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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Bullet Points on women in the news
October 26, 2009 - 10:19pm
  • --Joann Lipman notes in the New York Times that women's advances in the work force seem to have stalled since 9/11/2001, despite the fact that women make up half the work force, and "mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families." As one of those major breadwinners, I could wish that Lipman had followed through on her analysis of the reasons for women's lack of progress in the work force. Instead, the article ends with advice that sounds like it came from a women's magazine, not the "paper of record: she advises women to be self-confident, have a sense of humor, and "don’t be afraid to be a girl." It's not quite clear how following this advice would have kept reporters from making fun of Hillary Clinton's "cankles," however, let alone how it would help women achieve pay equity.
  • --Manohla Dargis, also writing in the Times, suggests that "for actresses, it is no longer enough to be young and beautiful onscreen, they have to be dead and famous, too." She notes that, since 2000, "six of the best actress awards were for biographical performances, most of dead women." I'm not sure what this suggests, but it doesn't sound good. How does this piece relate to Lipman's? Do Coco Chanel, Edith Piaf, Julia Child, and Amelia Earhart represent better role models for contemporary feminists than Hillary Clinton? Inquiring minds want to know—but since I don't have time to watch movies, I can't judge.
  • --Then again, Francine Prose reviews Gail Collins's book, When Everything Changed, and suggests that the women's movement did indeed make a difference. At least, as she points out, our employers can no longer ask our weight as part of the employment process. Unless perhaps we are auditioning for the part of a dead woman. Or running for office (see Lipman, again).
  • --Bringing this back to the academy: Susan O'Doherty's blog post on having a baby in grad school seemed to touch a chord for a number of readers. O'Doherty's blog post references Mary Ann Mason's piece in the Chronicle on the same topic, and I'm especially struck by all the comments on both pieces. I didn't see Mason asking for the academy to accommodate graduate student parents—rather, she seemed to be wondering out loud why more graduate students didn't become parents, given that both biologically and, in some cases, professionally, it may be the best time to do so. (She makes a big exception for the sciences, however.)
  • --For me, having a baby in graduate school was easier than doing it on the tenure track. In graduate school I had flexible hours, excellent health care, and a husband on the same schedule as mine. As a tenure-track assistant professor I had more money but far less time.
  • --But that's just me. I finished my Ph.D. when there was still a little bit of money in the University of California system, and that made a big difference, as did supportive friends and a terrific cooperative nursery school. Since my second child was born, however, my home institution has started providing a workable parental leave policy. So if I were making the decision today, the tenure track might seem a more hospitable environment for child-bearing than graduate school.
  • --What to do with all of the above? Clearly gender has not ceased to be an issue for the academy or the culture at large. My hope is that this generation of young women—my daughter, my students — will be able to change the conversation a bit, shifting the focus to the things we share with our male colleagues, our childless colleagues, with breadwinners and part-timers. And maybe by then we'll have some role models who aren't dead yet.

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