What it’s like to be pregnant in philosophy

Posted: April 14, 2011 by Jender in assumptions about mothers

This may have little to do with being a woman in PHILOSOPHY specifically, but I think it is relevant nevertheless. I’d certainly never thought about this kind of thing until it happened – and was shocked when it did.

When pregnant for the first time, and at a stage where this was showing, I attended a small-scale conference I’d organised. The day was, I suppose, a success, but I became increasingly distraught throughout: I was not able to steer a single conversation away from the pregnancy. Even explicit attempts on my side to talk about the topics of the conference or the content of the talks were quickly rebuffed by a comment or enquiry about my pregnancy.

I don’t really want to blame people here: I am sure everyone meant well and was showing a genuine and friendly interest, or perhaps what they thought was socially appropriate behaviour. But – this was a work event! I had put a lot of effort into organising it, and it should have contributed at least a little bit to my network and career. At the very least, I was there as a person interested in philosophy, and I would have liked to talk about philosophy! But as it stood, noone – I repeat, NOONE – asked me about my work, my professional interests, or engaged with me in philosophical terms in any way. I was “the pregnant one” – and I fear that few will remember me as anything but that.

Worse even: during the day of the conference the date of a related event was pinned down for the next year – over 6 months after my due date and 2 and a half months after I was planning to return to work. But I wasn’t asked about my plans: instead I received many comments on the day (and received emails since) that made one thing very clear: everyone blindly assumed that I would not be attending the next event. I would have “better things to do”.

I have rarely felt more demoralised about being a woman in philosophy. I thought I would show them: a pregnant, clever, engaged and interesting WOMAN in philosophy. As prejudice-busting as can be. Instead, few if any will have remembered me as a philosopher at all – and certainly noone will think of me when they are looking for speakers at their own events! How could they? They never asked me about my work or engaged with me as a professional.

Of course I realise noone will have meant ill – in fact everyone will have had the very best of intentions, and I do not want to blame any of the attending individuals. No – this is probably the ultimate unintentional harm. But harm it is nevertheless; for all my hard work and months of organisation, the one message that my conference succeeded in sending out to my academic peers is that I would be out of business for the next year or so. I cannot think of a better way to kill one’s career.

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