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  • Industrial or Craft Organizing?
  • Leisa D. Meyer (bio)

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . oh, sorry, that's another paper. Once upon a time—just over two years ago—on 16 June 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law that regulated "homosexual conduct." The Texas v. Lawrence decision decriminalized same-sex sexual expression—or at least decriminalized same-sex sexual interactions that are consensual and occur in the privacy of our homes. The decision was greeted with celebrations across the land as "Crimes Against Nature" laws and other similar state statutes that had targeted lesbians and gay men came crashing down. These laws had constructed gay men and lesbians as criminals and were invoked in state courts deciding issues of child custody, adoption, parental, and partner rights. I begin here in response to Kerber's focus on motherhood (or parenthood) as one of the key stumbling blocks for women (and some men) in the academy today. I begin here to suggest the possibility and necessity of a shift in perspective.

One of the critical issues, Kerber suggests, that face women historians today is that of motherhood—how to balance the demands of a professional career and parenthood within the persistently masculine model of the academy; a model laden with gendered presumptions of the differential time and emotional commitments parenting requires from women and men and a model whose structural requirements, in terms of workload, operate against the choice of pregnancy in graduate school and throughout one's professional career. Kerber highlights the importance of maternity or parental leave policies as a necessary infrastructure to support women's continued presence and success within the academy.

At William and Mary, we have a "non-academic leave" policy that includes "parental" and "family" leave. In fact, we recently (1999) passed a much-improved policy for full-time faculty that increased the temporal coverage of such leaves (up to 120 days, or one semester) and makes such leaves "paid." The language of the policy, however, did not include domestic partners (heterosexual and same-sex). This definition of "family" in the policy was dictated by the state and federal government and, as such, was restricted to a heterosexual married duo, and "family" relationships evidenced by "blood" ties or legal adoption, leaving out many non-married heterosexual partners as well as all same-sex familial arrangements. When this amended and "improved" policy was first introduced, the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual (GLB) faculty and staff caucus brought these issues [End Page 150] of exclusion and its consequences to the attention of those authoring the amended policy. I found myself in a difficult situation as both a member of the Women's Caucus that had authored and was lobbying for this policy and a member of the GLB caucus that critiqued the large exclusions from benefits the policy reinforced and maintained. As lesbians, and feminists, those of us involved on both "sides" of this discussion were faced with the task of convincing our heterosexual colleagues in the Women's Caucus that these exclusions, though affecting a small minority of the campus community, needed revising, and simultaneously speaking to the importance of these policies for the married heterosexual women and men at the College to GLB caucus members. In the end, the policy passed without revision and with the divided support of the GLB Caucus. In exchange for this "support" the Women's Caucus "pledged" to prioritize the issue of "domestic partner benefits" the following year. To this date this "priority" has not been made explicit or acted upon.

This "women's" issue—as it was phrased and framed by the William and Mary Women's Caucus—was not really a "lesbian" or "gay" issue, nor was it really an issue for classified and hourly employees or adjunct faculty and graduate students who were also not covered by the policy. How might this situation have been differently handled if "family leave" was defined, not as a "benefit" but as an "entitlement" for everyone—not just with the presumption that all women want to or will be mothers, and not just for "professionals," with the presumption that only faculty and professional staff...


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pp. 150-153
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