Thursday, April 26, 2002
By Heide Seward, Research Fellow
On April 25th, the Ms. Foundation for Women celebrated the tenth anniversary of “Take Our Daughters To Work Day,” an ongoing effort to introduce young girls to the world of work and to encourage them to begin thinking about their careers. According to their website the project was created in order to combat the negative self-esteem often associated with early adolescence and to “[provide] access to new choices and possibilities beyond traditional roles and expectations.” Participating businesses & other organizations are encouraged to introduce girls to the practical aspects of the working world, to “think about more opportunities for women workers” and to “demonstrate their commitment to the advancement of women in the workplace.” Sounds like a good idea at first glance: Encouraging young girls to think seriously about their future and introducing them to positive professional role models. A closer look, however, reveals a less innocuous angle.
For one thing, the organizers just can’t seem to resist the temptation to cast women in the role of victim. Here’s one rather revealing quote about the history of this project from Ms. Foundation president, Mary C. Wilson: “When girls came into offices, factories, and firehouses, we knew they would see opportunities for their future, but we also anticipated that girls would perceive inequities in the workplace and ask the hard questions that have no easy answers – like why most of the bosses were men and can you have a family and work here too?” It seems doubtful that most young girls would note such “inequities” unless an adult pointed them out. What a great way to begin indoctrinating young girls into feminist thinking and to perpetuate the war between the sexes.
In addition boys have been excluded throughout the history of this event. Organizers have grudgingly agreed to include them in future observances, but apparently they are welcome only if they “express interest in non-traditional careers.” So, as long as we’re talking about boys who want to be kindergarten teachers or dental hygienists, they can join in. Boys who would rather be firemen or doctors might not be so welcome.
Boys have their own set of adolescent issues to deal with. In fact, they are far more likely than girls to have problems with alcohol and drugs and to wind up in juvenile court. Boys tend to have lower grade point averages than girls, and they are much more likely than girls to be diagnosed as learning disabled and to drop out of school. Boys need positive professional role models as much as and maybe more than girls do. And social science is now confirming what we already knew instinctively: Male/female differences are not just a matter of socialization. They are innate. Boys are different from girls, and they need to be socialized differently, in ways that account for their natural aggressiveness and boisterousness – characteristics that can become assets if channeled in the right direction. But professional educators and child development experts still tend to regard such natural differences as pathologies, and one method of “treatment” is attempting to get boys to act more like girls. The Ms. Foundation, it seems, is only too happy to go along with this attempt to feminize boys.
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the Take-Our-Daughters-to-Work mentality has to do with the not-so-subtle message that a person’s worth is measured by career and salary. The end result of such priorities was the subject of last week’s Dot.Commentary – age-related infertility. This is a fancy-sounding name for a very simple truth – that while women are focusing exclusively on their careers, the so-called “biological clock” is ticking. This is a stark reality that medical science has yet to conquer, even in the age of cutting edge fertility treatments. A recent Time magazine article and a story on the “60 Minutes” program focused on the extent to which many young women have, in effect, squandered their fertility by deliberately postponing childbearing into their 30s and 40s. Whether because they were lulled into complacency by ignorance or the false promises of the fertility industry or simply because they put off “settling down” in favor of climbing the career ladder, more women than ever age 40-44 – 20% as of 2000 – have not started a family. Certainly some of these women are childless by choice; others simply did not find the right person to marry until late. But perhaps some were so persuaded by feminist rhetoric about the necessity of establishing one’s self on the career ladder before starting a family that they neglected to pay attention to the time limits on their fertility.
There is no reason we should not take our daughters – or nieces, friends’ and neighbors’ children – to work on this occasion. But we should be aware that they could be learning some lessons that will give them a distorted view of reality. Teaching young girls to pursue excellence in whatever career path they choose is a worthy goal. Teaching them to automatically blame men for their failures is not. Neither is it helpful to encourage the notion that it is more important to have a successful career than to have a life.