Apr 5, 2006

Working girls, broken society

That's the title of an essay by Alison Wolf that compares today's women with women of the 18th and 18th Centuries. Wolf argues that women are more divided by class than they ever were.
Women used to enter the elite as daughters, mothers and wives. Now they do so as individuals.

This marks a rupture in human history. It is one that has brought enormous benefits, but its repercussions are not all positive, either for society as a whole, or for all women.

Three consequences get far less attention than they deserve: the death of sisterhood, or an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men. the erosion of "female altruism," the service ethos that has been profoundly important to modern industrial societies, particularly in the education of their young and the care of their old and sick. the impact of employment change on childbearing. We are familiar with the prospect of demographic decline, yet we ignore — sometimes wilfully — the extent to which educated women face disincentives to bear children.

In the past, women of all classes shared lives centred on explicitly female concerns. Today it makes little sense to discuss women in general. Instead, they divide into two groups: A minority of well-educated women have careers; a majority do jobs, usually part-time, to make some money.
It's an interesting article and much of it is probably true. But will it continue to be true?

I think women's role in society is still very much in a state of flux. Last year there was considerable controversy when it was discovered that more than 60 percent of female Ivy graduates planned to become full-time mothers. So not all elite women have abandoned the mommy track. Midlife career changes are also becoming more common and there are other factors as well, such as a drive to increase the retirement age. So why shouldn't a woman in her twenties drop out of the workforce to raise her children and reenter after her children have entered school or even left the nest?

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