#womenslives: female academics and the ‘flexibility myth’ @ rolereboot

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There’s a flexibility myth in academia. It goes like this: Academic mothers have it much better than other professional mothers because of their flexible schedule—a luxury women in business, journalism, law, and medicine don’t enjoy—which allows them to set their own hours, and chart their individual paths to success.

It’s tempting to buy into this myth, a kind of variation on the American Dream, because it sounds wonderful: You can care for your babies at home (avoiding costly and germy day care and the guilt of leaving your baby with strangers), write brilliant books while they nap all afternoon, teach classes at night while they’re home asleep, and achieve tenure. The work is hard, for sure, but the rewards are great.

The problem is that it’s not true. Flexibility is not enough to make up for the significant cultural and structural problems that mothers face in the academy, nearly 30 years after they began to enter graduate programs in numbers comparable to men. Recent research shows that mothers are faring terribly in academia. Mary Ann Mason, faculty co-director of the Earl Warren Institute for Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, puts it bluntly: “For men, having children is a career advantage, and for women, it is a career killer.

Among tenured faculty, 70% of men have children, compared with 44% of women. Mason attributes this gender discrepancy to academia’s rigid career track, which does not permit “time outs,” and demands that assistant professors perform to their highest potential early on, in their 30s and early 40s, which are prime childbearing years for women. One result is that women with children fall off the tenure track to fill the swelling ranks of the underclass of contingent faculty. Women today make up as much as 61% of contingent faculty, and many, if not most of them, are mothers.

And yet, prime pushers of the “flexibility myth” are those who should know better: senior academic mothers who have managed, against the odds, to have it all. In op-eds and books with titles like “Academia and Motherhood: We Can Have Both” and “Professor Mommy: Managing Work-Life Balance in Academia,” they offer well-intentioned advice, much of it autobiographical, urging women to be ambitious and optimistic, not to count themselves out, and to take advantage of the flexibility of the academic life.

Academic mothers don’t need encouragement to be ambitious and optimistic. They need relief from grossly inadequate support systems that deprive them of real choices and a fair shot at successful careers, and contribute to the persistent problem of women lagging behind men in tenure and promotion rates, and disproportionately filling the ranks of disadvantaged, disrespected, and underpaid contingent faculty.

Source/ rest: rolereboot.org