Motherhood in U.S. Academe: How the Presence of Women Disrupts the Ideal Worker Model in Colleges and Universities
AbstractIn this article, I consider the myth of the ideal worker and the consequences of that myth for mothers. Behind the constant juggling necessary to be successful professionally as an academic mother is the unstated assumption that a woman’s caregiving role should be her primary, essential commitment, and women graduate students and early-career academics have to think strategically about how family fits into the institution of academe. Rendering invisible the whole-person needs of workers, but especially women and mothers, academe assumes an ideal worker unencumbered by family or other life constraints. My interviews with tenured women academic sociologists provide an institutional standpoint for understanding workplace needs of parents. Towards positive change, university policies must be coupled with department and colleague support because workplace climates are experienced by individuals at an intersection of institutional policies and interpersonal interactions. Colleagues must not be expected to “take up the slack” for mothers asking for time off for family leave; nor should departmental intransigence be allowed to interrupt an administration’s efforts to institute flexible policies. There is positive potential in mothers’ increased visibility in academe, but it will only be realized through active public support from colleagues and administrators, alike.
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