Tag: motherhood

Academic (S)mothering Part III: Conferencing

Ah, the sweet time your baby becomes a toddler and maybe lets you sleep for more than 5 hours a night. Your teaching is sort of kind of on track, your scant article submissions get a steady number of rejections so why not try to venture back into the world of academic conferencing? Something not too far away and not too expensive, because as a parent you are too responsible to spend your hard-earned money on conference fees and hotel “discount rates”. So, you dust off your formal clothing (all carefully selected in accordance with the misogynist ideals of appropriate female academic attire) and click with a trembling finger on the “submit” button for your abstract. Lo and behold, the program chair deemed the submission passable, so you double check with partner, in-laws and daycare and soon fly towards your first time away from the baby for more than 9 hours. 

When you have babies no one really tells you that you might have separation anxiety as well. So, you are grateful to the technological progress that allows you to obsessively watch your baby sleep on a monitor or even get him to smile to you on FaceTime for a second because their attention span hasn’t evolved beyond half a minute. You revel in discussions on post-structuralism and post-positivism, delight in the opportunity to discuss that latest methodological article that you managed to read at 3 am, and enjoy not carrying a single wet wipe in your bag. In a whirlwind of presentations and round tables you see your friends whom you haven’t seen since your last conference two years ago (because that’s how you see people), but no late-night cocktails – you cherish your opportunity to actually sleep through the night for the first time in a year and a half too much. 

After abysmal (not the Joey kind) anxiety over your child you start to choose the conferencing opportunities careful: 

  1. Do I need a visa? Because an extra trip to the consulate can make it or break the desire to enjoy “more of a comment than a question”. 
  2. How far away is it? I bet Honolulu is nice, but travelling for almost 24 hours adds extra away days that your partner may not be able to do without you.
  3. Can you or your department afford it? These days you can’t shamefully justify the out of pocket expenses for a conference as “investments into your career”. Nope, your mommy brain does not buy it anymore and would rather put it away into the baby college fund. 
  4. How helpful is this conference for your career and how much of a guilt trip on top of the conference trip the escapade will involve? I don’t know whether it’s the same for all moms, but pretty much every activity is weighed against “I could be spending this time with my child and instead I am doing this” scale.  

Another option is, of course, taking the baby with you. But as I learned the hard way, most toddlers can’t sit still for more than 10 min and most academic presentations last longer than that.  Usually only the bigger conferences offer on-site daycare (thanks, ISA!), but given (1) they require a visa and (2) that they are far away and most often (3) very expensive, there is no way I would go there in the foreseeable future. Thus, it’s really hard to get back to jet-setting times of pre-baby. 

But let’s finish on a brighter note. Thank you, people who live-tweet the panels and snap photos of the slides! I love you all very much and I will see you back in 2 to 3 years!


Mother In Chief? Not Exactly Your Typical Feminism, But…

Michelle Obama is doing something very interesting. She is taking back family values from the right.

According to Reuters:

Michelle Obama brings the skills of a corporate lawyer to the White House as first lady to President-elect Barack Obama, but she says her priority will be her role as ‘mom-in-chief’ to the couple’s two daughters. Michelle Obama, 44, was a passionate advocate for her husband’s candidacy, but she says she would not want a direct policy role in an Obama administration.

To those for whom breaking the gendered glass ceiling would have felt as or more transformative than seeing a US President of color, this “Mother-in-Chief” approach could seem like a regressive subordination of women’s political equality to racial equality. By this standard, Palin, with all her flaws, would have been a better feminist role model – to say nothing of Hillary Clinton, who would have combined a gender-egalitarian agenda with her trail-blazing role as the first female Commander-in-Chief. By comparison, Michelle Obama may seem at first glance to be defining her role no differently than Laura Bush, a help-meet rather than political partner. Perhaps this is a throwback to an earlier age. Perhaps feminism has been traded for racial equality in this election.

Think again. The fact that people have assumed that Michelle would take on a formal political role as first lady only underscores how normative women’s political participation is today. Her unwillingness to prioritize that over her duties to her children is not a step backward but a step forward for the feminist movement: what Michelle is modeling is not indifference to politics, but policy attention to work-life balance, the missing element in the first feminist revolution. As the same news-article relates:

She also says she hopes to focus ways women maintain a work-family balance and the needs of military families, and she could act as an informal adviser to her husband as she has been during the campaign.

This is the future, not the past. In the race to promote women as full citizens, too little attention has been spent by liberals considering how to support those same women in their dual roles as mothers – to say nothing of providing incentives for their male partners and spouses to do their share of child-rearing and eldercare while participating fully in civic and economic life. Many barriers persist. Today, for example, while women overall are approaching pay equity with men, the wage gap in the US between mothers and non-mothers is greater than between women and men—and it’s actually getting bigger.

So says Moms Rising.org, a growing movement of progressives aiming to prioritize children and families in the new America. Besides fair wages and an end to discrimination against mothers in hiring decisions, Moms Rising calls (among other things) for paid sick days and family leave for parents, for family-friendly work environments, for the right to breastfeed in public spaces, affordable healthcare and childcare, and a rating system for afterschool TV shows. In short, the goal is to build a culture that treats child-rearing as a form of service to the nation rather than an expensive hobby.

Perhaps ironically, the discourse of strengthening and prioritizing family has been largely associated with the right, where this very noble goal has been shackled at times to a gender discourse that emphasizes the role of fathers as breadwinner and mothers as homemakers. But creating the conditions for work/family balance for both men and women achieves the same goal without retrenching old gender inequalities. Part of Sarah Palin’s appeal was her seemingly flawless balance between being a power player in public and at home. Combine this imagery with a policy agenda to make it easier for less privileged women – and men – to do the same, and you begin dismantling the kinds of institutional barriers that have kept women out of the highest office.

This is what Michelle Obama will be bringing to US political culture as a First Lady.


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