Not 'news' to anyone here, I know, but scary article about motherhood and academia

(242 Posts)
MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 15:53:30

www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/06/female_academics_pay_a_heavy_baby_penalty.html?fb_ref=sm_fb_share_chunky

I thought this was interesting, though hardly surprising. I find it quite a big concern given how much research we're constantly being shown, that 'proves' women are all [insert stereotype here]. This article looking at why so many women don't progress in academia - and in particular why mothers don't - perhaps gives a good reason why we might take some research with a pinch of salt: it's largely done by men and childless women.

Trills Mon 17-Jun-13 16:09:05

Please can you explain your last sentence?

Why would research be more valid if it was carried out by women who have children, rather than by men (with or without children) and women who do not have children?

I wasn't aware that your gender or whether you have procreated affected your ability to do research.

badguider Mon 17-Jun-13 16:12:08

What research are we contantly shown about women are all.... [whatever]?
I have only seen genuine research that shows that to some extent on a population scale some traits are more associated with women than men but that in most cases the variation within each sex is greater than the difference (if any) between the sexes.

I know a lot of female researchers and don't believe that their research interests or ability changed after they have children (for those who did).

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:14:19

I didn't say it would be more valid, trills.

I said we might do well to be sceptical. Scepticism doesn't imply you dismiss the research out of hand, but that you think about its bias.

I think gender and procreation are most likely to affect the kind of research you do. I should probably have said this in my OP. But, I mean, I read about the sort of research people do, and very naturally, it is often informed by their own lives.

I'm not having a go at men or childless women, btw - I am a childless woman and a researcher - I just feel impoverished in not having enough colleagues who are women with children, TBH. I feel the spectrum of different perspectives I'd get from women with children would be valuable.

Trills Mon 17-Jun-13 16:14:22

Article about motherhood and academia - interesting.

Assertion that research is invalid because it's not carried out by mothers - ridiculous.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:16:56

bad - oh, I'm being sarcastic, but I mean the sort of stuff Simon Baron-Cohen does, which acknowledges he's talking about spectrums but rather undercuts the good intentions with the labels he uses.

I do think the media has a lot to do with it, but still, I think it would be good if more mothers were researching.

I also know a lot of female researchers. No, their interests didn't change (why would they?). But the point is that women with children are less likely to continue in academia. So looking at the ones who are still there is hardly the point, is it - because we don't know what the ones who ended up giving up on academia would have done.

Trills Mon 17-Jun-13 16:17:03

Maybe you are trying to say one thing and coming across as saying another.

I heard:
Men and childless women will come to the wrong conclusions when they ask questions that concern women with children
(I strongly disagree with this)

You may be saying:
There are questions that might not be asked in the first place, because men and childless women are less likely to think to investigate certain areas
(I can understand that)

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:17:59

trills, I have just clarified that I never said that.

If you had read my post, you would have seen I never said that.

I am not a mother. My research is valid.

I simply think it'd be nice to have more women with children in academia.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:19:22

Cross-post.

Erm, I think you will find if you read my post properly, I'm not 'trying' to say anything. You read it wrongly.

All I suggested was that we should be sceptical of the bias in research, given the social status of the researchers.

This is hardly a revolutionary statement. It does not mean 'research by non-mothers is invalid'.

PromQueenWithin Mon 17-Jun-13 16:31:17

Assertion that research is invalid because it's not carried out by mothers - ridiculous

That isn't what Malenky is saying. Is is valid to question a researcher's positionally.

It is also valid to question what the 'body of knowledge' might be missing because there is a bias against mothers in leading research positions.

Also, it is valid to wonder about the under-representation of anyone who isn't an educated, white male in research. Examining and judging research overall by the degree to which it represents the interests of the powerful is absolutely a valid thing to do.

Research isn't neutral, or at least it isn't unless you are a dyed in the wool positivist with a naive-realist viewpoint.

PromQueenWithin Mon 17-Jun-13 16:38:09

*positionality

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:40:21

I am very sorry I didn't phrase my OP better.

I really did me only what I said - we need to question what unconscious biases researches will have.

I would be sceptical of a study of (say) aboriginal AUS populations that was carried out entirely by white immigrants to Australia. As I think we all would? And of course, the earliest surveys will have been by white immigrants. And we learn to correct assumptions. But it is not possible to correct every single unconscious assumption, because try as we may, we won't recognize all of them. I know I don't.

My aunt told me about an interesting example a year or so ago. In my area of the country, people did a survey of working-class children to see how well-nourished they were. The survey asked what they had for dinner (the main meal). The children said, not much. The surveyors tried to question their assumptions and though, hmm, maybe over here, lunch is the main meal. So they asked that, and again the children said, we don't have much for lunch.

It didn't occur to them that round here, the main meal of the day is tea.

So they wrote up their report saying that these children were severely malnourished and it was going to result in all sorts of health issues down the line.

It's easy for us to see the flaws, but I think we can see why the researchers didn't, too. Ideally, you want researchers from as broad a spectrum of backgrounds as possible. So, I do feel it's valid to suggest we question research when we know a certain group isn't represented.

Hopefully, this may also motivated women who're mothers to see their perspective is something researchers are crying out for.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:40:58

I really did only me = I really did only mean

PromQueenWithin Mon 17-Jun-13 17:09:53

Malenky, you are much more patient than I at explaining!

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 17:12:25

I phrased my OP badly.

badguider Mon 17-Jun-13 19:40:07

I think this is interesting because I would entirely agree with you that research is affected by culture, class, gender etc of the main protagonists (not just researchers but funders and others).
But.... I'm not sure about making the same statements about the distinction between mothers and non-mothers. Mainly because ime female researchers choose their professional path, including research area and interests, on the whole, long before they consider if motherhood is for them. And also long before the true implications of motherhood on their career are clear.
That's why I mentioned earlier that those mothers I know who have stayed in active research have stuck entirely with the research they were doing before mat leave.
My experience is almost all in the sciences though where I think larger teams and projects make it harder for individual personal perspectives to have as much influence as maybe in the social sciences or humanities??

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 21:49:51

But bad, by definition, you can't know whether the mothers who didn't go on in academia would have fit the same pattern the mothers who did go on in academia did.

JacqueslePeacock Tue 18-Jun-13 00:45:08

As an academic and a new mother, this is depressing.

badguider Tue 18-Jun-13 09:23:38

No you can't know that. I agree.

But I'm not comfortable with equating "mother" with the kind of identity people are born with: race, class, culture etc.

"Mother" is a choice I made relatively late in life and not part of the web of invisible but important social and cultural influences I was born with or grew up with/in.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 09:29:43

It's a very interesting and depressing article, especially as I am an academic on my second mat leave right now. I do think that it is far worse in the states than here, though. And also far worse in humanities than sciences.

I am a scientist and struggling to see how my having babies could affect the nature of my work. That was decided years ago!

I am on the Athena Swan committee in my uni and there are great strides being made to retain and promote female scientists, because there is a financial incentive. I hear that the most unequal departments at my place (old RG) are no longer physics and engineering but history and English.

WoTmania Tue 18-Jun-13 09:32:30

out of curiosity - what happens whenyou ahve your children and then try to go back to academia?
I'm asking because a couple of my female friends plan to do this. I suspect they won't ever reach the level they would like or would have if they were men and just carried on from uni.

EightToSixer Tue 18-Jun-13 09:59:32

Ignoring the discussion of the representativeness of the research and focusing only on the issue of academia and motherhood.
It is a continual frustration to me than in my discipline (criminology) at a Russell Group university. There are
90% women at an undergraduate level
75% women at masters level
50% women at PhD level
80% women at lecturer level
0% women at Senior Lecturer, reader, professor level.

I was involved with the Athena Swan focus group yet despite these complaints being raised, we still managed to get a Silver Award overall. This, to me, isn't good enough, as there is a men's club at the higher level, with holidays away, bar nights etc that exclude all female members of staff where business decisions are made.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 10:00:04

In our place, WoT, they never will.

I believe there is some research showing that six months' leave does not adversely affect your career, but of you take a year or more you never reach the level you would have otherwise. I'm on mat leave so can't find it easily, but it makes sense to me. A year would leave me struggling to return, I think. I'm taking six months again.

badguider Tue 18-Jun-13 10:25:14

I think the main issue is that if you have a break for any reason your publications record will never look as good as somebody who hasn't so you'll loose out in the fight for positions (and positions are almost all temporary) this also affects your finding applications.

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 11:26:19

Another one here involved in Athena SWAN!

I bought this book but haven't read it yet apart from the sample chapter: Why so slow.

I've had two maternity leaves (9 months each) and am now working part-time. I publish enough but don't do conferences. I don't get promoted but it's not clear whether that's because of any bias or whether that's because I don't want to be. Can't quite see what's in it for me - now I'm doing exactly what I want. Why should I get more stuff dumped on me? So it's not clear if I'm letting the side down ...

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