do wonder if there's specifically something that changed about the format? I felt like private groups were immediately terrible and have dropped them all. I also think the question of what we can say with humor is an important one, and I think this is maybe something that changed after 2016. Humor used to seem more available, and now it doesn't? Or we just have more evidence of how humor is not necessarily a resistant form; it was deployed so powerfully by Trump and the alt-right that our witticisms seems not necessarily so revelatory. Anyway, I still like some things about both Twitter and Facebook but don't think talk is one of them anymore, I'm sad to say.


2) CJ: Do you think it's ethically objectionable or worrying to publish writing that details personal struggles or crises?

CJ: I've been thinking about this a lot as I write through my tenure mess. On the one hand, I think stories about professional challenges made more complex by motherhood/ femaleness might be useful to younger academics. On the other hand, I am anxious that I'm exploiting my own misery for...what? personal gain? Others' schadenfreude? I don't know.

SB: No, nope, not at all, not in the least, nope, nope! I have zero concerns over the ethics of personal writing. I am a former personal blogger!! I love the form, it helped me survive grad school, and I think it's really subtle, with a long history and all that jazz. I do have some concerns, though, about the business of personal writing. I don't think it always serves one's career as a writer, and doesn't always help women step into, or occupy, authority. And, for what it's worth, I think writing about motherhood and fertility is still super niche and I don't know how to change that, or whether we want to. One place, however, that I think personal writing (especially about motherhood) does get knotty re: ethics is when your children become people in their own right. I think others have talked about this; but I definitely am less interested in writing about my kids now that they are 5 and 7 and have the capacity to be embarrassed than I was when they were 2 and 4. I do feel a little bit like I've rolled back a tiny bit on some of the more personal writinglike about my pelvic floor or whateverbut I don't even know how intentional that has been. And I'm curious as to how the rest of you make those kinds of decisions about topics/approaches/methods in your writing, and when to go pelvic floor and when to go more "abstract intellect" or whatever. Do you feel intentional about those writing decisions?

Oh but also Claire: re: professional stuff. That's the place where I think we really NEED personal writing! I am still stunned to think back on myself as a young woman and realize how much I thought I would not be touched by the misogyny of what I assumed would be a "progressive" (lol academia fantasy) workplace. So, while I don't know whether young women can HEAR it (I don't think I was great at listening when I was 19-26 basically) I think it's still useful to say it, over and over and over, and in public. Loudly! ACADEMIA IS TERRIBLE TO WOMEN.

CJ: SB, the business of personal writingespecially when so few places pay and so many people are eager to tell their stories. I agree entirely about Children's StoriesI can talk about my births and my own health issues around reproduction, but I feel very antsy indeed when it comes to talking about my SPECIFIC children in any public way. I don't think it's my job to tell their stories, but of course they are involved in my stories. Tricky!

TB: I have wanted to talk a lot. And I've wanted to tell various personal stories but I've wondered where to put those stories. I have a tenure denial story that I'm aching to put in print but I've hesitated while wondering where it goes or even how it begins. "My former employer is racist as F, but I'm here." Or maybe, "Hi my name is Tara. I was denied tenure and I didn't die on site, and I'm still employed." I think I've wrestled with taking my stories seriously. I trust my academic writing but my personal stories don't feel serious enough or maybe even professional enough somehow. I've got 12 million student stories to about that time two weeks ago when a student sat her taxidermied rat next to my elbow. Legit question: Has anyone else had a student display a taxidermied rat right next to them?

HB: Whaaaaaaaaa holy shit.


KWT: Ok crusty old feminist here but hell no. Writing about the personal has such a hallowed feminist history. And it's really important to remember that the point of doing that kind of writingremember the great age of the feminist anthology!was to move from thinking of oneself as alone to understanding that these experiences were structurally shaped and shared. The point was to foment revolution. That said, I have published personal and autobiographical essays, one about being Moroccan Jewish and was almost denied reappointment at my job because of it. So for a long time I stayed gun-shy about talking about myself in my writing and it really affected my research and my emotional well-being because I became distanced from some of the language and issues that were important to me, that meant staying grounded in who and what I am. I feel like I paid a pretty high psychic price for that.

CJ: Tara, you and me both! I've complained to other people here that one of the frustrating things is the pitying that people with jobs do to those without, which only gets worse with a tenure issue. I guess I'd just say to everyone who sends pity my way, there is a story there, and one day I will tell it. Just not yet. And, Kyla, I've been thinking about how much of my feminist education came from political anthologieswhat happened to that mode? Say more about the reappointment problem, too, what was the essay?

KWT: Oh gosh, so I have this whole other published life away from academia, in which I write about being North African and Jewish. And that writing is actually taught a lot in anti-racist education/activism and also progressive Jewish activist groups like Avodah and others. So when I was super green and junior I got the advice to put one of those essays, which came out in an anthology of Arab and Arab-American feminisms, into my reappointment dossier. The GWS committeeI'm joint appointedunderstood it, but the English side did not. It was ugly and I was almost not re-appointed. Also it was an essay critical of Israel so that was super naïve of me too. It made me gun shy for a really long time and I still don't really use non-academic or academic writing to disclose much of myself.

The feminist anthology is still alive! But it is not as mainstream. There's great stuff out on transgender writing, transgender science fiction. I'm teaching some of it this semester.

SB: OMG you know what we need is a feminist/anti-racist tenure denial anthology, like a sort of Sara Ahmed mode of mobilizing personal/individual voice to chip away at the institutions that fail to value us.


TB: Sarah B, yes, yes, yes! And let's add a chapter on the number of times I've (and I'm certainly not alone in this) been called terrifying or intimidating when a student doesn't do the work as assigned.

HB: I am increasingly confessional in conversation/faculty meetings/classrooms/FB posts, and writing more personally in recent years (which is new for me as a writerly genre) has felt like an ethical and political commitment recently. I am still very much learning from feminism and my feminist lady friends about what it means to speak that voice in public, though, both institutionally and socially. I mean in the Kavanaugh moment, I had many, many women friends post about their experiences of sexual assault, and no, zero men posting about their complicity with assault. The exposure is on us.

SM: I haven't written a lot about my professional decisions and successes and failures: I thought for years about writing an essay called "My Failure," and I still sort of think it would be satisfying except that now it would just sound like a Knausgaard rip off (gross). So I guess I've held back there because I didn't actually want some of that in print and evoking more of what, Claire, I always call "the furrow of sympathy" that comes at you when your career takes a path different from what narrowly counts as success.

But I talk about this very openly on the many alt-ac panels I've been on at conferences. For me, in a stable teaching job completely off the tenure track, I actually feel very free to talk about almost all professional issues. One thing I said at ASAP in 2017 that I think is important and am happy to put in writing here, is that being a Senior Editor for LARB felt like it made my intelligence and accomplishments legible to an academic world that a hard time reading me after I moved out of English into a Writing Program position.

Minor addition to say: a long time ago I wrote about lululemon pants and my anxiety about my ass, and I am still concerned about a student finding it.

KWT: I have never been totally at home with being exposed in those ways. But again, I have been doing a lot of thinking over the last two years about why that is and how that has harmed or shaped how I work and what I work on.


3) CJ: What kinds of responses do you get to public writing?

CJ: I remember that when I published my first n+1 motherhood piece I got a lot of responses in my DMs that amounted to "typical over-thinking leftist, you're acting like you invented motherhood." My guess was this had more to do with the piece's forum than what I actually wrote, but I'm curious to think about this more, especially to hear what those of you who place work in more widely read publications (Jane!).

SB: That is so funny, Claire. Was it n+1-reading leftists criticizing you? If not, how did these people find n+1?! I will say that most of the responses I get from my writing about motherhood have been private notes from women being like THANK YOU or complaints that I'm doing it wrong (but really: nobody can say anything bad about my mothering that I haven't already thought about myself). I guess the main stuff that I have gotten negative feedback on has been criticism where I make a strong taste claim (like, "I hate the novel Room.") But even still, I feel like it's mostly women responding. I don't think many men pay attention to my writing. Sucks for them!

But also, to speak to your earlier point about conversations, I have a very strange relationship to my own "public" writing: by the time something is published, I am completely done wanting to talk about it or even really think about it. I write to figure out what I think, and then once that's done I feel a little bit like "....??" about the "conversation" part. Wondering if others have this experience too.

CJ: I think it was people who trolled n+1 for fun? I mean, I saw it and didn't engage, but I did notice it! Sarah, I remember vividly the time I snitch-tagged your Room review haters on Twitter and I still feel badly for not understanding this basic rule of social media life! I just didn't know!!

TB: You know this is interesting. I hadn't really thought about people's reactions to my writing. Maybe because I don't have social mediain my own namethat I access anymore I don't have ready access to my real or imagined audience. So I don't think much about it. I mean Sarah and Sarah did let me know they liked my work in Albuquerque which was absolutely amazing...lololol. But that doesn't happen much. But I know for sure that I want to build a bridge between my everyday and academic thoughts.

JH: Oh god, where to start. I sort of feel this schizophrenic existence in my writing. Like, I'm squeezing this yak in right now after filing a draft for a Ringer piece and before I return to my conference paper for MSA later next week. Sometimes the worlds collide (the other day, a nice Berkeley professor told me he teaches my Eve Sedgwick piece to his undergrads and that made my day!), but most of the time I feel like I'm doing two things at once, and neither of them as well as I could be. I just feel...overexposed a lot, even though I know probably nobody is reading my work in any sustained way.

KWT: Sarah, I have that feeling about my academic articles and writing but less about public writing. I have to say I've loved my public writing because it's been such a pleasure to not lose a year of my life, or a decade for that matter, on a piece of writing. I started out as a journalist? And I miss the 500-word or 800-word piece a ton. Claire why did people respond like that? Wankers. That was such a beautiful piece.

HB: I am very aware that for the most part I am stunt-writing for my friends and colleagues; public writing has me hooked on the volume and immediacy of responses (which I never get wrt scholarly publications). Writing for the public has transformed my relationship to writing, thoughnever do I feel more in control of my idiom or my commitments than when writing for Avidly. I have been trying to channel that feeling in scholarly writing, or to collapse the distinction between the two genres.

SM: The first thing I published in the Los Angeles Review of Books was something I did not expect many people to read: like Hester, I sort of thought I was stunt-writing (omg stunt-writing, lol). And then it caused a huge storm and it was sort of amazing and awful and I felt like I needed to physically hide under my desk, I was getting so much negative attention. It was a really dramatic encounter with what it means for a piece of writing to find an audience different than the one you imagined. But that sort of intense entry actually made me feel like: well, even a really bad response isn't that bad? Beyond that, the most public stuff I do is usually about Game of Thrones and people are usually either yelling at me about spoilers or small nerdy errors, or being really nice about gender stuff. When it comes to writing about gender on the internet I always think about Room of Own's Own: "Perhaps now it would be better to give up seeking for the truth, and receiving on one's head an avalanche of opinion hot as lava, discoloured as dish-water."

SB: Hester, I like what you say about collapsing the distinction between "public" and "scholarly" modes of writing. I've basically always (since I was like 20?) written confessional-ish, semi basic-bitch stuff for what I imagined, or hoped, would be a large audience. One story to tell is that my grad school training in the scholarly conventions of impersonality was an anomaly along that trajectory. I'm glad my sense of myself was never fully tamed by academia, and now that I work at a "teaching institution," I'm even gladder. My students couldn't give a shit about my impersonal expertise/eminence: they want a full person in front of them. Sometimes now I think of my scholarly writing as the anomaly. But I guess ideally, what I'm always working toward is the kind of writing that collapses these distinctions altogether. One sad truth is that I think "the public" is sometimes more willing to value smart, voice-y writing that is informed by and generates difficult knowledge than the academy necessarily is to value the same.

JH: Totally, Sarahand my favorite academics work hard at negotiating this collapse. Eve Sedgwick, Tania Modleski! They have a voice, and that voice is critical to their theory and methodologywhether they're writing about queer reparative reading or whether they're writing about pop culture.

Something I do want to bring upand it's not entirely just about how people respond to one's writingis just the literal and affective costs of trying to manage all these hats. I sometimes feel like being in academia while also trying to keep up a life of public writing is a fool's errandespecially in this economy. There's just not! enough! time! and not! enough! jobs! I applied to grad school just as I was picking up pace in journalism, and I do feel like I "chose" the former over the latter, and now, I'm like, if I leave academia when I inevitably don't get a job, do I start back at square one except now I'm a decade older? Have I made myself seem unhirable because I'm tweeting dog photos on Twitter? Are journalists unfollowing me because I tweet too much about my favorite Miriam Hansen essay? It slides into the social media question too...who am I ultimately "pitching" my tweetsmy writingtoo?

[CJ: just to say here that one of the things that makes me rage more than any other is that "in this economy," means the biggest, boomiest economy ever for higher education, but one that asks the people actually doing the educating to scrape by on tiny adjunct wages and no health care and no more tenure and no more lines, and, and, and...].

TB: And then I wonder if the lesson of all of this is to write what we have to say and make what feels right publicvia whatever venue...maybe? Because I'm learning there seems to be no one, particular right way.


4) CJ: How do we, as classed, sexed, raced participants in a public sphere maintain our intellectual commitments?

CJ: This is maybe the root of the entire conversation hereis public writing a way of being political? Is it merely navel-gazing (especially if it touches on the personal)? Do you think writing in public is necessarily different for women than for men? What do you make of the inclusion of personal details in public writing? Do women get criticized for this more than men?

SB: This is such a hard question! I just got into a very heated argument with a good (male) friend at an academic conference last weekend b/c I presented some material on the chick lit author Liane Moriarty and he was like "ugh, but all she writes about is the 1% and her stories are all so self-satisfied about 1% life et cetera" and it made me CRAZY like these are STORIES not POLITICS. Which of course is not exactly what I want to claim, but I do want to claim that some peoplenon-cis-men basicallyhave to learn to read so creatively and identify so creatively b/c they are so rarely represented fully in culture, that it sort of makes the entire "politically efficacious" writing extremely complicated. Like, you NEVER KNOW what story is going to help turn a person toward politics. But the story itself is not politics? Does that make any sense?

CJ: Okay, this is some real shit Sarah B., but can we figure out why it is that literary academics so often mistake literature for politics? Because it is not the case that we must look to LITERATURE for our politics, not even that we look to art in general? I do think questions of representation and artistic creations are important, and we should have those conversations all the time, but I used to get into arguments constantly with Very Senior Scholars about my Lawrence fixation: "How can you work on him? He's a fascist! And a misogynist!" My response is: Yes, and? I mean, it's important to elucidate the ways in which a writer or artist might not match our politics, but it's not a reason not to examine them closely! Nancy Meyers [or, you know, Liane Moriarty] deserves a Chance for ANALYSIS!

TB: I feel like every single class I have to fight with my students about this question. African American literature is always political. I showed them an eighteenth century receipt for a BBQ that enslaved men and women held and one student's initial response was maybe they weren't actually having a BBQ but instead were taken to this place to be killed. They weren't. They legit had a BBQ. But whatever. I think there are countless other and more contemporary examples (I'm just obsessed with Revolutionary War-era America right now). But it's an interesting question. Where does the political end and the creative begin? And when does the creative fun of writing give way to our real need for political assertions? I'll tell you what...the [insistence on the primacy of the] political gets on my nerves soooo bad.

CJ: Say more about this, Tara. You mean students can't accommodate the fact of a daily existence into American histories of enslavement? How do we bring the fact of the BBQ to students alongside the truth about what slavery as an institution did? How to even begin to address the effects it still has on contemporary life while also ensuring we don't slip into a pathologizing insipidity?

TB: Hmm. For my students, creativity and the political don't play well together, especially when it comes to African American literature. African American literature is always political and profoundly historical at the expense of the very fact of creativity. Their readings have made me decidedly reactionary. lolololol. What if someone just wants to tell a story? What if someonewhile full of intersectional identitiesstill just wants to tell a story? And that's what I think a lot about in the 18th century. Lolololbecause I'm obsessed. The BBQ may be an opportunity to plan a resistance movement and it might be a time to harvest corn, eat a lot of BBQ, and have raunchy sex (the BBQ is attended by a bunch of couples), or it might be any of these. But I guess what I mean is that I want the political to account for the mundane, the creative, and even leave room for those apolitical activities. I don't think any of us is political or even thinking politics all of the time.

SB: They legit had a BBQ!!!!

SM: YES! Tara fwiw all I want is for you to write about that BBQ forever and eternity.

KWT: So what I get from this is, why must the political impulse always be applied in the same way to minoritarian writing. I myself get irritated at the desire to always bring a view into suffering in my classes via first-person narrative. Can the writing of non-white peoples ever be art unto itself? It's a problem for the artist as well as the reader, as someone like Adrian Piper teaches us. But I guess I also think that the fact that Lawrence was a fascist is important, even constitutive. It is not a detail that can be put aside in reading, even as it is possible to say, yes, he was a fascist and his prose was beautiful. So many fascist aesthetics are beautiful. Maybe that's not a coincidence.

TB: Yes, yes, and yes.... They legit had a BBQ with a large pig and lots of rum and wine, and limes. Kyla, I agree. I think I've assumed a bit of a reactionary stance because my students are often so fixed in their assumptions. But ideally, the creative would sit nicely with politics and we could have conversations that are willing to remember the art of the writing and history and politics that make the art possible.

CJ: I mean, have other people actually called you reactionary for that, Tara? So frustrating, the insistence on valuing the political over the aesthetic. I also think the flip side of this is the infuriating tendency to undervalue the aesthetic contributions of outwardly political texts, especially texts by women and people of color. I taught Harriet Jacobs once and it yielded incredibly powerful political conversations, but students were very anxious about speaking aesthetically about Jacobs' book. And as the Lawrence Stan to end all Lawrence Stans: OF COURSE it is important Lawrence was a fascist, but he was also a misogynist! LOL. Sorry, I'm half kidding, but his reprehensible politics don't obviate his aesthetic power, just as they don't eradicate the places where he was politically progressive (class politics, some sexual politics, etc.). Turns out, people are complex amalgams!

SM: Narrow definitions of politics are so annoying. Being human and complex, and having a human and complex fantasy life, is a part of any politics I want to be a part of here I think of that great piece Dixa Ramirez wrote for Avidly about The Beguiled and the value of black women's fantasy worlds. BUT then too, I've had so many moments when I just cannot with whatever writer; I grew up reading a lot of sixties sci fi for instance and then there was like fifteen years when I could hardly stand that the books existed, let alone that I might be asked to talk about them; the misogyny was too intense for me. Now I go back and forth on that genre. I try to give myself permission to pay attention to what my sense of well-being needs at a given time, and to listen to others when they do the same. It's fine to not read Lawrence. It's also fine to love Lawrence.

5) CJ: (Because my life is a never-ending battle against two small humans and my husband travels often for work): Do you think women take the burden of care in a way that limits the scope of what they can write about? I know plenty of people who have taken on parenting, elder-care, student careers, in ways that limit their own abilities to read/think beyond the family. When all the motherhood books came out over the summer, Sarah B. and I were talking about how publishers were tapped out on motherhoodmy question is, because women take on care of so many people, caretaking as a central concern is everywhere, but its description is minimized or even denigrated in the public sphere. Maybe connected to the complaints about the Elena Ferrante covers, do you think?

SB: Ugh, I have 10 minutes more to spend here right now because I have to go get the kids at the bus stop. I mean, I don't know. I have lucked out b/c my husband puts a lot of hours into family life and caretaking/housetaking/etc stuff. Of course, the end result is: we both scramble, we both are completely overextended, lolsob. At the same time, I hate the idea that satisfying work life is 40-50 hours per week or whatever and caretaking duties are shifted onto someone else. Sometimes I want to knock off with my kids at 3:30 and hang out (note: this becomes SO much more appealing once they've all cleared the hurdle of 4 years old.). And I don't actually want to purchase the hanging out with, like, "Oh I'll work after they go to bed." I don't want to work then either!!!! Everyone works too much, is basically my point. I would like for everyone to just agree to stop and be a little more mammal (hang out, snuggle, etc.), a little more regularly.

Oh but then also: yes: I think that it is true that women/caretakers have actually the GREATER imaginative/expressive scope on life that writers need to have, but rarely are given the chance/opportunity to get it out into the world, because of publishing business models, fucked up lack of childcare in this country, etc. etc.

CJ: Mammal situations caused me to be an HOUR late getting this conversation going. I mean, it's just true that people have to take a back burner when they're mammaling, right? Kyla, didn't you insist on a full year away with your son? I feel like that's both important and not at all recognized/accommodated. Let alone accommodation around any other kind of care, because let's be serious, childcare while endlessly draining is recognizable as a need. Other communities of care, and particularly elder care, is just shunted off to the sideso hard to get accommodations or respect around that.

TB: I have to admit care gives me pause. It's a word that's abuzz just like "labor" and "trauma" presently. I get hemmed up because I think part of our need to work (or "labor") or care is precisely what makes us people who are a part of various communitiesof family, of friends, of workplaces. While we need to make sure we care for ourselves, we care for others precisely because that's what our humanity compels us to do because we want to be a part of those communities that should sustain us. I get concerned that our emphasis on the lack of care or whether the care is enough obscures our very human selves. We can't do it all or care for everyone but it's ok to care and to want to take care. My hope is that the various ways I am called to care for others doesn't limit me but instead grounds me and reminds me who I am and to whom I belong; and I guess if I think about it, I haven't been limited. I just imagine that my belly lights up just like one of the care bears and I'm part of a care bear army with bellies aglow. Or maybe with a bit more of an adult analogyby way of Maya Angelou, I just imagine that I'm part of an army of 10,000 people who came before me that remind me to create time and to make time to do the workof living, of caring, of writing, etc.

SM: I love the sense of being called to care. I am fully with Sarah that we should all work less, and basically now I do. One thing I think is that the various kinds of precarity that shape our lives can make us feel like we should work harder in order to succeed, but my current mode is that we all should work less, because fuck it. On the other hand, I do feel ambivalent about the future and what sort of drive I want to have going forward. I don't see myself returning to a life of working every night, but I also don't feel fully resigned to the reduced accomplishments that my current lifewhich basically means stopping at three most days to pick the kids up from schoolwill add up to. Maybe one thing that follows from Tara's point is that I would like to retrain myself to see some kinds of careworkfor me, like, arts and crafts, baking, gardeningas accomplishments, not something I don't quite have permission to do even when I'm not working. Also: in my experience it's not just that women do more, it's particularly that women do more of the work that is not attached to financial gain or investments. And that really matters in gender equity.

HB: My academic husband does all of the cooking, gardening, food shopping (I handle finances, maintenance, doctor's appointments, which are less frequent), so I have far less of a daily care burden than most women in straight relationships. As an anxious person, though, I do take on waaaay more of the anxiety burden for household things. Meds and therapy help, but it is pretty exhausting to have every care question reverberating or spiraling for me mentally even when the actual physical obligations are minimal or nonexistent. How much of that is socialized, how much my special brand of nuttiness? Unsure. But it saps my strength.

KWT: I fought for a year away with my son and found a loophole in the faculty handbook and in the law to make sure I could take it. The lesson I learned from that is this: always go to HR before you go to a Dean or to your chair. Also: marry an employment lawyer, like I did, lol. But my son came home after the year in which I was almost denied re-appointment and I was so devastated by that process that I had one foot out of the door of academia, going back into journalism, and I gave zero of the fucks. Zero. So I went to the Dean and said: the law and your faculty handbook says I can take a year and I'm going to do it. Please fire me if that's a problem and I'll see you in court. Immediately of course they struck a committee and closed that loophole. Also let me say that I grew up in Canada and the idea that I would take less than a year was like totally barbaric to me and I was willing to throw down for that. It really paid off because my son was not psychically ready to be in a daycare after having had so much time in an institution. I'll never regret it but I also know that not everybody is willing or able to fight like that.

As a sidebar I will say: the single most disappointing aspect of my life as a professor has been the inability of the professoriate to organize in solidarity with each other. I miss a political sense of solidarity with my colleagues as a basic pillar of a healthy workplace and emotional life more than anything else in my professional world.

Amazingly, when my son came home I immediately rediscovered my research and my joy in writing, which I had lost. So I actually got a lot of work done that year because I took a few hours to myself everyday to edit the dissertation project into a book. But also, he clarified something else for me, which was this: I needed to get tenure because I needed to pay the bills. So, it became less about a search for self and more about getting real with the world.

My partner and I have a really hard time with work-life balance and we are tired and drained all of the time and sometimes life at home is really a joyless war over time as a resource. But he has supported me totally in my work, and I am able to travel for research and for conferences and talks quite a bit. That said, I'm aware that it may now be time to pull back on that and offer him a time in which we both support his work. So I'm thinking about pulling back from the public work of the profession and being at home more, especially as my son enters middle-school years and then high school. Also, it's time to sit my ass in a chair and write the second book and stop being in motion so much. Now I need to run and grade and decide whether to give one of the two articles I'm late on half of my three hours of attention today!