Australian PM: PhDs are a women’s excuse to not have babies

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was recently giving a speech about the nation’s aging population and the problems it will cause. Seems like a serious topic that needs discussing – but it got interesting when he met Nina Funnell, researcher and reporter.

Arguments were made about superannuation and the strain on healthcare. But there was a deeper message: young people (women in particular) are failing in their civic duty to reproduce. Apparently, gen Y is to blame for the inverted population pyramid.

There were hundreds of people in the room but only a handful under 30. As one of the under 30-crowd, I shuffled nervously, hoping no one would recognise me – and my empty womb – as the deeply unpatriotic and traitorous felons that we are.

After Rudd came off stage, he spoke to me and the few other under-30s (we had congregated for strength in numbers). He extended his points about the problems with the ageing population and the financial problems gen Y will incur when the baby boomers become pensioners.

At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the “excuse” that “all” young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families. Since then I’ve come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock.

…I can’t imagine how a politician, someone who should theoretically be a master of political correctness and choosing his words carefully, would say something so horrendously stupid. Yep, women choosing to further their education is really just an excuse to get out their Ultimate Duty of Making Babies. Not because of, you know, the pursuit of knowledge, a passion for research, the desire to teach others, the excitement of discovery, the satisfaction of exploration, or the joy of personal fulfillment. Nope, it’s because we don’t want to patriotically pop out babies for the motherland.

Another annoying part is that multiple factors make many women feel like motherhood and academia just don’t mix. How can you balance morning sickness with field work? How can you do lab work with dangerous chemicals that you’re not allowed to use? How are you expected to write your thesis when you’re taking care of an infant? These are all daunting challenges.

Are women getting their PhDs with the nefarious plan that they can use these things as excuses to avoid reproduction? Of course not. Plenty of women want to have children, but put it off because they feel it’s impossible in the current academic environment. The solution isn’t to stop women from getting their PhDs. What we need to do is develop ways to make motherhood easier for academics. Make day cares more available at Universities. Make pregnancy leave a viable option for grad students. Take pregnancy into account when evaluating publications when I woman is up for tenure. Encourage men to spend more time with their children, rather than assuming that’s mom’s job.

Many women have survived grad school and motherhood simultaneously because they had appropriate accommodations. This should be a cause Rudd can rally against: I mean, all he wants us to do is breed, right? He won’t care if we happen to get a little smarter at the same time.


  1. Ben says

    This was an extraordinarily stupid thing for him to say, especially for somebody who spends so much time controlling his public exposure. Also a glaring mistake because he himself has attacked the opposition leader for calling the deputy-PM "barren" (because she has no children, despite her ability to have them).

    As a country we're only really just getting to know our new PM. Here's what I've learned:

    He's a conservative at heart, despite leading the small-L liberal party of politics. He won't fight for gay rights. He won't fight for the underprivileged. He won't fight for our health, our schools, or our right to freedom of speech or freedom of expression (thanks to the despicable internet filter they're about to introduce). He won't fight for our rights to decent housing at acceptable prices/rents. Doesn't sound like he cares much for women either: he let his hugely successful wife sell her company so he could become PM (a position which pays him as much in 5 years as she made in 1).

    Of course he will dish out cash at the first sign of trouble … or convenience. World Youth Day? Here, have $10 million. Gay marriage? Nope, not what God wants. Married with kids? Here, have $1000 for each of them. Low income earner? Sorry, nothing for you. Send your kids to private school? Here's a few million dollars for a sports hall. Public school? Sorry, but you can run pie-drives to raise money if you want.

    His idea of family is the same as the Christian conservative dipshits who whisper in his ear: dad works, mum at home, $7000 lump-sum payment on birth instead of maternity leave, and plenty of vote-buying cash handouts to keep 'em coming back. Anybody who doesn't fit that ideal gets nothing, not even any consideration when it comes to public policy.

    And you know what the worst part is: he's still better than the alternatives. It's him, or the ultra-conservative, worker-screwing, "personal freedom" hypocrits of the big-L Liberal party. Or the enviro-nazis.


  2. says

    …I can't imagine how a politician, someone who should theoretically be a master of political correctness and choosing his words carefully, would say something so horrendously stupid.

    I think all pollies eventually get sick of slickness and their crass side comes out. However, I think our politicians can get away with a lot more than British and American ones can.

    And you know what the worst part is: he's still better than the alternatives. It's him, or the ultra-conservative, worker-screwing, "personal freedom" hypocrits of the big-L Liberal party. Or the enviro-nazis.

    I feel your pain, because I feel exactly the same way. It all reminds me of that south park episode where one of them doesn't want to vote between a shit sandwhich and a douchebag for a school mascot.

  3. says

    I stand corrected, I always thought that making babies was a woman's excuse for not taking a PhD……

    Seriously though, why do these academics need an excuse? You don't want babies, you go ahead and don't have them. A PhD is a pretty damn arduous way of making an excuse.

    I don't think it's misogyny as much as anti-intellectualism, he has no idea why any entity would want to do research. He'd probably say that a man's PhD was his excuse for not drinking beer all day.

  4. says

    Just wow. That's pretty close to "shut up, woman, get back in the kitchen and make me some pie" Eric Cartman would be proud.

    I used to think that Aus would be a fun place to emigrate to as a sunnier, friendlier alternative to the UK but the right wing politics out there is changing my mind…

  5. Ben says

    LR, I think the politics will be the same just about anywhere. At least the people are friendly :) And there certainly is sun … except today.

  6. says

    I second what Ben said, and would add that I think part of the reason he got elected in the first place, was because there wasn't a whole lot of difference between the Liberal and Labor candidates. Rudd didn't scare the conservatives too much, and he was painted as the left wing commie trade union puppet enough by the Liberal Party campaign to convince those of us on that side that he would represent our interests.

    The major parties are slowly becoming each other in an attempt to dominate the largest voting bloc.

  7. says

    "I don't think it's misogyny as much as anti-intellectualism, he has no idea why any entity would want to do research."

    Insinuating that women even HAVE an Ultimate Duty of Making Babies is pretty damn misogynistic. Women are not wombs, and even if it means that population decreases, it is not okay to make them feel like they don't have a choice when it comes to reproduction.

    That said, many women in academics DON't feel like they have a choice. I'm very lucky that my academic goals (Ph.D. in English) line up okay with my reproductive goals (not now, not ever). Many, many women are not so lucky. Reproduction SHOULD be an option in academia, but it is a career death sentence for many. In English right now, it's particularly bad, since the job market is so fucking grim to begin with.

  8. says

    Thank you Jen, for helping me start my day pissed off.

    Just kidding, of course, I'm glad you report on this stuff…. it's just that now I want to yell at and/or hit someone, and Australia is a little far away.

  9. Anonymous says

    Someone has to earn the money to pay for all the tax breaks and benefits that the govt. issues.

    About half the women I know of that have PhDs have children. About half the women I know that don't have PhD also don't have children.

    If might sound strange to a breeder, but some women choose not to have children for other reasons, and if they are intelligent then further study (often resulting in a PhD) is an option. It certainly was for the PhD I'm married to!

  10. Anonymous says

    Bah, the more I hear of Rudd's personal views, the less I like him. Anti-intellectualism, internet filtering and he actually goes to church. C'mon Julia, ankle-tap him and become Australia's first female PM, you know you want to!

    Honestly, do your research Rudd, it's not like all young women with PhDs don't have kids, I know at least three who've done it, as long as environments are conducive to being able to spend the time on one's children as well as research.

  11. says

    So, I tried imagining this exchange coming from say, Obama's mouth, or some other politician. What kind of outrage would it spark here in the US? Or would, for once, the crazy right wing actually AGREE?

    I understand there are issues with declining population in Australia and it literally has become the national mission to bolster population (to what end, I'm not sure… a bunch of babies now won't help the fact that the baby boomers will be retiring and getting old before infants today come of age, especially if they're not born in the next 5 years). But aren't PhDs the ones that are supposed to help solve the country's problems? As in, maybe instead of working more, ie with more people, let's find ways to work smarter, with less people? If Australia wants kids so much, they could probably ship them in from refugee camps in Africa and Asia, and then everyone's a winner!

    I'm just appalled anyone who considers himself a leader of as great of a country as Australia is, would have the sheer lack of intelligence or social grace to let this opinion slip, or to even have it at all.

  12. Anonymous says

    women who put careers ahead of family do not have balanced lives. That's fine, there shouldn't be any penalties for that. But criticism is to be expected.

  13. Anonymous says

    "But aren't PhDs the ones that are supposed to help solve the country's problems?"

    No, they are hired to teach and advance their field. The people who are entrusted with the most social responsibility tend to have professional degrees.

  14. says

    The are five billion too many people in the world. You want the REAL cause of "global warming"? Almost 7 billion people breathing, cooking, eating, commuting, procreating and recreating! Any economic strategy that requires each generation to have more people is horribly flawed and will doom us.

    That said, how about Australia stop turning away immigrants? If they weren't such a bunch of racist twits they could have plenty of new citizens.

  15. says

    Our PM before Rudd was a loathsome individual called John Howard who really wanted life to go back to how it was in the 1950s with woman at home, gays in the closet and everyone at church on a Sunday morning.

    When Rudd came into power I really hoped that this would bring some positive change to Oz. However has time has gone on, Rudd has shown himself to be just like Howard.

    Unfortunately, the leader of our Opposition party, Tony Abbott, is even more right winged than Howard and in past few weeks has told the media that women should remain virgins until marriage and should do the ironing instead of sending it to the cleaners to be done.

    Is it too much to ask to have a leader of a political party in this country that truly does not see women as second class citizen??

  16. says

    Some people just don't want to have children (I never did), and they wouldn't be having any whether they went to university or not.

    As for other people, getting a PhD just means delaying having children, not avoiding it. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I think that's what happened in the US over the last three decades or so — birth rates fell and then rose again. Delayed childbirth, not (ultimately) fewer children.

    So the remark makes no logical sense. With guys like this, it usually turns out that what's really bothring them is the idea of women getting PhDs at all. The more education they have, the less likely they are to limit themselves to a traditional way of life.

    Rather than try to motivate people to have more children so that those children can pay taxes in the future (now there's a lofty family value), they should be focusing on improvements in medical technology to keep people youthful and healthy for longer so that they can still support themselves. Of course, that would take more PhDs.

  17. says

    Girl Technologist: That depends. Would Obama be saying it to white women? Because I've been told that since whites will soon be a minority in the U.S., I should be popping out babies to counteract that.

    And, YOU, person who said this:"women who put careers ahead of family do not have balanced lives. That's fine, there shouldn't be any penalties for that. But criticism is to be expected."

    Fuck you. You don't get to tell women what does and does not constitute a balanced life. As if "family" (which is just code word for children, because any asshole who pits "family" against careers doesn't think families can consist only of lovers and friends) and careers are the only things people can do with their lives.

    My life and the lives of other women are not yours to judge, asshole.

  18. says

    Bah. I'm pretty angry that Turnbull was kicked out of Liberal Party leadership. I'd be able to vote against Rudd if the other party wasn't lead by Tony Abbott aka The Mad Monk.

  19. jemand says

    I think I would have a one liner response ready to that "Fuck you." And to have said that to the prime minister and have it be deserved would probably make me happy lol.

    But seriously, the issue to conservatives is that women are not doing their "traditional" work for FREE anymore. They got used to half the population "not working" well, they were working, but in the "informal economy"– large contributions to ultimate economic development, but NEVER counted and NOT compensated. A system like that is basically slavery– lots of work, no direct pay. Women now have other options and the high cost of having and raising children is beginning to be counted as part of the "normal" economy, but this makes the conservatives mad because now they have to pay for a service previously rendered for free. Instead of paying for it, some would rather slam society shut again to force people into the role of doing it for free again. Some of the same element is in those people who wouldn't even THINK of hiring a gestational surrogate but get super super mad if any woman decides to abort instead of carrying a child to term for free for them to the take from her, again for cheap. That is what lower class women are *supposed* to do, and they are NOT *supposed* to ever be compensated for it, you better work for free bitches!

    But Australia still would have an easy solution to the "we want work for free!" issue if they also weren't so damn racist, as in many poorer countries it is still not even possible for many women to participate in the "counted" economy and therefore they still do the childbearing/childrearing for free, so it would be easy to allow more young people to immigrate.

    Misogyny and racism, mmmmm :)

  20. says

    Perhaps the women of Australia should be more like Sarah Palin: limit your education to a BA (and go to four schools to get it), and then get married to a guy whose three high-risk jobs take him away from home for months at a time.

  21. Beth says

    Why was that woman even at a press conference? Surely she should have been in the kitchen making sammiches >_> I mean, come on it's a fact that every single woman in the world wants to pop out babies, and it's not like we're overpopulated or anything!

    Fuck. This is why I hate Ruddkipz.

  22. Twewi says

    I know I'm late to the party, but…

    PhDs are the excuse all young men are using nowadays to avoid hunting and farming.

  23. says

    Call for Stories

    The Unconceivable Choice©I am a psychotherapist who is interviewing women for a book I am writing about women who chose, for whatever the reason, not to have children. The goal is to interview 100 women (I am half way there!) who have made this choice. The interview will take about 15 minutes and your answers will be held in strictest confidence. The only requirement is that you are at least 35 years of age. If you are interested in sharing your story, please e-mail me at and I will contact you to set up a telephone interview. If you know someone who might be interested in sharing their story, please pass this on.

    Many Thanks,Donna Ferber, LPC, LADC

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