Last month a study was released* by Yana Gellen** of the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at The University of Chicago, “Motherhood and the Gender Productivity Gap.”
Some outlets, like the American Enterprise Institute and Wall Street Journal, have jumped onto the study and claimed this is the reason that working mothers don’t earn as much as men – they aren’t working as much or as productively. But does the study really show that? And what does all this mean for working mothers in the academy?
Does this study prove that mothers are less productive?
In short, no. Digging into the methods – there are some major problems with how this study was done.
Care work of all kinds (self care, elder care, child care) is often not valued by academic institutions –at least in terms of letting students, staff, and faculty use time, money, energy for those tasks while having the resources to continue excelling at their jobs). And that’s unfortunate, because care work (+ other kinds of unpaid labor – emotional, organizational, and physical) is still highly gendered and stigmatized. Recognizing the common threads between these kinds of care work that women do can help workers better organize together and institutions create policies that recognize all the forms of care demanded of women, not just childcare of babies + infants and not just for tenure track faculty.
[And having no kids (or elders or pets) to care for can still be held against women in the workplace, as managers can expect them to be workaholics (“put their career first”) or potentially even cover for folks who have care responsibilities. The 1-body problem is real, in multiple ways.]
But today I want to specifically talk about the penalties women in the academy occur for having multiple children.
It’s like the patriarchy up and decided “fine, ladies, you can have a kid and still be considered a working professional – but just this once” — as if choosing to have a kid again is abusing the supposed privileges that come with it.
I’m writing about both happy news and … other news. The happy news is that the partner and I are expecting Kid #2. It’s something we’re hopeful and excited about, especially after an uncomfortable miscarriage. Maybe if I lived in a different place (I’m in the US) or a different time (please, I hope the next generation of academics and workers will have different working conditions), the news would end there. Yay for (planned) parenthood for the folks who want to be parents. End of story.
But it’s not.
This potential Kid#2 has a probable due date of right after I’m PhinisheD. Yes, right after I officially graduate, AKA in theory when I would be starting a new position. This has made postdoc and job searching – and overall career planning – very, very difficult.
Yes, it was my* decision to have Kid#1 and to try for Kid#2 *. Yes, technically it would be illegal for potential employers to refuse to hire me on the basis of me being a pregnant person ***. Yes, technically it would be illegal for potential employers to even ask me about a pregnancy or marriage or kids ****.
BUT. Continue reading
“I need a wife.” In a meeting last week, my female colleague says this to me. “I need a wife.” She is a divorced mom of two sharing parenting responsibilities amicably but not equitably with her ex. She sent her son off on a camping trip with school and he returned to his dad’s house with a suitcase full of dirty laundry. Even though her son stayed with Dad for a few days, the laundry ended up coming home to Mom still caked with grime, still stuffed in a suitcase. My colleague is understandably perturbed by this and she has to make a choice. Does she spend her time and emotional energy doing the laundry, feeling pissed off? Or does she spend her time and emotional energy explaining to her former partner what 50% of the parenting responsibilities actually means? Either way the burden of care is hers. When she says she needs a wife, I can relate. What would it be like to have someone at home with a lifetime of socialization on how to perform the labor of care? For the academic women all around me, this is the dream.
I’m nearing a point in my post doc where I think I’m ready to finally start applying to faculty positions. I’ve gotten a few publications out, I’ve built a lab pretty much from the ground up, and I’ve mentored students in the lab ranging from high schoolers up through grad students. I’ve gotten leadership positions within organizations in my field, and I’ve managed to secure a chunk of time using the equipment at a national lab. Right now, it’s also the time of year when positions are advertised for the few months before the November and I’d have to wait another year for the next one. And though I’m ready to start applying, I’m a bit concerned about leaving.
This is the third post in a three part series about changing your name as an academic. Be sure to check out our earlier posts: Changing my surname was a personal choice, and No good options: when your name change indicates a gender change.
I kept my name when I got married. Growing up, it had never even occurred to me to change, and by the time I got married keeping it had become a matter of principle. The process was quite smooth (considering there was no paperwork), and aside from correcting a few stubborn family members who insisted on mailing things to Mr. and Mrs. Husband, my choice has been drama free. I’ve had my share of awkward customer service interactions, and I’ve had to explain to strangers that my husband and I have two different names. We don’t have kids together yet, and so haven’t had to decide how to handle that (right now we’re leaning on any hypothetical baby taking my last name, since my husband has a child with his last name already; it seems only fair.). I had already published under my own name, and it was nice to not have to worry about making any changes — to my drivers license, my CV, my Social Security card, my life.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched a growing number of my friends and colleagues get married. Naïvely, I’ve been surprised that the vast majority of them have taken their husbands surnames. I watched as some of my staunchest feminist friends have had to defend their choices — or, more commonly not defend them. Because what you do with your life and your name is your choice; you don’t have to defend it. This is the promise of third wave feminism: we are now responsible for our bodies, our selves, our lives. Our choices.
Actually, this is kind of how I pictured patriarchy…Run! it’s coming for our choices!
But… What happens when our choices are the same choices that The Patriarchy would have made for us? Bear with this clunky metaphor for minute — I don’t mean to think of The Patriarchy as some sort of 1950’s supervillain that bears a mysterious resemblance to the Mecha-Hitler at the end of Castle Wolfenstein. Rather, the patriarchy in this context is shorthand for both an overwhelming societal pressure (the kind our great-grandmothers would’ve faced); but also a more subtle, insidious socialization.
Basically, after decades of feminism, it surprises me that so many heterosexual married women still take their husbands surname. Is it really is a choice, if the choice isn’t changing?
Recently I wrote about my family’s newfound challenge to find a place to live in that has both career opportunities for my partner and me – and the medical resources and community support for my special needs kid. Thanks again to all who shared their stories of how they’ve confronted this issue in their own family. Fortunately, since this last post, my partner (who is currently on the job market while I am a year or two away) landed an academic position with a lot of growth potential in a city with great resources for our kid. To say I am pleased would be an understatement. I’ve been crying a lot – mostly out of gratitude to the universe at large (and probably in part still due to all the new mom hormones).
So with my partner and my kid’s needs apparently taken care of, I’m now the third body. With up to two years of graduate school left, I am trying to line up my ducks for: 1) successfully completing and defending my dissertation while living far away from my lab group 2) (hopefully) successfully lining up employment post-defense in this new locale. Let’s break these down. Continue reading