‘What are you doing here, I thought you had a kid now?’ The stigmatisation of working mothers in academia

a critical self-reflective essay on gender, motherhood and the neoliberal academy


  • Kellie Gonçalves University of Oslo




motherhood, gender, neoliberal universities, early-career researchers, auto-ethnography, stigma


The last decade has seen an increase of scholarly work within the social sciences critiquing neoliberal processes of our academic institutions. Much of this work has focused on metrics, paradoxes and politics. Few studies centre on the effects of these processes for women only and where they do exist, they are primarily located within the fields of critical geography, sociology and feminist studies. In this paper, I argue that as scholars of language, we are lagging behind and it is high time to address the demands of our taxing institutions and international workplaces with regard to the implications and consequences they have for women and, more specifically, early-career female researchers who would like to combine motherhood with an academic career. I argue that we need to be seriously attuned to the effects and ramifications of motherhood and academia with the aim of correcting existing gendered biases, which requires an investment on the part of all stakeholders if change is to take place. As such, this work has personal, political and epistemological motivations and implications. By focusing primarily on women and my own personal experiences through autoethnography, this essay is concerned with knowledge production that deviates from masculine and heteronormative accounts within the academy. In these ways, this article contributes to recent work in the social sciences that has been influenced by the ‘emotional turn’ in order to ‘find ways to exist in a world that is diminishing’.

Author Biography

Kellie Gonçalves, University of Oslo

Kellie Gonçalves is currently a post-doc fellow at the Center for Multilingualism in Society Across the Lifespan (MultiLing) at the University of Oslo, Norway. In addition to her research interests in sociolinguistics, she is an advocate for gender equality and female leadership within academia.


Adichie, C. N. (2015) We Should All Be Feminists. London: 4th Estate.

Adichie, C. N. (2017) Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. London: 4th Estate.

Ahmed, S. (2014). Selfcare as warfare. Retrieved from http://feministkilljoys.com/2014/08/25/selfcare-as-warfare/

Archetti, C. (2019), No life without family: film representations of involuntary childlessness, silence and exclusion. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 15(2): 175–96. https://doi.org/10.1386/macp.15.2.175_1

Badinter, E. (2012). The conflict: How Overzealous Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. New York: Picador.

Baxter, J. (2003) Positioning Gender in Discourse: A Feminist Methodology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230501263

Beck, U. (1986) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications.

Beck, U. and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002) Individualisation: Institutionalized Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Benard, S. and Correll, S. J. (2010) Normative discrimination and the motherhood penalty. Gender and Society 24(5): 616–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243210383142

Berg, L. D., Huijbens, E. H. and Larsen, H. G. (2016) Producing anxiety in the neoliberal university. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien 60(2): 168–80. https://doi.org/10.1111/cag.12261

Brandth, B. and Kvande, E. (2002) Reflexive fathers: negotiating parental leave and working life. Gender, Work and Organization 9(2): 186–203. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0432.00155

Budig, M. and England, B. (2001) The wage penalty for motherhood. American Sociological Review 66: 204–25. https://doi.org/10.2307/2657415

Burnett, S. B., Gatrell, C., Cooper, C. and Sparrow, P. (2011) Fatherhood and flexible working: a contradiction in terms? In S. Kaiser, M. J. Ringlstetter, M. Pinae Cunha and D. R. Eikhof (eds) Creating Balance?! International Perspectives on the Work–Life Integration of Professionals 157–71. Heidelberg: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-16199-5_9

Burnett, S. B., Gatrell, C. J., Cooper, C. and Sparrow, P. (2013) Fathers at work: a ghost in the organizational machine. Gender, Work and Organization 20(6): 632–46. https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12000

Butz, D. and Besio, K. (2004) The value of autoethnography for field research in transcultural settings. The Professional Geographer 56(3): 350–60.

Caretta, M. A., Drozdzewski, D. Jokinen, J. C and Falconer, E. (2018) ‘Who can play this game?’ The lived experiences of doctoral candidates and early career women in the neoliberal university. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 42(2): 261–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/03098265.2018.1434762

Chomsky, N. (1965) Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.21236/AD0616323

Cohen, S. A., Hanna, P., Higham, J., Hopkins, D. and Orchiston, C. (in press) Gender discourses in academic mobility. Gender, Work and Organization.

Coontz, S. (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage. London: Penguin Books.

Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, vol. 2. London: John Murray. https://doi.org/10.1037/12294-000

Denmark, F. L. and Paludi, M. A. (2018) Women and Leadership. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-72182-8

Diem-Wille, G. (1996) Femininity and professionalism: a psychoanalytic study of ambition in female academics and managers in Austria. In D. F. Good, M. Grandner and M. J. Maynes (eds) Austrian Women in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives 157–78. New York: Berghahn Books.

Donath, O. (2017) Regretting Motherhood: A Study. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Donath, O. (2015) Regretting motherhood: a sociopolitical analysis. Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society 40(2): 343–67. https://doi.org/10.1086/678145

Douglas, S. and Michaels, M. (2005) The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women. New York: Free Press.

Durkheim, É. (1933). The Division of Labor in Society (trans. G. Simpson). New York: Free Press.

Ellingsæter, A. L. and Leira, A. (eds) (2006) Politicising Parenthood in Scandinavia: Gender Relations in Welfare States. Bristol: Policy Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt9qgtw3

Elliott, A. and Urry, J. (2010) Mobile Lives. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203887042

Frändberg, L. and Vilhelmson, B. (2003) Personal mobility: a corporeal dimension of transnationalisation: the case of long-distance travel from Sweden. Environment and Planning A 35(10): 1751–68. https://doi.org/10.1068/a35315

Giddens, A. (2003) Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. New York: Routledge.

Gill, R. (2012) The hidden injuries of the neoliberal university. In R. Ryan-Flood and R. Gill (eds) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process 228–44. London: Routledge.

Gonçalves, K. (2018) The ‘dark side’ of hypermobility within Queenstown, New Zealand. In M. Bielenia-Grajewska and E. Cortes de los Rios (ed.) Innovative Perspectives on Tourism Discourse 74–90. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-2930-9.ch005

Gonçalves, K. and Schluter, A. (2017). ‘Please do not leave any notes for the cleaning lady, as many do not speak English fluently’: policy, power, and language brokering in a multilingual workplace. Language Policy 16(3): 241–65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-016-9406-2

Greenberg, D. N., Clair, J. A. and Ladge, J. (2016) Identity and the transition to motherhood: navigating existing, temporary, and anticipatory Identities. In C. Spitzmüller and R. A. Matthews (eds) Research Perspectives on Work and the Transition to Motherhood 33–56. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41121-7_3

Greenberg, D., Ladge, J. and Clair, J. (2009) Negotiating pregnancy at work: public and private con?icts. Negotiation and Con?ict Management Research 2(1): 42–56. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-4716.2008.00027.x

Hartman, Y. and Darab, S. (2012) A call for slow scholarship: a case study on the intensification of academic life and its implications for policy. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 34(1–2): 49–60. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714413.2012.643740

Hochschild, A. (1989) The Second Shift: Working families and the revolution at home. New York: Penguin Books.

Jolly, M., Sebire, N., Harris, J., Robinson, S. and Regan, L. (2000) The risks associated with pregnancy in women aged 35 years or older. Human Reproduction 15(11): 2433–7. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/15.11.2433

Ladge, J. J., Humberd, B. K. and McNett, J. (2016) The other half: views of fatherhood in the organization. In C. Spitzmüller and R. A. Matthews (eds) Research Perspectives on Work and the Transition to Motherhood 267–86. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41121-7_13

Lammi-Taskula, J. (2006) Nordic men on parental leave: can the welfare state change gender relations. In A. L. Ellingsæter and A. Leira (eds) Politicising Parenthood in Scandinavia: Gender Relations in Welfare States 79–99. Bristol: Policy Press. https://doi.org/10.1332/policypress/9781861346452.003.0004

Lazar, M. M. (2000) Gender, discourse and semiotics: the politics of parenthood representations. Discourse and Society 11(3): 373–400. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926500011003005

Le Roux, C. S. (2017) Exploring rigour in autoethnographic research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 20(2): 195–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2016.1140965

Lesnick-Oberstein, K., Burman, E., Parker, I., Grech, S., House, R., Abbs, P. and Ainley, P. (126 signatories) (2015) Let UK universities do what they do best – teach and research. The Guardian (6 July). Retrieved from http://theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/06/let-uk-universities-do-what-they-do-best-teaching-and-research?

Loke, J., Harp, D. and Bachman, I. (2011) Mothering and governing. Journalism Studies 12: 205–220. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2010.488418

Martin, M. (2009). Motherhood shouldn’t be a competitive sport. NPR (11 May). Retrieved from www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104001566&t=1571124592240

McRobbie, A. (2004) Post-feminism and popular culture. Feminist Media Studies 4(3): 255–64. https://doi.org/10.1080/1468077042000309937

McRobbie, A. (2013) Feminism, the family and the new ‘mediated’ maternalism. New Formations: A Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics 80–81: 119–37. https://doi.org/10.3898/newF.80/81.07.2013

Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B., Loyd, J., Hyndman, J., Walton-Roberts, M. and Curran, W. (2015) For slow scholarship: a feminist politics of resistance through collaborative action in the neoliberal university. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 14(4): 1235–59.

Mullings, B., Peake, L. and Parizeau, K. (2016) Cultivating an ethic of wellness in geography. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien 60(2): 161–67. https://doi.org/10.1111/cag.12275

Mundy, C. M. L. (2012) The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Family. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Neal, M. E. (2011) Protecting women: preserving autonomy in the commodification of motherhood. William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 17(3): 611–37.

Ozturk, M. B. and Rumens, N. (2014) Gay male academics in UK business and management schools: negotiating heteronormativities in everyday work life. British Journal of Management 25(3): 503–17. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8551.12061

Peseta, T., Barrie, S. and McLean, J. (2017) Academic life in the measured university: pleasures, paradoxes and politics. Higher Education Research and Development 36(3): 453–57. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2017.1293909

Pitt, R. and Mewburn, I. (2016) Academic superheroes? A critical analysis of academic job descriptions. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 38(1): 88–101. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360080X.2015.1126896

Porter, B. A. and Schänzel, H. A. (eds). (2018) Femininities in the Field: Tourism and Transdisciplinary Research. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

Ray, R., Gornick, J. C. and Schmitt, J. (2010) Who cares? Assessing generosity and gender equality in parental leave policy designs in 21 countries. Journal of European Social Policy 20(3): 196–216. https://doi.org/10.1177/0958928710364434

Romero, M., Preston, V. and Giles, W. (eds). (2014) When Care Work Goes Global: Locating the Social Relations of Domestic Work. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Sabat, I. E, Lindsey, A. P, King, E. B. and Jones, K. P. (2016) Understanding and Overcoming Challenges Faced by Working Mothers: A Theoretical and Empirical Review. In C. Spitzmüller and R. A. Matthews (eds) Research Perspectives on Work and the Transition to Motherhood 9–32. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41121-7_2

Sandberg, S. (2013) Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. London: W. H. Allen Publishing.

Senior, J. (2014) All Joy and No Fun: the Paradox of Modern Parenthood. New York: Ecco.

Slaughter, A. M. (2012) Why women still can’t have it all. Atlantic Monthly (July). Retrieved from www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020

Spitzmüller, C. and Matthews, R. A. (eds) (2016) Research Perspectives on Work and the Transition to Motherhood. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41121-7_1

Trinch, S. and Snajdr, E. (2018) Mothering Brooklyn. Linguistic Landscape 4(3) 214–37. https://doi.org/10.1075/ll.18012.tri

Trump-Steele, R. C. E., Nittrouer, C. L., Hebl, M. R. and Ashburn-Nardo, L. (2016) The inevitable stigma for childbearing-aged women in the workplace: five perspectives on the pregnancy-work intersection. In C. Spitzmüller and R. A. Matthews (eds) Research Perspectives on Work and the Transition to Motherhood 79–104. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41121-7_5

Wagner, I and Wodak, R. (2006) Performing success: identifying strategies of self-presentation in women’s biographical narratives. Discourse and Society 17(3): 385–411. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926506060251

Whippman, R. (2019) Enough leaning in. Let’s tell men to lean out. The New York Times (10 October). Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/opinion/sunday/feminism-lean-in.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

World Economic Forum (2018) The Global Gender Gap Report. Cologny: World Economic Forum. Retrieved from www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf



How to Cite

Gonçalves, K. (2019). ‘What are you doing here, I thought you had a kid now?’ The stigmatisation of working mothers in academia: a critical self-reflective essay on gender, motherhood and the neoliberal academy. Gender and Language, 13(4), 469–487. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.37573