Monday, March 17, 2008

Hey Career Woman - Hurry Up And Have A Baby!

Penelope Trunk of the Boston Globe has an important message for women – if you want kids, then you best get busy. Your biological clock is ticking. And don’t worry about that career – you’ll have time for it later.

Well, Ms Trunk, first, we career women are all painfully aware of the fact that our biological clocks are ticking. And we know better than to believe those who say “Oh, you still have time for kids later”. But while the field of journalism may be such that you can make your career happen long after your little ones have entered school, not every woman has the same opportunity. In my field – academic philosophy - for example, it is necessary to obtain one’s degree as quickly as possible since this makes it more likely that you will obtain a tenure track position. And believe me, it’s not easy being in a field that is over 70% male. They don’t give you special treatment. The fact that you got married and had a baby doesn’t impact their thoughts when they look at your CV. In fact, in some departments you have to work twice as hard as your male colleagues to even gain their recognition as an equal. Now, if you manage to get a tenure track position (difficult even for males in this field), you then have five years to publish, publish, publish so that you can get tenured. The tenure clock starts ticking the instant you take up your position. During this time you are also expected to teach a full load and perform all the nasty grunt administration tasks that the tenured faculty don’t want to deal with (like directing the undergraduates). This is not easy to do even without young children. And while some universities will stop the tenure clock for women who are having children, there is no guarantee that you'll be able to get a job at one of those universities. You have to take what you can get in this field. Finally, if you live through all this and manage to get tenured, you are now in a position to start a family. Best case scenario, after a four year BA, 5 years post graduate and a 5 year tenure clock, you’re 32. And that's really a best case scenario.

I’m not saying that the world of academic philosophy is any harder than any other career path. That’s just the point. Women face the same sort of challenges in the sciences, in the legal world and in the business world. So what you’re telling us, Ms. Trunk, is that we have to choose. We have to pick between having children and fulfilling our dreams. We already knew that we were likely to face this choice, unless we could manage to somehow be superwomen (and some women do.) But we shouldn’t have to choose. So rather than wasting your time telling us we have to make this choice, Ms. Trunk, perhaps you should be using your position as a journalist to make it clear how unfair the choice is in the first place.

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