Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heteronormativity: Not Just for Straight People!

This post might also be titled, "Patriarchy: Not Just for Teh Menz!"

I've been thinking about this post for most of today. I wondered whether I should write it. I thought to myself, "Self, if you write this post, you're probably going to end up in the middle of a shitstorm when that's not your intention." I thought to myself, "Self, seriously? You need to unpack! You've got other things that are so much more important to you right now!" But. It's still on my mind, and so I'm posting.

Let me back up a bit. In a class that I teach that relates to issues surrounding sexuality and its representation, I spend the first few class periods dealing with definitions. Some of the definitions are necessary because of the essays I have them read at the beginning (words like "onanism" and "ontology," but also things I'm shocked they're not familiar with, like "vanilla" and "queer" and "sadomasochism"). But we also deal with other things. Like the difference between "transgender/transexual" and "transvestite," for example, or the difference between "sex," "gender," and "sexuality." And finally, I make sure to define for my students the terms "heteronormativity" and "patriarchy."

Those last two are especially important, even if students have taken courses in women's and gender studies previously. A lot of them come in thinking that "heteronormativity" means "heterosexism" and that "patriarchy" means "misogyny." In other words, that the perpetrators of heteronormativity are straight, conservative people, and that the perpetrators of patriarchy are woman-hating men. I spend time on these definitions because I want to make it clear that some "evil other" is not the source of either heteronormativity or patriarchy, but rather that both of these things are something in which all of us participate and in which all of us are complicit. And yes, I really do believe that. I really don't believe that anybody alive today could claim that they are outside of heteronormativity or patriarchy. I think people can legitimately claim to resist those things, but resistance isn't the same thing as being outside of those things or beyond them. In other words, even if we don't embrace homophobia as a worldview, even if we are feminists, we still participate in heteronormativity and patriarchy. There is no outside of power. (Insert Foucault Here.)

So ok, let's start with very basic definitions for heteronormativity and patriarchy. Both of these terms are inclusive: one can be heteronormative and identify as queer; one can participate in patriarchy and identify as feminist. Again, this is not to say that individuals might not tactically resist heteronormativity and patriarchy - they might and they do. BUT. We cannot (I don't think) deny that resistance to those structures does not equal their eradication, nor can we pretend that those structures don't inform our experience of the world.

Thus, I might identify as GLBTQ, and yet I may still participate in an economy of heteronormative privilege. I might be a woman who nevertheless participates in patriarchy.

This all makes sense, right? I mean, we all have the best intentions, but we live in the world in which we live.

But so. Let's return to the issue of "spousal hires." Or let's even expand it to "partner hires" (in other words, we're not requiring legal marriage for the perk.)

What does a partner/spousal hire include?
  1. Monogamy
  2. Commitment to the partner who is "really" hired, at least at the time of hire, for life
  3. "Commitment" to partner that apparently without dissonance translates into commitment to institution and its surrounding community, as if a lone person couldn't commit to the institution and surrounding community in the way, forever
Item the first:I know a lot of people who've cheated on their spouses, or who have been cheated on. In what fucked up universe do we think that academia is somehow exempt from extramarital sex, and all of the fucked-up-ness this might entail? Enough to hire people on for life on the basis of the fact that they got married?

Item the second: Um, academics, even those who don't cheat, get divorced too. The effects within a department, if two tenured people get divorced? AWFUL.

Item the third: Just because a spousal hire works out it does not mean that one or both partners will actually commit to the institution or the place. Lots of times they will suck it up (without grace) in order to remain together in the same place, but this doesn't necessarily equal commitment to the institution or the place. Lots of the time, it might just mean commitment to getting two salaries and to live together. Neither spouse will look for another job because "we'll never find another place that will hire both of us." Which sticks a department for 30 years with people two people who aren't into the job, or the place, or the students, but who are willing to put up with all those in order to be together. AWESOME.

Here's the thing: saying that "oh, but at my shop we offer 'spousal hires' to same-sex partners" makes it no less discriminatory. Ultimately, spousal hires, or partner hires, work within a heteronormative economy of privilege, in which we offer institutional endorsement to those employees who are in monogamous, committed, socially sanctioned relationships, and we give those people benefits that we don't give to other employees. Now, you might say, "those other employees don't have people who are as super-special to them as my partner and so they lose nothing!"

I also know some readers will say, "but this lets women into the profession!"

Here's what I say to that. It does. But it, at least in my world and at my institution, lets them in as second-class citizens. It sets up a two-tier system of professorship, which weakens the faculty as a whole, in terms of shared governance. It means that "feminized" departments (like Women's Studies at my institution, which has not a single tenure line ever but which has housed many a spousal hire in its day to serve now defunct general education requirements) are cut more than others when budget cuts come down the pike. It means that women in those "second-class" departments, whether spousal hires or not, are treated like they're not "real" professors. Even if they published a motherfucking book before tenure with a 4/4 load.

Here's the thing. Hiring legal opposite-sex spouses to ease their burdens or hiring same-sex partners - it's ALL heteronormative. And it all SERVES patriarchy. I'm not saying that there aren't ways in which I could approve of these practices - there are. But let's not kid ourselves that anything in this arena is somehow outside of heteronormativity or patriarchy, or that it doesn't exclude people who are not in monogamous, long-term, committed sexual relationships. And if we don't kid ourselves about those things, how can we talk about such practices as liberating or supporting women as a group? I don't think that we can. I think any claims to such provisions as supporting women are revealed, if we really think about them, as reinforcing the systematic dominance and subjugation of women. But maybe that's just me.

**Note: In saying this, I'm not saying that marriage/partnership with another person is bad, nor am I saying that I don't understand why people take the opportunities/advantages presented to them. I'm ONLY saying that we need to recognize certain kinds of privilege that exclude other people, and, in this case, women as a class.


Cherish said...

I think this is a situation where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. I know you talked in your previous post about how this sort of thing shouldn't disproportionately affect women, but it often does, especially if there are kids involved.

As far as your complaints about academic spouses in the same departments, I think part of the problem may be the fact that many departments have procedures that may not be 'family friendly', which may exacerbate the problem.

But getting rid of things like spousal hiring is going to suddenly replace some of the annoying spousal hire colleagues with people who are any better.

Nicole said...

Glad to see that I helped give you something to write about. I should just walk away with that - because I have loved lurking on this blog for years. I usually try to just breath through your issues with apparently any sort of "privilege" to parents and/or people.

But I can't get past the final note. I acknowledge the privilege. I acknowledge that it can probably cut both ways as a feminist issue. But I always walk away from your posts about the 'privilege' of being married (and have kids) in academia and want to scream. The amount of juggling, hair pulling, suboptimal financial and career decisions for the sake of the 'family' both me and my spouse have made and continue to make in order to roughly stay in careers we love and protect our relationship/life is anything but privilege.

Look, in my situation, I returned to a PhD program for self development. I met my partner while he was just starting the dissertation. I took a (unrelated, but very marketable, terminal) masters as he finished, followed him around a couple of academic moves. I wanted to go back to school to find that sweet spot in researching what I love, but put it off several times. I've "been" through the PhD process and certainly through the decade long job market process. So, when I finally took the plunge, I did it with eyes wide open that you don't necessarily get a job from this. I get that. WE get that and are both willing to walk away IF we have to.

In the meantime, we've now gone through every permutation to deal with the two body problem over the last decade: I've followed him to an academic job, he has followed me to a (in this case, research) job, we've kept two households across the country, he has followed me to my grad school institution with a visiting position while severing ties with a pretty good gig, I have followed him to a TT position (not his ideal job - he is overqualified - but it is in a location that is most likely to lead to *some* type of academic employment by sheer massiveness of the metro area, hopefully TT, for me) to finish a dissertation.

So, you can bet your last dollar that the next time someone takes a job (and I'll presumably have a shiny new PhD), we will ask for a spousal hire. We would even both be willing to take non TT (but multi year rolling contracts) teaching service courses if we need to. Because it is that or one of us leaves the profession.

And somehow, it doesn't feel like a partnered privileged when the choice is take the so called 'privileged' spousal hire (to then work through years of proving yourself even if you are more than qualified) or one of us (we go back and forth about who it should be) walk away from the career.

Ms. Neurotic said...

As a non-academic lurker in the discussion I find it really interesting that due to the poor management practices at your school you end up blaming the hiring process and heteronormativity.

And in the discussion I'm kind of amazed at a few things. Like "commitment." What??? It's a job. Why do people have to have their emotional commitment measured, as long as they do a good job. And there's the thing.

I've worked at companies where spouses were hired (sometimes due to a relocation deal, sometimes just because they were in the same field). This is especially common in fields where people were posted places for a couple of years, like to build a stadium or whatever.

Yet those people had to perform, show up at meetings, and if they got divorced they had to continue to behave professionally. If they didn't, someone got fired. That's the downside. The up side is, they were considered normal, equal staff. Why? Because there were good processes in place to evaluate them.

My company allows some work from home time but you have to - HAVE TO - demonstrate that you have childcare for that time. That pretty easily solves the "oh I can't show up, I don't have childcare" issue right there. You don't show up, you are at risk of first losing promotions and second losing your jobs.

I'd argue that the tenure system, while I believe in it from an academic freedom perspective, causes performance issues - not spousal hiring.

And from what you've posted - where people who are hired are treated as second-class, or people who are spouses don't show up for meetings, or whatever - is bad management. Period.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Ms. Nerotic -- academia is FULL of bad managers, so the "two paychecks, one job" aspect of same-department spousal hires seems to be pretty common. Of course, that's because some people with one paycheck and one job pull the same stuff, but without the "we don't have childcare" excuse.

I also think that people who choose to be in a two-academic committed relationship make that choice knowing the risks that one partner will have to sacrifice. It's a particular risk when one person starts a Ph.D. program while in that relationship. The horrific job market for academics isn't a secret, so all the complications of the two body problem are a more likely than not. I did the long distance marriage for three years -- and, my hubby is now a 1L at 42 -- because we didn't see a solution anytime soon.

Dr. Crazy said...

Cherish - you know what's funny? I wouldn't necessarily say that we should get rid of spousal hiring. What I'd really want would be a policy for opportunity hires that would be transparent, that gives the department (if it's a tenure-line hire in the department) a clear moment to say no to the deal BEFORE the person starts working at our university in some other capacity, and that wouldn't take the cost of that hire out of the department's budget. And I'd want that policy to apply not only to spousal hires but to any sort of fantastic candidate who we might try to attract to the university outside of a regular, open search.

Nicole - I don't discount your individual circumstances or the challenges that you face, and I'm not trying to dismiss the challenges that married people with children face. All I'm saying is that our culture is heteronormative and patriarchal, that marriage is foundational to the way that our culture is organized, and people who marry receive benefits that people who do not marry do not receive. I get that you don't feel privileged, and that your circumstances are tough. I could say that I don't necessarily feel privileged on the basis of race in my day-to-day life, or privileged on the basis of class, to give another example. But whatever I feel, the institutions and structures of my culture are set up so that I am privileged on those grounds. In talking about "privilege" I'm not attacking anybody personally. I'm just talking about the way that our society and culture are organized.

Ms. Nerotic - this isn't just an issue in my department, or even just at my institution. This is something that is an issue at *many* institutions in higher education. I think you're right that tenure exacerbates the problems, and I'd argue that another problem is just the culture of academic institutions, which lends itself to bad management. I think in many cases everyone is very concerned when it comes to spousal hires with appearing "liberal" and "supportive" and "family-friendly" that people look the other way when performance is a problem with one or the other of the spouses. And then, once tenure is earned, it's too late. The department is stuck.

(You might ask how these people earn tenure. Well, at my institution, there is a VERY low research requirement - even today - so it's not terribly hard to earn tenure as long as you show up to teach your classes and get ok evaluations.)

Bardiac said...

Dr. Crazy, thank you. I think this is a great post, and will link to it, hoping that's okay with you.

You do a really good job hear explaining privilege without blaming.

I think it's really hard to see one's own privilege despite the difficulties of one's life, but we are responsible to try to do that.

Thanks again.

dance said...

I don't know if you read my recent post, but your post certainly nails many of my underlying premises.

But a question---why women as a subjugated class? In my experience, partner hires are executed for women as much as for men, so I'm not sure why partner hiring rebounds to women as second-tier members, particularly.

Ms. Neurotic said...

I get that that's the reality (I come from an academic family and have seen it up close) but I guess I don't quite get why the focus of discussion is on "don't do spousal hires" rather than "manage all your hires effectively."

Dr. Crazy said...

Ms. Neurotic - as for "why the focus on spousal hiring" - it came up originally because I read a couple of things other people had written about it, and now it's here again because other people have continued to write about it. The truth is that I don't care all that much about spousal hiring. What I care more about is when people try to talk about what "women" think or what's good for "women" and somehow vast numbers of women's perspectives don't count or are ignored.

Dance wrote: "But a question---why women as a subjugated class? In my experience, partner hires are executed for women as much as for men, so I'm not sure why partner hiring rebounds to women as second-tier members, particularly." Ok, so here's where I'm coming from with this - and it's very institution-specific. Historically, the vast majority of partner hires were wife-as-trailing-spouse hires. Some of those hires were tenure track, but they tended to be funneled into "feminized" disciplines/departments. Many of those hires were non-tenure-track, and "feminized" disciplines and programs became a dumping ground for those women (women's studies, first year programs, English etc. - and when it came to programs that were not in departments, like women's studies, that meant that there was no one with authority to fight for those programs and their budgets). So the effect of partner-hiring was not that women entered the playing field of university politics equal. Instead, women entered as "spouses" and lacked a voice in shared governance and in the major decisions that make the university run. This then compounds to affect women who are hired on their own because the culture of my institution has been such that women have been viewed as "wives" as opposed to "colleagues" (which means fewer resources for women). There are some notable exceptions to this, most from outside of the humanities. (Consider this: off the top of my head I can think of only TWO female department chairs in the college of arts and sciences - two out of like 20+ departments.) So, in general, the women who benefited from spousal hiring a) make less money than their male peers, b) have historically been excluded from important committees and decision-making roles, c) historically have been excluded from administration. And women who resist any of the above are characterized as bitches. So yep, women as a subjugated class. Hires that happen in the reverse direction (male trailing spouse) have not, in my experience, had the same impact on the men in question, and I'd argue this is because people grant them a certain amount of authority based on the fact that they are male. I have seen, however, once the male trailing spouse is hired the culture of the institution turn his partner into a "wife," even though she was the leading candidate to begin with.

Bardiac - thanks. Link away if you want :)

karen said...

Crazy, I do understand your comments about heteronormativity. However,I think it is useful to think for a moment about what it would be like if there were no spousal hires, and universities did not take partners/spouses into consideration when hiring. Of course we all know long distance married academic couples, but that isn't exactly the norm. It would become the norm. People who want to be in the same place as their spouse would simply have to leave academia for the most part. I don't think that is an exaggeration. It is SO RARE for academics to find jobs in the same place, even with spousal hires at some schools.
But, I don't think any university would actually want to give up the pool of married job candidates. "Oh, you need to be in the same place as your partner? Too bad! We'll just move on to candidate B." That would be pretty insane, don't you think?

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

No time for a substantive comment now on the feminist issues (possibly later), but just to note that I don't think monogamy is required or relevant. I'm a female partner hire, and my (male) partner and I aren't monogamous (or married), and no one cares about our sex life.

What they cared about was that he was someone his department and the dean's office really wanted to keep, he said that one thing they could offer to help convince him to stay was a job for me (a recent Ph.D. graduate with a visiting position at a nearby university), the English department looked over my C.V. and said yes, we'd definitely like to have her, and the dean's office got to make that offer to him -- he accepted, and we stayed (and bought a house in the area).

If they hadn't, we'd have done a national search together and tried to find jobs in the same place. A lot of universities have either partner hire or other services to help partners find work simply because it's good business for them -- they get the people they want, and if they do it right, they also get someone who's an asset to the university. Sometimes more of an asset than the original hire. In my case, I'm particularly good for my department because they got a hire they wouldn't have gotten otherwise; that's often the situation.

The university made a decision to keep him, an economic gamble that might have only been good for a year or two. Neither of us made any lasting promises, and the university didn't ask us to. But barring one of our departments imploding or some such, I expect we'll both be here until retirement. So I think it was a pretty good deal for them -- they got me cheaper than they would have as a normal hire. And it was good for us, since it saved us the hassle and uncertainty of a national search (possibly a couple of years of one, with some long-distance thrown in, which is hellish with small children).

As long as most people partner up (and have kids), and as long as both partners work outside the home, businesses are going to try to accommodate that. I won't deny that there are feminist consequences, but mostly, I think that universities see this as sound business practice that makes the university stronger. I think they're probably right, given all of the above.

Dr. Crazy said...

Karen and Mary Anne, if you see my first comment in this thread, you'll see that I'm not actually against spousal/partner hiring as a rule.

And Mary Anne - I'm glad that it worked out for you and your partner. Again, though, I'm just going to say that there is a world of difference between how partner hires work at research universities in major metropolitan areas and how spousal hires (we don't do partner hires) work at underfunded regional universities in the bible belt.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Dr. Crazy, I'm sure you're right on how things play out at your sort of school -- but that seems more a problem of implementation than the practice. I think it does come down to two things:

a) Is the practice good for the university overall -- and I'd argue that if it'd done right, then yes, it is. Overwhelmingly so, given the current demographics of desirable job applicants.

b) Is the practice good for women -- well, that's more complicated. Because while this did work out pretty well for me overall, I won't deny that it's more than a little frustrating that I'm a Clinical Assistant Professor, and not a regular one -- less money (lots), less responsibility, less say in shared governance, etc. It's a trade-off I made knowingly in exchange from saving myself other kinds of grief (job searches, long-distance partnering and parenting), and I still think it was a decent deal for me. But the fact that partner hires do tend to be gendered is certainly a feminist issue, given the power differential often created.

The best solution I can see to that comes back to a) good management practices, such that departments respect the partner hires and value them as colleagues (which mine is working on), and b) partner hiring becoming less gendered -- which requires a cultural shift, with more women achieving the good jobs on their own and more men willing to be the trailing spouse. I think it's happening, but oh, so slowly.

(You do leave me curious, though -- even if they require that people be actually married, is there any real policing of fidelity? Or is that just assumed? I know quite a few legally married folk with open relationships, some of them quite discreetly so -- would they be unable to get a spousal hire at your school? If infidelity becomes known in the department, would that affect the spousal hire situation (either before or after hire)? In what ways?)

Dr. Crazy said...

Fidelity would be assumed, and if infidelity comes up then it becomes public knowledge and it affects how the person is regarded professionally and can have negative practical professional consequences. If non-monogamous, one needs to keep it a secret. (Heck, it's not uncommon for professors who are GLBTQ and in long-term partnerships to remain in the closet at my university.)

And yes, this is a public university. But it's in a very socially conservative place.

Ann said...

Dr. Crazy--on the fidelity issue: since your point here is about the privilege and the veil of reverence and secrecy that marriage fosters, the answer would of course be that no one will ever ask if you're talking about a married couple. Unless one or both partners behave very badly in very public ways, if they stay married they will continue to benefit from that veil of privacy and privilege that marriage affords them.

I've been thinking about this a lot vis-a-vis Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. If she were married--and it wouldn't matter if it was a sham marriage or a truly loving partnership or something in-between--she wouldn't have to endure all of this speculation about who she "really" is and is she straight or gay, etc. The only credential she'd have to present was her marriage--and people would stop asking questions or gossiping about her.

To those married people who don't see marriage as a privileged state: get over your "oppressed" selves! I'm a married person, and there's no question whatsoever that I am privileged because of this. My household income is much greater, and people don't speculate or wonder about about my sex or dating life, just to name two of the major benefits of marriage. Another benefit: when I was in an abusive department, being married and having that second income gave me the liberty to simply resign if I didn't get another job, to say nothing of the reality check and emotional support my spouse gave me in those dark days. (I also think, quite frankly, that my husband's existence protected me from even worse abuse. The people I know who have really suffered in bullying work environments have been single women--go figure--in part because I think the bullies know they need their jobs.)

In the end, I think spousal hires are perfectly fine--different departments and different institutions will either sponsor them or not based on their own needs and priorities. But, that doesn't mean that they work to benefit everyone. I appreciate Dr. Crazy's courage in continuing this discussion.


Cherish said...

I understand that you want more transparency, and I don't think that's a bad thing at all. However, your argument is that spousal hiring serves patriarchy, while many of us argue that not allowing spousal hires also serves patriarchy. I would really like to see something that avoids the whole patriarchy serving altogether, but I'm not seeing a suggestion for one. Therefore, I don't think it's unreasonable to vouch for the lesser of two evils, even if done incorrectly.

This really, to me, sounds like arguments against affirmative action: affirmative action is bad because it creates a 'token minority' whom everyone hates and doesn't want to deal with. Therefore we should get rid of it. But it also gets a minority into a position in which he or she might otherwise not be and changes the perceptions of the abilities of minorities.

I know you're not arguing against spousal hires, but you are certainly making the case for those who are.

Nicole said...

Cherish nailed it. To this end, I'll take up Ann's "oppressed" married self. Being married cuts both ways in academia.

For instance, yes, I can be a little more picky regarding my GRA assignments because if I don't get one, my partner can presumably pick up the tab of 'keeping' me - which if we are honest, on an academic's salary, is something he can do for about 1 term before there are major financial implications. But it also means that I can't take a lot of the GRA assignments because I am no longer on site due to our two body problem.

On job prospects - our pool of jobs is actually drastically reduced if we want to solve the 2 body problem (especially if we remove the spousal hire option). I study contemporary urban issues. I must be in an urban place. While his research interests are certainly not mainstream, he specializes in teaching a service course in a discipline that is offered at EVERY SINGLE college and university in the country. Yet, I cannot follow him to rural school. He therefore is not free to apply to rural schools.

I generally remove my wedding bands at conferences - I don't want my married, mommy status to color what is, at least for women, an 'unattached' singles' game.

The point is that when we discuss 'spousal' hires, while we are certainly creating a special class, in many instances people are overstating that privilege. Most people with a spousal hire have gone through more layers of challenges than many are willing to admit. You want to complain about the administrative aspects of it and fine tune it, fine. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

Anonymous said...

God, this conversation makes me want to leave academia a little bit.

So your point is that any accommodation made to partnered people privileges those in partnerships and is therefore implicitly heteronormative.

I do get that privilege doesn't mean my life is easy, even if I am privileged. And I'll even go with you on that being married is a state of some sort of privilege.

I still want to come back to parenting, though, because I think spousal hires are an important mechanism for supporting parents. I know not all spousal hires are parent hires, just stay with me.

Now, even presuming we open this to all co-parents, whether married or not, I imagine the argument would be that this unfairly privileges *parents* as a class.

That's where we run up against my unhelpful response, which is pretty simple: People who care for dependent human being ought to be privileged.

I don't just mean kids. I mean the disabled, aged, and infirm.

The thing is, most of the time we pay people to do those tasks rather than taking them on ourselves. I'm under heavy pressure to pay someone to take care of my kids, while we're at it, so my schedule is not inconvenient and I don't have to be accommodated in any way.

And at that point, all of the human care that I so believe we ought to be doing for one another as parents, children, partners is professionalized and removed from the home and placed in institutions.

The thing is, in order for it to happen outside of those institutions, there has to be some sort of family, which means some kind of partnernship. And in order for it work, there has to be accommodation and flexibility for people engaged in that work. And that means privilege.

At that point, we're back to patriarchy. We're back to kids in daycare and grandma in the nursing home so the workplace can be free of privilege. And I heave a heavy sigh and leave.

Dr. Crazy said...

1)Who exactly has argued for abolishing partner hires?

2) Do you guys get that I don't actually care very much about the spousal hire thing? That my stake in this is being told it's good for women - as if I'm not a woman or as if all of the evidence that I have of it NOT being good for women is just my own private delusion? Speak for yourself, speak for married women, speak for partnered women with children, but don't unilaterally decide that your experience is the experience of Woman. That's my beef.

3) I never said that we should have a workplace free of privilege. I said, in fact, that we should just accept that this IS a kind of inequitable privileging and own up to it, and in owning up to that, we shouldn't pretend that it's "good for all women."

karen said...

I understand that you don't think spousal hires should be eliminated, nor do you care that much about it. What I don't get is how you, as a single person, are somehow "excluded" because of the practice. It's not like universities prefer married couples. Spousal hires are complicated and faculty are often irritated when they are forced to consider them. You are probably a stronger job candidate if you are single. My husband isn't an academic, so obviously no one tried to help him get a job. But I don't feel somehow discriminated against as a result. It seems like there are advantages and disadvantages to being single, or married to an academic, not an academic, having kids, or whatever your life choices are. Personally, I think every one of these options is (often) easier if you are a man. I understand your irritation with people who make claims for all women. But it seems like you are annoyed by more than that.

helenesch said...

Wow--glad I took to the time to read this post and the comments! I agree with a lot of what you say here, but I keep getting the sense that some of this conversation (in the comments to this thread) involves people talking past each other. Maybe this is b/c some of your arguments make it sound like you're against spousal hiring, when in fact you're not. I think the real problem is how it's implemented (and it sounds like it's poorly implemented at your institution).

But I do think the stuff about spousal hiring being patriarchal and heteronormative is absoultely right. Despite being a single, feminist (and mostly straight) woman, I feel somehow invested in the practice of spousal hiring (when done fairly, which appears to be how it's done at my own institution). I'll admit that some of my own investment in this is my knowing that if I had a partner, I would want it to at least be possible for us to get jobs in the same place--which otherwise would probably not be possible (without spousal hiring).

So, I think I get it. And just because other kinds of relationships are recognized as "partners" doesn't make the model from which this originates any less patrirarchal. I just think it's essenatial that *something* be done to address the real problems that couples (and esp. women) face in a world where women have careers too. Given that we're not living in an ideal world, we can't act as if we are. (Which is why, I think, you recognize that we can't simply abolish all spousal hiring.)

Sorry to ramble. I guess I'm saying I agree with your points about the connections to heteronormativity and patriarchy, even though I also think we do need some form of spousal hiring (which I think you believe too).

Tree of Knowledge said...

I'm glad you posted this, Dr. Crazy, as you're explaining what has bothered me about this conversation.

And your comment at 3:22--"Speak for yourself, speak for married women, speak for partnered women with children, but don't unilaterally decide that your experience is the experience of Woman". That has been driving me crazy in this. So much of the conversation that I've read has been about personal experience rather than the systemic problem. I get that spousal hires are awesome for some people because it means that they can keep their families together, and that the big problem is that the academic world makes it hard for couples to stay together. But explaining how a spousal hire worked out for you or your department doesn't deny privilege or address the problems in academia that made spousal hires necessary. It is entirely possible to personally benefit from something and still see it as problematic.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, "yes, good points."

PhysioProf said...

I haven't really weighed in much on the spousal hiring issue, but in the biomedical sciences, I think it plays out a little differently. In private medical schools, there is no special mechanism to create a line for a spousal hire as opposed to any other kind of hire.

The bottom line is that you've got a candidate you want to hire who has made it clear that they absolutely will not accept an offer unless this other person also gets a position. The fact that the other person is almost always a spouse is irrelevant. If some awesome candidate that we wanted to hire said that unless you also give an offer to my best buddy from grad school, we would go ahead an look at the best buddy from grad school, and if they were good enough, we would try to make something happen in exactly the same way as for a spouse. The marriage relationship is irrelevant from our end of things.

Leslie M-B said...

I'm not sure where I stand on the whole spousal/partner hiring thing, honestly. It seems to me that regional institutions offering spousal hires might make them really attractive to folks just beginning on the tenure track, but that spousal hires might not be as necessary at top-ranked institutions that attract the most candidates.

Of course, my perspective is from the humanities, where a spousal hire might be had relatively cheaply relative to the sciences, where start-up packages at my current university are, I've been told, currently around $800K. Hiring two experimental scientists = a ton of cash. Hiring two newly minted humanities Ph.D.s = not even 1/4 of one scientist.

One piece I've been puzzling through lately is whether it's ethical to offer partner hires to couples who are both academics, but not to partners where one is not an academic.

This is on my mind because the university where I'm starting on the t-t in the fall doesn't offer partner hires when the "trailing spouse" is not an academic, even though there are a ton of places on campus my spouse would be qualified to work--just not in the classroom.

In this crappy economy, it would be a terrific gesture for the university to offer at least temporary employment (say, 6 months to a year) to qualified spouses on the clerical/administrative or student affairs side of the house, or at least have someone in the career center work with the spouse in a long-distance job search.

Winter said...

I'm pretty much with Cherish here. Until I see real solutions that are actually outside the patriarchy, I'm going with the lesser of two evils: the occasional spousal hire. And, for that reason, it's not an issue I care a ton about. And I say this as a person with an academic spouse. We work at the same school, it wasn't a spousal hire, but we might try for one at a future date. We started dating before either of us had ever applied to graduate school, and we're in extremely distant fields.

The solutions that are working at my school:
* gender equity salary raises (you can actually go in and say "I'm being paid less than a man doing the same job" and they will work to fix it)
* good, on-campus child care
* family leave policies that explicitly emphasize elder care (etc) as well as parental leave
* hiring more women

Also, if we're going to contribute to the whole anecdotes as data thing: the only people in my small division of a large department (12 of us) that regularly miss meetings for family-related issues miss them because of their pets. (We have not one, but three tenured folks who have adopted puppies or kittens in the last 2 years.)

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

I can't remember the name of the office now, but Kevin was seriously considering a job at the University of Michigan, and they have an office that specifically helps partners of hires find jobs locally, not just at the university (but at the university too). Not limited to academics. Seemed like a smart, worthwhile practice to me.

rachel said...

yeah, i agree, dr. crazy, that spousal hires are heteronormative. but i'm also sort of like, meh, so what? academia is generally so dehumanizing, so focused on the life of one teeny part of the mind (rather than the life of the rest of the mind taken up with the pragmatics of living, nevermind the rest of the body), that I applaud measures to recognize that the life of the academic -- and indeed, the academic life -- is multifaceted and involves others.

I also think that those who live outside of the context of heteronormativity can profit greatly from academic life. For instance, your recent successes are a good example (and I don't really know that you consider yourself living outside of heteronormativity). There aren't that many careers that would have let you save enough to pay off debt, buy a house as a single person, and have enough time off during the working day to manage waiting around for things to happen, and have meetings during the day -- while not being penalized financially for time lost. you were proud you did it all on your own, and you should be. but your academic job is one of the rare few elite kinds that does not punish you for being single. in fact, i have always found that academia instead rationalizes and rewards a lack of a partner as a commitment to one's career.

at my fancy-pants grad school, a large percentage of the senior male acads were gay, in part because the academic life and the academy itself provided a haven where who you fucked was not as important as how you thought and what you wrote - well, at least historically. of course, this singular allowance was a thin valence of equity that did not address the exlcusion of other isms -- class, religion, race, gender, etc.. were more carefully policed as things that determined how one thought, and created bias that detracted form the objective work of the scholar. homosexuality wasn't, though -- but i certainly wouldn't call the academy queer friendly.

i, myself, am a gay lady with a non-acad partner -- and let me assure that it's not the gay part of this equation that raises the hackles of my colleagues. believe me, they all love my partner because she is awesome and fun and intelligent, but i bet they wonder what we have in common -- how can an academic really have that much to say to a mere high school teacher? and if i have so much in common with her, then what do i have in common with them? i don't think they are even being that snobby -- i think they (were 'they' is constituted as a group of either single folks, or folks partnered with other acads or 'serious' professionals, like lawyers) genuinely do wonder about it.

which brings us back to heteronormativity. yes, it exists. to me, using your construction, it's tied to the way in which academia recognizes the real lives of its members. and what does it matter if it is or isn't? it doesn't become operational as a mode of homophobia within the context of spousal hiring. in fact, i feel that asking people to reschedule a bit to accommodate the needs and limitations of other colleagues is a good thing. sure, one day it may be a dance recital, which may seem less important than urgent committee work. another day it might be caring for an older relative or friend. or it may be moving a meeting to a building to accommodate someone's mobility issue. i think anything that humanizes the ludicrous paradigm of the objective, decontextualized academic automaton, committed wholly to their job, is a step forward.