Monday, June 17, 2013

Slate: "In the Ivory Tower, Men Only"

In Slate, Mary Ann Mason suggests that for female academics, having children is a "career killer." 

She's a Dean and has done the research and all that, so I'm not going to argue with her, especially since so much of what she says is what we all recognize as true (and now have stats to back it up).

A few bullet points of response:
  • "In our study of University of California doctoral students, 70 percent of women and more than one-half of the men considered faculty careers at research universities not friendly to family life." I wonder if this isn't more true at (1) top 10 universities (2) in the sciences than at other types of universities.  It's not that it isn't true, but is it equally true for the humanities?
  • "There is some good news for women. The second tier is not a complete career graveyard. We have found that a good proportion of those toiling as adjuncts and part-time lecturers do eventually get tenure track jobs."  That is good news, and I'm glad that Mason's research supports this. 
  • "Among tenured faculty, 70 percent of men are married with children compared with 44 percent of women." 
  • "Women who achieve tenure are more likely than men to fall into the midcareer slump. They take longer, sometimes much longer, to be promoted to full professor, the top of the academic ranks. For the first time in the career march from graduate school, children do not make a clear difference in their career slowdown."  You know what does make a difference? Being asked to do just one more service thing, and then one more, and then one more and not saying no. Learning to say no is the key, I think, especially to things that are "collegial" but will go nowhere in your  tenure and promotion folder. 
  • "Men and women retire at about the same age, but women have less income to rely upon in retirement; their salaries at retirement are, on average, 29 percent lower." Not a happy statistic, but good to know. 
  • "It is important for women to become more assertive at faculty meetings, to negotiate starting salary, to argue for justice in the promotion process, as Sheryl Sandberg argues in Lean In." There's quite a bit of chicken-and-egg reasoning here. "Become more assertive at faculty meetings" as an adjunct (says I, who was one for a long time), and you might find yourself unemployed, although to be fair, no place I've ever worked operated in this way. Become more assertive as t-t assistant or associate, and you'll get the "Great idea! Why don't you study this and write a report on it" time-sucking committee laid at your door.   Being assertive is not an unalloyed good. What battles do you want to fight, and are they worth it if you are an untenured assistant or not-yet-full associate? You need to decide. 
  • "For instance, at Berkeley, after enacting several new policies to benefit parents, including paid teaching leaves for fathers, job satisfaction scored much higher among parents, and more babies are being born to assistant professors." Again, this is good news, because if this more family-friendly attitude is going to spread, it has to start from places like that so that other institutions can see that it works. 
This issue of women in academe is different from Lauren Sandler's "great writers have only one child"  essay on the Atlantic's site, which I took to be one of its ongoing attempts to stir up Teh Wimmenz (hello, Caitlin Flanagan!) and looked at primarily for Jane Smiley's response.  

Does having only one child make a difference? Who knows? What are the other common variables? Did the great ones all eat granola for breakfast? The two main things seem to be (1) good child care and (2) having a personality best described as "driven," which really means disciplined and focused on writing. It's a little disheartening, though, to see how fast the commenters went to "X is a bad mother!" "No, she isn't!" to prove their points.

To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, I sometimes think that these sites are saying to us, "let's you and her fight" rather than something substantive by posting these things. Mary Ann Mason's post wasn't one of those but an honest attempt to look at a problem. 


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I read this Slate article earlier, and I'd seen the Berkeley research before. It's irritating that academia still seems to be so medieval in its treatment and perception of women. Wanna know what's worse? Working at a Catholic school. It's medieval times 2.

One of my colleagues told me last week that she and her husband are trying to conceive their first baby. I didn't really say anything, but I wanted to say to her, "I am so glad I had my kids before I got a tenure-track job. I couldn't have handled an infant with the stress we are under." But I just kept my mouth shut and smiled and nodded because I don't want to discourage people from having children in academia. I think the more we normalize it, the more it will become accepted. But even I, who want the normalization and who have two children, had the knee-jerk reaction that she was going to be miserable as a tenure-track academic with an infant.

It really makes me feel like an ass that my default response inside my head was negative. However, at least that response stayed in my head. Seems to me that I need to work on my OWN perceptions about having babies on the TT before the patriarchal domination has a chance at crumbling. I'm some feminist, eh? Ugh!!

nicoleandmaggie said...

Our department seems to be doing pretty well. In fact, all of the women with pretenure babies and children who have gone up have solid cvs and have gotten tenure. That's despite no paid family leave (you have to build up enough sick leave to get it). Contrast that with two of the departments in our building which just kicked out women who had had babies at their third year reviews (taken in the 4th year because of the babies).

I don't know what the difference is, but I suspect we're more supportive so it's easier to get back to research after the baby is born. There are a lot of women in our department who have successfully been through the same thing. The other departments are now back to one or two unmarried tenured associate women close to retirement and a handful of female adjuncts.

Men in these departments, of course, aren't negatively affected by pre-tenure babies. They benefit from mom becoming a SAHM!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

"Among tenured faculty, 70 percent of men are married with children compared with 44 percent of women."

Did they check on how many women wanted children? I have found academia a very friendly place to women without maternal instinct. I can think of only one academic who urged me to reproduce, and she was one who had dropped out of grad school to be a faculty wife and then went back after the divorce. Non-academics frequently used to worry, to my face, about my lack of offspring (funny how that stops when the hair gets grey enough). These things can cut both ways.

undine said...

fie, nicoleandmaggie--my experience has been more like nicoleandmaggie's, with people going up and getting tenure despite small children--lucky choices of departments, I guess. And it's true about men & pre-tenure babies, though they walk around with a dazed look from lack of sleep for a few months.

Dame Eleanor--good question! I'll bet they didn't even ask.

It's always amazed me that people would ask such rude questions and pester women about having children. Chalk one up for academe, I guess, in that academics maybe don't do that as much.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Yeah, it is amazing. Although I never wanted kids myself, I was sometimes tempted (to make a point on behalf of the childless-not-by-choice) to burst into tears and blurt out a hideous and far-too-TMI tale of miscarriages and infertility treatments in hope of making some of those jerks think twice about ever asking such a question again. But I couldn't quite bring myself to it, in part because I think the same people who ask such questions are OK with TMI medical details. Sooner or later a real sufferer might dish out the same treatment, anyway, perhaps with better effect. It's nuts, though; do people really think a random stranger is going to go "OMG, I forgot to have children! Thanks! I better go have unprotected sex RIGHT NOW!" because of a nosy question?

Sorry, this is really off-topic. I kept hoping people would keep up the discussion. I suppose it's happening elsewhere; there is a thread on the Chron fora.

undine said...

Dame Eleanor--I do wish someone had said your "I forgot to have children' remark just to shock the insensitive ones into shutting up. Why on earth would someone's reproductive life be up for discussion? Why? If you don't have children, it's" why didn't/don't you?", and "you should or you'll regret it," and all those things that you mentioned. If you do, then it's "are you crazy? you'll never get tenure" or "you'll be so tired" or "are you going to try again for a boy/girl." Either way, it goes on and on and is all irritating.

It has the same effect on me as teaching workshops: someone is trying to tell you, on the basis of nothing, "You're doing it wrong. No, really, you're not doing it like me, so you're doing it wrong." I announced when I was 30 that I was too old to be bossed around any more, and I'm sticking to it.

You should write a post about this, by the way. I take a break from the Chronicle in the summer (or try, anyway), and a lot of bloggers don't read it or don't comment over there. I would love to see you write about it.

undine said...

Caveat: I announced this about being bossed *in my own mind* and just to remind myself that those who were louder and more forceful about their views were not necessarily either (1) smarter or (2) right.

Z said...

Times have changed. But I think also, at least in some cases, having kids actually energizes people for work. And if you want them, repressing that takes energy from work.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I don't know what I'd say. I did all that ranting when I was of child-bearing age, and now it's a relief to be free of expectations; I don't want to re-engage. Or did you mean more about the Slate article? I don't think I have much to say about that, either, just find other people's reactions interesting. I think most people do want children, so it's not an unreasonable default assumption; it's just that a good study should pose the question.

undine said...

Z, I'm glad that they have changed. I have heard some people who have kids say that they feel that they are more organized after the children come.

Dame Eleanor, I was thinking about the rudeness factor, but I can understand not wanting to re-engage.