GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

I Need a Wife

In Happy Mondays on 2010/08/09 at 13:08

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

My office-mate Jessica spat those words out in exasperation one afternoon as she raced into the office with a pile of papers to grade and I raced out, laptop and lecture notes tucked under my arm. We were teaching, working at administrative jobs, finishing up our dissertations, and also working hard on our marriages/partnerships. At that time, neither of us had children but we both knew that we wanted to find time to add a kid or two to the mix and we also knew that something was going to have to give.

Both of us were immersed in reading, research, and writing – in what Nicholas Carr calls “deep thinking.” We found that we had little time for taking care of our partners, cleaning our houses, and cooking fabulous dinners. We needed a “wife” to help us with the caretaking. We found that we could not do it all.

For many of us, this “wife” no longer exists. As a feminist, I am happy to see the demise of the subservient and self-sacrificing “wife.” Although I have made a wise decision in selecting a partner who does his fair share of the caretaking, he is not a wife and neither am I. Perhaps we are both demi-wives, doing the caretaking as a team.

I recently read Jen Howard’s brilliant critique of Carr’s The Shallows. Like Howard, I was struck by the unspoken assumption of privilege. I see the privileged “deep thinker” that Carr and many others mourn the loss of as an upper-middle class white man with a “wife” or caretaker. This deep-thinking “he” has the luxury of time for self-absorption.

“He” is not me.

He is not me because he is not simultaneously attempting to make grocery lists, read the latest book from Hardt and Negri, write up research, prepare for meetings, finish conference papers, respond to urgent emails, unpack and wash the laundry from vacation, decide what to make for dinner, and have engaging conversations with his son on topics ranging from volcanoes and the rules of chess to the Spanish names of fruit and why we should use our words rather than our fists.

The deep thinker is a solitary figure — sitting in his office, in his leather chair, pulled up to hismahogany desk, and pondering the meaning of life. He reads alone — in silence. He writes alone –in silence. He is a genius who creates original ideas that spring forth from his uniquely qualified mind. He is the protagonist of Said’s Orientalism – sitting in England, contemplating the Orient from afar.

Having the time to devote several uninterrupted hours, days, weeks, months, and years to a single task is a rarity. Perhaps it is a relic of the modern age or perhaps it is a romanticized view of the way we never were.

Perhaps the best ideas are not developed in this way. I like to think that Shakespeare, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo worked as leaders of teams. I like to believe that “a-ha” moments happen under an apple tree, in the bathtub, and during animated coffee-date discussions.

The present requires that we multi-task, collaborate, and above all, communicate. The majority of the people in the world have always had to prioritize and work with others. Women are finding that we excel at social intelligence, organization, and multi-tasking – skills necessary in today’s world. In “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin asks — “What if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?” I ask — What if the economics of the new era are better suited to what Carr erroneously calls “the shallows”? (“Deep thinking” is not necessarily the opposite of shallow thinking and “deep thinking” is not necessarily smarter or better thinking.)

Perhaps it is neither the end of men nor the end of deep thinking. Instead, perhaps it is the end of privileging a narrow masculinist way of acting and thinking. Perhaps the focus has switched from an extremely competitive version of individualism focused on winning at all costs to a multi-tasking collaborative version of teamwork, focused on developing creative solutions.

However, perhaps it is the end of “man and wife.”

Mary Churchill is the Executive Director of University of Venus.

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This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

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