Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cause I'm a WOMAN!

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.


FoxyJ said...

I really think another solution to this problem would be to somehow (magically?) change our society so there were more real part-time employment options. Part-time jobs that payed real wages and provided benefits (crazy, I know). My husband and I have often said that we would both love to just work part-time and have more flexibility to be with our kids. But we have a young family and healthcare would kill us without insurance, and when we had to pay for our own insurance it just about killed us too.

I think we are having a hard time as a society saying "no, you can't do everything". "No, not everyone is super special and fabulous." Those kinds of attitudes are actually pretty detrimental to making good life decisions and to having a working society.

Shaylee said...

Great response sis. Only correction would be that residents are paid by medicare not medicaid. The latter being much more state funded. Interesting aside, when I was in med school I had a fellow student, female, and interested in OBGYN (primary care) ask me if I planned on practicing medicine when I was done with school....why yes...yes I am. Not sure she was. And kudos to ya too sis, cause ya sorta have done it all.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

FoxyJ! EXACTLY. I would LOVE it if Plantboy and I could each work about 30 hours a week and then put in equal time here at home. Instead of a two-income family killing us both, it would really open things up for us as a family, allow me to get a professional job and still keep our kids covered with full time parents. Besides, it would take some of the pressure off of him to work at a job he doesn't like.

Eric (via Shay): I love the "are you planning on practicing" questions. Talk about too much money making you clueless as to the value of a thing.

Lisa P. said...

I love this quote from The Bridges of Madison County. I know...I don't love the movie, but this hit home when I watched it a few years ago in the depths of mothering young children. "When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you're expected move again only you don't remember what moves you because no-one has asked in so long. Not even yourself."

Mostly I loved the stopping so your children can move. Looking at it now, it's a little depressing (I don't think the movie makes it out that way), but when I first heard it, I felt a bit at peace knowing I was stopping and helping my children move forward. And thinking that there will be a time when I will begin to move. And I can already see that time coming.

I skimmed this and now I have to run off to pick up a kid from scouts, but lots to think about. I like your honest feelings in that paragraph next to last. Sometimes it help just sharing that load from your mind and heart.

Karin said...

One of the things that many don't always acknowledge, but which I feel is very important, is that a well-educated "mainstream" is a benefit for society as a whole. Even for people who don't contribute to the GDP. We all know that people with higher education have less incidents of child abuse, substance abuse, economic stagnation, etc. We create a "standard", if you will of high education that can continue to propel our families upward; hopefully.

This is especially poignant for me as I am often confronted by the fact that my daughter will always be a "drain" on public resources, but never put back in to that system,. however, that does not make her any less of an asset to our society.

I have a broader view of "societal contributor" than many because of my experience with her. Mothers (trained or untrained, who teach littles to become compassionate human beings) increase the humanness of our society. They continue to keep education an ideal in our culture and help keep us altruistic instead of turning into money-hungry individuals who believe that the ends justifies all means. Mothers teach by example that self-sacrifice *can* be fulfilling.

You can see that, right now, I feel comfortable with my mothering journey. It's not always that way, but it is more often this way than it used to be. :-)

My daughter has taught me that some of the most valuable lessons are learned, not at the knees of people who make money and "earn" their keep, but those who love God and will always "take" in a money centered society.

I have battled with my "conservative" fiscal attitudes and Buggy's needs. I remember in high school debate, talking about John locke's social contract. In a social contract, we become a society and decide what is important to us. In our society we have decided (for better or worse) to cover the fiscal costs of taking care of the weakest among us, because a culture that values life is a powerful culture, indeed. Because we hope that eventually people will be able to care for themselves, and if not, they shouldn't be left to die or rot somewhere. I believe the same is true for mothers. We subsidize education for the members of society in the hopes that they will teach and train the next generation in the most compassionate, most intelligent way possible.

All this being said, :-) I wholeheartedly agree about the doctor issue. We (as post-feminist) need to be honest about abilities and costs in our educations.I chose a degree for which I could be paid at home if I needed to work (private studio teaching), although I think a child dev degree would have been more helpful to me as a mother of lots of littles. And now I volunteer my time as a helper to new moms. Does my education "not count" I'm this field because I make no money? My husband has been amazing enough to use family funds to pay for a graduate level certification this summer. I may or may not make money with this, however it certainly will not be full time. I plan to utilize thtis certification to further my reach in my volunteer work. I may not ever recover the money being used for this certification. I have never considered getting a degree which I will never use. Maybe that is just my own thought process, and with a liberal Ed degree, it would be easier to dispute, as a liberal arts education, you are educated in many areas...

I don't have many answers either. :-)

Gilbert Gardener said...

"I would have been 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."

This part of your post kind of surprised me. I see education of ANY kind to be a huge investment for society regardless of the contribution to the "gross national product". That view seems as archaic to me as requiring all women to wear aprons and happily provide cocktails to their husband upon arriving home from contributing to the "gross national product".

As I see it you (they) DO work. You ARE working. Even if (you) none of those women ever collects a "paycheck" or pays "taxes".

Does it look different than receiving public accolades? Absolutely. Is it as easily tied to direct results and measurable outcomes? No. It is closer to placing sign posts and guard rails at the top of the cliff rather than the flashy lights and costly sirens at the bottom of the cliff chalking up another life saved (or lost), to use a tired metaphor.

I didn't bother to look up research. But I wonder how many of those women who never intend to "work" will raise children who are law abiding citizens. Who then go on to receive higher education. Who are not a drain on societies resources, but who contribute to the "gross national product".

Would they have raised children who were all these things without furthering their education? Perhaps. Again, I didn't look up the research. I'm sure some has been done.

This doesn't address the concern of the article, which appears to have valid concerns. But your take on it seems to expose a belief that the (non) "work" of raising a family is somehow subservient to a paying job.

Isn't that belief exactly what women have been fighting to change?

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Karin and Gilbert--I know. I know. I have been thinking and re-thinking a lot since this post. I have a friend who sent me a piece yesterday refuting the attitude of "degrees to no where" because all knowledge can be a benefit. Society is definitely better when more people are educated.

It is clear that I ended up on the wrong side of this. Or took a stance I didn't intend to take. Obviously I find motherhood important or I wouldn't have had kids, or stayed home with them. But I am still surprised when I know a young woman who thinks nothing of going into debt 20,000 or more for college with the only ambition of finding a spouse. Where does she think the money will come from to pay back the loan? How eager is her husband going to be to spend a substantial percentage of every pay check to her loan for the next ten years?

Maybe my real frustration is that I'm full of ambition that feels like it has no outlet whatsoever. I don't know what to do with it. So many of my friends throw their gifts and talents back into their homes, but I'm not very good at that, and too many of my talents don't seem to have a place in my current life at all.

I just wonder if by giving so much free rein and encouragement to such ambition (what the women's movement wanted so badly) is also setting women up for disappointment. And yet, I've never once discouraged any young woman I know from going after anything she wants. I'm just at a place right now where I'm not even sure what I want any more. I find myself both frustrated by and drawn to feminist thought.

Gilbert--I loved your "tired" metaphor, as I've never heard it before. I will remember this, and it will help me.

Karin--your lengthy paragraph is just beautiful and probably, in large part, answers why I identify with the democratic party, even when everything about my family's working habits and attitudes of self-reliance looks republican from the outside. I love Locke's thoughts about what it says about our society as a whole when we take care of the weakest among us. When we fail to do so, then we are in moral decay. (I guess the real blue/red argument is WHO is best equipped to handle them when family resources are at the limit or non-existent.)

The liberal/intellectual side of me tells me that I will be better for having received the master's degree no matter what; the conservative/practical side says that it is a terrible, selfish drain on my family's resources if I can't/don't find a job, and a drain on society's resources if I don't use such specialized training to put something back in a broader sense than my own four walls.

So maybe my conclusion is exactly on--the essence of modern woman is inner conflict.

Sherry said...

I feel unbelievably lucky that I have a career where working part-time is possible. When I have more kids I'll quit my job, but I'll be able to maintain contract work, which means I don't have to abandon my career.

I do have to say that I question this statement by Karin: We all know that people with higher education have less incidents of child abuse, substance abuse, economic stagnation, etc.

That may be true, but it's difficult to say whether we're talking about causation or correlation here. I think it's more about correlation.

I agree though, that women should be more conscientious about how they will use their educations. Actually, I think students as a whole need to be more aware of their long-term plans. I think with the economic downturn more students are abandoning their passions to major in practical things that will result in decent careers, and frankly, I applaud it.

Jenny said...

interesting and valid thoughts... I am wondering if your response to these types of questions would differ if you were aware of which part of your brain were responding?

simple easy and quick said...

What exactly do you plan to do with your new degree, What types of jobs or careers will it lead to?

Just curious.

Suzette said...

Hi - I don't know you, but found your link on my cousin's page and really appreciate your intelligent insights as a general rule. HOWEVER, I COMPLETELY disagree with you. I don't have an MD, but I'm a Physician Assistant (I only work 0.6 FTE, in full disclosure) and have a lot of female MD friends. I think clearly women of our generation have a million choices, and we have learned (I think) that we can't have it all, and we have to prioritize for our families. But I find it offensive to suggest that since med schools/residencies are subsidized (almost all education is in one way or another), female doctors (or PAs, wouldn't this apply to me?) in their 20s/30s should have to work full time. As we know these are prime childbearing years and one the problems of our generation is that women say ok, i'll wait till i'm in my late 30s to have kids, and then they have fertility issues. In my experience, I think women actually make (dare I say this?) better healthcare providers in many fields. I absolutely think we as a society NEED female doctors, not to mention the fact that women should have that choice. And I think women should also be able to have a family.

Yes, there are a lot of doctors who work 3 or 4 days a week because they want to also raise their kids. I think the benefit to society of having these female doctors and also having their kids have moms is most definitely worth the federal taxes I pay to support their education. A million times over.

Thanks for listening.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Thanks for your personal insight, Suzette. My intention here on this blog is generally to begin a dialogue, and I certainly appreciate your input.

I think I should also add that I have only gone to female doctors or practioners. A new practice is opening near us and I might find a male doctor just because my kids are getting older (and all boys).

As a side note--I am deeply frustrated that my practice has no billing code for my visit to a PA (whom I nearly always see). I have only met the doctor once and found her rather useless and condescending, truthfully. I prefer to see the PA, but I think it is terrible that my practice/insurance has no way to bill for having seen the PA. Doesn't this save everyone money?

The truth is working and non-working mothers desperately need each other. I need a teacher, doctor, dentist, any other working woman who makes my life possible; and they need the SAHMs to run the PTA, babysit, volunteer in class and hold the play dates. I am often critical of positions that create a false dichotomy, and I think that is exactly what I did in this post. Not my finest hour, perhaps.

Melanie said...

"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."

Initially this paragraph rubbed me the wrong way, but reading through the comments it looks like you might be rethinking that thought. I certainly don't agree with the view that a woman (or man) shouldn't get a spot in a program or receive scholarship money simply because he or she might not use that specific knowledge to contribute directly to the field.

Regarding the Op-Ed, I think the author really digs a hole for herself by tying in part-time female physicians with primary care. We don't have a primary care shortage because there are too many part-time female physicians. We have a shortage because few doctors want to go into primary care. The work is demanding with little reward (comparatively speaking). There is high burnout among primary care physicians, which is why I think part-time work is actually a great solution. If we had more medical homes - where care is managed by a team of doctors, PAs, nurses, and other health professionals - better care would be provided to patients while allowing the physicians a better work-life balance. Male and female physicians are increasingly choosing their specialties based on quality of life; if we can make primary care more attractive to more physicians by allowing them to work part-time, then I think we'd all feel the benefits. (This doesn't address the issue of how those part-time doctors would pay back their hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, but that's a whole different discussion.)

Janssen said...

Don't these questions just tear you up? I am happier than I expected staying home, but I certainly don't think I have it all.

And now the comments have me longing for both Bart and I to work part-time. . .

Suzette said...

Amen, Melanie!! SO well put. EXACTLY right about primary care. And, no disrespect for the NYT author, but I wouldn't expect an anesthesiologist to know that much about primary care.

With regards to the billing PAs issue....I assume they ARE billing for your PA visit, one way or another. The issue is the complicated (relatively) billing for PAs with regards to Medicare rules. Basically, if you just bill for the PA visit, it pays 85% of the MD visit. However, if you follow certain rules, the PA visit can be billed the same as a physician visit, thus recouping more money for the practice. So, that's probably what your practice is doing. It just doesn't seem exactly fair for the patient when the patient is paying a percentage (rather than simple copay) and actually cares how much the visit costs. But isn't that true for most of American healthcare?

Caitlin said...

I am like a month late to this party so I apologize. As I read the article and your post I had the same question pop up in my mind over and over. I thought for sure it would be addressed in the comments but it's still missing. So here it is...What if a woman works ambitiously through medical school, becomes a doctor, and then has a child somewhere in the process, and changes her mind? I am not talking about changing her career choice, but about her choice to work full time. It certainly happened for me. Since I watched my first episode of X-Files I fully intended to join the FBI. I had ZERO intention of getting married or having children before I was 30. I even went so far as to purposely avoid BYU lest I met a bewitching man who would lure me away from my shiny future carrying a shiny badge. Then, lo and behold, I found myself married at 19! No one was more shocked than I was. Don't get me wrong, I knew that it was the right thing for me. Personal Progress had taught me nothing if that a temple marriage trumps any other plans. And so...I changed my mind. Getting married is a big event but having a child is life altering. I am sure more than one female MD (or teacher, or secretary, or Gap sales associate, or marine biologist) has found herself questioning her initial career plans. And who's to say they won't ever return to medicine full time? Granted, my FBI prime happens to also correlate with my child-bearing prime, but medicine is different than chasing after bad guys (or aliens in Agent Scully's case). In the 10 years I have been married I have never given up having big plans for myself. Even though my plans now involve (insert speech pathology tool here because I couldn't think of one people would recognize) and not a gun.

I would also like to cite Karin's comment and the excellent points she brings up. My handicapped daughter has changed many of my opinions and she has certainly shaped my future. I will never have the options that most women have. My life will be dictated by my adult child who will never leave the nest. I am not bitter about it and I would choose to have a life with her over and over again before I chose a life without her. But don't think I am in some zen state about things either. Cleaning up pee, listening to my son's relentless chatter about Wii games, feeling exhausted even though it looks like I got nothing done and the countless other mom responsibilities, I am with you on feeling the whole it-just-isn't-fulfilling-me-the-way-a-paycheck-could. Yet here I am. And no amount of money or awards or handsome FBI partners could change my mind. Well, unless that is, I change my mind.