Monday, August 18, 2008

Can a Mama be a PhD? Can a PhD also be a Mama?

I still remember the day my principal asked to read the final project for my Masters program. She told me how impressed she was and how much she had loved reading it. I glanced around me to make sure no one was within earshot in the school hallway and then confided, "I enjoyed the research." She laughed out loud and said, "I knew you would!"

When Mothertalk offered me a chance to read and review Mama PhD, I checked my mailbox eagerly for the advance copy. I knew I could share experiences with the professorial moms with essays in this collection, even though my "campus" is a fourth grade classroom.



Mama, PhD is not gender neutral, nor should it be. The women represented in this collection of essays have faced challenges because of their gender: because they were pregnant, because they were breastfeeding, because they were chief caregivers for their babies and children. The university teaching life is not designed for adaptations and accommodations. Its structure is strict, based on goals and requirements that in many cases were set up decades ago with men in mind.

Four sections sort the essays by focus and theme. "The Conversation" discusses a common dilemma: to have or not to have children. Essays in "That Mommy Thing" gather around balancing motherhood and work, specifically academic work. Part three, "Recovering Academic", is the shortest of the four with stories of those who have left the fold, while "Momifesto" finishes the book.


The contributors to Mama, PhD write with clarity and passion. Essays are easy to follow, and despite (or perhaps due to) the advanced degrees of the writers, easy to understand. Emotions are never far below the surface; readers will feel the pain and the divisiveness the writers encounter.


The collection of essays relates the personal stories underlying the statistics: families affected by discrimination and bias. This makes reading Mama PhD both difficult and rewarding. I felt for the moms who couldn't bend their families to meet academia's rigidity, and I cheered for those who could bend academia to work for their families. I commiserated with those who struggled to find balance and ultimately gave up their careers for their families or decided not to have children in order to maintain their academic careers. Even as I identified with each writer, I found myself glad to be in K-12 public education rather than a higher level of teaching. Union representation helps avoid some of the pitfalls these mothers suffered. I get recognition when I publish, but the publish or perish pressure isn't in my job description. Teaching effectively can be my focus and my sole accomplishment.

I hope that Mama, PhD will spread the word through the bastions of higher education: policies that marginalize women also marginalize our children, our future, and our present. The glass ceiling is cracking in the business world; the marble ceiling has shattered, but gender equity hasn't cracked the ivory tower yet.



I received an advance copy of this book to review it for Mothertalk. I do not plan to keep it; I know it'll make the rounds of my colleagues at school!

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3 Comments:

Blogger Mrs. Mogul said...

I think it will get better for women. I wish I had time to read the book. too busy!

8/18/2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I know a couple of women for whom this would be pertinent; I'll tell them.

(Also? If we want books to survive, we all have to start making time to read them! I'm getting weary of hearing people say they're too busy to read. Books will vanish, if this keeps up. And I don't really think any of us wants that, do we? So tell the kids to go play on their own, and spend some time reading for yourself. They really don't need us as much as we think they do. They also don't need to be in a 1000 activities that require us to shuttle them every where.

Books are an endangered species. We need to take steps to protect them!

OK, off my high horse now.)

8/18/2008 10:44 AM  
Blogger margalit said...

This mama has a PhD and worked in academia for 10 years. I saw men get promoted into jobs that women were more qualified for time and time again. There is no gender equity in academia that I'm aware of, but again, there is also a great deal of difficulty being hired as a white Jewish male at Harvard. They just don't exist anymore. Really.

8/18/2008 1:40 PM  

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