Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Women, family, & academia

I am feeling compelled to revisit a topic that I have written about before.  But first, let me share some recent blog-reading I've done. I recently sent an (unpublished) response to Rate Your Students regarding this post. Go read it....

Here is my response:
I'm sure you will get plenty of responses to the Sour Leprechaun, but I couldn't resist putting in my own two cents. He has tried to counter most of the typical arguments to his point, but as I read his post, I thought about some of the other similar posts that have told us all to 'quit our whining' because we have the best jobs in the universe. Most of the time, I agree- I love my job and wouldn't want to do anything else (well, most days). However, he has lost sight of the point of this blog- it a place to vent about our students, since they get to vent about us all over the web (MySpace, Facebook, the site that shall rename nameless). Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't recall reading any 'quit your whining' posts that were written by women. They seem to come from tenured, male (I would guess white) faculty, who are never called 'Mrs. Smith' by their students or had their credentials challenged because they are foreign or have dark skin. I would also suspect that the 'quit your whining' crowd are married to women who are not academics. Maybe these white, male faculty have never felt discriminated against by the administration (or department chair) because of their gender or race, but they should consider that there are others who have more crap to deal with because they are not white men.

Then, today Mommy/Prof had a comment on this Chronicle First Person column. I commented over there that "I was at a lunch the other day, when a fellow academic woman noted that she didn't know any female academics with more than two kids."

I just wanted to bring all of these things together because there are some important themes, here.  As I'm sure all of the newer mom blogger-academics can attest- it is really hard having a baby on the tenure track. Now, I can't claim to know this in the same way that these women do, because my daughter was born during my PhD (a week after I defended my dissertation proposal). I had my own struggles with this timing, but I never had to go teach a class when she was a baby, or pump breastmilk in my office, or even put her daycare until she was almost two. I know that many academic fathers are much more involved with their kids than dads a generation ago, but I think that a greater burden still falls on the mothers- especially when they are infants and moms are still nursing.  I can sympathize with the man in the Chronicle column on some level- and he does sound very involved in his family life and taking care of his kids. However, like many male academics, I would bet that his wife still takes on the majority of domestic and childcare duties- and that is fine, if that is the arrangement that they have made as a family- I am NOT criticizing that situation. I just wanted to touch on the idea that women academics with children have different struggles than male academics with children.  Do any of you have experiences with this? Are there any dads that would beg to differ? I am in a dual-academic marriage and know how things are for us (and I am not suggesting they are bad, or anything, btw!), but I would be curious to hear other points of view- especially in view of these links I've posted above.  Have we really made strides in gender equality in academe? I would say "no", but would love to hear from others.


LD said...

I've totally experienced this-- and my co-academic husband sees it and understands it. We have so many friends where the husband is in academia and the wife isn't, and when I watch those men, I can't help but feeling just a little jealous. Luckily, my husband is uber-involved with our son, but I know that my own professional career takes bigger hits than his for many reasons. It's such a frustrating issue for me-- that for him to have a child makes him MORE desirable (read "stable"), but makes me as a job candidate just the opposite.

DancingFish said...

I don't have children but I'd agree that even just the pressures to have kids differs between men and women academics. My husband's advisor thinks we should have kids right now before either of us get PhDs. That is what he did and it is great.
He pushes so hard for now being the time for kids but has no answers when I remind him that I still have at least 1 summers worth of field work left. The subject usually gets changed by the time I point out that any postdoc I'll take will be at least 3 hours away.
It is very clear that any negative effects of children on my career are expected, accepted and really, not a big deal. However, I would bet money that if he ever found out that our having a kid now would mean that my husband takes a masters and leaves his lab to move with me to my postdoc (which would be our situation) he will stop encouraging us to have kids.

Jane said...

Great post! In my quick mental calculation of colleagues who are untenured or newly-tenured and new parents, all of the men except one have a stay-at-home or work-part-time wife, while all of the women either have academic husbands or husbands with substantial careers themselves. As far as I can tell, the men still appear to be working at pretty much the same clip, while the women are all struggling just to not fall too far behind in the tenure race. Not a very comforting view at all...

(At least the one man I know who also has an academic wife has been really honest about what a struggle things have been for both of them, and I know his work has taken a hit post-kids. So that's been strangely comforting for me to see.)

L. Bowman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L. Bowman said...

(Sorry, deleted the last one when I realised I had left some names in by accident; I'll try again):
It's not just that female academics rarely have more than 2 children. Only 50% of female academics have children AT ALL. This is far less than the proportion of women with children in the general population, and far less than the proportion of male academics with children (that last one is a guess based on the anecdotal evidence of people I know.)

Or take my PhD graduate class. There were 7 women and 6 men. Of the 7 women, one dropped out after the MA to get married and have children, and has two, and never went back to school after that. One, in her mid-thirties, gave up trying to have a child after several miscarriages, and eventually adopted two children - and then quit her job because she found she couldn't care for the children AND research AND teach, and she was pre-tenure, and she just didn't want to keep on trying to climb the greased pole.

Of the ones who stayed in academe, I am the only one who has children. Of those 7 women, 3 have children, but 2 of them aren't academics anymore. And I was bloody lucky to be able to have children, because I didn't until I was 40.

Of the 6 men, all but one has children.

A large part of the problem is the timetable. If you wait until you finish the PhD - get the tenure-track job - make sure they like you - maybe I better get tenure - finally get tenure before you start trying to have children, you'll be in your late 30's unless you're a wunderkind. That's already dropped your odds of being able to have any by a lot.

As for coping with children, teaching and research as a female academic - I was always a slow producer. But I have done nothing at all since my second child was born. And I've gone to part-time this year so as to be able to spend more time with my children, who are growing up pretty fast. Maybe I'll use some of the time to get a little work done too. But I sure can't do it when I'm full time.

To cite just one minor-seeming problem: somehow it's my job, by default, to pick the kids up from school at 3:00 every day and 2:00 on Wednesdays. So I have to stop work at 2:30 or 1:30 every day. That's 13.5 hours per week that I don't get to spend working - don't want to spend working, to be honest; but I don't have any options. My husband will pick them up if I ask him to; but I have to ask, because it's my job; he's just helping out, and I should feel grateful when he does. And I do.

L. Bowman said...

ps (in response to your sidebar) - actually, yes, you will feel phenomenally less stress when you get tenure! Trust me on this ...