June 13 2024

Guide for the Guild

compassThe Guide for the Guild is a series of blogs posts submitted by AAR members in response to the Status on Women in the Profession Committee's work-life balance project. To learn more, visit SWP's page on the AAR website.

by Alison Colpits, University of Toronto

Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom mural on the side of the United Electrical Workers trade union building on West Monroe Street at Ashland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.

I always find it unfortunate when the so-called work-life balance is framed as a problem for women. I’m aware that, as the AAR Status of Women in the Profession Committee (SWP) rightly indicates, it’s a problem for women insofar as women are still mostly responsible for “care work.” So I don’t find it unfortunate because I don’t think it to be true. I do think it’s true. Rather, I find it unfortunate because even though the work-life balance is an urgent problem for women, having women write and talk about it for each other isn’t going to change anything. The problem with the SWP calling for stories about the work-life balance in academia is that it’s the SWP that has to make the call for it.

by Cassie Hillman Trentaz, Warner Pacific College

four stills of a draped woman carrying a jar on her shoulder and a basket in her hand

In one of my classes, I have a practice that I call “Two-Minute Reflections on Last Class” as a means of letting conversations from one class session leak into our conversations in the next. Here’s one that captures a bit of the essence of this tricky reality of work/home (im)balance:

Paying bills for a family of four on a single income,
keeping people fed, clean, warm and well,
raising little human beings, new to the world,
to be loved, to love, to be responsible, thoughtful, kind and attentive,
providing a sense of home, a ground underneath our feet
1,300 miles away from our closest family—
this is exhausting.

Daily log:

7:01 am—hit snooze (and again, and sometimes again)

7:30ish: get up and get dressed.

7:45ish: get baby up for a diaper change and morning feeding

8:10ish: get three year old up and fed, pump excess to maintain adequate milk supply

by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion

An image of one of Rockwell Kent's 1930 illustrations of Moby Dick. Depicts the whale rising high out of the water, with large arc of water from the whale's blowhole.

As I sit this Sunday morning drinking my routine cup of hot coffee, my head keeps entertaining one question, “Why can’t I have it all?” Mind you, I have book deadlines, project deadlines, and other writing deadlines…but this question persists, like old Ahab’s obsession with his white whale.

Oftentimes when I travel to meetings and conferences, people just assume I am a young (okay…well…middle-aged), single scholar who is at some institution with no social life or family interfering with my way of working in this competitive academic world.

Once other scholars realize I am married with children, most of them are surprised. Once they realize I have three children, they become shocked. It is not because they think a woman like me can’t have three children, but they muse, “How can a scholar have three children?”

by Lynn Schofield Clark, University of Denver

image of an empty word processor page

Let me start by telling you what doesn’t work for me: the daily writing schedule. I wish I could set aside time every day to write, as historian Marybeth Gasman suggests in her Chronicle of Higher Education essay. I kept to that daily schedule when I was a graduate student before I had children, and then again when I was on sabbatical and was freed from teaching and administrative responsibilities. It really is terrific. However, in the midst of juggling the multiple and sometimes conflicting demands of family members, students, colleagues, and administrators, the goal of daily writing became a source of frustration and letdown for me.

So I learned to do the next best thing: embrace mediocrity.

Here’s how this works for me.

by Isobel Johnston, MA-Phd candidate, Arizona State University, Tempe

Oil on canvas painting, "Women's Art Class" by Louis Lang (c. 1868). Seven women painting in a salon.

A uniquely modern American illusion is that we can put anything into our bodies and subsequently demand everything of them without consequences. This is bunk. Our attitude and approach to self-care can either enhance the body’s effectiveness or limit it.

A common (mis)conceptualization of self-care, and one that I have been guilty of having, defines it as a set of activities separate from our personal and professional lives. It is treated as a task we attend to on an as-needed or as a single-strategy manner for coping with preexisting stress or crisis.

The trouble with this is approach is that it often allows us to reach a critical condition before we engage it. At this rate, any regularity in our “habit” of self-care more likely reflects a steady state of critical stress which forces us to find time for it, often when illness makes us unfit for anything else.

by Isobel Johnston, MA-Phd candidate, Arizona State University, Tempe

Venus's Bathing (Margate) A woman swimming in the sea; in the background people are looking out to sea from cliffs and a beach. The lettering says; Side Way or any Way. Etching by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1800

I spent my first semester of graduate school in survival mode maintaining my studies and TA obligations through the shock and vicious morning sickness of a surprise pregnancy. My second semester was consumed with grief and physical recovery over a miscarriage at seventeen-weeks, six days before my first class. With my reserves for stress management depleted and my sense of direction shifted for the third time in less than six months, I succumbed to the existential self-questioning inherent in any major loss. Compounding this disorienting time was the bewildering timing of these events at the very outset of my midlife transition from professional at-home motherhood, returning to school and upgrading my role in the professional world.