September 22, 2005

An embarrassment to intelligence

Yale alumnae are still buzzing. Two years ago in Time was a report that a good percentage of Ivy League/Seven Sisters female students hoped to go to school, get a J.D./M.B.A./equivalent, work full time for a few years, then take time off to be stay at home moms -- and work part-time when the kids were older.

It was obvious then and continues to be that in the so-called halls of higher learning, there are huge gaps in understanding the repercussions of different choices. They say those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it, and if these Yalies and their ilk are any example, they are doomed.

Guess what, girls? Donna Reed doesn't live here anymore. She got a job in 1973, the last year it was possible to raise a middle-class family on one paycheck.

Per last week's New York Times, these soon-to-be-well-and-expensively-educated women have "Set Career Path to Motherhood." They think they can come and go in the working-for-money environment, but take time out of the workplace to raise their children (and have their husbands pay for it) and thereby have a balanced life. Would that it were true.

Even Ward and June are rolling over in their graves.

Are these women sure that they can marry rich and afford to stay home with a child, full time? What happened to participatory fatherhood? I was brought up in the 1960s; my dad never changed a diaper, but I'll bet these girls' fathers did.

My dad, the provider, hardly saw his children until they were in junior high school. Oh, there was the occasional weekend, and the vacations that left my brother and me confused: if this is Daddy, why can't he be as much fun at home?

Do these women have any idea of what motherhood entails, particularly if you're married to a partner who is working six days a week so you can be a mom, even if that also means you get socked with all the capital-W Wifey chores that no one of either gender is fond of?

Motherhood is 24/7; on the other hand, you can leave the office after a day that might include some stimulating adult conversation, but more importantly to the concept of work, you leave with a paycheck.

When the divorce rate is 50% and it's not one's degree but experience that determines whether you will have the qualifications an employer is seeking, who will get preference in hiring? Who can be so cavalier as to choose to be a stay-at-home mom when she isn't also trying to change the social structure that forces her -- and not her husband -- to choose?

Sure, the discrimination will be so subtle that no firm breaks the EEOC rules. But if this is the backlash against what feminists fought for so many years, these Yalies are an embarrassment verging on the delusional.

I must honestly say that I will not go to a female doctor of child-bearing age unless those kids are already in a picture frame, or the doctor is peripheral to my life. Eye doctors are a lot more replaceable than gynecologists -- the patient-doctor relationship is at a completely different level.

I have had two internists give up their practices for motherhood, and I would have a hard time -- backed up by this New York Times piece -- choosing another doctor whom I suspect might go this route. Continuity of care isn't what it used to be. Granted, this is completely an upper-middle-class issue, but it is the truth in which Wonderland operates.

Until the economic value of motherhood can be perceived to change, the choice these 19-year-olds imagine will be theirs will lead to less affluence and fewer life choices later on. History is a great teacher; unfortunately, few listen to its lessons.

These women seem to have no concept of women's economic history, and what progress women have made in what are still male-dominated professional environments. We may have come a long way, baby, but it seems we are headed backward.

We couldn't vote until less than 100 years ago. Married women could legally be denied credit in their own names until 1964. Married women couldn't hold property in their own names until a New York State act in 1848 that was considered revolutionary in conceding ownership to those possessed of two X chromosomes.

These women also seem unwilling to ask important social questions, such as, why does the work environment continue to follow a path that is satisfactory and balanced for few of either gender?

I'm not saying the work-world is such a wonderful place to be. Work is highly overrated. But the women I know who have stayed home with their children have told me that the first year, they are in "baby jail." At the same time, every woman I know from age 25 to 55 who was raised by hired help has tried to raise her own children with very little outside assistance.

From what I see, the kids with stay-at-home mommies who double as chief cook and bottle washer are not any happier than those whose mommies delegate cook and bottle washing. Among those that delegate the scut work of staying at home, if these women didn't have maids and nannies, they would be none too happy at home either. (One lawyer-friend told her husband, I choose to take care of the children, not scrub toilets.)

My generation never found Prince Charming, and I doubt there are any such creatures waiting for the next. My mother's generation, indelibly stamped by the 1950s, seemed unhappy parents regardless of how charming their prince, if he stuck around, happened to be.

These Yalies have made one truly unfortunate choice thus far. They have chosen to share their dreams, minus any effort to effect the social change required to make them a reality in the 9 to 5 work world, in a place that is known as the newspaper of record. If they were smart, they would have avoided this.

September 18, 2005

Rocky Mountain High?

Alice has reached a new understanding during her travels: that high? Not drugs, not overcome-by-beauty. That high is from sheer oxygen deprivation. It makes the synapses slow down. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the human ones seem to have ground to a halt.

The "valley" is at an altitude of 6,500 feet. The Grand Tetons top out at about 14,000. The town, however, is enough. Dick Cheney has a pricey ranch out there, as do many others enamored of sage brush, rifles, and moose-crossing warnings. This should have been a clue. Alice will never be home, home on the range.

Alice is at home at sea level. Without deer, without antelope, without wildlife anywhere but on her plate or in a zoo. Where cashiers can make change of a $20. Where the transaction time on a cup of coffee is under 10 minutes, and the beverage received doesn't resemble watered-down mud.

Where she isn't charged close to $200 a night for a "cabin" attached to a lodge that has erratic running water and electricity so undependable that the establishment ought to have figured out a back-up generator is mandatory.

Spare her another business trip that entails a "sit-down" dinner at what we will politely call The Cowboy Hall of Hell. Dinner with 800 of Alice's not-so-nearest-and-dearest.

First, join your colleagues on an hour-long drive into "town" in a vintage 1966 bus. Then line up, take your tin plate, get your food doled out, take a tin cup of lemonade, and have a seat on a picnic bench. No alcohol, no cigarettes, just tin and paper.

If this is local color, you can keep it. Rustic replication has all the sincerity of Disneyland, not to be confused with Wonderland, where Alice lives.

Silly Alice, with her East Coast notion that a sit-down dinner is one at which the waiter brings the food and busses the table. Evidently her West Coast colleagues are not on the same page. (Her organizations' leaders, out from Chicago, shared Alice's notions, and promised her, never again.)

Alice was grateful to escape before the cowboy floor show started. She wondered why the only non-Caucasian men she saw in five days totaled three, each in a cowboy hat a la Blazing Saddles.

Yellowstone is certainly American in scope. Old Faithful and the other geothermal activities resemble those Alice has seen on White Island, off the coast of New Zealand. However, here, everything is on steroids -- mud pots and steaming sulfuric spews the diameter of truck tires, and geysers the height of a four-story building. It's seismic overload.

"The first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through," wrote Louis Carroll. Alice's report from the Rocky Mountains is, this is what fly-over country looks like, and how and why it got its name.

The next time she takes a trip involving more than six hours of flight time, she will leave her island off the coast of America for a country where rural doesn't rule. Or if it does, it's not for a back-to-the-land adventure, but one that is back-to-the-elegant-hotel, where she belongs.

September 03, 2005

Beware the 1st Monday in October

U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has died. He was a Nixon conservative, and his successor will be a Bush junior conservative. This does not bode well for women, lesbians and gay men, the disabled, the terminally ill, and many other constituencies.

Will we need to bring back those "keep your hands off my body" T-shirts? Will choice become a memory tucked into the My Reproductive Years era of my life?

Makes me long for something more potent than illicit medical marijuana.

September 01, 2005

Water, water everywhere...

And a president who decides, gee, maybe I can cut two days off my vacation to pretend I give a damn. This is when to call out the National Guard, not when you want some extra boys blowing up things in places they didn't sign up to go to and have no reason to be there.

I am angry. And I am sad. I've been through a category 4 hurricane, and I got off lightly -- in one piece, with only a 3 or 4 day lag in eating real foodstuffs and getting home, and with enough cigarettes and meds to tide me over.

New Orleans didn't get enough funding from the Feds to prepare properly for this disaster. Why? Apparently the money went to Iraq instead.

My cousin was supposed to start at Tulane this fall, and while postponing college for a semester is a minor point -- she and her family did manage to get out of town and head back to Philadelphia, where her mom awaits a mascectomy, her dad has prostate cancer and her grandfather may have a brain tumor, to put things in a really crappy perspective -- it was the one thing that family had to look forward to.

And Bush the dumber couldn't manage to protect the country -- red state or not -- which his job description suggests he was supposed to -- because he was off playing hee-haw in Texas and sending massive amounts of money and people to a country that doesn't want us, didn't invite us, and has now cost us a major piece of American history.

What a legacy that will be.