It’s not all about babies – or is it?

Some recent discussions on women’s issues – the non-child-bearing kind – have made me a little bit uncomfortable. While I applaud efforts to talk about women’s issues in a broader sense (and I think Miss Hermi is quite the awesome blogging monktress for organizing these discussions), I couldn’t help but notice some animosity towards the topic of family babies. A few of the commenters even suggested that they avoided seminars/meetings about women’s issues because this topic might come up. Maybe I’m extra sensitive right now because a female grad student recently asked why I got an “entire office” to myself to pump in. (I mean, are you kidding me? Was I supposed to share the office with several other [male] postdocs and grad students? Or was I to be relegated to the broom closet for my milk-making duties? Perhaps the barn out back?) Whether or not this female grad student ever chooses to have kids, did it occur to her that my having an office to pump in ensured that she also would be treated fairly when her own issues, female or otherwise, arose? So I had to write something up on this topic to clear my head. (If you’re not quite on board yet, just bear with me a few paragraphs before clubbing me in the comments. 🙂

Let’s face it – men didn’t decide thousands of years ago to disenfranchise females just for the fun of it.* Women had a hard time keeping up because they were weighed down (literally) by their wombs and womb-products. At some later point in human history, the idea surfaced that women were only good for two things: making baby boys who will grow up to be men and do real stuff, and making baby girls who will eventually be able to make more baby boys. Fast forward a few thousand years – past the advent of women’s suffrage, fair hiring practices, a myriad of birth control options – and the baby issue remains. Whether or not they plan to have children, women are often viewed as the ones who could get themselves preggos. We’re soft and fuzzy and nurturing, so we can’t possibly be as hard-core as our male counterparts. We’re bitchy when we assert ourselves instead of smiling and curtseying. We’re subjected to harassment in the workplace because we’re viewed as sex objects rather than intelligent human beings. We’re told we can’t pursue careers in STEM fields and have a family.** Women’s issues, in one way or another, revolve around the uterus and it’s baby-making abilities.

But, then again, maybe the animosity is due to the manner in which women’s issues are dealt. I was told countless times before having the Monkey that I would want/need tons of time off. More surprisingly, these comments often came from men, as well as women who had NOT had children. Did it ever occur to these people that I didn’t WANT tons of time off? Sure, I wanted to be able to heal, and I’m currently working fewer hours than I did before having kids. But hellooooo – why the hell does it have to be the woman doing all the child-rearing work? Hubby has taken off almost as much time as I to care for Monkey, including three weeks after I went back to work full-time. Daycare has helped tremendously – not only allowing Hubby and I to both return to work, but also with resolving some of the Monkey’s sleep issues (our daycare workers are worth their weight in GOOOOLD). And I have a breast pump (and office) so that Monkey can get the best nutrition possible when I’m not physically with him.

Of course, this all centers around the fact that my husband, his place of employment, and my mentor all valued and protected our decision to start a family. If we had chosen to adopt, if we left to care for ailing parents, if we took extended leave due to medical issues, the same level of consideration would have been provided.*** So maybe the better discussion, above and beyond pure women’s issues, is how to de-k3rn science (and work in general) so that we all have time for family. Let’s talk about men taking more time off to care for their children. Let’s find ways for women who have children to stay as productive as their male counterparts when they NEED to take more time off. And let’s talk about this in the framework of giving ALL workers the ability to stay productive while also having a life that doesn’t revolve around work.

Maybe it’s pie in the sky, but I genuinely believe that once women are not just SEEN as equals in the workplace, but actually ARE equals, many of these other issues will dissipate.

*Or maybe they did, but I’m thinking the uterus probably had something to do with it.

**This happens for many, if not all, young women in some form or fashion. Instead, we should be telling them they can do whatever they put their minds to, just like I was told while growing up.

***Due to the Family Medical Leave Act


7 thoughts on “It’s not all about babies – or is it?

  1. I think a lot of women get exasperated by baby issues because in 'real life', people expectantly wait for you to fill the vacancy in your uterus while in academia your gestation is treated like a timebomb.

    It's like having to talk about a movie you're not interested in 24/7, but you just end up hating everything about it in general.

    Just my $0.02 ^^

  2. I obviously have a lot of opinions on this, since I have ranted at length on my blog about it, and just left an overly long comment at the Hermitage.

    I think that anti-mother discrimination is one of the last ways it is still socially acceptable to be a sexist, so the supposed incompatibility of a demanding career with motherhood has gotten blown up into this giant cultural meme and it scares the crap out of women who are ambitious AND want kids, so they go looking for role models to show them that they can have both a demanding career and kids (and there are heaps, but no one will say it is easy, and everyone keeps saying it is impossible, so the women keep looking….)

    At the same time, women who don't want kids see this anti-mother stuff and think “hey, that shouldn't apply to me! I don't want kids!” and go about trying to convince everyone that they, at least, should be treated as equals. But it backfires- because no one believes that they won't have kids, so they are still treated as a ticking womb time bomb. And in the act of loudly proclaiming that they can be just as work-driven as their male peers because they aren't having any kids, they have played right into the sexists' hands, who can now point at all of these women who agree with them- having a demanding career is incompatible with kids.

    It is sad, really, because you CAN have a demanding career and kids (says the woman who tried to practice her job talk on her sick toddler yesterday)… but it IS hard. The thing is, it is hard to have kids without a demanding career, too. And it is hard to have a demanding career without kids. Choose your poison, you know?

  3. Dr. O

    Your post is great. However, I am currently too enraged by the comments from your grad student to formulate a proper comment. Must… breath…

    Ok. I'm ready.

    Although I get what Hermi is saying, the fact of the matter is that a giant barrier for women in academia/industry/[insert demanding career here] IS the subject surrounding pregnancy/childbirth/child rearing. Yes, as woman, it is important to find ways to present yourself as a strong, smart, and valuable component to your institution, especially in places where the good ol' boys club makes it an uphill battle. However, part of the reason (if not the entire reason) why these good ol' boys have a considerably chauvinistic attitude is because they are of the mindset that a woman belongs at home with the children. Not because they can (sometimes) bench press more than us.

    I say, making child/family life a major part of the discussion helps to address the root of the problem. It is important that everyone realizes the importance of procreation and that they, themselves, could not be in existence without it. And, that it is unfair to place women in categories that prevent them from being mothers and scientists (successful ones at that).

    We have actually come pretty far compared to our scientific XX predecessors (see But, there is certainly some room to grow.

    Back to your grad student – it's funny that you should mention that she is a female. Actually, the only smack I got while pregnant was from a female as well. My personal opinion is that she is either completely oblivious to life or is absolutely jealous. But, to ease her mind, you should totally sit at her desk while you pump over a cup of tea (awkward!). Maybe then she will understand that the privacy is for both you and your co-workers…

  4. What gets me is that people can't have compassion and understanding for each other, but expect to receive it in spades. If we, as women, can't get over the children vs. non-children, stay-at-home vs. working, breastfeeding vs. formula, etc, etc, etc. BS, how can we expect our male counterparts too?

  5. @Hermi – I also really get what you're saying…really. Which is why I brought up the idea of talking about family as an issue for all workers instead of just women here. Two points to take away from this that I didn't really elaborate on in the post (hmmm – this might have to be a post of its own):

    1. As a mom, there's a knee-jerk reaction when other women speak negatively of babies as a women's issue; it just comes down harder on us when it's from a woman. I remember watching an interview (on 60 Minutes or 20/20 – can't remember), with a “feminist” who basically berated all women who chose to let their family come before their career. It irritated the hell out of me that what she had fought so hard, evidently for what concerned her and not all women. That's not really a feminist in my mind.

    2. The whole point of the women's movement was to ensure women had choices. Without putting the baby factor into the equation, you can't have this conversation. Some women will choose birth control and no children; others will choose to start a family. Neither should have that choice taken away. When the choice to start a family AND have a career is in jeopardy, the choice of no children is also at risk, as you will always be seen as a woman who could get pregnant and destroy your career with a baby. It's in ALL our interests as women to make sure BOTH choices are protected.

  6. Pingback: Work-life balance and other silly stuff | The Tightrope

  7. Pingback: Work-life balance and other silly stuff | The Tightrope

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