Sunday, August 26, 2012

Professional Suicide, or, Opening More Doors

More than a decade ago when I decided to leave research and devote my time to raising my children, I thought it had been a good idea, that it would be a temporary hiatus, that I could matriculate back into the scientific community with little or no hindrance. What I realize now, after nearly five years of job hopping, is that when I made that painful decision to leave, I had committed professional suicide. Nobody told me it would happen, nobody warned me that society would punish me for not wanting the daycare system to under-nurture my children. I hear many stories about women who leave science for the same reason and return back to the lab with success, so naturally my reentry into that world will be swift.  I wish someone would have warned me that this is not always the case.  Not that it would have influenced my decision, because I don't regret one moment I spent with my children during those years. But my ease back into it would have been sooner, and more rigorously fought.
I remember when I first entered the workforce decades ago before my life in the science world. The questions asked by my male interviewers are grounds for a lawsuit today. "What would you do if a male student..." "Do you intend to get Married?" "Do you intend to have children soon?"
My answer at the time was, "Would you be asking me these questions if I were a man?"
Needless to say, that killed the interview, and any possibility for the position.
Women are not asked questions like that in interviews anymore, nor is it legal to discriminate against them. Leaving the workforce for the betterment of our children is not frowned upon today. I have known men who have done it. However, there is a factor I never imagined being in the equation upon my return: AGE.
The jobs in science are few and far between, and when I got shoved aside for a position for which I am highly qualified, (more so than any of the other applicants) I couldn't help to wonder why, especially when the hired has just recently received her PhD, has little teaching experience and 1/10 of my qualifications. Two things struck me. The first, that the she is an alumnus of said new employer, and the second, that she is decades younger than me.
I had faced nepotism before, sex discrimination, and even the "she looks too young" discrimination. But never age discrimination. It is impossible to prove, and even more so to overcome, because there is no turning back the clock. I don't need health insurance, I work harder than my younger contemporaries and I am more devoted to my work at this stage in my life than anyone her age. And still ...
I wish I lived in a world where people don't have stereotypes or preconceived notions about a person, where individuals are not favored because of sex, race or age. But Earth is not that place.
The way I look at it, there is one of three things I can do: buy up all the Ben and Jerry's ice cream on the planet and have my own private party, accept the fact that the world is unjust, or write about it. I choose to write, because that's what I do.
It's no coincidence that many of my stories contain an underlying theme of injustice, be it social, political or personal.  I'm not the only one to experience it throughout life, and being a woman I'm sure I've experienced it more than a man. And it's no coincidence that the perpetrators of the act appear, in some fashion, in my scifi/fantasy tales.
Writers write from the heart, and if our hearts didn't suffer, there would be nothing to write about.
My professional suicide is not all that bad, because with every slammed door more open, and I always step through them to explore the other side.
And lets face it. Writing is my main priority these days, now that my children don't want me around, and since I've been scooped of a real job, I have more time to polish those novels.