I’m a wife, a mother, and a photography student. I’m also a friend, a daughter, a sibling, a homeowner. I used to be a sociology professor. My field was women, work, and family.
Gender is a big part of my story. My mother was very traditional. My father was the patriarch, but pretty forward thinking for his time. He always said you can be what you want, though he had very specific ideas of what constituted a worthy person. He pushed us into academia—specifically math and science, which were never my interests.
I had to get a PhD—the only question was in what subject. I started in economics as an undergrad, because I liked puzzles. When I went on to graduate school, at the University of Wisconsin, I was one of a handful of women in the department. I remember rooms full of men solving problems, talking only to each other. I left the program after I got my masters. At least I met my husband there.
While he finished his doctorate, I worked for a female law professor who specialized in family law and poverty. That got me interested in sociology, and I still had to get that PhD. We looked for a place where I could study and my husband could teach, which led us to UCLA.
It was assumed that I would be a quantitative sociologist, a “quantoid” crunching numbers, even though it was the qualitative side I was drawn to. I think if I’d been braver, I could have made that switch. Still, I managed to find an area that interested me. I was part of a group doing a four-city study of urban inequality. Our project had received funding from the Russell Sage Foundation, and when I presented a paper at one of their conferences, a very prominent feminist reviewed it. She stood up and said to the president of the foundation, “Your investment was worth it for this paper alone.”
We had our two kids while we were at UCLA. Then my husband got a job at the Federal Reserve in New York, and I got one teaching sociology and women’s studies at Temple. We moved to outside Philadelphia and both commuted like crazy.
We couldn’t afford a nanny. Faculty meetings were at 4:00, but the kids had to be picked up from daycare or we’d be charged more. I was physically drained; I wasn’t one of those mothers who could put the kids to bed and then sit down and write for two hours. So I could see the end coming. There was a battle over my tenure. I didn’t get it.
I liked saying I was a sociologist. I missed that when it was gone. But I never regretted the decision to stay home. I felt successful as a parent. And, from the day I left my job, my husband’s career went straight up. He has the kind of job that requires a second person to keep your life running at home.
I started studying photography less than a year ago. We took a family trip to Alaska, and I bought a camera for that. I barely knew how to use it. But I made a book from my photos and got great feedback on it. It made me hungry to learn more.
I’m excited about documentary photography. It feels like sociology—but now I get to tell stories through pictures rather than numbers.
Interviewed on December 10, 2018