The Bifurcated Woman: Mom’ing in Academia



So, I asked a few pals about “being a mother/care-giver in the academy (Work-family-publishorperish-evening events balance…) & to preach it in this week’s column. But, let’s ponder this PSA from our muse first.

 “It is wrong to keep spelling out unnecessary choices that make women unconsciously resist either commitment or motherhood–and that hold back recognition of the needed social changes.”

― Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

I love this quote. It pretty much encapsulates where I’m trying to lead this week’s discussion. Choice. It’s a big word in feminism, womanism, 21st century’ism, big time. We think of choice as sometimes: empowering (I chose to be a mother); exciting (I think I’ll choose a new item on the vegan menu next week, at my fave restaurant); limiting (go to the a.m. parent-teacher conference or wait for the after-work-frenzy time slots, when I know the teacher is just as exhausted as I am); giving…so many more ways “choice” can color our moods.

Friedan’s “unnecessary choices” are “[spelled] out” – by whom? Well, all of us. It’s not just the boys out there peppering consciousness with such outmoded ideals. Women often contribute to the (sad) cause. Sometimes I feel like “bifurcated woman” (no capes here): on one side, I’m an aspiring academic who spends her off-the-clock (are we really off-the-clock?) hours thinking of her next publication to offer to the collective realm of other thinkers out there…on the other side, checking online grades, researching teen-friendly vitamins, being “present” for my child’s neverending stories and ideas that pepper his sweet mind, muuuuch more. And, really: I can only become one (combining both sides) when I’m with my sister-bifurcated women in the workplace. The horror at mentioning some milestone that my boy has accomplished, or a trophy he won this weekend. But! Pet-updates (I’m pet-friendly, don’t get me wrong, but I do smart at the fact that a cat’s shenanigans gets more acceptance than a child’s first stab at cursive writing and his mondegreen takes on the world as he begins to become text-based), where was I? – oh yeah: pet-updates, celebrated salon stylists, the weekend out to the swanky restaurant and what occurred, who they saw updates, and other non-child mentionings that are abound in my workplace. Okay, rewind a bit for qualifying: I love swanky restaurants and spying a celebrity in the lady’s room, or when I see a iPhone picture of my colleague’s cat wearing a chef’s hat…fun, cute! But, hey there’s this HUMAN being that’s integral to who I am, why I’m here, where I’m going that also inhabits my universe. May I air my own thoughts sans looks of disdain? Or should we all just never talk about life outside of our offices? Hardly.

Okay, this is getting long…and my soap box meter is running low…so let me get to my friends…

Professor Posie says…

The good news is that I think for my generation of academics (I am an advanced assistant professor on the tenure track), combining parenthood and a career is the norm, not the exception. So I’m not alone. There are other women dealing with the same hassle as me, and my male colleagues are just as frazzled. The bad news is that in most cases, our superiors come from a different generation. So, much of the institutional structures that surround us aren’t quiteup to speed with our needs. Departmental events that start at 3:30 on Friday? Not cool. A grunt of disapproval when you realize that I have to cancel my classes for the third time this month because my kid is sick again? Not cool. Wondering why I didn’t spend the entire summer doing research in another country even though you know that my spouse works full time and my kid is out of school for three months? Not cool. But having so many colleagues in similar binds – and being able to be connected with them through the magic of social media – means that I know that I am not alone. There is always someone who can commiserate and offer advice and support. The hardest part is letting go of the ideals that I carry. I want to be the best professor, the best scholar, the best mom. But what counts as “best” is different now than it used to be. Being the best does not mean being perfect. Being the best means being good enough. And that’s enough for everyone. If not, they can just suck it.

Professors Three think: (I’m combining the thoughts of these three brilliant, sweet women)

They ponder if it’s high time to start including “[My Name] is a mother of one son and is actively supporting his endeavors in [son’s endeavors.]” into our Personal Statements in our dossiers? Does anyone do that? Let me know, we are eager to see how you worded it and how it was received! We also (I was chatting with this trio of brilliance, so I summarize here), we also echo Prof. Posie’s sentiment of the “grunt of disapproval” – we’ve seen the “look of disapproval” the “shared glance with others who also are annoyed by our mothering looks of disapproval” and sadly the statements like this doozy from one of my colleagues when I left early one day to meet a teacher, “don’t those people know you have a job?!” Yes, and I wanted to respond, the same way your hairdresser knows you have a job but you still find time to roll out early 1x month for a touch-up. Yes, being a mother in the academy doesn’t mean I don’t get my own knee-jerk reactionary anger…the thing is, I’m not at liberty to say anything. And why is that?! I rhetorically ask…

Okay, I’m not painting a world where childless pet-owner colleagues hate kids. I have LOTS of child-free friends who adore my kid and celebrate his accomplishments with me. I will also say that I make a concerted effort NOT to overkill with kid-updates. So, don’t think I’m “mom’ing all over the place” (as Bart Simpson once told Marge). I’m a curious and intellectually driven woman, just like my friends here in this post. I love my work. I love exploring the edges of scholarship to begin breaking new ground that will, I hope, lead to future discoveries. I love all sorts of dialogues. But, I also love my son. I love his place in my world. To know what it is about me that makes me who I am today is to know about those scholarly pursuits and equally important it is also to know about him.

–love, Rose Scholarina

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