August 19, 2012 § 4 Comments
Woo hoo! Steve and I are going to be parents, and it’s been announced in the most “official” and “public” way possible: Facebook. I’m 16 weeks preggers as of today, which is crazy because it feels like a lot of weeks, and it also feels like it’s barely begun. The main reason that Steve and I waited to make this announcement “public” for so long is because I wanted to be cautious about how the word got out in my academic social circles. I figured what better way to explain to friends and family who may not be informed about the “ways” of Research 1 universities (top level research institutions), and particularly that of communication departments, than through a blog post? So, here goes:
1. The academy (we’re talking R1 institutes, again, for the most part), has a monastic tradition to it, in which scholars are expected to devote their whole lives to research. As a result, Townsley and Broadfoot (2008) explain that “the university is simply not structured to accommodate dual career families,” but rather is structured so the one working at the university will be the sole income earner while the other partner may stay home and take care of more domestic duties (p. 137).
2. It is easy to see why this is a problem, and why it may be more difficult for women in the academy who decide to start a family and may also have a working spouse. In fact, studies have shown that women who have babies before they get tenure are more likely to take 5-7 years longer to earn tenure than men who have “early babies” in the academy, and are more likely to get divorced before they are 40 (Townsley & Broadfoot, 2008).
Based on these two aspects of R1 life, I was very careful to talk with my professors about my upcoming life change before announcing it on Facebook and letting the news get to them before I did. All of my professors have offered their congratulations, calling me “intrepid,” and reminding me to look after myself when I told them I plan on continuing my studies in the spring (even though my baby is due early Feb). The backlash has come more, however from my classmates. While most of them have congratulated me, a few have asked (in not as nice of a manner), “What were you thinking?” They say things like, “I’m assuming by the terrible timing that it was unplanned.” To which I say, “Nope. It was planned, and I’ll let you know what we were thinking: we are ready for a baby.”
It will be an interesting year, but I’m very excited for it. I’ve already been in contact with a group of women from across the country who had babies in graduate school and graduated on time and landed R1 jobs. We’ll all be meeting in November at the national conference to share our experiences and lend support to each other and others in the same boat.
Ultimately, what irks me the most about people’s negative reactions in the academy is that, despite how diverse and progressive the academy is, when it comes to issues like this, it is still downright sexist. If one of my male counterparts were to share that his wife were pregnant, most people would not even bat an eye. While there are many things we can control in this life, we still ultimately cannot control basic biology which dictates that women are the ones who carry the babies. If universities really want to encourage “diversity” and tolerance, maybe it’s time to realize that one of the voices they may have been and still are silencing is that of the mother in the academy. It is my passion for this disturbing reality that has landed me on a panel in the fall at our national conference that discusses how women are discriminated against due to visual signifiers (such as changing our names after marriage and having a “baby bump”) associated with life change that men simply do not really face. I am so excited to meet with the other women on the panel, and feel very, very fortunate to have their advice and encouragement.
It’s going to be quite an adventure, as I try to figure out how to manage my current course load and school demands with that of a baby. But I cannot tell you how excited we are to start decorating a baby’s room, picking a name, finding out the gender, and, ultimately, meeting the little one. :)