Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Finishing School Redux

Here's an annoying piece about young women at Ivy League schools (I think calling them "co-eds" might not be inappropriate given the tenor of the article) who are cheerfully planning on eschewing a career in favor of becoming SAHMs (stay at home moms, for those of you not reading the appropriate parts of Craigslist).

Though none of the subjects of the article come right out and say it, it's apparent that they view Harvard and Yale educations as, mainly, useful resume builders in their hunt for a rich man. The idea that they might end up in a financial situation where they actually had to bring in an income -- e.g. the situation for the large majority of mothers -- is hors question. As for the old-school feminist notion (or just plain socially responsible notion) that consuming all those scarce educational resources imposes a social obligation to do something that only such an education enables, well, apparently that quaint notion can be shrugged off with a giggle.

Look, I don't begrudge these women their lucky opportunity to make these choices. One of the main myths of feminism was that having a job was a privilege and a fulfilling delight. Utter poppycock. Instead, I have not a feminist but a Calvinist view of work: if you don't have a job, then you don't have a proper social identity, and you don't have the right relationship with God. That's why all women (all people) should have jobs. In short, these women are lucky to be able to make this choice; but they are irresponsible for taking it.

A more detailed perspective here, with an emphasis on the childcare policy background to all this.


zachawry said...

Funny, I had a very different reaction to the piece.

I always thought feminism was about the ability to have a choice, like the choice to stay at home and be a full-time mom or to enter the workplace on a permanent basis.

I think the college girls who want to work part time or not at all to raise families are fulfilling that feminist ideal just as much as the ones who want to work full time. The reason why is simple: they are just choosing the path that seems most meaningful to them.

That's why the Yale women's studies prof who views this as a "problem I thought would be solved by now" is really just a dinosaur. The fact is these women have the choice that feminism won for them, but she thinks there is only one correct choice: to work full time. Totally ridiculous.

zachawry said...

Oh yeah: You seem to get all excited about the class issues inherent in the assumptions these women are making about their future (having a husband to support their not-working or part-time working). But, acutally most of those interviewed seem to say they wanted to go back to work part time eventually. Well, having 1.5 incomes per two adults is hardly the prerogative of the rich. Middle and probably lower class Americans also get by on 1.5 incomes per family.

purpleprose said...

Zak, you're right that the Yale prof is a dinosaur: she thinks everyone has an obligation, a political duty, to continue fighting the fights of her generation.

With that said, it's a mistake to think that the current generation's vision of "feminism" as being about "greater choice" (feminism as better consumerism, if you will) was what the dinosaurs fought for. The political goal of the dinos was not to increase women's "choices." The dinos considered their fight to be about establishing women as equals to men in terms of power and income. For feminists of this persuasion, the coeds depicted in this article are essentially giving up without a fight.

zachawry said...

The assumption on the part of the dino that lies at the core of the issue is that staying at home even part time makes you inferior (even if this is freely chosen). Since this has traditionally been a female role, buying into this assumption is actually pretty misogynistic. As a stay-at-home part-time working dad, I can say unequivicably that I have the best of both worlds. A woman who chose that path is hardly "unequal" with men. In my opinion, she's smarter. :)

Phil said...

I had the same "classist" reaction that you had, but it's hard to ride that high horse too far -- these are Harvard and Yale people we're talking about, and to ask them to pretend that they might one day be working class is asking a bit too much.

I have to argue with your Calvinist dogma about work here, if only because so few people take the "I'm not working" option. That is, if men or women want to slow down their work lives or jump out of the rat race for a few years, and they can afford it, more power to them. The vast majority of them go back to work in some form or another, so their relationship with God the task master is ultimately safe.

As to whether women have unilaterally disarmed in the power struggle because they tend to drop out of the workforce more often and for longer, perhaps the best solution for all of us is to validate the choice of members of either sex to "drop out." Like Zak, I rather envy my wife the choice she has. As a current "drop out," albeit not for very long, I do feel a vague sense of shame. If more men felt okay about taking some time away from work, there would be more opportunities for women who kept working.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both sides, hah!? "I'm not calling her a golddigger, but she a'int going with no broke [cracker]" (KW) is obviously motivation for some female IVLs. However, I agree that they should have that choice and that sometimes, given thier husband's job (&$) it is impractical or not NECESSARY to have 2 incomes. Personally, my wife wears the pants, we have no kids and having kids is problematic given her career. I dont have the option of having the kids; raising them yes, but not at a much worse dent in my career than a women in my situation. Complex societal, cultural, practical, prejudicial, financial, familial, personal aspects would play into anyones choice in this regard. Bottomline, though, is choice is good (and only available to the IVLs!!)