Work/Life Balance and Academics: Wall street Journal may think it is a pointless discussion but we don’t!

by Anna Blanch on August 12, 2009

MamaPhD is a blog i’ve mentioned a time or two. They offer first person reflections on balancing work and family as an academic. Predominantly, the posts are written by female academics at various stages of their careers and with children or various ages. BlogU has DeanDad who writes over at Confessions of a Community College Dean
if you want/need a male perspective on the work/family balance.

A few weeks ago, MamaPhD came under fire from the Wall Street Journal who considered their discussions about balancing work and life as frivolous, pointless, and useless. Here’s a link to Naomi Schaeffer Riley’s article. Well fooey to you Wall Street Journal. I share MamaPhD’s shock that such a modest, though well-written, blog would make it to the “big time” for daring to write about what’s important to the authors and, to be frank, its readers.

Susan O’Doherty of MamaPhd wrote this in response to Naomi Schaeffer Riley. [Note the title of the article; i think it is the best use of flapdoodle i have seen in a while!]

First, it seems to me that the term “work-life balance,” as Riley uses it to describe Mama, Ph.D. and similar blogs, is disingenuous — code for “issues of concern to mothers,” definition boring and trivial. Augusten Burroughs’s first-rate memoir, Dry, could be said to be about the “work-life balance,” with the “life” part consisting of drunken binges. “Dilbert” is about the “work-life balance,” trying to actually have a life apart from being an office cog. I could go on, but you get the point. Riley tips her hand when she states, “There’s a reason that such streams of consciousness were once reserved for women chatting over cups of coffee.” Women have plotted revolutions, bank heists, and Broadway shows over cups of coffee — but we know who she means. Not important women. Mothers. The ones who aren’t usually out club-hopping or blowing things up after work because we’re in charge of all those boring, trivial activities that keep the world rolling.

Second, there is a long history of dismissing writing about domestic issues—when the writer is a woman. Jane Austen’s beautifully crafted depictions of social interactions among closed social groups are chick lit. Henry James’s ditto, ditto are masterpieces. (And of course they are. But.)

Third, in my profession, highly detailed, idiosyncratic depictions of an individual’s experience with given problem or situation are considered valuable sources of information about the human condition generally. They are referred to as case studies, and are widely used as teaching tools and prompts for discussion about more abstract principles. This is because they are written by acknowledged experts. Mothers are, by definition, amateurs. Our ruminations and observations are either navel-gazing or whining, not contributions to a vibrant dialogue on important social and psychological issues.

I’m with O’Doherty that Socrates had some sound things to say about the “unexamined life”!

I’d be interested in your thoughts about this; especially give that some of the most popular posts on Goannatree concentrate on similar issues of balance!

Related posts:

Previous post:

Next post: