Tenured Radical has a post up about saying no to excess work in academe. It's a good post. I liked it, with the exception of the tiny little part where she writes:
If any attention is called by those who are working hardest to those who are making themselves unavailable, shrieks about academic freedom, child care, and commuting rend the land (despite the great number of people with small children, or who are in commuting relationships, who do manage to come to work.) At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I'll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream.
The implication, of course, is that it is the parents who are not pulling their weight (yes, I know she says earlier that most parents do come to work, but it is still parents who are the problem in this paragraph). This opinion is not limited to TR (who, in the comments, seems to feel less that it is parents actually not doing the work and more that she should be able to suggest, for the purpose of her argument, that it is parents not doing the work). Almost anyone, parent or not, has heard this idea in the workplace. Parents very often volunteer to take early-morning classes specifically to avoid being perceived as someone asking for special favors, though I've had colleagues who have had special arrangements made so that they could go home to care for their pet (which, by the way, is fine with me - but I think it's interesting that there is not a chorus, in these cases, of "why should I have to do your work so that you can go home to walk the dog?"). Or, as TR mentions, the commuters; I had a colleague once who lived a good hour outside of town. Had she been allowed to leave early to miss rush hour, we would have had to work later. (I was happy to do this, by the way, but she was not allowed to do so.)
In bringing in one of her reasons not to have a child, TR also trots out the old, I-made-the-choice-not-to-do-this-but-you-made-the-choice-to-do-it-so-why-should-I-have-to-accomodate-you-in-any-way? This is a common response to those of us struggling to balance parenting and working out of the home. I have been surprised at the vehemence with which people I would think would otherwise be sensitive feminists respond to this issue.
Don't be fooled. The issue is not that a few parents make a big deal out of needing to rush home to pick up little Johnny and therefore can't make a committee meeting. The issue is that, in academe, as in many other places, we are crabs in a barrel. We know, as TR has pointed out, that if one of us is working less than the others, someone else will have to work more to make up for this slacking. And so we watch carefully to see who is doing what and who is excusing what.
It isn't fair that parents get special consideration for their children's needs when others who need special consideration for a host of other needs don't get it. It's also not fair that mothers in academe are mostly adjuncts because academe isn't a place that accomodates mothers. Too bad, right? Guess we should have thought of that and elected either not to have children or found another profession. But I don't accept this response - I think we have a responsibility to change the system. Academic parents - largely mothers, I would hazard a guess - have forced the beginnings of a change in academe by at least making the problems of balancing academic work and parenting public. The literature itself has become a new field of study. People are paying attention to these issues, and while we have not necessarily made great strides - I can think of one person who has been made to give up her maternity leave entirely to chair her department and teach additional classes beyond her normal courseload - we have at least begun to take small steps.
The response to this, from some corners, is a great, wailing, "that's not fair!" And in some cases, it's not, and this should be rectified. No one should be able to use their children as an excuse to get out of work. But at the same time, hopefully, we're all here together in academe for the long haul. When my son is very young, I might ask not to teach a night class. When my son is a little older, though, I could teach a couple of night classes a semester. So why not think about rotating teaching schedules over longer periods of time, for instance? Not getting out of work - balancing the work, recognizing that people (not just parents) have different needs at different times. You write best in the early morning and have a book to finish? I can teach at 8am this year so you don't have to. And so on.
I don't really want to write about this next part, but it's happened so often that I feel the need to talk about it.
The conversation in the comments on TR's blog focused on parenting. She didn't like that. She felt the parents were "obsessing" and that this focus, when her whole post was almost entirely about something else, simply illustrated that parents insist on focusing only and always about their children.
She didn't understand the weight of what she had written about parents, which is why it became the topic of conversation. She totally missed that she had used the most pervasive negative stereotype, that stereotype that parents don't pull their own weight.
The reason I'm writing about this here is that I'm reminded of some of the huge feminist blow-ups that have happened when one person has pointed out that another person has said something offensive. You can go read the comment thread for yourself and come to your own determination. But I'm left with the sad awareness that someone whose blog I like thinks it's ok to make nasty asides about academic parents and feels that calling her out on this is selfish and blog-hoggy (I left 3 out of 46 comments) and in my case, a bully. It is also stunning to once again see that explaining why these kinds of comments are so painful for and detrimental to academic parents is often perceived as claiming parenthood as a privileged status.
Until we can learn not to scapegoat each other, whether we do so with real venom or with rhetorical flourish, for the purpose of making a larger point, we are not going to get anywhere with making any real change in our workloads - or anything else.