SITUATION AND CONSCIOUSNESS
It is for the minority of academic women with children that the contradictions exist in their full glory. My own solution may be uncommon, but not the general contours of my dilemma. When I first decided to have a child at the age of thirty-one, my thoughts turned to the practical arrangements whereby I could continue to teach, something that means a great deal to me. Several arrangements were possible, but my experiment was a preindustrial one—to introduce the family back into the university, to take the baby with me for office hours on the fourth floor of Barrows Hall. From two to eight months, David was, for the most part, the perfect guest. I made him a little cardboard box with blankets where he napped (which he did most of the time), and I brought along an infant seat from which he kept an eye on key chains, colored notebooks, earrings, and glasses. Sometimes waiting students took him out into the hall and passed him around. He became a conversation piece with shy students, and some returned to see him rather than me. I put up a fictitious name on the appointment list every four hours and fed him alone or while on the telephone.
The baby’s presence proved to be a Rorschach test, for people reacted very differently. Older men, undergraduate women, and a few younger men seemed to like him and the idea of his being there. In the next office there was a distinguished professor of seventy-four; it was our joke that he would stop by when he heard the baby crying and say, shaking his head, “Beating the baby again, eh?” Publishers and book salesmen in trim suits and exqttis-
ite sideburns were generally shocked. Graduate student women would often inquire about him tentatively, and a few feminists were put off, perhaps because babies were out of fashion and because his presence seemed “unprofessional.”
One incident brought into focus my identity and the university’s bizarre power to maintain relationships in the face of change. It happened around 1971. A male graduate student, John, had come early for his appointment. The baby had slept longer than usual and got hungry later than I had scheduled by Barrows Hall time. I invited the student in. Since we had never met before, he introduced himself with extreme deference, and as I am often tempted to do, I responded to that deference by behaving more formally than I otherwise might. He began tentatively to elaborate his interests in sociology and to broach the subject of asking me to serve on his orals committee. He had the onerous task of explaining to me that he was a clever student, a trustworthy and obedient student, but that academic fields were not organized as he wanted to study them, and of asking me, without knowing what I thought, whether he could study Marx under the rubric of the sociology of work.
In the course of this lengthy explanation, the baby began to cry. I gave him a pacifier and continued to listen all the more intently. The student went on. The baby spat out the pacifier and began to wail. Finally, trying to be casual, I began to feed him. He wailed now the strongest, most rebellious wail I had ever heard from this small armful of person.
The student uncrossed one leg and crossed the other and held a polite smile, coughing a bit as he waited for this little crisis to pass. I excused myself and got up to walk back and forth with the baby to calm him down. “I’ve never done this before. It’s just an experiment,” I remember saying.
“I have two children of my own,” he replied, “Only they’re not in Berkeley. We’re divorced and 1 miss them a lot.” We exchanged a human glance of mutual support, talked of our families more, and soon the baby calmed down.
A month later, when John had signed up for a second appointment, he entered the office and sat down formally. “As we were discussing last time, Professor Hochschild. …" Nothing further was said about the prior occasion, but more astonishing to me, nothing had changed. I was still Professor Hochschild and he was still John. Something about power lived on regardless.
In retrospect, I felt a litde like one of the characters in Dolittle and the Pirates, the pushmi-pullyu, a horse with two heads that see and say different things. The pushmi head was relieved that motherhood had not reduced me as a professional. But the pullyu wondered what the pervasive power differences were doing there in the first place. And why weren’t children in offices occasionally part of the “normal” scene?
At the same time I felt envious of the smooth choicelessness of my male
246 SPEAKING PERSONALLY colleagues who did not bring their children to Barrows Hall. I sometimes feel this keenly when Ї meet a male colleague jogging on the track (it’s a popular academic sport because it takes little time) and then meet his wife taking their child to the YMCA kinder-gym program. I feel it too when Ї see wives drive up to the building in the evening, in the station wagon, elbow on the window, two children in the back, waiting for a man briskly walking down the steps, briefcase in hand. It seems a particularly pleasant moment in the day for them. It reminds me of those Friday evenings, always a great treat, when my older brother and I would pack into the back of our old Hudson, and my mother with a picnic basket would drive up from the suburbs to Washington, D. C., at five o’clock to meet my father walking briskly down the steps of the State Department, briefcase in hand. We picnicked at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial, my parents sharing their day, and in that end-of-the-week mood, we came home.
Whenever I see similar scenes, something inside rips in half, for I am neither and both the brisk-stepping carrier of a briefcase and the mother with a packed picnic lunch. The university is designed for such men, and their homes for such women. It looks easier for them, and part of me envies them for it. Beneath the envy lies a sense of my competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis the men to whom I am compared and to whom I compare myself. Also beneaih it, I am aware of the bizarreness of my experiment with the infant box, and paradoxically aware too that I am envious of a life I would not really like to live.
The invisible half of this scene is, of course, the woman in the station wagon. She has “solved” the problem in one of the other possible ways. But if both her way and my way of solving this “problem” seem to lead to strains, it may be that the problem is not only ours. It may be the inevitable result of a public system arranged not for women with families but for family-free men.