Yesterday, Our Glorious Institution hosted a panel discussion in which five senior women university administrators discussed their experiences. The good news is that I came away liking them a lot, and feeling (in many respects) good about having them around. However, I can’t shake my worries about a couple of themes we heard from them over and over.
Several of the women on the panel said that, even as senior administrators, they were able to (more or less) keep up with their research by setting aside time to work at 4:00 a.m.
4:00 a.m.! Let that sink in for a moment.
I like research plenty, but really, there is nothing about my job that I like well enough to — and here’s the thing — routinely do it at 4:00. (And I worked for years as a hotel night auditor! If anyone should be able to work at 4:00 a.m., it’s me.)
Not only do I not want to routinely work at 4:00 a.m., I frankly don’t want to work for anyone who regards this as acceptable or promotes it as a norm.
The other thing that I keep fretting about as I recall the discussion was the number of panelists who spoke about having full-time nannies.
Let’s be clear. I don’t have any objection in principle to hiring domestic workers. Among other things, I think that actually paying people to do the work traditionally done for no pay by women helps to nudge economists and others towards the notion that the pro bono domestic work done by women is an economic good that must be factored into the accounts. And, more simply, some people need domestic employment, just as some people need domestic help. So, in principle, no problem.
What got me worrying about it though was that the least senior administrator on the panel spoke about relying on a full-time nanny. She is just an associate chair, and so likely doesn’t get paid astronomically more than I do. I mean, she’s not earning a dean’s or v.p.’s salary. So, I got thinking, “How can she possibly afford to have a full-time employee? That must cost at least $40,000 plus benefits, right? Because, no good feminist would want another woman to work for less than that, right?”
I was a food server with a grad student spouse when I had my kid. Between us, we had lots of flexibility and very little money; so, we only ever needed to hire occasional, part-time childcare providers. But even that was pricey. I’ve never been able to figure out how people can afford daycare, much less a full-time nanny.
Well, I looked it up. According to NannyCanada.ca, full-time nannies in Canada earn between $1000 and $1400 per month. Are you fucking kidding me? $1400 per month?! A person is supposed to live on that and make a life for herself (because it’s usually a “her”, right?)? A person whom you trust enough to raise your kids?
Now, I have no wish to cast aspersions at any of the women on the panel. Perhaps they’re all doing the right thing and paying their nannies actual living wages rather than sub-par subsistence wages.
But, I have the nagging worry that, for women, senior administration requires employing some other woman to hold it all together for a wage that is absolutely unacceptable.
NannyCanada helpfully explains that most nannies come from outside of Canada because the booming Canadian economy makes it difficult to hire Canadian nannies. At $1400 per month? No shit! This raises the further worry that senior women administrators rely not just on underpaid domestic workers but on underpaid domestic workers of colour.
Is it really the case that the only way to get the (mostly white) women into the upper reaches of the ivory tower is through poorly paid brown women? If so, that may be too high a price to pay.
So, does this mean that women shouldn’t seek upper admin positions in universities? Hell, no! But, it is unjust and unsustainable for those promotions to be premised on 4:00 a.m. research sessions and poorly paid brown women.
Cecily Devereux begins the hard task of addressing this dilemma in her “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting” (Susan Brown, Jeanne Perreault, Jo-Ann Wallace and Heather Zwicker, Eds. Not Drowning But Waving: Women, Feminism and the Liberal Arts. Edmonton: U of Alberta Press, 2011. xxi + 472 pp.). Responding to the argument that it is women’s “biological destiny” (99) to bear children that prevents them from reaching the upper echelons of institutions, Devereux urges that if it is impossible for people raising children to take part in all of the travel and long hours that are required to excel in academe, then universities and scholars must change their expectations.
And, hell, even those — female or not — without children deserve a little shut-eye at 4:00 a.m., right?