Slippery Slope

My friend Heather shared this article about women doctors and the mentality that some people have about how women shouldn’t go to medical school if they are planning to work part time or stay at home.  The funny thing is, until about a year and a half ago, I believe everything the author wrote in the original op-ed.  Only, unlike the author, I believed it about lawyers too.  She actually says, “I have great respect for stay-at-home parents, and I think it’s fine if journalists or chefs or lawyers choose to work part time or quit their jobs altogether. ”

I believe that women can do anything.  But I also believed that people who pursue a degree that they do not plan to ever use are taking that space away from somebody who would not only benefit from that degree, but would use that degree to benefit other people.  However, as an adult, I now understand that even though somebody wanted something when they started graduate school, or thought that they wanted something, they realize later that they want something entirely different.  And that (unlike what my parents would have you believe) is okay.

Is it frustrating that there is millions of dollars spent on unused degrees out there?  Yes.  Is it equally frustrating that private daycare costs as much $25,000 per kid? Yes.  Is it equally frustrating that employers tend to make it difficult for parents of small children to take time off to deal with an unexpected illness, childcare crisis, or other issue?  Yes.  Is it equally frustrating that a lot of women don’t make the “choice” to stay at home with their children so much as they make the “choice” that makes the most financial sense for their families, and then are maligned by people like past-me who judged them for it?

I talk a lot about the possibility of working part-time these days – something I never thought I would discuss or be willing to.  I hated the idea of women cutting back to part time “just because” they had children.  At some point along the way, possibly when my friends started having children, I became a little more open to the idea that I might like my children.  I don’t have a problem with daycares and the idea of somebody else raising my kid – honestly, it doesn’t bug me.  I don’t think women are natural child-rearers and I don’t think kids always do better with stay-at-home parents.  But the idea of raising a tiny human being is starting to have some limited appeal to me.

What is very very apparent to me from the op-ed is that the system is broken.  That there must be a better, lower-investment way to train doctors, or at least medical professionals.  There must be a better way to provide childcare for women doctors.  There must be a way to look at the question of “why aren’t women contributing as much as men” through the lens of, “How are men able to contribute so much more than female co-workers? Is it because they aren’t doing as much at home?”

What other changes do people like this woman/me need to change about our way of thinking about women in graduate school?  Do you agree with her?  Or is it always going to be a bad thing when we judge other people’s reproductive choices?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Slippery Slope

  1. One of the letters about this in today’s New York Times really summed this up for me: “I am dismayed that [Silbert] focuses only on part-time working moms. Why not also consider the impact of the hordes of medical school graduates (mostly men) who leave patient care to work for profit-driven corporations?”

    It feels like Silbert chose to address a real issue (lack of primary care physicians) with a somewhat ad hominem attack on moms who work part-time. Why doesn’t she criticize male physicians for going into primary care in far lower numbers than women, presumably turned away by the lack of prestige and income potential? Why, as the letter writer pointed out, doesn’t she criticize doctors who choose corporate work over the “calling” of medicine? And what really bothered me is the way she talked about medical school as if attending med school obligates doctors to live a lifetime of martyrdom in gratitude for their expensive educations. Yes, med school is a privilege, yes, doctors aren’t the only ones who invest in their educations, but the average doctor graduates with around $139,000 in debt just from med school. You can’t tell me doctors have gotten a free ride.

    There are people who choose not to use their graduate degrees for all kinds of complicated reasons; as you point out, life isn’t predictable and sometimes people change careers. But the way to solve the problem of not enough primary care physicians is not to shame and chase out women (and men) who think they might possibly one day consider working part-time.

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