Posted by WiredSisters on April 3rd, 2014 filed in Feminism, Marriage, Uncategorized
A 9-year-old boy, on first seeing a classical ballet performance, is reported to have asked his mother that not unreasonable question. We have no record of her reply. But the kid had a point. Our culture these days has two sets of expectations of women: they should be able to parallel and compete with men, as well as to complement and attract them. So they should get the same age-graded education, while hanging out with and dating men somewhat older than themselves. And, of course, marrying, and bearing and rearing children at biologically appropriate ages, while simultaneously rocketing through the arduous first stages of their careers. This isn’t quite the same question as Henry Higgins’ “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”, because that’s only half the equation. It’s more like “Why can’t a woman be more like a man except when men, or The Economy, need her to be different?”
Getting down to specifics: for the last two or three decades, family-life pundits have been belaboring women for waiting too long to get married and have children, and for allowed their careers to be delayed and sidetracked by those activities. Most recently, Susan Patton’s Marry Smart and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for Graduates have taken up these cudgels. These twin questions make sense only if we assume that the female calendar is identical to the male. Fortunately, it isn’t. Educational authorities have known for nearly a century that girls mature, neurologically and academically, earlier than boys. They are able to handle reading and other academic tasks between one and three years earlier than boys in the same birth cohort. Our educrats in their wisdom have decided to split the difference, putting the girls into suspended animation for two or three years in grade school, while dragging the boys along, bruised and bleeding, behind the wagon. We could solve the problem of the Female Delay (along with the problem of the Male Acceleration) easily enough by allowing girls to start first grade at the age of five, or even four-and-a-half, while encouraging the parents of boys to start them at seven. The girls would then graduate college at nineteen or twenty, and could use the next two or three years getting married and starting a family while waiting for their male agemates to catch up, so they could go into the workforce leaning in together, shoulder to shoulder.
The other aspect of the female calendar that we don’t pay attention to except when it turns into a disadvantage that can allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums is that women live longer, and stay healthy later. Amazingly enough, I have recently heard of some bureaucrats actually allowing this to constitute an advantage for women—apparently some medical schools that have an informal age cutoff for applicants are now setting it higher for women, on the theory that they will be able to stay in practice and contribute to the profession later than their male age-mates, so it’s okay if they start med school later. One hopes this is the start of a trend.
But another trend has been around, unnoticed, for a while, and deserves to be noticed and emulated a lot more. Let’s call it Leapfrog Parenting. These days, it seems to happen mostly among women of color, but it may be the wave of the future for all of us. Girls have their babies in their teens or early twenties (when they are at their biological peak for bearing and running around after babies), and then finish their education and start their careers just in time for their mothers to retire and raise the babies. This is especially helpful, given the reluctance of many employers to hire and retain older female employees. So Mama has a job, Grandma has a useful alternative, and Baby gets well cared-for. By the time Mama is ready to retire (or her boss is ready to retire her), Baby has babies of her own and Grandma is ready to retire from retirement.
I keep coming up with these ideas ten years before they become The Next New Thing, so try to remember: You Heard It Here First.