Monday, April 2, 2007
I read with great interest (my daughter has just turned 13) the article by Sara Rimer in Sunday's New York Times, For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too:
“Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns.) Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.
I was particularly intrigued by the juxtaposition of that article with other New York Times stories about women who opt out of high-powered careers. (For example, The Opt-Out Revolution, by Lisa Belkin (2003); Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood, by Louise Story (2005).) Both sets of stories are narrow in their focus: they apply to privileged, primarily white women and girls and address neither the struggles of most American families, nor the public policy issues raised by the seeming impossibility of juggling work and family in a society where, in most families, both parents must work. (For more on this, see the excellent article, The Opt-Out Myth, by E.J. Graff.)
But, focusing on the "amazing girls" Rimer writes about, I am struck by the way these girls are pressured to be successful in every way, only to receive contrary messages once they decide to become mothers. If girls think they can't be ideal mothers while pursuing high-powered careers, what exactly are we preparing these "amazing girls" for? In some ways, it reminds of how we treat women and food: when they are babies and toddlers, we push and prod girls to eat, even when they don't want any more. Then, when they've finally learned to eat heartily, they are told to stop eating. It's such a shame that we can't seem to teach girls to listen to their own appetites, whether for food or sports or careers, and to give them the flexibility to come out differently depending on where their appetites lead them.