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« Girls Together | Main | More on (and from) Feminism »

September 23, 2005

Careers and Family

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

First Monica, then Britney/Xtina, and now this. And from the New York Times -- and from a woman reporter at the NYTimes -- no less. Aren't women at the Times all supposed to be propagandists for the partyline-feminist cause? Yet look at what Louise Story discovers and reports:

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others ... say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Typical of the Times to focus on elite colleges, isn't it? The Times' fixation on schools-with-cachet once prompted me to write the only letter I've ever written to the Times. I wrote in asking if the paper's editors might consider imposing a quota on how many times a month a columnist can mention that he/she attended Harvard or Yale. (No response; never printed.)

Still and all: fun to see today's free young women defying '70s-feminist dogma so openly, isn't it? And fun to see that the article has been one of the papers' most-emailed during the last couple of days. It was fun to read the huge number of indignant letters-to-the-editor that the article provoked, too, but I can't find them online.

This teapot-tempest makes me recall an incident from ten or so years back. It took place during a wine-and-cheese party at work. A young woman employee, rattling innocently on, volunteered that neither she nor her girlfriends planned to work forever; she meant "work" in the sense of "having a job outside the home." Eyebrows all around were raised. Didn't she know that one didn't talk like this? Yet she talked on anyway, as though the world belonged not to the Boomers but to her. She and her buds planned to hold down jobs and have fun until they were about 30 ... Then marriage and kids ... Eventually maybe back into the workforce for a parttime job ...

Meanwhile, the men shifted about uneasily and the feminist-Boomer career women stared in cold fury. But it was an impotent fury. On and on this young, sweet-if-full-of-herself young woman gabbed. Life was hers for the living; she was telling us about the kinds of life that appealed to her -- and none of it represented what Shulamith Firestone or Gloria Steinem had had in mind.

What a shock to learn that most people, left to their own devices, would choose to lead conventional lives! (Incidentally: And how lovely that some people would choose not to! But that's not the point of this particular story.)

It was the first time in a couple of decades that I'd been present when the partyline, capital-F feminists hadn't been able to dictate the terms of such an exchange. I remember thinking, "Omigosh, a watershed has been crossed. Are conversations like this taking place all across the country?" This being New York City, the pretty, fizzy, gabby young woman at the center of my story is still single.

Still, just think of it: The capital-F feminists have lost their beachhead at elite colleges, and their prestige among young women. Next thing you know, the Times will be reporting that elite-college kids are fed up with partyline environmentalism, with partyline civil-rights organizations, and with partyline Boomers generally.

Still, I can't help grrr-ing a bit about the Times' fixation on "elite" colleges ... What's with that? Why can't they let it go? Is it nothing but pure self-infatuation? ... And I can't help wondering what Louise Story would have encountered had she talked to young women at non-"elite" colleges ...

By the way, has anyone else noticed how many young women these days are using the words "girl," "girls," and "girlfriends" not only often but unironically?



posted by Michael at September 23, 2005


Of course it's elite colleges. What the New York Times is really selling is something much more sophisticated than mere news: the delightful frisson of class anxiety!

One article makes you feel superior to the common herd; the next, inferior to the genuine elite. First a profile of Sally Changemaker who can't afford health care for her umpteen children, then one about Stephanie Moneybundles who does charity and is still thin at fifty.

Page after page, "Will I ever be a part of the club?" trades off with "At least I'm not one of those rubes". It's sort of a status rollercoaster, and its fans (addicts?) find it just as thrilling as the fairground variety.

I always thought it was rather childish myself.

Posted by: Brian on September 23, 2005 10:50 AM

A refreshing change, indeed.

The feminists, over time, became indistinguishable from pious, evangelical Christian women... with the important difference that Christian women are actually likely to forgive men for their sins. You could always count on the Marxist feminists gals to shake that scolding index finger in your face.

Did I tell you, Michael, that the Marxist feminist gals are often attracted to this redneck midwest boy? Check out my weblog today.

And, as you've said in previous posts, the feminists chose the fight against porn as their line in the sand... and porn won! Thank God for that! In retrospect, did they really think that their starchy, pious and guilt ridden stance would triumph over getting it on?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 23, 2005 10:57 AM

Brian -- That's a hilarious summing-up. I'd love to see you submit it to the Times as a letter-to-the-editor, or, even better, an op-ed piece.

ST -- For a while there, it seemed like there were bluestockings everywhere you looked, didn't it? Of the left or right variety, but it didn't seem to matter. I remember one thing that did really set off the lefty bluestockings, though: that U. of Chicago sex study that revealed that religious women seem to enjoy sex (or at least they report higher levels of sexual satisfaction) than lefty-feminist types do. Oooh, did that rankle! But since it was all men's fault anyway ... Me, I think we all owe Monica Lewinsky a big debt of gratitude. That was the moment when it all started to crumble ... So God bless Monica (and her luscious mouth).

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2005 11:23 AM

As I understand it, competition to get into the elite schools is very, very, intense. Only A students need apply. Only A students with impressive extra-curricular credentials.

So why is it that in these same elite schools, packed with effective brainpower, the old pieties and orthodoxies continue to go unchallenged or barely challenged; orthodoxies that have been all but eviscerated in that great benighted world outside the ivied towers?

Posted by: ricpic on September 23, 2005 11:24 AM

The orthodoxies go unchallenged at elite schools because they're packed with straight A students: they didn't challenge teachers at all.

I'm not saying they aren't very smart, but they are also conformists.

Posted by: Rob on September 23, 2005 11:46 AM

How do the parents of these straight-A girls feel when they learn that what their uber-achieving daughters most want to do is Be Mommies? Do the parents ask themselves, "Do we really need to be spending 40 grand a year just to get our daughter married and procreating"? But maybe it matters to all of them that the girls meet the Right Kind of Guy ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2005 11:53 AM

Elite colleges, regrettably, do matter. Because employers can't legally use IQ tests to evaluate their potential hires, they use what college they graduated from as a substitute. It's admittedly imprecise, but the best the employers can do. (There's something amusing about the fact that the entire claim of elite higher education as an economic 'step up' essentially rests on the Supreme Court's decision outlawing the use of I.Q. tests! After all, it's not like elite schools actually provide their graduates, except maybe in engineering, with any immediately useful professional skills.) Of course, in addition to working as an arm of corporate America's personnel departments, large prestigious universities second function is as R&D contractors to the U.S. government. Both of these functions make talk of the 'private' nature of highly selective colleges fairly ludicrous; the whole gestalt of those schools is largely determined by government policy. That was unintentionally highlighted by the flap over Larrry Summers remarks; these schools are, in essence arms of the government. So as much as I would like to treat academics as a bunch of bizarre oddballs, the fact is that academia is actually central to much of what is going on in the world today.

See my posting on the nature of today's 'aristocracy'. Today our privileged aristocrats are the professional/managerial/government bureaucrat class that basically runs the country--based on a set of essentially academic skills 'battle tested' at elite universities and, of course, supported mightily by governmental policies. Hey, it's a good gig; our aristocrats reap ever-higher rewards and take virtually no personal risk. Risk? Oh, that's for silly entrepreneurs (in business) and blue-collar young men (in war). There's no dobut that its much more sensible to run things from secure perches in law firms, accounting firms, in medicine, in large corporate management, all sheltering close to governmental skirts. Our modern aristos also get some pretty good women, too! No wonder the question of who gets into what college looms so large today!

But openly acknowledging the use of public privileges for private advantage tends to make the elite colleges a bit anxious; they're afraid people might wake up and mess up the good thing they've got going on. So the schools work hard to suggest that they deserve their special status because they're educating tomorrow's leaders. So when girls are candid about what they're really up to, which is an entirely sensible but entirely self-interested rational, it makes the school adminstrators nervous. To wit, the girls are (1) hanging out in the vicinity of high-powered guys (future big earners and high status machers) and hoping propinquity works its magic, and (2) demonstrating their high intelligence, work ethic, etc., as indicias of reproductive fitness. They are going to school to get an MRS degree.

It's kind of funny to look at the whole sexual gestalt of the 1970s-1980s-1990s as just a sort of temporary abberation that is rapidly running its course....I guess it was useful to corporations of that era, who needed more workers and managers. But it's kinda funny to think anybody ever took hard-core feminism or 'womens theory' seriously, given that it was essentially nothing but a high-flown cover for a bunch of down and dirty agendas.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 23, 2005 12:08 PM

Sorry, but previous post referred to was The Long View: Aristocracies Then and Now which you can find at

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 23, 2005 12:44 PM

To what Freidrich said: I've finished recently that chick-lit bomb, Nanny's diaries, and one scene comes to mind.
The nanny's employer, former art student=>art gallery greeter=>trophey wife of a powerful Man on Wall Street (and a mother of totally neglected kid) is unpleasantly surprised the nanny's dating a Harward Hottie at her building: You've done good for yourself...But do you know his former girlfriend is an A-student at Yale, got a presidential schoolarship for a year to Europe AND working with underpriviliged rteenage mothers from ghetto? (not exact quote)

Posted by: Tatyana on September 23, 2005 12:47 PM

Slate had a critique of the Times article a few days ago that really tore it to shreds. It focused on the way Louise Story seemed to use nothing but weasel words like "many" and "some." In other words, the Times article was based solely on anecdotal evidence, and skimpy anecdotal evidence at that. Moreover, by using few or no hard numbers, the article is pretty much insulated from content-based challenges (as opposed to a style-based challenge like Slate's).

Posted by: Peter on September 23, 2005 1:38 PM

What I wonder about some of these girls who have their whole life planned out (party through their 20s, marry and have children in their 30s): how many are going to find out that, when they decide they want to get married, no one (or at least, no one up to their elevated standards) will want to marry them? I know a few women in that situation, and it's not a pretty sight...

Posted by: jimbo on September 23, 2005 2:13 PM

That Slate article that questions the validity of the NY Times article is pretty good - you can find it here:

Posted by: jason on September 23, 2005 3:03 PM

Ahhhh, touched a nerve, have we boys?

What this young generation of women have is an experience being the daughters of moms who worked, in many instances, so that don't romanticize having a career the way the sixties generation did because they often didn't have moms who worked. These young women see shows like Sex and the City and read books like Bridget Jones and read about harried working women in papers like the NYT and they do the math.

Wanna marry? Easier when you're younger. Wanna have kids? Easier when you're younger. And I say this in all my single, career-first glory. I am living the way the feminists would want - I probably won't marry again, I won't have kids and I love being a physician and I work in a teaching hospital where I have a chance to get ahead, career-wise. And even I tell the younguns' "Might as well have kids while you can." Because, why not? What's so great about making your career your life anyway? Look, even the Gen Y guys I know want to take more time for life and for having kids and spending time with said kids. My mother worked, took care of us, and had a supportive husband who did a lot of child care duty. And she was still exhausted by it all.

I dunno. NYT always gets its knickers in a twist about some bogus trend or another. Be happy people. What else matters?

When did feminism decide that the best template for a woman was a 1950s workholic male?

Posted by: MD on September 23, 2005 4:29 PM

Uh, I messed up the first sentence, but you all can probably figure it out. Busy working woman and all that.....

Posted by: MD on September 23, 2005 4:31 PM

"When did feminism decide that the best template for a woman was a 1950s workholic male?"

The template for feminism has always been that of the male. In a sense, they've actively attempted to negate the female. Who's the misogynist? They've denounced almost everything women ever excelled at for the last several thousand years. Clearly they believe wholeheartedly in male supremacy.

Posted by: lindenen on September 23, 2005 7:51 PM

Everything unique about women was the result of oppression. It seems they should be angry at nature more than anything else.

Also, since career women have few children, it's obvious that more children of stay at home moms will eventually float to the top. I wonder if society will ever openly speak about the fact that, in our society, the smartest people have the fewest kids. Not a good sign for our country.

Posted by: lindenen on September 23, 2005 7:53 PM

Lindsey, I think you make a mistake here: why do you assume stay-at-home moms aren't the smart ones? Getting ahead in one's career, as we all exceedingly know, is not a reward for the smartest, just for the most connected or ones with better self-marketing skills.

The smartest women-bloggers I know, f.ex., are moms working on their children' education at home. Not counting the greatest blogger of all, James Lileks, a stay-home dad.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 23, 2005 9:13 PM

Tatyana, I agree with that. Getting ahead in a career is often a result of application or diligence. The smartest person/blogger I know is a stay at home mom. Have you read Lisa Williams blog?

We disagree politically, but she really has a way of crystalizing things for me.

Posted by: MD on September 23, 2005 9:31 PM

"NYT always gets its knickers in a twist about some bogus trend or another"

Just my opinion, but I attribute that to the Times' having "discovered" the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980's ('81 or '82, IIRC). Many people have said that its article first made the public aware of what until then had been a disease known only to a few doctors and some segments of the gay community. The management of the Times probably is looking for another such revelation, and since finding another disease isn't too practical they're looking around for another social trend - whether or not such a trend actually exists.

Posted by: Peter on September 23, 2005 9:43 PM

"I wrote in asking if the paper's editors might consider imposing a quota on how many times a month a columnist can mention that he/she attended Harvard or Yale."

Ever notice that anyone who went to Harvard always lets you know about it?

Posted by: Greg Hlatky on September 24, 2005 6:14 AM

"Elite envy" makes me laugh. Yes, through their college affiliation they are well-connected, but connected to what? The status quo. They become part of our ineffectual government, whether it be Democrat or Republican. They become cogs in the machine of multi-national corporations, entities so big any change of direction is the equivalent of turning around a battleship.

Most of the new jobs in the United States are created by small businesses, started not by the risk-averse elite, but by average citizens who are close to the heartbeat of everyday life and who look at things from the perspective of their diverse backgrounds. They perceive new ways of doing things and pounce on the opportunity.

And that’s the history of our country and how we continue to renew ourselves. The current crop of successful entrepreneurs become the elite of tomorrow, with a new crop of up-and-comers driving the next wave of innovation. John D. Rockefeller gives way to Thomas J. Watson, who gives way to Ray Kroc, who gives way to Sam Walton, who gives way to someone to which we’ve never heard.

My point – if you’re in the elite, you time has past.

Posted by: Ron on September 24, 2005 8:58 PM

Sorry. The last sentence should read:

My point - if you're in the elite, your time has past.

If Bill Gates had graduated from Harvard, the Word grammer-checker would have caught that mistake. Luckily for him, but bad for me, he didn't.

But, then again, had he graduated, I'd probably be using someone else's word processor.

Posted by: Ron on September 24, 2005 9:11 PM

Greg -

Yes, living in the Boston area, I have noticed: where a normal person would say "college" or even "university", as in "Back when I was in college, I used to (think communism was cool, get shitfaced/stoned every weekend, sleep around a lot)", a Harvard grad will always, ALWAYS, insert "Harvard".

Posted by: jimbo on September 24, 2005 10:59 PM

The sad thing is, even in two passes the grammer checker didn't catch that you meant to use the word "passed"...

(BTW, I didn't go to Harvard; my pretentious grammer nerdiness is self-taught)

Posted by: jimbo on September 24, 2005 11:11 PM

"Lindsey, I think you make a mistake here: why do you assume stay-at-home moms aren't the smart ones? Getting ahead in one's career, as we all exceedingly know, is not a reward for the smartest, just for the most connected or ones with better self-marketing skills."

I don't assume that "stay-at-home moms aren't the smart ones", but of the women who get college degrees, most go on to climb the ladder and they are much less likely to have children than those who don't. It's no secret that in our society the more highly educated a woman is the fewer children she'll have. I read recently that in France they're actually now paying highly educated women to have more children because they understand this.

Posted by: lindenen on September 25, 2005 2:41 AM

But why would anyone hire these women at all, after they've announced their complete intent to use up a company's time and resources getting trained just to then leave? "Elite colleges" may matter in the hiring game, but so does productivity. The sense of entitlement these girls have is awe-inspiring.

Posted by: annette on September 26, 2005 1:17 PM

More on the elite college thing.

I've been fortunate enough to attend two prestigious universities (through various scholarships and fellowships). I'm proud of that, and I think I benefitted. But if I had to do it all over again, I doubt I'd be so fussy about where I went to college. Why go to college anyway? The cost difference between elite colleges and community colleges is just ridiclous, especially when you try to compare the relative value of their classes. A few years after graduating, I figured out the cost of each JHU class I took, and I realized that if I'd known the true cost of these things, I would have never enrolled. I would never pay that amount as a working adult for a class.

The American university experience is about your parents succumbing to the pressure to overspend on something which their children are unlikely to value. They should have thrown the money at a second SUV.

Pardon my anti-academia rant, but 2 year colleges are much more flexible, much more economical and in some ways more cutting edge than 4 year institutions. Right now, there is a glut of Phd's in the market, and it's quite possible that the faculty on 2 year and state institutions are younger, more energetic and more geared to social trends than their gentrified counterparts at the elite colleges.

The real question is whether the cheaper 2 year and state universities can be humanistically-oriented while remaining moderately-priced.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 26, 2005 1:34 PM


I agree with you, but I think you're missing the point. I don't know what you do for a living, but I assume it's not working for a white-shoe law firm, or a major accounting firm, or a doctor, or as a senior manager for a large corporation. All of those jobs virtually require (and pay many times over for) an elite college education. Not that the education provided means a darn thing, it's all just a selection process repeated at undergraduate and graduate school levels. But it's the "golden ticket" that gets people in this society into the sweet spot where they get entrepreneurial-sized rewards without having to take the entrepreneurial risk. And this anti-gravity act is always made possible (obviously or not) by government policy...doctors are highly subsidized and their numbers governmentally limited, lawyers make money by virtue of their proximity to the courts (and the incoherency of our legal code), accountants ditto for the tax code, and large corporations stay highly profitable chiefly as a result of intellectual property rights (defined and enforced by government).

If this sounds like I think a lot of people are riding very handsomely on the backs of the true entrepreneurial class (after all, somebody's got to actually take some chances in life), um, well, I am.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 27, 2005 8:10 AM

I did a NY Times search on "women elite colleges" and easily found the orignial article, a background piece, and the letters to the editor.

The background piece notes that the author of the original article is a Yale graduate, which perhaps underscores why the articles focus on elite colleges.

Friedrich -- There has always been a loosey goosey aristocracy in America, a significant variant on the British model, but still owing much to the British model in which being an entrepeneur was always somewhat suspect. And of course, the East Coast elite schools were originally the domain of the children of landowners and largely dedicated to the training of ministers (and secondarily lawyers).

Today, accountants make their bank from auditing and consulting, not as tax accountants. By the way, tax accountants, some auditors, and high level bookkeepers are being jobbed out of the market by the outsourcing of work to Indian chartered accountants, who are as qualified, but much cheaper, than their American counterparts. In fact, if you had an accountant do your tax return, there is a good chance that the actual work was done in India.

The legal and medical professions have been self-regulating and semi-monopolistic since they were medieval guilds. Accounting took off thanks to the early Renaissance creation of double-entry accounting, and the profession also evolved from a kind of guild, not so much to benefit from government protection, but to blunt governmental intrusion and corruption.

Also, elite men have a long history of getting their women from schools associated with the Ivy league. When I was a Yalie, one of the mantras was "Holyoke to bed, Smith to wed." Mount Holyoke women had a reputation of being Bohemian, while Smith women were more "proper," at least in public. If a Wheaton or Radcliff woman was a history of art major, there was a good chance that she was grooming herself to be the wife of a lawyer or doctor who would ultimately devote her free time to being a docent of her city's art museums.

Once the Ivies went co-ed, the women coming on board largely to find husbands just put themselves closer to their intended targets, but even so, at the elite schools and elsewhere, there were always scads of other women who were more interested in being serious students and scholars and who might ultimately get married, but did not see acquiring a husband as the primary reason for existing.

Posted by: Alec on September 28, 2005 5:07 PM


Current trends often have long tails. But I would offer that the professional-governmental nexus as we have seen it during the last quarter century is something new, or at least new in the scale of its impact on U.S. society. The lure of high status, high compensation and low risk (a unnatural combination that can exist only because of government policy)associated with the professions and high corporate position is pushing ambitious young people to pursue these careers. As a consequence, they are not pursuing creative, risk-taking careers. I do not believe that this is a particularly healthy development for this country or any country. It already has, among other negative accomplishments, lowered social mobility in this country, and increased the gap between this 'aristocracy' and the mass of the population, who of course must absorb the 'risks' that the aristocracy are insulated from.

So, in short, I find this trend to be sadly both negative and novel, or at least more advanced than in eras gone by.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 30, 2005 2:18 PM

jimbo must mean "grammar".

Posted by: blah on October 2, 2005 1:23 PM

Friedrich –

I try to be very careful in attempting to guess where trends might lead; I don’t recall anyone (not even NY Times columnist Paul Krugman, who writes about this stuff for a living) who predicted how quickly outsourcing would grow from the customer service sector to encompass “brain sector” jobs (accounting, tax and law, programming). Also, it is interesting to see that the increasing power of HMOs is forcing down the wages of doctors, and as an unexpected consequence, seeing the previous medical elite – surgeons – losing somewhat to internists and others.

But I see the contraction of the middle class as more of a problem than whether or not young people pursue risk-taking careers. Also, I think that the over-importance of college is somewhat self-correcting. Where before college was seen as an entry into the comfortable middle class as well as to the elite levels of society, it is becoming painfully clear that many college courses of study are not keeping up with changes in the society and the economy. High risk is when someone spends four to six years in college, only to find that the entire job sector that they were interested in no longer exists, at least in America. This might also lead to the more risk-taking young people leaving America in order to try for better opportunities in other countries, which would be something very new in this country.

By the way, I found very interesting (and am still digesting) your earlier essay on aristocracies, especially since it neatly dovetails with research I am doing on the persistence of aristocracies and oligarchies in developed countries. But I thought you were slightly off base in your analysis of British prime ministers since you kinda missed some of the odd subtleties of the British class system, where, for example, a surgeon would be of a lower social class than a physician. Similarly, you rank Churchill as a journalist, which is odd for someone who was descended from the Duke of Marlborough (and born at Bleinham Palace). But Churchill is also an example of how risk taking business people try to get into established aristocracies: Churchill’s mother was the American daughter of millionaire Leonard Jerome, who married the improvident and unlucky Lord Randolph Churchill

Posted by: Alec on October 2, 2005 7:03 PM

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