In a nutshell, Heather inspired me. She challenged me to think in a bigger way, to push myself, and to love the ones around me fully. I was honored when she agreed to be featured here. Today's blog undoubtedly features the most eclectic and hilarious answers in this series. She gave her fresh and unfiltered perspective! I know you will instantly adore this lady the same way I did. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to one of my real life heroines: Heather Weidner. She's a hero because she lives life well.
Hope: It's been a while! Can you please share a little bit about yourself with my readers?
Heather: I was born in southern California in a tiny town on the Arizona border. My parents decided to move because the only thing they loved more than each other and me was books and the town didn’t have a book store. We moved west to the greater Los Angeles area. I left California to go to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. After college, I moved to Charlottesville for graduate school in history at the University of Virginia. I wrote a dissertation on how British people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries imagined going to sea and how they connected their ideas about the ocean to empire building. It’s much more interesting than it sounds. It’s full of shipwrecks and cannibalism. There’s even a ghost.
I met my husband in graduate school. He’s also a historian. We ended up staying in central Virginia because of his job. He works for the army as an intelligence analyst. I teach history part time at colleges in the area and am writing a history textbook. I’m working on a novel. I read, write, bake, grow orchids, and console a neurotic beagle. I volunteer at the SPCA and with the local task force on domestic violence. I used to travel. Then I became a parent. I have a son who fills me with joy and despair, often at the same time. I feel like I need a new hobby. I keep thinking about quilting, but then I imagine lots of sharp needles and fabric scraps covered in dog hair and I’m not so sure. My husband says I don’t need a new hobby -- I just need to finish writing the *%&$ novel and that it is perfectly obvious that I’m procrastinating. He may have a point.
Hope: How do we know each other?
Heather: I know you because I was your history professor when you were a student at Abilene Christian University. I had you in Western Civilization II and in Medieval Europe. You wrote a pink princess hat to my Beowulf party (Note from Hope: HA! I totally forgot about that. Heather hosted a pre-test prep party for us to review our notes about Beowulf. She invited students to wear goofy, era-appropriate hats. I wore a princess hat b/c there's totally royalty in that story, duh! and was one of two students to wear a hat).
Hope: I have so much respect for you as a successful educator, a college professor. Do you think there is a glass ceiling in academia or would you describe it as a more inclusive profession?
Heather: Oh boy. I could write a book. Um, I wouldn’t say there’s a glass ceiling. I think there’s something much more complicated than that metaphor implies. The system that creates professors -- grad school, job searches, tenure -- assumes that you are a man. Nobody any more thinks that all professors are, or should be, men. But the basic system hasn’t changed to reflect that new reality. This is just one little example: the biggest conference of the year for historians is about 4 days after Christmas. This is also when the first round of job interviews for ALL history jobs is conducted. Because back in the day, this actually seemed like a reasonable idea. Daddy pats the kids on the head and says “have fun playing with your new toys” and breathes a secret sigh of relief to be able to get out of the house for a while. The assumption was that a historian was either a single man, or had a wife who was home with the kids and would get them back to school after Christmas and clean up after the holiday, giving him the freedom to fly across the country to hang out in hotel bars and discuss whether or not something is a discourse.
Here’s another much bigger example: if you’re lucky enough to be hired, you spend the next 5-6 years trying to get tenure. Different colleges have different requirements. It’s usually a combination of teaching evaluations, committee work, and publications. Grad school usually last 6-9 years. By the time you’re done, you’re usually in debt. So we do the math: you’re 21 when you graduate from college. By the time you’re through grad school and (hopefully) have a job, you’re almost 30. If you wait until you have job security and tenure and have paid down the loans and have jumped through all the hoops, you’re 36. Do you want to wait until you’re 36 to look for a relationship? If you look for one earlier, then you run the risk of having to choose between the relationship and the one available job wherever it might happen to be in the world. Do you want to wait until you’re 36 to start a family? Or do you want to be pregnant and frantically trying to meet your tenure deadlines? Or do you want to take a chance and have kids while you’re in grad school and then run the risk that you won’t get a job or that you won’t get tenure and you’ll have to move and pull the kids out of their schools?
So it’s not so much that there’s a glass ceiling as it is that academia is becoming incompatible with modern family life. It sucks for everyone, but it sucks worse for women.
When I left Texas (and stopped working at Abilene Christian University), that was pretty much professional suicide. It was incredibly hard. I’m still conflicted about it and I think about the decision pretty much every day. I’ll almost certainly never have a full time academic job now, and have to decide whether it’s worth staying in part-time jobs or trying to find something else. It’s really brutal.
Hope: When it is age appropriate, what advice will you give your son on how to treat women (women he dates, women he works with, and women he interacts with in his day-to-day life)?
Heather: One of the best things about my husband is that he is good at being around women. He was raised primarily by his mother and is very close to his sister and I think that turned him into someone who likes (as in “likes” -- not “is attracted to”) women. I feel that a lot of men don’t like women. They love women. They’re attracted to women. They have views about what women should be like. But they don’t know how to be friends with women. They don’t really listen to them, unless they’re trying to prove a point by showing how well they listen. I’m not sure how to teach that, but that’s what I want for Paul. Women are as fully human as men. They’re not some exotic species that must be cared for in certain ways, but neither are they sub-human. They’re fully human, full people, and deserve to be fully heard and fully respected and full partners in friendships or relationships or at work.
I’ve also got a blue-eyed, white-skinned boy baby. He’s going to grow up to be someone who will have it easy just because of the way he looks. So I want him to know that it’s his responsibility to be compassionate and proactive for people who don’t get that free pass -- and that includes the 50% of population who don’t have a penis.
Hope: What is the most encouraging thing you have been told/read as a parent?
Heather: That I’m doing a good job. Isn’t that silly? But I find it amazingly helpful when someone tells me I’m doing a good job. It’s really simple and not specific but it keeps me going like no other piece of advice does.
But I also think about something my mother told me. It really kills me that she doesn’t know her grandchild (she passed away several years ago). I was worrying about whether or not to get married. Brian and I are really different and I was worried that if our kids were raised to reflect his point of view, they wouldn’t like me. That sounds really dumb now, but I was worried about it at the time. My mother said “babies come loving their parents. Even the worst parents, their babies came loving them.” (And I know that’s not strictly true. There’s bonding and all the rest of it. And some babies have problems that prevent emotional development. But that’s just me nitpicking.) I’ve thought about that a lot. It’s a very my mother thing to say.
Hope: How would you describe your personal style?
Heather: I would have to describe my style as eclectic. When I was little, I had 72 Barbie dolls. So in the morning I think, “which Barbie do I want to be?” Arty flowy scarf Barbie? Black turtleneck poet Barbie? Power professional Barbie? Audrey Hepburn Barbie? Vintage Barbie? Retro Barbie? Preppy Barbie? Eco-warrior Barbie? Romantic Barbie? Sophisticated and cosmopolitan Barbie? Or, you know, the one I’ve been going for a lot lately -- It’s Clean Enough to Wear Again Barbie. It’s not really my favorite look, but I can usually pull it off without too much trouble.
I think more in terms of what I can’t wear / don’t like. No horizontal stripes. No ruffles. No beige. No Uggs. No fur. No white pants. I like bright, dark, and clear colors. No sage green, no lavender, no light pink. I’m also short waisted so I have to wear the right kind of necklines otherwise disastrous things happen.
That's all for now! I hope you're enjoying this series as much as I am. Your homework today: Share a laugh with someone in your path.