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Mothers in Academia

Mothers in Academia

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Read the introduction to MOTHERS IN ACADEMIA, "Speaking Truth to Power to Change the Ivory Tower," by Mari Castaneda and Kirsten Isgro.
Read the introduction to MOTHERS IN ACADEMIA, "Speaking Truth to Power to Change the Ivory Tower," by Mari Castaneda and Kirsten Isgro.

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Published by: Columbia University Press on May 06, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Speaking Truth to Power to Change the Ivory Tower
Mari Castañeda and Kirsten Isgro
in the autumn o 2000 in western Massachusetts, when both o uswere embarking on new academic journeys: Mari was beginning her frstproessorial job resh out o graduate school (a Chicana rom the Universityo Caliornia–San Diego), with a fve-year-old son in tow, and Kirsten wasreturning to her doctoral studies ater a decade-long hiatus rom graduateschool. Mari relocated her amily rom Los Angeles, and Kirsten relocatedrom Vermont with her partner o fve years and her aging dog. Both o usbecame parents while in graduate school, albeit with a fteen-year age gapand at dierent points o our lives. Like most o us who become parents, wedid not ully anticipate the delight, exhaustion, intense love, ambivalence,and distress that come with raising a child.It is not coincidental that this project was spawned at a time when notionso motherhood were once again being contested at the turn o the twenty-frst century. In 2004, Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels’s witty and con-troversial book
The Mommy Myth
came out, quickly becoming a best-seller. As communication scholars, we ound this book incredibly useul in its criti-cal assessment o the cultural representations o mothers in the media. This“new momism,” as Douglas and Michaels call it, “is a set o ideals, norms,and practices, most requently and powerully represented in the media, thatseem on the surace to celebrate motherhood, but which in reality promul-gate standards o perection that are beyond your reach” (5). How does thismomism aect women proessionally, especially those o us who have cho-sen careers in higher education? For many o the authors who contributedto this anthology, lie as a parent and as an employee in institutes o higher
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education—in various positions—is complicated, with both productive andcontradictory tensions.This “new momism” closely ollowed the media-ueled “mommy wars”between stay-at-home mothers and mothers who work outside o the home. Women compose 47 percent o the total U.S. labor orce, 73 percent (ap-proximately 66 million women) o whom are working ull-time (U.S. De-partment o Labor 2010). Moreover, the participation o mothers in the la-bor orce has risen over the past twenty-fve years. As o 2008, more than 60percent o mothers are working outside the home or paid wages (U.S. Con-gress Joint Economic Committee 2010). In U.S. academia more specifcally,women compose nearly 50 percent o the workorce, and o that populationit is estimated that more than 65 percent are working mothers. In otherwords, many women working at colleges and universities across the countryare also parenting. These percentages not surprisingly correspond with theshiting demographics in higher-education institutions, where emale stu-dents compose almost 60 percent o all students in the United States and 47 percent worldwide (United Nations Educational, Scientifc and CulturalOrganization 2002). Indeed, the emerging workorce changes anticipatedor the twenty-frst century inspired the publication o several books aimedat addressing the ongoing struggle o work–lie balance or women. As morewomen graduated with college degrees, the challenge o becoming a su-permom and superemployee has dominated the literary conversation since2000 and has since become a central theme especially or women with pro-essional white-collar careers (A. Crittenden 2001; Hewlett 2002; Mason andEkman 2007; Stone 2007a, 2007b).The ideal o the supermom-employee-student is especially poignant inacademia, where the existence o exible schedules as well as extendedwinter and summer breaks creates the misinormed assumption that thedemands o the academy are compatible with the demands o parenting.However, the bureaucratic, hierarchal, and swelling expectations that char-acterize so many institutions o higher learning make it difcult to maintaina orty-hour work schedule, even in the summer. Academics and proession-al university/college sta oten work overtime week ater week. In addition,the dierent institutional structures and gradations o aculty/sta positionsplace uneven and inequitable burdens on workers, which are increas-ingly evident in the blogosphere discussions about working conditions inacademia. There are vast dierentiations between two-year, our-year, anddoctoral public and private colleges and universities that impact the risingstandards or aculty members employed as adjuncts, lecturers, instructors,
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