My Postpartum (Blogging) Hiatus

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The last eight months of my life have been one transition after the other. Here are the most notable highlights:

  • I had a baby! It was a long time coming. Transitioning to parenthood has been intense.
  • Two months postpartum I cleaned up my dissertation proposal, defended it, and became ABD.
  • Two weeks after that, we moved to the D.C.
  • Two months after finding a place and settling in, I’ve been trying to establish a writing routine for my first chapter.
  • Now I’m teaching an online course “Multiculturalism in Hawai‘i,” ironically not while I’m in Hawai‘i.

During these transitions–some more momentous than others–it’s become glaringly clear that life doesn’t stop for grad school…and it shouldn’t. But this brings up issues of privilege again, especially gendered ones.

Grad life isn’t family friendly.

I’ve brought up issues about institutional family support before. This problem is even more pronounced in grad school with no economic protections, job security, benefits, social security, or even moral support for being a parent. To holistically thrive as a grad student, you need to be wealthy enough, ideally young or old enough (outside of childbearing age if you’re a woman), and emotionally tough as nails to endure. (Notice I didn’t even mention, “smart enough.”)

Relatively speaking, I have a lot going for me. My partner supports my PhD endeavors but it definitely places stress on our household finances, and inevitably our relationship. My dissertation committee members (and classmates) are quite supportive of my being a new mom. My committee members were some of the first to know that I was pregnant. They also commiserate about the academic “system” with me. Although tangible changes from their efforts are slow (not their faults), they’re trying, which is morally uplifting.

Despite the privileges that enable my grad school life, having this little human so overwhelmingly dependent on me for his survival exacerbate the aforementioned issues that make PhDing impossible for the vast majority of the population.

For now, I’ll keep forging ahead…

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Can We Move on From Mother’s Day Please?

Every Mother’s Day is wrought with complex emotions for me (as well as thousands of others). Here are two main reasons why:

  • I lost my mother when I was 20. Five years before that, we all knew she was going to die of cancer.
  • I’ve been painfully trying to become a mother for the past four years. Here’s a small snippet about that journey.

Mother’s Day also seems to be a unique blend of Hallmark commercialization with a dash of self-promoting “altruism.” Think pink washing or the ALS ice bucket challenge, where one feels compelled to publicly announce how much s/he cares.

I’m not against raising awareness or acknowledging mothers, especially if they’re totally awesome like my mom was. I just question the meaningfulness of this day, and what message it sends to many of us who don’t fit into certain conventions. These people include, but aren’t limited to: motherless children, single mothers, mothers with crappy children, children with crappy mothers, women without children, women who’ve lost children, women who are struggling with fertility, LGBT families, blended families, awesome aunties/grandmothers/sisters who raised you, incarcerated mothers, mothers with terminal illnesses, etc.)

Five years ago Anne Lamott published this article about why she hates Mother’s Day, and last week Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote specifically about the problems valorizing motherhood as the highest attainable goal for women. Both are worthwhile reads.

Rather than celebrating the importance and value of mothers (or maternal women in our lives) through various forms of material or public displays of affection (e.g. Facebook posts), I wonder how we can make this day stand for something a little more substantial, without reinforcing conventions that tend to exclude many types of women, children, and families. Perhaps we can put our effort into actually supporting mothers in a concrete way. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, suggests paid family leave, while simultaneously drawing attention to the rampant contradictions of how we actually do and don’t support mothers in America.

I highly recommend watching the full clip. The entertainment value alone is worth it.

Time for Gender Equality in the Workplace – For Men

Many women (including myself) are faced with the family-or-career tension to varying degrees. We’ve read about these stories in The Atlantic, New York Times, and most recently on Slate.com. Many of us know this issue personally. Maybe we aren’t literally choosing a career over a family (or vice versa) but perhaps we’ve pushed back when to start “trying,” switched to a less rigorous career path, taken a small hiatus from the rat race, or immersed ourselves in work resulting in little time to meet a potential partner in the first place.

While these articles provide valid points about uphill battles women face entering the academic sphere (or other traditionally male-dominated fields) they speak to a specific subset of women – privileged, high-powered, highly ambitious, often married (or with a partner), etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but examples and stories from executives, academics, or other powerful women suggest that this issue is most fraught among women at the top.

Not all women (and I’d venture to say most) are trying to be the next CEO or tenure track professor but many are still faced with varying degrees of “choosing.” The onus is usually on the woman to arrange a career situation that will accommodate a family. For women who have a choice to take on “second tier” jobs (such as adjunct professor) still find themselves in much better positions than the vast majority of women. For single parents (like my late mother) choices become a precarious word.

These rallying cries for better job opportunities among extremely privileged women of reproductive age just aren’t getting me revved up even though I am one of them (doctoral student). It takes focus away from addressing cultural expectations about who should be responsible for raising children. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said in the TED video above, “we’ve made more progress in the workforce than we have at home.” This is true but we’re measuring career progress against male-established standards such as job position and type, pay, and advancement opportunities.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with this but there are other ways to measure progress in the work place.

What’s missing is the imperative to change cultural expectations for working fathers. When it comes to making gender progress in the child/home front, we can’t expect change without addressing the work front as well. Why is it that few jobs offer family leave for men? Why do men face greater stigma for leaving work to assist with childcare? Why are men expected to return to work almost immediately after their child is born? These are only a few concerning questions I’ve started to discuss with my husband recently.

I believe an increasing number of men, such as my husband, want to be more involved in raising children and worry about how to navigate a hostile and intimidating work culture toward family-oriented fathers. If we want our husbands and partners to take on more domestic or “traditionally female” roles (so we can focus on our careers), shouldn’t we (men and women) also advocate for structural changes in the workplace for men?