I am often fascinated by the things we confuse for feminism. Caitlin Moran sums up our wider cultural misuse of the term in How To Be A Woman thusly, “I do understand why women started to reject the word ‘feminism.’ It ended up being invoked in so many bafflingly inappropriate contexts that—if you weren’t actually aware of the core aims of feminism, and were trying to work it out simply from the surrounding conversation—you’d presume it was some spectacularly unappealing combination of misandry, misery and hypocrisy, which stood for ugly clothes, constant anger and, let’s face it, no f*cking.” But it’s not just that feminism gets misused in the wider cultural conversation (and boy does it), it’s that we misuse it in our heads. We use feminism to excuse our own shit sometimes. To not do the hard work of sharing with others and not always putting our ego first. We can’t! Obviously! Because of feminism! So I love this post from Carolyn, about how she personally found the line of separating ego from feminism, and how she and her partner worked to build a life together.
Deflation. Let me set the scene: my PhD thesis was due in less than twenty-four hours, I was surprisingly calm and feeling generally prepared. I stopped home to get dinner before returning to work to make final edits and print over one thousand sheets of my heart and soul and brain. I stepped into the kitchen and was abruptly told by my husband that he has been offered a lucrative post-doctoral position in another country (which might as well have been Timbuktu or the moon). I stopped dead in my tracks and immediately sobbed. Note: this is not the reaction a spouse is looking for when they get an amazing impromptu job offer. I cringe to write this but my first thought was actually, “How could you do this to me? Today?” I was devastated.
The Ego Boat. I know, I’m terrible. But the thought of changing my plans, our plans, was emotionally unbearable. I like to think that I’m a supportive, forward-thinking, family-first kind of girl, but in the days that followed I was completely swallowed by self-pity and selfishness. The worst part in my mind was that I’d spent the previous five months searching for justtheright job in New York City (where he was currently a student, but had worked out a deal to live with me and work remotely for a year from Ohio while I finished school. Oh, did I leave out the part where he’d already made a selfless decision for me and our baby family? Of course I did. I am a monster.) I had secured two great interviews and it was a literal impossibility to change the course of my giant ego boat. There just wasn’t time to start looking again for jobs on the moon. I didn’t know anyone working in my field on the moon. How was I going to explain to my advisor that maybe all the hard work we’d put into researching jobs and milking connections in New York was for naught, because I was a wimpy woman who wanted to follow her husband to the moon?
Dear God, The Ego Boat. My fear that the clock was working against me was well founded—the job hunt typically takes six months to a year in my field right now. It’s not terrible. It just is. In the meantime while I was hating the moon and my husband’s good fortune, I went on two interviews in New York and frankly, I kind of rocked. Now I was starting to resent my husband and that isn’t a good look for anyone. I’m not proud of those feelings, and I tried not to let them slip out, but they were there. I felt like I’d worked hard to get these great interviews that were near his school and going to make our lives awesome! And fulfilling! (And smug?!) And now through him being smart and accomplished and successful he was trumping my hard work. I was mentally competing against my teammate and losing. Maybe I was jealous that his offer was good enough that I had to consider giving up my good offers. But why should I? I am smart and accomplished and successful too damn it. Oh my stubborn self! Could I give up New York for the moon? Was that even a choice?
Plan B. We stared long and hard down the barrel of the long-distance relationship gun. Again. We’d been there for three years and while we did okay, and even got engaged during this time (so you might say we even thrived) I just generally did not like being apart. I was lonely and I ate a lot of cereal. Knowing that my dream job (yes, one of the New York offers had suddenly morphed into my dream job) might come with a lot of cereal made me resent him for leaving me. Naturally and logically, he would point out that neither of us lived there, so really no one was leaving anyone, but whatever, I was mad and sad anyway. I didn’t want to live apart again, but not going to my dream job in New York seemed like an impossibility. But again, stubborn self.
Truth Time. Of course what I was really afraid of was that I would be seen as weak for not pursuing the best job opportunities possible, and like a fool for having already invested my job-hunting efforts on a city for a man, and well just look how well that worked out?! I had a very real fear that I would be judged for wanting to live and work in the same city (hell, country!) as my partner and that not going to New York was somehow conceding or taking second place in the dual-career-family olympics.
Plan C? I confided in my advisor, a mere two weeks before defending my dissertation. This woman is a hardass (in the best way), she’s powerful, I look up to her, her husband followed her for a career! I didn’t think she would understand, and if she did, I knew she would judge me for it. But I should learn to trust in others. She was surprisingly nonplussed by the whole thing and was excited to encourage me to pursue opportunities on the moon. As what everyone seemed to understand except me was that the truly foolish move would be not to, at the very least, try. Through the grace of God, and the schmoozing of her superior (and hopefully a good resume from me?) I found myself with two interviews, and eventually one great job offer, on the moon.
The Moon is Actually Just Canada. The big lesson here for me, I suppose, was that by letting my ego and pride masquerade as feminism and independence I only caused myself heartache. I was too proud to make room for my husband’s opportunity and could only see it as destroying mine. I was too proud to be happy for him, too proud to realize it could be good for me too. I was way too proud to think others would understand that life is full of Plan Bs and Cs. I was too f*cking proud to be a good teammate and a good partner. Recognizing this was important, but it hasn’t changed me. I am a natural leader, and this newfound role of follower has required much time to take root. I am still very mindful of my perception by others and stubbornly refuse to enter on a spousal work permit, instead opting for my own employer-sponsored work permit. The distinction that although his opportunity prompted this move, I am building my career too, is an important one to me. I can finally say, with no snark or resentment, that I am proud of my husband excelling in a very difficult and competitive field, and I am excited for both of us to be making this move, together.
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