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Sharing Our Stories: Day 1 MITACoach Workshop

 

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Today is the first day of the MITACoach Workshop. A key component of the workshop, besides the workbook, curated readings, and flash consultation with me, is storytelling.

I started MITACoach as a way to help mothers working in the academy find support and community. As mothers and as academics there is a lot of pressure not to share our complex stories. The editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia write movingly about the many women faculty members who wanted to share their stories about being in the academy in this anthology, but who decided they couldn’t publish their experiences because they were afraid of the professional backlash. Today we’re starting to break that silence by telling about our experiences and so gaining community and and support.

I firmly believe that our academic institutions are better when everyone has a seat at the table. Feminist theories of knowledge production have demonstrated that we produce much more complete pictures of the world when we have researchers who come from a diversity of viewpoints. Retaining mothers in graduate school and as faculty members would be a huge step in the right direction, and one way to do that is to have our experiences validated.

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Top 3 Worst Questions to ask an Academic Mom

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Today Show host Matt Laurer’s interview questions. An essay I wrote about Tom Cruise’s meltdown about postpartum depression with Matt Laurer was published in Mediating Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture.

images  Now, Lauer has provided me with new material in the wake of his interview with GM CEO Mary Barra where he asked if Barra could be a good mother and CEO. As you might imagine, internet outrage ensued. This got me thinking – what are the worst questions you can ask a faculty mother? Let’s roll the dice and talk about some of the most uncomfortable questions I’ve been asked. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments section.

 #1 How do you do it all?

For the record, I think asking successful parents what solutions they’ve come up with to manage home and work can be the basis of a really rich and insightful conversation. In fact, this is the basis of the MITACoach workshop starting on July 14, where you can hear from 4 different academic moms about strategies they have come up with for managing their teaching, research and home life. Michele Dunnum is going to talk about the work she loves as a professor at a community college, commuting, and being a divorced (now remarried) mom of a son. Alison Piepmeier brings her perspectives as the chair of a department, a public intellectual around feminism and disability, a person with seizures, and the single mom of her daughter who has Down Syndrome. Laura Harrison is pregnant with her second child and will share her survival strategies as someone who was recently on the job market who is now on the tenure track with a demanding research agenda. I’ll be talking about how the insights of mothering studies can be used by mother scholars, as well as my own best insights on having an academic career and a family. I fully believe that you can have a joyful career as a staff or faculty member and a happy home life – you just need to know where to find mentoring!

But…when this question gets asked by colleagues in disbelief, it really gets to me. It suggests having a full time demanding career and children is so difficulty that we’re foolhardy to even try. Or, that the responsibility for making our homes function lies solely with us. Coming from other academics, it implies that I’m not fully committed to my career. Ugh. I came up with a one-sentence answer that felt authentic to me, and just use that whenever this question comes up. I’ll be talking more about how to negotiate difficult conversations such as this one in the workshop.

 #2 Can you come to a meeting at 6:30 today?

Boy Howdy. Questions like this used to make me feel like I was going to have a panic attack. Since starting MITACoach I’ve heard from lots of academic moms about their difficult negotiations with childfree faculty in leadership positions. One mom told me that when she was an assistant professor, senior faculty scheduled a series of job candidate talks and meetings after 5 on weekdays. It hadn’t occurred to the senior faculty that childcare wouldn’t be available then. This is part of a continuing legacy in the academy of assuming that everyone has a wife at home ready to take care of children and running the household. Or simply the effect that many academics don’t have children and so don’t think about what extending the workday means. I finally just sat down with my chair and explained the logistics of my childcare arrangements. It’s like an 18 wheeler, I told her. I can turn it around, and arrange for more care, but I need a bit of notice. This smoothed the way for better communications about scheduling events.

 #3 How many kids do you have?

This happened to me recently. I was talking to a senior faculty member about moving and getting my kids registered for school. The conversation ground to a halt. “How many kids do you have?” She asked incredulously. Let’s pause over that for a minute. There are really no circumstances in which asking that question in an amazed tone is polite. Her question made me feel embarrassed and defensive. Which is interesting given that within American culture my family is completely normative. I’m a woman legally married to a man and we have two children. Within academia, though, female faculty members are less likely to have children than male faculty or their non-academic peers, such as doctors and lawyers.

For academics moms of color, this question can be even more insidious. Mothers of color experience the legacies of racism in the labeling of their sexuality and mothering choices as excessive or as in need of control. I’ve heard many stories from mothers of color who have been challenged by white colleagues about the number and spacing of their children, rather than being given support or recognition for their accomplishments. Despite publishing two monographs and gaining a prestigious fellowship to attend law school, Duchess Harris PhD/JD Associate Professor at Macalester College writes “I entered the tenure-track 15 years ago when I was five months pregnant. I have taken three parental leaves, which were all met with resentment.”

These are my top 3 most dreaded questions. What are yours? What response to do you make to them?

 

 

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Thursday Thought – Tips for Transitioning into Summer

Thursday Thought - Tips for Transitioning into Summer

In parenting lingo, “transition” refers to times when we ask our kids to switch gears from one activity to the next, like ending a playdate so that you can go home. Transitions for my kids often meant tantrums. “No leave the park!” my two year old would scream, alerting everyone to my wonderful parenting skills.

We’re also making some big transitions in the academic year. So if you’re feeling tantrumy (that should be a word), you’re not alone. Just at the point when many of us are most tired, we’re asked to recalibrate our routine. Some of us are making the transition from teaching to focusing more in our research, administrative tasks, or syllabi redesign during the summer. Others are ending winter term classes and gearing up for their spring/summer teaching. If you have kids, especially those too old for daycare, the transition from school to camps or at home child care is just around the corner, which can be trying for everyone.

In the coming weeks I’ll be talking more about strategies for a peaceful transition to the summer months. For now, here are three tips for managing this transitional time. Rejuvenate, Reprioritize, and Reflect will be central themes of our June Workshop aimed at helping you make the most of your summer and early fall.

1) Rejuvenate
If you’re like me, you might have a bunch of stuff, both personal and professional, that you’ve put on the back burner until the semester is over. My best advice is that these things can take wait a bit longer. If you can, try to take at least a day where you’re not being goal oriented to let your brain relax. It’s even better if you can put aside a couple of days to restart a gentle exercise program if that has gone by the wayside, get a massage, or spend time with friends. Binge tv watch. Nap. If this seems indulgent, it’s not. You’ve been working hard and you need a break. Full stop.

2) Reflect

If you do have fewer teaching responsibilities, this can be a good time to reflect on what has gone well in the past year, and what hasn’t with your teaching and research. I like to keep a single Word document where I list ideas for future classes and what I wouldn’t do again. I also sometimes use the reviewing function of word to mark up my syllabi with notes about reordering texts, or revising assignments.

3) Reprioritize
Once your brain is rested, think about August 30th. What would you need to have accomplished by then for you to feel good about your summer? What experiences do you want to have with your family? What work would you need to do in the next 10-12 weeks? Most importantly, what can you realistically do during this time period so you don’t end up mad at yourself? For example, drafting a journal article and teaching one class is probably realistic if you have a lot of child care. If you want to spend more time with your kids this summer, then adjust your productivity goals accordingly.

 

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Feminist Studies in Action

Feminist Studies in Action

I’m thrilled that my roundtable, “Mothering, Love, and Labor: New Feminist Perspectives,” was accepted at NWSA – it will be an amazing overview of visionary ideas about mothering and labor with Magda Pecsenye, Elizabeth Bruno, Kirsti K. Cole, Roksana Badruddoja, Melissa Purdue, and me presenting.

I’m just as excited that my panel, “Caribbean Feminisms: Decolonizing Postcolonial Spaces” was accepted with April Mayes, Elena Machado Sáez, Dana M. Linda and me again, presenting. Congrats to everyone for proposing such great papers!

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Thursday Thought: How I Know We’re Making Progress on Family Leave

How I Know We're Making Progress on Family Leave With the Next Generation

I recently drove four seventh graders to a school activity. On the way there they discussed their health teacher’s upcoming open adoption of a baby, the teacher’s maternity leave, and her husband’s paternity leave. The dad was going to take the first parental leave so the teacher could finish out the quarter, and then the teacher would take a quarter off to be home with the baby too. This group of kids had lots of comments and questions about their teacher’s situation. However, I know we’re making feminist progress with family leave issues and work because of what these 12 and 13 year olds didn’t say:

1) While they were confused by what to call it when a dad stays home with a baby (“Is it BATERNITY or PATERNITY leave?”) no one suggested that a dad couldn’t take care of a baby by himself.
2) No one suggested that the teacher was a bad mom for not immediately being home with the baby.
3) No one suggested that it was selfish of the teacher to take a quarter off or that she shouldn’t be paid for this leave.
4) They all knew what open adoption meant. No one suggested at open adoption was “weird” or that adoption was a lesser way of making a family.

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Thursday Thought: Rebel Don’t Recline

Thursday Thought: Rebel Don't Recline

We’ve all read about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and the inevitable backlash. I’m sure a lot of you have read Rosa Brook’s fantastic essay “Recline!” which encourages women not to buy into the superwoman myth in order so that we can have time to read for pleasure and spend time with friends. Imagine that. Reading for pleasure and spending time having fun. So my Thursday Thought: how can we harness our inner fourteen-year-old (or the unpredictable lunacy of someone like Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack) and rebel against family and workplace norms that ask us to be everything to everyone? What if we stopped being “good girls” and started following our own inner compasses? What would outlaw motherhood and/or outlaw academia look like for you?

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Love and Justice

Love and Justice

As I’m reviewing submissions for the National Women’s Studies Association roundtable I’m organizing in conduction with MIRCI ,  “Mothering, Love, and Labor,” I came across this quote. It spoke to me as an example of how values of caregiving could create justice in the public sphere.