Saturday, February 24, 2007

An Intellectually Gifted Woman

I've been reading Peggy Orenstein's book "Flux". I was enjoying it, the intimate exploration of women's lives, their choices and doubts about career, marriage, children.

Right up until the chapter that focuses on Shay, an African-American woman in medical school. Momentarily exhausted, Shay wonders if she wouldn't be happier if she just became a nurse or a secretary or found some 9-5 job where she could support herself and still have "a life."

An understandable flight of fancy from a stressed out medical student.

But then the author speculates that as "an intellectually gifted woman", could Shay really be happy with those choices.

And that rankled me. Now, I don't claim to be any more intellectually gifted than the average American, but this is part of the problem that Orenstein seems to be trying to address: the choices that women in America make and how those choices impact their self-esteem and their lives.

And dragging out the old too stupid to be a doctor so became a nurse stereotype is not helpful to any woman. Whether doctor, nurse or patient.

Degrading secretarial work is also not helpful. Degrading any choice of profession that a woman enters in to is not helpful. Pointing to certain careers as "less than" so that some can feel "better than" is not helpful to the cause of women in America.

Thor sez: She said what?!


Pat said...

Ooh, that just makes my blood boil!

JanetLee said...

Pat - I really shouldn't post ten minutes before having to leave for work. It didn't so much as make me angry as disappointed.

Women in America, whether they are in the highest levels of the biggest corporations or working at the Burger King down the street, all have to make choices and sacrifices for their families and jobs.

That was what I was looking for in this book. When I came across the authors speculation (not the medical student, she was just what-iffing), it was a bit of a smack in the face.

I know most nurses have heard at one time or another, "you are so smart, why didn't you become a doctor?"

And the answer is that being a doctor is a totally different approach to patient and health care than being a nurse. It has nothing to do with how smart one is.

And that the author just dismissed nursing and secretarial work as if women in those professions aren't as smart, so don't.....what??? Spend precious brain cells naval-gazing over what it all means?

It just sent me from identifying as a woman with her subjects to feeling like I wasn't good enough or smart enough to have the same problems as those oh-so "intellectually gifted" woman in her book.

I was extremely disappointed as I have enjoyed everything else I've read from her.

Marcheline said...

I take your point. It absolutely has nothing to do with brains - where we end up is also highly dependent on situation. Circumstance. And, of course, the choices we make and the repercussions of those choices.

I know I'm a smart cookie. But sometimes even I look around at the job(s) that I do, and say "How did I end up here???

Realistically speaking, it doesn't take someone with a brilliant mind to work in a Burger King. And realistically speaking, most people working at Burger King could never become doctors, even supposing they had the money for school given to them. It's just a fact of life.

But to say one career is "better" or "worse", based solely on the career is ignorant. You have to take into account the mental acuity and desires of the person in question, in combination with the job you're talking about.

I think it really would be a shame if someone that had the ability and the burning desire to become a doctor was forced to work in Burger King. That would be a waste. But if they chose to work in Burger King for some reason of their own, and were happy there, then that changes everything again.

There are many factors to consider when deciding if something is "good" or "bad". Unfortunately, your author didn't figure in all the factors before coming to a conclusion.

- M

JanetLee said...

Marcheline - I agree. Part of what annoyed me was the implication that women who work the "lesser" jobs don't have the same guilt and conflicts over how working outside the home impacts their children and marriages/relationships.

A mom working at Burger King is going to feel just as guilty about missing a child's play as a doctor would.

Marcheline said...


Tamora Pierce said...

>>Degrading secretarial work is also not helpful. Degrading any choice of profession that a woman enters in to is not helpful. Pointing to certain careers as "less than" so that some can feel "better than" is not helpful to the cause of women in America.<<

Having worked as a secretary, and as a waitress, and having nurses in the family, I say, "Amen!"

A fan once told me that her college-educated mother decided, after much thought, to become a full time home maker for her children. She chose that as a career, at least for the time her children were living at home. When her daughter started at a private school in middle school, they invited the mothers to present for Career Day, and she went in to offer to present her career. They refused to let her do it, saying they thought it presented a negative image for the girls.

Flames started coming out of my ears. I told her daughter that what was the point of all our liberation if women couldn't choose to do exactly what they wanted to with their lives, and what was the point if other women ran it down? Raising kids is just as important as any other job, and her mom had every right to present it that way.

Any job held down by a woman is important. Secretaries, nurses, and moms work hard, and they have to use their brains to do the jobs well. Anyone who's spent time in an office, household, or hospital and pays attention knows that.

And when women trash the work other women do . . . it just puts a crack in my heart. I notice it, after I stop seeing red.