On Job Hunting While Married

professor robin williamsHere’s a cheerful story about a female academic whose potential employers were queasy about her marital status. This is known in the ivory tower as “the two-body problem.”

my marital status kept popping up in preliminary interviews, campus visits, and even in discussions with my letter writers. “What would your poor husband do?” emerged as a refrain in my job search. One of my recommenders repeatedly asked whether I would take jobs if they were offered. Later, I wondered if married male colleagues had to endure similar conversations. Did their spouses figure so heavily in the calculations of recommenders and interviewers? Were their wedding rings analyzed? Were their poor wives influencing possible job offers? Apparently not. Writing in The New York Times, English professor Caroline Bicks describes how her husband emerged as a “problem” in her job search, whereas no one ever asked him about his wife. “It felt as if my wedding ring was a hurdle I had to clear to prove my commitment to academia,” she writes, “while Brendon’s was a badge of stability and good-guy gravitas.”

And oh God it gets worse:

My husband, Chris, is also an academic, a computational scientist, requiring us to navigate two careers and apply to academic jobs everywhere. Marriage affected our job searches differently: It was a liability for mine and a boon for his. Hiring committees imagined Chris as the male head of household, someone who needed a job to support his wife and child. Interviewers viewed my academic strivings as hobbies. We both went on the job market determined to do what was best for our family. And before long, I became a trailing spouse — first an adjunct, then a lecturer, now outside of academia. It turns out it was easier to resist traditional gender norms before I was beset by the grim statistics of our situation and the outdated notions fueling them.

To some degree, women are also at fault for letting it happen. They don’t lean in to their job searches the way their husbands do, apparently. They are more willing to back-burner their careers, to make sacrifices, to be treated badly. And then, of course, they are.

Academics! Some tips. Practice saying the following before you go on interviews:

+ “Husband? What husband?”

+ “It’s his lifetime ambition to be a stay-at-home dad.”

+ “He can work remotely from anywhere!”

+ “I’m the Barack in this family, okay? He’s the Michelle.”

+ “Enough about my marriage; let’s talk about yours!”

+ “That? No, that just stands for ‘Pretty Handsome Dude.'”

Or just marry a woman instead and take turns being the wife.

 

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