“You can have an education, I guess, but not one as good as mine…”

“You can have an education, I guess, but not one as good as mine…” April 26, 2013

Here is Yale alum Leah Libresco responding with vigor to Keli Goff’s recent article entitled “Female Ivy League graduates have a duty to stay in the workforce”:

Goff assumes that women who leave the workforce will cease to use the education that they paid for, but there’s nowhere you can go that learning about beauty and citizenship and character and tradition aren’t relevant. The liberal arts are supposed to have taken up philosophy’s mantle as preparation for death — the study of how we should live.[…] The college grad starting out as a junior staffer or an administrative assistant may not be making much use of the more highfalutin’ skills she picked up, but those ideas and habits aren’t in abeyance until she gets promoted. They shape her choices outside of work and help her decide what organizations and causes she wants to serve, whether in a highly skilled way or not. Someone’s occupation shouldn’t be the only domain they expect to think critically in, and our place of employment isn’t the only space for us to give back.

Modern stay at home mothers might struggle to find ways to connect to their communities, but this isn’t because they’ve withdrawn from the workforce, it’s because the workforce is the only broad bond most people experience. The woman in the workforce and the stay at home mom could both use more Nisbettian communities and opportunities to learn and live well with others.

You’ll want to read all of Leah’s piece, and Goff’s.

The prejudice and resentment against women who get an Ivy-league degree and then choose to stay home and raise their children is not new. The New York Times was writing about it back in 2005, and for that matter, so was I. The insistence that Ivy women are too valuable to be full-time wives and mothers has been setting my teeth on edge for a long time, but the Goff piece was particularly annoying, particularly this bit:

There’s nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

Can you guess what grates, here, besides the condescension inherent in allowing that “there’s nothing wrong with” choosing full-time motherhood? Besides ungenerously suggesting that someone with perceived “simpler” aspirations should be satisfied with a lesser education than they might desire, (which stinks of the same limiting-socialist nonsense Obama shovels when he makes himself “the decider” of what constitutes a “satisfactory” retirement fund for everyone but himself), it is the notion that the only women fit to aspire to leadership are the Ivy grads who put the best of their energies into their careers, which reinforces some elitist thinking, some ignorant stereotypes and problematic assumptions.

Goff is, perhaps all unconsciously, communicating an idea that Ivy grads — preferably Ivy law school grads — are the people who are entitled to power. An inferior degree from a lesser school is fine for most; perhaps even on a state level, someone with a degree from a second or third tier school (like, say, Sarah Palin) might be good enough for a governorship of a flyover or largely rural state, but real power — the kind reserved for federal leadership — belongs to the Ivies, and if you’re not ready to put the scramble for that sort of power before everything else, then you should move aside, go to community college and then state, and then plan out the garden you’ll grow with your kids. There’s a good girl.

That’s one step removed from the kind of crap fathers used to tell their daughters: “you don’t need to go to college; you’re just going to get married and have kids, and waste it!”

Ms. Goff’s argument, aside from too-closely resembling the belittling misogyny of the past, betrays a very troubling, dangerously insular mindset; it assumes that the best people to lead the country are those who have no idea what it’s like to sacrifice some of the niceties of life in order to raise one’s own kids; people who have no idea what it’s like to be the one everyone else relies on to pick up their sick kid from school; no idea of where, exactly our public schools are failing (because their kids go to private schools, of course); people who have no idea of how gas prices or tax increases impact the reality of day-to-day living; people who don’t know what it’s like to weed a garden with a little “helper” and then share the harvest with an elderly neighbor.

Seems to me, we could use some people in federal leadership who, having been educated in the Ivies (or not), also managed to take a decade’s post-graduate work to become educated in Applied Life Realities. In Ms. Goff’s world, though, there would be no room for a woman who raised her kids (and perhaps educated them) while creating a cottage industry to supplement the household income, and give herself a creative outlet, to boot. Such a multi-skilled gal might be the 21st century equivalent of “Harry Truman, Haberdasher”, but we’ll never know about her, thanks to this conceit that only the single-minded and relentless pursuit of worldly power and prestige will earn a woman the right to an office of power.

It takes an odd conceit to suggest that a woman with an Ivy degree has no right to stay home — and that a woman with a State University degree has no business aspiring to much at all — while a man with no degree, like NBC News’ Brian Williams, gets to help shape the national dialogue and sway the populace, every single night. It’s that weirdly masculine way of thinking and measuring that, once again, has “feminist” women becoming the veriest purveyors of everything they used to say they hated.

It seems like women have made an idol of masculine equivalences, and of allowing old masculine paradigms to continue to be definitive, even as relates to women’s issues. That’s as far away from feminine genius as it gets.

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