Should you delay parenthood till tenure?

by Harry on January 27, 2009

A friend sent me a link to this Chronicle story about women choosing not to go into academia for family-related reasons. Leiter linked to it last week and invited a discussion (which is very heavily Philosophy-focussed, for obvious reasons) specifically about whether to have children during Graduate School. The men in the thread are generally very positive about starting a family in graduate school, but that is consistent with the findings that there is a correlation between male career success in academia and their having children, whereas the reverse is true for women. My friend also pointed out that many of the men in the discussion have wives who started out in graduate school and left (reasons not usually given).

There’s a follow-up article by Mary Ann Mason today at the Chronicle. She says that:

The number of young women who want to pursue careers in academic research declines by 30 percent over the course of their doctoral study, and the number of men by 20 percent. In explaining their decision, men are more likely to report that they do not like unrelenting work hours. One male student in the survey complained that he was “fed up with the narrow-mindedness of supposedly intelligent people who are largely workaholic and expect others to be so as well.” But most women give up on academic-research careers for family concerns. As one woman in the survey said, “I could not have come to graduate school more motivated to be a research-oriented professor. Now I feel that can only be a career possibility if I am willing to sacrifice having children.”

Before commenting, I should say that my own story is (in this respect, as in so many others) entirely privileged. I met my wife just before completing my PhD, and we waited about 5 years before having children, she having become a school teacher in part because the job allows a kind of flexibility for pregnancy and childbearing that many others do not. Although our first child came along 2 years before I got tenure, I already had no doubt that I would get it (having been hired in a department that made tenure requirements very transparent, and which, as far as I can tell, has long treated tenure decisions in a very responsible manner). I pretty quickly came to think (as I still do) that we should have started having kids earlier – something close to regret (though not actual regret, because I can’t get my head around the non-identity issues). So I just haven’t experienced the tensions between career security and parenthood that many people fear, despite being a fully equal parent over the course of my children’s childhoods (As I started this I was minding two children who are just hanging around the house because although their best friend has buggered off somewhere they like to stay here; as I finish I’m looking after a sick 7 year old who is being cooperative only because I have found an almost unlimited supply of The Clitheroe Kid). Additionally, children and family life have become my central research interests, so time spent deliberating about my children counts as work, in some way (I’d recommend more philosophers taking this strategy, but I do realize that not everyone can do it). Some people will think that all this detracts from the value of whatever comments I have, and they may well be right.

So, that said, here my the comments. The first is just to point to Samantha Brennan’s comment in the Leiter thread.

I don’t know if there is a best time but I did well having my first child while in graduate school writing my dissertation. I found that I didn’t have time to socialize with my fellow grad students—no more long lunches, coffees, and late nights—but I was easily able to get 5 hours of writing in a day. As I was on a fellowship I didn’t have any other commitments, no TA responsibilities, so it worked well. I had a very supportive thesis supervisor (Thanks Shelly!) who believed I could do that and that too made a difference. Having a baby during my PhD also meant that I interviewed with baby and partner in tow and hiring departments knew what they were getting. I think this also gave hiring committees the reassurance that I could combine my research with baby care, since I was doing it then. My other two children were born pre-tenure at a Canadian university with excellent daycare and parental leave. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t do this alone. My partner worked only part-time when the children were very young. Mine is the primary career in our house, a luxury most women don’t have. And I have to differ about family friendliness and university careers. Aside from the timing issue—biological clocks and tenure clocks both ticking at once—I’ve found universities to be great places to work while having children. There is the blessing and curse of flexible working hours and at least north of the border great daycare, nursery school, and summer camp programs close to my office. It’s not easy but compared to my women lawyer friends or my friends with are in medicine, comparable jobs in terms of prestige if not income, I think I’ve got a great deal. Anyway, given all of those people who think it’s a bad combo—parenting and an academic career—I just wanted to raise a voice from the other side. Now two academic careers and children…I don’t know but thankfully I haven’t had to deal with that.

(I should note that Brennan’s supervisor is notorious in the profession for the high quality of his supervising, and that Brennan’s post-PhD career has been entirely in Canada, not the US)

I strongly suspect that if you have a child because you really want one, and have substantial support from a spouse or some other person, then while parenting interferes with one’s social life (not always, as I often point out, a downside) it needn’t interfere with your progress in graduate school. Note, though, the antecendents of that conditional.

But another objection to having children is a bit different. More than one person has expressed to me the worry that being visibly pregnant while interviewing for jobs would be a problem. I’m really curious about this. As I was preparing the post I happened to have a meeting with a bunch of senior faculty in the humanities, most of whom are women with kids (because, absurdly, they are less likely to refuse to do this work than other people??). Before the meeting I just asked (because a number of people to whom the question is relevant have asked me) whether they thought that in their disciplines, turning up pregnant to an interview would be a disadvantage. One had actually done this, and said that although she didn’t get the job she thought had nothing to do with the pregnancy. Another echoed Brennan’s comments as follows:

“well, we assume that women are going to have children, and being pregnant shows that they are already confident that they can balance work and parenting”

In other words, it could actually help.

My own thought when the question was first posed to me was rather different. One has almost no information at all about interviewees. But one can assume that there is some non-trivial probability that they are prone to mental health problems, that they will have disruptive experiences in their personal lives, or that other things will derail them, no matter how good they seem. Having children is perfectly normal, and most people in relatively advantaged circumstances seem to manage fine despite having children; it would be nuts to count obvious pregnancy against someone. That it would be nuts is not, of course, a reason to think that no-one does it! But it is a reason to think that it is something that cannot be given as a reason against you in a committee deliberation (even in an all-male committee).

None of my interlocutors were in Philosophy; all of them, I think, were in disciplines and departments that are much more evenly gender balanced than Philosophy, which still tends to have a smaller proportion of female faculty than most of the rest of the Humanities. My guess is that the family-friendliness of academia varies not just by institution, but also by discipline, and by discipline not only according to the gender balance in the discipline but also other factors. Mason:

When we asked women in the survey whether they viewed research universities as family friendly, their opinions differed significantly depending on whether or not it was common in their departments for female professors to have children. Where it was common, 46 percent of female respondents agreed that research universities were family friendly. Where it was uncommon, only 12 percent of women agreed.

Philosophy is not very gender-balanced, less so than, say, History or Sociology, and Philosophy departments are therefore less likely to contain women with children. On the other hand, the discipline does not involve long trips to archives, or fieldwork; it really is something that you can do at home. Anyway, I’m curious whether women who have experienced this as interviewers would have the same impression as my committee members.

Third, I agree with the people in the Leiter thread who say that having children can make you more disciplined about what you do with your time or, to put it less contentiously, the time and energy you give up for parenting is not necessarily taken from your academic work. In the decade before I became a parent I probably devoted as much time and energy per week to political organizing as I subsequently did and do to parenting (and experienced considerably more stress from that than I have from parenting, partly because I am probably better suited to raising kids than political organizing, and partly because my first two children have been, after the first hellish 4 months, remarkably easy). I don’t have hobbies, and my time is always constrained by work or family, but that’s because I’m pretty committed to both. I wasted a lot of time in my twenties, and if it weren’t for the fact that I couldn’t possibly have met my wife much earlier than I did I’d regret not having had a family to occupy me at that time.

Three caveats/pieces of advice. Don’t expect to get much done in the first 3 months after the baby arrives. (And this is one of the big gender differences; most babies are ok for the first 10 days or so, so men can actually get something done, whereas women have to recover). Some pregnancies, and some babies, are very difficult (same is true, by the way, of some lovers, spouses, dissertation supervisors, dissertation topics, friends, parents, automobile accidents, drug addictions, illnesses, etc). And don’t go into the whole thing without Ferber (Advisors: there are many things you can do to make it more possible for your advisees to get through graduate school than otherwise, and giving them this book is among them).

Another quote from Leiter’s discussion, from a woman who does not seem to be in philosophy, and has had 2 children and is now having a 3rd.

As a last point about family friendliness, I do feel as though some faculty in my grad program (an R1) have written me off—especially now that I not only have kids but I’m out of residence. The expectation that I won’t finish has been, at times, palpable. The concurrent expectation seems to be that I’m out of the running for the so-called “big” jobs. Likewise I live under the assumption that whatever missteps or problems I have in the program should be attributed to my status as a mother instead of more correctly attributing them to advising issues. That has been a real discouragement, actually, inasmuch as my status as a mother has acted as a I don’t want to be reduced to my reproductive status. But that’s being a woman.

I see no more reason why motherhood should put you out of the running for “big” jobs than that visible pregnancy should put interviewers off hiring you, and it is possible, of course, that the commenter is misinterpreting the signals from her department. But I know very well that it is difficult for women who are thinking about becoming pregnant to have this sort of discussion with their professors, and probably also with their fellow students. I also suspect that its not an easy discussion to have among faculty, and also that faculty are not well aware of exactly how to give useful support to graduate student parents even if it is needed, which is why I’m glad that Leiter hosted the discussion on his site, and why I wanted to extend its life over here.

I’d be very curious to hear further well-informed and experienced answers to the “interviewing when obviously pregnant” question. And also to hear from women, in particular, who have either managed to combine parenting with graduate school, or have felt that they had to give up graduate school, or academic prospects, because of their commitment to their children.



Peter 01.27.09 at 4:45 pm

The number of young women who want to pursue careers in academic research declines by 30 percent over the course of their doctoral study, and the number of men by 20 percent.

Which may not be a big enough difference to get all excited over.


Marc 01.27.09 at 5:16 pm

There are a lot of those sieves Peter, and the cumulative effect (especially in the sciences) is very significant. You don’t need a single factor which removes more women than men from the pool to have a major impact on outcomes.


ajay 01.27.09 at 6:14 pm

Anecdotally, there is an expectation in the Army that (male) officers will get married at around captain rank (late 20s) and failure to do so is believed to have a negative effect on your promotion prospects. Married colonels etc are supposed to be regarded as better men, and single colonels will be looked at askance – partly because the Mrs Colonel has an unofficial role as a sort of head of welfare for the wives of the rest of the battalion, so a single colonel won’t be as good at keeping the unit a happy family.

I wonder if a) this is actually still the case and b) the effect exists elsewhere?
It was the mention of a correlation between paternity and career success above that brought this to mind; I’m not suggesting that the effect necessarily exists in academia. But it’s interesting to consider a case where marriage is actually a career plus.


Liz 01.27.09 at 6:15 pm

Sorry, but my story isn’t as rosy as Harry’s or some of the women quoted. I should preface it with the fact that I’m not in liberal arts, but in a business school, which generally tends to be less female-friendly than other disciplines.

I had two kids while in graduate school. I started my PhD at 28, and I figured that having them in school would be easier than as an assistant professor, which I still think is correct. Best is to have them after tenure, but that wasn’t a real option for me. I did my PhD at an R1 school, and the comment about being written off as a researcher once you start having kids rings very true. My advisers were good people, and they were supportive in a personal sense, but they took as a given that I wouldn’t be able to get a top job at graduation, regardless of my research skills. Other faculty were even worse; the nasty looks I would get as a woman attending an economics or finance seminar intensified to hostile glares once I was visibly pregnant. Not exactly a friendly environment.

When I went on the job market, I would intentionally not mention my children in casual conversation, although it was widely known anyway. The big schools were interested in my research and flew me out for talks, but no one would actually hire me. I went to a teaching institution for a few years and continued working on my research on my own. Last year, a department that had been “watching” my career decided to give me a tenure track offer, so I’m finally back at a big R1 and very happy about it. It took several years of continuing to put out research as the kids grew older before anyone was willing to accept that I might be able to do research and be a mom at the same time. Things have worked out ok, but I was very persistent (i.e., stubborn) and also lucky that my current school was finally willing to give me a chance.


Bill Gardner 01.27.09 at 6:39 pm

I’d be very curious to hear further well-informed and experienced answers to the “interviewing when obviously pregnant” question.

It wouldn’t be a problem in my department… but that department is, after all, pediatrics.


frumiousb 01.27.09 at 6:55 pm

This is purely anecdotal, since I left academia long ago, but I was recently talking to a friend of mine who still is in the system about the workload these days in the US. (She’s a department chair at a small liberal arts school in the US, the sciences.) She made a remark about how she had come to dread young female candidates for tenure track positions because she knew that when they had children, then “the rest of the department would have to carry the extra load.” The load consisting of not only research and teaching, but also activities to attract incoming students, faculty dinners, grant proposals, etc.

She was well aware of the unfairness of what she was saying, but pointed out that the roster of academic duties still carried the assumption that you had a wife who could help you “do it all”.

I’ve also heard these sentiments echoed by another old close friend who is tenure track in economics. In her case, they’ve chosen to delay having children until she gets tenure, since the level of work required for her to attain tenure would (in her opinion) preclude childbearing without her husband being willing to stay at home.

Like I said, anecdotal, but is there something in here about academic workloads in the US and the tenure system? (I note that these women are both in “hard” disciplines that are still more weighted to male faculty– so perhaps also a factor?)


Kieran Healy 01.27.09 at 7:09 pm

The men in the thread are generally very positive about starting a family in graduate school,

Yeah, there seemed to be a bunch of guys in that thread saying “Oh it was tough but it worked out fine. My wife dropped out of grad school/the job market, of course, but — look, a giraffe!”

I’d be very curious to hear further well-informed and experienced answers to the “interviewing when obviously pregnant” question.

I know someone (not a philosopher) who interviewed for a prestigious fellowship while seven months pregnant and got a little speech (couched in general terms) from the interviewer, who of course was a very nice man, about how this was such a great fellowship that they were really looking for people who were fully committed to their academic careers, etc. And that was that.

More broadly, a key problem is that — as in many other good occupations — the ideal worker for a R1 Faculty Role is assumed to be single or have a wife at home, to the extent that many aspects of departmental administration invisibly embed that assumption, from the timing of seminars, colloquia and faculty meetings, to expectations for face-time at recruitment dinners, conferences, and so on. When women who do not fit this ideal worker norm arrive in a department, requests that some of these arrangements be altered or worked around tend to be perceived as looking for exemptions or “special treatment” and act as sources of resentment and I-told-you-so stuff from people who have trouble with the concept of social structure.

But one can assume that there is some non-trivial probability that they are prone to mental health problems, that they will have disruptive experiences in their personal lives, or that other things will derail them, no matter how good they seem. Having children is perfectly normal, and most people in relatively advantaged circumstances seem to manage fine despite having children; it would be nuts to count obvious pregnancy against someone. That it would be nuts is not, of course, a reason to think that no-one does it! But it is a reason to think that it is something that cannot be given as a reason against you in a committee deliberation (even in an all-male committee).

These standards tend not to be applied even-handedly. Having children is perfectly normal (perhaps even expected) for career-oriented, fully-committed men with wives. For women, though, the presumption will tend to be that having children is both perfectly normal and also evidence they are not that focused on their careers or that they have “chosen” the path of lower career attainment in order to achieve “a balance between work and family”. See above re my friend’s interview experience. Bias of this sort need not be explicitly articulated in a committee meeting as a reason not to hire a candidate because, in the absence of anyone prepared to call it out, sexist considerations will tend to be funneled through the allegedly rational and objective assessment of the candidates’ ability, quality, potential, etc.

Moreover, to a greater degree than most academic disciplines, Philosophy is on the look-out for the next Boy Genius. One expects, indeed requires, the typical BG personality to come leavened with various eccentricities. Evidence of interpersonal weirdness or incipient nuttiness will, in male candidates, tend to be forgiven in proportion to the expected level of BG-hood the candidate has been typed by the market as possessing.


Janice 01.27.09 at 11:48 pm

“Oh it was tough but it worked out fine. My wife dropped out of grad school/the job market, of course, but—look, a giraffe!”

Genius! Even in the most family-friendly departments, in smaller institutions, it’s pretty difficult for both partners in a marriage to have careers and raise kids. My husband’s sacrificed a lot to support my career (beginning with moving to the remote city where we now live) and we’ve both had to contort our lives in all sorts of interesting ways to deal with one special-needs child, as well.

Growing up as a faculty brat, with a mother who worked at occasional part-time jobs around my professorial father’s schedule, I saw a whole host of faculty wives carry out the social-planning and family support. Today, we’ve come a distance from those days, but much of the old paradigm still holds true. Faculty are still expected to have evenings (if they’re not teaching) at leisure for appropriate social activities as well as to be free throughout the week at odd hours for university events on top of the regular round of teaching and research.


C. Hall 01.28.09 at 12:11 am

This post just adds all the more weight to my feeling that modern academia is far out of balance. The workload, the research actually produced from that effort, the dismissiveness directed at teaching, the short-changed review system, paper-dump conferences (sponsored by “prestigious” associations)… Yet everyone at the top is so deeply invested in the flaws that they either 1) act as if they don’t exist or 2) mindlessly defend them. It seems to me that the advancement of science was long ago put second (or third) to self-advancement in academia, and with that loss of community it seems like a large swath of academia has lost its soul.

Of course, I’m on deadline, and I always get a little finicky under stress. But the whole process seems so ludicrous when you submit, wait four months, and receive one negative review from someone who never read past the abstract. I miss having a job where there was a real since of shared passion, a common goal. Now I see people steal and double-publish just to get that one extra pub…

I’m quickly becoming jaded (and exhausted).


Laura 01.28.09 at 4:31 am

While all of these comments are illuminating, this conversation situates motherhood within academia. I think to more accurately and meaningfully consider women’s experiences and needs in graduate school and competing for tenure, we need to reorient the conversation and bring motherhood to the foreground.

In my experience as a mother of a 14 month old and as a graduate student, the dilemmas I’ve faced have been as much (if not more) about the choices and compromises I’ve had to make as a mother to sustain a career as a student. We should not sanitize our consideration of motherhood and academia by shying away from the gritty (and beautiful) realities of motherhood—One of my greatest struggles was feeling entitled to exclusively breastfeed my son while school was beckoning. Many of my peers introduced bottles early and adopted a rigorous and exhausting pumping schedule while away. It was my desire and choice to nurture a particular breastfeeding relationship with my son that prevented me from being away for long periods of time.

These are the types of choices women are making. It’s not just about R1 versus teaching college or pre-tenure versus post-tenure timing. Women are sacrificing and striving on both fronts—motherhood and academia. Women’s bodies and minds are at the center of this discussion, and both should be given consideration.


magistra 01.28.09 at 7:12 am

From my experience, the problem isn’t so much doing the PhD with a small child, it’s getting a job afterwards. I did my PhD in the UK in medieval history and had a baby while doing so. I got the PhD, but three years on I’m at the point of giving up on an academic career.

I was doing the PhD part-time anyhow (because we were hoping to start a family) and I also had a supportive supervisor and husband. I managed to get the part-time PhD done within six years, which compares pretty favourably with friends who took four years full-time. So I think that if you are more efficient as a parent than as a non-parent, you can make up for having less time available, for something like a PhD, that is a relatively fixed amount of work.

The problem comes when you start competing for jobs, where (roughly speaking) the more academic ‘achievements’ you have, the better your odds are. I haven’t got as much hourly-paid teaching experience as some of my friends because of my daughter (now six): I either couldn’t arrange childcare for the relevant times or the cost meant it was uneconomic to do it. I don’t have as many articles written as people who haven’t had to spend several hours every day entertaining a small child, or who when they get on a roll can keep writing and not have to stop to go on a school-run. (In my experience, these kinds of time-costs are often not equally born by fathers and mothers: I have a friend who, like me, is looking for an academic job, but although he is the father of a school-age child, he seems free to go off on research trips abroad during school terms without any problem). It’s also somehow easier to justify the money spent on childcare or the demands you make on your husband for support when you can say tangibly: ‘this will mean I can get my PhD finished by X’, rather than ‘this will enable me to write an article more quickly which might possibly improve my chances for an academic job, but not necessarily’.

All this means that I constantly feel I am competing in the academic race with one hand tied behind my back. I don’t know whether I’d have got an academic job even if I hadn’t had a child, but I definitely feel it’s been a disadvantage.


Laleh 01.28.09 at 12:31 pm

The single most important thing when women are considering combining motherhood with a nascent academic career is structural equality within their partnership/marriage (or having at least one partner in the first place). As long as both parent really and truly divide the work and make allowances for one another’s after-hours work demands, having kids and working hard at getting a career off the ground are doable. this is even more the case with two academic careers where a certain amount of flexibility inheres on both sides. What also helps is a dependable childcare institution (childminder, nursery etc.) which can allow at least 3 days of work without disruption.

But the most important thing is not whether both partners have achieved equality outside the home by both having careers, but rather if the domestic interactions (from nappy-changing to doing the laundry and dishes to sterilising bottles) are also made egalitarian. That is partially why despite my full understanding of the importance and significance (both emotional and physical) of breastfeeding, I chose to stop to do so after the third month.


dave 01.28.09 at 1:11 pm

It is of course unfair, in an aren’t-we-all-autonomous-individuals sense, that women should have to ‘give’ to parturition, lactation, etc, in a way that men don’t [and, indeed, can’t, breast-pumps aside]. But this is at the heart of a dilemma that neither feminism in its currently rather confused form, nor various anti-feminisms, can respond to adequately. Each seeks to position women as either autonomous individuals OR baby-making machines [to be crude]. Yet the cold fact is that women’s bodies are baby-making machines, even when their minds quite justly strive to be autonomous individuals, and that that physical reality, for those who choose to enact it, will place demands on them not placed on others.

To take account of that dual nature would involve, at some level, also giving up part of the ‘autonomous individual’ side: because accommodating pregnancy and motherhood with full justice to personal ambitions would encounter the paradox of needing to restrict some others’ such ambitions – viz. men at an equivalent career-stage, and women who choose not to become mothers.

Only if everyone – the fertile, the non-fertile, the male [reproductively active and not] – gave up some of what we currently mean by the freedom to pursue a career could life be balanced out so that child-bearing women had the same freedom as everyone else – and could still nurture their children to the fullness of their capacity. And the same arguments could be made for those lower down the scale of personal ambition, where it is economic necessity not professional advancement that produces jarring compromises of time and attention. I think that is a fine goal. A fully feminist, revolutionary goal in the grand old style. I heartily approve of it. But can anyone honestly see it happening?


Rohan Maitzen 01.28.09 at 3:54 pm

I wonder if pregnancy during interview season is any more debilitating than just being known to be married, especially if your spouse is also an academic. (“You must be prepared to live apart,” one of my own supervisors promptly remarked when I told my committee I’d gotten engaged.) Until spousal hiring policies become routine in the academy (and I know this is a vexed policy area for lots of reasons), hiring departments are very aware that junior faculty whose partners also need jobs will continue to look around rather than committing wholeheartedly to their work at their institution. My own experience as well as anecdotes from others tells me that this is a frequent, though often covert, part of hiring committee questions and discussions.

Back on the original topic, though, I agree with those who point to the extra-curricular or after-hours expectations as particularly challenging for those with young families–everything from late meetings to dinners with job candidates to weekend conferences or retreats can be difficult to attend, with varying consequences for your professional development or recognition. Even things like snow days are complicated: often here the public schools close but the university does not, and as academics very often have moved far from their families, there’s no convenient grandparent to stay with the kids when you have to trek in for your classes or meetings. Still, those who point to the flexibility of academic work hours as an advantage are right: except for my teaching, I can do many parts of my job almost anywhere at almost any time.


Amy S 01.28.09 at 7:35 pm

I interviewed for my current position (tenure-track in educational foundations, at a regional comprehensive university) when I was 8 months pregnant. I had just gotten off a plane from Paris the night before. I’d been there attending a conference, which gave me plenty of enthusiasm for my field, although I was also, of course, exhausted. A year later, after I’d gotten the job and gotten to know my colleagues, I asked, out of intellectual interest about motherhood and work issues, what they’d said about me and my pregnancy and my trip to France. “That you obviously had a lot of energy”, was the answer.

I’m glad to find people taking these issues seriously, because it seems to me that mothers in academia are, by and large, getting a raw deal. I’d say I have and haven’t: I like my job a lot, this institution and my colleagues are supportive and delightful, and it’s working out for me. On the other hand, my career is not the high-flying, wonderful opportunities to develop my thinking and contribute to the discipline, respect-garnering one I’d dreamed of. The men I know, and the women without children, have done better. I’d rather have this job and my children too, but most of all, I’d like to see more justice in the world. Mothers in academia are less in need of justice than lots of the world’s people, but unfairness anywhere calls for remedy.


sbk 01.29.09 at 8:23 pm

Perhaps this should be reposted above the Stross discussion to generate more comments? I think the timing of the Stross event caused it to disappear more quickly than usual, and may have killed the thread.


shannon 01.29.09 at 8:43 pm

i think kieran hit the nail exactly on the head. what much of this discussion (and the discussion at leiter reports) seems to be missing is a discussion of the difficulties of women philosophers having children. for women who want to have successful careers as philosophers, who also want to have children, and who also do not have the luxury of a husband who will stay at home with the children, the question is: when is the best time to start a family? for various reasons, the answer may not be the same for male philosophers. insight that pays heed to this point would be helpful.


lt 01.29.09 at 9:14 pm

Dave –

Actually, a lot of feminists have written at length about addressing the tensions between individualism and dependence. Just one example: there’s a whole debate among feminist lawyers about the limitations of using perfectly gender-neutral language to ensure equality, resulting in contortions like anti-discrimination laws that refer to ‘pregnant persons,’ the pros and cons of getting pregnancy covered as a disability, and so forth.

And maybe it’s the old socialist in me, but I always make the point that we shouldn’t just talk about individual solutions but about health care, the best way to fight discrimination, child care etc etc


matt w 01.29.09 at 10:32 pm

I second sbk’s proposal. I highly suspect this post hasn’t gotten the readership it deserves.


Matt Bokovoy 01.31.09 at 3:53 am

This is a very good discussion that was highlighted in The Chronicle, and that has been featured in a number of magazine/newletters of academic organizations. Liz is exactly correct: it is frowned upon in academe for junior women scholars to rear children during their probationary six-year promotion and tenure review. This is usually not the case, at the department level, for junior male scholars. At least in my home discipline American History/History, it is still an old boys network, particularly in the R1 departments.

It is a certain double-standard that is driven by the tenure and promotion process, a “masculinist” conception of endless production of research work irregardless of quality. I work in scholarly publishing and that deadline for scholarly production is only internal to the university system. Scholars and general readers of scholarly works certainly are not “holding their breath” for scholarly work to be published, the audience and market will be there when a work is completed. As well, if scholars had access to the average sales history of a scholarly title, they would certainly slow down their scholarly production. It is less than 5% of all scholarly titles that have stellar and significant sales histories in the first three years of release. Most good and solid scholarly titles trickle steady sales on the publisher’s backlist over 10, 20, or 30 years, the most essential types of titles for nonprofit university presses and their economic backbone (readers might consult Andre Schiffrin’s April 2008 “letter” in Harper’s about how essential a publisher’s backlist is for many reasons).

Don’t give up child rearing or other personal aspirations (many GLBT couples are adopting these days) for tenure or unrealistic, workaholic-type scholarly production, it’s not worth it. If your department denies you tenure because you have a kid, tell them to “f_ _k off ” on your way out the door, you should be relieved to not work with people who hold these attitudes. One of the top five graduate programs in history in the US denied two scholars tenure last year. Guess what? Both of them were women who had children AND met all the tenure requirements. So the implications are unstated but very present. One would be better off working a bartender gig or adjuncting (if financially possible) while doing good research and producing thoughtful and high quality work. It’s the quality of the research and thinking involved, not your institutional location. And it’s honest and somewhat out of fashion these days (a nod to the old independent public intellectuals). So go for it, you only live once!

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