October 24, 2003

The Opt-Out Revolution

From the NYT Magazine, a lengthy article on highly educated women choosing to opt-out of the working world to stay at home and raise kids. As I started reading this, I was cringing -- these are the women who are supposed to be running the world, the ones with top degrees from top schools, and here they are sitting at home being housewives. Granted, these women are from the privileged class, obviously married to high-earning husbands or coming from enough of their own money that not working doesn't put their families in dire straits, like the majority of families today. But they're also not the Ladies Who Lunch -- these are lawyers, MBA, news anchors -- women who are supposed to be taking on the corporate world.

I’m thoroughly annoyed with the author for not even broaching the subject of why their husbands aren't staying home, or why their husbands weren’t sacrificing elements of their careers for kids (I’ll grant that maybe it just wasn’t the scope of her story). However, I do agree with her subtle (perhaps too subtle) assertions questioning the validity of how we formulate workplace “success.” (And on a similar note, check out Take Back Your Time Day, which argues against unreasonable career demands for everyone, not just high-paid professionals.) Which, in the constraints of this article, is why high-pressure, high-pay professions have yet to yield in redefining work. I can answer part of that question instantly – because these professions pay enough that these workers can afford to have only one spouse working, yet another assumption in the story the author didn’t call out (but again, considering the audience of the NYT, I suppose you don’t have to point out the obvious).

Frankly, that fact makes this article all the less interesting. It smells more to me like a class of women who were advantaged enough that getting both undergraduate and graduate educations were an expected course for them, and only an incidental means to achieving anything. Wealthy families have almost always sent their daughters to school, and since grad school is to the new achieving class that undergraduate degrees are to immigrant families, it’s no surprise many of these women collect MBAs and JDs on their way to full-time motherhood. The author even picks up on this fact, by mentioning that African-American women who achieve this level of education aren’t staying at home at anywhere near the numbers of White women.

Thank you, NYT, for reporting on a “phenomenon” that’s little more than history repeating itself – there have always been women who worked but could afford not to, and there still are. Whee.

Posted by jen at October 24, 2003 02:24 PM | TrackBack