Let's see how well you remember this old commercial:
I can bring home the bacon . . . .
Fry it up in a pan . . . .
And now the last part?
And never let you forget you're a man
'Cause I'm a WO-man!
I wanted to start with this retrospective today because of a provocative article my brother sent me late last week. With my return to school this month, the article, a New York Times OpEd titled, "Don't Quit This Day Job" has caused me to stop and think about a lot of things.
But let's analyze the commercial first. If you are somewhere near my age, even if you had very limited access to television like we did, then you probably knew not only the lyrics, but the brassy, bluesy music that goes with it. These simple lyrics are the ultimate woman-message of the 80's. Our moms, the first generation of mainstream feminists, were home (often part-time) with young kids.
"I can bring home the bacon . . . " Implies that women, now working, could do just as good a job at providing for their families as their husbands.
"And fry it up in a pan . . ." Woman can also still be good at all those domestic tasks that are traditionally hers. Our mothers, who largely bought into feminism without even realizing it, (and were beneficiaries in many ways whether they supported it or not) really had a raw deal. They believed in equality a generation ahead of the men. My mother, who worked anywhere from 8 to 40 hours throughout all my growing up years, also worked full-time at home. I've never seen my dad iron or vacuum or change a diaper or dust or mend or start a load of laundry. The extent of his domestic ability is to grill and make pancakes on Saturday morning.
Now, before going to the next part, who remembers what this commercial was actually about? That's right. PERFUME. A now-defunct brand called "Enjoli."
The last couplet implies that not only can woman be the breadwinner and run the household, but she can be ready for an intense sexual experience at any given time. The question she puts to her man is, "Are YOU ready?" (Stupid question, really.) I also think it is funny how she must remind him that he is a man: I guess because modern woman does everything the emasculated modern man needs more reassurance.
My brother, the doctor, forwarded the above-referenced OpEd to me from another doctor--male--who was quick to point out that "he was not in agreement with the article." I suppose that a sensitive, new-age guy (SNAG) must say such a thing. But I am under no such constraints and may say whatever I like to the three or four of you still following Science Teacher Mommy. I am LARGELY in agreement with the sentiments expressed by Dr. Sibert in her OpEd.
For those of you that didn't link to the article I will summarize. Dr. Sibert expresses deep frustration at the vast numbers of women who go into medicine without the intention of practicing full time. She sees a disturbing trend as more and more medical schools are giving spots to individuals who intend to pursue medicine as a part-time career, citing that 48% of all medical school diplomas last year were given to women. She is frustrated by current attitudes that view doctor-ing as a great part-time option for women.
Wait . . . wait. . . haven't I been a part time worker for many years? Putting my teaching on hold for a family?
In a word, yes.
But we aren't talking about teaching, we are talking about medicine. And the good doctor points out that there are other considerations here. Medical school tuition is astronomical, but it still doesn't cover the costs of operating a medical school. The federal government subsidizes them. (In other words, you and I do. Sort of--45% of Americans don't actually pay federal taxes, but that is another discussion for another time.) Even more heavily subsidized are residency programs, with resident salaries coming almost entirely from the Medicaid budget. Dr. Sibert is angry with young doctors who don't recognize the investment poured into them, and maintains that doctors who don't practice full time are not as effective (they don't have as much practice) for their patients. Patients who are the very public who subsidized their education, and now hold all the promissory notes on their student loans too.
She is taking a bold stand by saying, "Newsflash: women CANNOT have it all!" And I agree. The notion that we can be all things to every person and still gain broad personal satisfaction is the biggest fallacy to come out of the Women's Movement of the 1960's and 1970's. I know, I've said it before, but we are at something like 425 posts here, and some things bear repeating.
When it comes to medicine, Dr. Sibert maintains, personal decisions (like the fact that 40% of female doctors in their childbearing years only work part time) have huge consequences for the public. Within just 15 years, this country will be short 150,000 doctors, especially General Practice doctors (the area where more of the residents are women). The Health Care legislation insures more people, and our population is aging. There is a terrible bottleneck in doctor training, with many times more people turned away then actually get into school. And when it comes to women in these professions, they are increasingly choosing them because of the options for part time work.
In addition, funding is becoming increasingly tight for residencies as the government cuts more and more from those areas in an attempt to balance the budget. What a kick in the pants to get through medical school only to learn there is no way for you to actually get the hands-on training needed to become a full doctor . . . perhaps it is a bigger kick in the pants to realize that you didn't get a spot ahead of a woman with excellent test scores whose ambition is to primarily be a stay at home mom.
Now, obviously, my brother's area of concern is the best medical care to the most patients, and his interest in this article is of that nature. I think there are things that could be done: states with a terrible mortality rate (relative) and a lack of doctors where they need to be, could subsidize tuition or even forgive student loans in exchange for a certain number of full-time years as a GP in rural and minority communities or in clinics that service areas with terrible poverty. I think you'd see a lot of people take advantage of that. Dr. Sibert offers few suggestions, though her tone implies that she would not like to see spots given at all without firm commitments about the work people will put back into the system that demands a lot but also gives a lot. She is right on the money in trying to address this difficult issue, and suggests that young female doctor-candidates need to be spoken to more candidly about the detriments of part time work.
For me, however, the article raises broader questions that can be applied to women everywhere, and maybe most particularly to LDS women who feel intense pressure to stay home (and whose husbands feel intense pressure to keep them there), but also near-constant encouragement to get all the education they can and excel at all they do. The feminist movement has finally produced the generation of young women it intended to--women with liberal ideas toward sex, who don't necessarily associate childbearing with sexual experience; women who believe that any career is open to them; women who see having children and/or marriage as one path in many toward self-actualization; women who are ambitious and driven and don't give a fig if they out-compete the men.
But I feel deeply conflicted about it. When Plantboy graduated from his master's program, nearly HALF of the graduates at the campus-wide commencement that day were in the college of education. As secondary teachers actually graduate from the college that was their major focus, this means that all of those COE graduates were either elementary teachers or psychology majors. Most of them were women. The rest of that half was rounded out by those in the college of Family Life--including interior design, social work and family human development. Again, nearly all women. I would have been fascinated, on that campus of mostly LDS people, to learn how many of those women ever worked. Ever intended to work.
Granted, their college experience was still valuable to them and their families, but it was a public college, heavily subsidized by taxpayers. In addition, most students attend college on some mixture of scholarships, grants and loans--all backed by common funds. Governments INVEST in education in the hopes of getting some kind of broad return on society.
Please don't misunderstand. I primarily identify myself as a stay at home mom, and I have done so for the last ten years. I believe that in most circumstances, kids get a better start in life if they have their mothers home with them during the first few years. I think if people are going to have children then they should also make the commitment to raise them.
But I also think that the Women's Movement not only deluded us into thinking that we could have it all, but that we were somehow lesser women if we didn't. So we are a generation of guilt-ridden women, unsure where we belong. We sacrifice career for family, but when the career calls we sacrifice family for that. Years of self-sacrifice can leave us worn down and bitter if we aren't careful.
I feel like every year in my life I have had to re-negotiate the balance between my own wishes and the wishes of the four men who depend on me for nearly everything. I try to be prayerful. I try to listen to the Holy Ghost. And then I act and try not to look back. I try not to feel deeply sad as the novel is shelved for who knows how long because I ran out of time to reach my own deadline. I try to get enthusiastic about another game of Apples to Apples Junior. I try to remember that doing the laundry is my version of clothing the naked, that making dinner is how I feed the hungry. I try to be cheerful about the three a.m. daily alarm knowing that the paper route is a means to an end. I try not to think about how I will possibly balance school, and eventually a full time job with a busy, needy family. I try not to be envious when my husband receives accolades at work. I try to desire motherhood above everything else even when it feels foreign to my nature. I try not to resent that I put my husband through school twice, but that this time around I must largely put myself through.
That last paragraph is pretty raw and honest . . . maybe nobody made it quite this far. But if you did, then maybe you or someone you love feels as conflicted as I do sometimes. People will often remark on how confident I am, and I feel like kind of a poser. Sometimes that outward display of confidence is the way I blow smoke over all the conflicting forces inside of me. Maybe this is the true essence of modern woman. Bottle that, Enjoli.