Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

29 August 2008

Book Review: Mama PhD

I live in this weird place. I consider myself an academic, it's in my title at work, yet I don't hold a PhD. I am seriously considering returning to my master's program to "finish" up with a PhD. Yet, I am fairly certain that I don't want to be a faculty member and churn out papers and books. And obviously if I did return to grad school I would be doing it as a mom instead of just being pregnant as I was my final semester. WOW! That thought just gave me the willies.

Add to those facts is that my day job is to essentially convince women students to sign up for an academic life. The #1 question in my 15 years of being in academia, including my 4 as an undergrad, is "When do we have babies?" *sigh* Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life, does not have one answer to that question. It has many answers.

The foreword by Miriam Peskowitz says it best:

The essays in this book extend that realization (that the work and family problem is bigger than any one of us, more than any one woman or man can solve) , documenting what happens when smart women consider motherhood in the context of institutions that have barely gotten used to the presence of women, let alone mothers who might prefer ordinary human lives where they are home for dinner, and have some time with the kids before they go to sleep. (pages xiii-xiv)

The work-life balance isn't easy anywhere, but when you think about colleges & universities it makes sense that they would be the best place for work-life balance. Technically professors only need to be on campus to teach, office hours, and committee work. If you're a lab scientist, add lab time in. But unlike corporate America, there isn't a goal to get out 1,000 widgets an hour. No, the goal is to forward your area of expertise (cure cancer, theorize on Jane Eyre, design bridges) and to teach students in the hopes that they will one day work beside you. Universities and colleges that also train early childhood teachers are perfect for having infant and child care. Don't most of those students have to spend time in a child care setting for their degree? But no. It's not that simple. And I think that the illogic that women run into is what is the most frustrating.

The best example of that illogic is in Jessica Smart Gullion's essay, "Scholar, Negated." In it she recounts how when she was a graduate student her spring teaching assignment was taken from her because she was pregnant and due in the middle of the semester. She worked at 1] a women's college and 2] in a sociology department chock full of feminst theorists. Her department head had done "pioneering work with women employed in inhumane working conditions in the maquiladoras along the Texas-Mexico border."

That said, most of the essays are hopeful. Mama PhDs who thought that the flexible schedule of an academic would make motherhood easier than for someone with a 9-5 job but soon realized that the pressure to write a book and change diapers was far different. Mama PhDs who worried endlessly that the time they spent away from their children and the travel required made them bad mamas only to have their children tell them otherwise.

Mama PhD is heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. It shows how far we have to go as a society to truly value families and the contributions of working moms. I think this book could be replicated for almost any industry as well as with subfields of academia.

This is book review is a part of the MotherTalk book blog tour.

You can get your own copy of Mama PhD thru an independent book store, Powell's or Amazon. Either way, grab a copy, especially if you are a Mama PhD struggling with your own guilt.

3 comments:

Not a PhD but surely we all have guilt about working and having a career. We women seem to carry around guilt far too much and take too little time for ourselves.
It's such a juggle finding an equal balance between it all. If you have it figured out, let me know, would love to hear about it.

BitchPhD actually has an essay in this book, and she talks about it somewhere on her site. I want to read it, because I'm also planning to be a MamaPhd (or maybe a Masters mama) eventually. Ah well, I'll see if the local libraries have copies somewhere...

Thanks for this. I think I'll check it out.