My friend Susan suggested I write you this letter. It felt right for the invitation to come from her since my girlfriend conversations these days often make me think of you. We often talk about how to keep going through COVID-19, as the weeks turn into months.
How to be partners, mothers, and professionals. How to do it all—in the same space and at the same time. We talk about our work (we are academics and all working from home for now, a privilege). We talk about how to keep our families healthy and our children learning. We exchange tips for finding household supplies and giving our kids the chance to play, safely. We share a frustration that we have no time for ourselves, by which we mostly mean: no time for our work. I am thinking you would not be too pleased with the state of affairs on the home front.
You would tell us that women will never do anything of importance until we can put our work first, at least some of the time. You told us so in Cassandra when you wrote that women “have accustomed themselves to consider intellectual occupation as a merely selfish amusement’” and that women “never have half an hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own.” I wish this didn’t still feel so true. it feels like there’s not enough time to do anything well. I know you’d remind me that women are often asked to do more for others than they do for themselves, and that it shouldn’t be that way.
I know you are right. Frankly, even finding time to write you this letter wasn’t easy! Still, even though my friends and I don’t yet know how to solve this, we keep trying to figure it out, one day at a time. I can promise we’ll keep talking to each other, and keep listening to you.
Victoria Rosner, PhD, is Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of General Studies at Columbia University and a Professor of English and Comparitive Literature.