Monday, May 23, 2011

Women, Education, and Careers

I've recently read a few articles on women, education, and careers. The first article was "Giving Women a Voice Without Sacrificing Faith or Family: The Changes Needed to Create an Egalitarian Society" by Kaylie Clark. The second was What If “Plan A” Doesn’t Work? helping Female students navigate an uncertain life course by Casey Hurley. The Third was The College Rip-off by Rich Lowry.

Let me start with article #2.  Hurley began by comparing the life path of hypothetical LDS twin college students, male and female.  She suggested a more direct path for the male:  

Righteous LDS young men are given clear goals: get an education, serve a mission, get married, work to provide for your family. A young man can safely make a single generalized career plan: prepare to work full-time in a position that will support a family until retirement. Brother may change jobs from time to time, but the general plan will remain intact.
For the female she pointed out a less direct plan:
Sister is likely to perceive her duties as: get as much education as you can; go on a mission if you feel so inspired; get married if a worthy man asks; stay home with your children if you get married and are able to have children; provide for your family if your husband dies, is disabled, or leaves you; provide for yourself if you stay single or somehow lose your husband; help provide for your family if your husband gets laid off or your family encounters other difficult circumstances...and so on.

There are no certainties on the list.
After reading that, I honestly thought, "Oh that is so not fair when you look at it that way!  We women totally get the short end of the deal!"  But, it kind of is the way it is because we're trying to live what we believe is God's Plan for the family.  I have to remember that I had 27 years for myself before having children, the least I can do is dedicate a couple decades to child-rearing.  As I lamented to my husband, he was wise enough to remind me that many young men do sacrifice, too.  Some may give up dreams of becoming an artist to be an accountant so they can possibly better provide for a family.  Some may give up a permanent video game career in their parents' basement to become responsible adults.  So, I don't know if you can say women make all the sacrifices to follow a man, because some men give up dreams, too.

The balance of the article provides some great ideas in helping young women become aware of education/career choices, outside the familiar female education/career choices, that can work while caring for a family.  I thought the idea was brilliant and wished there would have been information like that available to me in the mid-1990s. 
For example, my experience as the faculty adviser of the pre-law society indicates few of our female students consider law as a possible field of study. . . .  Law can be a great career choice for women. . . . Law is one of a number of career paths that offers the kind of flexibility and options most of our female students are probably looking for. But have we shown them where to find these options?

I began to wonder, if I had to do it again, what would I do differently?  I have a teaching certificate, and am thankful for that, but I chose education because I believed it was the best choice in case my future husband were unemployed, underemployed, if we separated, or if he died.  I also liked the my education major because it wasn't heavy on the math and science, and since I was on scholarship, my chances of keeping it were better if I took easier classes (yes, I just admitted that!).  If I knew I was to never marry, I'm pretty sure I would not have chosen education, but I don't know what I would have done.  Law, no.  Computer Science, no.  International Studies, maybe.  Epidemiology, maybe.  If I had to do it again now, under my current circumstances, I'd probably fall immediately in to the professional secretary category, just because of past experience.  Philanthropy and history would be fun, but there's not much money in that.

So, I loved the concept presented and hope that young women are given more ideas on careers that are flexible, especially when motherhood, particularly single-motherhood, is involved.

The first article by Clark addressed the issue of how to make the workplace more friendly toward parents.  After thinking about myself in a position of having to go to work to support our family, I thought how crucial a more family-friendly work place is.

She suggested a few ideas, most I liked, a couple I didn't.
  • Breastfeeding/pumping rooms.
  • Affirmative action - can't say I'm a big fan.  I'm all for taking the best person for a position whether it be a male or a female (or whatever race, etc.).  If both candidates are equally qualified, and if you don't have many women at a company already, take the female so you can get that female perspective, if you want it.  If you just don't get qualified women for positions of influence, maybe it's time to create a specific women's issues position where the women's voice can be heard -- even if the woman doesn't have as many degrees, or as much experience as the men on the board.  (Sounds a little like the Relief Society:  The LDS Church is a predominantly male-led organization in the highest outward rankings, but there are some key positions where women serve, and they share the female perspective.)
  • Results-Only Work Environment (not based on hours worked, just results)
  • Proportional benefits and equal per hour pay to part-time workers
  • Paid maternity/parental leave - can't say I'm a big fan of this either, mainly because who's going to pay for it?  The company?  The government/taxpayers?  I do like sick-leave plans that can be used for other members of a person's family (i.e. husband stay home when wife has a baby).
Clark also suggested a paradigm shift in money, family values, and masculinity, which I appreciated:  "Two values specifically must be examined, the first being the value our society places on money and the value we place as a society on the centrality of the family."  Sometimes I wonder, though, if we've gone too far away from family values?  Can we re-claim that value?  Many people don't even want to get married anymore.  Additionally, regarding masculinity and homemaking she quoted "Elder Dallin H. Oaks said 'homemaking is not just baking bread or cleaning a house.  Homemaking is to make the environment necessary to nurture our children toward eternal life, which is our responsibility as parents.  And that homemaking is as much for fathers as it is for mothers.'"

The main point, though, of Clark's article was to help women not feel bad about pursuing their passions.  She admires women who's passion it is to be a mother (an example), but she wants to open the doors for women who have other dreams, too.  In order to do this, in addition to the above ideas, she leans toward making men's and women's roles more the same.  This is where I was a bit less favorable of the article.  This could possibly be because we come from different backgrounds.  She said her "entire life plan was to be a stay-at-home-mom" until she found a major she enjoyed; whereas,  I saw myself also as a stay-at-home-mom, well someday, but wasn't super excited about it; it sounded hard. I felt that staying home (if I could) was what I should be doing and would be best for my children (although, maybe that lack of excitement was because I wouldn't let myself get too excited about something that I'd soon have to give up?  I'll have to think about that some more.  Maybe Clark and I aren't so different after all!).  I feel now that my primary purpose is to raise my children (with my husband), and in the down-times I'll pursue my dreams; I just won't be able to do full-force.  To make it easier for the time being, I've tried to make mothering my passion.

I guess I just have a case of cognitive dissonance when I understand the doctrine of the family, yet also understand the need to fulfill one's passions, and see reasons to do so, and also see women who have made outstanding contributions to society outside of their homes. It just feels weird for me to say that there are times when able-bodied married women should not have children -- probably because that is not "my plan" (and isn't it a tendency to push one's own plan on others?)  For me, right now, the default for child bearing is on (yet I'm not the type to go for 12 children, and I think Heavenly Father understands why and is okay with that).  This all is why we have personal revelation and why we cannot judge others.

To back up the idea of women pursuing their aspirations, she shared:
“The Family: a Proclamation to the World” is the central doctrinal document on the family for the LDS church, and it states that “the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (The First Presidency, Para. 1). It states that “husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children” (The First Presidency, Para. 6).It is clear from this paragraph that an equally shared duty of both the man and the woman is the welfare and proper upbringing of their children.
...Elder M. Russell Ballard illustrated this compatibility when he said, ““Is a woman’s value dependent exclusively upon her role as a wife and mother?  The answer is simple and obvious: No . . . Every righteous man and woman has a significant role to play in the onward march of the kingdom of God” (Ballard, 2001). According to Elder Ballard, women have value outside of and work to do in addition to bearing children. President Gordon B. Hinckley himself said “The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it… women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. . . You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.”
I like the quotes, they're empowering. However, Clark skipped the part in "The Family" that states:  "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."  Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but to me that encourages, when possible, mothers primarily to nurture, and fathers to primarily protect and provide.  I don't know why we are encouraged to have these divided roles.  Perhaps it's because those who wrote the document are patriarchal and old fashioned.  Perhaps there is actually something inherent in the male makeup and the female makeup that makes one more suited for his or her designated role?  Could women actually be more suited for childcare?  Could it be that their brains really are more wired for multitasking, something that is required all the time while raising children?  We definitely know there is a physical connection between mothers, fetuses, lactation, and infancy.  There are just some nurturing things a father is physically unable to do.  Could men be encouraged to protect and provide because they are larger and because they possibly tend to think more compartmentally, which can help them stay better focused in their work?  I don't mean to sound belligerent, but we just don't know why we are encouraged to have these specific roles; perhaps someday we will completely find out.  I believe that if I do my best to fulfill my role, though, that my life will be happier and simpler than it might be otherwise.

Another part Clark left out of her article from "The Family" that she actually could use to back up her idea of equality was, "In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.  Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."  This statement tells me that it is okay adjust for "other circumstances" in addition to "disability" and "death."  It also clearly states (a part we tend to breeze over) that spouses are "obligated to help one another as equal partners."  This tells me that we help each other in our separate roles that we've been asked to fulfill; there is overlap.  We are a family team playing different positions.  

In regards to nurturing, Clark cites one study:  "men can nurture just as well as women, psychological studies testing the assumption that women are better nurturers yields ambiguous findings due to cultural influences, so the argument that women are naturally better equipped for the work in the home is weak with little scientific backing."  Maybe so, but there are other findings that at least make me ask more questions.

So I like Clark's general ideas of changing societal attitudes toward family, and I like the suggestions for modifying the work-place, but I felt there was quite the elimination of our God-given roles and duties.  When I was engaged and first married, I was all for equally sharing all the household duties (how degrading that I would have to do them when my husband was completely capable of helping out; I was not his slave), but as time went on, and especially once we had children, because my husband went away to work, it just made sense for me to do the traditional female jobs.  I've said for some time now that "if it goes against the family, the LDS Church will not support it."  Because Clark's ideas do support the family, I suppose they could work, but I wonder if the risk would be too much overlap and headbutting between husband and wife as they try and be too much the same?  Maybe it's not about reasoning, though.

At the end of Clark's article she shares what she would like to do with her passions:  "I can build schools for little girls and little boys, where I can help the underprivileged find their voice, where I can work with governments and businesses to bring these same opportunities to others. And I will do this with a man who shares my vision. . . ."  I liked that; I can relate to that.  I minored in International Development in college.  I had a crush on a guy who'd traveled the world helping people.  I fantasized about marrying him, founding some NGO, and traveling the globe.  I felt, and still believe, this is something that can be done with your own family at your side.  

Well, so much for that third article, I'm not making this post any longer.

No dad, no problem? No way!

Cheryl pointed me to Fatherless America? A third of children now live without dad; incredible stats.

Alarmed by growing evidence of the importance of fatherhood, President Barack Obama, who was raised by a single mother, has forcefully pleaded with fathers to step up throughout his presidency.
 "In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence — both in my life and in the lives of others," Obama wrote in a 2009 Father's Day piece in Parade Magazine. "I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference."
  ...While the divorce rate has dropped in recent years, it's not an indication that more families are staying together. Rather, Hawkins said, more people are choosing not to get married in the first place. 

For many years, marriage and children "were a packaged deal," he said, "and society was pretty good at enforcing that with strong cultural norms." Things started shifting during the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s.

...The move away from marriage is a result of a bigger shift in American values that Hawkins calls a loss of "child centeredness." At one time, society expected adults to make decisions based largely on what was best for the children.

"Marriage isn't about kids anymore," he said. "It's about my satisfaction as an adult, my emotional well-being, my personal development."

A large percentage of today's young moms and dads are children of divorce and, therefore, wary of marriage. For many, Hawkins said, the logical solution is cohabitation. In 1960, there were only about 197,000 unmarried couples raising children together, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. In 2009, there were more than 2.5 million.

"Most of these couples are together when the baby comes and they have high hopes for staying that way," Hawkins said. "Unfortunately, only a small percentage are able to hold that together and solidify that relationship. It's even easier to leave your kid when you haven't got a legal commitment holding you there."

In a five-year study following 5,000 children, the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., found 80 percent of fathers provide support to mothers during pregnancy and more than 70 percent visit their children at the hospital. At the time of birth, a vast majority indicated they wanted to help raise their child.

Five years down the road, however, only 35 percent of unmarried couples had gotten married. About 40 percent of unmarried mothers had already broken up with their child's father and entered into at least one new partnership. Fourteen percent had a child with a new partner.

"Most fathers care about their children," said Victor Nelson, a marriage and family therapist from Logan. "They've given up on making things work with the mother, but most want to figure out some sort of solution for their kids."

But even if fathers keep in touch after a breakup, children suffer...

...A study by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services found only 13 percent of juvenile delinquents come from families where the biological mother and father are married to each other. Thirty-three percent come from families where the parents have divorced. Forty-four percent have parents who were never married. The University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University both found young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families — even when other factors like race, income, parent education and urban residence were held constant.

"Something about not having a father in the picture seems to make at least certain types of boys more likely to engage in aggressive violent behavior..."

Despite socioeconomic status, however, just having a father at home makes a child more likely to succeed at school, according to a study by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation. Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes.

Children who grow up without a father in the home are also more likely to run away from home and commit suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Eighty-five percent of children with behavioral disorders don't have a father at home.

...For girls, living in a father-absent home has physical consequences. Without a father, said Erin Holmes, an assistant professor in BYU's School of Family Life, girls tend to go through puberty sooner. A recent study by three U.S. universities found the earlier a father left, the greater risk a girl was at for getting pregnant as a teen.

Fatherlessness is also associated with eating disorders and depression, Holmes said.

...Being a father is more than just being male and showing up, said Holmes, who studies the effects of father involvement. Children who have poor relationships with their fathers or even those whose fathers are away from home working for extensive periods of time are at risk for some of the same problems as a child without a father...

"Sometimes fathers aren't in homes because they weren't doing good fathering," Holmes said. "We're not just saying, 'Let's get dads back in homes.' We're saying, 'Let's get dads doing good fathering.' "