John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1884, Manhattan: Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Wikipedia

In my other blogging life at UVenus, I was asked to describe my role model.  In this cohort of GenX women, few of us can claim to have a role model.  Many of us spread our models across a range of women who embody characteristics we admire in one facet of life or another.  Our inability to say, “I want to be like X,” strikes me as symbolic of our generation’s struggle to redefine what it means to be a woman.  If “X marks the spot,” the destination at which we each wish to arrive in our lives, few of us have discerned as yet where or what X might be.

I remember discussing this with a classmate in my senior thesis seminar back in 1992.  I already had women historians whose scholarship I admired, but I noticed with no small amount of anxiety that none of them had children.  During my doctoral program, I scribbled on a napkin as I sat across from Amy Gutmann, a scholar and administrator worthy of emulation long before she became an Ivy League Provost and President.  My note to myself read, “one daughter.”

Katty Kay had a similar response when Chris Matthews asked her to comment on Amy Chua’s suggestion that isolated lives of solitary study and parental insult would produce a generation able to solve the nation’s ills.  She noted that Ms. Chua has two daughters.  Ms. Kay, the mother of four – two girls and two boys, questioned the possibility let alone the wisdom of such parenting measures for the bearers of Y chromosomes.

If one X poses a problem for our ill-defined generation, the double X the women of UVenus and I bear doubles the difficulty determining what that letter/variable/chromosome means.  I have two sons.  I knew even as an undergraduate that I hoped to have more than one child.  My desire for a family holds a place as fundamental to my being as my need to research, write, teach, and contribute to my community.  My generation’s lived equation contains an exponential growth in variables:  X to the nth power.

The XYs of the world have watched  the equation change in their lifetimes as well.  My father-in-law certainly never fretted over the number of times he coached a team or read a story aloud.  Nonetheless, self-help books excoriate the XXs not the XYs for their shortcomings in “having it all.”  Make an attempt at attentive parenting and men receive praise.  Make the same attempt as a mother and some soul who has not walked in your shoes will feel free to say you got it wrong.  We can not master this peculiar form of math by rote practice.  We get one shot.

When you don’t have time and evidence to solve a problem with perfect precision, you make a good faith estimate.  We women of GenX have worked ourselves to exhaustion trying to solve the problem of work-life balance.  No one role model – no Madame X – will guide us to a perfect solution.  Time to accept a good faith estimate from each of us.


About elizabethlewispardoe

Mater: de Facto et de Jure
This entry was posted in Academic Life, Biography, History, Motherhood and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to X=?

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