“Random thoughts” posted an interesting comment to last week’s post, about the difference between thoughtlessness and active malice in our treatment of less-privileged coworkers. “Suzanne” added her belief that academic women “never notice anyone but themselves.”
I do think that academia, like most fields, is rife with attitudes and policies which, if not actively malicious, are callously exploitative. But I don’t think that most of us are out to get the individuals who perform the tasks that make it possible for us to do our jobs. Certainly the women I have met and corresponded with through the Mama PhD anthology and this blog, and most of my peers in academic fundraising and speechwriting, have been caring and responsive individuals.
If it is true that the academic women Suzanne refers to can be myopic, I would say that is probably because most mothers are like air traffic controllers, unable to pull their attention away from the situations they are managing without courting disaster. So other people’s even more congested and perilous assignments just aren’t on the radar.
Suzanne describes a difficult work/family situation, and certainly, compared to her, most of us probably do have it easy. Does that make us “whiners,” though, as she asserts?
American feminists are often accused of “whining” when we point out inequities. We should be grateful, we’re told, that we’re not in Afghanistan, or Congo, or wherever things are even worse.
Liz Stockwell’s August 19 post describes the ways her career path was affected by the availability of affordable childcare, and contrasts this with the smoother path afforded her sister, who lives in Europe. Liz has achieved a lot, but she might have been able to go further if these options had been available to her. Suzanne seems to be energetic and resourceful — and she might have an easier life if she had Liz’s options, not to mention those available to Liz’s sister.
I think we do have an obligation to listen to one another, to acknowledge inequities and work for equality. But I think we also need to recognize that mothers in our culture are, as a class, unsupported, undervalued and exhausted — it’s a matter of degree, and sometimes of dramatic degree. I think that if we could join forces and demand a higher level of support for everyone, we’d be unbeatable.
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