The unstoppable allure, in an ironic age

The New York Times is sounding a little bit like a very domineering and scary father I once knew who would not allow his daughters to go to college because, to his way of thinking, “education is wasted on women; they’re just going to have children and stay home.”

The father was, of course, very foolish. Education is never wasted and women – even if they elect to spend many years raising their children – still find themselves needing to pull down a salary, especially if a divorce or a spousal infirmity or death enters into the picture. This father – disallowing his daughters the chance to be educated – affected their ability to earn the sorts of salaries one needs to raise a family and pay the bills should tragedy strike.

He was a very short-sighted father and his obedient daughters never forgave him for his tyranny, which they only figured out they could have fought against when it was rather late in the game, as he was deceased.

This article in the Times reminds me of that father- but in an ironic fashion – not because it believes women should not be educated, but because it seems to be very puzzled by educated women, particularly those “elite” ivy-educated women (who are supposed to be superior sorts of beings, I guess) who are actually planning – even before they enter the workforce – to have children and to (gasp) leave the workforce to actually raise their kids!

At Yale and other top colleges, women are being groomed to take their place in an ever more diverse professional elite. It is almost taken for granted that, just as they make up half the students at these institutions, they will move into leadership roles on an equal basis with their male classmates.

There is just one problem with this scenario: many of these women say that is not what they want.

Many women at the nation’s most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others…say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

…while many women in college two or three decades ago expected to have full-time careers, their daughters, while still in college, say they have already decided to suspend or end their careers when they have children.

“At the height of the women’s movement and shortly thereafter, women were much more firm in their expectation that they could somehow combine full-time work with child rearing,” said Cynthia E. Russett, a professor of American history who has taught at Yale since 1967. “The women today are, in effect, turning realistic.”

Uzezi Abugo, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who hopes to become a lawyer, says she, too, wants to be home with her children at least until they are in school.

“I’ve seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn’t, and it’s kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it,” said Ms. Abugo, whose mother, a nurse, stayed home until Ms. Abugo was in first grade.

In recent years, elite colleges have emphasized the important roles they expect their alumni – both men and women – to play in society.

It’s really too bad that so many “elite” colleges have not yet figured out the incredibly important role a stay-at-home parent plays in society.

You’ll want to read the whole article – it really is interesting to watch the colleges struggle as they try to reconcile their desires to the desires of their students. I thought it was remarkable to read one administrator suggest that the students were unwilling to “think outside the box” as to gender roles.

We truly have reached the Age of Irony, I guess, because the students could very easily say the same words back to him – that he is unwilling to “think outside the box” and consider that some gender roles seem quite purposeful, meaningful and even sensible.

Or consider this excerpt:

“They (these young women) are still thinking of this as a private issue; they’re accepting it,” said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies at Yale…Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it.

“I really believed 25 years ago,” Dr. Wexler added, “that this would be solved by now.”

Reality check, honey, child-rearing still is a “private” issue and parents are still their children’s first teachers.

Clearly the “it takes a village” mentality, wherein children are popped out and plopped into the care of others while the superior sorts take on the world, still has a welcome home in the minds of some of these academics, but I think the young women about whom they are fretting are bringing very healthy and thoughtful opinions to the matter. After all, why would a well-educated woman with confidence in her values feel it a “better” idea to leave her child with a less-educated woman who has no heartfelt interest in that child’s well-being, than to raise the child herself?

The saddest side of this issue, which is not addressed by the NY Times, is that those women who do not have the privilege of an “elite” education (and the opportunity to meet an “elite” young man to marry) may find that as much as they would like to stay home and raise their children, they will not have that opportunity, as they will have to work to simply pay the bills and put food on the table.

There are still inequalities – there always will be, that’s life – but it seems to me if the NY Times wants to boo-hoo for women, it might want to boo-hoo for the sisters who want to raise their own children and cannot afford to. After all. that whole “sisterhood” idea is supposed to be a real one, right? And the line about women being “free to choose” what they do with their lives, that was supposed to be real, too, wasn’t it?

Charmaine Yoest writes well about this issue here:

Let me offer my own anecdotal evidence: frankly, the young women the Times quotes, who feel comfortable expressing a preference for motherhood, don’t sound at all like the co-eds I taught at the University of Virginia, who felt pressured to be single-mindedly devoted to a high-powered career track — and would admit to interests in marriage and motherhood only sotto voce.

Yes…openly expressing ones desires, is – I think – much healthier than being afraid to do so because “the party” might not like it.

Ann Althouse wonders, as do I, about the financial realities of staying at home, and shares her take on this story:

Anyway, the linked article makes it seem as though it has discovered a new cultural development, but I think this issue has been a live one all along. Since the early 70s there have been older women carping about younger women not sufficiently valuing all the work that had been done opening doors for them and women who want to stay home complaining that [other women are failing to recognize that] their choice is equally worthy. The one thing I don’t hear so much anymore is people questioning whether to hire or educate women because they will just quit when they have children. Oh, but look at that quote in the post title again. That’s from Harvard’s director of undergraduate admissions.


Related: Maureen Dowd Asks a Question.
A Mother-Hung Nation?

I’ve written about this subject a few times before. In this piece I highlight a stay-at-home-mom-who-routinely-slices-and-dices her “betters”.

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  • stephanie

    LOL…I think there’s a certain amount of jealousy, and as Ann points out, hurt. I know I feel jealous when my sister talks about her “hard day” leaving her house at 10 to gorcery shop for the month for her family- she was running around for 4 hours! I love her dearly, and do recognize there are trade offs- but on a 12 hour workday, when I still have to stop at the store, make dinner, etc- I would HAPPILY trade places!

    I also think part of the problem is hurt. A generation of women worked hard to be “equal”, and make it easier, in theory, for the next generation to have the opportunities they wanted- how galling it must be to have those women say “no thanks”. It is ironic indeed.

  • http://none Darrell

    Funny how choice to the Left always means one option.

  • newton

    Interesting that I, a graduate of a women’s college, may be among the ones who will say to a career path “No thanks!” the moment the ept test says the stork is coming.

    I’m sure a whole bunch of these “career-oriented” women will be pressured to get rid of their “inconveniences” in order to be “successful.”

    After all, that’s exactly what their forbearers in the “women’s rights movement” actually meant by “liberation”, or didn’t they?

  • TheAnchoress

    A generation of women worked hard to be “equal”, and make it easier, in theory, for the next generation to have the opportunities they wanted- how galling it must be to have those women say “no thanks”. It is ironic indeed.

    I believe, Steph – you are right that those women find it “galling” that they broke through the barriers only to find these women are less committed to taking full advantage of it. But the problem is, and these women really need to understand it – THOSE women made THEIR choices to live THEIR lives. THESE women are making their own choices, and deserve as much “respect” for those choices as the first gang.

    If they are true to the ideals they say they espouse, they should not be “galled.” But that generation (mine) of women never could mind their own beeswax and just let other people be! :-)

  • stephanie

    LOL…Parents ALWAYS think they know best (even when they don’t) so do teenagers. The baby boomers who as adolescents thought they knew best now, as parents, are sure of it! S’ok, I always was the passive agressive child- i could listen for hours to what people thought I should do, smile and nod politely…before going off and doing my own thing.
    I do have empathy for them- don’t confuse that with buying into their arguments! ;-)

  • newton

    BTW, Anchoress, guys… Pray for us here in the TX Coastal Bend.

    Rita may hit north of Port O’Connor, about two hours away from where I live.

  • March Hare

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the daughters who were left with “childcare providers” so their mothers could have “meaningful careers” have now decided that motherhood IS a meaningful career!
    I’m one of those who was “liberated” in the ’70′s myself. But I realized (about the time of child #3) that I could “have it all,” just not all at once! I stayed home for 11 years–my only regret was that I didn’t stay home sooner (after #2).

  • OBloodyHell

    > There are still inequalities – there always will be, that’s life
    Inequities, I’d go with. Inequalities are much rarer. All too often things pointed as inequalities are matched, usually without notice or comment, by some other counterbalancing inequality.
    As Warren Farrell noted: While one may look at Job Rated Almanac, and comment how the 25 highest rated jobs are usually male dominated, one should also notice how the 25 lowest rated jobs are *also* male dominated.
    Sometimes, it pays to step back to see if your viewpoint isn’t skewed by proximity to the problem (not directed at anyone here, mind you — just women prone to noting inequalities, publicly or privately)

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