No point funding a pregnant woman

Posted: November 22, 2010 by Jender in assumptions about mothers

This has bothered me for so many years, I am relieved to be able to tell it in an anonymous and public way. I am so miserable at the repeated insistence on many websites that women get tremendous ‘affirmative action’ benefits. Such observations should be contextualized by experiences including this one:

I am a childless woman who started graduate school in the same cohort as a visibly pregnant woman of about my age, mid-twenties. When I say she was visibly pregnant, I mean that at the New Student Orientation, she looked to be at the seven-month stage, the point at which pregnant women get rather basketballish.

At that particular program, there was no funding in the first year, and we had to compete for second-year funding, with said competition being decided before our first semesters even ended. I.e., second-year funding was contingent upon perceptions of our performance in the first two months of graduate school. Professors stood about in the hallways and openly told each other that there was no point ‘spending’ a teaching assistantship on the pregnant woman, since it was apparent “she’ll never finish.”

I can assure you that the woman was a consistently more prepared, more insightful participant than I was in classes. I was awed at her acumen, especially in her areas of specialization. Yet I was consistently offered funding in the department, and she was not. She took part-time jobs in local businesses. At the end of graduate school, she had less experience teaching than I, because she dared to arrive pregnant and was penalized for seeming “unpromising” — not just in the first year, but in the following years, since each year her lack of previous teaching was seen as inexperience.

I was going to write that her childless classmates like me had the advantage, but had to delete the sentence, because of course, men in the department with children got assistantships, naturally! They were not perceived to be less serious or unpromising. They had wives!

There is at least a happy ending, which is that through her own true grit, the woman finished her Ph.D. faster than anyone else in our cohort, wrote a dissertation which made a true contribution to her field, and got a TT job with little help from our graduate program. It is her story that makes me gnash my teeth at the complaints that women get unfair affirmative action or are ‘less qualified.’ My classmate was highly qualified, and passed over for funding because of her sex and motherhood status. If she was ‘less qualified’ in terms of teaching experience, that was because of the systematic discrimination against her. Her determination to beat the rigged odds that a pregnant woman won’t finish is humbling.

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