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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Missing Nora Ephron
July 1, 2012 - 3:10pm

Jill at Feministe linked to Nora Ephron's 1996 commencement address at Wellesley. The entire speech is worth reading, but this passage struck me as particularly relevant, despite some dated references:

"Don't underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don't take it personally, but listen hard to what's going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: Get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn't serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you — whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you."

Over the past several weeks, some prominent women have gotten a lot of press by explaining how other women aren't doing it right. They make some good points. However, blaming women for making the best of a still-limited pool of choices can invite the press to characterize a substantial disagreement as a "catfight" and draw attention away from the real enemy — not men, but a patriarchal system that values aggressive pursuit of money and power over "soft," interpersonal work such as childcare, nursing and teaching.

Even more damaging, such a system lumps all girls and women together, assuming that we all want or need the same thing—though what that thing is varies. Women really need to  stay home and care for babies. Women need more power in the boardroom. Girls need to play with trucks, or to excel in science, math, and sports.

Women, just like men, are a diverse group. Some are gifted caregivers; others are artists, mathematicians, or janitors. And as Ephron points out, we all change priorities and roles over the course of a lifetime, so that today's stay-at-home parent may well aspire to be tomorrow's CEO or supreme court justice — and vice versa.

Diversity is a gift. If we were all farmers, who would make the tractors? My own wish for this year's graduating seniors is that they will push back against any type of categorization, and find their own authentic paths. That is my wish for all of us, actually.

 

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