This week I have had real communication difficulties with Archaeologist Husband and Number One Son. First, my web cam mystically disappeared from Skype and this did happen only in Stockholm. For some reason, which I have now gathered, it worked perfectly in my hotel in Rome, but stubbornly was absent in Sweden. Secondly, I lost my voice in Rome, so there has been no bedtime stories for two nights, since my voice goes from whispering to louder, but painfully cracking. Sessions at sauna helped, but then on the way back I saw one of my colleagues and had to talk. Nice to hear the latest, but my voice is in a very fragile state. And naturally, I had to talk to my family after I realized that the Bluetooth was on and had probably picked up signals and noise from different appliances neighbours have. They could now see me, but hearing was another matter.
Working away mothers in academia have now becoming more common and I have met in Villa Lante in January a friend from the past who is at the moment in exactly the same situation as I am: the family is in one country and the mum is working in another on a temporary contract. She is also blogging about it - but in Finnish. Her situation is slightly different, though, since she has FOUR children, but their ages vary between 7 and 17. The oldest definitely does not need mother daily. However, we are still talking about a family where the father is running the everyday, while the mother is doing research abroad, this time working at Oxford in an ERC project on the Jagellonica family and it place in the royal circles of Europe. It is relatively common that male academics are away and the wife is running the everyday, but in order to have more female researchers at the universities, in these uncertain times of 'wandering postdocs', we need clearly and definitely more wonderful men for husbands. Girls, be wise when you choose.
It is fitting that my historian colleague ended up at Oxford and is writing in her blog about the lack of female role models and peer support exactly at the time when the female staff and researchers at Oxford have started to raise the matters of institutional inequality and casual misogyny in academia and created Women in humanities group. The article in the Guardian shows the gap the male and female academics have in their perception of gender equality in the universitites: males think that the situation is good while females think it is poor. Some of the behaviour towards the female speakers in conferences mentioned in the piece is quite shocking. In addition, women are constantly asked about their family in academia and males hardly ever. I did notice that my Italian colleague did ask about my husband when we discussed my work situation in Stockholm. However, in a dinner with my Italian colleagues the males did discuss their children as well - but after I asked. However, the academic moms I know value their families - and this is true with many males as well. Certain people share discussions of their families, but it is normally in less formal circumstances, often in Facebook.
As a Finn, I do notice the difference between the Nordic countries and England. The 'old boys' are everywhere to be seen and one specific remark I have heard of stated the need to get 'an Oxford man' as a professor; this shows that women do not even get a look in some cases - or there are no women competent enough. The suits clearly communicate more easily with other suits, who have often been through schools for boys before university. They may even not realize that there is a problem and do not intentionally bypass women. But the lack of female research students raising through the ranks is visible in certain corners in the Nordic countries as well, so the equal countries are not problem free either. We need more normal mixed educational and working situations from early on, an avoidance of single-sex workplaces and general appreciation of family life alongside work and professional profiling. Not to mention childcare...