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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mama PhD

I just finished reading Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life, edited by Elrena Evans & Caroline Grant.

This book is similar to Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory, which I read and reviewed a few months back. The difference is that Mama PhD includes essays from women in many different fields in academia (mostly in the humanities) and some who are no longer in academia.

The book consists of 35 essays, ranging from women who found having a child to be an incredible burden, to those who found academia to be an incredible burden, to those who managed to find some semblance of balance between the two.

I found the first half to be incredibly depressing. Most of the women did not enjoy motherhood, and wrote about how it negatively affected their career, or how academia was so incredibly un-supportive. It took me a very long time to read through these essays, as I couldn't identify with the writers.

However, the second half was much more in line with my values and beliefs about career & motherhood. One section, in fact, was about women who actually left academia and (gasp!) were happy either with being a stay-at-home mother or in finding other, non-academic, job opportunities. Another section included positive stories of blending academia and motherhood.

Some common themes popped up in every section though: it is difficult to find a space where one can be both a mother and a scholar; academia is all about the mind, not about "the body" (i.e., everything outside the mind); academics have a hard time dealing with babies (or people with babies); babies are way harder than you think!

One of my favorite quotes in the book, which sums up the issue quite nicely (Free to Be...Mom and Me, by Megan Pincus Kajitani):
"...my grandmother had no choice but to stay home, then my mother's generation fought hard to give women a place in the professional world. Now my generation takes on the fight for more balance, and more diversity of career/family options"
What will the next generation have to fight for?