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November 25, 2005


hilzoy, it is stunning to think that any thinking individual could believe that you, that we all, were better served when women had fewer choices. Is it worse, or better, that Gelernter apparently believes that women HAD a choice prior to the advent of "feminisim"?

I think it just indicates that Gelernter is a closet, or not so closet, sexist ass.

I liked Steinem's thoughts on families, homes and men - there are only two things that are more likely when a man is not in the house - the family will be financially poorer and there will be less violence. Perhaps we will eventually overcome most of the first. I think it unlikely there will come a time when the second is not true.

Someday, maybe, men will learn how to have it all - the family AND the career. :)


Jake: I've always thought that I'm not really well positioned to comment on the impact of feminism on men, but I've always thought it had to be good. -- During the time when I was reading feminism, I was also in one of those moods (it lasted several months) in which I was just entranced by everything. Absolutely everything. And I can only attribute to that the fact that I got involved with a guy who, while nice, was also very boring, and I was actually interested by his boring-ness. (It was in my youth. What can I say? But I can actually recall being thinking: wow, I've never met anyone who thinks in Hallmark cards before.)

(In fact, I think he had had a kind of low-grade depression for most of his life, which led him to positively avoid thinking about stuff. But I digress.)

Anyways, he did have a job, but mostly what he did with his spare time was, um, clean the house. And at some point, as I was reading all this feminism from the 60s and early 70s, which tended to go on about men expecting their wives to stay home and then complaining that they were boring, and then getting divorced because they 'needed to grow', I had a flash of real sympathy for the guys, since I was feeling the same way. And I suddenly thought: oh my god. I have somehow acquired a 60s-style wife.

Until that point, I think I had always assumed, without really thinking about it, that having a 60s-style wife would be in some ways a good thing. After that, never. (I should say: he is a very nice guy, and we are still on good terms. He is what he is. It's just that thinking it would be a good thing to be not just friends with, but actually involved with, someone like him is flatly incomprehensible to me.)

Today's problem is not that women have forgotten that raising children can be more valuable than making a professional career. It is that men have yet to discover it.

I dunno, hilz - I think he has a point. A lot of women wouldn't pursue careers if it weren't for the leather dykes with whips chasing them out of the home and into middle management. Tragic, really. We have to attack the root causes - Spongebob and Tinky-Winky.

Yes, I realize Gelernter isn't a fundie, but he's playing their game.

Gelernter casts this as a choice that women made, one that reflects simply the different values they place on work and child-rearing.

Nah, they did it to get back at men. That society collapses around their ears concerns them not in the least little bit. This is why we need men for the big picture issues. Fortunately, help is on the way

From one who should have graduated in 1962, there is the aspect of low expectations, too. I was brought up to think I had a choice of 3 jobs, not careers: teaching, nursing, or becoming a secretary. I did not think I would make a good teacher (and I was right), I did not want to be a nurse, so that left me the option of becoming a secretary. I left college at the end of my junior year to go to secretarial school! In my early 40's, when I was returning to finally finish my degree, I decided to think big....What would I study if I had my early college years to do all over again? The answer was architecture. I did look deeply into the possibility of doing this, but it would have required a greater sacrifice of the other parts of my life than I was willing to make. I did choose to switch my major to Economics, a topic I would never even have dared to study my first time around, and completed my undergraduate degree. After graduation, I did the course and practical work to become an MAI real estate appraiser, and had my career late in life. Definitely better late than never, though! I think I did a fairly decent job of raising my children, but I was always a woman who should have been doing more, I just did not have the confidence, early on, to take such a step. But I have to say, I have had a good life. It has been interesting, for the most part, and I have not conformed greatly to anyone's idea of what a woman should be. Now, at 65, I have no notion of even attempting to do such.

And one more note. A great many of the girls who went to college when I did were really not all that interested in learning for learning's sake....they were there to find a suitable husband. ;-)

There's a fantasy story from the thirties (I think) "Dead End," in which a millionaire travels back in time to the Golden Age of his youth when food was wholesome, life was simple and women Knew Their Place. Among the many shocks awaiting him is that the women are vapid simps and he actually prefers the company of the career women he thought he loathed.

It's kind of fun to read his article while substituting "men" for "women" throughout.

it is also kind of fun to read his article after the Hilzoy's post on the Abramoff greedhead scandals--just think how much better off our society would be if all those mercenary ethics-impaired men had stayed home to raise babies!

When I was in high school all of the girls were required to tke typing and all of the boys took auto mechanics. I got bit by the feminism bug and refused to learn to type, a skill I still have not acquired. It never ocurred to me to have babies. I mean it. I never thought about having a child of my own. However I did manage to grow up to be reasonably ethical, generrous with my money, nurturing to small animals, and involved with intangible spiritual pursuits. That guy is an ass.

OK, there's something weird going on here BESIDES the odd gender bias. To wit: WHEN was the golden age from which we have fallen so precipitously?

Gelernter refers to 1960 as the takeoff date for modern feminism, and most of the commentators above have taken this reference at face value. This worked for me at first, because I was in the class of 1964, and definitely have the same impression: my generation was less "careerist" in outlook than those who came after me. We genuinely believed that one should just study whatever interested us, whatever we could get passionate about, and assume that adequate financial rewards would follow. That's what they told us. It turned out it was a lie (or, pace Anarch, an untruth), but it allowed us some glorious undergraduate years, both intellectually and otherwise, before reality caught up with us. (I never related the decline of this myth [in favor of careerism] to gender, however; the change was just as apparent among male students as female, to the extent that this anecdotal evidence means anything at all.)

Gelernter, however, graduated from Yale in 1976, and specifically compares his generation with the crasser, more-business minded ones that followed. Nonsense, boyo! I was already lecturing in college by 1976, and in your generation -- admittedly, not at your college -- careerism was already in full flow. One of my duties was academic counselling for undergraduates, in the course of which I learned that fully half of the entering freshfolk considered themselves "pre-med"; it was all that I and other counsellors could do to get some of them to consider what they were actually interested in rather than where they saw the shortest pipeline to a financially secure career.

In the complete absence of any actual evidence, we are purely speculating as to whethere there ever was a Golden Age Of Intellectual Curiosity, but if there ever was a GAOIC, Gelernter missed it. He was still a mewling schoolboy then.

fully half of the entering freshfolk considered themselves "pre-med";

From Animal House
Otter: Point of parliamentary procedure!
Hoover: Don't screw around, they're serious this time!
Otter: Take it easy, I'm pre-law.
Boon: I thought you were pre-med.
Otter: What's the difference?

dr. ngo: good point: he would not have been there during whatever age he was talking about.

I would think that if, indeed, there was a golden age of non-career-mindedness at elite universities, and if that golden age were, say, during the early 60s, it would have had much less to do with women (who weren't even at many of those universities), and more to do with the fact that they were still serving, to some extent, not just as research institutions but also as finishing schools for the rich. If you don't need to worry about getting a job, one having been reserved for you at birth, of course you can afford not to be career-minded.

I don't think that colleges and universities (in the US) have done nearly enough to enroll students from genuinely poor backgrounds, but at least the massively privileged have to compete with the middle class nowadays. (And if I had my way, legacy admissions would be banned, and this would be even more true.)

Dr Ngo mentions the slackers, umm, intellectual explorers of my 60s generation becoming careerists by the early seventies.

Without deep study, analysis, and reflection it will remain nothing but hesitancy, but I beg permission to consider the possibility that the social changes of the sixties were not in part economically driven. The nation needed a vast increase in highly educated productive workers, so the old misogyny was sacrificed. Everyone was equally liberated to become high-value consumption units.

Well I was in college in the late seventies, and my class (and my high-school classmates before that) certainly weren't as career-driven as seems to be the case now (based, I note, on reading about colleges today more than hands-on experience). For whatever that proves.

hilzoy, I think that women contributed even before they had corporate careers. Does anyone imagine that all that energy, will, and intelligence got spent in raising children? You know, for many familes, that was a 20-25 year time frame at most. Then what? Not all those women turned to alcohol and valium. Many of them turned to volunteerism, both formal and informal.

I look at Reddhedd at firedoglake, and what is she doing? READING, WRITING, SHARING. She (and oh so many posters, LOTS of whom are women with children) have volunteered their time and interests to do the hard work that most of us don't have the time or energy to do.

So I don't think it is totally fair to diss those long forgotten days. The good stuff rises to the top, most of the time. I am glad that women have more choices today, but I am glad that some women choose families and volunteerism. We need that as well.

You asked, who would want to come home to someone who liked ironing? Well, who would want to be in ANY relationship where ironing was the hot topic of the day? Euwwwww. :)


Jake: I didn't mean to dis those times; just the social constraints whose absence Gelernter seems to mourn. That women did wonderful things then is clear; it's also clear, to me, that there have been costs to the change. (The existence of a way overqualified cadre of women willing to teach school for very little money, for instance, contributed a lot to education in this country.) What puzzled me was that Gelernter didn't seem to realize that the benefits we got in the 60s were the result of constraint, not free choice.

hilzoy, I was less than accurate in my choice of words. When I spoke of dissing the 60's, I spoke mostly to the idea I read everywhere that women were wives and mothers and little else. I didn't mean to imply that you, or anyone here, thought that women were somehow different then, that they didn't need or seek self expression. As you say, it is the constraints of that time that are the issue, not the women.

And Gelernter remains a sexist ass, unwilling to see that choice is more important than some false rendering of a time he never saw.


One of my duties was academic counselling for undergraduates, in the course of which I learned that fully half of the entering freshfolk considered themselves "pre-med"...

Not sure about half, but an alarmingly large number of incoming frosh here at UW regard themselves as pre-meds. As I say dourly every goddamn semester, one of my duties is convincing all but a handful that they are wrong.

You mean the decadence of society isn't all the fault of women's lib?

You mean we can't make everything hunky dory by shooing you back into the kitchen?

Oh well.

The sixties had a lot of greed and career planning going on as well. But certain "idealistic" values did perhaps get more credance or at least airplay.

That was a time of great hope, America had saced and was saving the world and many of the WWII generation had surged into the middle class. There was a sense of ever increasing wealth.

Then of course the disillusining factors of which many old time conservatives lectured did assert themselves with a womp.

There was also a shuft in values which ought to warm the cockles of any Republican's heart. The residue of new deal liberalism, all labor is of value, we can live simply for moral purpose shited towards a stronger role of preppism, snobbery, we've got to have more than our parents, our cars and clothes and habits have to show we're not lowly peasants...

So women had to work to achieve the necessary things. For the boomers parents, a 1200 sf house, eating out once a month , 4 pairs of shoes etc. was a step up. For the solidly middle class of today it's unthinkable. For the other 2/3rds costs of many things are so tight that one wage often doesn't cut it.

And we are getting conservatives who say the way to fight terrorism is to buy things complaining because people make this a high priority?

But, none of this addresses the derth of women in the hard sciences. With a recent major change my class at Cornell is down having one or two girls majoring on physics, 4 or 5 if you count astro with us.
The physics faculty has one female on it. This should be of more concern than the number of women in corperate jobs.

College Wage Premiums

kash is using the historical date to make a different point than the question I raised at 9:55, but:

"In the mid-1960s less than 10% of individuals in the US had a college degree, compared to about 20% in the mid-1980s and about 30% today. We can only conclude that the demand by firms for relatively well-educated workers has grown even more dramatically than the supply of such workers, which is to say, by a lot." ...kash

I am actually attracted to economic determinism, and enjoy the idea that Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schafley are irrelevant to the progress of women in the workforce.

Speaking as woman with a background in physics, I noticed something about the percentage of women: it's about the least of all areas. Engineering, more. Math, more. My own take is that aside from those who end up in math for the pure beauty of it, for the most part when a woman decides to go non-traditional she decides she might as well get a decent-paying job out of it.

Me, I stuck with it out of pure stubbornness until I got my doctorate but decided to not go academic. (The concept of being the world's expert on a certain area of spin-glass theory did not appeal to me.) If I had to do it over again I probably would have done biophysics instead.

tzs: interesting. I used to wonder why there were so few women in math and physics and, at my university, also in philosophy, which was thought of as one of the toughest majors, and very analytical and math-y.

I concluded, based on a completely non-random sample of people I knew, that some of it had to do with this: at the time, guys in particular still got very nervous about being beaten by women in arguments. This was greatly ameliorated if one could pass one's success of as the result of e.g. one's powers of empathy, or some other stereotypically female trait. It was possible to do this, of course, as a lit major, in history, in a lot of fields. But it was absolutely not possible in any of the math-y disciplines. There was no excuse for success in math or physics other than: being way smart. Possibly smarter than your boyfriend. And that was, at the time, a very difficult thing to be.

I very much hope things have changed.

One additional, and rather important, flaw in Gelernter's view is that it assumes that it is a good idea for a young woman to stake her future economic well-being on marriage, rather than on her own skills.

This is a very foolish bet.

Hilzoy, great take-down. Let me add another few idiocies in the article (I, too, ignored Kevin's advice to avert my eyes):

Notice that Gelertner begins by trying to explain why college students are so much more careerist (read "sucky") now. Ignoring such silly explanations as anxiety re lower wages, job security, and pension security, he blames women. How bold and innovative of him.

And how exactly is it womens' fault? Women now fail to act as role models. The co-eds of his day, he explains, were so free of careerism that they led the whole school into realms of pure intellectual joy.

You may begin laughing at any time.

I bet the women who sat in that law school class and went over the fine details of porn cases with a leering professor were glad to hear they were so respected! I can just picture Gelertner at Yale, bravely ignoring the tradition that said that women should not even be there, setting aside his own careerism to be more like them. And can't we just picture young David surrounded by a bevy of maidens at school, pursuing Platonic discourse?


I didn't think people with his views were supposed to have dropped acid in college, but he sure seems to have fried some brain cells somewhere along the way.

"What puzzled me was that Gelernter didn't seem to realize that the benefits we got in the 60s were the result of constraint, not free choice."

Posted by: hilzoy

Right-winger looks at massive social/government interference which produces desired results; calls it free market/will of God/natural. If I had a dollar for everytime I've seen that, I'd be able to buy dinner for everybody on this thread. And fly them to the restaurant, as well.

"as a college teacher of long-standing..."

You mean he made it to the level of some kind of teacher at tertiary level with that syntax?

" No one thought women were incapable of earning money if they wanted or needed to: Childrearing versus moneymaking was a genuine choice..."

What planet is this man from?

"... We're not going back to 1960 (before careerist feminism took off) any more than we're going back two weeks to the point when the leaves outside my window were blazing bright yellow and scarlet and orange. Now the ones that still cling are dead brown."

Ah-me! Where are the snows of yesteryear? er, I mean the leaves. A metaphor for his ageing self I suppose! So what was so good about 1960 from a feminist's point of view? Oh, right, we had a genuine choice whether to *work in a typing pool until getting married and therefore being booted out of the workforce *marrying and raising kids *being the spinster aunt and figure of pity or ridicule. Yeah, thanks.

There was also a shuft in values which ought to warm the cockles of any Republican's heart. The residue of new deal liberalism, all labor is of value, we can live simply for moral purpose shited towards a stronger role of preppism, snobbery, we've got to have more than our parents, our cars and clothes and habits have to show we're not lowly peasants...

bad keyboard better, pop must have dried.

Funny thing that my son is at an ultra-liberal college,and he wants to bring his girlfriend wants to come to our house over winter break. She stayed in her dorm over Thanksgiving, although I suppose she had her choice of staying in either of her parent's houses. Now I told him that I didn't want them to stay for the whole {very long) break, that it would disrrupt the rest of our lives here. We only have one bathroom, for instance. And I regret it because he is afraid that when she sees how modestly we live, she will dump him, so I have magnified his anxiety. And she really is very nice. But I think that kids who go to somewhat elite colleges hate the idea of being of average, or moderately above average means, because this is beneath them. And the crazy thing is that the guys at work that have a 2 year degree or some other vocational training are genuinely curious and have a lot of interests (all right, amateur interests) in astronomy, geology, and natural sciences than many of the degreed professionals I work with (I know, I know, it's an anecdote).

When I was in high school all of the girls were required to tke typing and all of the boys took auto mechanics.

I type like crap and regret it.

And good auto mechanics are far far undervalued. Pardon me if I have said this before, but about 20 Thanksgivings ago when I was strapped for cash, and the Plymouth Valient just barely made it to Knoxville from Chicago, I took it to Buster Key's place by Sharp's Ridge. The oil was foamy, things looked really like we wouldn't make it back.

Buster FELT AROUND on the engine, and determined that it was a clogged intake manifold, and he cleaned it out and we were on our way, good as new, same day after Thanksgiving Friday afternoon. For seventy-five dollars. I know he may not be around anymore, but Thank You, Buster.

People who are really good at a trade or a craft have a great deal of knowledge, and a great value to society that is undervalued by the intellectual class, who seem to hold temselves above everybody else.

I guess I was responding to some implied put-down of non-academics and non-elites, whether men or women, so yes that last comment was off-topic.

I was responding to some implied put-down of non-academics and non-elites, whether men or women, so yes that last comment was off-topic.

If my comments implied some put-down, it was certainly not intended. I went to a very modest university (the joke was that you had to keep your windows rolled up when you drove through campus or they would throw a diploma in your car) so I am not about to put down anyone with serious knowledge, regardless how they acquired it.

My mother thought I was crazy for wanting more study after I graduated from highschool - she had to leave school at 12 herself and felt I had a great education.

She also told met that I should stop using difficult words and having heated arguments with men - men are put off by smart women and I'd ruin my chances at a relationship. Her way of teaching me how to fix my bike was putting it upside down on the pavement in front of the house, sit next to it looking pityfull and wait till the neighbour came home :)

I have always studied because I wanted to make sure I could get a good job and take care of myself.

The idea of studying out of intellectual curiousity is a luxury and people from educated backgrounds don't always realize that I think. My family-in-law certainly doesn't: FiL went to Cambridge, MiL went to Oxford and my husband studied math without any idea about what kind of career that would build you.

I very much hope things have changed.

I can't speak to root causes or anything, but the number of female mathematicians is staying pretty low. The numbers are improving, though, so who knows what'll happen in the future?

[The Association for Women in Mathematics website probably has a lot more info, but I can't seem to find it right now.]

I guess it's gasoline-on-the-fire time again. I'm no fan of Gelernter, but it seems to me that he actually managed to get somewhere near an interesting point before succumbing to the idiocy that hilzoy points out. What if a significant part of what's going on is that we as a society and not women individually have changed how we value education vis-a-vis child rearing? As someone else points out, we now value women more as potential "high value consumption units" than as the guardians of our most important assets. Yes, it's terrible that valuing them in that latter role forced many into it who didn't want to be there. It's also terrible that today we want them to do both, and that men have been largely excluded from that role both yesterday and today. Nonetheless, there's something a bit wrong with treating child care as something both men and women do when they're done with their "real work" or (worse) dump on the least expensive and therefore probably least capable members of the child-care industry that they can find.

Yes, values have shifted. We need to shift them again, if not back to where they were then to some place where "work/life balance" actually means something. Maybe that's a place where it's not necessary to practice a lie in front of a mirror rather than admit that children are a possibility - which seems just as much a problem today as it was then. We should respect the decision to use one's hard-won intellectual skills at home - and BTW also in the civic sphere - as well as the workplace. We should recognize that someone who was once a genius doesn't stop being a genius just because s/he had a child. Any time lost can be made up. When that "hole in your resume" is no longer fatal, we will have made some progress.

As a country our "emancipation scores" are average - which is a hugh improvement from the abysmall scores 10, 20 years ago.

But the importance of childrearing these days is higher than it used to. And the responsibility has shifted from just the mother to both father and mother. In my environment most of the men with a higher education and small children work 4 days - at least till the children are older.

Even my husband works 4 days - and I am a stay-at-home mum :)

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