Monday, February 21, 2005

Did she jump, or was she pushed?

Okay, I keep trying to stay away from the Larry Summers brouhaha--mostly b/c I don't want to take the time to read the actual transcripts, and can't improve on what others are saying about the problems with his logic (i.e., that the differences in success between men and women are attributable to three likely possibilities.) Here I'll just quote straight from Dr. Bitch:
[Sanders:] There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the--I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are--the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.

[La Professora B] So. He is not, as some have claimed, merely listing three possibilities and encouraging us to discuss whether or not they might be contributing factors. He is explicitly saying that women are not in science because they choose not to be (the "Mommies don't want high-powered careers" argument); because they are genetically inferior ("at the high end"; this is the "oh sure, some women are smart, but the best women aren't as smart as the best men" argument); and that, oh yeah, maybe socialization and discrimination happen too, but really that's far less important than the fact that women really don't want these jobs, and if they do, they're just not good enough.

Then I read this at my new fav, "ABD Mom":

I understand why women who have children while pursuing a PhD are far more likely to drop out than women who are not mothers, and why mothers are far more likely to be denied tenure than non-mothers. We're not leaving the academy because we want to; we're being shoved out the door. Right now, I can pretty much feel my adviser's foot up my ass as she tries to kick me out the door so I'll "quit wasting her time."

Before I had El Pistola, I never would have imagined this. My advisor seemed very supportive. I knew she had had several doctoral students who were moms, and she seemed to like babies and kids very much; she prided herself on being easy to work, and frequently talked about former students who had had babies, as if she was trying to show me that she approved of my pregnancy.

[. . . .]

But how things changed after El Pistola arrived. It was no longer acceptable that I was taking six months off--where was my proposal for the dissertation? Didn't I know that I was behind? Why wasn't I "doing anything?" It was as if all of the conversations we had while I was pregnant--conversations during which I clearly stated that I would be doing no writing for six months--never occurred. I know that I changed after I became a mom, but at least I prepared my advisor for that by clearly communicating to her the fact that I would take some time off. My advisor didn't prepare me for her changed behavior at all.

After the six months ended and I returned to my studies, the questions continued, and then some. I was told that I had a choice: "If you want to be a mom, be a mom. If you want to write a dissertation, write a dissertation." And there it was. A binary so cutting that it took my breath my away--I could write a dissertation, or I could be a mom. In my advisor's mind, there was no middle ground.

I happen to have a very supportive advisor, who has allowed me endless slack time (and believe me, I've extended this degree well beyond anyone's stamina—the fact that I not only have a daughter but have had a full-time teaching position for the past four years and have a husband with serious medical problems attests to my clear failure to make the PhD a "priority) and encouraged me to negotiate the mother/professor connection at my own pace and to my daughter's benefit. On the other hand, she's permanently exhausted and perpetually guilty about how little time she spends with her own children, so she's more a "do as I say" model than a "do as I do" model.) My doctoral program has clearly given up on me—once I didn't finish in the first year or two after exams, I apparently became invisible with respect to the kind of funding and other support that might have helped me to finish. In fact, after I'd been on indefinite leave for several years, I noticed that the department was finally starting to consider the reasons that SO MANY of us were not finishing our degrees in the scant funded time we had (we taught composition every term, except for a few paltry quarter-off type fellowships). Their first line of attack was to consider whether the students in the program were subject to a uniquely exaggerated amount of whatever the opposite of stick-to-it-iveness is. In other words, their first question in assessing the programmatic problems was, "What's wrong with these students that none of them are finishing our program?" Yeah, these folks could rise high in the Bush administration—at least in the Pentagon.

But then, I also see today that our local newspaper has reprinted this helpful and timely article on how to balance work and motherhood. The focus here is not on the pressures this woman felt, or on the definitive conflicts between what we as a culture expect of workers and of parents; instead, the story is one of her "good boss," who found a way to have her work a more sane schedule. Notice that her decision to stay home with her three-month old daughter is reduced to a typically feminine breakdown in the ladies room, in which her "guilt" over her daughter in daycare during her 50-hour work week (surprise!) finally caught up with her. The article does take a brief stab at the larger reasons behind this one woman's quandary (and far be it from me to criticize a boss's efforts to keep a long-time employee):

An increasing number of mothers struggle with balancing work and family, says Deborah Reed, an economist with the Public Policy Institute of California.

Mothers are more likely to work today than their mothers were. The number of working, married women with children younger than 6 increased from just under 30 percent in the 1960s to about 55 percent in the 1990s and has steadily climbed, according to an institute study called “Women, Work and Family in California.” The figure is even higher — 70 percent — for single women with young children.

Go figure. Why would a single woman with young children want to work? So irresponsible. I want in on the deal the other 30% have. But now we get to the subtext:

Men usually aren’t forced to make the same kind of professional sacrifices as women when children enter the picture, Reed says. The work interruptions “are a major factor in explaining why women earn less than men,” Reed says.

Really? Why not? And might this not be the defining issue here? It seems to me that the very way in which we understand "motherhood" (what my husband and I call The Tyranny of Mommy-dom) is fundamentally at odds with how we define (increasingly) career—the single-minded pursuit of one type of success, in one realm (the economic) no matter the cost (missed relationships, broken friendships, stress, ill health, lack of community involvement, etc., etc., etc.) And as so many fellow bloggers have suggested, until we define both Fatherhood and Motherhood (in their adoptive, step, gay, foster, and single-parent varieties) as equally vulnerable to the disruptions of a child _and_, even more importantly, as equally vital to the larger well-being of society, we're just chipping away at the symptoms.

Finally, the writer trots out the usual explanatory clichés: 1) "mothers" no longer want careers (the biological explanation, one presumes); 2) women who want careers should just get over the guilt of being Bad Mommies (even though they clearly are)

[Another source suggests that] women who once were driven by their careers but now find that motherhood takes priority. “Highly ambitious, career-oriented women, when they become mothers, have a shift in values. ... Perhaps the career is not that fulfilling anymore,” she says.
She also advises working mothers who struggle to balance career and children to find a good support network to help when times are tough. And, to lose the guilt.

“Working mothers spend so much time and energy feeling guilty. It’s so debilitating. ... Forgive yourself when things don’t get done.”

Got it. Thanks.


At 11:27 AM , Blogger ABDmom said...

Thanks for the shout-out. :) It helps to know I'm not alone.

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At 6:24 PM , Anonymous Jermaine said...

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