Last night, my high school pal Joyce emailed me an article from The Daily Princetonian, and it totally wrecked my evening. So much so that I got out my corkscrew, opened a much too expensive bottle of Barolo, and downed a couple of glasses. I was so upset that I even missed Jon Stewart on TV.
"What Princeton Women Want" recounts a conversation between the author and her friend Molly about their impending graduation. Wistfully questioning their futures ("Would we go to graduate school? Marry our college boyfriends? Sell our souls to Wall Street?"), the author then describes her friend's answer:
Molly lowered her voice, glanced from side to side, and leaned in closer to me. “Margaret,” she whispered, “there’s something I need to tell you.” Molly continued, “I don’t want to go to grad school. I don’t even know if I want a career. I want to get married, stay at home, and raise my kids.” Then, clearly distraught, she added, “What’s wrong with me?”
The article is largely a defense of Molly’s choice. And—guess what?—feminism is the designated villain:
Molly's predicament is shameful. Not because she feels the urge to be a stay-at-home mom, but because she feels that her desire is wrong or unnatural. It is shameful that modern feminism has elevated professionalism at the expense of motherhood, particularly the stay-at-home variety. It is sad that some students feel the need to justify their education with a prestigious career.
By this point, the sanctimonious tone is getting under my skin. I know the author is defending her friend, but why pick on "modern" feminism? Was it not feminism that opened those ivy-covered gates to them at Princeton? And yes, if you must ask, I do think the Mollys of the world are squandering their privileged education. In fact, they are taking away seats from other brilliant kids who might actually need a Princeton degree to achieve their dreams.
There, I said it. I got the politically incorrect thesis off my chest.
The article then trots out the latest "It" girl for traditional womanhood: Anne-Marie Slaughter, who famously gave up her high-profile State Department job to spend more time with her sons. (Remember Slaughter's article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in The Atlantic last summer?) Never mind that Slaughter is a tenured professor at Princeton—and that she really does kind of "have it all." To young women, unfortunately, she's now the wise, nagging voice of how motherhood and high-pressure jobs don't mix, and how traditional motherhood is really morally superior.
"Slaughter legitimized the decision to turn down further career opportunities in favor of spending more time with children," writes the Princetonian author. Okay. Then she adds:
We must accept that many women—even Princeton women—do not want “it all.” As for young women who hope to have a successful career while raising children, they should hear realistic advice about the difficulty—perhaps the impossibility—of having both while minimizing the costs to either.
By this time, I'm asking myself: Is this what some young women today are thinking—that they really can't have a high-flying career and family, and that "good" girls will ultimately chose motherhood? Or is this some kind of Princeton thing? (There must be something in the water there, because the whole "opt-out" thing started with Lisa Belkin's 2003 New York Times article that looked at a bunch of Princeton women who decided to chuck their careers to stay home.)
The author of the piece suggests that Princeton should be more supportive of women who want to take the traditional wife/mother route: "Our university can—and should—do more to validate the desires of students like Molly," adding that "Princeton’s Women’s Center and Career Services are natural places for the dialogue to continue."
Huh? Last time I checked, there was no shortage of jobs for women in the housewife sector. Do institutions of higher learning really need to devote more resources to help women ease into those roles?
Now, before all you traditionalists out there start sending me angry emails, let me say that I'm not antimotherhood (and, believe it or not, I have kids!). What I find sad and depressing is that these bright young women seem to be limiting themselves so early on. Why not be idealistic and think you can have it all, at least at the starting gate? Why not dream big when you are young?
Believe me, real life will catch up with everyone soon enough.
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Photo: Betty White as the Happy Homemaker on Mary Tyler Moore show.