University and Women: A Fair Combination?

Posted: 21 March 2012

A new university year has just begun and thousands of fresh faces are sitting in lecture halls being prepared to one day step into the world and make their mark in their chosen career path. The necessity of the journey through university and into a well paid career is almost an unspoken law. Yet I wonder if we are placing young people, especially young women, into what will one day be a difficult position that compromises their potential for genuine happiness.

From their earliest years children hear the mantra that men and women are equal, and while they are certainly equal in dignity they are not equal in ability. I do not mean that one sex has more ability than the other; I mean that each sex has a different ability, each sex has different strengths. The complementarity of the sexes is the reason that the natural family of father, mother and children is the best model; it is far better to have a loving father and a loving mother than to have two loving mothers or two loving fathers. However preferring to ignore all evidence to the contrary and in the push to describe gender as no more than a social construct, society tells us that men and women must achieve the same level in all things. If men can drive a tractor, women must be able to drive a tractor; if men can run a corporation, women must be able to run a corporation. It seems to focus though on women being able to achieve in traditionally male roles, not the other way around.

And so with this as the foundation, young women, believing that their happiness is to be found in a successful career path, dedicate some of the best years of their lives to studying law, business and economics. They do well (which is no surprise) and they move out into the workforce with a massive potential to achieve anything they set their sights on.

But then as they begin to make real progress in their field, a new challenge approaches…the call to marriage and family. These very talented women were told to make something of themselves through their chosen career path; they have sacrificed and worked as hard, if not harder, than their male counterparts. In all the talk about being whatever you want to be, no one made much mention of the distinct and unique role of motherhood. Certainly these women sense the importance of raising their children and being a good wife and mother, but they have also invested all their energy (and a great deal of their money) becoming highly educated and a genuine asset to their particular industry.

One recent article attempted to explain why it was that so few women were making it into senior executive positions. With the average career spanning thirty or so years, the article found that “five years of ‘career interruption’ due to family responsibilities [i.e. having children] should hardly be a disqualifying penalty”. And this idea demonstrates the actual problem; the task of full time mothering can supposedly be over within a few short years allowing the woman to get back to her career with minimal disruption.

There will be some that will disagree with me citing themselves or women they know as fine examples of balancing a successful career and a happy family all at the same time. My point however is not to make a statement about any particular situation but rather to question the wisdom of a society that pushes its women into an academic and career driven world when at some point many will be asked to make a choice to leave it or attempt some sort of balancing act between raising a family and raising the company profit margin.

While true feminism seeks to uphold the dignity of women and their particular gifts, our secular Western society parades around a false feminism. It is one that makes little girls think they have to be better than boys and women think they need to achieve in all the same fields as men. The truth is that men are not women and women are not men. A successful life is not necessarily one that ‘juggles’ between family and career. Motherhood is a respectable and vital role that should not be seen as an afterthought that can automatically attach itself onto a career. Society would do well to remind its young women of bigger realities rather than pushing them to be like men in all that they do.