Going to the chapel?

From the editor - October 2005

While I do not have a daughter, I do have five beautiful nieces and they amaze and delight me almost every day.

Abbi, Alli, Amanda, Olivia and Annie, who range in age from 10 to 16, are already scientists, artists, actresses, athletes, poets, writers and musicians.

They call me "Aunt Snooze." These lovely young girls, I believe, are the fruits of the fight for women’s rights. They dream big because they can. They know they can do it all and they will.

So, I had my dear girls on my mind when I saw a recent New York Times headline: "Many women at elite colleges set career path to motherhood."

The premise? I’ll let it speak for itself.

The story reads: "Many women at the nation’s most elite colleges say that 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 concern."

I read it all and turned red.

As Hannah Rosenthal, who heads the Chicago Foundation for Women, says: "There are three things not dealt with in the New York Times story: privilege, race and reality. The flavor of the article was so elitist. It had nothing to do with 99.99 percent of women in the world. It was like talking about debutantes.

"Check the Department of Labor statistics. I think you will find a high school girl today should expect to work for 30 years for pay, full time, outside the home. Why? For the same reasons men have to work. They need money to provide for their family. So, if someone is assuming they are going to marry someone of great wealth and there will not be a financial need, that’s just not reality."

This is all true. But I needed more experts to calm me down. So, I turned to my five favorite experts on women and girls, my nieces.

Olivia, 10, tells me: "I think that’s some kind of stupid, Aunt Snooze. Moms don’t always have to stay home. The dads could stay home, too. Are any of the men they interviewed planning on staying home, too?"

They didn’t interview men, Olivia. This story claiming to identify a sea change of attitude in young women, printed on the front page of the nation’s newspaper of record, was based on a survey of "138 freshmen and senior females at Yale who replied to e-mail questions."

"That is weak. Even I know that is weak, and I’m in high school," my niece, Abbi, 16, says. "The story doesn’t even offer specifics. It just uses the general term ‘many.’ Where is the data backing it up?"

There is none, Abbi. No data to back up what is supposedly affecting "many" women.

"The story also makes it sound as though it is a bad thing to be a stay-at-home mom. This is just another example of how we, as women, are fighting against centuries of patriarchal traditions. And let’s face it, Aunt Snooze, they are in college right now. Believe it or not, people’s plans do change. The things you think you want don’t always happen."

Like being able to make ends meet for your family on one salary.

"Really," says Alli, 15, "women should be getting the employment rate up, especially since we fought for those rights. This type of thinking makes it seem like we are falling backward instead of moving forward. Is that what they are trying to make us think?"

It does seem that way, doesn’t it, Alli?

She continues: "Well, it just sounds stupid. I personally feel that you should definitely not be living off your husband. That’s part of the codependency of a relationship. Men can do the cooking and the cleaning stuff and the caring for children. That’s important for them to do, too. And it’s important for children to see them doing it."

Annie, 10, says, "A woman should be able to choose. I’m not sure about my future, but I think, right now, I would be an actress and probably adopt and I’m not sure if I will marry anyone."

The article also implies the women’s movement has failed because it convinced women they could work full time and raise children. This new attitude means, as one academic says in the article, "The women today, are, in effect, turning realistic."

How is it realistic to believe that raising a family rests solely on the woman’s shoulders? But, let’s remember: Olivia already addressed that one.

"Actually, the biggest failure of the women’s movement has been that it has not made significant changes in the workplace," says Lois Lipton, board chair for the Chicago Foundation for Women. "If anything, I have seen the workplace become less humane. The expectations in the workplace are so anti-family."

Says Amanda, 12: "I do appreciate being a mother and I do want to be a mother. But it doesn’t mean that when you get married, you just give it all up. You should make something of yourself in this modern age because you have the chance."

So, while this article is infuriating, debilitating, poorly reported and, as three out of my five nieces say, "really stupid, Aunt Snooze," it does show us what we need to do: Change the workplace.

And there are still women ready to take it on. As Abbi says, "Women have been doing this sort of thing for years. If we want to do something, we will be able to do it and God help the men who get in our way."



Kids Eat Chicago

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