Friday, September 06, 2013

Random bullets of food for thought

In thinking about Madwoman's post on academics leaving academe (more later), I came across a  post with a clickbait title on how feminism went astray. "Where Feminism Went Wrong" at the Chronicle is saying something but I'm not sure exactly what except that women should realize that perfection may not be attainable. Lots of generalizations about how women were misled into thinking they could have it all, yadda yadda, but the conclusion is a can't-argue-with-that "We need to struggle. We need to organize. And we need to dance with joy."

I was interested in this part: "We need to focus less of our energies on our own kids' SAT scores and more on fighting for better public schools; less time on competitive cupcake-baking and more on supporting those few brave women willing to run for office. We need fewer individual good works and more collective efforts."

Two things: 

1. Competitive cupcake-baking, handcrafted Halloween costumes, and the rest are perennial events in the motherhood sweepstakes, and women used to seem demon-possessed to persecute one another over them. Does this still happen? Is it worse now than ever before? The Atlantic deploys Caitlin Flanagan to tell me it is, but is it really? 

2. Time and attention are resources, and resources are scarce. You can say "spend less time focusing on your own kids and more on the collective good of the whole," but is that going to happen? What's more likely is that people would try to do both. Maybe it was easier to take collective action instead of worrying about your kids' futures in the days of "feminist foremothers," since the unemployment rate in 1968 was 3.6%--basically, full employment. Maybe that's just an excuse, though. 

It seems to be the same issue all over again: we would all like the benefits of the long-term collective action and thoughtful reflection that these changes promise, but the short-term hits to family, jobs, and precious spare time that they require will, we fear, leave us individually worse off than before, and in the competitive world for jobs and educational slots, will leave us permanently behind. Like the Red Queen, we believe we need to do all the running we can just to stay in place and not lose ground. 

Now about the quitting academe issue. Madwoman with a Laptop says that that post generated lots of traffic and a lot of great comments, and Historiann's post did the same.  I've read a fair number of eloquent posts on this issue, but is there evidence that junior academics are leaving en masse? I know that talented people who don't have tenure-track jobs are leaving, and the loss is the academy's; do the same numbers hold true for those on the tenure track?


    Flavia said...

    I don't see evidence that junior academics are leaving en masse, but I do know more than a couple of women (always women) with the two-body problem who went ahead and had a child and who now are in the early stages of leaving the profession when the two-body problem didn't wind up sorting itself out within a couple of years.

    And I know women who left the tenure-track for the same reason, some of whom managed to get back on it and some of whom are struggling along in contingent positions.

    But though this makes me very angry, I'm not sure that this constitutes a larger trend of dissatisfaction with academic life, per se.

    nicoleandmaggie said...

    My husband just left academia... what does that mean?

    We don't believe that competitive baking is widespread out of coastal "news" publications.

    Maybe if the "news" media spent more time talking about real women's issues rather than fake mommy wars, we could make some real progress on equality. Just sayin'.

    And gosh darn it, these articles need to start telling men that they need to "struggle" for women's equality too because people actually listen and make changes when white men talk about inequality. It's more efficient! They don't even need to struggle to get the same amount of impact.

    Janice said...

    We just lost a junior colleague (female) to the two-body problem. She's temporarily sidelined in academia and I don't know if she can get back into faculty work given the constraints of her geographic situation but at least her family is reunited.

    Other than her case, most of the people that I see leaving academia are either retiring mostly on schedule or later in mid-career individuals who feel deeply burned out. There are so few new positions that there are relatively few junior academics to stay or leave!

    Spanish prof said...

    I also know of a woman in my department who left academia last year because of a two-body problem. She was married, didn't have kids, but wanted to start a family. She was on her 4th year on the TT, husband had gotten tenure the year before (in the same field), 1000 miles away. I'm pretty sure she would have gotten tenure at my university, but she decided to quit to move with her husband. She now has a position doing academic advising at her husband university. She was offered a lecturer position there, but she preferred to take the advising job (same pay, much less work, and the chance to have a career on the administrative side)

    Fie upon this quiet life! said...

    One of my friends on the west coast had left a TT job in the midwest because she didn't like it. (Neither the job, which she had for four years, nor the midwest.) Yes, she had an academic husband who was invited to adjunct at her school, so there was probably pressure about the two-body problem, too. But eventually he left academia for technical writing, and she got an adjuncting gig at UC Berkeley, her PhD school, which I guess pays pretty well. (I think she said it was 9000 per class.) She said she'd never go back to tenure track. She likes teaching, but hates the pressure of research and service.

    As I have said elsewhere, I fantasize about leaving all the time. Mostly, I look at my husband's life -- working 8:30-5:00, making 35,000 more per year than I do, and he never has to bring work home or work weekends. I get jealous of that and wish that I could relax when I got home instead of going back to work when the kids are in bed. He has opportunities for bonuses and raises that I will never see in my academic job. We have sunk ourselves into huge piles of debt because I didn't have steady work (or high-enough-paying work) for almost ten years while in grad school (five years) and adjuncting (five years). My academic dreams financially maimed us. I keep thinking that if I got a job doing something else that I'd have less stress, more free time, and probably make more money. It's tempting as all get out.

    undine said...

    Flavia,I agree: those don't sound like dissatisfaction with academia as much as the bad conditions that it imposes by separating families.

    nicoleandmaggie--I remember reading on your blog that your husband had left academia. You're right: it's irritating that the favorite slow news day item is the mommy wars and even on some days when the news isn't slow but unpalatable this is their go-to subject.

    Janice--good point about there being fewer junior faculty even to look for evidence of this. I always wonder how the mid-career people will support themselves if they leave. Karen Kelsky (Doctor is In Blog) did this, but there must be only so much room for consultants.

    Spanishprof--Same pay and less work than a lectureship sounds pretty good. I wonder sometimes if we did a blind taste test with academic jobs, not identifying them as T-T or not but just saying "You could have job A, which pays X per year and requires Y hours per week, or job B," how many people would choose differently.

    Fie--$9000 per course? Wow. The attractions of that or of a job like your husband's sound very real. The thing is, the financial hit keeps getting worse with no raises and with salary compression. I wonder if there's a tipping point.

    Anonymous said...

    Well, I nearly left academia this year because of not being able to get a job, pure and simple. I got as far as interviews for admin roles. The academic post I eventually managed to scrounge is exactly the kind of short-term poor-contract thing I swore I'd have no more of, but it was offered when nothing else was on the table inside or outside, so I took it. Ironically, it ultimately arises because of an old colleague of mine who was in the same master's cohort, who walked into a permanent job with no publications, deciding she didn't like the Academy and quitting. Because they didn't have her, they had no-one in-period to cover the teaching left behind by a retiring professor, then the person they had covering that teaching beat me to a permanent job somewhere else, so here I am. I have a feeling this is too many teaching points at once actually to learn from...