Defining Feminism Down, part 2

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Defining Feminism Down, part 2

(Note: this is part 2 of a series. I didn't want a single post that went on for eons so I split it up into two parts. Part 1 is addressing the anti-feminist twist on the story, the second is on issues I do have with dramatic conclusions the article is making based on a very small sample.)

To recap, today's New York Times article on young ivy league women talking about how they don't want full-time, high-power careers because they want to be full-time mothers. As I wrote earlier, I think this is an affirmation of modern feminism coming full circle, women's intellect and career choices being valued differently than they have before-- career and motherhood are seen as equally valid, fulfilling choices. However, as often with the New York Times and stories like these, it's not about what is said is what isn't said.

First, all of the young women seem to assume, without question, they will be able to afford to stay home. If they talk at all about having a career before children, they say they'll stop working, a few mention that they may work part-time. There is a fairly blatant class issue at work here. Not all women have that choice. It's safe to say they all assume they're going to marry ivy league men who will be able to support them and their children.

Second, none of the women interviewed were married, they had not found a man who would be willing and able to do this. I'm not saying they won't be able to, but building a plan based on marrying and having babies without a partner in the picture seems risky, if not a little stupid. I have a 26-year old sister who is now going back to school because she had that "plan," but all of her friends are now married and having babies and she still hasn't found the right guy. She never planned on having a career until she realized recently that relying on some imaginary man to take care of her wasn't such a great "plan" after all. These women do seem to be setting themselves up to be disappointed, but then again, they're young and idealistic.

Third, this survey was devoted entirely to women in the early 20s who are still in college-- how many of them have any real clue about what they will end up doing? I'm not suggesting that they'll change their minds or anything but they haven't even existed in the workworld yet, at this stage they're merely projecting what they hope their futures will look like. It all strikes me as more than a little bit naive.

There is one scenario that I would say is a rejection of feminism-- but it doesn't appear anywhere in the article. None of these women are talking about going to school to "find a man," they all seem to value their own intellect and think that having a degree is a worthwhile pursuit of its own. While it's possible they're focusing on motherhood too early and limiting their choices in the meantime, but they do see motherhood as a choice, not an obligation, and the kind of mother they want to be is also a choice. This is a very modern way of looking at the future.

Regardless, I find it a very postmodern feminist thang that these young women do view motherhood as a valid, rewarding "career" in of itself, it means they place equal value on "women's work" in a way that hasn't always been valued. This is a major cultural shift that has been in the making for the past 30-50 years. I say more power to them.

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