Answer: Lurking behind your question, Ms. Mentor knows, is the Angel in the House, that vicious Victorian image of domestic perfection. The Angel is that siren in your head that shrieks when you put yourself first. The Angel sneers at live-and-let-live housekeeping, calls you selfish for wanting a career, and faints when she learns that your children, like those of the late great Erma Bombeck, send Mother's Day cards to Colonel Sanders.
She makes women feel guilty and inadequate, and she's trying to do that to you.
But in fact, you are a perfectly lovely person who wants to do right, and what's troubling you is the nature of the game. Luckily academia has changed since the days when there were but two images for a faculty wife, rudely incarnated in Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? You could be Honey (Sandy Dennis in the movie), the whiny, self-sacrificing little woman who devotes her life to upholstering hubby's ego and papering over his faux pas. Or you could be Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), the randy, drunken harpy who gets all the best and meanest lines while torturing an ambitious young prof and his little wifey.
Both are overwrought dramatizations, but they are a window into what faculty wifeys of the past had to do. They were expected to raise bright, perky children, welcome stray students, and bake pies at the drop of a homesick tear. They were supposed to contrive exquisite, homemade meals, served on antique silver and napkins stitched by 12th-century French nuns. And then, in the after-dinner glow, all the wives were to listen attentively, passionately, to the pontifications of husbands and their male colleagues. Nancy Reagan, with her adoring gaze, was the paragon of the perfect wifey.
(After dinner at some colleges, there was also -- supposedly -- "wife swapping." But Ms. Mentor has never been able to obtain the videos.) All that wifey work has faded, to the joy of women everywhere. Universities that once bragged that they didn't do spousal hires ("we choose only the best") have lost their best and brightest to places that caught on first ("make 'em happy and they'll stay here on weekends and not put the moves on their students"). Ambitious women who can be cardiologists, computer whizzes, and corporate attorneys won't twiddle their thumbs as "captive spouses." Foreign-service wives and university upper administrators' wives may still have to do the elaborate hostessing. But for faculty wives and the rest of womankind, Ms. Mentor is happy to say, Hillary Rodham Clinton is much more the norm -- a wife with a life of her own.
Which means that your disabilities need not disable or derail your husband's career. At the junior (assistant professor) level, few departments expect to meet a spouse before hiring a candidate. Many departments will help with finding a house, but hubby's house hunting by himself is not at all rare. Nor is hubby's going to social events alone, as long as he's sociable. He should make friends with his new colleagues -- have lunch with them frequently -- and make himself liked. It may be useful to have a cover story -- "My wife is very shy" or "My wife has migraines" -- for as you and Ms. Mentor know, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. And while it's useful to educate people, you might want to wait until he's established in the department.
As a 21st-century wife, you have no ironclad obligations. Extremely charming spouses can help a career, and extremely surly ones can harm it, but most spouses are neutral. If you can manage a small dinner party, four to six people, that would be welcome -- but no one expects big bashes. If you bake cookies for hubby to take into the department office, everyone will be delighted. If there's a choice, you'll do best at a large public university in a big city -- for small, churchly private colleges sometimes do expect a more traditional family image. Beware, too, of gossip networks in small towns, where medical confidentiality can be a myth. But the world is far more open for faculty wives than it was in the 1960s, and you needn't be the Angel in the House or Honey or Martha. You can be yourself.
Question: Our dean plans to move into our building, commandeering valuable office space for himself and his entourage, and eavesdropping on everyone. Hints and back-channel complaints haven't managed to halt the invasion. If we confront him, is he apt to be insulted and punish us with diminished travel money, fewer raises, no perks, and a stream of never-ending ill will?
SAGE READERS:: What screeching! What a brouhaha! Indeed, few things on earth are more frightening than a gaggle of English profs infuriated over a perceived slight. In last month's column, Ms. Mentor told the true story of a cowardly department with a retired curmudgeon who made them hire a "foggy personage" in Old English philology. And now Ms. Mentor finds herself accused of deriding Old English and being "out to lunch" (she has often wondered why that is considered a sin, but that is a topic for a different column).
Ms. Mentor reminds readers that reporting a travesty is not the same as committing it. She was, in fact, telling a cautionary tale about what happens when tyrants are allowed to flourish. The venerable Ms. Mentor is actually quite fond of Old English, which she learned at Mama Mentor's knee. It was known as New English then.
Other correspondents ask about how to shmooze, and how to suss out who is really powerful, and how to decide what you are willing to sacrifice. As one writer puts it, "I've been working my ass off as an adjunct for two years, teaching, publishing, advising, kissing any ass that condescends to present itself" -- and yet, no interviews. "Should I let someone surgically remove my left arm for a tenure-track job?" he asks. Ms. Mentor votes no, but invites further correspondence on the subject.
As always, Ms. Mentor welcomes questions, rants, fulminations, and gossip. She rarely answers letters personally, and will not open attachments. Anonymity is guaranteed, and she urges questioners to consult her tome (listed below) or the Career Network archive of her column. She has answered many a question in the past, with her perfect wisdom, and she prefers not to repeat her pearls.