Early this morning I came across a tweet from a historian who was offering to establish a “lady historian cult” in a beautiful home she had found on a realty site. Like 90 other people (within an hour’s time), I signaled my desire to join the lady historian cult by saying “I’m quiet, pick-up after myself, can cook about 5 tasty meals and I’ll bring my own library of books”. I’m in the cult according to the author of the tweet.
But now I’m thinking about the 90 other people who wanted to join. Of course this is all in jest, but within the laughter of our summary of skills that make us good candidates, is just how many people think that having a quiet place of solitude is an ideal setting. No one was complaining about spouses or children, no one had a snarky comment about leaving the world behind or the politics of COVid 19. Yet there is something in this post that resonated through all who responded. Women in academia are still having to balance career and family responsibility and now, working from home in often less than ideal circumstances. We are all looking for a place of peace without the burdens of today’s problems.
The intellectual stimulation that we once received seems to be lacking these days. For some of us, graduate school surrounded us in a cohort of others with similar interests or goals. For others, their footing was found after joining a department that was supportive and caring. However, too often workplaces are filled with record keeping tasks and management of students that keep us from writing and publishing more work. That’s not even to mention the political climate that most women have to negotiate at the university level besides their teaching and the aforementioned paper work. So where do we go to re-charge? Many of us found conferences as a way to connect with other scholars or to bounce ideas off one another and find collaborations for projects. In today’s pandemic, there is no way to re-charge. There is no escaping to a place where the only thing you have to do is listen, talk, and learn about the subjects that inspire creative or writing sessions.
So why did joining a “lady historian cult” appeal to so many people? Is it the promise of academic freedom? The ability to concentrate on subject interests without having to deal with the mundane tasks such as cooking or cleaning? (In my perfect cult this is done for me!). Or was it that we all just need a break from toxic inundations of societal woes?
A new book called The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty tells the story of friendships that developed out of a collective at Radcliffe in the early 1960’s. As I have read the book this afternoon, all I can think about is wanting to join a collective where women listen and empower one another. This story is not without the challenges of female friendships but more than anything shows how the power of support and encouragement creates an atmosphere of trust and lifelong bonds. So here’s to female friendships and collectives! Maybe one day I can own a large house and start my own lady cult!