I'm frantic busy right now with rehearsals and tech stuff for the Bronx Voices performance coming up on June 26th (It's FREE!), and with preparations for teaching in China in the middle of July (OMG CHINA!), but I wanted to grumble here about something I read today in the Times, on the Motherlode blog.
It's not a blog I usually read, but recently there was a young college student on it asking for help in sorting out her situation: 22, pregnant, about to start a tough graduate program, no help from the father, parents far away, living in a new city with few friends and no support network. She asked Lisa Belkin, the blogger, to ask her readers for their thoughts and input to help her make her decision on what to do. I can't imagine being in this situation myself—or rather I can, all too easily, but I have no idea what decision I would have made, either, at that age. It would have had even more ramifications for me, since I didn't at the time believe in abortion. I won't go so far as to call myself a pro-lifer as I supported other women's right to make that decision for themselves, but I thought I would probably not choose that myself. Some of my friends have made that choice and I don't blame them. It was, I agree, the smart thing to do at the time.
But one of the things that was making this such a difficult choice for this particular young woman was not just the complete lack of support from her academic program for her situation, but the outright hostility for pregnant women her fellow students described.
A lot of your readers asked if I could take time off from the graduate
program. They do not allow for any time off. There’s no deferral,
classes are only offered once in the two years, and there aren’t any
incompletes. I have been talking to students who are already there, who
have had children, who are married and are quite a bit older, and who
said it is really hard. I’m looking at 20 hours in class and 20 hours
of papers and field research out of the classroom. Students with
part-time jobs found it nearly impossible to keep up with the work, and
a baby is not a part-time job. They also warned me that professors
aren’t just tough, they can be especially harsh to the pregnant women
in the program. [emphasis mine] By the time the baby would be due, there would be
papers, projects, research. I can’t miss a single class without risking
the whole program, that’s just the way it’s designed.
This nearly made me shriek with frustration. Tough is one thing, hostility is another. And why doesn't that fall under discriminatory behavior? Why is it okay to to be harsher to someone who is experiencing a normal biological function? I don't know what program this is, but from the sound of it, it is some sort of social services or governmental aid program focusing on humanitarian aid, which makes this kind of treatment doubly absurd. As does the fact that this program is designed to be prohibitively difficult. I suspect this was a program that was intended to "separate the men from the boys" when it was designed, a form of masculine hazing, as though college were fucking boot camp. With the preponderance of women in colleges these days, you'd think this kind of shit would stop, or at least be toned down.
This kind of program design is one of major reasons that women often fail to reach their full potential. Men with children who attend graduate school almost inevitably have built-in childcare in the form of wives. Women? Not so much. Childrearing is still women's work, whether they're married or not. (If you think I'm exaggerating, read this whiny-ass and self-centered piece by Geoff Williams; it might be satire, but I'm not so sure.) Not supporting families with children who would like to continue their educations, and actively discouraging single women with children, is discriminatory behavior and only illustrates how much of the world is still based on the way men's lives work.
I see this in the policies of the school I teach at, where most of my students have children. Whenever they cannot find a babysitter, they miss class. When students at my friend Rob's school can't find a baby sitter, he tells them to bring their kids to class. That's better, certainly, but why isn't there a safe place for students to leave their kids on campus? That would make life so much easier for so many struggling single mothers. It's a small investment to make with huge rewards.