Lean in? Study shows college women might not buy the lie of 'having it all'
Opinion: How young women see their future professional lives depends on what they think men will do - and believe it or not, there is great opportunity in that.
New research suggests young women might not want to “have it all” – unless the men help.
A study found that how female college students see their future professional lives depends on what those women think men will do – or not do – to help with the kids.
This could represent a sad surrender to a system that has done little to support working women. Or it could be the early warning sign of an earthquake that will bring down the House of Gender Stereotypes.
Here’s what happened:
Researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of British Columbia wanted to find out how a young woman’s vision of her future was impacted by her perception of men’s roles in society.
What the study entailed
They created two sets of questions and picked two groups of female college students, aged 18 to 25, all of whom said they someday planned to marry and have children.
Both groups saw the same official data on things like diet, smoking rates and other trends.
But each group saw a different graph on men’s roles in society.
In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores
One group saw a graph with a steep upward line under the title "Rapidly increasing prevalence of stay-at-home dads.” The text below the graph read: “These numbers are projected to continue increasing at a similarly rapid rate over the next two decades.”
The other group saw a relatively flat-line graph that was titled, "Low prevalence of stay-at-home dads." The accompanying text said: “These numbers are projected to remain relatively low in the next two decades.”
Unhelpful men changed women's minds
After reviewing the information, the women were asked to envision their lives in 15 years.
One key question: Did they see themselves as the primary financial provider or the primary caregiver for their family?
“In both the U.S. and Canada, young women who saw the graph depicting a sharper increase in stay-at-home fathers were more likely to see themselves as breadwinners, while those who saw the flatter line were more likely to imagine themselves as caregivers,” according to a press release from UA.
The experiments were replicated with similar findings.
"This shows how dependent women's role choices can be on their expectations of their future male partners," said Alyssa Croft, an assistant professor in the UA Department of Psychology who led the study, which was published in October.
It sounds disturbingly as though these young women are willing to sublimate their ambitions because of their expectations about men.
Why they bought into the stereotypes
Startups are a tough place for women.
Yet these college students “are the individuals who we would think might be most likely to balk at traditional gender stereotypes,” Croft said.
On the other hand, the young women in the study were probably raised by mothers who ran themselves ragged while trying to have it all. They may be reacting rationally to what Croft points out has been an “asymmetrical” change in gender roles.
Women continue to get paid less than men – even in high-prestige jobs.
The gender pay gap is painfully illustrated by the 2018 Partner Compensation Survey of lawyers by researchers at the law firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.
“Male partners’ average compensation outpaces that of female partners ($959,000 vs. $627,000),” they found.
And let’s face it, women who can afford maids and nannies live in a different universe from the one where most women toil.
Even though about 70 percent of American families have two working parents, women still pick up the biggest share of the housework and child-rearing chores, the UA press release points out.
Are men at fault?
Should we blame men?
In her new book, “Forget ‘Having It All’: How America Messed Up Motherhood & How to Fix it,” Amy Westervelt writes:
“How the heck do we expect men to want to co-parent when we place no social value on caregiving?”
Meanwhile, women make choices in the context of a system with too few options.
“Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all. It ain’t equal. I tell women, that whole ‘you can have it all’— mmm, nope, not at the same time, that’s a lie,” former First Lady Michelle Obama told an audience while promoting her book, “Becoming.”
Obama said: “It’s not always enough to lean in because that . . . doesn’t work.”
Which way should women lean?
The reference, of course, was to the corporate feminist approach birthed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her 2013 book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”
Sandberg’s advice to women to get ahead by being more aggressive resonated and became a movement aimed at empowering women.
But the structural inconsistencies in a feminism shaped to fit in the corporate boardroom are becoming painfully obvious.
The world needs more compassion, caring and nurturing – attributes that get trampled in most boardrooms.
“It’s not enough to replace men with the occasional woman in a patriarchal system; the system needs to be replaced, not remodeled,” Westervelt writes in her book.
This could work out in 1 of 2 ways
So what does the UA study mean?
It would be a tragedy if young women curb their ambition and sublimate their futures in response to a system that doesn’t support them or families.
Ah. But the young women who took this survey apparently have seen the lie inherent in the current system. There’s power in that knowledge.
They could bring down the House of Gender Stereotypes and restructure of our society into one that truly values the care-giving capacity of inherent in both women and men.
What a land of opportunity that would be.
Reach Valdez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORE FROM VALDEZ:
- Opioid epidemic is improving in Arizona because the government stepped in
- Arizona State Parks can be fixed if Doug Ducey is willing to act
- What should Democrats do with their newfound power?
- Snowbowl ruling shows says skiing is more important than religion