This is something of a follow-up to the recent discussion about partner/spousal hires, in that both this post and that are about academia and family life. In a recent article at Inside Higher Ed called “Does Acadme Hinder Parenthood,” the data suggest that yes indeedy, academic men and women have fewer children than people with other advanced degrees, and that women with Ph.D.’s are the least likely professionals to have children. (Historiann started to write a post on that article alone, but all I could come up with was a link and a headline that read “Duh!,” but it didn’t hold up to my usual high standards of snappy writing and trenchant observations.) The new blog called “Mama Ph.D.: Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics,” at IHE took on some of the dumber comments in response to the article, the dumbest of which were clueless, or sexist, or cluelessly sexist, in a solid post by Libby Gruner. The blog was started earlier this month by a group of women who were also contributors to a forthcoming book called Mama Ph.D.: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life (Rutgers University Press, 2008).
However, Historiann wonders why the only blog at IHE that features women writers is about motherhood, as though 1) only women academics think about or deal with parenting issues, or should be the only ones who do, 2) there are no child-free women academics, and 3) the major concern of women academics is motherhood, not pay equity, the job market, faculty life, teaching, grantsmanship, or other professional issues? (People interested in the issues outlined in #3 know where to go–Historiann.com! Hey IHE: hands off my readers! And in all fairness, IHE blogger Dean Dad of “Confessions of a Community College Dean” also commented on the article, and as his name implies, he also writes about his family life occasionally. But, the focus of his blog is on his life as an administrator.) After all, as the original article about parenthood and academe pointed out, women with Ph.D.’s are the least likeliest professional women to reproduce, so motherhood is not a shared concern of all faculty women. I tried to get a discussion going over there (see the first comment), but without success–one commenter agreed with my point, but no one seemed interested enough to really pick up the discussion. I understand the blog is linked to a book–but the bigger question (to me) is why the gendered divsion of labor?
The people at “Mama Ph.D.” can blog about whatever they like, and it’s a good thing to have a blog there that talks about work-family issues in academia. But–why the effective ghettoization of women writers? This is not an argument for the blog to enlist male writers, nor am I inviting people to spank IHE. (Regular readers know that it’s on my blogroll, I rely on their wide reporting, and I really admire their coverage of controversies in higher ed., especially their willingness to cover bad behavior by university administrators. Their coverage of issues appears to be fair, and their coverage of gender issues in the academy seems to be motivated by feminist questions and assumptions.) Rather, my concern is that if it’s only motherhood and family issues that women are invited to comment on at IHE, this tends to reinforce stereotypes about women (and about mothers in academia, in particular). As the one commenter who agreed with me said, “[i]t would be different, perhaps, if women wrote a reasonable proportion of blogs, news stories and opinions at IHE, but look at the bylines — they are overwhelmingly male.” Anecdotally, this observation appears to hold up. (UPDATE: See Susan’s comment below, and my apology. University Diaries is written by a woman. My mistake! I checked for bylines, but obviously, not closely enough!)
Finally, one more question: why does ”Mama Ph.D.” feature mostly contributors who are no longer “inside higher education” because they chose to leave academia to be full-time parents and/or pursue other careers (six out of nine, as far as I can tell from their brief biographies)? They’re no longer trying to “balace parenthood and academics,” so their concerns are by and large not those of women who are working academics, who I assume are in the majority of IHE’s female readers. In fact, a recent post suggests strongly that dual-career academic couples are ruining the planet with their selfish pursuit of two tenure-track jobs! It’s not just couples with lengthy, jet-fueled commutes who are guilty: “in order to maximize the work day, the extra half hour saved by driving kids to the daycare instead of walking can be vital,” the implication being that working parents can’t possibly spare that hour per day, so someone should quit hir job to save the Earth. Ahem: the child-free among us might with equal moral certainty point out that by producing one, two, or more U.S. American children who will own their own cars and refrigerators and fly on planes, even parents who have one-career, one-Prius families have much larger carbon footprints!
I think the mommy wars are largely media hype, and I thought long and hard before posting this. (Lord knows we fembloggers get beaten up enough by anonymous misogynists on-line!) However, I’m not sold on the relevance of “Mama Ph.D.” to people who are working, um, “inside higher education.” As the only dedicated space for women writers at IHE, It appears to replicate many of the hierarchies that women faculty, staff, students, and administrators inside higher education are working against. (OK–now let me have it.)