Professor/mother: the uneasy partnership

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Author: Ruth Panofsky
Date: Jan. 2007
From: Femspec(Vol. 8, Issue 1-2)
Publisher: Femspec
Document Type: Essay
Length: 3,826 words

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Of all the professions, that of university teaching is the one in which women have the least number of children; this is unsatisfactory if women professors are to be able to live as full a life as anyone else.

--Cited in Dagg and Thompson (84)

My entry to the academy and motherhood was almost simultaneous and not altogether easy. I completed a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature in 1991, a time when there were few annual j ob postings across the North American academy. I was fortunate, however, in obtaining a post-doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Hence, I settled into a position at the University of Toronto, my host institution, and tried not to think beyond tenure of the fellowship.

The future beckoned, however, as I entered my thirties and soon realized, in spite of career uncertainty, that the time may have arrived for me to consider motherhood, which I had delayed until completion of the doctorate. One year later, in 1992, I had given birth to a son and had taken a one-year maternity leave, which thereby extended the postdoctoral fellowship over three years rather than the usual two.

This essay charts a circuitous route toward a tenure-stream position, a route made arduous by a harsh economy and the demands of motherhood experienced for the first time and outside the relative security of tenured academe. It offers a personal narrative that describes the difficulty of continuing one's research and creative work; marginal employment as adjunct faculty; and the conflicting desire to spend time first with one infant, and later a second. The essay will show that motherhood, when combined with working conditions that arise out of what Nadya Aisenberg and Mona Harrington define as a "straitened job market" (134) can lead to marginalization within the academy. As my own case will demonstrate, success is possible--though never easy and achieved at some price--when one has the support of family, friends, and colleagues and can avail oneself of academic opportunities that arise.

As Nancy Hensel notes, all women--"have a difficult time in the work force because it has not sufficiently adjusted to accommodate the special needs of women.... The career cycle has not adjusted to allow time for childbearing [when] the conflict between work and femaleness becomes most intense" (5). The apparent flexibility of an academic career might make it attractive to women, most of whom seek to balance work and family responsibilities. Indeed, an "academic career ought to lend itself to combining motherhood and work. The hours are flexible, the job is reasonably autonomous, and for many faculty there is time off during the summer and holidays" (4-5).

Lotte Bailyn, however, recognizes the paradoxical nature of an academic career:

Despite its advantages of independence and flexibility, it is psychologically difficult. The lack of ability to limit work, the tendency to compare oneself primarily to the exceptional giants in one's field, and the high incidence of overload make it particularly difficult for academics to find...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Panofsky, Ruth. "Professor/mother: the uneasy partnership." Femspec, vol. 8, no. 1-2, Jan. 2007, pp. 65+. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A225794006