Saturday, September 24, 2011

To birth or not to birth?

During a daily mini-vacation from class, I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed and found a post referring to an interesting link from Above the Law. The article was focused on well-educated women and their “refusal” to have children. Working women refusing to have children? This caught my eye.

The article placed a “comedic” spin on a Wall Street Journal article discussing a recent study that examined women with high-powered careers and the challenges they face in having a family. The study found that 43% of skilled Gen-X women, ages 33-46 years old, haven’t yet had children. It suggested that the pressures women face from demanding work schedules, career ambitions, heavy debt loads, and a weak economy force any childbearing plans to take a second seat to their career path.

This study seems to confirm our discussions regarding the enormous pressure women feel as working professionals. On one hand, there is the struggle to break barriers and overcome gender discrimination. On the other hand, society continues to maintain its cultural expectations of women as mothers. How do women overcome this dichotomy? This study seems to suggest that women must choose between one or the other.

Indeed, given the financial and emotional challenges that accompany a decision to have a child, the current economy greatly impacts the ability to have a family. But are we internally assuming that all women want to have a child early in their adult lives? Personally, I want to enjoy the present without the added pressures of raising a family. Even without law school, I would still not want children at this stage of my life. Many other women that I know do not want to have children until they reach their 30s. As much truth as there is behind the external pressures that constrict the decisions of professional working women, I also believe that our generation and the Gen-Xers are unlike the generations before us. Our generations are also choosing to delay the order of traditional life milestones and the results of doing so are just now becoming apparent. Certainly the demands of a career prevent many women from having a family. But I also wonder whether the 3,000 white-collared women surveyed were asked if they wanted to have children any sooner in their lives. Did some of the women choose to delay that milestone, similar to so many other decisions that our generations are making? What would the study look like then?

Moreover, I was somewhat surprised by the tone of the Above the Law article. For example, the author (a male) discusses the similarities between this study and the premise of the movie Idiocracy, in which smart people begin having fewer children than the unintelligent. After "imploring" women in Biglaw to have more children, he writes, "And dumb women, all across the world, are pumping out impoverished spawn as if there was an invisible being that lives in the sky who outlaws birth control." Nevermind the well-known statistic that impoverished communities have less access to birth control. And he closes the article with this gem, "I wouldn’t trade places with a career woman for anything. All indications are that it sucks. But we need these women to pass on their intelligence, their ambition, and their money to the next generation."

Certainly, we are well aware that the website is a “Legal Tabloid” filled with the latest legal news and gossip. Therefore, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the sarcastic overtones found within the article. And while I appreciate the author’s decision to shed light on this study, I found several comments to be over the top. Even in jest, it is these types of comments that perpetuate the gender binaries women have struggled for decades to overcome.


S said...

Brown Eyed Girl, I find your discussion interesting because I regularly joke with my family and friends that higher education is the best birth control– in my life at least. My Nana, who did not graduate high school, conceived my Ma shortly after she was married at the age of 14. My Ma, who graduated high school and attended community college, conceived my brother (the oldest of my siblings) when she was 18. I am coming up on 30. When I graduate from King Hall I will have 4 degree. I have no children. My birth control is my high education. My education has helped me understand that raising children takes more than just money, time and love. Also, over time I recognized that contrary to the principles I was raised with, my purpose in life is not necessarily to have a family and raise children.

My purpose in obtaining a B.A. was so I could get a job that would help me finance my clan. Yes, a clan. I originally wanted a clan of 5 to 6 children. After starting UCLA, I felt a small clan of 3 to 4 kids would be just fine. When I finished, that number dropped to 1. Education opened my eyes to the living conditions and real life challenges impacting one’s resources created by the intersectionality of socio-economic standing, and social constructions of race, ethnicity and gender. I also became sensitive to how resources and living environments help to determine how easily one can accomplish certain things in life. This in turn made me realize the complexities of child rearing and challenged my previously held notions of the level of effort and assets required to raise a child.

I am from Visalia, which is located in Tulare County. Tulare County has a high teen pregnancy rate. See . I am sensitized to young mothers raising children because I am from an area that has historically had a high teen pregnancy rate. Also, my Nana and Ma had their first children when they were very young, and their children turned out great! Young women raising babies is nothing out of the ordinary for me. If I was as capable as the young women I knew who were raising children around me, why wasn’t I as gun-hoe and comfortable about having babies as I was before going to UCLA?

My education forced me to ask the question: What sort of intellectual and tangible resources do I want to provide my children? Before UCLA, I knew I needed a stable job to have kids. However, my undergraduate education helped me to realize that I am going to need more than money, time and love. I want to build a world around me pregnant with possibilities for my children. For me, this includes going to good schools, cultivating connections with people, saving accounts for colleges, living in cities that are diverse and alive with cultural events, and traveling. I feel like I need more time and a better degree to accomplish these things.

Moreover, as I grow up, I am realizing that my life is not solely for the benefit of other people. It is OK to be selfish and want to do things for myself. The culmination of the principles I was raised with made me feel as if my purpose in life was to have a family. And I can still do that, only now it feels more like an optional path than the course of my life.

Lastly, and on the more practical side of things, my education gave me access to relatively cheap women’s health medical visits and birth control. Unlike my Nana, Ma and many other teenage girls in Tulare County, I had and continue to have medical resources so I can exercise my right of choosing when to have kids.

When I tell girlfriends that now I am debating whether I will even have children, they all respond: Oh, you’ll change your mind! When I break down all the logical reasons why I may not want one, maintain that I will change my mind later. To these friends I send this comic strip:

Ringo1985 said...

My attitude towards young child rearing echoes the sentiment expressed by "S" that "education is the best birth control." As someone who wishes to delay babies (and the significant effects on my life that child rearing will inevitably have) until I am in my early 30s is a combination of several factors. These include a variety of facts about my life that suggest I am not in the best position to bring a child into this word- my financial security is currently zero, I am unmarried, enjoy the little free time that I have apart from work and school, enjoy small children for a maximum of 20 minutes, and most of all, am completing my pursuit of a JD. However, if I were to attribute my desire to have children later on in life to any one of these contributing factors, my decision to become an attorney is probably the one that has most strongly inhibited any wish to have children in the near future.

While my educational pursuits undoubtedly deter me from child rearing at this point in my life, Brown Eyed Girl raises another salient point. What if women are choosing to delay child rearing due to reasons completely independent of any career goals? Maybe women are simply waiting to have children because they want to wait. By automatically assuming that our education, career ambitions, and the like have caused women to stray from their traditional roles of motherhood, perhaps we are unintentionally perpetuating gender stereotypes on our own behalf. To explain a women's decision to wait for motherhood because of career choices presupposes the idea that women are first and foremost mothers. The decision to stray from this traditional and natural scheme may only be justified or rationalized through other means, such as educational goals or career aspirations. However, maybe we are better off stating loud and clear that some of us have simply made the choice that we don't want to be mothers at this point in our lives, and some women will never want to assume the role of a mother. Some women desire to refrain from childbearing for reasons completely independent of any career decisions, and I think that this always needs to be included in the career/mother/child rearing discourse.

Girl Talk said...
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Girl Talk said...

First of all, Idiocracy is a great movie. I highly recommend it.

Secondly, I find the ATL article extremely superficial and severely lacking in deep thought, which is something that doesn't come as a surprise to me, especially from that particular writer.

He assumes that intelligence is genetic - that if smart, successful women have kids, those kids will also be smart and successful. If smart women start having more kids, we will have more smart people than dumb people and all the world's problems will be solved. What this fails to take into account is that people that are smart and successful are that way primarily because they have access to higher education, and a large portion of those who have access to higher education are white people. The real problem to me is a societal structure that is still racist and has a socioeconomic gap that seems to widen by the day. We also, here in America, live in a society that seems to be regressing in the way of providing access to education. It is becoming less and less important to our elected officials. Take California, for example, who shoulders the debt of the state on its students. I don't even want to talk about how much tuition has been raised for UC students over the past five years, because I'll probably go into the fetal position and cry. Rising costs and falling priority are shutting out more and more people from higher education, starting with those who are of low socioeconomic status, the majority of which happen to be non-white.

So maybe, if Elie Mystal wants more "smart babies" than "dumb babies," he shouldn't be asking us attorneys to pump out more babies, but rather lobbying our government officials to pump money into education.

hanestagless said...

I stumbled across the same Center for Work-Life Policy study in my Google Reader. Unlike the Wall Street Journal article, Sharon Lerner presents a real-life Idiocracy problem, but instead of the dumb out-reproducing the smart, poor women are out-reproducing wealthy women.

In addition to the Center for Work-Life Policy study, she cites a recent study on unintended pregnancies from the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit seeking “to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.” The study shows that in 2006, women who earned less than the poverty line were three times as likely to get pregnant—5.5 times more likely to get pregnant unintentionally—when compared to women who earn double the poverty line (Total Pregnancy Rate: <100% poverty = 21.4%, ≥200% poverty = 7.0%; Unintended Pregnancy Rate: <100% poverty = 13.2%, ≥200% poverty = 2.4%).

Unfortunately, the unintentional pregnancy gap is trending toward widening. The unintentional pregnancy rate among women who earn less than the poverty line has increased 50% since 1994; during the same period, the rate among women who earn double the poverty line has decreased 29%.

This trend expands the widening gap between the rich and poor. Lerner notes that “the very fact of having a child increases a woman’s chances of being poor.” Of course, as the mother suffers, so does the child.

So what can we do? All of you touch on two factors that are contributing to the separation between wealthy and poor women: the forced “choice” between career or family among professional women and lack of education among poorer women. The author of the Above the Law article surely wrote it tongue-in-cheek. Yet his call to Biglaw women to have more babies speaks closely to what needs to be done. That is, we should change policies so that professional women are not forced to choose between their career and family, thus allowing Biglaw women to have their “smart” babies. Secondly, I agree that education acts as a good birth control. Furthermore, as Girl Talk points out, if we want more smart babies, then we should provide them with good education. This would help break the cycle of generational poverty.