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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Crescendo of female voices

Anne Applebaum’s column in today’s Post addresses the Harvard flap regarding female scientists with incredible clarity.

It’s what we’ve been talking about all along…

Too often the missing component of the debate about the dearth of tenured female scientists, or female chief executive officers, or women in Congress, is the word "family." But (Harvard President Lawrence) Summers did call the work-vs.-family choice the most important problem for women who want tenure:

No one seriously believes women are less-intellectually capable of careers in the hard sciences. And discrimination, though still present, is not the underlying factor of under-representation in the boardroom and the science lab.

(It’s) the impossibility of making a full-time commitment to work in a culture that demands 80-hour weeks, as well as to family in a society unusually obsessed with its children.

There’s a crescendo of female voices building in recent weeks. Maybe, in 2005, we can have a serious discussion about the plight of ALL women, regardless of their life choices.

What also matters is that we shift this passionate debate from the fate of a few women at Harvard to the real needs of millions of women across the country. I'd feel a lot more sympathy for Summers's current plight if he'd said how ridiculous it is to require academics, male or female, to work 80 hours a week to get tenure. I'd feel a lot more sympathy for Summers's feminist opponents if they spent less time worrying about their academic peers, and more time worrying about the agonizing trade-offs between work and family, and how they can be better managed in the interests of women, children and co-workers.

Hope springs eternal, though much more poetically in the words of Emily Dickinson.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul …
And sings the tune without words
And never stops…at all
— Emily Dickinson

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