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Running amuck, motherhood and old sperm

On March 18th I posted that I would run amuck if I saw one more article about why there aren't more women in science that concluded "it's the children". Silly me; what was I thinking? Now I have to decide which way I want to run amuck. That whole run in 'a murderous frenzy or rage' thing is not attractive. There has been way too much of that in the U.S. these days and it never makes things better; only worse. On the other hand, I'm not very excited about this Run Amuck either. Four miles of hills, a tire dash, and mud; not so much. That leaves me with behaving in "a wild or unruly manner" and let's get real, that's me in everyday life!

So what has lead me to this conundrum? Many things:

Well there's the Chronicle article, which was trying to be helpful, but quoted WITHOUT COMMENT, a graduate student in linguistics saying: "I can't think of an example of a successful female faculty member at our (or any other) top research university who has a 'normal' family situation. The only time these women appear successful both personally and professionally is if a spouse dedicates his career to helping his wife succeed." Right because what "normal" man would want to dedicate his career to helping his wife succeed? And heaven forfend (I always wanted to write that), that couples help each other succeed or get a little, or a lot of, help from friends and family.

Speaking of help; here's some. This Chronicle article's titled "Keeping your academic life separate from your family life at crucial times can help you succeed in both realms." My favorite piece of advice:

As much as possible, plan the timing of your children around the stages and milestones of an academic career.

Now that's a great idea and so easy to implement. Oh well at least the author expects you to have children; that's progress. If you read the column, let me know what you think; some of the advice is useful but it was so depressing.

And speaking of depressing, we now have the Goldilocks and the Three Bears syndrome as in "Hillary Clinton was too ambitious; Laura Bush (who?) was too retro; but Michelle has the woman thing just right." According to David Samuels:

There are clear limits to Michelle's ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband's wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness.

Oh goodie we are back to "normal" again. Don't you love how "normal" for women is never "go for your dreams", "expect support from people who love you" or even "good for you for doing what is important to you (regardless of what that is)?

Now about that old sperm. Turns out those biological clocks tick for men too. Sperm from older men, not so good for making a healthy, smart baby as sperm from younger men. Indeed “it turns out the optimal age for being a mother is the same as the optimal age for being a father.” Author Lisa Belkin's analysis of some of the societal implications of this is fascinating:

What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age? What if men, as the years passed, began to look with new eyes at Ms. Almost Right? Would men of all ages come to understand — firsthand, not just from the sidelines — the fear that the very passage of time will put your not-yet-conceived baby at risk?

It, she says, may not change everything.. "but it would be a satisfying start if men had to pause and see age as part of their biological equation, too."

Yes it would.


Oh, so much fail, so little time. I saw that Chronicle article and stopped reading midway. My lobe got blown early.

Here, let me block off this week for the delivery and I'll cross out the maternity leave time too so PI can plan his grant deadlines and the chair can schedule classes next semester while I'm gone. I'm not very nimble - there will be no squatting at my desk. Clearly, I'm not superwoman.

Don't you think crackpots would want their babies on Dec 25? Intelligent design!!babyJESUS!!! Shit, I'm off to plan things... what will they think of next? I'd like to plan for the next time I get sick. I don't want a runny nose on my vacation.

So many things to fume at, but I will take a deep breath and just point out:

"The only time these women appear successful both personally and professionally is if a spouse dedicates his career to helping his wife succeed"

This seems to be pretty damn true for the men at R1 institutions too. Women have it worse, but I don't know any professor in the sciences at R1 who has a "normal" life, has any work-life balance, and who doesn't manage to have/raise kids without support from their spouse. If we want people to become engineers and scientists we need to desperately change the culture at R1 institutions. Strangely enough, it's starting to turn out that men don't want that kind of bullshit life either...unfortunately, the steamship of R1 culture plows ahead.

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