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2005.09.20

Comments

Hannah

There was that one guy in one of the women's classes. He thought it was SEXY that she wanted to stay home.

Lisa

Yeah. I just find it weirdly dismaying that there's all this focus on "women weigh parenthood, jobs" and there's no article looking at whether young men are facing the same decisions -- or asking why the hell not.

And I find it kind of twee that they're looking at what is essentially a v. privileged slice of America. Ask kids in state U what they think! They're the ones who'll be making up the bulk of the workforce and the middleclass economy.

Hannah

I just wondered how these college students were going to find the men to not only go along with that, but support them in the style they will demand. Because I can't imagine them saying, "Oh, public school is a-okay since I can join the PTA." I mean, will Yale now offer "How to Meet an Investment Banker" to meet these women's needs?

Lisa

And that would be the other thing I couldn't work into the post.

"So what you're saying is ... you're essentially shopping for an MRS. at the collegiate equivalent of Neiman Marcus?"

And the last thing -- ain't nobody worried about their husbands divorcing them and leaving them with few financial resources and even scantier work experience/contacts. What, does the upper-middle-class no longer divorce?

Marj

Actually the weirdest thing to me is that this is presented as new. Maybe the proportions are up, but in my days (early 90s) at one of the schools written about, there were women who were planning to work for a while then stay home with kids. (And among those I knew who had that plan, some have done so, others have chosen career over family.) There is this segment of the upper classes that still does live in the 50s, essentially, and going to Yale to meet your appropriate partner is the new version of going to Smith to do so 40 years ago.

Money changes how people negotiate the work-life balance. And unfortunately, the Ivy League, despite work to change the image and the reality, is still as much about money as it is about SAT scores and grades.

Ex-Monkey Ben

It's novel because it's Ivy League, I suppose. And since, oh, 1965 or so, women who managed to get into an Ivy League university had such great expectations. But Lisa, I'm curious about something. "Why can't we just accept the way things are, so long as we're still comfortable?" I know what you're getting at with this question, which is intended to be rhetorical. And I'm sure most of your readers would nod knowingly in agreement, perhaps with a self-satisfied smirk. That said, it's a pretty good question, wouldn't you say? How might you answer it?

Lisa

"Why can't we just accept the way things are, so long as we're still comfortable?"

Just because things are comfortable for us doesn't mean they're comfortable for everyone. Accepting the status quo because it works for YOU is a handy way of ignoring who this standard might not be working for: you're essentially washing your hands of responsibility for people whose lives you affect, directly or indirectly. You're endorsing the idea that so long as your life easier, you don't care if anyone else's life is harder.

"I don't mind the status quo. I don't see why I have to go against it" demonstrates a profound self-absorption and a social myopia. It's basically a more polite rephrasing of this: "Fuck you -- I got mine." It's the antithesis of polite society.

Anyone who's a mature, functioning member of society ought to realize that they have been, at some point, the beneficiary of someone who refused to get comfortable with a status quo rooted in preserving a pervasive inequality. And they have a choice: take other people's work for granted, or try to continue that work by addressing subsequent status quos which perpetuate the obstacles between us and a more perfect union.

I view questioning the status quo -- and working to change it for the better -- as a fundamentally American value, and a Christian one to boot. My conscience doesn't let me accept status quos easily: many of them are based on circumstances or conditions that devalue human life and dignity, and I don't like the idea of living comfortably at the expense of someone else.

Michelle

I think this, right here, is the most telling quotation in the entire article:

'"What does concern me," said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, "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."'

It's like you said, Lisa, why aren't young men opting to stay home instead? Why is co-parenting still not being embraced and explored by more couples as a viable option (because the corporate establishment, for all the talk of work-life balance, does very little to support it, in no small part, but also because people are lazy and don't pursue it). Co-parenting and other arrangements are harder but ultimately, I believe, more fulfilling for a lot of people.

Fluffy Nougat

It seems weird to me that the women in that article just assume that they are going to get married, and have kids, and its all going to be so easy. It seems unrealistic.
Although, to be fair, they are very young. I suppose when I was in college I was guilty of some of the same thinking. I was sure that if I ever had children that I would be a working mom. Perhaps that was because it was my "status quo". My mother -and most of the others in the middle class neighborhood where I grew up - worked at least part-time.
But if there's one thing motherhood teaches you it is flexibility! You've got to throw out all of your assumptions and just start over. As it turned out, it worked out better for my family for me to stay home right now. If we'd been able to find quality, affordable child care, if my husbands job (military) allowed him some flexibility (or even to be in the country more than 6 months out of the year), or if I had been able to establish a "career" (hard when you live in 3 cities in 4 years) things probably would have been different. But we were fortunate enough to be in a situation where we had a choice about whether or not I would work and staying home has been the right thing for us at this time. But I'm pretty sure that will change in the future - especially once we join the civilian world or the kid starts school.
Those women are in for a big surprise once the get out into the world.

Nomie

This is profoundly bizarre, to me. I'm a senior at a small liberal arts school - an Ivy safety, as it's popularly viewed - and very few of my friends are planning to get married and be stay-at-home moms. Most of them are more focused on grad school and internships so they can find careers they want and be fulfilled. And when I tell them of my plans to be happily single and childless, they don't bat an eye.

Then again, most of my friends are here because of financial aid, including myself. Perhaps because we didn't grow up with the same privilege and sense of entitlement, we don't feel the same way as these girls. If we followed the status quo, we'd all be at state universities or community colleges. Instead we worked our tails off to get here, so we're not as ready to throw it all away.

Another economic question: what about student loans? I know I'm going to have to work just to pay back the debt I've accumulated and will accumulate. So what about these women? Is it their economic privilege that allows them to be so cavalier about how much is being paid for their education? Or does the providing spouse have to cover their loan repayments as well? That seems like a fantastically unequal arrangement to me.

Jeannie

The thing that enrages me more than anything about this story--more than the sanctimonious "I'd never put my kids in daycare" attitude, more than the class privilege inherent in every assumption these young women make, more than the fact that they never appear to consider that perhaps they might have a partner who would share childcare duties--is the sloppy journalism.

Putting aside the ridiculousness of assuming that what someone predicts about her future at age 18 will hold true ten years (or even ten weeks) in the future, the reporter's methodology is fundamentally flawed. Jack Shafer has a detailed analysis on Slate, so I won't go into it here, and gelfmagazine.com has the original survey. But basically, as I told a friend yesterday, and as Shafer also says, this feels like one of those stories where an editor says, "Hey, my friend's kid goes to Yale and she wants to be a stay-at-home mom. Let's write a trend story about it!" And because this sloppy journalism appears on the front page of the Times, we all are forced to engage in a debate about this non-trend.

Lisa

Jeannie, thanks for mentioning the Slate article; I ran across it in the SFGate culture blog entry on the NYT piece.

In the original entry, I had edited to focus mostly on the quotes issuing from the mouths of what educators would like us to think are the best and brightest of tomorrow. The classism inherent in the piece -- because let's face it, getting an education for no better reason than because It's What's Done, and the stay-at-home thing is another class issue right there -- is a whole 'nother discussion.

As is the NYT's increasingly bizarre coverage of the privileged upper-middles.

Michelle

This LA Times piece may be of interest.

hannah

Also the NYT opinion follow up.

Jackie M.

And the last thing -- ain't nobody worried about their husbands divorcing them and leaving them with few financial resources and even scantier work experience/contacts. What, does the upper-middle-class no longer divorce?

Thank you. I know a lot of older women who are divorcees, and retirees, and should-be-retirees -- whose husbands left them high-and-dry, so now they'll have to work until they drop dead to pay their rent. They shake their heads when I say I'm married, but smile when I say I'm studying for a postgraduate degree.

"Pension plan, pension plan," they say. "It's all about the pension plan."

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