Roughly one month ago, I wrote a post that highlighted some of the professional costs associated with having children during one’s graduate career and argued that these costs, in conjunction with some of the potential impacts on the children’s welfare, provided good reasons for (if possible) waiting to have children until after completing one’s graduate career. Admittedly, even if there are some prima facie reasons to delay child-rearing, a number of readers pointed out potential issues that I had not adequately addressed. (The topic was undoubtedly too broad to cover in meager 1100 words.)
The post turned out to be rather polarizing. Thus, after some helpful correspondence with readers (particularly Nora Berenstein, Jennifer Szende, Ben Almassi, and Heidi Lockwood), I have posted two follow ups. This one elucidates and addresses the concerns about gender-insensitivity; the other one clarifies some of my original points and addresses several others not discussed in the original post.
To motivate the topic of this post, consider a comment one professor sent me in a detailed private message: “I think a lot of your points are just obviously true. But I don't think they are things that need to be said, and I think that expressing them in the way that you have has harmful effects which land disproportionately on women (among those who are in the situation you describe).” Now this doesn’t mean everyone felt like the basic content of the original post was right: as the second follow up suggests, the central claim was quite controversial. Rather the point is that the presentation of this point of view, even if the underlying claims are true, has some undesirable effects.
Specifically, my remarks did not acknowledge a catch-22 that female philosophers often confront: If they conceive a child during graduate school, people will accuse them of not taking your graduate studies seriously enough; conversely, if they delay having a child until their first professional appointment, they’ll be perceived as not taking their job seriously enough. This dilemma doesn’t meaningfully confront male philosophers because their family choices are rarely held to the same level of scrutiny as women’s family choices. The scrutiny can be severe enough that there may be good reason not to mention motherhood when applying for jobs in philosophy. In this larger context, my post maybe perceived as one example of the more general problem of men explaining things: the points mentioned aren’t particularly novel, and it seems condescending to suggest that female readers wouldn’t consider the obvious effects of such an important decision on their personal and professional lives. The problem of mansplaining is far more widespread than most might suspect, so this concern is not one that should be ignored or underestimated.
While none of this is consistent with the message I intended to send in the original post or related discussion, messages can obviously detrimental impacts whether or not they are intentionally sent. Nevertheless, I don’t think this should prevent the discussion from moving forward in a more positive direction. At least two broader questions arise from the concerns raised about the original post. First, what disadvantages do female philosophers face with regard to work-life balance that male philosophers do not? And second, what are some strategies for overcoming these obstacles?
While there are at least two blogs (here and here) devoted heavily to these and related issues, nothing prevents us from discussing them here. In fact, we’ve already had some discussion of the Gendered Conference Campaign and the related debate on Leiter Reports. These kinds of conversations need to continue so we can make further progress on recognizing and correcting these problems.