Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Daring to Express Opinions As a Woman Without a Child

During my first semester on the tenure track, I recall leading a discussion in one of my classes. It was a lower-level course with a wide range of students. We were discussing that day's reading, and the conversation was going along great. I then made an assertion about the reading (don't recall what it was) and a student raised her hand. I called on the student, and the student told me that the interpretation that I was offering was completely wrong. That's cool with me if a student challenges me in that way, but I do expect a student to back it up. So I ask the woman why I was completely wrong. Her response? "Do you have children?" Naive lass that I was, I actually answered that question. I told the woman no. And she responded, "Well, if you're not a mother than you just won't understand." I don't remember my exact response. I think I just called on another student. I was stunned. I mean, I've got a PhD in freaking English. It's my job to understand. I have trained for years in the study of literature. But apparently, the fact that I haven't given birth to a child or mothered a child, at least in this student's eyes, meant I wasn't qualified to do my job. (Funny side note: I've also been told by a student on an evaluation that I wasn't qualified to do my job because I'm a feminist.)

I've thought about that moment a lot over the course of my career since, and it's not the last time I've had a student indicate that the fact that she has given birth to and mothered a child makes her specially qualified in the interpretation of literature. I no longer reveal whether I have children to my classes, and when those comments come up, I now respond directly in a way that indicates I don't agree that motherhood has anything to do with one's ability to read or to understand literary texts.

Now, you might be thinking, "But these are students! It is your job to teach them! What do silly and uninformed comments like these have to do with your life outside of the classroom?" Well, I'll tell you. I have finally made the connection that the above feels in many ways identical to what I feel when I read some comments to recent blog posts, here, but also elsewhere. It's not just uninformed students who believe that parenthood operates as a special qualification that trumps all other things. It's not just uninformed students who believe that people without children should change what they think to better accommodate the feelings and needs of people with them.

Take my post about academic casualties, a post that was all about how the choices of women across experiences are shaped by a career in academia. I had the audacity to refer to my childless status as "unencumbered," and to take pleasure in thinking of it that way. How dare I? Well, never fear: I was upbraided:

I get your point, but honestly while I don't care for "child-free' or "childless," I equally don't care for "unencumbered," because it implies that those with children and/or partners are encumbered. Ick. As if my child were a burden, a limit, a restraint. NO WAY.

Sure, I don't have all the time in the world to myself, and I definitely miss certain aspects of my life pre-child, but I don't see my life being limited or restrained by my child. I'm on the tenure-track and, while I might not be as productive as my "unencumbered" colleagues, I don't see that as a problem. It's just the way it is. (Of course, check back in a few years: if I'm denied tenure because I demonstrated limited scholarly engagement, well then maybe I'll rethink this position, but I still wouldn't consider myself "encumbered." Again, ick.

Great post otherwise!

Here's the thing. When I used that word, I wasn't saying anything about anybody else's situation. I was talking about my own. And I'm a person who wants children, but I'm also a realist. I will not have the freedom that I have now if I have a child. Period. I will be tied down in a way that I am not tied down right now. Raising children, as parents so often like to remind non-parents, is the "toughest job you'll ever do" and this is the reason so many parents need so much accommodation from us empty-womb types, right? So yes, having internalized all of those messages, I think that right now I am relatively "unencumbered." And it's my blog, and it's completely fine for me to use that word and to feel that way, right? Except it isn't, because apparently I'm not qualified to pick my own words. I'm not a mother.

Or take Tenured Radical, who wrote a brilliant post about service obligations and saying no. The post is quite lengthy, but TR dares to include three offensive sentences:

"At the risk of the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I'll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream."

How dare TR have an opinion? How dare she, even though she is careful to acknowledge the hard-working parents who do not fit into the category she describes, have a problem with doing parents' work for them? Well, never fear: she was upbraided:

"At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us,"

Yes, you certainly annoyed this one, even though I like much else about this post, and I usually love your blog. Are people with kids really the problem here? And note, when 'people with kids' are attacked, it's generally 'women with kids' that is heard. The rest of the post identifies much of the real problems of organizational culture, deliberate incompetence etc. I'm sure people with children are part of that, but I really don't think we're disproportionately so. Maybe we're just a disproportionately easy target.

Or maybe this is not just an illusion. Maybe Tenured Radical was actually stating something that was a "real problem." Why is it that when people without children have the audacity to note that in their experience they have to pick up the slack for people with children that the counterargument amounts to, "surely that one group, of which I am a member, isn't more of a problem in this regard than any other group! You clearly are exaggerating out of a prejudice against parents!" Why is it that the opinion of child-free folks about this issue has absolutely no validity and is always dismissed? Why do parents get to define the "real problems of organizational culture" and not people without children? Look, some parents use their children to get out of work. People without children often have to do that work in the stead of these parents. That happens, people. It is really annoying, and it's not fair. And it is totally ok to speak that truth.

Except apparently it isn't. If it were, so many parents wouldn't sweep the internet policing any opinions that they perceive as anti-parent. I read a good number of blogs by parents, and I don't go over to their places and tell them that all of their opinions and experiences are wrong. I don't tell them what words they're allowed to use, or what they're allowed to post about. And yet, if I dare to utter a word about attempting to negotiate a workplace (mine) that typically bends over backwards to accommodate parents while it does not offer similar accommodation to non-childed workers, people do not extend me the same courtesy.

Even more weird is that whether one is actually a mother is kind of beside the point, it seems. What matters is whether one defines oneself as writing "as a mother" or not. Nobody knows whether Historiann has a child or not unless they know her in real life. But every time she dares to have an opinion about something related to motherhood or parenting, you can guess what happens.

Recently, Historiann wrote a post in which she considered discourses on breastfeeding in relation to patriarchal equilibrium. She concludes the post:

The B.I. [Breastfeeding Imperative] is brilliant: it links women with children once again, and because of the time and work involved, it prevents women from engaging in paid employment. It’s a patriarchal equilibrium twofer! Awesome. Let’s change that old expression, “barefoot and pregnant” to “nursing and topless,” shall we? (And, let’s try to keep things civil here, folks. Whether you have experience with nursing or bottles or none of the above, they’re all different legitimate experiences. There is no one right way to feed a baby or to raise a child–as a feminist philosopher friend of mine used to say, “that kind of thinking only makes sense if all women and all children are exactly alike.” And, of course, we’re not.)

But you know where this will lead, right? Because nobody knows whether Historiann has birthed any babies, she's not really authorized to have opinions about breastfeeding. And on top of that, she uses the word "breeders" at one point. How dare she? Well, never fear: she was upbraided (and actually, I was, too! Even though I didn't even leave a comment to that post!):

I think the reason my hackles end up getting raised in these conversations (here and at Dr. Crazy’s, where because I love her so much I couldn’t even bring myself to comment) is that there is always an edge to these posts when written by folks without kids, as though you are resentful of the choices those of us with kids have made. I’d love to be wrong, I’m just saying that’s how I read it. I would love to read a post about mothering from someone who isn’t a mom that doesn’t feel like an attack. Maybe it’s because I always knew I wanted kids, but I never felt derision towards women with children (maybe the kids at times, but never the moms or dads), and it wasn’t long ago I was in that category.

Let me state some things clearly and for the record. I resent being told that my opinions don't matter. I resent the fact that if I have an opinion I'm seen as waging an attack. I feel derision against people (women, men, whomever) who suggest that my opinions are the result of not "always" knowing I wanted kids, as if somehow "always knowing I wanted kids" would make me compassionate, kind, accepting, etc., and as if not knowing that means that I'm the opposite of those things. You know what I don't resent? The choices that other people make. Make any choices you want. Have opinions that you want. Do what you want. I don't actually understand why I'd resent parents' choices, unless those choices directly affect me. Similarly, I don't understand why parents would resent mine, unless my choices directly affect them. To each her own, I say.


But don't tell me what I should think or what words I'm allowed to use. Don't expect me to believe that the needs of parents are somehow more important than the needs of other workers. Because I just don't believe that. The fact of the matter is, I don't identify as "child-free" and I've not chosen not to have children in some sort of decisive fashion. I think that I'd like to have a child. But I don't think that having a child would be some special contribution to the world. I don't think that it would be an accomplishment. I don't think that it would somehow mean that my opinions or beliefs would be more valid than those of people without children.


Further, I don't believe that because I don't have children that my opinions or beliefs are more valid than those of people who do. I think that, ultimately, if we're going to have an honest conversation about parenting and the workplace, it's probably more important to listen to a variety of perspectives rather than policing those perspectives that differ from our own. I think it probably makes sense to consider that people without children who note the ways in which their professional lives are affected by colleagues with children may be talking about something that is real. I think it probably makes sense to consider the ways in which women - whether they have children or not - are inscribed within discourses about motherhood, and the negative consequences of that inscription. I think it probably makes sense to agree that if a person writes a blog, she probably has the authority to make decisions about that blog's content, about the words that she will use, and about the ideas that she explores. I think it probably makes sense to agree that when we comment on other people's blogs we probably should engage with what they wrote, we should not resort to ad hominem arguments, and we should not assume that people who are writing for a public audience are attacking that audience and attacking that audience's choices.


I don't feel like I'm incomplete because I don't have a child or partner, and I don't think that women who do have those things are complete because they have them. I don't think that children should be used as an air-tight excuse for getting out of unpleasant tasks, and I don't think that colleagues without children should be expected to look the other way when colleagues with children do this. I believe that if we're going to talk about equitable workloads in universities, we've got to address the needs of all workers, and I don't think that the needs of parents should come first. I don't think that it's my responsibility to talk about parenting or motherhood in a way that parents or mothers approve. I'm not hostile to parents or to children or to helping to accommodate colleagues. I'm not judging women who have children, or attacking them. I'm not resentful of them, nor am I envious of them. I don't look down on people just because they have children, nor do I admire people just because they don't have children. I don't, ultimately, judge people by whether or not they've procreated. All I'm asking for is the same courtesy. How dare I?

93 comments:

Lawgirl said...

I hear you - and believe me, this isn't just in the world of academia. It happens everywhere women work.

Abuse among women - those who seek to denigrate those of us who are unemcumbered as well as those who have children and put other mothers down for a different style of parenting choices - is one of the worst things about being a woman. As long as we fight each other, we lose the overall battle for respect.

collaboratrix said...

Preach it, sister. Thank you for writing this!

Sapience said...

Oddly, in my department, those with children seem, by far, to pull more weight than the childless. I think some of then are overcompensating for fear of being accused of exactly what you talk about here; others are just among the most dedicated academics I've ever met.

So we have the reverse problem: the "unencumbered" take it as an excuse to live part time in NYC--two or three hours away--and tend to demand those coveted four day weekends, teaching only two days a week. Meanwhile, most of the people with the best publishing records, the largest share of graduate advisees, and huge administrative and service duties that require being on campus five days a week all have kids.

But I think this actually proves your point: it's not having children or not that makes people take advantage of the system. There are just people who take advantage, period. People who have children have no excuse for not doing the same work as everyone else. People who try and use their children as their excuses are not just taking advantage of their coworkers, but are actually taking advantage of their kids.

Ann said...

Dr. Crazy--you are teh AWESUM! (And I mean that totally and completely unironically, unlike when I say Awesome! on my blog.) This is spot on, and deserves much more consideration from all of us: "to consider the ways in which women - whether they have children or not - are inscribed within discourses about motherhood, and the negative consequences of that inscription."

Like you, I totally don't get the reaction that "because your experience doesn't jibe with mine, you're attacking me and my choices and my family ZOMG!" This is one of the classic derailing tactics of antifeminist trolls on feminist blogs. In short, it's the claim that "My experience is different from yours, so everything you say is wrong and/or pointless and I don't need to listen to you."

Historiann.com

Kate said...

As one of the people upbraided for apparently upbraiding Historiann and Dr. Crazy, I will just say... what Sapience said. I'm a parent who pulls my weight and then some, so it feels like an unfair generalization to talk about parents not pulling their weight. This is the main reason I couldn't comment on your earlier posts, Dr. C. I was hurt that what you were writing because it seemed as though you were saying all parents don't pull their weight or abuse the system, rather than some people are jerks and abuse the system and sometimes those people are also parents.

And I've tried to lay out my thinking a bit more in this post. Read it, or not. I would really like to move beyond attacks and perceived attacks, and apologize for ways in which I have been perceived to be doing any of the attacking.

life_of_a_fool said...

I also agree with what Sapience said. Many - MOST - parents don't use their kids as an excuse. But, I think that's clearly stated in all of these posts (though sometimes it's a little more buried than others). Which is why I don't understand why the people saying "it's annoying/frustrating/unfair when A FEW parents use their kids as an excuse" get the backlash, rather than those people who DO use their kids as an excuse, and so make all parents look bad, when most are working hard to meet their professional obligations. It's not the drawing attention to this problem that makes it a problem, it's the few slacker parents who use their kids as an excuse (along with the slackers who come up with other excuses, but those are often less charged).

And yeah, the high emotionality/defensiveness that these discussions so often generate is frustrating. I love these discussions, and totally *want* to read about people's various perspectives. I loved Historiann's breast feeding post, and many of the comments, because I thought "hey, I hadn't thought of that before!" and then commenters added more layers that I hadn't thought of.

Anastasia said...

Here's the issue for me. I do not mind you or anybody else talking from your experience about anything you want. When you call yourself unencumbered, I have no problem with that because it's about how you understand your own experience. If you're talking about a parent colleague who genuinely is not doing hir job and you're forced to pick up the slack, that is also about your experience and I don't have a problem with you saying it, even if I feel a bit defensive.

On the other hand, when bloggers who do not have kids talk about what mothers experience, I am not always terribly happy with the results. And when they propose solutions that show a lack of awareness of the issues, I'm even more frustrated.

At that point, someone else is telling me what my experience is. That's all well and good. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But it falls awfully flat some of the time.

I guess I assume the reason I see see some of the problems/lack of awareness is my experience as a mother. I think there are definitely things that I had never considered before I had kids, things I thought were easy that aren't, that sort of thing. It's tempting to extrapolate to "you don't get it because you aren't a mother."

Well, maybe. But not really. The bottom line is, I wouldn't think some of what I've read lately was terribly insightful even if it had been written by a mother. It just missed too much.

But, like I said, the problem is I'm tempted by the conclusion that some of the nuance would be more apparent to a person who was a parent. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I suppose I shouldn't assume.

The thing is, it isn't that I think non-parents can't understand. It's that I often read pieces about parenting by non-parents that I think are reductive and unhelpful. And my first instinct is to offer my own experience as a complicating counter-example.

I also want to offer that it's hard not to feel like being a mother makes you fair game for everybody's shitty comments. I swear to God, I was at a party on Saturday at which I was subjected to some graduate student's rant about how sad it is that some women can't seem to find anything better to do than have kids and it's like it's the only way they can give their life meaning or something and I'm so glad I have my work.

She's entitled to her opinion, yes. And she can say what she likes. What I want to know is a) why she feels the need to justify her choice by belittling my choices and b) why she thinks she needs to tell me this in a social situation.

Sometimes what I read on blogs has the same tone. The same content. The same sneer. I object to that, just as I would object to a blog that made it a point to belittle people who don't have kids as having sad, meaningless lives. Or wonder why you don't just find a partner or whining about being lonely. Or, you know, maybe you should have thought about how hard it would be to find someone as an academic before you pursued it as a career choice. Because that would be shitty.

Anastasia said...

i mean saying or blogging those things would be shitty.

Ann said...

Anastasia wrote, "I swear to God, I was at a party on Saturday at which I was subjected to some graduate student's rant about how sad it is that some women can't seem to find anything better to do than have kids and it's like it's the only way they can give their life meaning or something and I'm so glad I have my work."

Why would that comment make you feel bad if you disagree with her? Why would you take that personally, as though she was directing her comments at you personally instead of talking about her life?

Why the defensiveness, if this comment doesn't describe your life? This is why I just don't get your reaction and Kate's reaction to my blog: my comments don't describe your life or agree with your view of the world. So what? How can that possibly be perceived as an attack on you, whom I don't know and will likely never meet? This is what Crazy is talking about: the policing and monitoring of every other woman's opinions and views on motherhood and children, as though we all have to agree, or as though there's only one way to talk about these things, and it's only women who are mothers who can make these judgments.

Historiann.com

Ink said...

I've been a prof without children and, later, a prof with children. But when I was the former, I never thought to consider the parents in the department as not pulling their weight. So I'm curious to hear more about what you all mean by picking up the slack...

Anastasia said...

It actually didn't make me feel bad in the moment. My reaction was more detached. Like...damn. Really? Because you realize I have a baby strapped to my chest, right? It's a pretty shitty way to have a conversation with someone you just met, thinking solely in terms of social norms. But whatever. I didn't go home and cry myself to sleep.

I used it as an example because let's parse this. Someone I just met finds out that I am graduate student whose career is essentially on hold while my husband pursues his degree, and sees that I have not one, not two, but three kids in tow, and she decides that now is the moment to hold forth on how pathetic it is when women choose to put being a mother ahead of the pursuits she values.

Putting aside my potential emotional reaction, what the fuck is that about? Her right to speak? The fact that I don't want to hear her opinion just because she doesn't have kids? Or is it about her perceived right to interpret my experience for me and to me as an authoritative representation of what my life really is?

To me, it at least participates in the third option there. That's why it troubles me.

I'm not accusing Dr. Crazy of any of this. And I don't honestly see that sort of thing as sustained discussion on any of the blogs I read. But there are moments when the discourse slips into that mode. Yes, everyone has the right to say what they want. But not everything is helpful. That's my only point. Crazy's point is dead accurate:

"I don't, ultimately, judge people by whether or not they've procreated. All I'm asking for is the same courtesy."

Whenever the conversation strays into that territory, on either side, it has become toxic. It perpetuates the idea that women's choices are fair game. I don't see any reason we shouldn't all do what we can to avoid that.

Dr. Crazy said...

To everyone: I think a lot has to do with institutional context and department context, and I think that is clear from Sapience's comment. I happen to work in an institutional and department context in which it has been incredibly common for parents to get "perks" that non-parents don't get. And those "perks" are ultimately paid for by the labor of those who don't have the luxury of those perks. So what might picking up the slack involve, in my context?

1. More committee assignments, and higher-demand (time-wise, politically) committee assignments.

2. More students to advise.

3. More night classes, regardless of personal preference or what would be best for one's research agenda.

4. More pressure to attend events like graduation or student events.

5. Having to be a "team player" even when doing so is not what is most advantageous for my students, my research, or my administrative work as a faculty member.

Now, on the one hand, this has been a problem that has been enabled by a lack of administrative oversight about equity of workload, and it has been a problem that has been enabled by the seniority of the folks who are getting the perks. Before tenure, I had little recourse but to put up with the situation. No one in my department without tenure has children under the age of 18. I suspect the realities of my workplace would be different if a large proportion of the people with children were untenured.

Ann said...

Anastasia, I understand now why you felt attacked or undermined by that grad student. I didn't know what your professional and life circumstances are, nor did you mention until your second comment that you had a baby with you at the moment.

Chalk it up to *her* defensiveness and/or insecurity, then.

A friend of mine gave me a wonderful tip when stuck with a rude person who makes inappropriate comments or asks strange and/or hostile questions: just smile broadly and ask, "Why would you say that?" or "Why would you ask that?" It forces them to explain themselves, and puts the awkwardness back on them.

(If only I had the composure to remember to do this when I'm in those spots!)

Historiann.com

Dr. Crazy said...

Kate - Thanks for the apology, and seriously, I wasn't upbraiding you. I was responding directly to the comment that you left over at Historiann's place, and I did so here because you brought my blog up in your comment.

The thing that's unclear to me is why it's an unfair generalization to talk about parents who don't pull their weight when there are parents who don't pull their weight. I'm not sure how talking about people who don't pull their weight solves the problem: wouldn't that be an unfair generalization about people? Couldn't we say the exact same thing - that many, most, people pull their weight, so it's unfair to characterize people as shirkers? I suppose what I'm saying here is that just because a person talks with some specificity about a particular group - about parents, about women, about men, about people of whatever identity category - that doesn't mean that they're talking about every single person within that identity category who ever existed. It seems to me that the only way around generalization would be to name names, which is unproductive when we're talking about structural inequity.

I agree that it's important to move beyond attacks and perceived attacks. I also think that there is definitely room for multiple points of view on these issues and that conversations need to happen between people with different points of view. So far, I think that's happening in this comment thread, and that pleases me.

Anastasia said...

I don't know that it really matters to me that I had my kid on me at the time. If she had stood there and told me that women who don't have kids lead shallow, meaningless lives, I would have found it equally inappropriate and troubling.a

Susan said...

I'm also thinking here -- as I deal with serious caregiving issues for my husband -- that the emphasis on parents hides the many ways that we may, at various points in our lives, be caregivers. And I would add, my colleagues with children do not make special requests because of childcare; it is much more the [men] who live a long way away, or times when I've needed to be a medical appointments.

Ink said...

Thanks for the specific list, Dr. Crazy. I haven't seen or experienced those kinds of pressures/expectations in my department(s), thankfully, but I can understand how frustrating it must be. Is there some kind of forum where that could be brought to the attention of the powers that be?

---

Anastasia, your description of "the sneer" was brilliant, btw. Nicely put.

Bardiac said...

I have little to add, but I want to say that I think this is an important discussion. I appreciate how well Dr. Crazy has laid out some of the issues, especially.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Weird -- I know I left a comment ...

I love this post, Crazy. Love it. Here's why.

Most of my friends with kids are good citizens. Some of them are in departments where they really get NO consideration for their family schedules, even when it shouldn't be a problem. Some of them are overloaded because they are women, and they recognize that there is this extra pressure in many departments to pretend that they don't have children, because that would be reinforcing gender stereotypes (I swear, one of the best things I can think of for them is to have male colleagues who are actively parenting small children, because I think there's a lot of trickle-down of acceptance there).

And I understand their feeling attacked, and feeling that 'people with kids' is a red herring, when really, we should be focusing on 'colleagues who shirk and why the institution doesn't do anything about it.' Generally, that's how this plays out. And we don't get anywhere.

BUT.

My own experience is much as Dr. Crazy describes in the comments.

1. When people leave campus to work at home because they claim they can't get childcare, or can't commute some days because it's not worth driving in just to go home to meet the school bus, I am often left as the only person in the department. That means all admin questions and student issues come to me by default. This has an impact on my time.

2. If something official happens on the night or weekend, and the department is expected to send a representative, guess who ends up going, because her colleagues with children ALWAYS have a child-related conflict, and I wouldn't want the child I know and like to be disappointed, would I?

3. I cannot count the times that I have been asked to change meeting times to accommodate colleagues' child-care schedules, even though this often means I need to give up scheduled time in the library (I teach 4 days a week, and resent people trying to schedule on my one 'quiet' day), or they gym. This is somewhat better now that SLAC has instituted a system of three dedicated 'meeting hours' a week, but not that much.

4. I have more advisees by default, because even when students aren't my advisees...see #1 above.

(aha -- last comment didn't post because it was too long)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

(the rest of that comment)
This is not about 'people with kids are bad colleagues'. This is people with kids *being* bad colleagues. But the fact is, at least in these cases, the kids are used as an excuse to be bad colleagues. It happens. It's the flip side of working on a child-friendly campus. I love that we have campus child-care (there's a wait list, though). I love that the top people in our administration have young kids. I love that when I get together with my colleagues socially, there are kids around, and they all know each other.

But it means that, when I say I need time to work on X, if it conflicts with colleague's kid thing, I am treated as anti-family if I expect some of my colleagues to step up and do something they are supposed to do anyway, but usually leave to me.


Again, this is not most of my colleagues. I have colleagues who will say, "hey, my son has a football game this week, so can we move the meeting to a different time this week?" or "I really want to go to my daughter's dance recital -- can you take care of this thing, and I'll catch the next thing?"

I'm totally happy with that. And I think it's normal and healthy for colleagues to negotiate duties and schedules so that everybody's private priorities are considered. And I have no objections to people putting their children first. But there is a problem when someone else's personal priorities, because they are about children, are expected to be privileged in a way that it negatively affects my own ability to work.

The colleagues I am talking about -- again, not MOST, just some, but on a small campus, it's enough -- manage to get to the gym, write, etc. Their children aren't cutting into their other private priorities, just into their service and presence on campus. And because THEY have brought their children into the equation, I think those of us who experience that have a right to talk about it and to grouse about these colleagues and their use/excuse of children to shirk.

Kate said...

Actually, ADM, I think you've explained it best of all.

Belle said...

Great post and discussion! The issue of shirking colleagues, and the excuses given, also cover married/SI and single/unemcumbered folks. Not just in academia either.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Dr. C - thanks for writing this. I've been stunned recently at the hostility among women on academic blogs. And thanks to ADM for giving it a good explanation!!

The fact of the matter is that we all make choices. We choose to have kids or not -- and those choices are important, personal and permanent. As colleagues, we need to respect ALL choices and make sure that one group's choices don't unfairly burden the others.

It's also unfair to pay two people the same amount of money when one is doing significantly more work than the other.

The reason academic moms get a bad rap is exactly because of the "I can't do that, I don't have childcare" excuse for events that are scheduled well in advance. Sure, it works for impromptu meetings etc.. but, a standing event isn't a surprise and IF it were important to the academic-mom, she'd find a way to be there.

We are all human beings, so we make generalizations and remember the bad apples in a bunch. Thus, 'academic mom who can't manage childcare to cover her professional obligations' will, inevitably, make a negative impression that transfers unfairly to other academic moms.

Really, academic moms who fulfill their obligations ought to be the ones doing the 'enforcing' on 'academic mom who can't get childcare'. She's making their 'team' look like crap.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Also -- I've recently observed a male colleague doing an end-run around department scheduling procedures -- AFTER he selected his own schedule -- to accommodate childcare concerns. He just went to the dean and got changes made to the course schedule... without discussing it with the department, department chair (me) or anybody else.

So, maybe academic moms just aren't sneaky enough...

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Thanks, Kate and IPF. I do want to make it clear that some of these colleagues are dads!

Dr. Crazy said...

ADM, thanks so much for your comment. You do such a good job of articulating the specifics of what's going on when we talk about this stuff - something that I know I've not done adequately. (My tendency toward polemic is too great :) )

Also, I don't want to give the impression that I wasn't talking about dads, too, when I talk about the "kids as airtight excuse" thing! I most CERTAINLY am.

Anastasia said...

Okay, I am going to put it in that the language here--i.e. they "claim" they can't get childcare--bothers me a little. People seem to assume that childcare is always available and reasonably easy to get if one has some kind of advance notice. As a parent, it's really hard not to hear that as ignorance. It is not easy to get childcare, even with advance notice. Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Sure, maybe the people you're talking about are making an excuse, but maybe they aren't. Maybe it isn't an excuse. Or, at least, maybe it isn't *always* an excuse.

Point being, the language suggests the parents in question are lying or not trying very hard in a way that doesn't acknowledge that it can be really difficult to find reliable, quality childcare, even when you have advance notice. That inevitably reads like you don't really get it...and that you don't really get it because you don't have kids and you've never had to find childcare.

again, I'm not trying to say anybody without kids is incapable of understanding. I'm saying they sometimes don't. As a result, I suspect they may attribute motivations to parents that aren't real.

Like I said, the specific parents in question may in fact be lying or not trying, but they aren't necessarily and the language of deceit--They claim they can't find childcare--and the language of refusal--They won't get a babysitter--is presuming some information I'm not always sure you have.

I love Susan's comment about the emphasis on parenting obscuring other folks who do caregiving. Yes, it does. Thank you for saying.

Anastasia said...

and I do hear you about kids being an airtight excuse. under the right circumstances, I can see where it would be a bit like telling your male PE teacher you can't participate because you have your period. He can't ask questions without looking like a jerk.

That said, I think that kind of only works if a person has a certain position in the academy. It hasn't for me, if I'm being honest. Not that I've used my kids as an excuse. But I've tried many times to schedule meetings with faculty around my limited availability, citing childcare as the reason. They do not accommodate me. And when they convey that they will not interrupt their writing morning--fine, that's their business--because that's when I have childcare, they often do it with something between irritation and derision.

Because...I'm supposed to have full-time daycare? My entire graduate student stipend would not cover the cost of daycare for one kid. And no, there is no campus childcare option.

Which brings me back to my point about assuming it's easy and I'm refusing to find childcare and/or respect other people's time.

So I think this discussion is colored by certain kinds of privilege. The stuff you're talking about people doing works because of their position.

Anastasia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Crazy said...

Anastasia,
Good call on the connotations of the word "claiming." In my experience, in my department, this issue isn't that people claim they can't get childcare. The issue is that they make a decision that they *will not* get childcare. It's not about "claiming" that childcare is unavailable or has fallen through. The people I'm thinking of just state outright, "Oh, I won't be using childcare." I know that this may sound crazy, but this how things have gone in my department historically. Seriously: I've got two colleagues who are married, and that is how they organized caring for their children. Each only attends half of the department meetings (they happen on alternate days so people who teach at those times can attend at least some); they share a parking permit; you never see both on campus at the same time. Basically, I've got one colleague for the price of two. That's not about having difficulty securing childcare. That's about entitlement. And note, this has been going on for about 17 years, and people have historically just looked the other way and put up with it, which I totally do not understand.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and Anastasia - you're TOTALLY right that this discussion entirely intersects with power relations in terms of status in the academic hierarchy. To be clear, when I'm talking about this stuff, I'm specifically thinking about tenured or t-t faculty, faculty who are hired to do the exact same job I'm hired to do. I do not think that it's just or fair to paint adjunct faculty, graduate students, or, hell, undergraduates with the same brush.

Anastasia said...

I totally hear what you're saying. There is a big difference, at least for me, between having difficult finding childcare--and thus saying I can't do X because I can't get anyone to take my kids--and simply refusing. And two colleagues for the price of one is clearly unacceptable. A person has to find a way to do their full job within their particular time constraints.

I don't see anything wrong with asking one's colleagues to work with you on those constraints, as long as it's all in good faith and with the intention of fulfilling all of one's responsibilities.

bitchphd said...

on the one hand, this has been a problem that has been enabled by a lack of administrative oversight about equity of workload

I *really* wish that we could talk about it in these terms, rather than in terms of parents vs. non-parents. Even the "some parents, not all parents" qualification tends to sound, I'm sorry, way too much like "oh, you're not like those *other* women." Which yeah, gets people's hackles up.

If there is an administrative situation that privileges some people over others in terms of expected workload--tenured folks, men, people who are "research-focused" over those who are "teaching-focused" in the same department, parents--then *that* is the problem. If (for instance) in Dr. Crazy's department, there are excuses set up for tenured people with children at the expense of untenured people without, then at least in terms of addressing the issue within the department itself, it's going to be way more effective to talk about it in terms of tenured vs. untenured folks than it is those with kids vs. those without.

Inasmuch as the children thing is used as an "excuse", then I think that can be said without pissing people off. But is it that children are an excuse for slacking, or that children are an excuse for instituting work policies that put more work on pre-tenure faculty?

Because the thing is, at the risk of being one of "those" parents who says "you don't know unless you have kids," parents know that there is a prejudice out there that people with kids "make excuses." So when you're using that language--no matter how valid it is for *you* to be using it in *this* situation--we are going to hear it as part of that pre-existing discourse of prejudice. And for most of us--including, probably, most of the parents who you think are really just "making excuses"--those "excuses" are more like "explanations." (I hope this is partly an answer to C's question The thing that's unclear to me is why it's an unfair generalization to talk about parents who don't pull their weight when there are parents who don't pull their weight.)

If the cost of some people living a balanced life is that other people have to "pick up extra work," then it is the "extra work" that is the problem. If person A leaving the office at 5, or refusing to teach night classes, or whatever, is a problem, then it's the work--not the kids--that is creating that problem.

So, for instance, let's take night classes (which I pick just because it's an easy potential conflict): it's true that many people don't want to teach night classes. Some people actually prefer it, but not many. Now, people with kids might say "I can't teach a night class b/c I have a kid." And people without kids might not be able to say that, but still not *want* to teach a night class, because it's inconvenient. So the issue then is, well, no one wants to teach a night class, so can we come up with some incentive? Like, if you teach the night class that no one wants, you are relieved of X committee responsibility, or you can write your own schedule next semester, or something?

IOW, deal with the work issue, which is the real problem.

bitchphd said...

And re. "right to express an opinion"--in the case of the student saying that, the problem is that the student, as student, needs to present an *argument* rather than just an assertion. And it's our job to teach them that, whether the offensive assertion is about kids, or women, or men, or black people, or poor people, or Indians, or coastal elites, or whatever.

In the case of discussions between peers, really and truly, it would be nice if people without kids could accept it that there really are certain aspects of the emotion of having children that are extremely difficult to explain to those who haven't felt them. After all, those of us with kids *have* also been people without kids; what we're saying (hopefully) when we say things like this is that our own experience is that having children evoked feelings and understandings that we did not and could not access beforehand. (Unless we're just being assholes, in which case, the same thing applies as applies to the snotty student: we need to present an argument.)

Simple example: before I had a kid, I saw people with children on leashes, or people saying to their kids, "okay, I'm leaving now," and then walking away, and thought that those things seemed kind of awful. Sure, I "knew" that people did that because what if the kid runs off, or because waiting around forever is tiresome. But I didn't know about the *feeling* of exhaustion and literal inability to attend to the kids' every move that comes from doing it every second when one is out in public with the kid. And I hadn't thought about the situation of kids who have behavior issues that really do make it likely that they might suddenly jet out into the street.

In any case, as a parent now, I *totally* do the "I'm leaving now" thing. I've even been known to get into the car and start the engine. So while I feel like I "get" why some people without kids might think that looks kind of horrible--I did, after all--I am also highly likely, if someone were to say something about it to me, to just say "you don't have kids, you don't understand" rather than go into a long explanation. (In part because going into long explanations is part of what parents do constantly, as parents, and the *entire point* of "I'm leaving now" is "I'm sick of explaining shit and arguing"!)

Ann said...

Bitch Ph.D. wrote: "In the case of discussions between peers, really and truly, it would be nice if people without kids could accept it that there really are certain aspects of the emotion of having children that are extremely difficult to explain to those who haven't felt them. After all, those of us with kids *have* also been people without kids; what we're saying (hopefully) when we say things like this is that our own experience is that having children evoked feelings and understandings that we did not and could not access beforehand."

Maybe you were just immature, or unimaginative when you were younger? Why do you assume that the experience of motherhood is what changed your mind? Maybe other people's experiences of parenthood are different--but your formulation of the problem doesn't leave much room for that.

What I don't like about these conversations is that it implies that there's some kind of unity of the experience of motherhood, and I am highly doubtful (to say the least) about this. Women globally and transhistoricallly have experienced motherhood very, very differently. And no responsible historian would sign onto that idea nowadays. If I am a mother, my experience is so totally different than that of an enslaved woman living (and dying)in Barbados in the 17th century, not to mention that of a Chinese woman working in a sweatshop factory today.

The idea that motherhood (or parenthood) is a magical bond among people just seems totally silly to me. Feminists have rejected this kind of essentialism among women--why do we want to believe that parenthood or motherhood unites people? If I'm a parent and I don't believe that motherhood made me able to access new feelings and emotions, does that make me a Bad Mommy? If I'm not a parent, does that make me an emotionally stunted person?

Historiann.com

Shane in Utah said...

Right on, Crazy. And boy, is the attitude you describe in this post ever prominent in Utah...

Ann wrote: Like you, I totally don't get the reaction that "because your experience doesn't jibe with mine, you're attacking me and my choices and my family ZOMG!

I've been puzzling over this lately myself. My (hypothetical) decision to live without a car is not an indictment of your decision to drive a SUV. My (real) decision not to eat meat is not a sniping commentary on your love of burgers. And my decision not to have children is in no way a negative statement about your own kids. But it's amazing what knee-jerk, defensive, judgmental responses those decisions receive from the population at large. Is this just an American thing, or is it a universal human characteristic?

Anyway, it seems to be even worse in the case of the child issue, because of course children are the future and every child is a precious little bundle of wonderfulness and failure to revere and covet its spectacular awesomeness is surely a sign of moral abomination. But perhaps I reveal too much...

Ann said...

Shane--I think it might be a Utah thing! If you seriously go for being a carless, child-free vegetarian, then I'd recommend you get a concealed-carry permit. (Just to bow to local custom on at l aspect of your personal life!)

Historiann.com

Compson said...

The conversation here has been very enlightening and constructive in detailing both perspectives. However, I see it descending into "you said our perspectives are different; you're saying I'm immature and emotionally stunted!" again. I interpret BitchPhD's argument this way: if you've been on the tenure track at a private institution for several years, you intimately know the pros and cons of that position. You can contemplate the pros and cons of being on the tenure track at a public institution, but there's nothing like boots on the ground to really bring out to you what those difficulties or benefits are. Those who have had jobs at both kinds of institutions just might have a more practical sense of what both involve. I think we find that claim acceptable when we're not talking about children, but when the subject of children is in the picture, it suddenly becomes about who is better than whom.

Ann said...

Compson--I didn't mean to sound accusatory or like I was getting personal. I should have phrased the last part of my comment to Bitch Ph.D. like this: "If people are parents who don't believe that parenthood made them able to access new feelings and emotions, does that make them bad or inauthentic parents? If people aren't parents, does that make them emotionally stunted?" I didn't mean to make it sound personal, because for me it truly is not. I'm just interested in interrogating the notion that there is something essentially shared in the experience of parenthood, because as a historian, I'm doubtful of that proposition.

And, I should add: I wasn't accusing Bitch Ph.D. of being immature or unimaginative. As someone who was once (even more?) immature and (more?) unimaginative, I have changed my mind about a lot of things. But I think that's a result of the sum total of my education and life experiences--not the result of one particular experience.

Compson said...

Ann -- I didn't think you were accusing Bitch PhD, more that you felt accused by her, so I was trying to put her argument in different terms to avoid the "hot button" issue. That being said, I agree -- if I'm interpreting Dr. C's post correctly -- that people who use their experience of parenthood as a conversation ender or to indulge in a holier-than-thou moment are intolerable. It reminds me of that woman on *The Simpsons* who always yells, "but what about the children!" If they are referencing their experience as part of a negotiation with the ultimate end of understanding better or making something work, then those are not the problem people.

Sybil Vane said...

I'm just interested in interrogating the notion that there is something essentially shared in the experience of parenthood, because as a historian, I'm doubtful of that proposition.

This is a helpful clarification. But while feminism has rejected essentialism, as have most other humanities/cultural studies disciplines, not a one of them have rejected the existence of cultural identity categories. Everyone's parentign behavior/attitudes/values are different, of course. But we can recognize the extent to which the people who are our colleagues do in fact exist in the same parenting culture as we do (where culture means the Big Stuff, not whether you go to Kroger or the farmer's market on Saturday). Bringing in the discrepancies with mothering in rural communities in the developing world or 17th century China seems not quite relevant, since these parents are not our colleagues.

All kinds of people who exist in recognized identity categories reject identifying with them, reject the notion of shared experience. But I am not sure that really undoes the ontological credibility of their being identity categories which do, in fact, lead to shared experiences for many people.

Sybil Vane said...

Shorter: Crazy's complaints about work and bad colleagues and the way the institution rewards bad colleagues are entirely valid. But, as to policing opinions, when someone disagrees with your opinion and does so on the basis that your subject position doesn't allow you access to determinative aspects of the situation, that's not really policing. It's disagreeing about what confers authority in a given situation.

Kate said...

You said it well, Dr. B and Sybil. Thanks.

Dr. Crazy said...

I have to get to class, but quickly:
Engaged disagreement is not policing. Policing is when one person tells another person that problems that they note aren't the "real" problems, when they dismiss attempts to analyze an issue from a broader perspective (such as a historical one) as "not quite relevant," or when they argue that their experience is generalizable to all people, and thus dissenting voices who communicate different experiences lack authority to comment. The above, in various forms, are happening all over the end of this thread, and I, for one, am disappointed. I would also refer commenters back to something I actually wrote in the post:

"Maybe Tenured Radical was actually stating something that was a "real problem." Why is it that when people without children have the audacity to note that in their experience they have to pick up the slack for people with children that the counterargument amounts to, "surely that one group, of which I am a member, isn't more of a problem in this regard than any other group! You clearly are exaggerating out of a prejudice against parents!" Why is it that the opinion of child-free folks about this issue has absolutely no validity and is always dismissed? Why do parents get to define the "real problems of organizational culture" and not people without children?"

I am really interested in hearing people's views on these issues, and I feel like I've learned a lot already from this conversation, both about how parents experience issues related to work as well as how people in a variety of institutional contexts see these issues. Sadly, a number of the more recent comments are not continuing that very interesting conversation.

Sybil Vane said...

Hmm. Ann suggests that parenting does not confer "magical unity" and points to a range of disparate historical examples as evidence. My point is that a) I don't think "magical unity" is being invoked in the comment she responds to and b) that the disparities b/n identity categories/experiences throughout vast swaths of history does not, actually, seem particularly relevant to the question of whether or not there can be said to be some shift in subject position that happens post-parenting. No one argues that "sexuality" was understood int he same way 60 years ago as it is now, and yet we don't see that as reason to deny that "sexuality" is, in fact, a determinative way that people understand their subject position.

Sybil Vane said...

Why is it that the opinion of child-free folks about this issue has absolutely no validity and is always dismissed? Why do parents get to define the "real problems of organizational culture" and not people without children?"

To the latter question, I feel like you are setting it up in a way that doesn't represent what I see happening. What I see happening is people saying, "Wouldn't it be more beneficial to all workers if we looked harder at the things that constitute burdens (since, as you point out, things like teaching night classes are likely to be burdensome for people in all sorts of situations)." I get that the point you are making is 'why should parents get to reframe the conversation instead of confronting the problem I have raised? But I feel like people in this conversation ARE confronting the problem. When they point out that they view the problem behavior as exception not rule, when they concede that some paretns are shitty colleagues, when they suggest that parents to a lot of self-policing worrying about how they are perceived. Reframing is not an attempt, at least in my view, to silence you for asking the questions. It's a way to get at a solution that helps you adn me.
You are of course utterly free to read the exchanges in a different way, based on your experiences and what informs your subject positions. But I'm not policing your response. And if you say "X is a problem" and I then say, "Listen, don't you think Y is more the cause of X?" that is not policing.

Sybil Vane said...

That all being said, my tone is sort of annoying, I can tell and I'm reacting less than contributing, which is kinda annoying.

bitchphd said...

I wanna post about this, b/c it reminds me a little of the recent email exchange post at our place about single vs. coupled people and public policy.

Briefly, in the meantime, I wasn't saying (I don't think) that the opinions of people without children are invalid; I made a point of saying the opposite, actually.

Shane in Utah said...

I think Sybil Vane has lost track of where Crazy's post started the conversation: a student flat-old told her that her not having children disqualified her from correctly understanding or interpreting the literary text in question. (I've even been told that childless couples shouldn't be allowed to vote on issues like school funding because they have no stake in the future.) So yes, there are cultural currents in our society (if not neccessarily in this thread) that insist on the "magical unity" of motherhood, and that having children is a neccessary prerequisite to adulthood and full citizenship. What that student is talking about isn't some identification with a cultural grouping; she's saying "it's a mother thing, you wouldn't understand." And that's bogus. Some mothers feel that maternal bond which might allow them to better relate to the narrative of, say, a mother who loses her child. But some mothers throw their newborn infants in the garbage chute and go looking for the next hit of meth. Who's to say your magical transformative experience of parenting is universal?

Pedagogically speaking, what concerns me is how deeply impoverished and superficial this student's approach to literature is. It's the Oprah method (and increasingly the method of high schools, I'm afraid): "How did this text make you feel? Have you ever been in a similar situation to that of the main character?" But surely there is more to reading literature than feeling passive resonance with experiences and emotions you can already relate to? Surely literature's power to manipulate perspective and point of view can help people to experience aspects of life which they might never encounter any other way? Isn't that part of the point, which the student's insistence on the primacy of personal experience completely obviates?

C S said...

Hmm I think maybe I am not entitled to have an opinion according to some commenters because I never particularly wanted kids (even though I have one now). I think this is one of those times where we all have to try to understand that most of us are coming from a good place and doing our best to express ourselved clearly, within a context, but not directly trying to raise others hackles. It does not always work, but the more trust there is between participants in the dialogue, the more likely it can work.

Sybil Vane said...

Shane, I was responding to Ann's comment which suggested that this type of 'magical unity' was being invoked in an earlier comment by BPhD. While I would never deny that our culture does suggest such things, I thought it was a reductive iteration of what B was saying. And While Dr C's student said a really dumb and unsophisticated thing, I took the primary point of the post to be more the way academics may more covertly imply this same thing.

This whole conversation pivots on personal experience, which is why it is so dicey to negotiate.

Anastasia said...

is anyone actually saying people aren't entitled to their opinions?

Dr. Crazy said...

Anastasia - Short answer: no, I don't think anybody is saying that people aren't entitled to have opinions. I think all of the commenters have been very careful to assert that everybody can have an opinion. I do think that some are saying that their personal experience gives their opinions more authority, legitimacy, and validity than the opinions of people without identical personal experiences to theirs, they have suggested that people should change their opinions or how they express them in order to make them more comfortable, and they appear to believe that disagreeing views are somehow skirting the "real" problems (as they would define them). Some are also construing their interlocutors as ignorant and unaware, whereas they are characterizing themselves as seeing both sides of the conversation equally. I do think everyone is doing their best to keep the conversation going and to keep it civil. I really and truly appreciate that.

Ann said...

"This whole conversation pivots on personal experience, which is why it is so dicey to negotiate."

If you really think this, then you've missed Crazy's point, and mine too. De-personalizing these conversations is a good thing to try to do. This is why I urged the participants here to interrogate the essentialist notion that only parents can understand certain feelings and emotions, and why I tried to get people to think about motherhood comparatively and historically. You don't think that women's historical experiences are "relevant"--so you're the one making it personal! I don't think that personal experience is as important as the ability to get out of our own heads, our own lives, and our tiny and specific points of reference, and to try to consider feminist issues from a variety of different historical and global perspectives.

Historiann.com

Dr. Crazy said...

Shane - Thanks for your comment. Especially as you're discussing the pedagogical issues in play, what came to mind for me is the ways in which the study of literature specifically (and the study of the humanities and fine arts more generally) are so central to approaching problems, cultural texts, relationships, etc., with a sophistication, depth, and complexity that moves beyond identification and identity politics. This is not to say that identification and identity politics aren't ways in to a literary text or problem, etc., but rather that what the humanities at its best should teach (I think) is that such a way in is only that - a way in.

All of this connects of course to the conversation that we're having right now. Ultimately, I don't think that what we're discussing here is personal, although personal experiences obviously inform our perspectives. Similarly, personal experiences may inform our reactions to literary texts, but to discuss a literary text in a class is not a personal endeavor. Dunno where I'm going with this, but your comment got me thinking....

Anastasia said...

I think sybil is right. this is a conversation about authority.

Jay said...

This is all pretty interesting. Where I work, parenting is a dirty word that is not spoken of. Most of the men who've been fathers around here really limit their time off for such kids. I knew one who took a week off for the birth of his first kid, and was criticized for it, and many others who were back at work the next day. I've known only one woman who took maternity leave and came back, she is part of a silent group of single mothers around here. True, you see the photos at their desk, and might here them talk about their kids, but they work full hours like the rest of us. One I know has gotten criticized for leaving before 6 because that's when her full time daycare center closed and she had to pick up the kid. I know for a fact many men here get raises partly on the fact that they are married or fathers and it is known they are providing for a family, while I am sure the single mothers are not given the same benefit. I bet it doesn't matter how hard they work or how quiet they keep their motherhood, I'm sure it is still held against them.

I am young and married with no kids, and no plan to have kids. I've seen only one case of a woman doing less work/leaving early with her kids as an excuse, but have seen an equal number of men do the exact same thing for no apparent reason(i.e., kids are not the mentioned reason). I think this environment is much worse. If a woman is young and single she is given more responsibility and reward, at the point she crosses into married she is watched with suspicion for the point at which she has kids and "abandons" her career, whether she continues to work here or not. Even men participating in their child's life is looked upon negatively. It is pretty crazy.

The only parents who really piss me off as a childless person, are the ones who (generally a woman, being the only ones who can afford to do so) leave on maternity leave, indicating they will come back to work, and then do not. I know that pregnancy and child birth are life altering events, and you can't always predict what will happen or what will change your mind. But I really wish they'd come back and at least try for a while, then make provisions to leave. Because every other woman is looked upon as one who may possibly procreate and then possibly leave the company in the dust. I really think the real solution to parents at work is men taking more responsibility for raising their kids. Once it becomes an equal opportunity thing, I think the stigma will lesson, and I will have to face less suspicion just because I have the ability to produce children.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Ok -- about the 'claim' thing. And the connected implication that I don't know what it's like to find childcare because I don't have kids.

For the record: I am the oldest child of a single mother. I spent an awful lot of time during middle-school and high school being kept home to babysit a sibling who is 12 years younger, whenever the regular sitter couldn't work or my mother couldn't afford it. I pretty much took over all the 'wife' functions in my home then. I also made sure my mother got to work. My younger sister was a single mother who worked full-time and fortunately got a government child-care subsidy. I think I can speak with some authority on how raising a very young child can be difficult, how much time it takes, and how hard it is to find good child care.

I also raised my ex-husband's child, from the time she was 11 to when she moved out at 22. I handled all of the interactions with the schools, all the medical stuff, all the transport and all the housekeeping on top of working and trying to write a dissertation. So I really wish people would stop acting as if I were some eternally childless person talking out of her ass.

When people actually come up with viable options (bringing the kids in to the office with toys or a video to watch in a classroom that isn't being used while the meeting takes place down the hall, arranging a playdate with friends in town, checking with another colleague's high school kid who is known to be a fantastic sitter ...) and each one is rejected as being unworkable, I think it's perfectly fair to say 'claim.' If I'm giving examples from my own experience and other people can think of such examples, then maybe, just maybe, this happens.

And really, if we're talking about people who *do* use their children as an excuse, or even an explanation, as to why they can't shoulder the same service work (or actually, less, because my load would be reduced, so overall, two equal loads would only be larger for them), I'm not sure that it's all that inconsistent to think that some of the difficulties might be exaggerations because they would be trying to get out of the service, kids or no.

Doesn't change that the system is screwed up, but that's not the particular point I was making.

PhysioProf said...

Dr. Crazy, you should send commenters who pull this crap here.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

And to be possibly clearer -- I think we're talking about several issues that boil down to these:

- functionally, we don't really live in a world that is built to make it possible for people to easily do their jobs and have children

-many of us work in environments where those difficulties are compounded by attitudes that the personal should always be secondary to the professional -- or else.

- Even in those places that are 'family-friendly' there might not be enough support.

-But, places that are 'family-friendly' might be more prone to a sort of elevation of children over other sorts of personal interests, so that people who choose to use (or even simply prioritize) their children to get out of certain sorts of academic work really do have a sort of privilege that is paid for by colleagues who don't have children.

-this is all made worse by the fact that academia as a whole is bad at dealing with people who shirk service. So in 'family friendly' places, the shirkers are even less likely to get called on it.


I think the solution is to make child-care plentiful and good, and to create the sort of environments where equity (not equality, necessarily) can be negotiated and arbitrated, and people who don't carry their weight are not rewarded, implicitly or explicitly, children or no.

But in the meantime, I'd really like it if people just did their own jobs.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Sorry -- two more things. Back to my, "I'm talking about bad colleagues and not saying that people with kids are bad colleagues" point. Part of what is so frustrating to me is that I know that people like Bitch, PhD and Janice, who have both described both their collegial responsibilities AND their parenting in a lot of detail DO make it work, and show that people who are willing to CAN manage to do some crazy shit to get their jobs done *and* be good parents.

And their examples help to highlight the inadequacies of academia when it comes to dealing with parents.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

er -- dealing with parents in the sense of realizing that the single-breadwinner is a thing of the past and that the academic workforce has different needs than it did 50 years ago.

grumpyabdadjunct said...

Let me put something out there about the use of the word "unencumbered" in this context. If a male person referred to himself as "unencumbered" by breasts, how would you feel about that use of the word? Is is possible you could be offended that someone without the experience of having breasts was identifying them as being "encumbering" - wouldn't you find that demeaning of those who were clearly seen as encumbered by having breast, and therefore sexist? I think I would.

Plus, I don't like to refer to other human beings as "encumberences" (sp?). Is anyone who needs a bit of looking after, who takes time an encumberence (that sp no better!)? Older people, kids, people with a disability? The word means burden, for crying out loud, to use it in reference to people that need care (and that we care about) is demeaning to them and implies how the caretaker must feel (burdened) which is as much of an assumption about them, which what you are asking them not to do about you (make assumptions). This is perhaps why the people who are their caretakers take umbrage with the use of the word.

Interesting post, lots to think about, hope I actually have time to read all the comments someday!

Anastasia said...

"So I really wish people would stop acting as if I were some eternally childless person talking out of her ass."

and I really wish you'd choose less incendiary language.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I should be clear about how my experience has shaped my view of this situation.

My Mom is a nurse, my father a cop. From the time my sister and I were born, both parents worked full-time at 24/7 kinds of jobs. When I was about 8 and my sister 5, my parents divorced and Dad stopped any responsibility for childcare -- and he didn't pay child support, school fees or anything like daycare costs.

My mom's job as a nurse (45 minutes away from home..) often required weekends, nights, double-shifts etc... hours NO academic parent has to deal with -- when's the last time you needed a babysitter on Thanksgiving? Since she was a nursing supervisor, if she called in sick because we were sick, another nursing supervisor would have to get emergency child care -- so she rarely did it.

Eventually I was old enough to babysit -- and I did, a lot -- until then, my mom routinely got childcare in a quasi-rural area, overnight, weekends, holidays etc. She did so because she needed to provide for us. Things haven't changed for nurses -- they still tend to have kids and need child care.

My point being that it IS possible for women in many other fields to find childcare. It IS possible for people to do office jobs, work in hospitals, restaurants and other significantly less convenient times than a routine committee meeting time slot.

Dr. Crazy said...

1. It's my blog, and I'm ok with the use of the word "ass" in this context. Would it be different if ADM had called another commenter an "ass"? Sure. Would it be different if ADM had accused somebody else of talking out of his/her ass? Yes, indeed. But neither of those things happened.

2. ADM - thanks for so succinctly summarizing the main issues in play here. And this deserves repeating:

"I think the solution is to make child-care plentiful and good, and to create the sort of environments where equity (not equality, necessarily) can be negotiated and arbitrated, and people who don't carry their weight are not rewarded, implicitly or explicitly, children or no.

But in the meantime, I'd really like it if people just did their own jobs."

Amen, sister.

3. grumpyabdadjunct: I see what you're getting at with your counterexample, but if I'm honest, what you describe wouldn't bother me because yes, breasts can be an encumbrance, as I well know. Let's say that I didn't feel that way, though. I think this is the issue: I believe that words are there to be used. I think it's important to have conversations about the meaning of words, and about the connotations that words carry. I'll admit that in my first usage of the word "unencumbered" I had no idea how personally offended people would be at my use of it. It was a throwaway. In hearing people's objections, I think I understand where people are coming from. And, you'll note, I'm not wedded to the word. I don't even think I used it in the post other than to explain why I used it in the first place. People have seized on the word as emblematic of something to which they object, clearly. Will I ever use the word again? I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe not unless I'm in a different context.

I will say this, though. Maybe we might not *like* to think of people as burdens, but having helped to care for my grandmother through her final illness, and in watching my stepmother care for my father through his, yes, I do believe that caring for somebody else can be a burden. Maybe that's not nice, but I think it's a common feeling, and I think that having that feeling is permissible. Feeling burdened doesn't mean that one doesn't also feel great love and compassion.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Just went back and caught this, which I'd missed before, from Dr. B -- Because the thing is, at the risk of being one of "those" parents who says "you don't know unless you have kids," parents know that there is a prejudice out there that people with kids "make excuses." So when you're using that language--no matter how valid it is for *you* to be using it in *this* situation--we are going to hear it as part of that pre-existing discourse of prejudice. And for most of us--including, probably, most of the parents who you think are really just "making excuses"--those "excuses" are more like "explanations."

If the cost of some people living a balanced life is that other people have to "pick up extra work," then it is the "extra work" that is the problem. If person A leaving the office at 5, or refusing to teach night classes, or whatever, is a problem, then it's the work--not the kids--that is creating that problem.


For the first paragraph - that makes a lot of sense, and I hadn't thought of the way this particular conversation (the slacker colleagues who use parenting as a reason) fit into the larger parenting discourse.

To the second, I think an issue for me is that sometimes, it really isn't 'extra' work when spread around, but ends up being extra for some of us. And the more some people get away with not doing a share, the more they feel entitled, and others see them and want to know how to get that deal. It's a real issue where I work. People seeing service shirkers getting away with it, and even getting rewarded because they use that time to write and publish, and it reinforces the idea that that's a legitimate use of time. And some of us get left with extra work.

Obviously, there's an institutional, systemic problem.

But it's also one of choice. Love may be limitless, but time isn't, as they say :-)

Children and family are commitments. But for a lot of people who don't currently have either, there may be other commitments -- volunteering, animals, classes, gym time, alone time, extra writing and reading time...

Balance is definitely an issue,but so is compromise. If I want to get my grading done in a weekend, I may not be able to go to the gym, a movie, and for a hike. But I might be able to do one or two of those things on top of grading.

One of the things that is particularly offensive to me is that the colleagues I'm thinking of are looking at a list that is something like, service, writing, children, gym, kid party, kid trip to park, alone time, massage, visiting parents, and the thing they drop is service. And when they do, there is a task that someone has to pick up. All of a sudden, that means that I can't do two things, rather than not doing one.


I hope that makes sense.

And to that extent, I think that it is not always the system, but the expectation that the flexibility that academia offers is an entitlement, that it becomes a situation where they are building their work schedule around their personal schedule, rather than what most people, especially non-academics, have to do.

Sybil Vane said...

I do think that some are saying that their personal experience gives their opinions more authority, legitimacy, and validity than the opinions of people without identical personal experiences to theirs, they have suggested that people should change their opinions or how they express them in order to make them more comfortable

This is a really unfair characterization of my comments I think.

if you really think [the conversation pivots on personal experience], then you've missed Crazy's point, and mine too. De-personalizing these conversations is a good thing to try to do.

Maybe pivots s the wrong word, because I can honestly not see how this conversation is *not* about personal experience. It's precisely and exactly about the extent to which personal experience is used as a policing agent in determining who gets to have a voice in what conversations. This seems utterly uncontroversial to me.

Because you think I have entered the conversation in such bad faith or with such a contrary opinion, I wonder if I have misunderstood the whole complaint. As I understand it, this post is about two main things: 1) parents within the workplace often ask for, and receive special treatment because of parenting needs, and that special treatment, when received, results in more work for non-parenting workers; and 2) when non-parenting workers try to point out such discrepancies, they are told that their complaints aren't valid because they don't understand what parenting is all about.

What I have tried to say is that from my perspective, which is one of a parenting worker who has rarely, if ever, asked for special treatment, and re: point 2, if parents are defensive in response to point 1, it is because a) they have legitimate claim to a specificity of subject position that, while it should not be used as an authority t silence anyone, can respectably be used to claim a radical difference in perspective/stakes, and b) that defensiveness usually takes the form f asking for a reframe of the conversation not out of a desire to silence a non-parenting person but out of a conviction that the reframe IS in fact what will help produce solutions.

squadratomagico said...

I think I can sum up this conversation nicely:
Crazy, How Dare You!!!
Ann, How Dare You!!!
ADM, How Dare You!!!

J said...

I'm a regular reader, de-lurking to say first, thanks for a great post, Dr. Crazy, and sparking this discussion. I wanted to add something to Another Damned Medievalist's comment about "'family-friendly' [getting] elevated over other sorts of personal interests." The equitable distribution of departmental/collegiate/whatever work burdens is obviously a huge issue, and some departments, institutions and individuals negotiate this better or worse than others. But I think that there is a larger ideological issue here, too, in the ways that the questions of gender equity and "work-life balance" are almost always construed in "family-friendly" terms that assume there is no life other than "family" and no female academic other than a mother. I met this assumption time and again in job interviews, where the chair or dean would rave about the institution's commitment to faculty work-life, and then launch immediately into the benefits offered to parents (and sometimes partners): maternity leave policies, child care facilities, tuition wavers, flexible scheduling, spousal hiring, etc. The positions taken by organizations like the MLA and AHA also reflect this assumption, that making the academy more friendly to women means not only equity in pay, responsibilities and rewards, but also a family-friendly workplace and institutional support for the costs of childcare, etc.

Now, I am all in favor of institutional support for parents. Childcare should be available and affordable. Obligatory meetings and classes should be scheduled to allow parents to attend recitals/football matches/etc. I don't even mind picking up some of the slack for colleagues who have family obligations, since I know that my colleagues (I'm very lucky!) will pick up slack for me if necessary. But, I think that there's some real danger in institutionally defining the private existence of employees, female ones especially, purely in terms of parental/maternal status. If only the state would provide good quality health, child and elder care for all citizens, this might be less of an issue. But absent that (or even maybe with that) it seems to me that replacing the "patriarchy" with the "matriarchy" or the "famliarchy" is not a good solution to the problem of privilege.

undine said...

I think there are at least two separate issues in Dr. Crazy's post. The first is the appeal to identity as an attempt to establish authority and a means to trump all other discussion, as Dr. Crazy's student did.

The other is the issue of what Historiann and her commenters talked about a couple of posts ago: having shirkers as colleagues. As ADM said, some are parents; some aren't. Some use their kids as a reason for avoiding tasks; some don't. Some departments don't allow this to happen, but others can't seem to distinguish between creating a family-friendly environment and respecting the rights of nonparents to honor the other commitments that they have.

If we can keep them separate, wouldn't that make solving the second issue more feasible?

gwinne said...

Wow. I'm quite late to the party and don't have much to add. But I'm glad for the post, and for all the comments.

I'm coming at this a single mom--untenured, at an R1 institution. And there are all kinds of ways that my department's scheduling practices have made that fact challenging (weekend meetings, night meetings) to accommodate the needs/desires of senior colleagues (who don't have small children). Everyone here is very protective of their time, for very different reasons. I think frank conversations about work load, as others have suggested, is really the important issue. Sure, I can't easily attend co-curricular functions at night, but if I choose not to go, that's not in any way placing a burden on one of my colleagues to attend in my place. Committee work? I've done more than my share.

I'm sorry, Dr. C, that you're in a department culture that has allowed slackers to be slackers. We have that problem, too, but it's not from the parents, tenured or otherwise. They tend to be the ones doing the most committee work, actually.

Dr. Crazy said...

Squadro - your comment made me giggle!

Sibyl - I never pointed the finger at your comments, and honestly, I was responding to the turn that the comment thread took as a whole. If you feel that you were singled out, I really don't know what to say.

I also don't think that you entered into the conversation in bad faith, nor did I think so at any point throughout the day. I do think, from your summary, however, that you did misunderstand my argument in the post.

Yes, I was talking about conversations about parenting and motherhood in relation to the workplace, and the construction of non-child-having people in relation to discourses on parenting and motherhood in those conversations. Of the examples that I gave, only one - from the TR post and subsequent comment thread - was actually about parents and distribution of workload in academic departments (and I was specifically thinking about t-t and tenured faculty, which I think it's important to reiterate). My comments on this were primarily located in two paragraphs of a post of around 20 paragraphs. So no, that wasn't what the whole post was about, nor was it my primary complaint.

Let me quote myself to give my primary complaints:

"It's not just uninformed students who believe that parenthood operates as a special qualification that trumps all other things. It's not just uninformed students who believe that people without children should change what they think to better accommodate the feelings and needs of people with them."

In other words, this post was entirely about, as you noted upthread, authority. And not about my desire to exert authority over parents/mothers, but rather about my desire for people without children to be taken seriously when they attempt to enter into conversations about these issues. For other people to acknowledge that I have authority.

More to follow....

Dr. Crazy said...

Being taken seriously and being treated as if I have authority would mean, actually, someone ASKING for a reframe of the conversation, while at the same time acknowledging that what is being noted is a real and persistent problem for many. It would be engaging in a dialogue. It would not be asserting what the "real problem" is, as if the problem that the writer noted was just poppycock. (Yes, I just said that. It makes me giggle.) It would not be failing to reckon with what the writer wrote in its entirety and instead seizing on a couple of paragraphs, or a few sentences, or a word.

I am not at all saying that we shouldn't challenge those offensive paragraphs, sentences, or words, mind you. Just that when that is how the substance of broader argument is reduced, in spite of what the whole text involves, that it demonstrates an intrinsic lack of respect for the other person.

So if you want to know what this post was about, it was about feeling that when I, or when other people who don't identify as mothers, speak that it is entirely common for them to be chastised, derided, or excluded as not having the ability to understand the issues at hand. It is about the way that the culture equates motherhood with "true" womanhood, and the ways in which that hurts ALL women.

Incidentally, tonight in my gender theory class we covered some pieces by Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks, and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. By the end of the night, our conversation turned to many of the issues surrounding motherhood, work, and the construction of femininity - and even more precisely of woman - that have been lurking in the shadows of this thread. In my class I have a breastfeeding new mother, women with grown children, women with small children, single women and married women, women without children, African-American women and white women. It was a fantastic discussion, and it was generous and nobody's hackles got raised, and nobody discounted the problems related to these issues that people different from them noted. Perhaps the difference was that this all happened in person. Perhaps the difference was that there was an authority figure present that stopped the impulse to dismiss. All I'm saying is, these are important conversations to have.

And I've enjoyed reading this comment thread throughout the day, and I've appreciated everyone's participation in it - even when I disagreed with the substance of the comments. Without the dialogue, we're stuck, you know? And so I suppose I hope that people aren't too upset or too entrenched to continue having it.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Gwinne -- as I said, (I can't speak for Dr. C), I think what you describe is more common at R1s -- the culture is already one where scholarly production is privileged above other duties, the pressures to publish and to not be seen to let one's personal life and obligations get in the way lest one be seen to be less serious about once's career all combine to create a less-flexible environment for people with family obligations.

There are only about 60 FT faculty in my college, and we teach the most students of any division of the University. We also have the most contact hours. Our culture is one where faculty are expected to be seen at university events, community events, etc. It's unlikely that your college president notices if you show up to a sports event or even graduation. Ours does. Faculty governance is such that if people from our part of the university don't show up, we can get burned.


Or, for example, if there is a deadline on getting in a report that we are all supposed to work on, and two of my colleagues refuse to show, that deadline doesn't go away. That means that I can *not* get the report in, and the department might lose part of its budget, or I can do the whole thing myself.

I do have a question, though. For everybody. Why is there more hostility directed towards the people who have stories like mine, and the impulse to say that this is an anti-child, anti-parenting attitude, rather than hostility towards the people who do this sort of thing in the name of good parenting? If this really is part of a larger issue, aren't those people perpetuating stereotypes about mixing parenting and academe that can often hide the majority of our colleagues who do their fair share and more?

Julie Shen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Shen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Shen said...

Hi all,

I want to share my perspective as someone who hasn't had to deal with equity issues.

As a tenure-track academic, I feel very lucky in that my much more senior colleagues respect me enough to be able to discuss who's better suited for a committee assignment, or who is better able to work a particular evening, etc., instead of sneaking around, trying to get the better committee assignment or the better schedule.

I have 3 small children. This is my reality. Some of my colleagues have had elder care issues, and others have had short-term or long-term medical problems. None of us have had any qualms about saying, Look, I have special needs, and I just can't work during certain days/times.

We are a multiplicity of ages, colors, genders, sexual orientations, and family structures. We don't always understand what everyone is going through, but we at least try to act professional towards one other. Frankly, I find it sad that all of the extremely educated people in academia can't behave this way.

helenesch said...

I'm late to this thread also--it's a fascinating discussion and a thought-provoking post. I have to say that I think the culture of one's department/university makes a big difference. I'm at a research school, tenured in a department that is about 70% men (fairly normal for my field). My colleagues with children are mostly male, and have wives who're working part-time (and doing more of the childcare); I'm sure this makes a difference. Within my dept., I get the sense that we're all pretty protective of our time, but that people generally don't ask for reasons for *why* someone cannot make a meeting at a certain time. (Evening and weekend meetings are very rare.) At least some of my friends at smaller and/or less research-intensive schools describe the culture of their colleges as being very different--people seem to know a lot more about one another's personal lives. I like most of my colleagues, but rarely socialize with them (nor do they with each other). I'm not sure that's the way I'd have wanted it to be (it was pretty isolating at first), but it does seem that there are fewer judgments being passed around about people's personal lives.

But I'm single and have no children--I'm sure my perception would be different if I were a mother working in this same context (It *does* seem true that many people think they can pass jugment on others' mothering skills--and that bothers me).

Dr. Crazy said...

Julie - welcome, and thanks for stopping by! It sounds like you're in a department that is very reasonable about the various needs of its faculty, and in which colleagues care about treating one another fairly. All I can say is that this is not how it is in all locations and at all institutions. And yeah, that sucks mightily.

Helenesch - Much earlier on in the comment thread the issue of institutional context came up, and I agree that this makes a HUGE difference. Both in terms of type of institution (teaching vs. research) as well as in terms of geographical location. I think that one of the disconnects in this comment thread has involved people thinking that their own institutional context is the norm, whereas there are many variations, even within a single discipline. In other words, abuses may happen in a certain way in terms of one institution type that would seem totally outlandish at another. I'll tell you: what I've seen at my job now would be TOTALLY UNBELIEVABLE in the context of my PhD granting institution. Nevertheless, that doesn't make what I'm experiencing and what I have experienced in my current situation not "real" or not a "real problem." That's really my beef. Dude, what I experience is just as real as what anybody else does.

pocha said...

Wow. I got featured on your blog, an enviably popular one at that (and for good reason -- look at these incendiary topics). I did not mean to upbraid you, I was merely bristling at the word choice (diction is a big thing in my universe).

I met a very productive, dare I say famous female scholar once at a conference. After her plenary speech, I asked her, mother to mother, HOW SHE DOES IT? (She has three, read it: three, children.)

One of the first things she told me, after the usual (create and stick to a schedule that fits your childless/encumbered schedule), was to make sure that your children never feel as though they are less important than your work. Because, of course, a lot of parents, mothers and fathers, do this and it could have detrimental psychological effects later on.

I know, because I am the daughter of a woman who puts herself before me, and has done so my entire life.

So, Dr. Crazy, I wasn't at all suggesting that you don't get it because you don't have children (did I even imply this? I'm sorry if I made you bristle by doing so). I just wanted to point out that when we talk about this issue in such stark terms (having children means you're limited, not having children means you're free), we lose sight of the goal at hand: finding that elusive, but not entirely impossible "balance" of being able to do things we want to do, have things we'd like to have (children, but also other things if not children, including hobbies, partners, etc.) *outside* of our roles as professors/scholars.

What's so terrible about approaching parenthood as something that doesn't encumber you? As something that you in fact *can* do while being an academic?

Sheesh.

pocha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pocha said...

Also, for the record, I do not think academic mothers should be accommodated, at least not by their "unencumbered" colleagues (those lucky devils). Now, by larger institution? Well, maybe. Imagine how different this conversation would be if every institution of higher ed offered it's employees (and students) high-quality subsidized childcare?! So when we're talking "accommodation," we could be talking about it like that. But in now way did my comment *at all* imply that you need to accommodate me because I have the so-called "toughest job you'll ever have," a sentence I actually AVOID uttering to my "unencumbered" colleagues for fear they think I'm assuming something about them. Simple.

Winter said...

A lot of this seems to be complaints about tenured colleagues treating their tenured and tenure-track colleagues poorly.

I do have a question, though. For everybody. Why is there more hostility directed towards the people who have stories like mine, and the impulse to say that this is an anti-child, anti-parenting attitude, rather than hostility towards the people who do this sort of thing in the name of good parenting? If this really is part of a larger issue, aren't those people perpetuating stereotypes about mixing parenting and academe that can often hide the majority of our colleagues who do their fair share and more?

I think this is an EXCELLENT comment. As I've read more of these threads, I see the emergence of a certain kind of parenting behavior that would drive me absolutely bonkers. And, dare I say, it would drive me even more crazy than my childless colleagues, because I have made sacrifices to go to the recitals, the evening events, etc. There are definitely people in the academy that think that something unspecified and horrible will happen to your child if you leave them with a childcare worker. I think they are mostly tenured? Maybe their spouses are not trustworthy?

I also have a comment about BPhD's comment. I think it's very important that we do examine the system that requires last minute meetings, evening classes, or mandatory attendance at recitals. If a department or school decides that in order to fulfill their educational mission they need to have 7pm classes, this mission should be shared among the faculty who then share the burden. If few agree that these 7pm classes further the mission of the school, they should be reexamined, not thrown at the childless.

Historiann is either childless or working extremely hard at maintaining a persona that is convincingly childless. She gets upset when she is called on this, but I'm sorry to say that many of her comments make it obvious that she either does not have children or that she is working really hard at a persona.

Erin said...

"Why is there more hostility directed towards the people who have stories like mine, and the impulse to say that this is an anti-child, anti-parenting attitude, rather than hostility towards the people who do this sort of thing in the name of good parenting?"

I can't speak for everyone reading this, only for myself. I completely agree with you that people who flake out of professional responsibilities deserve to have hostility directed at them (rather than the people who point them out). I'm sure we can all tell horror stories about the colleague who "won't" serve on committees, who refuses to give PhD exams, who is adamant about only teaching T-TH in the afternoon, etc. I think what got my hackles up a little bit is the framing of the discussion in terms of parent slackers. While at some institutional cultures shirking might break down in a way that favors parents, in many others this isn't the case. And part of the problem is that the conversation is happening in a broader social context in which generally parents are very unsupported, so it's possible that some people are reacting emotionally to that. Mothers constantly face a critical public who think we're "bad" mothers for working and bad workers for mothering - did you read that article in CHE about people's attitudes towards women faculty who had more than 1 or 2 children? It was like, there's NO WAY she can do her job. So that attitude is out there and we have to confront it every day. (Women generally in the workforce face that problem - we have to work twice as hard and be twice as good to get the same acknowledgment as male peers.) That does *not* mean however that I think Crazy's or anybody else's opinion, perspective, or experience are less important than my own. I just wonder if it might work better to frame the issue in the larger context, as BPhD suggests, of inequities at work and shirking in which case parents who shirk is *one* category or one perspective from which to view the dysfunctional way the academe apportions work. Or the issue of challenges facing working parents AND how those challenges might negatively affect colleagues and what to do about it. Or the way that (untenured) (female) faculty are treated in departments. Either way, you're looking at a larger structural problem in which parents-that-shirk play a role, but aren't being portrayed as The Problem. Of course if at Crazy's u the shirkers are uniformly and exclusively parents that explains why the problem is framed in a specific way. And I also see what Winter's talking about - the parents who never want to leave their children for second. I was always like, get a babysitter, under my breath.

(A side note, Crazy: I love "unencumbered" - that's totally how I felt before I had kids. Not that I feel burdened now - I was just feeling what you meant.)

Ann said...

Dr. Crazy wrote, " I think it probably makes sense to consider the ways in which women - whether they have children or not - are inscribed within discourses about motherhood, and the negative consequences of that inscription."

Then, Winter wrote, "Historiann is either childless or working extremely hard at maintaining a persona that is convincingly childless. She gets upset when she is called on this, but I'm sorry to say that many of her comments make it obvious that she either does not have children or that she is working really hard at a persona."

Could this thread get any more ridiculous? I really hate this obsession with trying to diagnose people's personal lives, and trying to pin people down on the basis of motherhood or non-motherhood. What the hell does it really matter? Aren't we all individuals here, not mommies/not mommies?

Being a mother makes you an authority on your family's experience, perhaps, but it alone doesn't give you greater authority on anything else.

Historiann.com

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I'm not trying to be any more argumentative than is my norm, here, but this is something I find interesting about Winter's analysis of Historiann's position - the implication that, because she is one of the people complaining/criticizing, she must therefore be either childless or pretending to be childless.

Again, there seems to be a sort of 'if you were a parent, you wouldn't feel this way' assumption that has run through this entire conversation on all the different posts dealing with it. When it is so absolutely demonstrable that we have so many opinions on so many issues, why is the condition of parenthood treated as if that is some sort of great leveller, or something on which we all agree.

I'm willing to bet that, if we talked to each other about child-rearing beliefs, we'd display a lot of different opinions. Some might think spanking is ok, some that children should never eat junk food or that TV rots the brain, or that video games are verboten. Some of us might even venture the scary opinion that children are individuals, and that even though it looks good on paper to treat them exactly alike, equal treatment may be neither effective nor equitable in their eyes.

But every time parenting how it affects our own jobs and those of our colleagues comes up, there is this weird transition to an, "us parents vs. you people who don't get it because you don't have kids," thing

Lauren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren said...

Dr. Crazy,
You have a blog, it's public, and you post things that are admittedly very opinionated. In other words, you post your opinions. On your blog. And it's a public blog. Your post here is interesting, but why on earth would you get upset at people responding to your blog? At people who feel hurt or upset by something you say? So the question isn't really "how dare" you post something (a tongue-in-cheek cheek question on your part. It's more like, well what do you expect? I didn't see the comments you spotlighted as offensive in the least. They were simply written by people who felt, on some personal level, bothered or perturbed (or even slightly amused or annoyed). Would you rather people not read your blog? Or just agree with everything you say? Not sure why you end this thread on such a defensive note, really.

Lyria Lin said...

I think this gets heightened in academia because once people have tenure, they're 'equal' and the central perception seems to be in this thread that the Bad Workers somehow are not experiencing any consequences, and that this lack of consequences is linked to their being parents.

Whereas parents (like me) in my field (journalism) lose out if they don't go to the events, make the contacts, etc. In income & assignments. Pretty quickly. Not that this is a perfect system or a model to follow, but I think it bears mentioning that the problem is the lack of consequences.

My dad retired from academia this year after 36 years of tenure. Because of a quirk in when/how his department was set up, about 8 profs all went through the same 36 years together. During that time, between kids, divorces, prostate cancers, brain damage, and other things, most of them had good years and bad years. What was sad as a child and observer was how petty the group got. That is not to say there were not legitimate concerns at various times. But there was no way to distinguish people with bonuses or promotions. So everyone got obsessed on measuring each other's contributions. And it was, as a child, sad to see who was not talking to whom which month over which committee.

Ink said...

I haven't been able to stop thinking about this discussion all day. I'm still not clear on why it's *parents* specifically who are being depicted as throwing extra work onto their colleagues. Many people have limitations which require consideration (not just parents) -- and they, too, say No, I cannot teach that night class/attend that function/come to that meeting. Yet, somehow, an explanation involving a child is seen as an "excuse." That's really troubling. I would never tell someone with OR without children that their reason for not being able to do something isn't worthy enough. Maybe that's why some of us feel concerned about the direction of the conversation here?

Dr. Crazy said...

I thought this comment thread was done, but apparently no. If you read the original post, you'll note that the bulk of it was not about parents who shirk work using the excuse of their children. You will note that I write about this directly in two paragraphs, of a post that ranges over 20. In other words, I used this example as one of three to demonstrate that people who don't identify as parents and who dare to express opinions or to enter into dialogue are shut down. That was the point of the post. Period.

When the comments to the post got into the territory of workload issues, I was careful to note that institutional context, and status within academic hierarchies, was a central thing to consider, and that my institutional context (in which, historically, parents' needs have trumped all other needs), and my status in the power structure, was not universal.

All that I have argued is that in some institutions (mine, for sure, but some of my commenters' as well) parenthood as seen as a sanctified identity-category that confers the privilege not to complete the job for which a person was hired to do - a job that is clearly outlined in the faculty handbook and that was clearly explained in the job advertisement. The result of this, at institutions like mine (and at the institutions of some of my readers) is that people without children are expected to pick up the slack. And yes, people who do pick up the slack are frustrated and angry. And, when the privilege to shirk is granted without consequences to people who identify as parents, then people who don't identify as parents get justifiably angry at the parents who benefit from this privilege.

In short, this was never the point of this post. It is a digression. But if we're going to talk about the digression, let's just acknowledge for the record that at some institutions that this is a real and pervasive problem. And it's one that parents and non-parents alike should work against.

pocha said...

Word, Dr. C.