Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What do I tell her?

Iris and I were playing around in the sewing room, making faces out of fabric scraps. She is quite the collage artist. Her eyesight is much better than mine; she threads the needles for both of us.

She said that she was a good sewer and I agreed. (Kids these days do not have low self esteem issues.)

She added that women make better surgeons than men because we sew better. I was at a loss for words. Yes, I have shown her pictures of her cousin, the hot-shot surgeon. She has been to many tie-dye parties where the vast majority of women hold PhDs in science. Iris assumed that the world was open to her because I showed her that it could be done.

Yet, until that moment, she didn't know that her surgeon cousin was not a mother. In fact, surgeons and scientists are rarely women at all. Even if they are women, they are rarely mothers.

I stopped breathing and looked at her to see how she took the news.

She asked why.

There were so many reasons, but I didn't want to tell her about the unfairness of it all. I wanted her to believe, for a little bit longer, that anything is possible. I changed the topic back to sewing.

Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about the moment.

We have not made much progress in the 30 years since Pat Schroeder famously said, "I have a brain and a uterus and I use both." in answer to a question about how she could be both a congresswoman and a mother.

In “Does Science Promote Women? Evidence From Academia 1973–2001,” Donna K. Ginther (University of Kansas) and Shulamit Kahn (Boston University) wrote that the gender gap in science can be entirely explained by "fertility decisions". The Atlantic Monthly has a synopsis. Those with .gov or developing country IP addresses can download the entire article without charge.

Women in traditionally male careers are not the only ones who experience the fear.

In The Motherhood Experiment, Sharon Lerner observed,
Looking at America’s fertility rate, which now hovers around replacement level, you could assume that the U.S. has escaped such problems. But in fact, it’s the relatively large families of new immigrants that are staving off a population crisis — and masking the difficulties women face when they try to “have it all.”
CIA The World Factbook: Total Fertility Rate
CIA The World Factbook: Birthrate (per 1000)
The Santa Chronicles

I have some more thoughts (and an amusing story) about relative birth rates in the US and Europe, but it will have to wait until I am less sleepy.

Have a good International Women's Day.


  1. Anonymous15:21

    Bwwwetter to let her believe as long as possible. It will not be long enough no matter what you do.

  2. I wish I'd known sooner. I'm a PhD qualified research chemist/biologist who aged 30 has just discovered that the myth we were peddled as girls is just that.

    We *can't* do anything if we just put our mind to it.

    I feel like I wasted a lot of potentially productive years studying for something that I now discover I won't be able to use if I decide to have a family.


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