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Reader Q: My Research

I am surprised one person has asked about my PhD research, never mind the dozens and dozens of comments and email questions I’ve received.  I’m pretty excited some of you are interested, but I promise to keep it brief (although I’m happy to answer questions).  Without further ado, now that you’ve had the full tour of my office, here’s some info on the work I do in there:

As you might have guessed from my recent feminist DIY project, I’m a feminist.  So it is probably no surprise that I am doing my PhD in Women’s Studies (although my department is soon to be renamed).  My HBA and MA are in philosophy (you can read my MA thesis here, but I highly discourage it – I completely ignored the intersections of racism, classism, nationalism, etc., that are so integral to my research now).  The switch was a bit of a challenge for me because I had a lot of catching up to do, and still feel behind in my new discipline.  But, apparently this feeling is common enough that there’s a name for it: “imposter syndrome,” the feeling many of us grad students have of feeling inferior and not smart enough.

My broad area of interest is the social construction of motherhood and non-motherhood.  Specifically, I’m interested in the way women without children are represented in media, which is really interesting work – I even wrote a paper titled Child-free Women & Chick Flicks!  Basically, I’m contesting ideas of “womanhood” necessarily hinged on motherhood, and women without children – either by choice, by chance or circumstance – labelled unfulfilled, selfish, immature, un-womanly, etc.  But I’m also interested in the social construction of motherhood: whose motherhood is encouraged and whose is not, how (certain) women are expected to desire motherhood, the unattainable mothering standards demanded of women to be “good” mothers, how parenthood is gendered, etc . . .

My dissertation research overlaps with Hungarian Studies, as I am currently studying representations of women as mothers and women without children in a popular Hungarian women’s magazine, Nők Lapja (here’s a link to the google-translated website).  Conducting research in my rusty second language makes things doubly hard, especially because I will have to actually go to Hungary to conduct some of my research . . . details to come.

P.S. The day I left for the conference I recently presented at (I mentioned it here – and also in the comments of that post) a few Lily of the Valley opened up.  It is my absolutely favorite flower.  Since childhood I have been obsessed with the gorgeous scent.  As I hopped in the car, I grabbed what I could and put them in a makeshift vase (an eye makeup remover bottle).  When I got to Toronto, everyone’s had already flowered and by the time I got home mine had too!  Gah!  So this is all I got this season and it’s making me super sad.

Is it weird to get all bent out of shape over this?



  1. modern jane
    June 4, 2012 / 1:27 pm

    It was interesting to learn a little bit about your work life! Sounds like you are very passionate about it!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 4, 2012 / 1:31 pm

      Thanks! I tried to keep it brief but it still seems like a lengthy post. Oops! I think it's easy for any of us to go on at length about what we do – it consumes so much of our time! My research is very important to me, especially because I don't want to have children and have been personally affected by the negative stereotype of the child-free.

  2. Jeanette @ This Dusty House
    June 4, 2012 / 2:18 pm

    So interesting! I was a little shocked – and didn't know how to respond – when my boss expressed his belief that, until you have children (no matter your gender) you aren't actually an adult. This, coming from a 40 year old unmarried, childless man. As a woman who could conceivably decide to never having children myself, this idea did NOT sit right with me. Good luck with all your research! Hopefully, one day we'll succeed in changing the world's perceptions!

    • Keira
      June 5, 2012 / 1:41 am

      What a weird thing to say. Sounds like he doesn't want to grow up himself.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 5, 2012 / 2:39 am

      Such a disturbingly common sentiment. I have run into this so many times! There are so many ideas about women/men/motherhood/non-motherhood/parenthood that are contradictory, inflammatory, discriminatory . . . How frustrating to deal with this from your boss!!And thanks for your vote of confidence 😉

    • m @ random musings
      July 11, 2012 / 12:31 am

      I've gotten this feedback too! Nevermind that I'm [over] educated, financially independent since 18, employed and am ambivalent about children (definitely not a good emotional place to raise kiddos). Apparently I am incompetent until I reproduce [heavy sarcasm]. Good luck on your PhD! Please share more – why did you decide to pursue the PhD? What do you expect to do afterwards?

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      July 12, 2012 / 10:23 pm

      It's annoying, but comforting, to hear that other women deal with this nonsense. Hopefully, if we all speak up, future generations of women can make the decision to be child-free in peace, so thanks for sharing.I was law school-bound when the department head of philosophy at my under-grad university told me I HAD to become a prof – that the world needed me. I thought about it and liked the idea of teaching. I did my MA but, worried about job prospects, started a "practical" policy Master's, which I hated. I desperately missed researching, so I applied to do my PhD. I love my research, but I really enjoy working with students. Hopefully I will find a job at a university. But I knew someone with an MA in History that ended up working at Tim Horton's – true story – so I'm trying to keep my options open, lol.

  3. Dana@Mid2Mod
    June 4, 2012 / 3:32 pm

    I find your research very interesting.Although I married when I was 18, I very actively practiced birth control and chose not to have a child until I was 30. I still remember very clearly the well-intentioned women in my hometown coming up to me and saying, "Still no baby? Well, honey, don't give up. Sometimes you just have to be patient." I didn't bother to explain that I simply didn't want a child at that time…and maybe never would. They wouldn't have understood.At 29 I decided that I did, in fact, want to have a baby. And then I made a conscious choice to have just one. I'm not sorry for either decision, and I'm not sorry I waited till I was 30.These decisions are very personal, and no one has the right to judge or criticize our reproductive choices…yet they unfortunately do.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 5, 2012 / 2:43 am

      Thanks for sharing, Dana. It is interesting you mentioned deciding to have only one child – I know many women who have been challenged for only having one child and have had to defend the decision. It would be so wonderful to live in a world where a decision as personal as reproduction could be private.P.S. You have the absolute sweetest, smartest and most talented daughter in the world. It was an absolute pleasure meeting her, your SIL and their wonderful little boys.

  4. Amy
    June 4, 2012 / 5:41 pm

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your research, it sounds really interesting but unfortunate that women are treated differently because of choices they make.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 5, 2012 / 2:40 am

      So true! And it doesn't begin and end with reproductive choices either. There's a misconception that Western women have reached full equality and freedom and it just isn't the case. We still don't even all make equal pay for equal work yet and our reproductive rights are constantly threatened!

  5. Kucorgó anyámkája
    June 4, 2012 / 6:23 pm

    Nagyon érdekes a kutatásod! Ez a téma nem lehetne aktuálisabb, mint most, a 21. században (persze korábban is volt rá jópár precedens). Az én érzéseim eléggé ambivalensek a témával kapcsolatban. Anya vagyok (31 évesen szültem az elsőt, a másodikat 33), és szeretek is az lenni. Ugyanakkor nem ítélem el azokat, akik nem akarnak gyereket vállalni. Sőt, ha a karrierjükre akarnak koncentrálni, akkor jobb is ha nincs gyerekük. Ez lehet, hogy most neked nem fog tetszeni, de én a karrierista anyákkal nem vagyok kibékülve. Persze vannak olyanok, akik nagyszerűen tudják a kettőt ötvözni, de szerintem ők vannak kevesebben. Aztán vannak azok, akik azt gondolják, hogy nekik nagyszerűen megy a gyereknevelés és karrier együtt. Ez csak 15-20 év múlva fog kiderülni, hogy valóban így volt-e. Ebben a kérdésben még nagyon gyerekcipőben járunk, majd akkorra fogja kiforrni magát. Ui.: Jó volt a Nők lapja címlapját itt látni.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 5, 2012 / 3:10 am

      Köszönöm a hozzászólást 🙂 Még egyszer el kell olvasni az én rettenetes írásomat! De sokkal jobban olvasok (megértettem amit írtál).Egyetértek: nagyon nehéz megtalálni az egyensúlyt az anyaság és a karrier között. Azt hiszem, könnyebb lenne, ha az emberek nagyobb szerepet játszottak a szülői. Vagy ha munkahelyek elhelyezésére anyákatt több. Vagy anyák jobban támogatták. És kevesebb kritika kaptak.De most, igen, nehéz lehet egy anya és a munkas lenni.Támogatom az anya jogait. Nem csak gyermektelen nők. És a nők szabadságát, különösen a reproduktív jogok.

  6. emilie
    June 4, 2012 / 10:30 pm

    What a wonderful sneak-peak on your life! Thank you so much for sharing. I think you're the only woman I've ever heard speak openly about her choice not the have children and it's such a breath of fresh air. I'm almost 27 and still haven't gotten the "urge" to have children even though there seem to be babies all around me right now. Who knows what will happen, but it's great to know that if I choose to not have children there's other woman like me!Emilie

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 5, 2012 / 2:45 am

      Really, no one else has spoken of this in your life? Well, I'm happy to break the silence because there is a growing number of us around the world. If you're ever interested, I can suggest a few really good compilations of essays about choosing/not choosing children. My favorite: Nobody's Mother, Life Without Kids. There are some amazing reads in there – by Canadian authors!

  7. Keira
    June 5, 2012 / 1:39 am

    Really interesting work, Tanya! I loved reading this!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 5, 2012 / 2:46 am

      Oh, I'm so happy you enjoyed this post. Even though people asked for details on my research, I still felt a bit odd about the content because I try to keep the blog light and fun. Thanks for taking the time to comment (more than once!) to let me know your enjoyed it!

  8. cred
    June 5, 2012 / 2:23 pm

    Great post and insight into your research. I'm a stay-at-home mom and have always wanted to be a mother. It sounds pretty traditional but I should dub myself a stay-at-home feminist since that's where the traditional bit ends. Even though I've always wanted to be a parent, I started my career and lived independently until 32 then decided to become a mother sans a husband. I later met my partner and we had a second child. I recognize parenthood as a personal choice- it irks me that people harshly judge women that choose not to have children (I know men are involved in this choice but it seems that more often, women are hassled about it). 2 of my sisters have chosen not to have children and I fully respect their decision even though I am passionate about being a parent. I am pro-choice for parenthood, meaning that I have more respect for someone who chooses either to be or not be a parent, rather than the number of people who seem to have children because it's the next life step following marriage. I assume that it was societal pressure, whether real or perceived, that lead to their parenthood since too few people seem committed to the task. I am more critical of those who follow the status quo and parent half-heartedly than those that who make their choice of their own accord. Raising children is a monumental task and needs to be done with great care and thought. I respect those that choose not to have children and those that choose to do so 'well'. (And an aside, many people who choose not to have kids, don't necessarily dislike children (another common assumption- my 2 sisters love their nieces and nephew and are the most attentive aunts they have.)

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 6, 2012 / 1:34 am

      Thanks for the awesome comment! I think it is fabulous you are a stay-at-home mom. I think women should be free to choose that, also. Too many women are critiqued for wanting "traditional" roles but you bring up a key point: wanting it. Women actively choosing motherhood, non-motherhood, staying at home, working, etc. is a beautiful thing. Decision making is key! Choosing what works for you, and your family.And I love that you had your first child as a single mom by choice. That is amazing! And so empowering to hear about.

  9. Jaimie
    June 5, 2012 / 7:44 pm

    Everyone should be a feminist 🙂 After all, it simply means believing in equality (at least, that's how I view it). I just finished my BS in Microbiology and now have the daunting task of applying to graduate school during this year off I'm taking… and I already feel that imposter syndrome you mentioned.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 6, 2012 / 1:31 am

      Agreed! I think people think it means more than wanting equal rights and freedom for people. And certainly people build on this basic idea and there are different strains of feminism, especially in the literature/academics. But feminism gets a lot of bad press (intentionally) so that women, and men, will think of feminists as masculine, ugly, man-hating lesbians. There are a lot of myths and the important messages get bogged down in them.Nice to know someone else feels I.S., but it is always unfounded. We are so hard on ourselves! Good luck with your applications!

  10. Lesley at Fabulously Flawed
    June 5, 2012 / 10:32 pm

    You're such an interesting person, Tanya! I love getting to know you.I'm not a feminist. I believe the word is easily abused, to be honest. Talking to women who are real and true feminists has been a great honour of mine, but sadly, many women believe that the umbrella of feminism gives them rights to act inappropriately and selfishly. Earn rather than demand, respect the institution rather than abuse it kind of thing.Many marriages shatter because women are denying their husbands instinctual rites. Ok, I might start rambling! I should stop. I certainly don't want to offend anyone. I think maybe I should save my speech for a blog post. 🙂

    • Alison Hodd
      June 6, 2012 / 7:30 pm

      What is it you mean by instinctual rites? You have not offended me. I do find the comment puzzling though.

  11. Sarah @ { rad: renovations are dirty }
    June 7, 2012 / 12:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing about your research and 'real' life. It sounds so fascinating (although a little depressing that there's still discrimination and women can never seem to make the 'right' decision in society's eyes). I'm a feminist and fully believe that women should feel open to choose whatever they want to do with their lives whether that involves having children or not and staying at home or working outside of the home.

  12. Lindsey
    August 21, 2012 / 9:54 pm

    I came upon your blog about a month ago and it is one of my very favorites. Just brilliant. Can I tell you that, having just now read about your work and reading your thesis, it seems no mistake I discovered your blog? Reading your thesis was incredbily affirming and empowering! It discussed many things of my mind lately, and cultural struggles/clashes with which I feel so burdened. THANK YOU, and best to you on your PhD!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      August 21, 2012 / 10:44 pm

      Hi Lindsey,Wow. I can't believe someone actually read my thesis – and liked it! Aside from my parents, supervisor and spouse, you might be the only person to have read it, lol. I'm so happy you enjoyed it! When I wrote it, I wanted to write almost a kind of handbook for women, like me, who don't want children and have been hassled. I wrote it to be useful, as a guide for contesting the most popular arguments for why (certain) women "MUST" have children, so your comment means more to me than you could know.

  13. Kim
    May 17, 2013 / 2:01 pm

    Just found your blog via "craftgawker." I've already bookmarked a couple ideas and can tell you'll be a favorite!Glad to hear about "imposter syndrome"…I thought it was just me, always worried about what in the world I was doing in grad school — at my age, with three kids, single, working, etc…Very interested in your studies bc womanhood is many things. We don't all fit in a box just the same! I look forward to reading more of your blog!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      May 17, 2013 / 7:16 pm

      Hi Kim,I'm so happy you found your way to the townhouse! And that you're a fellow grad student!! I can't imagine the extra challenge of raising kids at the same time. My head is spinning just thinking about it. I think grad school, or school period (even for kids) makes so many of us feel insufficient. I think knowing so many of us feel that way suggests it has more to do with the experience, than us. To me it sounds like you're a superstar and I bet your kids are super proud of you 🙂 It takes a lot of determination to return to school because momentum plays a huge role for some of us who have continued on with schooling for so long. I just can't even imagine not being in school at this point! Which is terrible because I hope to be done soon and enter the real world. What is your program, if you don't mind me asking? I'm doing another research update next week, with some of my findings (and some more belly aching, there's always time to complain!).

  14. Eunice
    January 26, 2014 / 10:44 pm

    Salut!I was wondering I there was an update on your research/findings. I find this topic interesting as there are many under-represented people in the media. Cheers!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      January 26, 2014 / 11:56 pm

      Thanks for asking! I did finish and defend my dissertation and have submitted it to my university who needs to approve it before adding it to their online library. Soon I will be able to share a link to it.

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