The Infantilization of Graduate School

I have a new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on parenthood and PhDs:

It is no surprise that an academic culture that infantilizes does not welcome infants.

In academia, pregnancy is often presented as a series of cautionary tales (dropout mom, jobless mom, adjunct mom); subterfuge (concealed bellies and furtive pumping); and questionable heroics (returning to teach immediately upon the baby’s arrival). Placating the prevailing structure—and emphasizing the sad fate of those who did not (or could not) do so—is part of doctoral indoctrination.

You may be a mom, but you are expected to behave like an obedient child.

Pregnant graduate students pose a problem to an academic culture that values “fit” above all else. While pregnancy may feel to the pregnant like bodily subservience, it is often viewed in academia as an unwelcome declaration of autonomy. Unlike your doubts and your grievances and your nonacademic backup plans, pregnancy is impossible to hide. A pregnant belly, insufficiently apologized for, sticks out like a middle finger to others’ expectations.

Wear it with pride. When you are too pregnant to lean in, “@#$% off” is not a bad option.

Academia’s anti-pregnancy animosity is often peddled as pragmatic advice. “In the Ivory Tower, Men Only,” intoned Mary Ann Mason in a widely-read 2013 article for Slate. “For men, having children is a career advantage. For women, it’s a career killer.”

Citing a Berkeley research study on academic parenthood, the article describes the victims of the “baby penalty”: promising female graduate students blacklisted by their advisors, brilliant female scholars consigned to work off the tenure track, search committees balking at a female candidate showing any hint of family life.

What the article failed to mention is that there are few academic careers left to be killed.

The greatest threat to getting an academic job is not a baby. It is the disappearance of academic jobs.

Read the whole thing here: Should I have a baby in graduate school?

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One Response to The Infantilization of Graduate School

  1. Aussa Lorens says:

    This is interesting, I would not have expected it to be that way with academia… sadly I think this is the case in a lot of fields.

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