Melissa Hield's Journal
Melissa Hield’s Dissertation Journal from the Summer of 1979 is a personal look into the struggles of being a woman in academia and within the rather misogynistic culture that the 70s supported. Here, Melissa reveals personal information regarding her life and the troubles associated with writing her dissertation for UT's American Studies Ph.D. Program.
Within this journal, there are lines dedicated to her distaste for marriage and the very institution, since it ties her down to her husband—a man who does not seem to understand her needs and challenges. One such line literally says, “I do not like “being married”—the institution.” Moreover, marriage has led Hield to fight her “impulses/ training/ background constantly.” Since Hield received an education at Smith College, a progressive all-girl university, she came to possess certain beliefs that defined her as a feminist. Such being that women deserve equal rights in every sense, which necessitates the same opportunities as men. By marrying, Hield felt as if she was essentially losing that side of herself. Since marriage requires effort and the antiquated idea of women being subservient to men within this period, Melissa could not reconcile marriage with her own personal feminist identity.
After interviewing Hield, I came to find that her marriage was ultimately short-lived. Her husband happened to be a writer who lacked the communication and support that Melissa required to stay fulfilled. Her feminist ideology which sought to emancipate women from the hands of the patriarchy could not come to terms with the notion of being married… of being tied down to someone. Additionally, she did not find joy in domestic duties. She found herself being confined to the household… “regularizing chores” and not having the courage to say “NO to small tasks and demands and interruptions.” In other words, Melissa’s marriage did not exert the equity, she, as a feminist, required and desired for it to be possible. Her need to be true to herself and her values did not put her on equal terms with her husband. She simply could not put the two in harmony with one another—her feminist beliefs overtaking her desire for marriage itself.
This perpetuation of sexism existed within Hield’s academic life as well. The University of Texas lacked significant female faculty and relied on patriarchal standards. In other words, Hield’s fellow classmates refused to support her and her goal to obtain a Ph.D. They viewed it as an occupation solely fit for men, which is reiterated in Hield being told by a fellow classmate she “thinks like a man." She was even told at one point that her department did not believe she would ever finish her dissertation. Hield writes, “I can’t say NO and it makes me furious”—a trait that many women possess as a mechanism to keep those in their lives content. “Panic. I can write 3 pages; I can say no.” Thus, while attempting to finish her thesis, Hield fought greatly with her desire to write and finish her education coupled with the desire to keep her domestic life happy—a challenge seen in the lives of many women still today. One could call this a pattern in feminism... that is perpetuated by the still very male-dominated world of academia.
These unsupportive forces ultimately led Hield to dropout out of her Ph.D. program and instead pursue a career in state government. She found herself happier in an environment that was collaborative… that was not all scholarship and toxic masculinity.