Classically Inclined

February 24, 2017

Some thoughts on Judith Butler and kin

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 7:46 pm
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I was in a packed house a few weeks ago to hear Judith Butler speak about kinship trouble in the Bacchae. I livetweeted it under the hashtag #housman and will pull have pulled together the tweets into a Storify, I suspect, but (as will probably come as little surprise) there was more about kinship as broadly defined than there was about the Bacchae – the play became the case study for, oooh, the last quarter or so of the paper, after the general ideas had been outlined and Butler had looked at some other Greek tragedies.

For those of you who haven’t come across Butler, she is a very influential thinker in the gender studies world and beyond – in particular, her Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender kind of rocked my world when I was a graduate student, not least through the notion of gender performativity (which in some ways I now take completely for granted). She has since published important things on war and grief and many other things which I haven’t read, but I do need to catch up, and indeed to return to the familiar scholarship for a refresher. It never hurts to have a reminder of the ideas you found so exciting.

I wanted to muse a little on the concept of kinship that Butler sketched, because to my surprise I found myself thinking about its applicability to the Roman world as well as the world of the Bacchae (and indeed Butler herself framed the project within the scope of a wider interest in kin in the modern world, not a purely ancient one). Starting from the anthropologists and good old Levi-Strauss, she noted that kinship is often seen and employed as a way to control and define relations, with an underlying assumption that kinship is a stable thing – you are my brother, she is my mother, he is my father, and that leads us into a series of laws and regulations that govern how we behave towards these kin, and that lay out the punishments if we disobey these laws (and thus, as usual, we come to the incest taboo, but never mind).


November 3, 2016

New publication: This Is Not A Chapter About Jane Harrison

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:42 pm
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Just a brief note to share the exciting news that my chapter “This Is Not A Chapter About Jane Harrison: Classicists at Newnham College, 1882-1922” has now been published! It appears in Women Classical Scholars. Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly, edited by Rosie Wyles and Edith Hall, and I’m really delighted to have contributed to this fantastic volume. It’s bringing together whole swathes of previously forgotten women scholars and shows the kinds of contributions have made to classics as a discipline over the centuries – often despite the expectations or censure of men.

My particular chapter charts out how we go from a situation where women aren’t accepted to study at Cambridge in any capacity to the situation, after the first World War, when women are established in the teaching faculty of the university, women students are an accepted presence at university lectures (despite the continued objection of some individual lecturers), and female academics are developing their own chains of inheritance rather than relying on men.

A lot of this work drew heavily on material from the Newnham College archives, to whom I owe a great debt of thanks; I wrote about some of the hidden gems I found in this post about what the departmental photocopier looks like in 1903.

For me, this chapter is a marker set down for future work – but for now, the monsters call again.

October 27, 2016

A monstrous case study: the sirens and porn

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:32 pm
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One of the pleasures of working on classical reception in popular culture is that every so often, an absolute gem of a case study falls into your lap. Earlier this week on Twitter, Natalie Collins shared this video from the Naked Truth Project, and as you’ll see it’s extremely relevant to my current monstrous interests:

The video uses the myth of the sirens to offer handy tips on how to deal with your porn addiction. Learning from Odysseus putting beeswax in his men’s ears and having himself tied to his ship’s mast, and from Jason getting Orpheus to sing a sweeter, louder song to drown the sirens out, the men (and the target audience is very clearly men) watching this video should avoid what they can; ask others for help; and pursue the better song.

Where to begin.

Let’s start with the underlying premise that the ancient and the modern world have no distance between them. In a line that would generate floods of red ink in any undergraduate essay, the voiceover informs us that “throughout history and the arts, sirens became the personification of sexual temptation” and that “a few thousand years later, and pornography is more accessible than ever, with the same deadly pull of the sirens’ song.” Notice the grand generalisation, the chopping of several millennia of culture, the flattening of the cultural register. Sirens = porn, and from the Greek heroes we can learn how to deal with them. We being we men, and heterosexual men at that – the sirens of the start of the video are echoed by the women on the representative screen, as if they have moved from their rock to the internet, erasing the existence of gay porn. The shallowness of the cultural comparison speaks to a real modern problem in dealing with the classical world – the idea that the Greeks and the Romans were ‘just like us’. If the Argonauts had had to handle pornography, this is what they’d have done. The strangeness and difference and peculiarity of the ancient world disappears.

Yet there is also a strange desire to be authentic in this video, to give an accurate tale about the myths. The fact that the video uses not only the well-known story from Homer’s Odyssey but also the less well-known story from Apollonius’ Argonautica speaks to a wish to engage with the classical sources – or, quite possibly, some intelligent and careful perusal of the Sirens’ Wikipedia page. Either way, the desire to make sirens look ‘real’ gives us the visual representation of the monsters as having the form of women with bird wings – we’ve returned to a ‘classical’ model of what sirens look like rather than the mermaid-like figures who have, in some ways, replaced the sirens in the popular imagination of the last century or so. Again, this could be down to someone on the design team with a bit of classical education under their belt, or some judicious Wikipediaing – but, either way, this desire to be ‘authentic’, tell the real tale, get a bit of legitimising classical reference in there, is in operation. I’d say the same about the video’s observation that the sirens want either to get sailors to drown in shipwrecks or to eat them when they get to the island – including the lesser known fate of the victims adds to the sense of aiming for authenticity and authority, which of course is then used to give the advice in the second half of the video more moral weight.


August 15, 2016

Classics and the #manel – some preliminary thoughts

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 4:00 pm
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I’ve been thinking about the manel lately, and talking to people on Twitter about it. If this term is new to you, it’s the phenomenon of the all-male panel at conferences, or indeed an all-male line-up at a smaller conference. For a flavour of what I mean, there’s a Tumblr dedicated to chronicling the all-male panel; there are also various pledges doing the rounds on the interweb for people – well, men – to promise they won’t appear on an all-male panel. The issue is pretty well aired on the fan convention circuit, and also in the STEM subjects and technology fields. It is less a thing in classics.

There are people in the field doing things about this. Sarah Bond, after attending this year’s meeting of the SCS-AIA, felt troubled by the presence of all-male panels on the program at the same time as she was being told that sexism wasn’t a thing in academia any more; her response was to put together a fantastic list of Women in Ancient History so that panel convenors could find a woman working on the relevant field and invite her to participate rather than throwing their hands in the air and saying there aren’t any women working on this topic (which is rarely if ever true). She’ll be talking more about this issue on a panel at this year’s CAAS meeting (link to .doc file). Melissa Terras recently tweeted about raising the issue of the manel at a digital humanities conference, and the kick-back she got on this. Her experience shows that it’s hard to do these things as an individual. You’re dealing with big organisations as well as individual researchers organising symposia; sometimes you need an institutional level policy, like the advice that the Society of Historians of the Early American Period is giving to panel proposers to display diversity in their speakers if they want their panels accepted. So, in an ideal world, what would the Women’s Classical Committee do about it? I should add that these are my musings about the shape that a campaigning organisation’s response might take and don’t in any way reflect WCC UK policy.


June 3, 2016

The Women’s Classical Committee UK

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 4:18 pm

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to make a proper blog post about the Women’s Classical Committee UK, but it has, and here it is.

Partially, the reason I haven’t posted anything is because when the WCC UK was getting off the ground, I was coming closer to the start of my maternity leave, and then (quite naturally) my focus was elsewhere. The impetus for the WCC UK came from the feminism and classics sandpit that I wrote about a while ago, where there seemed to be a lot of energy bouncing around for something like a UK-based equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus, and it seemed criminal not to capitalise on it. The organisation and set-up and prep have all been happening behind the scenes, but in April we held our launch event, and are now recruiting members. We are planning our AGM event for next year, as well as a pedagogy event for later this summer targeted at ECRs and graduate students, and we’re thinking about what else we could do based on the suggestions and ideas we had at the launch. I Storified the livetweeting of the launch, so if you missed it there’s plenty for you to catch up on.

The point of the WCC UK is to support women in classics in the UK, and to bring together people taking a feminist approach in their scholarship (there’s a fuller statement of aims here). I thought the UK needed something like this because of my very positive experience of the WCC US as a graduate student, and I felt the void when I returned to the UK. Obviously the organisation is still embryonic, but already I feel as if I’ve got to know some more women in the field and as if people are ready for an organisation doing this kind of work. I’m currently helping get the pedagogy event organised, but I’m very keen to start thinking about the research front and what needs to happen there in the next couple of weeks.

I get to think about these things because I am the Administrator of the Committee, which feels like an appropriate place to be given in a sense it’s my fault the thing exists. Quite what the Administrator does is still a work in progress (as one would expect), but I’m enjoying finding out as we go along! We’re also going to be running our first set of elections to the Steering Committee pretty soon, so do keep an eye out for that.

You can follow the WCC UK on Twitter and on Facebook, and we have a temporary blog where we’re posting news about events and other things of interest. The launch event was a very exciting place to start, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the journey goes now. Any suggestions or ideas that you have, please shout – the plan is to support the community, so we need to know what the community wants!

April 27, 2016

On being a productive academic mother

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 12:40 pm
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I was having a conversation over e-mail with an academic of my acquaintance who has just had a child, and was wondering if I could offer her any suggestions about how I’ve managed to keep getting things done since infans was born. In all honesty, a big part of it has been the fact that I’ve not been required to do anything terribly creative – the book revisions and manuscript preparation, while chunky, haven’t really required me to put together much new material or think up fresh ideas, and there’s only so much imagination and intellectual capital you need to change the formatting of a bibliography. I am the first person to complain grumpily on Twitter about the slog of editing a passage for the dozenth time, but actually, that’s probably the level of mental demand I’ve been operating at. I’ve only started to think properly about the conference papers I’m giving this summer in the last month or so, and the effort required to put together something new has actually been quite daunting.

However, I did have a couple of other thoughts and suggestions about getting stuff done, if you choose to, and thought I’d put them here in case anyone else find them useful. The first is to accept that for the first few months, you probably won’t get anything done, especially if you’re breastfeeding on demand as I was – and that’s totally alright and as it should be. Giving oneself permission for this is really, really hard (or at least I found it so after the first few weeks), but actually, stop.

If you do have things that absolutely must get done, then naps are the way forward. If you’re lucky enough to have a baby giving you enough sleep during the night to function during the day without naps yourself, and have a baby who will go to sleep somewhere that is not on you, and for more than five minutes at a time. Sometimes babies do not seem to realise mummy needs time to reply to that research collaborator. And that is OK too. But thinking about how to use any nap time you do get strategically is key – what do you most need to do to give yourself piece of mind? It may be having a cup of tea and checking the proofs you’ve been asked to return before the end of the week; it may be washing up and tidying the kitchen so the thought of the post-lunch mess doesn’t keep you consistently on edge; it may be having a nap yourself, or a shower, or watching an episode of some mindless television. All of these things are also OK.

The only way I did get anything done during those naps was lists. Lots and lots of lists. I prioritised things that had immediate deadlines or I had already committed to (like final revisions and copyedits for articles which were more or less done), and things related to the book manuscript. I did agree to take on a short piece for a web-based outreach project, which I thought would be a good way of getting me back into the groove of generating ‘new’ words, but in retrospect I wish I’d said no to that as I did to a book review invitation – it didn’t drain away time, but it was a bit of a distraction. What worked particularly well for me was accepting that tasks which came under the heading of ‘collegiality’ – things I should do not to hold up collected volumes/editors, meeting deadlines and so on – needed to be done; the book was the massive priority, even if it was advancing a paragraph of edits at a time; and everything else could wait. Really.

So the big ‘formal’ advice I have is to push back firmly on anything related to teaching or administration, and to only let research in if there are imminent deadlines or if it is the most important project you have in hand. I was also a big fan of checking my e-mail even if only to delete or file it, as I did with about 95% of the e-mail I got during the course of my leave – the thought of coming back to an untouched inbox after even a few weeks gives me the shivers.

Some of this is, of course, down to who you are as an individual and where you are in your career, and I really don’t want to suggest that I did the ‘right’ thing. I felt particularly under pressure about the book because of being, at the time, on a three year contract and being very aware that I needed to have the book in press for job hunting. I also inevitably start feeling a bit jumpy after a few weeks if I don’t have something academic to get on with – one of the reasons that a year’s maternity leave completely off from academia would have been a really, really bad idea for me. Please don’t look at this post and assume these have to be your choices – they don’t. I recommend Rachel Moss’s thoughts about some of the choices she made in the early months, and I’ll also mention that I went back to work after just under six months of maternity leave (again, entirely my choice but under the implicit pressure of a short-term contract). I am pretty sure that if I ever do this again, I will make a different set of choices.

Since going back to work in September, I’ve also found that I think about far fewer projects than I did pre-infans. In those heady days (ahem), I could have two or three projects in various stages on the go at once, and could balance hopping between them – for instance, I often found I needed the other projects to give me something to do when the book was getting too much or had reached a pause point, and there would often be some outreach or cross-over work in there too. Now, with teaching and everything else, I think realistically I can only manage one project at a time. I was recently given the advice that with children, one should prioritise quality over quantity – and I now see why that was an excellent suggestion, if only because I cannot imagine trying to do more than one thing at once in the more strictly delineated working time I now have. This will change as infans gets older, of course, but right now that’s the reality.

Now I find myself in the slightly strange vacuum between finishing a big project and starting a big project, and not knowing quite what to do with myself… but that’s another subject for another post.

December 23, 2015

2015: A review

Christmas and the turn of the year are coming over the horizon, so it’s as good a moment as any to have a look back over the last year. The blog has been a bit quiet since the arrival of infans, as my priorities have been geared towards getting on with my teaching and research rather than this enjoyable but not particularly critical activity. Which is a shame, as there have been several things I’ve wanted to blog about and may still get around to, but it’s not as much fun as introducing infans to stacking cups. However, the good thing about the silence on here (and the comparative silence on Twitter) is that there’s been a lot getting done elsewhere!

Teaching: this term I’ve been coordinating our first year skills course, repeat teaching Intermediate Latin and teaching Roman Life Stories from scratch. I’ve also had third year dissertations and some MA teaching, along with a spot of Catullus too. I’m really enjoying Roman Life Stories – it’s a version of the Roman Life Course module I taught at Birmingham, into two hours of seminar/lecture rather than just a lecture, and limited to third years rather than second and third years together. It’s lovely having the extra time and being able to have some proper discussion going about the sources, and the students seem to be finding it very interesting too. It’s slightly strange that I’m back to using very detailed lecture notes, written when I was a bit less confident, but it’s all getting there! I’m also enjoying seeing how students engage with secondary literature – I’ve got them leading discussion about a designated article each week in groups of three and four, and that seems to be going quite well.

Intermediate Latin is going pretty much as it did last academic year, with a couple of tweaks to the insignia system. The course has got to the stage where the students have settled down and are a bit more confident in their own abilities, which means they start having more fun with the language and that makes it more fun for me too. It’s always a pleasure to watch students levelling up, and this year is no exception.

Research: the big project this year has been getting on with the book manuscript… and I’m delighted to report that last week, I finally submitted a complete manuscript to the press and have just received the approval of their external reader. There’s still plenty to do – the reader requested a few minor changes, the manuscript needs to be gone over to meet the press style guide, there’s metadata to provide and indexing to sort… but with any luck, it’s all now into the technical bits and bobs, and the academic hard graft is done. Fingers very much crossed for this to go smoothly in the new year.

The other major project on the go has been the AHRC Family Archive project. It’s nearing its final stages – we’ve done all the outreach activities we built into the grant, and are now working on co-writing the two articles we had planned as a result of it. We had a meeting earlier this month to discuss how to structure those articles and what they should say, and it was delightfully productive and positive. I’ve been having a blast working with the project team, and I’m hoping we can find directions to go with this in the future.

I’ve also finally got the pedagogy article that’s been hanging around for a couple of years out the door, which is no small feat but a very nice one to have out of the way, and there’s been continuing admin work around getting the piece on women classicists at Newnham into print. Conference activity has been non-existent this year for pretty obvious reasons, but I’ll be gearing up with two papers in summer 2016 that relate to the Monster Project (which I really do have to write about properly before too long). I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into new projects now that these ones are coming to their natural ends.

Personal: the most obvious amazing thing is the arrival of infans, followed closely by surviving my first term as a parent, followed even more closely by managing to submit a book manuscript (or as near as you can get) whilst parenting. At the end of last year, I wrote that this would be life-changing for me and my husband. Of course, it has been, but in some strange ways things have kept on pottering on just as normal – I still research, I still teach. I also now keep an eye out for new nursery rhymes and memorise any vaguely catchy folksong I come across, and have discovered Views I never knew I had about childrearing and high chair design. Other things have diminished to compensate for that, but they’ve not been things I’ve missed terribly much – and indeed, their current absence is more a fallowness than a complete loss. It does mean I’ve been saying no to things a little more, but that’s not actually a bad thing.

It feels slightly strange to put this under personal, but I’ve been delighted that my vague inclination that we should actually have a British equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus has finally started getting somewhere – the Women’s Classical Committee UK is now up and running (or has a proper webpage, which is just as good). We’re organising our launch event for April 2016, and it’s going to be fabulous.

The big question for 2016 is what’s happening with my job prospects. As you may remember, my contract with Royal Holloway lasts for three years, which ends on 31st August 2016. There are jobs coming up, but having a baby and a fixed abode means I don’t have the amazing geographical flexibility that lets me apply for everything. That’s OK – it’s a compromise I decided I was willing to take. Despite this being a three year post, it also comes with a three year probation period; maternity leave meant I had my mid-probation meeting with our dean this semester rather than in the summer. I’m very pleased that I will now be judged to have passed probation when the book is in press… it’s all so close! So if I get that done by Easter, that will be a double whammy. Let’s see how it goes…

November 10, 2015

A seasonal Movember post on philosophical facial hair

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:06 pm
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Tis the season for people to start doing extravagant things with their facial hair – yes, Movember is upon us. It will not surprise you to learn that the question of whether to beard or not to beard was also asked in antiquity, in particular in terms of whether a philosopher should have a beard or not. If you think of the statues of philosophers you see in museums, or at least the statues that are represented as being of philosophers, they tend to have a prolific growth of facial hair to their credit. For some in antiquity, possessing a beard was seen as a defining characteristic of being a philosopher – beardedness somehow became equated with possessing wisdom.

Alas for those currently cultivating their facial foliage, it turns out that the connection isn’t quite that simple. This post is a quick round-up of some things that the Roman Stoics have to say about what’s going on with beards, gender and wisdom.

The division between those with beards and those without isn’t just between the wise and non-wise – it’s also seen as a dividing line between men and women, although again, having a beard isn’t in and of itself enough to make you a man. Having a beard is described as natural or according to nature. The Stoics are very keen on the idea that if something is according to nature, then it’s also in accordance with virtue, which makes the deliberate distinction between men and women caused by facial hair something to be valued. In Musonius Rufus’ On Cutting The Hair (Discourse 21), he compares the beard to the crest of the cock or the mane of the lion. Epictetus uses the same imagery in Discourses 1.16.12, again to emphasise the difference between the male and the female of the species.

There are always those who aren’t so happy with their stubble, which turns out to be a sign of a deeper existential malaise. In Discourses 3.1, Epictetus critiques a young man for depilating himself and confusing the natural boundary between the genders. However, he then goes on to remind his victim that he is not human by virtue of his hair, but by virtue of his moral purpose (proairesis). While the young man’s attitude to his bodily hair is a symptom of his confusion about how the world works, he needs to do more than cultivate a healthy beard to address the underlying problem. Indeed, while Epictetus attacks the youth for his excessive personal care regime in this discourse, in Discourses 4.11 he expresses a different view – he would rather have an over-coiffured youth come to learn philosophy than one with ‘his moustache reaching down to his knees’, because at least he would be able to point the first student in the correct direction of what is good and beautiful (to kalon).

The Roman philosophers are also aware of the tension between the beard as an emblem of the philosopher and the fact that simply having a beard is not enough to make one a philosopher. Epictetus says that his beard and his rough cloak identify him as a philosopher to the young man attacked for depilation (3.1.24). He lists growing a beard, along with composing philosophical treatises, as one of the marks of philosophising which Epicurus demonstrated but attributed to the flesh (sarx) rather than his moral purpose (proairesis; Discourses 2.23.21). He implies that a philosopher should reject the threat of having his beard shaved, even if such an action could result in the philosopher’s decapitation (Discourses 1.2.27). Yet  in Discourses 4.8, he parallels philosophy to music and carpentry to illustrate that simply taking on the attire of a trade is not enough to make one a practitioner of that trade. The beard signals an affiliation with the philosophical life, but it holds no guarantee that its wearer will actually be living in accordance with that philosophy.

Epictetus’ comments reflect anxiety about balancing what is according to nature with the requirements of society and the line between acting like a philosopher and merely looking like one. Seneca makes a similar observation early in the Epistulae Morales, when he encourages his addressee Lucilius to continue with his philosophical studies (5.1-3). He draws a distinction between moral improvement and simply adopting the trappings of so-called philosophers; Lucilius should not deliberately present himself in a way that arouses comment. Among the things Seneca discourages him from are an outspoken hatred of silver, a bed put on the earth, messy dress sense, uncut hair – and a more unruly beard. The danger of this sort of thing is that it puts off precisely the people whom the philosophers want to reach most: the decision to look so out of step with the world around them means ‘ordinary’ people run a mile from any philosophy that seems to require them to behave so outlandishly.

Given the various attempts at facial hair that will be materialising over the coming months, and the varied range of responses they are sure to generate among the friends and acquaintances of Movember participants, I suspect the power of the beard to overstep the common boundaries of good taste is about to be tested to its limits once again. Perhaps we might bear in mind the warning that just to wear the beard isn’t the same as having the inner disposition associated with it. The Movember Foundation focuses on four key areas of men’s health – prostrate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity. If you are participating in Movember, or somebody you know is, then take Seneca’s advice and think about the hidden ways in which you’re committed to improving those problems, which will last beyond the application of the razor on 1st December and the eventual donning of the charity Christmas jumper.

September 21, 2015

On being an ECR, academia and maternity leave

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:21 pm
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Today was my first day back from maternity leave. I have, hypothetically, been away from the demands of my job a little under six months; we now have a small boy who at just over five months is happy and thriving, and starting to get the hang of this sitting up business. Now is the time for me to dive back into all of the things that I have left undone since I shut my office door at the end of March.

Or, at least, it would be if I had actually been away.

The funny thing about academic maternity leave is that you don’t actually leave. You slow down a bit, but you don’t stop. Yes, I didn’t do any exam marking in the summer term, I handed over running the departmental research seminar, and I’ve not been on campus since I left the building. But according to my records (yes, I keep records), during my maternity leave I:

  • Made some final changes to the sci fi and classics review piece and got it published.
  • Did some final administrative work related to my chapter about women classicists at Newnham for a volume due out later in the year.
  • Made edits to my pedagogy article and saw that through to publication.
  • Approved proofs for a book review that I submitted a few years ago.
  • Wrote a short article on Seneca and relaxing for a web outreach project.
  • Wrote a case study report for the Family Archive project and kept in the loop with that as it progressed.
  • Finalised the book contract.
  • Revised two and a half book chapters plus an epilogue (which is still in revision but getting there).
  • Provided some guidance for the replacement Intermediate Latin marker on how to go about it.
  • Sorted out the syllabus for the new course I’m teaching this year, requested electronic copies of readings, and submitted a reading list.
  • Sorted out my course Moodles.
  • Completed the annual monitoring forms for the courses I taught last year.
  • Engaged in discussion about the establishment of a UK-based body to represent women in classics, which is growing out of the classics and feminism sandpit because I put my money where my mouth was.
  • Did I mention learning how to parent a tiny baby, live with less sleep than I thought humanly possible, establish breastfeeding, heal from undergoing significant physical trauma, have my emotions turned upside down every five minutes by hormones, and realise why people tell new parents to stock up on muslins?

Now, baby wrangling aside, none of those things were expected of me. With the possible exception of the annual monitoring forms, my department didn’t expect me to do any of that (and I suspect that if I’d put my foot down, they would have been worked round). Part of this is because I’m generally a productive person, and I have become good at doing things efficiently during nap times (and I’m lucky to have a baby who does nap). But there are a whole load of implicit pressures at work here, both internal and external.

Internally, I recognise that some of these choices were driven by wanting to be a good colleague. If you have promised an article, say, by a publication deadline, it’s good practice to follow through, regardless of whether you’ve just had a small person, right? It’s just common professional courtesy, isn’t it? If you’ve committed to a volume, shouldn’t you help the editors to have as painless an experience as possible by responding to their e-mails in a timely fashion? I mean, sure, people say that you shouldn’t worry because you’re on leave, but if the press has set a deadline, then that deadline’s there, baby or no, and you are inextricably bound into the process of getting the book on the shelf. The way that academic publishing works means that once you’re involved, you work to the publishers’ timetable.

Some of the choices were pragmatic, in their own way. The syllabus and Moodle wrangling happened because it was going to be far easier to do that in dribs and drabs instead of getting to this week and trying to do All The Things at once – a little bit of advanced preparation goes a long way in making re-entry smoother, even after a normal summer.

Yet there are also huge implicit external pressures at work here, not least in the shape of the job market. It wouldn’t hurt if I’d left most of the heavy lifting for the book until the start of 2016, but the pressure to be able to say in applications that the manuscript is in press… when we’re all told that it’s The Book that makes the difference between fixed term and permanent contracts… Oh, and all the other articles, that’s all important for the job market too, because the more an early career researcher in a temporary post can have on her CV, the more shiny it makes her, so long as that magic book is there. So everything will be alright?

These myths about the lengths an ECR has to go to in order to get a permanent contract are pernicious enough under normal circumstances, driving those in junior positions with no security to bend over backwards to achieve goals which come with nothing more than vague promises that it’s this quality that’ll make the difference in the next job round. Those goalposts keep moving, of course – it’s the Book, it’s a project with demonstrable Impact (thanks, REF), it’s more peer reviewed article in big-hitting journals with the right metrics, it’s a good social media presence (or none at all), it’s Fellowship of the HEA.

But to have those same pressures impact on your maternity leave, whether you are conscious of them or not, is a sign of just how paranoid the current system of academic hiring makes you without even noticing. I can’t put things on hold because I need to know what’s happening when my contract ends in August, and the job adverts are already starting to appear.  But equally, I can’t put the rest of my life on hold until that phoenix-like permanent contract deigns to make an appearance. (Not that a permanent job cures all ills by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the grail we’re told to reach for and that the system appears to reward.) I’m making decisions that limit my ability to be the perfect ECR who can up sticks and move to a contract at the opposite end of the country at a moment’s notice – because there’s more to life than that.

I’m going to go and snuggle up to my son and get some sleep. And tomorrow I’ll take him to campus and introduce him to some of the people who know him but have never met him. And eventually we’ll find a new way for our family to get through the week. And I’ll keep on making the most of nap times. But I will not let those ECR myths take charge of our shared life and take away the daily joys of being together.

March 31, 2015

On pregnancy, academia and antiquity

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:55 am
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I type this from the second day of my official maternity leave, having made it to the end of term without infans making an early appearance. The presence of infans has, of course, been getting more and more obvious over the last few weeks; I’ve been particularly aware of it while staying at on-campus accommodation during the week to make my life easier, and eating in the attached student dining hall in the evenings, although the British Library offered some equally confused expressions. I’ve been thinking about pregnant bodies in academic spaces since Rachel Moss posted about this issue at the end of February, and while I’ve been very lucky not to have encountered any directly negative responses, I’ve been very aware of getting surprised looks from people around campus as I have been going around my daily business. While these reactions do not explicitly say I should not be in the space of an HE institution, they reveal my presence there is unexpected (surely she should be on leave?), particularly in a student dining hall where many of the students may be seeing me for the first time. (A massive thank you to the catering staff and the hospitality team is in order, as they have been lovely throughout the term and looked after an increasingly pregnant academic with remarkable aplomb.)

Another academic space that I shan’t be occupying, although this is entirely self-selecting, is the upcoming Classical Association conference in Bristol. This is largely a matter of practicality – Bristol and my home are very far apart, and my due date is shortly after the conference ends. While the thought of interrupting a staid paper session with a polite request for an ambulance is fairly entertaining in the abstract, I suspect the reality would be pretty subpar. However, this raises questions about whether I would have felt comfortable attending the conference if it had fallen earlier in the pregnancy. I did actually attend a couple of conferences very early on, before anybody knew about it, let alone before there were any physical giveaways beyond me not drinking alcohol. However, I’ve not attended anything particularly formal since the academic year started, and now that conference season proper is kicking off, practicalities intervene. Yet I wonder about the presence of the pregnant female body at these gatherings, and remember the classics and feminism sandpit in January, when I felt visibly pregnant but was not necessarily registering as such to others. The visibility of the pregnancy seems to relate directly to the social acceptability of being seen in public as pregnant – even in a world where economic factors mean women are working up to as close to their due dates as they can.

I want to turn to Soranus here, who has handed down to us an excellent manual on gynaecology which tells you more than you will ever need to know about pregnancy, giving birth and early infant care in the ancient world. (As Helen King says, it’s a relief to find out that midwives were expected to keep their fingernails short.) I’ve been reading his advice for the pregnant woman through the nine months with interest – in the eighth month, for instance, he recommends that women “must take exercise only in a litter or big sedan chair, unless one desires to walk short of the point of exhaustion”, and suggests that the abdomen should be anointed “all over with a cerate containing oil made up from unripe olives and myrtle, for if the skin is toned up it does not break, but is kept unwrinkled”. Soranus, dispensing stretch mark avoidance before Bio-Oil was ever dreamt up.


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