I am pleased to host this guest post by Professor Margaret M. Quinlan and Bethany L. Johnson, authors of a new book, You’re Doing It Wrong! Mothering, Media, and Medical Expertise (Rutgers U Press, 2019). See below for additional info and links related to the book.
Margaret M. Quinlan (Ph.D.) is an associate professor in the department of communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She explores how communication creates, resists and transforms knowledges about bodies. She critiques power structures in order to empower individuals who are marginalized inside and outside of healthcare systems. She has authored approximately 40 journal articles, 17 book chapters and co-produced documentaries in a regional Emmy award-winning series.
Bethany L. Johnson (MPhil, M.A.) is an instructor in history and an associate member to the graduate faculty and research affiliate faculty in the department of communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She studies how science, medicine, and health discourses are framed and reproduced by institutions and individuals from the 19th century to the present. She has published in interdisciplinary journals such as Health Communication, Women & Language, Departures in Critical Qualitative Research and Women’s Reproductive Health.
I [Maggie] sat in the pediatrician’s office with my two children texting my husband with updates on results for sore throats, high temperatures and ear infections. I made the mistake of checking my email to learn that Bethany and I received a MAJOR Revise and Resubmit (R&R) on our latest journal article under review. The supportive editor urged us to “let [them] know if [we] would like to revise…in the next three weeks because my term as an editor is about to end.”
I panicked and texted Bethany while I waited for the nurse to report the results of a urine culture. The following is a transcript of the ensuing text message exchange:
Maggie: We got a MAJOR R&R. CHECK YOUR EMAIL
Bethany: “I’m driving with DO NOT DISTURB while driving turned on. I’ll see your message when I get where I am going”
Bethany: Wait, what?! I am in drop off line will read when I get home
Maggie: Did I forget to say congrats? Oh yeah, congrats. I have a pit in my stomach
Maggie: We HAVE NO CHOICE but to do the revisions. All I see is $$.
Bethany: The fact that [Editor] wants it back so soon must mean that [Editor] is supportive, right?
Maggie: Well, Reviewer 2 basically said REJECT. And [child’s] last day of preschool is Thursday. When will we do this?!
We both text our sitters (we each have a toddler and a baby) to figure out what days work for them so we can pump out the revisions. At this time, we both still pumped breastmilk; we completed all this pumping simultaneously. After a phone meeting we make a plan: Maggie will create the revision chart while Bethany begins to rework the introduction.
Writing about the dangers of maternal death in the early postpartum period (the first six weeks) took on a new meaning as we worked to meet deadlines in the very period in question. We meant to advocate for others in our situation, but doing so meant we had to bring the book to publication as soon as possible, and that required us to work during those six weeks.
Our Press would have given us more time and everyone there was very supportive. However, the penalties for delays impact opportunities for advancement in our careers (e.g., research visibility, promotions, grant funding), even if these penalties aren’t obvious until later. For tenured professors, there is the option to “stop the clock,” but there is evidence that this is more beneficial for those without primary caretaking responsibilities.
Maggie is a tenured associate professor who went back to work with her second child at three months and Bethany is an instructor and had to take semesters off unpaid as she was due at the end of a semester twice. Although Maggie was able to take paid leave and did not teach, she remained on masters and doctoral student committees and skyped into defenses because if she took time off those committees it would have erased years of mentorship and emotional labor. This resulted in more than 50 hours of work the semesters she went unpaid and without health insurance.
We are also aware these stopping the clock, altering teaching schedules, and all the other ways we modified or rearranged our schedules reflect economic and other forms of structural privilege. We have colleagues who managed to juggle shifting deadlines by handing off childcare to partners. We realize we are fortunate to have supportive partners; however, they have work constrains as well. Bethany’s partner travels weekly and often at the last minute, so schedules time-off in advance. Maggie’s partner has a family manufacturing business with no vacation time, so taking on more childcare than planned equates to lost business.
We conducted a cost-benefit analysis of a R&R with Major Revisions to Press. Here it is:
20 hours each for childcare
a Total of 40 hours at 15 dollars/hour
Compensation for academic publishing:
- $0 from publisher, journal, etc.
- From university:
- tenured party: $0; expected tenure and promotion
- untenured party: $0; neither recognition nor job security.
- Untenured party also has to absorb childcare cost ($300) against adjunct pay ($3500 per course before taxes) and can’t afford not to publish, in hopes of future job stability (also believes in the work).
Before our first children, Maggie and I discussed how hard it would be to balance the demands of an academic job where you have to complete teaching/mentoring, researching/publication, committees/service work—and that’s if you don’t work in a lab. Our jobs have some flexibility in that we can teach online or work from home, but this comes with expectations (from ourselves and others) that we are available around the clock. The result is often 60 hours a week of work, to complete with time leftover for our families and the ever-elusive “self-care.” In some cases, there are real consequences for taking leave (paid or unpaid) as it can lead to accusations of not “pulling your weight” in a department.
As such, we are well aware of the “pregnancy penalty.” and “motherhood tax.” We finished our book manuscript, You’re Doing It Wrong! Mothering, Media and Medical Expertise, a full year before the deadline because we both unexpectedly got pregnant with our second children.
It is easy to forget that academic publishing still has deadlines when individuals are on paid and unpaid leave (and Family Medical Leave Act leave) as one cannot control when article feedback arrives. Even after we returned from maternity leave, publishing (research, writing, editing, conference travel) means we need to pay for additional childcare and when that cannot happen, we are still expected to meet deadlines (even with extensions, although we never ask for them), the work piles up) so we work around the clock to meet deadlines.
Struggling with less sleep and more to balance in our families didn’t improve our writing, even if it forced us to be more efficient with our time. Social media complicates this already precarious balance as it is both a boon and a burden, allowing us to commiserate and celebrate with other academic mothers and parents, but potentially enabling students and colleagues more access to our daily lives and thus, critique and surveillance of our “off hours.”
What’s worse—sharing our experiences here could feel like an indictment of someone else’s postpartum period. Someone who asked for extensions, missed deadlines and did the hard work of disappointing others to maintain some semblance of balance in this critical period. We want to celebrate those decisions. Our point is that the system is broken, and no matter which path you choose (round-the-clock or clocking out) someone will say, “you’re doing it wrong.”
We recognize that the cultural landscape of families is shifting, more partners are engaged in parenting, and the cis, heterosexual model of the nuclear family does not reflect the lived experience of many within and outside of academia. We are not claiming that fathers, same-sex couples, etc. do not experience similar challenges. Cis males in heterosexual couples are doing more than even to co-parent, though overall, labor is still distributed in ways that unequally burdens cis female partners. Furthermore, researchers found that involved fathers have decreased tension around work-family balance and experience increased work satisfaction overall. Others conclude that having children increases pay/compensation and also increases output—unless you are a mother.
Because of the financial commitment of preparing our research for peer-reviewed submission, we remain dedicated to completing revisions to the editor and reviewers’ satisfaction and seeing our articles go to press. We both love our work; we are passionate about teaching, committed to our graduate and undergraduate students, and we enjoy the challenge and discovery of research and publication, but we are tired. Our responses are concise to maintain our professionalism, but what these messages omit are the economic, personal and relational costs of maintaining our standards in a system that “taxes” us, directly or indirectly, for reproducing.
Thank you for the opportunity to revise our manuscript. Yes— we will complete revisions by the deadline.
 In our book, we discuss at length the problem with the label “mother,” even while we acknowledge the theoretical, legal and political weight of the title. As we say, “We most often use the term “mother” to reflect historical terminology, self-identification, and the direction of the medical gaze, yet we acknowledge that gender/sex is a continuum and motherhood is a state of flux. This word is both sufficient and wholly insufficient to describe the experiences of many today…we hope to examine how power and oppression impact individuals who wish to identify as a mother or identify themselves as mothers or parents across diverse social strati (see also Griffin & Chávez, 2012)” (p. 3).
Here is some information about our book: “You’re Doing it Wrong! investigates the storied history of expertise around mothering in the media, from the newspapers, magazines, doctors’ records and personal papers of the nineteenth century to today’s websites, Facebook groups, and Instagram feeds. Johnson and Quinlan find surprising parallels between today’s mothering experts and their Victorian counterparts, but they also explore how social media has placed unprecedented pressures on new mothers wrestling with familiar concerns and crises from pre-conception through early toddlerhood.”
We have a website that explains some of our other projects: https://johnsonquinlanresearch.com/
Johnson, B., & Quinlan, M. M. (2019). You’re doing it wrong! Mothering, media, and medical expertise. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.