Carol Platt Liebau: Defined by a Paycheck?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Defined by a Paycheck?

To me, the feminist insistence that women need to work at a paying job in order to be truly liberated (even if they can afford not to work) has seemed as limiting -- if not more so -- than the strictures they initially rebelled against.

Apparently, I'm not alone. In a piece destined to give feminists heartburn, the New York Times reports that many young women -- in elite colleges like Yale, with plans to go on to law or business school -- intend to fulfill themselves by staying home with their children or perhaps working part time after children are in school.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, dean of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, encapsulates the feminist view perfectly when she notes, "It really does raise this question for all of us and for the country: when we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?"

In that remark, there's an implicit threat -- that women won't be given opportunities unless they use them to become full time workers at paying jobs. How silly. Ironically (for liberals, of course, often congratulate themselves on their lack of concern about money), Ms. Lewis seems to believe that the only "return" worth getting from providing a woman with a Harvard education is that of a paid, full-time worker.

This lack of understanding is breathtaking. Is there no social value in volunteer work -- much of which is absolutely vital to community health, and which needs educated, intelligent and creative people to participate in it? Even more, what's with the elitist assumption that somehow becoming a superb wife and mother is an inadequate "return" on an education? My mother always noted that, "When you educate a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a woman, you educate an entire family." Would feminists ilke Ms. Lewis disagree?

And how strange is it that we need to remind the feminists that it's worthwhile to educate women -- even if they don't necessarily intend to spend their lives chasing after the almighty dollar?

How heartening to know that so many young women today refuse to be defined by a paycheck -- and that they have a grasp on what's really important. Good for them.


Blogger cookie jill said...

Carol -

You have to examine the article closely.

Check out the Slate article:

How many "many's" are too many for one news story?

Like its fellow weasel-words—some, few, often, seems, likely, more—many serves writers who haven't found the data to support their argument. A light splash of weasel-words in a news story is acceptable if only because journalism is not an exact science and deadlines must be observed. But when a reporter pours a whole jug of weasel-words into a piece, as Louise Story does on Page One of today's (Sept. 20) New York Times in "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," she needlessly exposes one of the trade's best-kept secrets for all to see. She deserves a week in the stockades. And her editor deserves a month.

She informs readers that "many of these women" being groomed for the occupational elite "say that is not what they want." She repeats the weasel-word three more times in the next two paragraphs and returns to it whenever she needs to express impressive quantity but has no real numbers

...None of these many's quantify anything. You could as easily substitute the word some for every many and not gain or lose any information. Or substitute the word few and lose only the wind in Story's sails. By fudging the available facts with weasel-words, Story makes a flaccid concept stand up—as long as nobody examines it closely.

For instance, Story writes that she interviewed "Ivy League students, including 138 freshman and senior females at Yale who replied to e-mail questions sent to members of two residential colleges over the last school year." Because she doesn't attribute the preparation of the e-mail survey to anyone, one must assume that she or somebody at the Times composed and sent it. A questionnaire answered by 138 Yale women sounds like it may contain useful information. But even a social-science dropout wouldn't consider the findings to be anything but anecdotal unless he knew 1) what questions were asked (Story doesn't say), 2) how many questionnaires were distributed, and 3) why freshman and seniors received the questionnaires to the exclusion of sophomores and juniors. Also, 4) a social-science dropout would ask if the Times contaminated its e-mailed survey with leading questions and hence attracted a disproportionate number of respondents who sympathize with the article's underlying and predetermined thesis.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...


Are you afraid that highly educated, gifted, intelligent women might actually have the nerve and selflessness to use their abilities in the greatest service known to mankind, that of motherhood? I don't understand your comment in relation to Carol's post. It seems to me you are trying to defeat the idea that there is a significant percentage of women who choose to both receive a college education and become stay at home mothers. I will try to explain the oddity of that choice to the dozens of women I know who have made it, including my incredibly bright four older sisters who all went on to a well-respected private university after high school (and one of whom has a master's degree) and now stay home raising their children. Each of them are amzing mothers and their children are greatly blessed by not just their college education, but by their continuing education. I sincerely hope that more women will make the choice to be at home with their children and will make the choices that must come before that if they are to do so, including waiting until marriage to have children and marrying a man to whom their full-time motherhood is important.

12:56 PM  

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