small-childrenWomen write their own issues onto any important petition–like the cost of food in the dorms if one’s child was over a certain age–two adult meal tickets being prohibitive and over three years of age you couldn’t sneak the girls in any more. I wrote the entire problem up for NWSA Action and they didn’t print the summary. (A freedom of speech issue here? Too threatening to report actual organizing activity?) But the ad hoc task force was born. Rivkah Polatnick and I created it. We wanted a whole platform–educational activities for children, so they get the input of feminist educators etc. Asking the conference to call for women to submit proposals for workshops in which they provided feminist education for the girls there. Not just passing them off to babysitters and regular day care.

The next year in St. Louis, we had a go-round session of 25 women in which similar stories were recounted. Women told story after story of being asked to leave plenaries if one was with small children, of how they had had to drop out of NWSA over the years because of the kid issue, not feeling welcome with kids, the pure logistics of it all.

We wanted many organizational changes–a plenary on mothering, research on mothering, how mothering impacted our families and careers and how mothering also informed and influenced our creative and research work and scholarship.

Meanwhile, the child care that year was ridiculous–it took an hour-literally, an hour, to get your kid to day care, on a bus, leave her, and get back to the conference, also on a bus. So you could spend two hours bussing just to get your kid there and back, and it opened at 9 and shut at five (weekdays only–Saturday and. Sunday. you were on your own) so mothers had to miss a great deal of the sessions.

The next year when you got to Oswego you couldn’t tell how to get to child care, and it was a long walk–half an hour if you were walking with small kids–there and back. There were no directions at registration and you had to get really pushy to find out where the thing was. And even that day care we got only I believe because before the conference I threatened a kid-in at registration. I had asked about the child care arrangements and had been told the same thing they had said at Saratoga Springs, no child care because of liabilities..

We got enough people together at a session to go propose a task force on mothering, and the idea got through. But not the commitments we asked for in terms of plenaries and accessible child care. That year Bonita started telling us behind the scenes you have to spell the details out real well, very carefully, because most of the women planning these things had no idea what it was like to take care of small children.

So we did, in very great detail, explain everything to the organizers–how day care had to be centrally located, not requiring long shuttles or walks; how it had to be announced in advance when the literature first goes out about the conference so women can realistically plan to come.

The next year in Albuquerque, I brought my daughter, and Rivkah brought her eleven year old, and Denise brought her husband, and we just sort of did the child coop thing. Lots of desperate women with babies and small children were coming up to us, wanting to leave them with us.

Berenice Carroll. then the incoming president, met with us. We gave her the petition saying centrally located, drop in and pick up, preferably in the dorms, and to talk to the on site person ourselves. We met with the Simmons site organizer for 2000 who told us she understood what our needs were and she said it might be possible for us to get a dorm-centered parent-run coop room. With 25 names on this petition, and our needs clear, we left it at that.

And nothing happened for the Simmons conference in Boston except this fifty dollar a day agency fee thing at nine dollars an hour. That is why I hit the roof. I got an email from Berenice Carroll asking me to check out the accommodations in the conference material, about two or three weeks before the conference. It would have cost $700-800 for an individual mother to put her child into babysitting in order to attend as freely as other women. Berenice put me in touch with another woman who had also decided she couldn’t come. The upshot was, we were both promised $200 or up to half of the cost of what it would take to get child care individually. So I left my daughter at home, paid som one to stay with her, and flew; Gina brought her child and a friend to watch him. I haven’t received my reimbursement yet, and no one else except the two of us were promised them. Nor was the info on the web page.

I drafted a call to put on the WMST-L listerv prior to the conference, and we sent it to all the caucus, task force, and interest group emails that were on the NWSA web page asking for held in creating a new and consistent childcare policy. We got endorsement, backing, and information.

We made sure to get the endorsements of women from many caucuses, task forces, and interest groups before we went, at the pre-conference, and at the conference itself. We also made up a childcare survey, and collected responses in a box at registration..

After all this organizing, we followed Bonita’s advice as to how to get something on the membership meeting agenda, went, and with a lot of perseverance got two proposals through, including child care, with the support of the Women of Color Caucus, the Aging Caucus, and signatures from women in the Task Force on Discrimination, the Feminism and Activism Interest Group, the Disabilities Caucus, the Women’s Spirituality Task Force and of course, the Feminist Mothers and Their Allies Task Force. A tri-partite committee was set up including the site organizer, someone from the Task Force, and someone from the Governing Council to operate through the year. In addition, a commitment was made to having a plenary on motherhood and childcare issues and interest was expressed in having an embedded conference in the future.

Where do we go from here? What do women want, indeed?

The Modern Language Association has child care, and so do many of the mainstream organizations such as the American Anthropological Association.

One Governing Council member from 1999-2000 said that the Task Force was being kept in the dark and “protected” from the discussions that were going on, in that some women really did not want children there at all; and that furthermore, the issue is liability.

In terms of liability, parents can sign a liability waiver for the conference. These waivers are signed all the time and work in most cases. Or, liability can be purchased by the facility rather than by the conference. For example, if mothers who provide in-home day care who live near by can absorb children from the conference by hiring an extra worker, then their insurance would cover the care of our children.

I have also researched through organizations such as Children’s Music Network, where children are on site regularly at national and regional conferences. What this organization does is purchase liability insurance that covers all their conferences, nationally and locally. This insurance covers adults AND children. So, NWSA could purchase insurance once a year that would cover all the conferences, nationally and regionally; CMN says it costs about $1,600 a year plus one dollar per child.

As it is, everything was punted to the January meeting, which will leave the final arm of what we asked for not fulfilled: “to notify members of such arrangements, facilities, polices and possible subsidies at the earliest possible dates, via the website and inclusion in the regular advance mailings.”

If we leave til the January meeting to start to pin things down, many women will not know the arrangements soon enough to submit a proposal, to apply for travel funds, etc, and many last-minute crises which could be avoided will be recreated next year.

And what I suggest we include as a prerequisite for site SELECTION is ability to handle children on campus. Then the site coordinators wouldn’t have this dumped in their lap. We can refuse to have a conference on a site that discriminates against mothers and children.

This is not an incidental issue. We cannot afford to keep reproducing in our own professional organization the schism between workplace and family life that has excluded women for so many years from making significant cultural contributions.