In the fall of 2005, The New York Times published an article discussing a relatively recent- and somewhat disturbing- trend among young women at elite colleges in the U.S. The article revealed that more and more female students at top undergraduate institutions are deciding (as early as freshman year) that they will opt for stay-at-home-motherhood over a career. The students interviewed shared the notion that it would be impossible to be a successful career woman and a successful mother simultaneously. As a senior in college at the time, set to attend law school the following fall, I was shocked by the article, and wondered whether I was being naïve thinking that I could have a worthwhile career and a family at the same time. I sat my three female housemates down in the kitchen to discuss the relevance of the article and to see if my high achieving friends were also struggling with the idea of making this decision down the road. After a lengthy (and not altogether civil) discussion about the merits and disadvantages of having grown up with working versus stay-at-home mothers, our group disbanded, our feelings of discontent eventually dissipated, and we were once again college seniors, struggling to balance the responsibilities of schoolwork, social lives, and that ubiquitous, nagging question of where we would be in a year’s time.
Several times each month, The Times publishes articles about the disappointing numbers of women in high-powered positions, be it in the business world, science research, medicine, or the law. Each article runs the same course: it begins with the cheery observation that greater numbers of women than ever before are entering and graduating from graduate and professional schools; however, the tone quickly shifts to one of reluctance in admitting that despite the increase in degrees awarded, women are still severely underrepresented in the highest tiers of employment. The articles then proceed to interview several women who have made it to the very top of their respective careers, each of whom briefly addresses the difficulty she faced in rising in the ranks, given the prevalence of sexual harassment, the dearth of female mentors, and the overall hostility towards women. The article’s author usually ponders at this point, if these women made it to the top, why can’t all driven females follow suit? Answers to this paramount query are posited by experts and researchers, all of whom suggest possible reasons behind women’s seeming inability to shatter “the glass ceiling” of these corporate (and other) structures. The experts blame gender roles, the lacking flexibility given to new mothers, and the need for a restructuring of family life. The roadmap to this breed of article is flawless. It is perfectly tailored to inform the reader of the current state of affairs for professional women, and to suggest why these obstacles still exist, in an age where equality should be the norm. However, each time I come to the end of such an article, I am disappointed by more than just the writing’s predictability. I am upset by the failure of such articles to provide anything more than a dismal amount of hope for future change in the status of women in high-powered positions.
As often as these articles are published, and as many dialogues they may spark among small groups of women, I can’t help but feel dissatisfied by the prospect that the intimate conversations among friends will die out days or even hours after having read the articles, and we will again be left with uncertainties as to how to really address the situation, and how to actually induce change in the infrastructure so that women are more than an occasional presence at the top. I am grateful for the insight successful professional women are willing to offer during these interviews, and I respect and value their experiences, as those women who have already achieved so much and made it to the top have helped paved the way for those of us yet to forge our own career paths. But rather than reading newspaper articles written by complete strangers to the field, and hearing about successful women through third party narrators, I think it is much more valuable for us to have an interactive forum where women can write about their own experiences, where law students and professionals can have meaningful discussions and tackle issues pertaining to professional women, and more specifically, to women in law. Thus, I applaud Ms. JD, as I have no doubt that unlike The New York Times articles, these conversations will surely last beyond recycling pick up day.
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