Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason

Pillay, Venitha  “Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason”, Gender and Education, Vol. 21,  No 5, 2009, pp. 501-515.

Pillay’s article on academic women is challenging and inspiring. She is seeking, inquiring into structures, limits, spaces, concepts, epistemologies and research methods. She is definitely pointing in the right direction.

Pillay´s approach claims that mothering should not be constrained, adapted or  fitted into academic life as an attachment belonging to a woman’s private life that needs to be publicly resolved. Rather the opposite: mothering should have a space, a value in academic life, because it brings with it ways of thinking that are not necessarily rational, logical and unemotional.  I completely agree with the author’s statement that oppositional identities such as those of the academic and the mother need to be reconciled  “to seek wholeness” (p. 502).

The author rightly points out that when women joined academia they did it under the principle of equality and non-discrimination. However, in order not to be discriminated against we need to behave as a man, live the life of a man and confine our family to our exclusively private sphere. In this understanding, academic women in USA campaigned for daycare centres and maternity leave, as if such institutional help would contribute to resolving the problem . However – and taking into account the experiences of other countries that provide maternity leave and daycare centers – this is not the case, as revealed by the Association of University Teachers, whose study conducted in 2000 found that on average female academics earn 15% less than their male colleagues

That means that even if academic women succeed in getting institutional support for a family life they will still be discriminated against on other grounds and for other reasons.

Pillay suggests that women’s tendency to be loving, caring, supportive and emotional can play a role in this, but she thinks that instead of trying to change this we should fight for all parts of ourselves to be included in our academic life. I agree that if we can teach, research and write from our sense of wholeness as mothers, lovers, lesbians, heterosexuals, etc. it is very likely that our writing, our teaching and our lives would benefit a great deal. Pillay is advocating is that we “carry our motherhood in our intellectual selves”. This is a very challenging proposal for which we have no guidance, but hopefully we can start working out some ideas.


3 responses to “Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason

  1. Pingback: Women in academia | maternalselves

  2. In a few short weeks, I will formally abandon my time in academia in large part because I can not comfortably carry my motherhood in my intellectual self. In some ways I am sad, but in others I feel liberated. Still, I am ashamed to abandon the fight before I ever really got started (I’m in the early stages of a Masters/PhD). However, I hope to carry it on in my own way and on my own terms while supporting the amazing women I leave behind. So happy you are one of them!

    • I felt a bit like that when I moved from a full-time permanent position to a part-time contract in another University. However, I think that writing and researching can be done outside the university, as far as you find some sort of affiliation and support. Maybe it is not the right time for you, but maybe in a couple of years you will be back full of energy and ideas. Maybe you will find your own way in this world through other activities.. who knows.. There are amazing women all over the places, no matter what they do, and a woman that is able to stop what she’s doing and say -” What a minute, maybe this is not the right thing for me at this moment”- is but all means amazing and very very brave !

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