Being a mother on campus and in public space is one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced.
In the academic community, those who love women tell young women, you can do anything, you can do everything, and be anyone. We say if you want to be a mother and have the positions of men it will be difficult but you can do it, there is a way. Those who hate women, tell women that you have to chose. If you want the positions that men have, then act less like a “woman” and more like a man. Don’t wear bright lipstick, tight clothes, and do not have children. I repeat, DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN!!!
The sexism and misogyny we experience in academia and in the world at large crushes the psyche of women. These mixed messages fracture our spirits and we feel torn, between our careers and family lives. It’s important to recognize not all women want to be mothers, but for those of us who do our choices our constrained by the constant threat and expectation that we not become mothers. In very real ways, our full humanity is denied as our value is placed in our ideas. The lives and loves we leave off campus have no value to the institution and academic culture forces us to divorce ourselves from family life on campus.
What I’ve found to be true is that, it is possible to be a mother in the academy but it’s very hard because the institution pushes us out by not providing us with accessible child care options and wait lists that last multiple years. What are we, the workers and the students of these institutions, supposed to do with our children? As working class mothers of color, how can we work and study in peace when we are unable to secure quality care for our children. This is how mothers are systematically pushed out of the university. It’s not because we can’t mother and be scholars, it’s because the university won’t let us.
There’s also the visual violence of realizing that there is no place on campus for you to exist as a mother. In not providing the adequate number of lactation rooms within a 5 minute walk or providing changing tables in bathrooms, mothers and children are effectively written out of public space. This is the biggest obstacle to mothers in the academy and in public space that seldom is addressed. By design, lactation rooms are no where to be found on campus. This coupled with a year or more wait lists for access to childcare and no maternity leave created a perfect system to push mothers out of the academy. The space, the policies, our professors, and colleagues all work together to create a culture that is violent towards mothers and reinforces the message that we do not belong at universities and women must chose between those two lives.
It is possible to be a mother in the academy, but it is an environment that is unwelcoming and hostile towards mothers and families and is set up from the very beginning for you to fail. We are blamed for the obstacles we face, because we shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place, why didn’t we wait? As a Latina, I see the violence mothers experience at school as the colonial legacy the university is rooted in that constrains women’s lives, punishes motherhood, and polices our reproductive agency, delimiting our right to have sovereignty over our bodies. The obsession with controlling women’s reproductive abilities, can be seen in other historical struggles where Latinas and communities of color were victims of forced sterilization. As women of color our ability to parent and mother is constantly undermined and under assault at the university. As mothers of color our sexuality and reproductive rights are under hyper vigilance, we are told we cannot have children in high school, as undergrads, in graduate school, so when??? By the time we graduate, many of us are in early to mid thirties and the job application process begins, where again we are discouraged from having children because the demands to publish are incompatible with having babies and securing tenure track jobs.
It is the same struggle in public space. It is rare to find lactation rooms and changing tables in bathrooms in most public spaces. While our society has required most mothers to work to make ends meet for many decades, the built environment continues to reinforce the message that mothers do not belong in public space. Therefore, it is up to us to make visible the invisible. We have to liberate ourselves and mothers in the public square and in our university campuses. If we don’t make our realities visible, we will continue to be ignored. If a store doesn’t provide a changing table, maybe it’s time to start changing those diapers on the cashiers counter instead of crouching over in the car all the time! I’m only half joking. Maybe instead of covering up, hiding in cars, and bathrooms we should just start nursing or pumping in public in full view of whomever. There will be snickers, but continuing to hide and staying silent hasn’t helped us get any closer to having our needs as mothers on campus and in public space heard. We need to demand greater access to affordable quality child care for all mothers and mothers on campus.
I know that this is a lot to take on, but it’s time to start organizing, taking direct actions, and voicing our dissent. For now, Breast feeding in public is my resistance. Cheers to breastfeeding everywhere and not giving a damn! You WILL NOT keep me trapped in cars and bathrooms any longer!! Breast milk is not the same as shit and piss, thank you very much!!! I’m breaking free!! I’m not hiding anymore. I’m a mother, a daughter, sister, a wife, a scholar, and activist, and all of those parts of me will see the light and exist wholly and visibly to all.