As a child, I used to ask my tutor: "Why is it that there are only men composers and writers, but no women?" My tutor was a single woman herself, so she always told me: "It's because women put their families and husbands above their own interests and dreams". For someone who came into being in a place and at a time where women were - at least rhetorically - proclaimed as equal, the depth of this answer was hard to grasp. It was only when I've started my own phd that I came to understand it. It was not only that women were sacrificing themselves for their husband's career, but that women were programmed to feel unfit, failed and potentially replaceable if the household space was not properly taken care of. And, let me tell you: if a phd does anything to you, then it blinds you to the material conditions in which you leave.
My friends have told me: I've never lived in such a messy place before going to grad studies. Or, my favorite: I've never cleaned and baked as much as when writing my thesis. The two might seem mutually exclusive to you, but believe me - they aren't! When you do your graduate studies, your entire life consists of reading, writing and thinking. And these are not activities to be taken lightly: you cannot read for 10 minutes and wash dishes for the next 10. You wake up, and you start the reading-writing-thinking process - before you know it, it's time to go to bed. At the same time, if you are a woman, what better way of procrastinating than fixing the mess - the mess that tortures you, that infiltrates upon you and demands to be considered as a mess - in the household? Hence, the vacuum cleaner comes out, the oven is heated and the little housewife in the female graduate student gets her patriarchal fix: as she contemplates the cleaned house and the proper meal, she feels better. She forgets this was a wasted day when it comes to what her purpose is here: to do her graduate studies.
And it's not only the household, it's her appearance too: "My supervisor prohibited me from doing my nails before I finish writing". The woman inside the graduate student catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and suddenly feels deeply, irremediably depressed: she could use a facial, a haircut, a new dress...Hey, she could use a fitter body, since the reading-writing-thinking process has transformed her female body into something else, something no longer appealing to the patriarchal gaze. She needs to get rid of that ponytail, of the black bags underneath her eyes, of that sloppy pijamas she's wearing. The thesis calls upon her: no time to waste! But the shared social wisdom warns her of the losses she'll incur if she listens to her thesis calling: the loss of her beauty, the only mask that defines her in the social sphere. It's not the thesis and the wisdom that get one's attention, but the looks. Just like her household, her facade is in danger. And she's caught between the two, unhappy, depressed and unable to move on.
Yeah, I'm ranting. It's true that in the last three decades, the percentage of women getting a doctoral degree has increased considerably. There seems to be a parity between men and women when it comes to doctoral degrees. But the parity, I'd argue, is misleading: its toll on women is higher than its toll on men. And the parity is recent: in 1980, in one of the leading gender equality countries - Norway - there were only 19 women awarded a phd as compared to 168 men. Today, there are 560 women doctors as compared to 684 men. In the US, things look pretty similar: in 1990/1, women's doctoral degrees account for 37% of the total degrees awarded, but the percentage grew to 54% in 2005/6. I'd love to know how these numbers correlate with divorce, single moms, and single women, but I cannot do more research now cause my house is a mess and really, I have to do something about it...
Photo credits: spoon