Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Successful" Women

It seems that many women are deciding they want to stay at home with their children, even - gasp - women graduating from Ivy League universities.

First of all, I must put aside my initial reaction about best laid plans, especially those we make in college. After that, it's very interesting to see what's happening, at least anecdotally.

Thankfully, this is a balanced article. There are a couple of folks on one side who seem to believe that the definition of success for a woman can mean many things. The president of Princeton, for instance:

For example, earlier this month, Shirley M. Tilghman, the president of Princeton University, welcomed new freshmen, saying: "The goal of a Princeton education is to prepare young men and women to take up positions of leadership in the 21st century. Of course, the word 'leadership' conjures up images of presidents and C.E.O.'s, but I want to stress that my idea of a leader is much broader than that."

She listed education, medicine and engineering as other areas where students could become leaders.

In an e-mail response to a question, Dr. Tilghman added: "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."

But this one in particular is my favorite:
"They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they're accepting it," said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women's and gender studies at Yale. "Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it.

"I really believed 25 years ago," Dr. Wexler added, "that this would be solved by now."

Permit me to build a straw(wo)man...
This quote says so many things about the way people with this view see the world. To them, how a woman chooses to raise her own children is not a private choice for her to make. Let's not even talk about this being a choice she would most likely make with her husband. How dare a modern woman view this as her own choice. Anyone notice something interesting here? I'm guessing that Dr. Wexler screams from the rooftops her support for a woman's right to choose many other things in her life. Once she becomes a mother, though, she no longer has a right to her own private decisions?

Or is she saying that these women are brainwashed by our patriarchal society and, therefore, incapable of making their own decisions? If so, who should overrule a woman's decision to stay at home with her children?

She also says there are "no social changes to support [working mothers]." I wonder when was the last time she worked in corporate America. Any guesses? I know of many organizations that strive to keep women onboard once they've had children. In order to do this, they build lactation rooms, and they implement teleworking and flexible scheduling policies. They offer more maternity leave than legally required. They understand that these women are contributors they don't want to lose. So companies do what they can to keep these women. I work for one of these companies. Many of the mothers that have come back to work after maternity leave haven't done so because of financial need. They love their jobs and our company, and our company makes it possible for them to be both successful mothers and salespeople, programmers, and customer support reps - to name a few.

And finally, Wexler hopes this "would have been solved by now." First, she assumes that women choosing to stay at home with their children is a) a problem and b) something that women are forced to do. I'd also be interested to know what exactly Wexler has done to create a solution for this problem that so disturbs her. Maybe she's not a very good women's studies professor if she hasn't been able to teach even the smartest women (students at Yale, for instance) that being a stay-at-home mother is clearly the wrong decision.

link via Wall Street Journal Best of the Web Today.

No comments: