Sometimes I kind of wonder how I, the uber-conformist, turned out so, well, unusual. From childhood on, I have wanted nothing more than to fit in. And yet somehow now I find myself sticking out in ways that I didn't used to. (How many prepositions can I end sentences with?)
(1) I feel like I'm one of two people I know (in actual real life, as opposed to you lovely internet people) who did not take her husband's last name on getting married. The other person? (yup) one of my law professors. (One of my classmates, on finding out said prof kept her name, said in bafflement, "But why?") Every other woman I know in the legal community here (school/firm/whatever) has taken her husband's name. ALL my bright, smart, and feminist law school classmates have taken their husband's names. (Actually, except one, possibly; I'm not sure if she has or hasn't, I've seen her use both.)
Mind you, that's not to say that I have a problem with these women taking their husbands' names. I couldn't conceive of doing it myself, but that's me for my reasons, and everyone has to live their own lives, not those of other people. But it is still sort of disorienting to realize HOW FEW women seem to make the same choice I did.
(I'd chalk it up to generational differences, but I don't know that this is the case; I'm sure I've said this before, but it seems to me that in college, none of my classmates were going to take their husband's names, but that by the time they all got married in the 10 years or so following, most actually did so. Though I can think of at least two college friends who kept their own names, and one who hyphenated.)
(2) Sometimes I feel like the only person who not only doesn't have kids (most of my college classmates don't have kids), but has no intention of having kids. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that almost every woman in my summer firm (as well as most of the men) has kids. Which, overall, I actually think is great. (Look, a law firm that expects you to have a life outside work!) But this is seriously the first time, I think, that I've been surrounded by so. many. women. all raising kids at once, around me. (Not literally. I have not met most of said children. But you get what I mean.)
I think this is actually an interesting distinction between getting a law degree and getting a Ph.D. On the one hand, people say: Oh, academia is flexible! How marvellous for raising children! On the other hand: You're a woman in academia who has to decide to have children either while 1) going through coursework for grad school, 2) taking exams, doing research (in history, possibly overseas) and writing your dissertation, 3) on the job market, 4) on the tenure track, or 5) after you get tenure. There are problems with ALL these possibilities.
Granted, there are problems with probably any choice of when to have kids. During law school? Lots of people do it and succeed, but it's not any easier (possibly harder) than doing it during a Ph.D. program. In the first years of your law career? Associates at law firms don't have time to spend with their kids! (Obviously that's not always true, and there are lots of other kinds of legal jobs. Still.)
But surrounded by the smart, successful women lawyers I work with this summer, it's a little flabbergasting to realize that if you go to law school straight out of undergrad, and you start to work at a law firm after graduation, you can probably make partner before someone who started grad school when you did gets tenure. So if you want to wait till partner to have kids, you can do that. All of the women partners at my firm have kids. (I should add that my firm is probably not representative, and that all the women partners are fairly junior, age-wise. But it's a young firm.)
Plus, until recently, you were MUCH more likely to get a stable job coming out of law school than coming out of a Ph.D. program,* which I think makes it easier to think about where you're going to be, for how long, when you can have kids, and whether you're going to have the MONEY to support having kids. (Not that I think you have to have any particular amount of money to raise kids. While ideally you're not homeless, I think people of all income levels can be great parents. But living off grad stipends or adjuncting fees or moving from one one-year job to another does discourage some people from having kids until their financial situation is more stable, reasonably enough.)
I'm kind of rambling here, but I guess it's funny, because it seems to me that law is not necessarily a family-friendly career, BUT that in practice it's no less family-friendly than academia, and in fact, it might even be MORE family-friendly. At least, there seems to be a much greater expectation that women will have kids. People do, I'm sure, get "mommy-tracked" (God, I hate that expression), and in some ways, the expectation that women will have kids can be part of a more conservative culture that adheres to more traditional gender roles (see point 1 above!). But even if the idea is that women will have kids is because that's what women are expected to do, it means that there's room for women to have kids. Whereas I sometimes feel like there's not a lot of room for women (or men, frankly, unless they want to be traditionally absent from the day-to-day slog of child-rearing) to do that in academia - that academia's monastic roots show pretty strongly as a conflict between intellect and family.
(Again, I may be way off the mark here, because where I'm working is kind of atypical. And I know tons of wonderful academic parents. And I've never been a parent, in academia or out. It just seems like the decision to parent is so much more fraught in academia than in law, even if in practice actually doing the parenting is difficult in both.)
Anyway. The reason I'm rambling all over about this is that sometimes I wonder what things would have been like if I'd done this career path the other way round - if I'd gone to law school first, then into academia. Would I have changed my name, if when I was in my early 20s I saw everyone doing so? Would I have thought it would be cool to have kids, if I saw women working and raising kids, without the same kind of agonized analysis about when/how to have kids that I saw in grad school? I mean, come on - one thing people in Ph.D. programs are good at is overanalysis. (Well, lawyers, too, probably!)
I guess the shorthand version of what I'm saying is that the decision not to have kids feels much more peculiar for the legal setting than the academic setting. It feels like just one of a variety of ways in which I'm peculiar for the legal setting. And since I really did always dream of fitting in, I kind of wonder how I ended up in this position.
*Now it's just significantly more likely.