September 20, 2005
The Sky is Falling: Elite Women Want Motherhood?
The New York Times is horrified. Elite young women at presitigious Ivy League schools are indicating an interest in, gasp, motherhood.
The article is heavy on anecdote and fails to ever explain its methodology — the source of its “data” is email responses from some young women at the Ivy’s. So, even though I think the conclusion is interesting and one that I agree with, in all honesty the researcher in me has to point out to you that this is not terribly reliable reporting.
The more interesting question is: what is the Times up to here?
Well, the headline may read neutrally: “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” but the text is anything but. The idea that young women might choose motherhood is clearly, from their perspective, a bad trend.
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.
Here’s the good news, Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton, said to the reporter:
“There is nothing inconsistent with being a leader and a stay-at-home parent. Some women (and a handful of men) whom I have known who have done this have had a powerful impact on their communities.”
Cheers for her.
Here’s the bad, from Peter Salovey, dean of Yale:
What does concern me, is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn’t constructed along traditional gender roles.
The man is dean at Yale and he misses the irony that he is the one who isn’t thinking outside the box?
Memo to Peter: You’ve got it exactly backward. In today’s world, thinking outside the box involves constructing a life outside traditional male career paths. For both men and women, but especially for young women.
It is precisely the female inclination to think outside the box — sequencing, part-time work, entrepreneurial innovation — that is enlivening the 21st century work world.
UPDATE: Ann Althouse also reacting. She uses as a title the quote from a Harvard administrator: “When we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?” Goes to my point.
WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Anchoress weighs in, and picks up on this quote: “They (these young women) are still thinking of this as a private issue; they’re accepting it,” from a Yale women’s studies prof, natch.
And Betsy Newmark.