Teaching continues to be quite the experience, one I mostly neglect to talk about because I have many of the same students throughout the year. The pedagogical insights I've gained, such as they are, have to wait until I'm no longer teaching them. They're not embarrassing, of course, but ethics and all that. I will make a brief exception because a. it was something genuinely surprising to me and b. it may be of interest to my readership: marriage, and the societal pressure to marry as perceived by women.

Mill's On Liberty, which we were reading, is primarily concerned with domination--the way in which social forces (not legislation) can limit people's perceptions of what they can do. I was stressing that liberty isn't a matter of individual decisions, but of a 'plan of life,' the ability to form goals for oneself and bring them about over a long period of time. Mill has a parenthetical section where he talks about polygamy, essentially, "look, it's bad, but if you're a woman and therefore strongly encouraged to marry, it's not clear that this is worse or less free than any other marriage." Having a class that is largely female, I suggested this as an example: can you form a plan of life that doesn't include being married and/or having kids, and if you can, do you still feel the need to justify this? If so, that's an example of domination.

Boy, did this ever connect: a lot of very-present concerns about "having it all," the "window of opportunity," and the difficulty of navigating societal approval and disapproval of one's decisions, from (mostly, one guesses) 19 year old women who have probably not even chosen a major, but feel the need to have adjudicated the question of their future relationship status, in part because people keep asking them about it. I legitimately did not expect to hear that, though a better illustration of the principle would be hard to come by.

The fiancee suggested I perhaps underestimated the propensity of the average college student to have thought about this, but I'm more inclined to believe my surprise is a feature of having been male. Despite a few people in class suggesting it was also a problem for men (it's not, and social standards are, if anything, making it easier for men to not worry about it), this is a strictly female phenomenon. I didn't worry about being single until I moved to Euphemistic New Jersey after grad school (at 28), and it was no longer clear where I'd go to meet women, not that there were any around anyway.

This made me think of a line from High Fidelity: "it takes a certain type of person to worry about being alone for the rest of their life at 25." The sort of person who only has to begin worrying about it at 25 (or thinks it neurotic to be worrying about it at that point!) is best described as 'a man,' which makes much sense of the whole Nick Hornby thing.


Katherine said...

I think you are correct--as long as women are the only ones who get pregnant, they have to think about it, and rather early on. If they want education and a career, they need to have a "game plan" because American work culture is not supportive of family life. Women can "have it all," I do believe, but not all at the same time, which requires planning, and a supportive spouse, if that's her preference. (Marriage seems the most negotiable part of planning a future.)

Phoebe said...

But, but, according to Princeton Mom, the town is chock full of past-their-prime (but presumably intelligent) 20-22-year-old women!

In all seriousness, what Katherine says is partially right, but then there's also the question of women feeling (on account of being told by those around them) that they're too young to settle down, until that blip of a window appears and then they must do so ASAP. That women think they should start looking for husbands at 19 suggests not so much a window-of-opportunity problem as straightforward movement backwards in time. Of course, if the issue is that these young women feel they must but also must not find a husband immediately, then yes, this is the window of opportunity in full force.