All posts by anniethestudent

Expanding parental leave

At the moment, my work is focused on parental leave and the division of childrearing labour in interviewees’ households. I’ve been combing interview transcripts for any references to leave, shared childcare, gendered ideas about appropriate parenting duties etc. and thinking a lot about what parental leave is and who it is for. So it’s not all that surprising that news about the 2017 Federal budget (in Canada) attracted my interest. During the 2015 electoral campaign, The Liberals promised to consider extending parental leave from its current 12 months (ish, depending on the province) to 18 months and it seems they have delivered!

On first glance, this seems like an excellent move. The state is showing an interest in parenting and enabling parents to provide the one-on-one attention that so many parenting experts suggest is essential for optimal development and well-being. What better way to support children while also ensuring that their parents are able to return to the workforce once those early months of child raising are complete? But the more you read about who accesses parental leave, the more you suspect that these policy changes are designed to benefit a very specific group of people: financially privileged women. The finding (cited in The Globe and Mail listicle on these changes) that more than a third of mothers are not entitled to these benefits is striking but unsurprising given that the eligibility requirements (600 hours of insurable earnings) can exclude part-time, seasonal and contract workers.

The new proposal involves reducing the current benefit, 55% of your average income (up to cap) to 33% (also subject to a cap) in order to take the full 18 months. Who can afford to take a pay cut of this magnitude? The current benefit is already below the level deemed “well paid” by the European Commission, a measure used in scholarship on parental leave in the Global North (Baird & O’Brien, 2015). To drop it to 33% is likely to strongly influence which income group manages to take eighteen months of parental leave and crucially, which parent. The new changes make no specific provision for fathers, provision which has repeatedly been shown to improve fathers’ use of parental leave (see Ray, Gornick & Schmidt, 2010 for comprehensive examples) and has specifically improved paternal parental leave patterns in Quebec, where so-called ‘daddy weeks’ are offered (McKay & Doucet, 2010). Who is this change going to benefit?

So again, I find myself wondering who parental leave is really for. Which mothers (as these policies reinforce gendered leave taking practices) are understood as needing to stay home with their babies? Which mothers are given support to do so? And which mothers are tacitly encouraged to return to work, to role model economic productivity for their children? The answers to these questions are raced and classed and it’s precisely these intersections that I hope to untangle.

References

Anderssen, Erin. (2017). “Seven things to know about Canada’s new parental leave benefits.” The Globe and Mail, March 24. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/federal-budget-2017-maternity-leave/article34414374/?cmpid=PM0317

Baird, Marian and O’Brien, Margaret. (2015). “Dynamics of Parental Leave in Anglophone Countries: The Paradox of State Expansion in the Liberal Welfare Regime.” Community, Work & Family 18 (2): 198-217.

McKay, Lindsey and Doucet, Andrea. (2010). “‘Without Taking Away Her Leave’: A Canadian Case Study of Couples’ Decisions on Fathers Use of Paid Parental Leave.” Fathering 8 (3): 300-320.

Ray, Rebecca, Gornick, Janet C., and Schmitt, John. (2010). “Who Cares? Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality in Parental Leave Policy Designs in 21 Countries.” Journal of European Social Policy 20 (3): 196-216.

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Transitions

I’ve had ‘write a blogpost’ on my weekly to-do list since I last published a post. Unfortunately for me that was all the way back in May! Well, I’m here now. So! What do I want to write about?  Seeing as I’ve just celebrated my third year in Canada (or my ‘canniversary’ as the expat forum I visit calls it) it seems to me that ‘transitions’ would be a good theme for today’s post.

I suppose I should start with a disclaimer that I’m well aware that I’m not the only person on the planet that’s experienced a number of transitions in a short period of time (or long, even). But maybe that’s the beauty of a blog, right? It’s a holding place for my ramblings regardless of whether they’re unique or special. The point is they’re special to me. And I think I’ve had quite a few special transitions over the last three years. The first that comes to mind is the transition to ‘PhD student.’ When I first started my PhD I believed that nothing would change fundamentally. I was merely completing the next leg of a journey that had begun with the birth of my nephew years back. I had a quality MA in Gender Studies under my belt, I’d compiled a long list of relevant texts to read in preparation for writing a full-fledged analysis of attachment parenting, I was married to a supportive partner and I was fortunate enough to have a good funding package. Sure, I’d moved to a new city, country, university. No matter! I knew how to write, how to analyse and how to collect data and therefore I was set! If only!

Actually, not ‘if only.’ I’m very glad for the wake-up call I got in the first year. Bogged down by five intense graduate-level courses, TAing a first-year intro course and culture shock I started wondering what on earth I’d got myself into. The pressure of writing in a new environment and writing so much more than I’d ever before really challenged me. I realised just how problematic my lifelong, fiercely-protected writing habits were. If I wanted to not only meet the millions of deadlines looming but respond with well-written assignments I had to radically rethink the way I approached writing. And now, three years later, I’m very grateful for the new skills I’ve honed and the advice I’ve received. Now I approach writing in a simultaneously cautious and confident manner and nine times out of ten, I’m really happy with the final product. As this entire blog no doubt demonstrates my grammar hasn’t improved much but I am much more aware of my shortcomings and can (try to) address them. It’s been a good transition from wandering, passionate thinker to focused, deliberate PhD student. And I don’t think I’ve lost the passion or the enjoyment of a good ramble!

I’ve already hinted about the second transition which I can sum up as the process of becoming a pseudo-North American. The speed with which I’ve started saying ‘math’ and ‘good job’ is frankly disturbing! I think coming here made me realise that as much as I’ve criticised the creeping Americanisation of the rest of the world there are still aspects of North American culture that are completely foreign to me. Sure, there were things I recognised from TV shows and films (the quintessential student wardrobe, for instance) but there was lots of stuff that surprised me. Customs and habits that I had to learn to navigate on my own, with no episode of Friends to guide me. Part of that was the writing style which I think I’ve started to get my head ’round. But it was also interpersonal relations and the celebration of holidays and shopping norms and appropriate ideas about small talk and all sorts of wonderful things that can surprise and excite. I think if I end up back home (wherever that is) I’ll probably transition to something else entirely, some hybrid of British and South African and Canadian characteristics. I’ll write a blogpost then to tell you what that looks like but whatever that is, I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, I think the last three years have been all about transitioning into adulthood. I know, at my age, I ought to be an adult already but to be honest, I didn’t really feel it until coming here. Perhaps it’s related to being all alone in a city with only recently-made friends to rely on for help in an emergency. It makes you grow up and take proper precautions (here’s my small plug for health insurance even if you’re politically opposed to its existence!). It also comes with the fun stuff like finding the perfect (cheap!) furniture, choosing how you’d like to decorate your home to make it home and making up your own Christmas and birthday traditions. Suddenly it’s all you. You’re responsible for yourself, you have to make all the hard (and easy) decisions. It can be daunting but exhilarating too. I’ve probably enjoyed this transition most of all.

I don’t have any words of wisdom to conclude with. Transitions aren’t always easy but they aren’t always awful either. But you knew that already. So my last word is: enjoy it! And look forward to the next one because the transitions never stop.

Three conferences

As it’s been nearly a year since my last entry (my sincere apologies, dedicated reader(s)) I thought it was high time I put pen to paper.  Today I’m going to write about the three conferences I’ve attended since the publication of my last blogpost way back in June 2015.

Conferences can be amazingly enriching and terrifying experiences all at the same time.  They present an opportunity to hear from and (if you’re brave enough) interact with scholars you admire and discover new connections and innovative work.  Sometimes the food is good.  Sometimes they take you to new cities and universities and you get a chance to take in some touristy sights.  If you’re presenting, they can also give you the chance to share your work with people you respect, people who will give you constructive and encouraging feedback that may well shape your work  in unexpected and long-lasting ways.  But they can also be expensive!  Especially on the PhD student budget.  And they can be fraught with tensions as passionate academics spar over theoretical interpretations. Sometimes no one asks you a question during the Q&A following your presentation or worse, they ask a question that has nothing to do with your work or even your field.  That all these things can be true at once is the nature of a conference, I think.  And it’s what makes it worth going in the first place.

The three conferences I’ve been to were full of all of the above and more.  My first was in Ireland in June 2015. The Motherhood and Culture conference, held at Maynooth University, was my first conference focused on mothering and motherhood. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many different amazing scholars doing work on a wide array of subjects from so many different disciplinary perspectives. It was a supportive atmosphere but that didn’t mean we didn’t ask challenging questions or have interesting debates.  The two keynote speakers, Profs. Chodorow and O’Reilly were fantastic and set the tone for three days of fantastic work.  I heard some great presentations on attachment theory in Icelandic parenting advice, media portrayals of natural parenting in France and the motivations of surrogates in Thailand, to name just a few.  And the food? So good!  Hearty options for lunch and dinner and delicious scones to keep us going in between.  Maynooth set a standard that has yet to be met let alone surpassed, to be honest.

The next conference I attended was held in the same week as Maynooth’s so it was a hectic day of travelling and packing for me.  The Austerity, Gender and Household Finances conference was held at the University of Kent and was a much smaller conference than the one described above.  As a result it was easier to get to know more people as we spent so much time together, hearing about each other’s work and supporting each other through technical difficulties (the conference hasn’t really started until someone’s powerpoint fails to load). This time the work was a bit beyond my field and included women’s relationship with money through the ages, the growth of mumpreneurs and the intersection between class, gender and shopping habits.  All fascinating stuff and I learned so much.  I commented on the food in Maynooth so I have to comment here: it was good!  The conference dinner especially and I got to meet and chat with some great people doing interesting things in different places.

Finally, my third conference was many months later and also required my first trip to the US: the annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society.  It was held in Boston which I’ve been told by many people is an excellent introduction to the States.  I agree!  The food (the seafood!) was fantastic and there was lots to see in the few free moments in between sessions.  The presentations themselves were fantastic and included a look at the interactions between white female and African-American doctors in early twentieth century US and an examination of the pitfalls of the menstrual hygiene industry in India.  Thought-provoking and fascinating work.  Plus I met some heroes!

If I may leave you, dear reader, with a little bit of advice it would be: attend conferences!  They’re a great opportunity to test out ideas and meet people who do interesting, relevant work.  They can cost a pretty penny (and we, as critical academics, should definitely have a conversation about how that perpetuates elitism in the academy and how conferences further contribute to climate change) but for now, if you can find a local one that offers a bit of funding?  I say go.  And maybe you can blog about it!

The quest for perfection

I discovered the (poor) state of the academic job market a few weeks after I started my PhD. A bit late, in other words. I had heard about the pressure to publish books and journal articles but I imagined that these were future worries. Far future worries. Learning the truth scared me but after a brief moment of self-doubt, I resolved to meet the new standards against which my generation of budding academics would be measured. In the same week, I came across a call for papers issued by a prestigious journal in my field; a special issue on just the topic I was working on. And so I set about turning a course assignment (graded ‘A’ so obviously not that bad) into a potential journal article. It seemed like a relatively simple proposition. Though I knew how stringent this journal’s standards were and I struggled with bouts of imposter syndrome I had come this far. I was in a PhD program so I must have some ability to express myself clearly and persuasively.

I wrote something fairly good (which was rejected in the end) but what I struggled with most, what I continue to wrestle with even as I write this post, is the fear of what would happen if my work was published. What if I discovered a glaring grammatical error? What if I’d repeatedly misspelled the name of a superstar scholar both in the body of the article and in the reference list? Most scary of all, what if I changed my mind?

This published work would shape strangers’ idea of me, my work, my values, my identity. I would be measured (I’m always being measured) by words I wrote at one random stage of my life. Despite the fact that I spent nearly a year reading, revising and rewriting this article, it still did not feel like an accurate reflection of me. I experience these same doubts over tweets, blogposts and even the occasional comment on a student’s essay. The desire to be perfectly represented keeps my tweet count low and my marker’s commentary short. It’s the reason it took me seven months to finally create my blog and a year to publish my first post. It’s the reason this particular musing will likely never see the light of day. I know my words can never finish my story but this knowledge doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for perfect authenticity.

I will keep trying. (To be perfect? Or to hit ‘publish’ regardless? Who knows, who knows…)

Why attachment parenting?

I created this blog over a year ago in preparation for my very first conference presentation. I thought a blog would be a good way to communicate who I am and the kind of work I do (and would also make the business cards I had made for the same occasion look more complete). But, as you can see from my rather forlorn looking homepage, I have yet to make a post. I’ve started a few posts but somewhere around the first or second paragraph I lose steam. I read and re-read, worrying about the repercussions of revealing certain information about myself and my work. But today, I’ve decided to finally do it. Bite the bullet! Throw caution to the wind! And post a carefully edited and considered version of how I became interested in parenting. Here it is:

Just over ten years ago my sister shared some wonderful news with me; I was going to be an aunt!  I have always enjoyed babysitting and making funny faces at babies so of course I was excited.  I watched with fascination as my sister began the transformation into a mother; changing her eating habits, reading many different kinds of parenting books and so on.  Soon, she was glued to the laptop every night, joining parenting forums and reading stories and advice to prepare for her impending motherhood.  She shared a great deal of this new information with me and I was astounded by the sheer volume of advice that existed for new parents.  I say “parents” but much of the advice focused on women and described what a ‘good mother’ should do.  This was my first introduction to the idea of good motherhood and that, alongside the principles my sister adopted, abandoned, tried, ignored, approved of, scoffed at and so much more, formed the foundation of my current interest in the social conditions of attachment parenting.

In the last ten years my understanding of these social conditions has expanded and deepened (or at least, one hopes). I’ve come to recognize how the rules of good motherhood have changed with political and technological shifts in our society. I’ve also realized that good motherhood is experienced differently by different women. That may seem like an obvious point to make and it is, but the point of my work is to try to understand these differences and figure out what they mean for all mothers. I’m particularly interested in black mothers who occupy the unique position of being dismissed as bad mothers (often because they’re ‘domineering’) and being one of the sources of one of the most popular parenting styles today, attachment parenting. I’m interested in black women in the Global North who are often stereotyped as “welfare queens” (Collins, 2000) or “babymothers” (Reynolds, 2005). And I’m also interested in black women in the Global South who are sometimes revered as good mothers because they parent the ‘traditional’ way. There is a tremendous amount of diversity within these groups, of course, and I don’t expect to find definitive answers that explain the experience of black mothering for all women. But I am keen to find out what attachment parenting means to them and perhaps deepen my understanding of how certain parenting styles become popular and why.

Wish me luck!

References

Collins, Patricia Hill. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. London and New York: Routledge.

Reynolds, Tracey. (2005). Caribbean Mothers: Identity and Experience in the UK. London: Tufnell Press.