What *Kind* of Woman Philosopher?
If my years of studying feminist theory taught me anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a “woman” or a “black person” for that matter. We’re all contextually defined by our age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, class, sexual orientation and, yes, gender. That said, I’m a middle aged white former Catholic vegetarian divorced feminist PhD mother of two sons. Oddly it’s the last characteristic that has defined my academic career. In a nutshell, I saw first hand too many failed attempts at mothering and professoring to have the hubris to think I could “have it all.” One contemporary I know literally never slept and her quality of life was so poor I actively pitied her.
At the time my children were very young, I was in a financial position to walk away from the academic world for a while. The proverbial straw came during a night class I was teaching with a colicky 6 month old at home. The level of disrespect I was experiencing from the students, coupled with their general immaturity, made me seriously wonder why I was paying a sitter to walk away from one child so that I could go babysit another twenty. The break was to represent for me some serious career soul-searching and six years later I willingly came back, sure I was in a better mental place.
Although, coming back wasn’t all that easy. The economy sank while I was away and I learned first-hand no one is waiting for returning stay-at-home mothers with open arms. I swallowed a bitter pill last spring when I was approached by the chair of a university where I’d been an adjunct for years. Despite an incredibly successful fall semster teaching a Women and Philosophy class (where students wrote evaluations that said, “This professor is an asset to this university”), the chair informed me he had no adjunct classes to offer me because the department had hired a woman full-time who would be taking over the course. And I was left to reinvent the wheel once more and find new adjunct work.
Right now I remain part-time by choice, but I’m still stuck in the question of how mothers who are academics do it. It’s a harshly demanding career choice that doesn’t allow the “women” who are also mothers many options.