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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: The pseudonymous parent
August 25, 2008 - 10:18pm

I read a piece in the Chronicle last week about being a parent and an adjunct. Maybe you saw it: "It's All in the Bag," by Corinne Bennet. You see, her nice, professional-looking handbag also works as a diaper bag, but she's in fact unable to bring together her dual lives as parent and part-time professor quite so neatly. The writer is thoughtful and articulate about why adjuncting works for her at this stage in her life; the piece is far from a celebration of the adjunct life, though the writer has come to terms with her current situation. Although she acknowledges that the money and the benefits don't come close to measuring up to a tenure-track position, she's happy to have more time at home with her young child, and the trade-off, so far, seems to be working. Far be it from me to dismiss flexible part-time work as a good option for new (or not-so-new) parents--if you can afford it, and the work still engages you, I think working part-time in the academy can be a great option for parents.

But there's a bigger downside than the writer is willing to acknowledge, I think. The piece was published pseudonymously, suggesting that "Corinne Bennet" still expects to go on the job market for a tenure-track job, and doesn't want to be googleable as a parent. While she cites Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women to bolster her unarguable claim that parenting is a significant social role, she's unwilling to claim that role in public.

I can't blame "Corinne." After all, as numerous studies continue to indicate, parenting--particularly mothering -- can be seriously detrimental to one's career. We need look no further than reports right here at Inside Higher Ed. There's the recent report from the social sciences, for example, that notes the unequal advancement of men and women in the field, and suggests that parental and family status may be part of the issue; there's also the Stanford University study on dual-career hiring that notes the difficulties many partnered academics have in negotiating dual careers -- something that, again, will often affect women's parenting decisions. At the moment I'm less interested in the reports themselves -- interesting though they were, they weren't particularly surprising to me -- than in the comments, especially on the former article, which demonstrate a surprising hostility, it seems to me, to professors who "go public" about the difficulties of combining their personal and professional roles.

Do we really need to say this again? Children are not simply a "lifestyle choice." They are a fundamental human right, an evolutionary necessity, our own future students. When Wollstonecraft wrote The Vindication, she expected that granting women more rights would change the structure of society, would alter workplaces and governments so that children would not simply be a burden but an opportunity. And, of course, to some extent she was right: some countries and even some domestic employers have indeed developed flexible working conditions for parents, paid parental leave, and other practices and policies that acknowledge parenting as simply a part of life, one that need not torpedo a career. But when "Corinne Bennet" has to hide her status as parent, she reminds us that the academy has still not accommodated to the changing workplace, that Wollstonecraft's work is not yet done.


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