Thursday, April 14, 2005

Balancing Motherhood and Work/Academia

Today I am responding, in a thoughtful and angry manner, to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education: It's All an Illusion by Simone Schweber. Actually, I liked a lot of what she had to say and especially how she gave her opinion through two anecdotes involving cupcakes and elevators. She basically said what we all know: it's hard to be a mother and an academic, and often times we fail at being either mothers or academics. But what made me angry was when she said this: "What I have learned, I suppose, since graduate school, is that I can't do it all, but I'm willing to keep trying to look like I am, knowing that I will frequently fail. "
Huh? How can we get through graduate school and then, once we become academics, agree to "keep up appearances"? Is it so that female graduate students, observing us, will say, "Gee, when I grow up I hope I can keep it all together like her?" Granted, Ms. Schweber has admitted in print that she frequently is NOT keeping it all together. But instead of saying "I'm willing to keep trying to look like I am" why not say THE CURRENT ACADEMIC SYSTEM IS HOSTILE TO FAMILIES AND ESPECIALLY TO WOMEN WHO WANT TO WORK AND BE MOTHERS. Perhaps, like many of us, Ms. Schweber has seen the futility in trying to change the system. But I don't think the answer is to focus on appearances, to keep looking like we are keeping it all together while we, in fact, are not. Why not just admit, once and for all, that it is damn near impossible to be a fabulously successful academic and a fabulously devoted mother at the same time, and it shouldn't be. There should be more support for working mothers and fathers. There should be time off for life events like the flu and the first day of kindergarten. If the academy is made up of people who know theory back and forth, why, pray tell, do we not put some of this radical theory into practice?

I, for one, will do so. I don't think parents should have to apologize for being committed to their children. I don't think I should have to apologize to Son for taking time for writing. I am a hopeless romantic: There IS a perfect world here, somewhere. We just have to make it. It's only an illusion if you refuse to stop acting.


Lisa B. said...

Dr. Write, I think the trick is to have the kind of academic career with no glamor associated. Then nobody's kidding anybody. It's work--good work, but work--and it's not supposed to make you gleam like silver and sparkle like gold.

I'm always of two minds when I think about these women in academia articles. Mind one: academic life is largely a steaming pile of nonsense (euphemism). Mind two: it's SO not fair that male careerist types get ahead with their pseudo-accomplishments and hollow accolades.

This leaves aside certain luminaries who have (a) worked very hard and (b)accomplished things that have made my intellectual life richer. But for most of academia, I say, it can take a flying leap.

If that helps at all

madeline said...

Thanks for this link. I view the Chronicle as one of the texts that perpetuates the home/work barrier, and this article is quite representative of that perpetruation.

I think that while she was being honest, I agree that she could have turned what she saw to be HER failure into a failure in the system.

Right on, Dr. Write.

The PhD Pimpernel said...

I googled motherhood and academia and your blog appeared, as if by some magic, because today I am struggling with both of these 'ideals' - motherhood is imposing itself on my academic progress.
After abandoning my work for 6 weeks to accommodate the children's summer vacation, I am trying to regain my thoughts and ideas, when I am called to school to collect one child who has 'a tummy ache' ... my day has been disruptive and I am now left ranting in my own head about the demands of parenting and academic life!
So I appreciated your honesty and your candid reply to those who believe that they need to keep up appearances that all is rosy in the college gardens. I've realised that I am not alone and that other women out there know the duality of juggling a family with a scholarly/writerly life!