Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's Her Factory

Apparently, at least the States, "family formation negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, academic careers... [f]or men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer". It's hardly surprising that women face disadvantages relative to men in US academia: what's remarkable about Colin McGinn is not that he sent a series of sexually suggestive emails to a female graduate student, but that his university decided this was behaviour worthy of sanction. US academia does not sound like an attractive place to be a woman. What's interesting is that while forming a family is bad for women, it's good for men. Married men do better than their unmarried colleagues. The effects of 'the pram in the hall' are not just significant, but they pull in opposite directions depending which gender you are. That, I think, suggests two things about the problem. First, the cause of the problem isn't babies as such, but patterns of division of domestic labour. Unmarried men tend to do worse than married men, perhaps, because they lack an unpaid domestic servant who ministers to their needs and allows them to avoid doing any work apart from paid work. Second, the author's solutions, which focus on making academia more sensitive to the demands on parents' time, can't be a complete solution. This is not just because men will not take advantage of these entitlements to spend time with their families but use them to further their careers, but also because it's only if you have unreasonable demands on your time in the first place that work as flexible as thinking and writing about things are incompatible with child-rearing or indeed any other commitment apart from paid work. End the tenure track.

Monday, June 17, 2013

No And I Don't Give A Good Goddamn

Alasdair Gray has famously kept using "work as if you live in the early days of a better nation" as a kind of motto, a spur to trying for more than seems sensible or perhaps even possible. Perhaps though, it would be better to work as if we are in the final days of a worse nation; vindictive, unafraid of casting our enemies down, contemptuous of power in our confidence that it will fall and that it deserves to. Were we to work as if we were in the early days of a better nation, we could be guilty of gilding our chains with flowers, of shying away from describing the squalor and constraint we live under. Perhaps artists should gild our chains with flowers; maybe the aesthetics of its inspirational power means that lie, that great lie, it involves is one they should tell. For someone trying to understand politics rather than gesture at the ideals  we should hope for it to realise though, it would be naive to ignore the difficulty of amassing a coalition capable of taking anything but the most incremental steps towards a more just world, of overcoming the significant forces ranged against achieving justice. Political theorists then might have reasons to be more intransigent, more insistent on the basic truth that our world is unjust and less hopeful, complacent even, about the changes needed to bring that to an end. Gray adapted the phrase from a Canadian poet, who only claimed that "best of all is finding a place to be/ in the early days of a better civilization". The best is not what we have here and now though, and pretending may not be the best way of ensuring we do.