One day in college, I was talking with a friend of mine about our futures and values and dreams for what was to come after graduation. She confided in me that certain members of her family didn't understand why she was attending a very good, challenging, impressive university since they knew that she planned to eventually forgo a traditional career in favor of staying home to raise her children. The idea was that my friend didn't "need" to go to our school in order to pursue stay-at-home motherhood, so why was she there?
When my friend told me this, I remember being shocked that someone (I can't remember if it was a parent, or an uncle, or a grandparent) had actually expressed such a thing to her. That whoever it was thought that either she should be "using" her impressive degree to establish a lifelong career for herself, or that she should have gone to a cheaper, less demanding, less rigorous school if her ultimate dream was indeed to be a stay-at-home mother.
I also remember feeling supremely grateful that no one had ever said such a thing to me.
I was reminded of this encounter when I read a beautiful, calm, well-thought-out article that appeared in the latest issue of Verily. It's a lovely response to the exact attitude that my friend was dealing with in her own life, an attitude that I'm learning isn't one that's just expressed privately, behind closed doors, inside the borders of one's own family. Author Anne-Marie Maginnis begins her piece by citing another article that recently appeared in The Guardian called, "Female Ivy League graduates have a duty to stay in the workforce."
If that title alone isn't racy enough for you, here's a taste of what author Keli Goff's article is like:
Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.
I'm trying not to get my feathers ruffled as I type this, but truly, if this isn't downright backwards I don't know what is. Here is Maginnis' thoughtful response:
This type of thinking is regressive for women for many reasons...This perspective completely disregards the inherent worthiness of educating a human mind to know the world, to think independently, to judge accurately, and to live confidently. For these reasons alone, an elite education should be available to the best and brightest minds. To concede Goff's point would be to reverse hundreds of years of progress in women's rights.
Maginnis goes on at the end of the piece to describe how valuable and meaningful her education has been in her life--as a woman, as an intelligent, creative person, and as a mother.
My point is, when a highly educated woman is home with her children day in and day out, she weaves the riches of her education into their lives in continuous, subtle, living ways. This is a priceless preparation for a lifetime of learning. This gift is the transmission of culture.
Having received the wonderful gift of an elite education, I didn’t leave it behind. I carry it with me in who I am today. It enriches my life in ways that no salary can measure. It is worthwhile in a way no measure of productivity is needed to justify. Passing on this education to my daughter, a human being whose worth I know intimately, I see even more clearly that broadening a girl’s mind, filling it with beauty, is never, to quote Goff, “a wasted opportunity.”
We call the schools from which we graduate “alma mater,” nourishing mother, and I have always been grateful to Princeton for being just that. Now that I am a mother myself, however, and as I nourish the bodies and minds of my own children, I find yet deeper meaning in those words.
I can't imagine a more fruitful use of her Princeton degree.