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Food for Thought! SINGLED OUT: Beware! Your Work Won’t Love You Back (An Academic’s Take) August 13, 2008

Posted by Onely in book review, Food for Thought, Reviews, Singled Out.
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DePaulo, Bella. Singled Out, How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006

(This is an ongoing exploration of Singled Out, continued from an earlier post)

In Chapter 7 of Singled Out, DePaulo debunks the myth that if single women spend too much time focused on a career and/or in school, they will miss out on all the ‘good’ partners out there, and that being career-minded means “slogging through ‘the trenches of corporate solitude'” instead of “gleefully and triumphantly crashing through the glass ceiling” (136).

DePaulo tackles a few other myths in the same chapter (including “your eggs will dry up” and “you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous”), but I’m most interested in the claim that “your work won’t love you back” because it seems such a surprising one given the environment I find myself currently in as a grad student getting her Ph.D. and thus planning to spend the rest of her life as an academic/scholar.

See, the thing that I have noticed about academia is that, actually, it is the [female, especially] grad students who are married/engaged/having-or-have-had kids who are stigmatized as not taking things “seriously” enough, and it is students like me – single and without kids – who are praised and expected to “succeed” in the field. For those readers not “in the know,” success traditionally means being offered the most revered position for any newly minted Ph.D., the tenure-line job with a 2-class-per-semester load at a Tier I Research University. And we — not our fellow married-with-children peers — will supposedly be the ones more likely to receive these offers because 1) we are not tied down to a particular “place” or “person(s)” and thus can apply to any job/move anywhere (which is often necessary because these most-revered-positions are few and far between); and 2) we ostensibly have the time to spend on thorough and exacting research and writing, which will thus lead to publication and in the long run to tenure, the most obvious marker of “success” for us grad students/new scholars. (Tangentially, this reminds me of the Other Lisa’s comment about her experience of stigmatization-because-married while being in grad school — related, perhaps?)

Being in the position I am (the one pegged for success), I feel ambivalent: On the one hand, I don’t think that my peers (especially my female peers, which is often where the skeptical gaze lands) should be stigmatized for perfectly legitimate choices such as getting married and having babies — especially considering that my peers, married and-or with children or not, are, for the most part, geniuses. On the other hand, it sure is nice to be the one in the spotlight, in part because of my choice to remain single and not have children, which in many other circles would be considered abnormal.

In other words, I think being a single, childless female in the academic world actually puts you in a position where your work will absolutely love you back, specifically because you’ve committed yourself to the “profession” (that’s what we snobs call our work in academia). I can’t be sure — because, after all, I haven’t finished the degree and plunged into my career yet — but I suspect that academia may actually prove to be a haven for a single girl like me where I will rarely, if ever, be stigmatized for my (otherwise “abnormal”) personal choices.

Thoughts? Rebuttals? (and I wonder, what might Bella DePaulo have to say about this, since she too is an academic herself!) Speak up!

– L

Comments»

1. onely - August 13, 2008

L: Interesting that your job is in many ways a haven from singlism. But I wonder–is there any risk of you having an inordinate/excessive amount of work dumped on you because you are seen as “available”? I mean, work that other people don’t want to do? I’ve heard of this happening in the corporate (not academic) world, although it has not happened to me per se (that I noticed!!). Or does your “single/available” status mostly confer the juicy, desirable duties? I hope the latter, and from your post, it sounds as if that has been your experience so far–YAY (though it is unfair to married academics, as you said). –CC

2. SEEPage « Onely. - November 24, 2008

[…] For all you writers out there!! Here Bella DePaulo admits that in an early draft of her opus Singled Out, before she heard about Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl’s study of different kinds of personal […]


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