September 19, 2012

Professorial Pregnancy Part 1: the body as a text

The professorial body is a text read and judged by student subjects as well as faculty and staff colleagues. So when that professorial body is both (cisgendered*) female and pregnant, it can feel as though all scrutiny intensifies. For me this sense of intensification has yielded both awkwardness as well as opportunity. In this (currently 3-part) series I will be sharing my ideas and experiences of being a pregnant professor.

When I teach I am often in front of the room, with students facing forward. I don't sit down much unless I am evaluating presentations or we are conducting the seminar/discussion portion of our meetings. In many ways it can be difficult to not feel as though I am on display. But through repetition and trial and error, I became used to display. Eventually, I didn't think too much about it.

I have written before about how I've tried to balance my stylish interests with academic professionalism, particularly as I transitioned from "student" to "faculty." And I've feared that if/when my clothing became a subject for discussion (even positive or complimentary), appearance ventured toward the realm of distraction. In most professional settings, when self-expression becomes too distracting it can pose untold problems to the professional.

When I found out I was pregnant and calculated that my third trimester would correspond closely with my fall semester, I became a little apprehensive. For me, this has marked yet another  professional context with which I am unfamiliar. And just recently, I began to feel confident and settled in my visual professional identity.

With no certain knowledge of how I would "carry," how my body would change, which parts of me would grow, etc., I took comfort in wardrobe. After all, wardrobe can be a venue for visual performative control, barring the usual budget realities and financial limitations. Part 2 will discuss this process of exerting control via wardrobe.

Above is what I wore on the first day of class.

Montserrat dress from Anthropologie
J. Crew Factory Cardigan
Anthropologie belt
ChloƩ zipper flats
Redraven Necklace (c/o); Kors watch; Starfish cuff

*To clarify, a person who is cisgender does experience less scrutiny than a person who is trans but being female is still the marked category within a binary framework for gender.


snowymt 55 said...

Looking forward to reading more! I always have the worst time choosing what to wear on days I lecture b/c I thoroughly dislike standing up in front of a class, pregnant or not! :)

Raquelita said...

I'm curious to read more of your thoughts on this and have actually been keeping my eye on your blog for a post of this kind since a couple of weeks ago. (Is that weird?) Your choice of words "cisgendered and pregnant" in conjunction with feeling like the scrutiny has intensified struck me as strange, though. I'm really not trying to be combative, but it just seems to me that being cisgender almost automatically decreases scrutiny in almost every context in our society, including the classroom. Do you not find that to be the case?

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That's a good point, R. I included that to flag (albeit haphazardly) my gender privilege but I see now how it can be read as my saying the scrutiny is intensified because of it. I guess I am not sure of how to phrase that while being a person with a cisgender identity brings its own privileges and that cisgender bodies experience less scrutiny because they don't disrupt the dominant binary framework, being female in general still results in a different kind of evaluation and judgment. And pregnancy exacerbates it, particularly in academia where a pregnant body is rare. Do you have suggestions for how I can address cisgender privilege while acknowledging that the categories of female and pregnant in academia also are "marked" in their own ways?

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

Thank you, Snowy. I don't mind being in front of the class. It definitely made me nervous when I first started and I still get the first day of the semester butterflies.

Raquelita said...

Honestly, I think you said it so well in your comment here. Although I think it does depend to some extend on institutional and department culture, you are right that pregnant bodies are marked in their own way and, as you put it, rare in academia. Of course, it's interesting to think about how the pregnant body is also a rare phenomenon in the life of most cisgendered women - especially in the west. Lots of time being visible as a woman, but only a couple of 9-month periods for the average woman to have a pregnant body. Can you tell I'm fence-sitting about the possibility of having a child once I feel like I'm in a good position to get tenure?

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

Thank you! Your comment inspired me to add a caveat to the post for clarification. Until you mentioned it, I hadn't considered that in terms of lifespan, pregnancy is absolutely a rare visceral experience. And for many women, it is only a small portion of those 9 months that include a marked body that speaks of pregnancy without saying a word. I empathize with your own decision making process, by the way. It is hard to "know" what is right. Although my partner and I knew we wanted to try to have children someday, we also knew that we could and have been very happy as a duo. The timing was also a big challenge. When to try... how to plan. All of it is really difficult and personal. I wrote about this a little on my pregnancy blog here. And truthfully (as I mentioned in that post) I still am not sure that we picked the perfect time ... I'm not sure the perfect time even exists.

Raquelita said...

I have a friend who really did not show at all except for during the last two months of her pregnancy. Because of this she was really able to control who knew until the she was well into her last trimester.

The timing thing I would imagine is super tricky even if you've decided that it's a matter of when rather than a matter of if. Right now I'm still very much in the camp of if.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That is pretty nice in some ways, I imagine. Though it could be a grass is greener situation? I wish you luck with your own family decisions. It's complicated and hugely individual but I firmly believe that there are many life paths that promise the potential for fulfillment and happiness.


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