My class was reading Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's "Two Offers" the other day and one of my graduate students pointed out that women are still dealing with the story's major dilemma because women are "held hostage by children." I nearly fell off my chair with laughter. After I had righted myself, I muttered, "Yeah, that's kinda true." The story is about two women. One of them is contemplating two marriage offers; the other is taking the path of work and professionalism. Ostensibly, these are the two, and very distinct, options available to women.
Now, of course, I can't complain so much about having those options. I mean, the women in the slave narratives we are reading don't even have the choice of marriage, and the choice of motherhood is pretty much ripped from them, too. And many throughout time have not had the option of work they choose. let alone work that is fulfilling. So, I won't complain, especially in this semester of course reduction and new pedagogical challenges.
Nevertheless, nobody in the class disputed the grad student's comment--not the men and not the women. I had mapped out the points I wanted to make about the story, but I wasn't really prepared for this personal turn in the discussion. Some of the undergraduate students talked about their plans to vigorously pursue work before they sought family life. One even stated that she planned to be a stay-at-home mom. In general, I got the impression that these young women hadn't given a lot of thought about just how could have any of what they want. I don't blame them; young adulthood is built for other things. Things unrelated to the smell wafting right now from my son's diaper or the annoying whining sound that someone in this house makes every 20 minutes. Or even to the 20 pages of research I should be revising--deeply-- instead of writing this blog entry. But the ideological split in the story seemed very much alive to these much-younger women and men. The problem, though, isn't that women can't handle the dual identity of worker and homemaker. Certainly, black women have had to be models of this pardigm for a long, long time. The problem, and the female grad students understood this palpably, is that there is no framework that supports the actual lives of women in these dual roles. I can't help but to wonder if I've been punished a bit for choosing to make, birth, and parent two children in close proximity. I'm almost certain that I lost a possible job offer because I was pregnant. Even with my flexible schedule and ability to do work at home, I'm not a rock star in my field and I don't see that changing any time soon. I've decided that I don't care. But that's not exactly the truth.
There are days when I foolishly Google former classmates and colleagues to see what they are doing. They always seem more fabulous than me. I wonder if I could have been, would have been, just as fabulous if I had spent the last several years being fabulously productive. Just as often, though, I wonder if I would be (nearly) debt free and more beautifully dressed if I had been working for 7 years instead of toiling away in graduate school.
I don't know. I guess we make the choices we make. Then, we just keep pushing. I don't have much time to work all of this out in my head. My daughter's crying and my article isn't going to write itself. When you figure it out, let me know, please. Then, I'll tell F.E.W. Harper; I'm sure she'll want to know.
3 days ago