Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Yale co-eds, barefoot in the kitchen*

The blogosphere moves quickly, so this story may already be so last blog-session, but last night I had the honor of screening "Yossi and Jagger" for Katherine and Sam on my tiny-screen laptop, which meant no blogging. Oh, and Ariel Sharon, hear me well: Judging by the response of the female friends I've shown this movie to, Yehuda Levi's very existence could bring about more Aliyah than you'd know what to do with.

But now, as I meant to do yesterday, and as every other blogger already did yesterday, I'll respond to the "18-year-old Yale women, barefoot in the kitchen" article:

How exactly do 18-year-old not-girls-not-yet-women, about to start at elite colleges, know that they will work for 10 years, then have two children, then work part-time until their children start college? Answer: They don't. Their plans may change, or the implied wealthy husband may never appear. The NYT article hits on this for a split-second, but deems it mainly irrelevant that what someone--especially someone with so paths open to her--predicts for her future may not come true. We as a country may be at a tradition-embracing moment, but for every child of the 1960s who swore she'd never, ever move back to the suburbs and raise a family and then found herself doing just that, there will be one of this generation who will read NYT archives 20 years from now, from her home in San Francisco, where she and her wife of ten years work as corporate lawyers, and will chuckle at her own publically-declared plans to raise her husband's kids.

This is the David Brooksian ideal--women whose presence at top colleges is more or less decorative, who are unlikely to have retained knowledge gained there by the time, around age 40, that they finally begin their careers. Women who obtain or retain their "bobo" class status by getting that SAT score and high-end BA, just to make sure their children will be sired by someone with similar credentials. Do these women sign up for econ classes in the hopes of meeting the right sort? Or do they just work out all day so that they'll be the hottest one at that evening's frat party, figuring that one thing will lead to another...

The strangest part of the article, though, is the idea that schools may be less interested in female applicants if this trend continues. Liberal education as a means to support one's self--rather than as a way of turning someone into a fuller, more well-rounded human being/fuller, more well-rounded member of a certain class, is a new thing. Even schools not meant for landed gentry--say, the University of Chicago--sometimes take pride in the impracticality of the education offered, or at least in the idea that, while the education may reap material benefits, that's not the point. No "communications" or "marketing" majors for us, even if many of us end up in jobs with these titles.

Maybe it's different at Harvard and Yale. Maybe education for learning's sake--or, to the cynical, for seeming-sophisticated-at-parties' sake--never caught on at those schools, just as elbow-patched blazers and house-cest pseudomarriages aren't such a thing when you leave Hyde Park. But what I'm getting at is that I cannot imagine anyone at Chicago saying it's less important to educate women because many will stay at home. Why would Chicago care if the Plato-learning turned into more meaningful iBanking or Medieval art-teaching or a more meaningful raising of an iBanker's or professor's children?

That said, I wonder how many Chicago women, as opposed to women at other top schools, have these plans. No one I know has claimed to want this. OK, no one I know has claimed, unironically, to want this.

And finally, as for the young women profiled in the article, assuming they do, in fact, represent a trend: Should we be concerned? What if half of all potential top-notch bankers turn to child-rearing? If obscenely wealthy two-income homes give way to super-wealthy one-income ones? That sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, it's not. Keeping top-earning professions male won't make them disappear and won't bring about a socialist utopia; it will merely reduce options for half the country. And options, those are, as mogul Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

*Nothing should be inferred from the fact that I, while writing this post, was, quite literally, barefoot in the kitchen, which was perhaps what made me think of the expression to begin with.


Anonymous said...

So what's the career guidance like at Yale?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't your claim that these girls don't really know enough to know what they want contradict the assertion that no one at Chicago would want to be a stay-at-home mom? Are Chicago girls more in tune with their futures? I'm sure some people would want to be stay at home moms, or will end up doing it, but at any rate, most of us don't plan our lives around such an assumption.

Phoebe said...

There's no contradiction. I don't claim Chicago women know anything specific about their futures, but want to know if as many hope to be housewives as is the case, if we're to believe the article, among Yale women. The article has two possible flaws: do these women know what they'll want when they're older, and do these women represent a real trend or just a NYT-imagined one? I'm taking it as a given that 18-year-olds can't possibly know they'll be wealthy housewives one day, but am, at the end of the post, taking it as a given that the trend of Yale women wanting to one day be housewives is a real one. In other words, I don't claim that the Yale women don't know what they want, but that they don't know what they *will* want 20 years down the line, when life circumstances may not be what they'd imagined, or when their preferences may have changed.