Shared Story: Do Babies Matter in Music Theory?

I’d like to address a widespread and ongoing challenge, one that disproportionately affects female scholars: how to coordinate babies and tenure. What follows is a summary of my own approach and some of its challenges, along with a few reflections on the roles of gender and parenthood in academia more broadly.

I had a baby when my dissertation was about two-thirds drafted, far away from family and friends.  Everyone reassured me that the baby would sleep and that I could finish my writing then. As I discovered, however, not all babies are alike, and mine turned out not to be a “sleeper.” Naps were 20 minutes at the most, unless I held my baby (which meant I could only type with one hand), and night sleep wasn’t much better. My baby was underweight and still needed at least one night feeding at 6 months of age. Looking back, I’m not sure how I finished, edited, and defended my dissertation, while also preparing for conference presentations and applying for jobs.

The reason I decided to have a baby before getting a tenure-track job was that I knew that academic maternity policies are quite variable and not especially generous, and I didn’t want to raise a young family on a tenure-clock. What I didn’t realize, however, was that my decision meant that I would have no institutional support at all. Obviously, I had no income, but perhaps equally limiting, I had no development budget for conference attendance or pursuing my own research, something that was especially challenging without access to an academic library. I also lacked, at least in my own mind, a certain legitimacy, not having an academic affiliation to put on my conference nametag.

My “baby” is now 3, and I am teaching part-time at an institution near where my partner works.  My colleagues and administration are very supportive, but I am on the market for a tenure-track job. When I apply to jobs, I am never sure how—or indeed whether—I should explain the hole in my employment history. I have had successful interviews, but no job offers, which makes me wonder whether delaying full-time employment has already affected my career prospects.

The most frustrating part, however, is how differently having a baby would have impacted my career if I were male. In academia, married mothers are the least likely of any population to get a tenure-track position or attain tenure after the probationary period. Married fathers, on the other hand, represent the “dominant mode of success,” winning jobs and promotions at higher rates than any other group. (Mason & Goulden 2003) Academic approaches to families may be different in 2015, but unfortunately my experience suggests otherwise.

(Submitted June 11, 2015)