Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Many Men at Elite Colleges Refuse Careers as Caregivers and Domestic Laborers

Last Wednesday (October 19, 2005), the Women’s Faculty Forum held a panel entitled “What’s the purpose of a Yale Education?” in response to Louis Story’s New York Times article, “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path To Motherhood”. While the panel consisted of both men and women, who offered thoughtful and candid responses to the article, the panel’s diversity could not compensate for the overwhelming number of women in the audience.

Yet the unequal gender composition of the room, while disturbing, was only part of the problem. People were ready to talk about their personal experiences, but very few were willing to ask why. Why were the students quoted in Ms. Story’s article so complacent with the status quo? Why were only women asked rather than men? Why were businesses not required to defend their policies concerning parental leave and how those policies hamper certain individuals’ career paths?

What came across instead was women’s defensiveness with regard to their personal decisions. The room was fraught with tension; women who were stay-at-home mothers felt they had to justify their lack of a “legitimate” career while women who had high-powered jobs felt they had to justify their “selfish” choice to leave the house.

We left the room somewhat frustrated that so few people had had the chance to speak and that those who did speak felt compelled to defend their choices rather than demanding change.

Today’s Ivy-League woman, which is the only woman Ms. Story’s article actually attempts to speak for, is in a lose-lose situation: choosing a career over her children appears selfish while choosing her children over a career appears wasteful of her Ivy League education. Women should not have to compromise their desires to be practicing doctors and “good” mothers. And they should not have to be judged for making those decisions by a society that has failed to accept communal responsibility for parenting the next generation. As Dean Salovey argued in his opening remarks: the bottom line is that women need to have choices, real choices that fit with their individual desires rather than fitting with social expectations and institutions.

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