September 26, 2005
19 years old, got it all figured out...
There's already been loads of commentary on the article (note: link is to a copy of article that does not require registration) in last week's NYTimes about female students at Ivy League schools who expect never to draw on their fancy educations in the service of career, but who rather plan to stay home with their potential children. Apparently, there are serious questions about whether the author's sensationalistic statistics are methodologically valid (sounds to me like they pretty much aren't), but even aside from that, I think all of the feminist handwringing over this "trend" is pretty silly. After all, how many of us are doing now what we thought we'd be doing at 19 or 20?
When I was 19, I planned to be an orchestral clarinetist. I expected that I would probably pick up a quick master's degree after finishing college, then start auditioning, presumably living hand-to-mouth supporting myself through a variety of odd and temporary jobs while I waited to win an audition. I expected neither to marry nor have children, assuming that the clarinet would be an all-consuming endeavor. I did have a backup plan of sorts, knowing the long odds I'd be facing in auditions. That plan was vague, though -- some sort of graduate or professional school to prepare me for another career in academia or law. I thought I'd figure it out as I went along.
Obviously, that's not how things played out. My plan had changed considerably by the time I graduate from college at the age of 23, and my plan changed again a few years after that. Now, I have my fair share of ambition, but not so very much focus, which probably separates me from many if not most Ivy Leaguers. Still, the basic point remains: is it really a good use of precious time to fret over what a few 19-year-olds say they plan to do with their lives? What are the chances really that in ten or fifteen years any of them will be doing what they think they'll be doing?
So here's the question part of this post: what was your plan at 19? Did you stick to it? In what ways have things not gone as you expected back then? Maybe there is reason to wonder if the gains of feminists over the past few decades were all for naught, and to worrywart over the prospect of privileged Ivy Leaguers not living up to the potential bestowed upon them by their educations, but I suspect it's all just an overreaction. Not that there aren't some sticky issues here, especially for feminists (like myself) who believe that everyone, male and female, should be able to make the choices they want, rather than the choices society expects. But come on, these are freshpersons in college. How much do they really know about their futures?
at September 26, 2005 3:41 PM
At 19, I was beginning my music performance degree with some vague idea, less developed than yours I might add, that I'd try and play for a living. About halfway through I figured out that I just have too many things other than music I want to devote my time to. Sure, I still consider music important, but I am not devoting 1000% of my time to it just to find a job. It's worked out OK for me so far...
I wonder if freshmen bred for Ivy League schools actually do know about their futures because they haven't really been trained to think of alternatives. It's a foregone conclusion that these women will apply and be admitted to X Ivy League school of their choice. They won't have to worry about back-up plans. They've very likely had exposure to family lives and probably have a somewhat realistic sense of what parenthood might mean (whether it's a sense that I would approve of is a rather moot point...). I think our circle of friends didn't necessarily know what our futures held because we knew that nothing was assured. We had to learn about back up plans and alternatives the hard way. I know I've REALLY become much more capable of just going with things...I NEVER would have guessed I'd be where I am now when I was 19. At 19 I didn't even know that my current job existed. But I have advised some pretty determined freshmen who knew they wanted to be nurses since they were 4, who were admitted to the nursing program, and who are now, I assume, working in their chosen professions. It's probably just as logical to think that you're going to get an education because that's one of your attractive qualities to your future mate (who may already have been chosen for you) but you're not going to "use" it in the sense of career orientation.
I was determined to be a psychologist when I was 19. I also associated the word "feminist" to a curse word. Of course, that was before "the awakening." I also hate that question "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" I didn't see myself where I am currently 10 years ago, how could I determine what I will be doing that far in advance. If the question weren't asked in a job interview I'd be tempted to say "Hopefully I'll finally be a Greyhound Bus driver."
Interesting speculation, Danielle. I have known a few people who were super-focused and who did wind up doing what they wanted at 19. But I really think -- even among the smart and privileged -- that's gotta be the exception rather than the rule.
Part of what makes these women's statements seem so ridiculous to me is that they've got a timetable for things that are pretty hard to put a timetable on, like marriage and children. You might not meet the right guy. You might get divorced. You might not find it easy to have kids. You might meet the girl of your dreams during your senior year and live happily ever after as a lesbian. Any number of things could happen to throw off your plan, so it seems kind of silly to say things like: "I'll be married with two kids and staying at home by the time I'm 30."
Career stuff is a little more predictable, at least in many careers.
But even the smartest 19-year-olds don't necessarily have a lot of insight into what kinds of careers are out there. Just seems silly.
BTW, one of the girls in the article is now saying she was seriously misrepresented in the article.
I really didn't know what I was doing or where I was going at 19: I had picked a University to attend, but I didn't know much about it (I loved it once I got there). I had already met the man I would marry (Jeff) and have children with. I hadn't yet chosen what I wanted to study (didn't need to declare until my Junior year), so I was trying all kinds of classes. Finally settled on an Art & Design degree, and now I'm (somewhat?) using it as a Mom who runs a small business from home (Web Design) for just a few clients. Wasn't always dreaming of kids & husband, but it all just worked out. If asked at 18 (freshman year) or 19 what I would be doing, I would probably say that by now I would be some sort of doctor, since I went to school intending to study PreMed. College Calculus and Chemistry were a revelation to someone from a small town school...and here I am today.
Yeah, it's funny how things do "just work out." I already knew my future husband at 19, as well, though if anyone had told me I'd wind up married to him, I would have thought they were nuts.
A lot of the commentary on this article has made the argument that fine educations are wasted on these women. I think that's a pretty ridiculous assertion: I want people raising children to be as well-educated as they possibly can be -- that can only be beneficial to society down the road.
What does seem kind of crazy to me are the women who plan to go on to law school or medical school, fully meaning to abandon their careers. Now *that* seems like a waste of resources. Not that I would stop them -- I just don't know why anyone would put themselves through that (and spend all that money) if they only plan to be in the workforce for a few years. Weird.
Back in the medieval period, when I was 21, my college friends and I sat around one evening and played the "here's what I predict you all will be doing in 10 years" game. My friends predicted I'd be a college professor, married, no kids. In 10 years I was married, no kids, and working my way up the hierarchy in municipal planning. Now, more than 10 years after that, I am in grad school to become -- a college professor! They were right, I was wrong - and it took twenty-plus years to sort it all out!
Good topic. I knew I wanted a family and I have that now. I've very happy about that. As far as career - I still haven't figured that out. I am feeling the urge to go back to school for a secondary degree but am torn between going deeper into my current Facilities Coordination or something completely different. When I was young (like 12 or so) I wanted to be a Pastor...I'm really concerned about Meth in the Midwest and I could be a councilor or something. Too many interests. I'll still tinker with songwriting of course. If my wife made more, I'd be a house-husband.
At age 18, I thought I was going to be a career-focused (read unmarried) English professor.
Like most people, life (and well-meaning professors) intervened. I didn't even begin to pursue a PhD (heard too many war stories, and liked food too much--even more than alcohol); and I got married (well, maybe that wasn't so smart of me).
But I am not a spoiled gal with a trust fund (or visions of one). I never set out to "catch a man" like some ladies do. I have occasionally thought about how nice it would be not to have the traditional boss, and to have a job working with people I can actually spank when they are bad, and maybe do some baking--but I figure that life--like anything else, comes with a price.
Particularly when I don't have a rich powerful Dad (or divorce lawyer) to set things to right when the Mr. gets out of line. *sigh* It's just not my life. . .
That said, women as a group are slightly different creatures than men (socially, biologically, etc)--and I don't think it's fair to say they've "failed" because they haven't become the next CEO of Blahblah, Inc. (TM ;) Do I think diaper talk is boring (and do I wonder how people can even afford kids these days)? Yes, but that's pretty judgemental of me.
Is it wrong for women to hunt men? Sure. Is it wrong for men to hung women. Sure, I think so. But it happens, and no one seems to mind all that much. Sheep beware!
Fun blog, BTW. :)