Barbara Hill and Kerry Strand are college professors, wives and new mothers. Both are attractive, down-to-earth and thoughtful: The kind of professors students look up to and want to emulate.
On the campus of Hood College, the liberal arts college for women in Frederick, Md., they are living proof to students that women can successfully combine marriage, children and a career. And that worries them.
"They just see us combining it. They don't see . . . the dilemmas," says Hill.
Hill, 38, is a tenured member of the English department, and Strand, 33, is a member of the sociology department. They continued teaching through their pregnancies last year, gave birth in the early summer and returned to teaching full time in the fall. While women make up 67 percent of the faculty at Hood, Hill and Strand stand out to the students in that they are trying to juggle infants, as opposed to older familes, and careers.
"In one sense I suppose we are good role models for them, but in another sense they don't see how hard it is," says Strand. "Most believe feminism isn't an issue anymore. I'm wary that that's the way they see us: As confirming their notion that women are now equal and they can do anything."
Hill takes her baby from her home in Bethesda to the campus and employs a student majoring in early childhood education to baby-sit while she is teaching. On other days her husband, who teaches at the Naval Academy, takes their daughter to work with him. Strand takes her daughter to a licensed child-care facility. Both acknowledge that their problems of combining motherhood and career are compounded by long commutes.
Strand, acting on the basis that babies wake early, signed for an 8 a.m. class two days a week. She subsequently discovered that she must be up at 5:30 a.m. to have time to get the baby up and herself off to work.
She says, "I never catch up on my sleep." Strand found herself grading papers on weekends and evenings, when her husband was home to care for the baby.
"I would be working, he would take care of the baby, and he and I would end up having so little time together," she says. "These are things students don't see."
Working women are coping by finding "personal solutions to collective problems" says Strand. "The same thing happened after women got the vote. After this long, incredibly complex political struggle, women got the vote and the feeling was this was equality. It wasn't. Sexual inequality is far more complex than that. It's rooted in our culture. Then it became a personal problem to be equal, to have satisfaction. Women turned to their private lives and personal life styles for satisfaction.
"My sense is, when you talk about feminism among young women, that's what's happening now. The notion is: 'We have equality and it's my problem to make it work in my life.' But the institutions haven't changed."
"The work-place," Strand says, "is still oriented to the male breadwinner with the stay-at-home wife." In the academic world, she says, "the point when you should be doing the most writing is when you're raising small children."
"I don't want students to feel everything is fine, we can stop seeking changes," she says. "We still have so far to go to make the work setting better for men, for women and for children."
Strand and her husband have agreed in a marriage contract to share in the raising of their child, and while this has helped her, she says it has cost him: He has not been able to do some of the things that his colleagues with stay-at-home wives have been able to do because "he has so many obligations at home."
Hill and Strand are working in one of the most receptive atmospheres that exists: a women's college that offers encouragement and intellectual support for what they are doing. They have cooperative husbands and more flexible schedules than most working mothers, and they are able to do some of their work at home.
Yet both know that their ability to do this hinges on their babies not getting sick. Both feel the hidden pressure to excel, to attend all meetings, lest colleagues think that motherhood is interfering with their careers.
They, too, have joined in the universal learning experience of working parents. They have discovered that, despite a decade of public focus on mothers leaving home and entering the labor force, little has happened in the work-place to accommodate the change this has created in families.