Studies proposing a conflicting relationship between the demands of tenure-track faculty life and women’s aspirations to have a family are also numerous. While I believe there is some truth to this, I think that framing the problem as a simple conflict between the tenure clock and the biological clock is not only simplistic, but potentially offensive to women, because it presupposes, among other things, that at least some women are bound by a socially and biologically determined urge to reproduce or otherwise form stable family units, and that when made to choose between this “urge” and their academic pursuits, they inevitably chose the former…because it’s in their nature! While I believe that some women (as well as men) definitely have an interest in procreating and forming families, the fact that men are less likely to find this desire conflicting with their professional goals is more grounded in societal expectations for the provision of care than in biological constraints for when and how one is able to procreate. Again, there is a multitude of research supporting the claim that women are more likely to be caregivers for children, the elderly, and other dependents. And again, there are always determinist arguments for why this is natural. But, for me, the important part of this for women philosophers is that this problem become recognized as a true problem for female philosophers aspiring to become professors, and that the root of the problem is not their own personal conflict (i.e., the choice was yours…you knew going into philosophy that you would not be able to have a family….), but is rather rooted in the academic system and the discipline itself. If males in the discipline are not only more likely to be successful at publishing and getting tenured, but are also more likely to be able to have all this and a family too, then there is something inherently unjust about the ways we are limiting women’s personal choices in philosophy.
Since it is immensely complex and possibly utopian to even think about “fixing” society so that child-rearing responsibilities are distributed equally among adult members of the family, I believe that the field has to be proactive in providing opportunities for women and men alike to have careers in philosophy as well as families, if they so desire. Now, someone might argue that this would give women in philosophy an unfair advantage, or that we would be losing academic rigor. Additionally, someone might argue that men and women alike are likely to have personal conflicts and barriers not related to the child-rearing and care of dependents that also impact their potential to succeed in academia, for instance illness, economic hardship, race, gender, nationality, etc. However, using Eva Kittay’s framework for dependency as a special kind of moral power, I would argue that the existing or potential responsibility of caring for dependents is a special kind of “conflict” (in a qualified sense), and that since women are far more likely to be responsible for care-giving, then provisions should be made to ensure that this does not count against them for academic success in philosophy.