On Being a Philosopher and Mother

The new APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy is out, and it contains a fascinating collection of essays, edited by Sharon Crasnow, on the experience of combining life as a professional philosopher and life as a mother.  Crasnow writes in her introduction:

By now everyone is well aware that women struggle in the academic world, as they do in many demanding professions; and that struggle seems to be pretty strongly correlated with family. The 2002 Berkeley study by Mason and Goulden indicates that family has a significant negative effect on the persistence and success of women in academia. The causal chain works in the other direction as well. Women who are successful are significantly less likely to have children, more likely to have only one if they do, and more likely to divorce or to separate from their partners. Perhaps your conversations with other women or your own experiences in the profession have indicated to you that this statistical story has a face and voice within philosophy. These papers tell that story to some extent, but they do more than that because these women are philosophers. They have not only lived these experiences but the experiences have been shaped by and have shaped their philosophical concerns, and their philosophical interests have in turn shaped their understanding of their circumstances.

As you read these papers you will find the details of the stories very different from each other. These stories suggest that there are many ways to put together a life in philosophy. This, in itself, is a refreshing change from the idea that there might be only one way to do this. For instance, women are often told, “Don’t have children till you have tenure” or “Never get pregnant in graduate school.” But these papers indicate that there are many ways to construct one’s life, though it is also clear that choices are rarely made without some costs. In some of these papers you may be struck more by the costs, in others, more by the benefits. One revealing theme that emerges is that the costs were frequently unanticipated, but, perhaps surprisingly, so were the benefits.