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September 20, 2005

The Sky is Falling: Elite Women Want Motherhood?

September 20, 2005 | By | 11 Comments

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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.

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Comments

  1. The New Feminism

    From the NYT – Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood Favorite quote on the matter: They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they’re accepting it, said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies

  2. I’ve passed my blog readers over here from my post on the matter as your critique is so much better.

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  4. A while back 60 Minutes did a piece about the same thing.

    I found it amusing when they interviewed this older woman doing either this study or a similar one was really bitter at all these professional women leaving the workforce to become full-time moms. She basically stated that it was her generation that won the right for women to pursue professional careers and that it was this generation’s responsibility to protect that right, by going to work.

    What was amazing was that she has no grasp on the fact that women should be able to choose. She was pissed that about 80% were choosing to be moms. It is their right.

    As for me, I have a full-time mommy wife. It is her choice and I am glad that my salary is high enough to permit her the ability to stay home.

  5. 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 …

  6. Women Paying Attention to Biology

    What is it with these numskulls? How about a generation of happy, well-adjusted children who know their mothers chose them over a career? For goodness sake, college isn’t just about getting a job, it’s about expanding your horizons.

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  8. Alex (a woman)

    Growing up, my mother always said two things, “You can be whatever you want to be. You do not have to be in a traditional female role. However, when you have kids (this was never a question in my family), it is your job to take care of them…they are your gift to protect.” While the idea of working and being a mother was always an apparent battle to me through college and getting my masters, it is now that I am constantly thinking about the future: how am I going to juggle doing both? Because both is what I want to do. I always thought I would leave whatever career I had to raise my children, but at 24 I realize that I really like to work.

    The point of this comment is to say that I think it is important for young women find women that they admire for how they juggle the work-mother debate. Not to copy, per se, but to see what works for them and what does not. My role model is a woman very involved in political and policy fundraising (which is what I do) with six kids…she offers me alot of wisdom and a guide post for how I want to conduct myself

  9. Patina Lazina

    Is Chamaine Yoest for real? Is she the Pollyanna of the new generation? She scares me. I love being single. I love owning my own home and I love calling the shots. I don’t believe that anyone ever approached her when she was teaching and ‘secretly said that they really wanted to get married’. Geesh!

  10. Glad you are happy with your life Patina.

    The story about the young women who expressed a hesitation to admit being interested in marriage and family is quite true.

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