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Mothers on the tenure track

A conversation with Caroline Grant, Elrena Evans, and Andrea O'Reilly about motherhood and the clockwork of academic careers


January 2009

In September 2008, I had the opportunity to chat (thanks to the Internet) with three women I admire greatly: Caroline Grant and Elrena Evans, editors of the collection "Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life" (Rutgers, 2008) and Professor Andrea O'Reilly, author and editor of many books about mothering and Director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University in Ontario. What follows is a transcript of our conversation.

-- Heather Hewett

Heather Hewett: Elrena and Caroline, in "Mama, PhD," you collect a wide range of personal essays that detail the many different challenges faced by mothers in the US academy. What are these challenges? Are women "quietly desperate," as an Inside Higher Ed article this past summer put it?

Caroline Grant: To start with your first question, I'd say the challenges women face in the academy are similar to those faced by all working parents. The different challenges come up because of the timing of academic careers, in which most of the intense training and work are front-loaded onto the very years most people want to be starting a family. Further, as Libby Gruner writes in her Mama, PhD essay, "I Am Not a Head on a Stick," the academy lags behind other workplaces in developing job-sharing opportunities.

Elrena Evans: In the introduction to our book, Caroline and I write about what all working mothers need -- on-site child care; flexible policies regarding sick and family leaves; part-time jobs that truly require only twenty hours of work per week; flextime, job-sharing, and telecommuting possibilities; private space and time to pump breast milk for their infants; health-care coverage that is independent of hours worked. But the reality, of course, is that very few women have access to these supports, and too often they're seen as privileges, not essentials. And then of course there are the penalties, some obvious and some more subversive, that women encounter when they do avail themselves of family-friendly policies.

Caroline Grant: As for whether women are "quietly desperate"... I'm not in the academy any more, and I haven't been for six years, but my take on it then, and what I see now as I visit schools and do readings, is that mothers working in the academy are so busy being mothers in the academy that they don't spend a lot of time complaining! But when you ask them point blank, as in the survey referenced in the IHE piece, or at a reading, or at a campus roundtable, could things be better? They will say yes, and have a list of at least half a dozen benefits parents would welcome.

Elrena Evans: My hunch would be that just like anywhere else, some are, and some aren't. Some, as we saw in our book, are very happy. Others are working hard to achieve a livable work/life balance, and others, yes, are desperate. Although I don't think every desperate woman in academia is necessarily quiet about it -- and I think that books like ours, and work like Andrea's, and even conversations like this are going a long way to begin to remove the 'quiet' from the desperation.

Heather Hewett: Do these challenges face fathers as well as mothers?

Elrena Evans: As far as fathers facing the same sorts of challenges, when Caroline and I were first dreaming up this book we talked about whether it should be a collection from both men and women, or just of women. Eventually we decided that while fathers do indeed face these challenges, and more involved fathers face them to a greater degree, since the brunt of biology falls on women, women are the ones whose stories we wanted to hear. Because men can choose to be involved, but they can also choose not to be -- and those kinds of decisions are more difficult to face when you are the one who is pregnant or nursing. Even beyond the biological factors, though, we're so conditioned to think of mothers as the primary caregivers of children that it's really hard to escape that.

Caroline Grant: Fathers who ask that a meeting be rescheduled so they can take their kid to the doctor are viewed as charmingly hands-on, while mothers who ask for that accommodation are viewed as asking for special favors. And that's an attitude that's not exclusive to the academy; it's just how mothers and fathers are viewed in the U.S.

Heather Hewett: Andrea, your research project also focuses on mothers in the academy. Can you tell us a little about this project: How many women have you interviewed to date? What are you finding?

Andrea O'Reilly: I am beginning year three of a large, government-funded research project on "being a mother in the academe." I have interviewed approximately 45 women and hope to interview another 50. A central finding of my research is the pull mothers feel in trying to live up to impossible standards of perfection in both the university and in the home. As the "ideal worker," a woman has to have a book published before 35, etc. and as an ideal mother, she has to be the perfect mother, with the perfect house, perfect children… i.e., a child who reads before two and speaks two languages by age four. With the contemporary discourse of ideal motherhood, what Sharon Hays calls intensive mothering, it is impossible to be a "good" mother and "good" academic. The women who achieved success in academe all said that was made possible by letting go off the impossible standards, the guilt, etc. of intensive mothering. Equally, they stressed the importance and necessity of a true marriage of equality and in particular, a father who was truly and actively involved with his kids. This seemed to be THE variable for academic success, more so than policy at the workplace.

Heather Hewett: Is there anything about academic culture itself that contributes to the problem?

Caroline Grant: The academy, for good and ill, values brains over bodies. To quote Libby Gruner's essay, "We are, after all, valued for our particular expertise, our particular knowledge -- our own particular minds. This makes it hard for us to imagine that anyone else could fill in for us, that we could share a job, that we are, in fact, not uniquely indispensable." Of course, women are already unfortunately susceptible to the myth of indispensability; add the pressing demands of motherhood and academia on top of that, and it's a wonder mothers in higher education manage at all -- and yet they do, as our essays (and I expect Andrea's research), demonstrate: it's not easy, but they manage to make it all work.

Andrea O'Reilly: Academia is a hugely competitive culture that has no off-ramp to another respectable career; you are either a tenured professor or not. There really is not a plan B, except adjunct work, which is horribly underpaid. Part-time work is more compatible with motherhood -- but in academia, it is all or nothing.

One of the themes that has emerged in my study is that mothers often engage in discrimination avoidance. They downplay or deny their motherhood identity and position themselves in the motherhood closet. In my interviews, there were numerous examples of overt and subtle discrimination… one stands out. A senior scholar who was many years post-tenure, well-established in her career, became a mother later in life. She said that once she became a mother, she was no longer seen as scholar. In her words, she had to earn tenure all over again. Announcing that she was pregnant for the second time, her chair called in and told her to get her priorities straight: was she a mother or an academic?

Elrena Evans: We have a similar story in Mama, PhD, where Jessica Smartt Gullion writes about being told, in her final semester as a graduate student, that the department could no longer use her as a graduate assistant when she became pregnant. It would be "too disruptive." (She was told this by her female, feminist, women's studies prof I might add!) Jessica goes on to say how she realized that in the eyes of her colleagues, once she became pregnant, her status as a scholar was completely negated.

Caroline Grant: Yes; many of our essayists take this up. Amy Hudock's essay talks about feeling compelled to "perform childlessness" on the job. Also, Jennifer Cognard-Black's essay, "Lip Service," beautifully unpacks the multiple meanings of that phrase, and gives all credit to her husband for supporting her career and being primary caregiver to their daughter.

Elrena Evans: This anecdote isn't in the collection, but I know of an academic mother who had serious health issues during her tenure-track years -- when it became clear she wasn't going to make tenure for these health-related reasons, she was told that's just the way it is, when you're only five feet tall you can't play for the Knicks. Implying that she just couldn't hack it, and didn't even belong there.

Andrea O'Reilly: Another interesting theme that has emerged in my study is the success and strength of single moms. It's almost counter-intuitive… but the reality and necessity of having to work to support their families. They often achieve success while married women with husbands with high incomes did not often have equality in their homes, their work was not taken seriously, and they had an income to fall back on... so they could leave academe more easily.

Caroline Grant: Both Anjalee Nadkarni's essay and Angelica Duran's essays speak to the single-mother point Andrea is making. Angelica writes, "I went to Stanford with two goals: be an extraordinary scholar, and be an equally extraordinary mother. I wanted to reject the myth that one goal would suffer for the sake of the other, and instead create my own story, one in which my goals were compatible and equally achievable."

Elrena Evans: Andrea, I just read about a study by Theodore N. Greenstein in the Journal of Marriage and Family -- saying that as women's incomes increased relative to their husband's, their negotiating power over the second shift rose as well -- but only up until the point that they were making more than their husbands. Then their negotiating power tanked. The theory was that women were actually suffering in terms of their negotiating power because they made more than their husbands, and in an effort not to make their husbands feel threatened, took on more domestic labor.

Heather Hewett: Caroline and Elrena, there were so many great essays in your collection -- and interestingly, they seem to support the themes Andrea is finding in her research. Are there other revelations or themes that emerged? Any that surprised you?

Caroline Grant: What surprised me was really only to see, again, how good the academy could be, how supportive it could be -- it's really close in a lot of ways. But right now the academy is still failing its parents, and women are leaving because of it.

Andrea O'Reilly: Another interesting and troubling finding is that even full professors with tenure had horrifying stories to tell. One would hope that with such power and security, this would exempt you from mother discrimination, but it doesn't. One woman who adopted a baby very late in life was told she had to teach a summer course right after her maternity leave (something tenured faculty never do), so it was clearly understood as punishment. She ended up going to an 80 percent load, due to them making her life so miserable as a mom.

Caroline Grant: I know so many tenured professors who do not feel that they have power and security. Many of my grad school cohort have achieved tenure in the last year or so, and the struggle (the ones I'm thinking of are parents) wore them out so much.

Elrena Evans: I was all at once depressed to see how bad it could be (since I started working on the book while trying to decide about finishing a PhD) and then sincerely impressed at the creativity and ingenuity, the way all these women were making it work.

Andrea O'Reilly: From the stories I have heard thus far, I too have been absolutely awed by the resiliency and tenacity of these women.

Elrena Evans: It's just so sad, you know? It doesn't HAVE to be that way, and yet it is.

Caroline Grant: I think people have to work on the small scale (read and discuss books like this, advocate at their universities, etc.) and on the large scale: vote for change. I think the (U.S.) election could have a huge impact, really, on working parents.

Elrena Evans: Did somebody say health care? That's one of my big-button issues....

Caroline Grant: It's tattooed on my forehead, can't you see?!

Heather Hewett: Caroline and Elrena, you've been doing some traveling and talking on university campuses about Mama, PhD. What are you finding in these discussions?

Caroline Grant: People are so charged up to talk about these issues!

Elrena Evans: I'm finding that these issues really are everywhere, and that women are so eager to share their stories. And not just in person. Caroline and I are getting e-mails from readers, mostly thanking us, sharing their own stories, etc.

Caroline Grant: We also just finished a "blog book tour" and it was amazing and gratifying to read people's responses to the book, those who could have used the book a decade ago. Or those who are in the thick of it now, and are grateful to find this community, in the pages of the book, on the website, etc., talking about how to improve things for parents in academia.

Andrea O'Reilly: Yes, this seems to be the issue. I am doing a roundtable on this for NEMLA [Northeast Modern Language Association]. Last year they had six papers, and I have received 25 abstracts but can only accept eight. I am pleading for another two roundtables.... So, yes, I sense a real shift in this.

Elrena Evans: Also -- at University of Richmond -- I was really impressed and encouraged to see a group of undergraduates thinking and talking about these issues with us. I don't remember ever having a conversation like that -- an official, sanctioned, conversation that mentioned the word "mother" -- when I was an undergrad. So that made me excited that things are changing, and maybe changing quickly (I graduated in 2000). Or maybe U of R students are just extraordinary!

Caroline Grant: Elrena, that struck me too about the UR students; I was not that forward-thinking as an undergrad, and my professors didn't want to talk about the impact of family on their careers (again, too busy trying to do both...).

Andrea O'Reilly: Another finding, counter-intuitive, is that grad school seems to be the best time to have a child. And it seems because you are under the radar while a grad student... less surveillance and monitoring. I had my three kids in grad school, started my PhD with a two-year-old, and was six months pregnant with my second and a third child three years later, two months before my minor comps. And yes, while it was difficult, and the poverty soul-destroying -- and while I experienced horrific discrimination -- it was in many ways more doable than doing it pre-tenure.

Caroline Grant: All of my profs in grad school told me that, Andrea, that if you're going to have a baby, have the baby in grad school.

Elrena Evans: I heard that too -- have a baby in grad school -- but there was no room for "have a baby and have complications." Sigh.

Andrea O'Reilly: The tenure clock and the biological clock of course are difficult to reconcile. If you want a child post-tenure, of course, you stand a good chance of not being able to have a child.

Elrena Evans: In her essay, "The Conversation," Jamie Warner has a great line about the particle accelerator that is the fourth decade, when one's academic commitments and aging ovaries collide at high speeds....

Heather Hewett: And yet, while we can try to address these issues through individual decisions, they're institutional -- and schools vary so much. Some are changing, some not. Any ideas about how to change the ones that aren't there yet?

Andrea O'Reilly: I agree. Change can only come if women leave the motherhood closet... i.e., be out as a mother. But many women don't, because they know it would be career suicide. So they engage in what has been termed discrimination avoidance.

Caroline Grant: I'm a big fan of steady pestering for change. If your campus doesn't offer what it should, show the administrators how they're doing it at Family Friendly University and say "why not us?" When Princeton made leaves automatic for new parents, it made headlines, and you know administrators at other schools noticed.

Elrena Evans: Well... because I went to Penn State, I think, and was trained to always ask "What's in it for you/me?" -- it's a great school, really! -- how can we make schools see that this is in their best interest? Or, to take a more negative approach, how can we make it difficult for them if they don't accommodate mothers?

Caroline Grant: Do the cost-benefit analysis, then. You invest X amount of money to train a grad student, and then she has a baby, you don't support her, and she leaves... Don't universities see the problem with that?

Elrena Evans: But then I get depressed when I encounter people who think that mothers shouldn't be academics, and probably women shouldn't either... we've had a couple of people leave comments to that effect on the Mama PhD Inside Higher Ed blog, and it just makes me so angry. I want to write back and say, "What rock did you crawl out from under? Go back!"

Andrea O'Reilly: Time and time again in my interviews, moms stressed the absolute importance of modeling and mentoring. Having a mom as a professor normalizes it all and makes it seem doable.

Caroline Grant: Yes, models and mentors! I spent most of graduate school searching for them.

Andrea O'Reilly: It seems we have to make changes at the level of policy and attitudes… The women I spoke to said that you can have the progressive policies in place that you want, but if women are not going to use them for fear of not being seen as a "real" academic, they are not worth much. We must make it normal to have professors with babies in their office, pregnant bellies, etc.

Elrena Evans: Andrea, I agree. The same way we have to work to make anything become normalized, right?

Caroline Grant: Yes, Andrea, it's true, it's got to be normalized. I write about this in my essay; even when I was pregnant, teaching at Stanford, I didn't see anyone else out there like me, and it made me feel terribly isolated -- until I made friends with another adjunct who was pregnant with twins.

Elrena Evans: Which is funny, Caroline, because wasn't it Nicole Cooley who said she liked pregnancy because it felt so transgressive?

Caroline Grant: Yes, though I didn't feel that. Irena Smith talks about feeling disempowered, too -- and also at Stanford -- that she was made to feel like a teen mom, knocked up, etc. I should say that Stanford is a fabulous place, really, and my boss was terrifically helpful... But the culture of any Research 1 institution is a little bit intense.

Heather Hewett: I suppose the oversupply of academic labor mitigates the realization that it makes sense for institutions to hold onto who they've hired and trained -- and the scarcity of jobs makes it hard for individuals to advocate for what they need.

Elrena Evans: Heather, yes, exactly. That was definitely the feeling at Penn State among the grad students, who were trying to unionize when I was there -- you don't like the way we treat you? There's ten people out there who will gladly take your place.

Caroline Grant: And yes, Heather, it's true, the oversupply of grad students and scarcity of jobs doesn't help. But I still wouldn't discourage people from going into higher ed.

Andrea O'Reilly: What depresses me though is how little things seem to have changed. I had my kids 20-plus years ago, and I am interviewing mom grad students... and nothing really seems to have changed at the level of attitudes or policy.

Elrena Evans: I absolutely felt like the only pregnant person in the whole wide world in grad school! I'm banking on everything changing before my kids are old enough to be making these sorts of decisions. Ever the optimist!

Heather Hewett: I'm struck by the fact that all of you agree that we need to change attitudes as well as policy -- and I wonder if that's why you all chose to collect stories, albeit in different ways. Is there something about personal stories that are particularly powerful for the situation facing moms in academia?

Caroline Grant: Yes, yes, yes. I think personal stories draw you in and make them relate on a level that a numbers report just can't achieve. Elrena and I were challenged a bit on that point, early in our work on the book, and we felt strongly about making the book conversational, not confrontational.

Elrena Evans: I think it's kind of like the research that's been done on birthing narratives -- why do women feel compelled to tell their birth stories again and again, sometimes to people they barely know -- there's strength in sharing these stories, in knowing that you're not, as one of our contributors put it, a statistical outlier.

I like to think of personal essays and more quantitative research as parts of the same whole. Research can give us numbers, data, percentages, "facts" if you will, but the personal essay can provide the story behind the data. I know that for me, personally, it's one thing to read that X number of women delay children until after tenure, for example; but it gives me a completely different perspective to read about what that was like for a specific woman, the longing, the waiting, the eventual fulfillment of her "heart's desire," as one of our contributors writes. And then I can take that story, and begin to imagine all the others behind the numbers, and it really makes me look at the research differently.

Andrea O'Reilly: That leads to another theme. I found Joan Williams' concept of the wall in academe a fitting metaphor. Today I think that women, if they act enough like one of the boys, can make it academe... but once they become moms, they hit full-throttle that academic wall that completely blindsides them. So my work is looking at how moms are getting through and around that wall. And for many it is the detour route -- i.e., taking an academic post that is more compatible with motherhood (not at a research university).

Elrena Evans: One of our essays, by Martha Ellis Crone, is called "One of the Boys" and she says just that: until she got pregnant and was confronted with her biology, she could hack it.

Caroline Grant: Breaking through the glass ceiling without getting showered and bloodied by glass? At least it's an ivory ceiling....

Elrena Evans: Ivory's pretty tough, though.

Andrea O'Reilly: Yes, one of my interviewees had this experience. She was a full professor with several important books out, but the minute she started to show she was treated completely differently. Instead of talking about political theory as they once did, they just stared at her belly dumbstruck.

Elrena Evans: That reminds me of Caroline's essay, where she describes being introduced to her new colleagues as a pregnant woman, and how that affected their response to her -- "Caroline Grant, mother-to-be."

Caroline Grant: That anecdote, Andrea, makes me glad (for the first time!) that I was pregnant as an adjunct: the stakes were so low. My department chair was delighted, my students were entertained... It was worrisome and uncertain in many ways (financial, etc.) and unsettling to my identity in ways, too... but I wasn't having to re-prove myself.

Heather Hewett: On the subject of different ways of collecting stories: Andrea, can you say a little more about your decision as a literary scholar to embark on a more social science project?

Andrea O'Reilly: Although this is a sociological study, I hope to present it more in terms of literature. I want to tell the story of this experience.

Another theme that has come up is number of children. There seems to be some acceptance of one child, carefully and correctly conceived at 40, etc... if you are quiet enough about it. BUT two kids… three... well, then you are clearly seen as rocking the boat.

Elrena Evans: Absolutely, Andrea. We have one contributor who has six -- Leslie Leyland Fields, I called her our statistical outlier! -- but the "have one, no more" theme seemed to come up a lot.

Caroline Grant: Libby Gruner writes that her chair "blanched visibly" when she announced she was expecting her second.

Heather Hewett: Didn't Alice Walker write an essay in the 1970's called "ONE Child of One's Own"? She wasn't advocating what that chair did, of course, but there seems to be something about the carefully planned one child vs. the excessive fertility of more… women as biology, right? Perhaps having more than one child triggers this age-old stereotype.

Caroline Grant: Leslie's essay quotes Alice Walker's comment.

Elrena Evans: I'm expecting number three, so we've been getting to hear some of these comments firsthand again -- but don't you want to go back to work?, as if having a third negates that possibility, and my personal favorite -- but you already have a girl and a boy! Who was it who said one child can still be an accessory, two or more is a lifestyle? Although I will admit some truth to that sentiment, personally…

Caroline Grant: Jennifer Eyre White and Ayelet Waldman have good things to say about having three (or more kids) -- you should be reading them!

Elrena Evans: And I think part of it is tolerance levels. Okay, so you have one kid, fine. We don't like it, but more than one and you're just shoving your biology in our faces.

Andrea O'Reilly: Though in telling these narratives, we also have to be very careful not to convey the theme that you can not have success in academe as a mom. Several potential interviewees said they would not participate in the study if I was going to write another doom/gloom narrative. Related to this, I am hearing too often that if you do have success in academe, then that means you must not have been a good and involved mom. I think you can do both well. Many of the women I spoke to said the same thing. They see themselves as successful in mothering and academe... and what cheered me immensely is that they also said they wouldn't have done it any other way. Being a mom enhanced their careers in many ways.

Heather Hewett: Andrea, you make a great point. And I thought that Mama, PhD brought that out as well -- there ARE successful mom scholars out there. (Though I found myself thinking as I read those essays, it's not easy to write about happiness and success!)

Caroline Grant: I'm proud of the book for demonstrating that women can be successful as mothers and academics. It's hard, but both of the roles are difficult, challenging, and rewarding -- they can complement each other, I'm convinced of it.

Elrena Evans: If it's all happiness and success, there's no plot! Unfortunately, the academy as we know it supplies us with plenty of plot.

Caroline Grant: Hah!

Elrena Evans: But don't you think maybe the "if you're a successful academic, you must be a bad mom" idea is just another form of (institutionalized?) discrimination? So even when you do succeed, you still don't succeed?

Caroline Grant: I think that's true, Elrena. Again, fathers of three or more aren't getting these comments.

Andrea O'Reilly: Yes, I certainly had that experience... particularly as none of mine were planned. With my third in five years, when my grad director found out I was pregnant, he tried to de-enroll me in the program even though I was on a full, very prestigious scholarship and was one of the top-ranked students. As a visible, out (not to mentioning bleeding, leaking) mom, you are clearly trespassing in the cerebral disembodied academy.

Caroline Grant: And yet, the future of civilization is in our care…

Andrea O'Reilly: But fathers of course are not held to the same, impossible standards of good fatherhood. Many of my interviewees expressed a lot of anger at the special treatment they receive, or the assumption that they had it as bad as moms (even though they had full-time wives at home).

Elrena Evans: And personally, I think it's infantilizing to men, the sentiment that "if you're involved with your kids, you're cute" -- why shouldn't fathers -- smart, intelligent men -- be involved with their children?

I'm wondering, even beyond the academy, how much all of this is rooted in the fact that our culture doesn't really value mothers or children, all lip service notwithstanding. I don't need to start a whole new topic! But I was just thinking of how motherhood and childcare, even beyond the academy, is equated with being a nonintellectual pursuit. Leslie Leyland Fields writes (not in her Mama, PhD piece) about how when she was in grad school, before she had children, she'd just glaze over whenever she saw a woman with a stroller, assuming all the woman could talk about was her kid and couldn't possibly be intellectual. I'm very interested in what we could do, on a societal level, to garner more respect for mothers and the work we do. (This will all get back to the election if I keep typing long enough….)

Andrea O'Reilly: I think this is very true. The body/mind has always been positioned as a binary in patriarchy, and that is why I think mother academics trouble patriarchy... we are living both fully.

Caroline Grant: Yes, yes, yes.

Elrena Evans: And if we're managing to do it, what makes those patriarchal men so special? Not much. I guess I can see why they're getting nervous. I just have such a hard time accepting that some people still think the way they do! I mean, it's 2008, people. Come on.

Andrea O'Reilly: I too can't believe the raw sexism that still goes on unchecked.

Elrena Evans: When I was in college we had a woman come into my sorority and talk about job interviewing skills—and she said if you're engaged, take your ring off. I nearly fell out of my chair. I just couldn't -- can't -- believe that kind of stuff still goes on.

Caroline Grant: There are different ideas about continuing to pay in to social security for women who leave the workplace, to raise children -- that's one thing that would help our mothering work be valued. If it were literally valued!

Elrena Evans: Caroline, I am SO down with that. We're raising the laborers of the next generation!

Caroline Grant: Not to be too capitalist about it or anything, but to play by the rules of the society we're living in just a little bit, we have to find a way to put a dollar amount on the work we do and claim it.

Elrena Evans: Exactly. So if we're not going to overthrow capitalism any time soon, I'd like a paycheck, please.

Andrea O'Reilly: I end my interviews asking what needs to be done, and/or what advice they would give to sister academics who are thinking about having children: health care, good quality childcare, maternity leave, flexibility re tenure... but equally the need for real shared parenting, and deconstructing intensive mothering, etc.... and the need to live our lives out as mother academics. Again, to normalize it. And yes, of course the need to see mothering as valuable and intellectual labor... that is why I wish Ruddick's "Maternal Thinking" was required reading in high school.

Elrena Evans: And I think -- tying in to what Andrea just said -- one of the things we need to do is stop making motherhood "cute." If I get that "job description" e-mail forward one more time -- the whole cook, clean, drive the car, be doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc. and get paid in hugs and kisses -- I'm going to scream.

Caroline Grant: Yes, I agree with you Elrena, too; that email infuriates me, too. It's infantilizing motherhood (again).

Heather Hewett: Any other parting advice for women who want motherhood and an academic career?

Caroline Grant: Speak out. Be an "out' mother. Look for others in your department and/or your school who are parenting and join forces... form a babysitting co-op, share care, pick up each other's kids.

Elrena Evans: And maybe -- this is really easy for me to say, but I'm trying to think of things that currently at-home mothers can do, too -- refuse to give in to the "just a mom" rhetoric. I work all day, too, hubby can make dinner. Fortunately I am married to a man who thinks likewise!

Andrea O'Reilly: But to be out and outspoken as a mother outlaw in academe is dangerous. It could cost you your job. So it is up to those of us with tenure to be outlandish outlaws... because while they may make your life miserable (which is certainly the case with me and other women I interviewed), you still have a good paycheck.

Elrena Evans: Yes, absolutely, Andrea. It's women like that who are really going to make a difference, I think.

Heather Hewett: All of you are making a difference. After listening to all of you, I would add this advice: start a blog, publish a book, get money to fund research on mothers. Thanks to all of you for your time!

mmo : january 2009

HEATHER HEWETT , PhD is the Coordinator of Women's Studies and an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at SUNY New Paltz. Her work on feminism, motherhood, and media has appeared in several scholarly journals and anthologies, and she has published essays and reviews in numerous feminist and mainstream publications.
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