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.


2 thoughts on “On Being a Philosopher and Mother

  1. Any young academic could benefit from reading these stories.

    I have to confess I felt a little uneasy about what might be vaguely suggested. It looks as though having children is the basic problematic fact. However, there are other ways that a female philosopher can find herself in very demanding non-academic roles. Some of these can involve other kinds of caretaking, and others might involve chronic illness, domestic problems or life-long disabilities. Still others might involve,for example, the fact that genuine creativity may not manifest itself consistently, or in accord with the standard academic timelines.

    It might be worth querying at a deeper level whether there are tensions between philosophy and its professionalization.

  2. […] Via Feminist Philosophers, this essay entitled: “Making a Place for the Other: A Letter to My Daughter” by Janet A. Kourany of the University of Notre Dame, via the Fall 2007 APA Newsletter. Below is an excerpt: … I have frequently heard from people in commuting relationships that their colleagues are amazingly insensitive. These colleagues simply ignore the problems in a commuting relationship and act as though everything about it is fine. But colleagues cannot know the problems unless we tell them. At my old university, for example, I had been criticized by a colleague because I took off Winter Quarter to be with your father and taught Summer Quarter instead (when he could be with me). But, the colleague pointed out, there were heavy committee responsibilities during Winter Quarter and none to speak of during the summer. So, he concluded, I had an easier situation than anyone else, and it was unfair. Had I tried to make clear to my colleague the difficulties of being separated from your father during the entire academic year, year in and year out, how no one else in the Department faced such difficulties but me, and how shirking committee responsibilities was the farthest thing from my mind, he might have withdrawn his criticism. Similarly, had I let my new colleagues at Dad’s university know how few rewards came with my adjunct appointment, at least some of them might have come to my aid. Indeed, when I finally did so, some of them did. […]

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