March 04, 2003

O brave new world

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education's online Colloquy, there is a discussion of maternity and academic leave policies. It's the kind of thing that makes me feel nostalgic for the Catholicism from which I have lapsed.

The level of hostility toward mothers is disturbing. The fact that it is coming from self-identified feminists doubly so. I have always been one to refute the popular notion of feminism as anti-family and anti-mother. I may have to rethink my position.

Some respondents are taking a hard line: "I'm taking the hard line approach on this one. Having kids is a choice, not a 'right.'" Others concur. Since having babies is now a choice, women should make the choice of planning wisely to carefully time their pregnancies around the academic schedule: "It seems to me that if employees want special 'perks' for having a baby, then they should
be responsible enough to schedule their baby having time, with their department." For at least one respondent, the only responsible choice is to "use birth control" and not have children at all: when some women choose to have babies, she maintains, it creates problems for the "more responsible" women to choose not to.
The unintended consequences of the rhetoric of "choice" in the area of reproduction?

An "old-fashioned feminist" finds it "refreshing" to read the vitriol that is directed against mothers. When some women attack other women for having children, apparently this means we are all freed from having to "follow the script of wife and mother that biology and cultural expectation [once] forced on [us]." We are all free to choose, but there is only one free choice that is compatible with freedom.

Or perhaps women should be "forced to be free"? Some of the respondents seem to think so.

"Naysayer" takes an even harder line, and one that can only be described as loony: "Precious grant money should not wasted on those whose interest is primarily in that which is grunted forth from their own loins." No middle ground here: it is a question of the production of valuable work in one's specialty versus the reproduction ("grunting forth") of a "brat" (uh, that would be a human being) who is without value: "Too many child-free graduate students are in supply, who would rather dedicate their time and energy in cultivating the pool of knowledge in their area of research, rather than first letting brats suckle from their breasts, and then doing the work they were trained to do--the work in which hundreds of thousands of dollars wree invested in them, to produce." If a professor wants to drop out of the "rat race" to become a "breeder," that is fine with Naysayer: let's "drop the no-longer-dedicated, entitlement-minded lump of uselessness" who is no longer behaving like a rat in a maze. Naysayer, who apparently has some issues with the female body, wants women to "Grow some balls," the growth of which would help them to "realize what a drain these entitlement moo-cows are on acedemia." Uh, this is in reference to those "breeders" who had left the rat race and who were thus no longer asking the academy for any sort of "perks" or "entitlements." But why worry over details? The main point in this muddle of unfocused rage and misdirected resentment is clear enough to see, and it is not a pretty picture.

At this point, I am almost ready to run back into the arms of Mother Church.

A recurrent theme: since the university does not provide any support or assistance for the academic who would like to take some time off to sail around the world, then the university should not provide any support or assistance for the academic who would like to take some time off to have and care for an infant. Apparently, the bringing of a child into the world, and the bringing up of that child within this world, is no longer to be viewed as an important aspect in the task of caring for the world. It is rather to considered an entirely self-directed and self-oriented pursuit that at no point should impinge on or inconvenience any other self. A purely private and individual choice, and a choice that is now defined as a kind of self-indulgence. The choice to move from the position of an unencumbered self (the childless or childfree self) to that of an encumbered self (the self who must also care for another self) is now viewed as the ultimate form of selfishness.

O brave new world, that has no people in it!

Forget past, present and future: the past is over, the future is history, and it is all me all the time, and all in an eternal present. This must be, if not the final, then the penultimate phase in the progress of nihilism.

Did I mention that I am feeling a little bit homesick for the Church?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at March 4, 2003 02:17 PM

I am currently living in a gen x baby boom in south Hobart, including myself... but my point

the church??? no kids??? academe???

considering that academics used to be celibant types the call to have women choose between kids and a career is a time honoured church supported measure

going back to the church for support for child-rearing (especially considering the church did not recognise marriage until the 13th cent or so, and only then to acquire land women wanted to donate) is ridiculuous, especially when the bottom line is the same choice, except its none, have kids, or have kids, or be a nun and do what the hierarchy tells you (Mother Teresa/ hildgaard von bingen exceptions aside)

Posted by: meika von samorzewski at April 8, 2003 12:39 AM

Yes, I suppose it would be rather ridiculous of me to propose a return to a premodern world in which women had no choices. However, I made no such proposal. I was being a little bit wistful but mostly ironic.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 8, 2003 01:05 AM